Greece Holiday Planning Guide
Few places manage to capture the world's imagination quite like Greece, a land of sun-kissed coastlines, tranquil whitewashed villages, lively seaside towns, and well-preserved ancient sites. One of the world's top tourist destinations since ancient times, the country draws nearly 20 million visitors each year. Athens, the birthplace of Western civilization, continues to attract the biggest crowds and serves as a base for exploring the country and its 227 inhabited islands. Away from its cities, Greece features a picturesque countryside of olive groves, vineyards, and tiny settlements nestled against rolling hills and rugged mountain ranges. On your Greece holiday you can explore the old mainland on foot and then hop aboard a guided boat or ferry tour to discover the islands' soft sand and pristine waters.
Places to Visit in Greece
Regions of GreeceCrete
: There is no shortage of Greece vacation ideas on Crete, the largest Greek island, which boasts pristine beaches, warm locals, and ancient archeological sites from Europe's first city, inhabited 4,000 years ago by the Minoan people. Cyclades
: The Greek Cyclades consist of over 2,000 picturesque islands, each with their own flavors, landscapes, beaches, towns, and attractions, including the most famous islands among tourists, Santorini and Mykonos. Dodecanese
: Along the southeastern edge of the Aegean Sea lie 150 sun-soaked islands known as Dodecanese. Among them is Rhodes, popular for its well-preserved Byzantine and Ottoman sites. Ionian Islands
: Escape the tourist crowds on the Ionian Islands, a chain of culturally distinct islands along the mainland's west coast known for their charming villages, green landscapes, and quiet beaches. Peloponnese
: A region rich in history, the Peloponnese has a high concentration of some of the most archeologically significant Greece attractions, as well as tasty cuisine, gorgeous shoreline, and uncrowded towns. Northeast Aegean Islands
: To experience traditional Greek culture, spend your vacation exploring the five large and eight small Northeast Aegean Islands, which are usually only visited by Greek tourists and provide access to the nearby Turkish coast.Sporades
: The unparalleled natural beauty and sunny shores draw foreigners to the Sporades region of Greece, a chain of 24 islands offering a range of experiences from vibrant nightlife to secluded getaways. Central Macedonia
: Remnants of ancient Greece and culture clashes between Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, and Turks are evident in the popular region of Central Macedonia through its art, architecture, and 1,000-year-old World Heritage Site.Attica
: Include Attica on your tour of Greece to see some of the country's most prominent ancient attractions, archeological sites, and classical architecture. The region is home to Athens, several islands, and green mountain villages.
Cities in GreeceAthens
: The birthplace of Western civilization, Athens is a famed destination that tends to top every Greece itinerary because of its ancient sites, storied past, delicious food, and diverse nightlife.Thessaloniki
: The second-largest city of Greece, Thessaloniki serves as the country's capital due to its rich collection of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman landmarks. A large student population also lends the city lively cafe and nightlife scenes.Mykonos Town
: Named for the grandson of Apollo, Mykonos Town draws loads of tourists to its maze of narrow streets and Cycladic buildings, and offers beaches, museums, and amenities ranging from high-end luxury to family-friendly charm.Heraklion
: The largest city on the island of Crete boasts the remains of ancient Minoan civilization, archeological attractions, medieval fortifications, and Byzantine architecture. Nafplio
: The gorgeous seaport city of Nafplio makes a great base for your Greece holiday. Explore the old town, with its combination of Greek, Turkish, and Venetian architecture, and then take day trips to the nearby villages, Byzantine churches, and ancient sites.Akrotiri
: Visit the red and black volcanic beaches at Akrotiri, a small coastal village that is loved for its unique shoreline and important Bronze Age attractions. Olympia
: Birthplace of the Olympic games, this World Heritage Site dates back to prehistoric times and includes an ancient hippodrome and temples as well as a fascinating museum of archeology.
Things to Do in Greece
Popular Greece Tourist AttractionsAcropolis Museum
: The highlight of many Greece tours, this 5th-century BCE citadel represents the power of ancient Greece as it sits high above the current capital.Parthenon
: Situated on a hill above Athens sits the Parthenon, one of the country's most widely recognizable structures. This classical temple was originally constructed to honor the goddess Athena.Plaka District
: Stroll through heart of Athens' oldest neighborhood, Plaka, and explore the pedestrian zones, historical sites, and Neoclassical architecture. Acropolis of Lindos
: A fortified citadel with traces of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman influence, the Acropolis of Lindos includes an impressive Doric temple and offers stunning panoramas of the harbor.The Palace of Knossos
: History-lovers may want to include a visit to the Palace of Knossos on their Greece itinerary. This complex dates back to 2000 BCE and was once the political center of Minoan civilization. Elafonissi Beach
: Located in southwestern Crete, this family-friendly beach draws tourists to its shores with fabulous tropical weather, white sands, and local cafes. National Archaeological Museum
: The largest museum in Athens features a massive collection of ancient pieces that have been excavated throughout Greece. Spinalonga (Kalydon)
: For a mix of culture and relaxation on your trip to Greece, head to the impressive Spinalonga: a Venetian fortress carved from rock along Crete's coastline, with plenty of lovely beaches down below. Balos Beach and Lagoon
: Escape from modern civilization with a trip to this uninhabited island near Crete, where the shallow, warm waters are inviting to children of all ages.Rethymnon Old Town
: The atmospheric Rethymnon Old Town draws lots of Greece vacationers with its Venetian spirit, aristocratic architecture, Byzantine ruins, and Hellenic-Roman structures, as well as access to the nearby beaches and town fortress.
Planning a Greece Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Greece with KidsAthens
is a great place to begin your family's tour of Greece. During your stay in the country's legendary capital, you and your children will equally enjoy a visit to the Parthenon
and Acropolis Museum
, as well as the Acropolis Museum
. A special highlight for your youngest ones is the interactive Hellenic Children's Museum
, which gives them a glimpse into Greece's past while providing plenty of entertainment. Break up the history lessons with a trip to Allou Fun Park, an amusement park packed with thrill rides, kiddie rides, and games. There is something for everyone in the old neighborhood of Plaka District
, where you can stroll around, eat traditional Greek food, stop into tourist shops, and enjoy atmospheric street life.
The islands, of course, offer plenty of Greece vacation ideas--but do be selective. You may want to avoid party destinations like France
during the high season and, instead, head somewhere like Crete
. Greece's largest island boasts a number of family-favorite beaches, like Elafonissi Beach
, as well as access to the nearby Balos Beach and Lagoon
, which is an island famous for its shallow, child-friendly waters. At and around Rethymnon
you will find a charming Old Town
, the Limnoupolis Water Park
, natural attractions like Lake Kournas
, and exciting archeological discoveries including the The Venetian Fortezza
. A visit to Heraklion
will make you feel like you've stepped into the past with attractions like theThe Palace of Knossos
and Spinalonga (Kalydon)
. If you tire of the beaches and exploring ruins, head to the Natural History Museum of Crete or admire the marine life at Cretaquarium Thalassocosmos
Things to Do in Greece with Kids
Bring your entire family to the land where some of the world's most storied heroes hail from, including Hercules, Alexander the Great, and Xena. Visit the birthplace of the Olympics
and learn about ancient mythology, or enjoy the seaside on any of the country's famous islands. With all of this at your fingertips, there are always things to do in Greece for people of all ages. Explore caves and coves along the coast, island-hop via ferry, and step onto archeological sites that look like something out of a movie. Older kids and teenagers will love the outdoor cinemas in the cities and seaside towns, as well as indoor attractions like aquariums, which allow them to beat the heat. Enjoy a range of water parks, sandy beaches, and swimming spots throughout Greece, and consider staying at one of the many family-friendly resorts equipped with entertainment of their own.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Greece
The best part of taking your family on a tour of Greece is the welcoming, warm nature of Greek people. No matter where you go, you and your children will likely be treated with kindness and affection. Many hotels, resorts, and other accommodations are family-friendly, and there is always the additional option of apartment or home rental if you prefer a more independent experience. Greece is rich in history and natural beauty, which makes many of its famous sites enticing to both adults and children. If you want to plan tours of certain attractions, contact them ahead of time to see if there is a kid-centered tour available, or consider shaping your trip around the things that your children might find most interesting, like seeing sea creatures or checking out a hands-on museum. The food in Greece is healthy and wholesome, often made from local ingredients, and transportation is fairly easy to coordinate thanks to ample tourism. Your only challenge traveling in Greece as a family will be choosing which attractions are the most exciting to you and yours.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Greece
Cuisine of Greece
One of the great pleasures of a tour of Greece is the fresh Mediterranean cuisine with plenty of olive oil. Most locals eat traditional Greek fare from their own kitchen or dine out at a taverna or estiatorio, which serve homemade food in a relaxed setting. Olive oil is a staple, as are lemon juice, grains, bread, lamb, fish, eggplant, zucchini, and yogurt. Many pastries include filo dough, such as "spanakopita" (spinach pie), and Greek desserts typically feature nuts and honey. While feta is the most famous Greek cheese, other popular and widely used cheeses include kasseri, graviera, manouri, and more. "Meze" collectively refers to a number of small dishes often served with wine, ouzo, or tsipouro liqueur. Because so much of the food is regionally sourced, consider trying the local dishes and wines as your Greece itinerary takes you from place to place.
Shopping in Greece
boasts the same international shopping as other European capitals, Grecian specialties and crafts can be found at other shops in this city and throughout the rest of the country. Take advantage of your trip to Greece by stocking up on organic products like honey and olive oil; you can purchase them at any grocer's or tourist shop during your travels. Jewelry stores make up many of the retailers here, with local artisans creating unique pieces at smaller island shops. Rug weavings make a popular souvenir (you'll find a large concentration of weavers on Crete), while other traditional crafts, like ceramics, are common throughout the mainland and islands. The best needlework is found on Crete
, and Skyros
and the olive-wood carvings from Corfu
are considered the finest.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Greece
History of Greece
Before embarking on your tour of Greece, it is essential to know a bit about the long and legendary history of this country. The first, and most primitive, civilization established in Greece consisted of Pelasgians, who were followed by the more advanced Cycladic and Minoan peoples. A Greek-speaking population arrived in what is considered the Dark Ages of Ancient Greece around 1700 BCE. This marked the end of those initial native civilizations and the beginning of a seafaring civilization centered in the Peloponnese region.
Classical Greece soon followed, from 1200 to 800 BCE, flourishing during the Golden Age of Greece, which went on for centuries and shaped much of Western Civilization as we know it today. During this time, Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes were at the core of many scientific, political, economic, and cultural discoveries. However, an advanced network of city-states stretched across the entire Aegean basin, making Greek rule quite widespread. After the conquering of Greece by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, power shifted to the northern Macedonian kingdom from Athens. After Alexander's death, Greece became a part of the Roman Empire and continued to progress and flourish during this period.
Christianity came to Greece in the 1st century CE and has remained a powerful force in the country ever since. After the Byzantine Empire replaced the rule of the Romans, Greek language and beliefs were at the center of this new kingdom, which called modern-day Istanbul its capital. The Byzantine period lasted for many centuries and finally came to a close in the 1400s, when the rising Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. While Greeks worked hard to maintain their culture and religion, many chose to flee to Western Europe rather than live under Ottoman rule.
Following the 18th-century Era of Enlightenment, Greek people led a revolution against the Ottomans demanding their right to a sovereign state, which they eventually won in 1829. After a brief stint as a republic, Greece became a monarchy. It wasn't until after World War II that the royal rule was challenged by communist rebels, who were eventually defeated in 1949. Nonetheless, this period was marked by war and destruction, which pushed many Greeks to leave their home country in search of better opportunities elsewhere.
In the latter half of the 20th century, Greece experienced massive economic growth and returned to a democracy in 1974. After joining the European Communities (which later became the European Union) in 1981, Greece's success skyrocketed. However, this country was greatly affected by recession in the 21st century, and has struggled with high unemployment and slow economic growth since, in spite of the thriving tourism industry. Regardless of its fiscal crisis, however, every year millions come to explore the ancient history preserved in countless sights and sunbathe on one of the nation's picturesque beaches.
Customs of Greece
Greek people are considered to be very warm and curious towards strangers, often asking personal questions and even inviting new friends to dinner. Though this behavior may seem intrusive to some travelers, in Greece it is commonplace and anything but rude. If over the course of your Greece vacation you find yourself invited to an event or meal by a local, you should come with a gift (think flowers, dessert, or wine). Don't be surprised if people are late for things, as punctuality isn't very important in Greek culture. When visiting religious sites, be sure to wear longer slacks if you are a man, and something that covers your knees and shoulders if you are a woman. You might get some strange looks if you run around barefoot or leave the house with wet hair, as many Greek people believe you will get sick from doing either of these things. Last but certainly not least, watch your greeting style: Greeks do not greet each other with a wave, as it is an insult to show your open palm to someone, and head nods are also easily misconstrued. Equally confusing to first-time visitors is that Greeks nod their head to mean no, whereas a slight incline means yes. Try to learn a few simple Greek phrases so that you are able to express yourself appropriately in these scenarios.
Holidays & Festivals in Greece
While each town in Greece has its own festivities revolving around wine culture, local history, special traditions, and summer solstice, there are some holidays that are celebrated throughout the country. As an Orthodox Christian nation, Greece celebrates Christmas with feasts, sweets, and song. Apokries, or Carnival, is a two-week festival preceding Clean Monday (the first day of Lent), beginning with the Sunday of Meat Fare and consisting of feasts, parades, and colorful costumes. The most famous Apokries parade is in the city of Patras
, though most towns have their own version. Easter, the most important holiday in Greece, is celebrated in a number of ways, from red Easter eggs and baked buns to village-wide processions and, finally, a lamb roast. If your Greece holiday coincides with the holiday and you want to join in, Corfu is the most famous place to do so.
Another tradition is the name day celebration, which as a visitor you're less likely to encounter. Individuals in Greece celebrate their name day as one would a birthday, on the Saint's Day of the saint they were named for. A typical name day consists of a party or meal with family, friends, and gifts. The Greek Independence Day isn't entirely secular, as it shares a dedication to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, while Ohi ("No") Day in October marks the date that Greece proudly resisted Italian invasion during World War II.
Greece Travel Tips
Climate of Greece
Greece has a largely Mediterranean climate, with dry summers that are warm or hot, and a mild, cool winter with some precipitation. However, do keep in mind as you tour Greece that the weather can change based on where you are traveling, as it has a variety microclimates. For example, mountainous areas of Greece have an Alpine climate characterized by wetter winters and somewhat stormy summers, while in northern Greece winters can be quite snowy. Though most travelers plan their Greece holiday during the summer months, when temperatures can reach up to 40 C (104 F), southern parts of the country remain temperate year-round, with warm weather continuing on through the fall on the islands.
Transportation in Greece
Most places to see in Greece are easy to explore on foot, though major cities that have more area to cover have local bus systems, including Athens
, Patras, and Kalamata. Athens also has an underground metro that makes getting from one attraction to another easy. The Greek railway system, OSE, offers trains between Athens and Alexandroupoli, via Thessaloniki, and along the Peloponnese
network; that said, prices are changeable and service spotty. Taxis are always a good option, though some drivers in Athens may try to take advantage of tourists, so make sure you're getting into a marked cab with a meter. Ferries offer travelers a chance to island-hop, while a number of budget and more upscale airlines fly from main cities to destinations across Europe.
Language of Greece
The official language of Greece is Greek--a fascinating tongue boasting the longest history of any Indo-European language, with written documents dating back to 34 centuries ago. Greek is spoken throughout the country by 99 percent of the population, with a variety of non-official dialects spoken in certain smaller communities, such as Cypriot Greek. People working in tourist centers often know another language, most frequently English, German, French, Spanish, and/or Italian.
Tipping in Greece
While tipping in Greece is neither expected nor obligatory, it is polite to leave something when the service is good, as servers tend to make low wages. Typically, there is a service charge included in a restaurant's bill, but if you would like to leave a little extra, you can round up the total. Taxi drivers in tourist areas have grown to expect tips from visitors, though, again, it is not necessary to do so. When shopping, bargaining is not the norm and most shops' prices are fixed, though an outdoor market may be more lenient in this regard.