Travel to Greece

Travel to Greece

This Mediterranean paradise tantalizes with its cool, sparkling waters and sun soaked, powder soft, island beaches!

Wherever you step in Greece, you’re treading gloriously historic ground—right in the footsteps of the Minoans, the Ancient Greeks, and other astonishing cultures. Even at a trendy café in Athens or a bustling restaurant in Thessaloniki, the tremendous energy of Greece’s history is palpable. Tourist attractions are many and varied, and include the Acropolis of Athens, the Mycenae Lion Gate, and majestic Mount Olympus—abode of the gods. The Greek Islands, meanwhile, are a destination in and of themselves—internationally renowned for their gleaming beaches and exuberant nightlife. Cruising the sparkling Mediterranean amid these archipelagos introduces you to some of Europe’s most transcendent scenery.

As the birthplace of Homer, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Aristotle – of democracy, comedy, tragedy, philosophy, and the Olympics – of much of mathematics, science and literature, it is fair to say that Greece is pretty much the godfather of Western culture. Ancient Greece's influence spread far and wide and its advanced culture tremendously inspired the Romans who modeled much of their own culture, politics and religion on the Ancient Greeks.

It's no surprise that there is a plethora of fascinating cultural attractions to see while on vacation in Greece. The country has an astonishing 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and it was the home of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Colossus of Rhodes.

A few (of hundreds) cultural sights to consider visiting include the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum (both in Athens), the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion on the island of Crete (which showcases the ancient Minoan Civilization), and the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.

In terms of contemporary Greek culture, most Greeks today consider themselves Greek Orthodox. During your travels you will find that many Greeks speak excellent English (often better than in other Southern European nations). Greeks today tend to work hard during the week and then make the most of their weekends and summers; many Athenians for example will catch the ferry in Piraeus just to spend the weekend on the lovely island of Hydra.

With the large numbers of Greek tavernas and restaurants in the United States, chances are that you've already been exposed to Greece's delicious cuisine. Greece's mild climate and abundance of seafood have resulted in a cuisine centered on fresh, seasonal ingredients paired with olive oil and seasoned with Mediterranean herbs. Fresh cheeses, yogurts, olives, salads, honey, garlic, eggplants, cucumbers, almonds and dishes wrapped in vine leaves are just some of the ingredients and foods you'll encounter while on vacation in Greece. And while fish and octopus will be featured on almost any Greek menu, it's likely to also include lamb, meatballs and pork dishes. Greek cuisine varies from region to region – and from island to island. Cooking classes, wine tastings, and sightseeing market tours are becoming increasingly popular for tourists vacationing in Greece.

Greece is also home to some very fine wines, liquors and aperitifs – with the most famous being the anise-flavored ouzo. The Greeks are also crazy about their coffee, and they often drink it cold as a frappe.

For many travelers, classical Greece and its bewitching islands epitomize romance, merrymaking and relaxation. This Balkan country, whose neighbors include Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, lies in Europe's southeastern corner, near both Asia and Africa. Surrounded by the Ionian, Aegean and Mediterranean seas, Greece is home to some of Europe's most dazzling coastline – and to well over 1,000 islands that beckon visitors year after year.

The vast majority of the country boasts a pleasant, Mediterranean climate. The Greek mainland, which is largely mountainous, has much to offer visitors interested in history, nature or relaxation. Visitors wanting to explore Ancient Greek archeological sites will find that some of the very best ones are located on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Further north, the Greek city of Thessaloniki is home to some of the world's finest Byzantine architecture. Or for those simply wanting to put their feet up and enjoy the fabulous scenery, the Greek mainland is also home to some astonishingly-beautiful, turquoise beaches.

That being said, it is rare to meet someone traveling in Greece who doesn't intend to ship out to its legendary islands at some point. Greece's islands are in no way all alike, and truth be told, it would probably be impossible to find a native Greek who has visited them all. Some islands are lively and are known for their infectiously-fun ambience. Others are deservedly popular with tourists because of their wealth of important cultural attractions. Still others don't have much of anything going on besides sandy beaches, azure seas, and great wine and seafood; so the key to finding your island is to determine what you're looking for: beautiful beaches, calmness, history or a combination of all three. Popular islands to visit include the volcanic island of Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, Hydra and Mykonos.

Greece has an extensive system of ferries for those wanting to hop from island to island, and many islands do have airport connections available. Another popular option is to experience Greece's islands while on a Mediterranean cruise, many of which pair the Greek isles with ancient sites found on Turkey's western coast. Lastly, enough cannot be said for Greece's capital city of Athens. Enduring, spirited, and oozing with character, Athens – an ideal place to begin and end your trip to Greece – merits at least two days for sightseeing (three if you intend to visit the remarkable ancient site of Delphi).

Largest cities: Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras

Greece has been a dominant force on the Mediterranean Basin since the days of Antiquity, and its epic history stretches back some 5,000 years. Going back to the Bronze Age, the ancient Minoan civilization flourished on the island of Crete and on nearby islands like Santorini. After suffering from a catastrophic natural disaster, the advanced Minoans were eventually overpowered by the fierce Mycenaean civilization (to give you a timeframe, think King Agamemnon, Helen of Troy and the Trojan War) which ruled from the Peloponnese Peninsula until the 12th century BC. Their rule was followed by a dark period of decline. However, by the 8th century BC, things were looking up in Ancient Greece!

Independent city-states developed, and the first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC in Ancient Olympia. Soon Greek influence, trade and colonialism began to spread throughout the Balkan Peninsula, west to (what is today) Italy, Spain, France, east to Turkey – and eventually even further into Asia during the great military campaigns of Alexander the Great. Greece during the 5th and 4th centuries BC saw the birth of many of the great achievements in art, philosophy, politics, science, mathematics, politics, theatre and literature; it was a boom unlike anything the world had ever seen.

Any history fan will recall that before there was Rome, there was Athens. While the great Hellenic Empire was absorbed into the powerful Roman Empire, there is no doubt as to who inspired whom, as the Romans continued to spread chief aspects of Greek culture throughout Western Europe. During the Roman era, Greek culture continued to thrive much less on the Greek peninsula and more in the North African city of Alexandria and also in the Greek cities established along the western coast of what is today Turkey.

In the 4th century AD, Western Europe saw Rome ransacked by northern "barbarians," signaling the start of what is commonly called the Dark Ages. What was left of the Roman Empire at this time was its Eastern, Greek counterpart, which became the Byzantine Empire and was based in Constantinople, the modern Turkish city of Istanbul. While their territory was fragmented, the Byzantine Greeks held out until the 15th century, when their territories fell to the Ottoman Turks. Greece remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1830 – when the Greeks gained their independence. The remainder of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century saw Greece grow in population after regaining several Greek-speaking territories through continued revolts and warfare. Vast numbers of Greeks living in territories that remained Turkish (like Istanbul) fled to Greece as refugees.

During the Second World War, the Greeks joined the Allies after defeating an invading Italian force. Shortly afterwards, Greece was occupied by the Nazis, who stayed until 1944, and just two years later – Greece was faced with a devastating Civil War, which was followed by decades of political strife that didn't end until 1980. It is estimated that one million Greeks emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia or Western Europe in the period from 1950 to 1974, which is significant considering that in area Greece is about the size of Alabama. From 1980 until the start of the financial crisis of 2008, Greece experienced a boom of economic prosperity. Unfortunately, large government debt and high unemployment still continue to plague the Greek economy.

In terms of interesting historical attractions to visit in Greece, they are so numerous it is hard to make mention of only a small few. Some of our favorites include the Acropolis in Athens; the archeological sites of Delphi, Mystras, Olympia, and Mycenae; and the historic towns on the islands of Pátmos, Corfu and Rhodes. (All the recommendations listed above are World Heritage Sites.)

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