Holidays in Greece: Agios Sostis in Zakynthos island
COVER STORY

Getting started with a dream holiday in Greece

READING TIME
As long as it takes to drink a Greek coffee

Over 200 magical islands, a mountainous mainland, fun-loving cities and a foodie’s paradise all rolled into one

What is it that comes to mind when you think of holidays in Greece? Is it the sunshine? The unique light? The deep blue seas and sandy beaches? Islands big and small? Cities bustling with life? Forest-filled mountains? Culinary delights? Friendly smiles?

Holidays on the Greek islands

Greece is home to 227 inhabited islands grouped seven island regions  – the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Ionian, Saronic Gulf, Sporades, North Aegean and Crete.

Each group is different and even islands in the same chain can vary dramatically between them.

Whether you fly or take a ferry, there is something about arriving on a Greek island that is unique. The thrill is special every single time – as is the memory that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Symi island

Cyclades: In blue and white

Think Greek islands and what first springs to mind is the Cyclades: white cubist homes hugging cliffsides that hover above the navy blue of the Aegean Sea.

Santorini and Mykonos are, undoubtedly, the showstopper islands that most know and love. If you haven’t visited, they are must-see islands, whether you are a romantic soul in search of the perfect sunset or love to stay out partying till late (or early).

But that’s just the start. Get searching and you’ll be amazed what you’ll discover.

Naxos, the largest island in the region, is blessed with long, sandy beaches and fertile land which produces a rich smorgasbord of tasty local delights. The fortified main town was built to protect inhabitants from invading pirates and, today, welcomes swashbucklers of all ages. For these reasons, Naxos is perfectly suited to families. Water sports fans flock here for the windsurfing and kitesurfing.

Rugged Tinos and laidback Sifnos feature hiking trails that follow the coast or head inland. They also share a reputation for being the ultimate foodie destinations, serving up traditional dishes and contemporary takes on the classics.

Sprawling Andros, blanketed in greenery and flowing with springs, is both refined and wild. Catch an art exhibition in the main town, Hora, in the morning and trek to a well-hidden beach in the afternoon.

Seek out more on the Cyclades

The divine Dodecanese

The 12 islands of the Dodecanese are as diverse as they come.

With its tales of knights and myths, Rhodes is the best-known island in the group. The medieval old town is made for meandering and the island’s mountains are filled with flowers in the spring, making Rhodes the ideal island city break.

Long a favourite among beach lovers, Kos, the birthplace of Hippocrates, is quietly making a name for itself as a gastronomy destination. Its winemaking tradition has seen a recent revival, with interesting grape varieties experiencing a comeback.

Exotic kastri isle in Kos

Spiritual Patmos, where St John the Divine wrote the Book of Revelation in an isolated cave, draws travellers from all walks of life – from Orthodox Christian pilgrims following in the steps of St Paul to writers seeking solitude to pen their next book.

Karpathos’ remoteness has kept the island an insider secret, with those in the know revelling in its magnificent beaches, home-style cuisine and the warm hospitality of locals.

Rock climbing enthusiasts make a beeline for Kalymnos, where climbing routes on cliff-faces look out across the shimmering Aegean Sea.

Discover more of the Dodecanese islands

Turquoise dreams in the Ionian

The Ionian islands represent a rare blend of natural beauty not seen elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Landscapes of thick forestland trickle down to seas of near surreal hues that range from sapphire to cyan.

It’s no wonder the Ionian is one of Greece’s most popular sailing destinations.

Bearing a heritage of French, Venetian and English influences, regal Corfu takes the title of the undisputed queen of the Ionian islands. In Corfu’s capital, stone-paved alleyways are lined with elegant neoclassical mansions and open-air cafes buzz with people day and night. On this lush isle, there are beaches aplenty and tiny coves that are best explored by boat.

Picture postcard-perfect Zakynthos is the stuff that beach holidays in Greece are made of. Emerald seas lap onto the shores of fine white shingle beaches, whilst Loggerhead turtles return to the island every year in their thousands to lay their eggs in protected habitat areas.

Movie scenes from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin put Kefalonia on the map and, today, it is an enticing choice thanks to its traditional colourful villages by the sea, herb-filled mountains, varied beaches and organic products.

Explore more of the Ionian islands

Eternal Crete

Crete, Greece’s largest island, is almost a small nation in itself. It’s a wondrous mix of ancient sites, historic monuments, diverse beaches, soaring mountains, traditional villages lost in time, hearty farm-to-table fare and generous hospitality.

Agios Nikolaos' celebrity resort Elounda, Chania’s atmospheric old town and Rethymnon’s rolling beaches count among the island’s countless attractions.

Discover more on Crete

Spectacular Sporades islands

The Sporades might be a sprinkling of islands in the Aegean, yet their unspoilt beauty is larger than life.

Skiathos is movie star material without a doubt, so it’s easy to see why this petite, green island is so easy to fall in love with and return to time and again.

Its coastline is laced with endless small sandy beaches where pine and fir trees provide natural shade for swimmers dipping in cerulean waters.

In the main town, a seaside promenade offers the opportunity for an evening stroll to admire yachts moored in the port after dinner at one of the numerous fish tavernas.

On neighbouring Skopelos and Alonissos, the pace of island life in their pretty towns and villages is slow and easy. Pebbled beaches, sheltered bays and thick forests create the perfect setting for a tranquil getaway.

See more of the Sporades islands

The Saronic isles

A short ferry ride from Athens, the Saronic Gulf islands are a varied mix of simplicity and style, ranging from sophisticated Spetses and Hydra to unassuming Poros and old school Aegina

Island towns are dotted with neoclassical sea captains’ mansions, museums, traditional homes, cafes and tavernas looking out over marinas that are constantly humming with people.

There are historic sites, monasteries and churches to explore, and time-worn pathways that connect village.

See more on the Saronic islands

Undiscovered North Aegean islands

The North Aegean is where authenticity and spontaneity go hand in hand.

On Lesvos, the welcome is warm and the feasts are legendary. A road trip from village to village is one of the best ways to get to know this vast island. Lesvos is known for its fine fish and seafood meze, pottery-making tradition and thermal springs.

Samos’ stately capital is graced with pastel-coloured neoclassical mansions, while the island’s ancient sites and museums alone are worth the trip.

Learn more about the North Aegean islands

Vibrant city breaks

Greece’s capital Athens and its northern sister city Thessaloniki each have their own inimitable personality yet both combine all of the elements that make for an ideal city break destination.

Athens: A city transformed

Athens may be renowned for its ancient sites, monuments and treasure-filled museums yet it also plays host to lively neighbourhoods and squares, a thriving arts scene, contemporary cultural spaces, world-class restaurants, buzzing wine and cocktail bars, stylish boutiques and a busy calendar of events.

Today, Athens is truly a year-round city break destination, a must-do for any traveller.

A short distance from the city centre is the Athens Riviera, the city’s southern coast, which is lined with yacht-filled marinas, seafront eateries, hip bars and cafes, shopping districts and sandy beaches. The coast is particularly popular with travellers between spring and early autumn.

Read more about Athens

Thessaloniki: Northern charm

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, is situated in northern Greece on the Thermaic Gulf.

Pulsating with life at all hours of the day and night thanks to a significant student population, the dynamic port town is considered Greece’s culinary capital.

Byzantine monuments, Roman ruins, Ottoman structures and Jewish influences permeate the city’s fabric. Downtown there are street markets, high-end boutiques, tavernas and restaurants, and cafes and bars. Ano Poli, the upper town, reveals vestiges of old Thessaloniki, replete with towers and churches, and enjoys expansive views of the gulf and modern-day city below.

Learn more about Thessaloniki

The wonders of mainland Greece

Macedonia

Northern Greece’s Macedonia region is rich in history, varied landscapes, traditions and flavours.

Mythical Mount Olympus, the playground of the 12 ancient gods, awaits the bold who are set on scaling its summit.

Halkidiki peninsula, on Macedonia’s eastern coast, offers pristine sandy beaches, fertile plains and villages featuring traditional local architecture. Pilgrims can pay a visit to monasteries in the male-only monastic state of Mount Athos.

Read more about Macedonia

 

Peloponnese

The Peloponnese is made for history buffs, adventure seekers and foodies alike.

Mountains are blanketed in forests, valleys are filled with olive groves, castles tell myriad tales and a dreamy coastline is laced with sandy beaches and hidden rocky coves. Village life here follows age-old traditions and the culinary delights are innumerable.

Learn more about the Peloponnese

Thrace

A curious blend of East and West, Thrace is teeming with Byzantine, medieval and Ottoman relics and is alive with a mix of cultures. Here, Muslims and Christians have coexisted for centuries.

The bazaar of Komotini, the old town of Xanthi and the Pomak villages count among the fascinating attractions of Thrace.

Nature lovers will marvel at the Nestos River, Dadia Forest, Evros Delta, Lake Vistonida and the Kotza Orman forest, which attract hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife.

Explore more of Thrace

Thessaly

Forest-covered mountains, cosy traditional villages, secluded beaches and spirited towns make Thessaly an insider favourite from season to season.

The Pelion peninsula offers swimming in summer and skiing in winter, along with hiking year-round and wholesome local products and dishes.

Monasteries sit atop the mysterious, near-vertical rocky peaks of Meteora, which seem as if they might be a step closer to heaven.

See more on Thessaly

Central Greece

Central Greece is where the heart of the ancient world beats, namely Delphi and its mystic oracle, along with the ‘hot gates’ of Thermopylae. 

A stone’s throw from Delphi is the chic ski resort town of Arahova and Mount Parnassos, a black pine- and Kefalonian fir tree-filled national park with exceptional biodiversity.

The traditional stone-built villages, hills and rivers of Karpenisi offer opportunities for hiking, horse-riding and rafting.

On the island of Skyros, a picturesque main town beckons, along with pretty beaches, the miniature Skyrian horse and a raucous pre-Lenten carnival.

Read more about Central Greece

Western Greece

Western Greece remains relatively undiscovered yet is brimming with intriguing villages, archaeological sites, cultural attractions, serene lakes and rolling valleys.  

It is home to awe-inspiring Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics.

The seaside hamlet and lagoon of Messolongi are mesmerising to the eye and soothing for the soul.

Action junkies can get their adrenaline kick through hiking, canoeing and kayaking in the rivers of Aitoloakarnania, Achaia and Ilia.

See more on Western Greece


 

Epirus

Epirus, an expansive region of craggy rock faces, towering mountains, flowing rivers and well-preserved, stone-built villages, awaits guests with open arms.

The history-rich Zagorohoria villages mark the gateway to adventure: trekking across the lofty heights of the Pindos mountain range, crossing arched stone bridges, rafting on the Voidomatis and Arachthos rivers, and hiking the Vikos gorge.

On the Epirot coast, Preveza and Parga are idyllic summer seaside resort towns with hidden beaches and coves to explore by foot and by boat.

Find out more about Epirus

Zagorochoria

Greek cuisine: The heart of Mediterranean culinary culture

Food is a matter that Greeks take very seriously and, at the same time, a joyous opportunity to prepare a meal and celebrate one another’s company.

Greece lays claim to gastronomy traditions harking back to ancient times, with influences from a host of invaders and settlers and a seemingly limitless array of unique local products, dishes and culinary traditions.

The country has made a significant contribution to Mediterranean culinary culture and has helped emphasise the importance of high-quality nutritional sustenance.

Whether on the islands, in the big cities or in mainland villages, sitting down to share a relaxed, wholesome meal and a glass of wine or a spirit with family and friends is a way of life in Greece.

Greece’s agricultural produce and products include specific types of olives and olive oil, feta and other cheeses, mountain herbs, wines produced with grape varietals not found elsewhere, fish and seafood, grains and seeds, and flavourful fruit and vegetables.

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