Top 10 things to do in Greece

If like me you’re from the UK or the seemingly cold lands of Northern Europe in general then summer is well and truly over for this year. I didn’t get my big dose of all things Greek this summer as planned, it seemed the gods did not favor it for 2014.

So instead I’ve had to be content with looking at travel guides replete with gorgeous images of sun kissed beaches, wondrous ancient monuments and monasteries which seem to touch the very clouds themselves. As I have gazed through the plethora of things to do in Greece I decided to put together a little top ten list of all the great things I’d like to see on my next trip. 

Okay it would have to be one heck of a big trip to take it all in in one go, but this is a dream holiday and whilst we’re dreaming let’s not let real life get in the way.

1. The Acropolis & Parthenon : Hands down this was the highlight of my first trip to Athens and Greece itself. I don’t think anything really prepares you for when you hike up those great stone cut steps on the side of the Acropolis rock. Passing through the Propylaia and past the temple of Athena Nike you keep catching ever closer glimpses of that towering structure. When you walk out on to the Acropolis top and see the Parthenon itself it will take your breath away as you marvel that this was built 438 years before the birth of Christ! Come early in the day as you’re right out in the exposed sun and it can get pretty hot around lunch time. You’ll want a lot of time up here to really take everything in and appreciate the scale of it all. There are quite a few more buildings aside the Parthenon itself up there and the old temples of Athena and Zeus are worth a good look around too.

2. Mykonos : When looking for pictures of Greece you can’t help but find images of the sun setting the sky on fire as it dips below the water line from a gorgeous island beach. As much as for the gods and ancient world of the past modern Greece is famous for her islands. The Cyclades are some of the most beautiful of these. One I’d love to visit is the cosmopolitan paradise of Mykonos. Yes, clubbing may be one of the first things which come to mind when imagining this white washed beauty, but the image of Greece we all know, the white painted windmills staring off into the vast Aegean is typical Mykonos beauty.

3. Rhodes : Rhodes is one of the largest Greek islands and is extremely close to the coast of Turkey. My stop off here would have to take a little bit of archaeology as I try and discover the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. After failing to rediscover the ancient statue it would be time to head inland and see some of the rugged mountainous and forest covered landscape, home to churches and crusader castles. My final stop off would have to be the medieval walled town of Rhodes and pay homage at the temple of Venus. Then a sunset, a harbor and a perfect view. What more could you want?

4. Crete : Biggest isn’t always best. Except that sometimes it is and in the case of Crete it might just be true. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and has more than enough to see not just for a fortnight in the sun but a month or two at the least. One of the most enduring things about Greece is the rich ancient history and I’ve been fascinated by it for years. The Minoan civilisation is one which has always held much more than a passing interest for me. Knossos was the capital of the Minoan world and though today its’ palace may be an archaeological site, it has been said to be the inspiration for the myth of the Minotaur home, the Labyrinth. Whether the bull of Crete existed or not it is undeniably an impressive place to see.

5. Meteora : Back to the mainland and in many ways into the heart of Greece. Remember when I talked about monasteries which seem to touch the clouds earlier? Well this is it. Meteora is one of the largest and seen as one of the most important monastery complexes in the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as being a UNESCO world heritage site. With this kind of credentials you don’t want to miss it. Perched atop sandstone rock pillars and surveying the rugged and jagged landscape behind and plain below it’s easy to see why this has become such a firm favorite with tourists and day trippers from Athens. Most visit as part of a two day trip taking in the monastery and other sights of central Greece. I’d also like to take a peek at the nearby Theopetra Caves which are home to the oldest known man-made structure.

6. Delphi : And whilst we’re on one of those two day excursions from Athens, let’s see what the other half takes in. When I thought we’d get to Greece this summer I looked up a few tour operators and most combine Meteora in a two day trip with the ancient temple site of Delphi. Delphi was pretty much ground zero for the ancient Greek world. The all-knowing oracle who dispensed cryptic wisdom was go-to woman for just about any question you needed an answer to. Delphi is forever shrouded in myth and legend. Did Zeus really release two birds from opposite end of the world to meet in the middle - crowning Delphi the literal center of the world? Well I guess I wouldn’t see Zeus but I could see the home of the Pythian games, a rival to the ancient Olympics and one of the major games of the Hellenic world imagining the crowds cheering me on as I hoist a fantastic weight above my head.

7. The Athens subway : This may seem like an odd pick but stay with me as it does make sense. The Athens metro (like all subway systems) cuts through the underground heart of the city above. In Athens it just happens that the ancient heart it runs through is seemingly bursting with ancient artifacts and archaeological wonders.
Some of the newer stations such as Syntagma Metro Station are home to museums displaying the gems which were discovered as the area was unearthed and construction took place. Monastiraki and Acropolis stations also threw up quite a few wonders and these can be seen in smaller displays within the stations concourses. I loved that you could see the stations cut into the rock and all the discoveries they produced.

8. Monastiraki and Kolonaki, Athens : If I’m going to go shopping back in Greece, it will be to the downtown Athens area of Monastiraki. The streets surrounding Monastiraki are home to flea markets and stalls selling all manor of goods. Looking for something quintessentially Greek or the usual tourist gifts? Either way there will be a stall selling everything you could ever want. Kolonaki is the polar opposite. Whereas Monastiraki is home to the flea markets and the perfect place to grab a bargain, Kolonaki is the upscale, chic and elegant. The area is located between Lycavittus and Syntagma square and is home to Athens designer stores and boutiques as well as charming cafes and restaurants. It is a great area for people watching, but shopping here does stretch the purse strings a bit!

9. Elafonissi Beach, Chania, Crete : Back out to sea for my final two stops as we hop around Greece. After seeing all the amazing sights from the ancient world, visiting monasteries on the hill and doing some hard core shopping you’d be forgiven for being a little tired, I know I would be. And looking for a place to just chill out and relax leads me to pictures of this beautiful beach. Greece is spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful beaches but this one really does take first among equals.

10. Santorini : I saved the best for last. It may be a small island, but Santorini has had my heart for the past couple of years since we first visited. I don’t know if it was the fresh seafood, the gorgeous island, beaches of red, black and golden sands or the fact it is a volcano! Wherever the magic of Santorini comes from, I would simply love to be back there again.

Article by Russell Bowes