We’re not pretending that we don’t love summer holiday beach-time on a Greek island as much as you do. But there’s something else we adore about this country that makes the most of the great weather, pretty much all year long, as well as the incredibly diverse landscape. It’s the perfect environment for everyone who loves fun and getting active on holiday.
Hiking, sailing, kayaking, river-trekking… you name it. If it involves mountain or sea (or both!), we’re into it. Rock-climbing, canyoning… even snow skiing. The list goes on. So here goes…. it’s time you were introduced to the 8 most popular outdoor adventures in Greece.
Hiking in Greece
Over 40 mountain ranges to choose from
Did you know that 80% of Greece is mountainous? In fact, there are more than 40 mountain ranges passing 2,000m, offering incredible scenery. So walking enthusiasts have a choice of coastal and inland hikes, some of which include 360-degree views on island peaks. The only problem you’ll have is deciding which region to go for.
The mild Mediterranean climate and bright sunlight in spring, autumn and even winter let you enjoy outdoor activities in Greece in every season. Even during the hotter summer months, you can head to higher altitudes, such as in the Pindos Mountains in the north.
Distances are relatively small, so you can easily move between regions, with many trails combining millennia of history and culture. It’s quite common to pass Byzantine churches, medieval castles and ancient ruins as you walk. You will visit authentic villages and monasteries, whose monks are great ambassadors for the celebrated Greek hospitality. And once you’re done, chill out in a beautiful bay and enjoy the purest Mediterranean food in a taverna that hardly any other visitor knows about.
Top hiking experiences:
- Mt Olympus: Home of the 12 ancient gods, with gentle family-friendly trails and more challenging routes if you want to reach the highest peaks in Greece.
- Meteora: Miracles of nature and man, offering hikers the experience of walking between centuries-old monasteries in a unique landscape.
- Pindos Mountains: With some of the most impressive hiking paths in Greece, featuring the Vikos Gorge and stone villages of Zagori.
- Cyclades: The most glamourous island chain in Greece, forming a circle around uninhabited Delos (an archaeological treasure trove). There are memorable hikes on all Cyclades isles, including Santorini, Tinos and Folegandros.
- Crete: The birthplace of the Minoan civilisation and a unique corner of the world. There are plenty of hiking paths all over Crete. Stand-out treks take you into the rugged White Mountains and on the coastal paths along the Libyan Sea.
Sailing in Greece
The joy of island-hopping in the company of Poseidon
With a coastline of about 16,000 km, including the mainland and some 6,000 islands (of which only 227 are inhabited), Greece is one of the world’s premier sailing destinations. Blessed with warm weather, four different archipelagos and seven island chains, sailing holidays here are safe and easy-going – in the company of the sea god Poseidon himself.
Whether you are in the green Ionian islands (full of colourful Venetian landmarks) or the Sporades (the famous Mama Mia islands), your sailing holiday will involve short voyages from one island to the next and a lot of swimming in between.
Looking for a bit more wind perhaps? The Aegean is your playground, where you can choose how far you want to travel or how many islands you want to hop to. The options are countless and the imagery on each island, bay or port will never be the same.
Top sailing experiences:
- Ionian: Ideal for families and beginners due to the proximity of islands such as Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Ithaca and (in the north of the archipelago), Corfu, Lefkada and Paxi/Antipaxi.
- Sporades: Skopelos and Skiathos have always been favourites with sailors, and just next door is Alonissos, the first island in Greece to go plastic-free and home to a beautiful marine park protecting animal life such as the rare Mediterranean Monk Seal.
- Cyclades: The archetypal Greek island landscape found on the likes of Santorini, Milos, Naxos, Folegandros, Sifnos and Serifos is made even more attractive for sailing enthusiasts by the region’s famous Meltemi (northern) winds that will fuel your sails.
- Dodecanese: With a total of 15 big and 150 smaller islands (from Rhodes and Kos to the region’s undisputed hidden gems), the Dodecanese islands have played a pivotal role in the country’s history. Their strategic position in the south-eastern Aegean has attracted many conquerors over the centuries, including Minoans, Phoenicians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Byzantines, medieval knights, Jews, Ottomans, Levantines and Italians – all of whom have contributed to their rich cultural heritage.
Sea Kayaking in Greece
Exploring the 11th longest coastline in the world
You can kayak or canoe in Greek waters from May to October without feeling cold. That’s a whole six months of the year, from spring to autumn! It could be a day excursion, or you could make a week (or longer) out of it. There are islands you can circumnavigate in a day, or even paddle between, in mostly calm and safe conditions (although always check first if you’re not with a guide). The water clarity and marine life are top class and there’s always the chance you’ll see dolphins and sea turtles and – if you’re really lucky – a monk seal.
The variety of landscapes around Greek waters is tremendous, from volcanic minerals and dramatic limestone cliffs to green slopes with pine trees down to the waterline. Just as spotting ancient sites by the shore is a unique experience, such as the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion and the Temple of Athina Lindos in Rhodes.
Your kayaking holiday could be to an island rich in volcanic history (Nisyros, Santorini, Milos), or involving paddling past picture-postcard villages (Oia in Santorini, Symi’s Hora) and to deserted islands where you might camp for the night. And don’t forget the sea caves, like the Blue Grotto in Kastellorizo or the Blue Caves in Zakynthos.
Top sea kayaking experiences:
- Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon: The 5th-century BC temple dedicated to the sea god at the eastern tip of Attica isn’t just a pivotal landmark of Greek antiquity. It’s one of the most atmospheric coastal spots on the mainland, a perfect backdrop to a kayaking or canoeing adventure.
- Lindos in Rhodes: Spotting the 3rd-century BC acropolis of Lindos is just one of many kayaking highlights in Rhodes, an experience made even more special by the beautiful town and beach of Lindos next door.
- A Santorini sunset paddle: Santorini’s sunsets stay with everyone who has experienced them, so you can make your holiday on this star island in the Cyclades even more memorable by exploring the coastline of the caldera at sundown. It’s the best time of day to admire the whitewashed settlements on the cliff.
- Milos: Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore the coastline of Milos, famous for its multicoloured volcanic terrain and world-famous sights such as Sarakiniko’s lunar landscape, the pirate cove of Kleftiko and the boathouses of Syrmata and Firopotamos.
River-trekking in Greece
Hiking along rivers with waterfalls and plunge pools
Next on our tour of outdoor adventures in Greece is exploring the array of rivers offering invigorating river treks. There are more than 2,500 km of rivers in the country, many running through gorges containing waterfalls and natural freshwater pools you can swim in.
You could find yourself in the foothills of Mount Olympus or drinking from freshwater springs in the towering Astraka Mountains at an altitude of 2,400 m. With so many majestic massifs, deep gorges and meandering rivers, it’s no wonder mountains feature so prominently in the things to do outside in Greece.
Top river-trekking experiences:
- Voidomatis River: Awe-inspiring is the only way to describe Vikos Gorge, below the Zagori villages in Epirus. Once you’ve experienced the incredible blue and rich nature of this meandering river, you may well have found your new favourite part of Greece.
- The Panta Vrehei Waterfalls: The Always Raining Waterfalls (as the name translates) are just one of many natural gems of Central Greece, allowing you to get back to nature in a way you never imagined.
- Bolovinena Gorge: Mt Xiro is one of the many outdoor natural escapes in Evia. It’s a relatively short gorge (4.5km) and is rich in wildlife, making it perfect for a day’s hike.
- Neda River: The Peloponnese’s Neda River is named after a nymph who, in Greek mythology, was a goddess of water. The setting more than lives up to its name, with a hike up the river path ending at another wonderful waterfall.
Biking in Greece
Combine your cycling passion with discovery
A combination of diverse terrain and low humidity in Greece makes mountain biking a great way to explore the many mountain trails on the mainland or islands, and road cyclists will adore the scenic countryside and narrow paved lanes.
As soon as you get out of a hustle and bustle of town, you’ll find yourself on quiet roads, surrounded by the fresh scent of pine trees and aromatic herbs. There are bike trails that pass through olive groves or peach orchards blossoming in spring and many routes pass historic sites or end by the water, where you can end your ride with a swim.
There are even boat-and-bike tours that explore a different Greek island each day, allowing you to enjoy the scenery and rich culture of each. And at the end of each day, you get to stay in small, traditional guesthouses offering great food and an even warmer welcome.
Top biking experiences:
- Mountain biking: Cycle between the villages of Zagori, in Epirus, crossing stone-arched bridges and into the foothills of the Pindos Mountains, or in gorgeous Evia, on mountains such as Dirfis, just a couple of hours’ drive from Athens.
- A bike & boat expedition: Get the best out of the mainland and island on a cycling holiday that combines the Gulf of Corinth and Ionian islands such as Ithaca, Lefkada and Paxi, or a tour that takes you to Aegina and onto Cycladic gems such as Serifos and Sifnos.
- Road cycling in the Peloponnese: The Peloponnese coastline is made for road cyclists, not just to enjoy the views of the Aegean but also to explore the culture of a part of the country synonymous with the struggle for Greek Liberation in the early 19th century.
- Island cycling: Combine an island holiday with your cycling passion in Kos, the most bicycle-friendly Greek island. Kos town’s many cycle lanes offer the perfect way to discover the island’s rich culture and history.
Canyoning in Greece
Adrenaline-filled fun and nature at its most majestic
There are more than 150 gorges in Greece waiting to be explored, ranging from fun, easy routes for all the family involving just a few rappels to challenging technical courses that require skill and an experienced guide.
What they have in common is that the surroundings are utterly beautiful. The gorges are the result of huge amounts of water released by melting ice millions of years ago, carving its way through limestone and gifting us some of the most epic scenery in Europe.
Many of Greece’s gorges are perfect for half- or full-day canyoning excursions in what would otherwise be inaccessible terrain. In most cases, they end at the water in what becomes, effectively, a private beach. Canyons may be dry or have flowing or still water and, especially during the warm summer months, can become an unforgettable landscape of waterfalls, water slides and swimming spots in natural pools.
You’ll most likely need specialised equipment and a combination of physical and mental agility, so joining a group is definitely the way to go. As well as gaining access to the equipment and local knowledge, you’ll enjoy the environment of cooperation and trust.
Top canyoning experiences:
- Athens: A short walk through the lush pine forest of Mt Parnitha (past the mythical Cave of Pan) brings you to the Goura Gorge and a canyoning route that includes 16 rappels. It’s a fantastic bonus to any trip to Athens.
- Mt Olympus: Become one with Greece’s most famous mountain by canyoning over boulders and down the waterfalls of the Orlias Gorge… spiking your adrenaline level one minute and being filled with the beauty of nature the next.
- Evia: You can take your pick of gorges in Evia. The Havos Gorge is close to Chalkida and has vertical and narrow walls, impressive pedestals, unexplored caves and gurgling water for most of the year. And Mankia Gorge is a beautiful, small and playful gorge with great diving and swimming spots.
- Crete: Another location with many gorges, including the unforgettable Samaria Gorge, not only the longest in Europe but one of the best for walking. With such a diverse landscape, Crete is one of the top places to enjoy all of Greece’s outdoor activities.
Rock climbing in Greece
Climbing sites for all abilities, combining mountain and sea
There is probably no better climate for climbing in Europe. The warmth and light of spring, autumn and winter make Greek conditions ideal, especially in places like Leonidio (Peloponnese), Kalymnos island (in the Dodecanese) and Attica, as well as many other regions of the country.
The volcanic landscape and quality of limestone offer an interesting climbing terrain with plenty of variety in the relief, such as crags, caves and overhangs. Where else can you find epic climbing sites, such as the famous Meteora monoliths?
And perhaps best of all, many climbing sites are near the water, allowing you to end a day’s climbing with a relaxing swim.
Top rock climbing experiences:
- Kalymnos: A landmark destination for everyone from beginners to world-champion climbers, with epic scenery and thousands of well-maintained sites (such as the jaw-dropping Grande Grotto).
- Meteora: A once-in-a-lifetime location for experienced climbers. These giant creations of nature in Central Greece are not just famous for the monasteries perched at the top, but for the challenge they present for advanced climbers. Doupiani stands out (literally) at 110m.
- Leonidio: The high-quality limestone crags in this valley in the eastern Peloponnese, make Leonidio a premier climbing spot, with plenty of single and multi-pitch routes to explore.
Skiing in Greece
Skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoeing… or just a hot chocolate
Skiing in Greece? Yes, you heard right. Mount Parnassos, Mount Ida, Mount Pelion, Mount Olympus … not just legendary mountains from Greek mythology but places you can ski and enjoy other winter sports. Some even come with a sea view!
Many Greek mountains are topped with snow from the end of December till April, hiding around 20 ski centres, especially in northern Greece and the Peloponnese. You can even ski on the island of Crete.
The conditions are safe due to the extended exposure to sunshine, allowing the slopes to become compacted quicker and minimising the avalanche risk of countries further north. Added to that, you’ll find fewer crowds than established skiing destinations in Europe, especially mid-week.
Top skiing experiences:
- Mt Parnassos: It’s incredible to think that just 2.5hrs after leaving Athens you can be in Greece’s most modern ski resort. Whether you’re here for skiing, snowboarding, show-shoeing … or just a hot chocolate in the slope-side chalet, you’re in for a treat.
- Kalavryta: At an altitude of 1,700m, Kalavryta Ski Centre – on the Peloponnese’s Mt Helmos - is another fantastic ski resort that’s an easy day trip from Athens. From the peak, you can see as far as the Corinthian Gulf as you head out onto an excellent network of slopes. There are also options for guided back-country skiing.
- Vasilitsa: Further away, in the Pindos Mountains, Vasilitsa offers 18 slopes and is the ski centre of choice for committed Greek skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.
- Mt Olympus and the White Mountains: Finally, one of the hottest winter sports in two legendary Greek locations. SkiMo – or Ski Mountaineering – involves carrying your skis uphill and then ski touring amidst some of the most epic scenery in the world, on the legendary Mt Olympus or Crete’s White Mountains.
The 8 most popular outdoor adventures in Greece
So what’s it going to be out of all the incredible things to do outdoors in Greece? Hiking, sailing, kayaking, river-trekking… or did we tempt you with the hot chocolate? One way or another, it wasn’t the Greek holidays you were expecting, was it?