Stunning Santorini is the most dramatic of all the Greek isles. It is best known for the west coast cliff-top towns of Fira and Oia, which appear to hang over a deep, blue sea-filled caldera. Made up of typical Cycladic whitewashed cubic buildings, many of which have been converted into boutique hotels with infinity pools, both Fira and Oia are considered romantic destinations, popular for weddings and honeymoons.
Things to do in Santorini include sunbathing and swimming at the black volcanic-sand beaches on the south and east coasts and visiting the archaeological site of Akrotiri, an Ancient Minoan settlement buried below lava following the volcanic eruption that created the caldera, some 3,600 years ago. The island has an airport and is served by ferries and catamarans from Athens’ port, Piraeus.
On the Greek mainland, Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built on the lower slopes of Mount Parnassus, overlooking a dramatic ravine, the site was sacred to the ancients, who came here on pilgrimages to worship Apollo (god of light, prophecy, music, and healing) and to ask advice from the mythical Oracle. It is made up of the crumbling ruins of numerous temples, a theater, and stadium, dating from between the 8th century BC and the 2nd century AD. Nearby, stands the Delphi Archaeological Museum, displaying an impressive collection of finds from the site. Delphi lies 180 kilometers northwest of Athens.
One of the most unusual things to see in Greece has to be the Thessaly Plain, where bizarre rocky outcrops are capped by the centuries-old monasteries of Metéora. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, six of the monasteries are open to the public. You need to climb up several flights of stone steps carved into the rocks to reach each monastery, and inside, you’ll find flickering candles, religious icons, Byzantine frescoes, and burning incense. Opening hours vary, and to see all six monasteries, you need to spend at least one day in the area. The nearest town is Kalambaka.
One of Greece’s top tourist destinations, Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea off the west coast of the mainland. The capital, Corfu Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its elegant Italianate architecture — it was ruled by the Venetians for several centuries. Explore its romantic pedestrian-only streets to discover two 16th-century fortresses and the arcaded Liston, lined by old-fashioned cafes.
Away from the main town, the island is lushly beautiful, with rugged limestone rocks tumbling into the sea in its north and velvety green hills in its south. The most popular beach area is Paleokastritsa, on the west coast, about 25-kilometers from Corfu Town. Here, you’ll find a collection of deep, curving bays sheltering sand and pebble beaches stretching into a clear blue sea. Corfu is served by an airport and ferries from Igoumenitsa and Patras on the Greek mainland. In summer, ferries sailing from Ancona and Venice also stop here.
Often cited as Greece’s most beautiful city, Nafplio is a popular weekend destination for wealthy Athenians. Built on a small peninsular on the east coast of the Peloponnese, it became the first capital of modern Greece in 1828 before Athens took over in 1834. The car-free old town is filled with Neoclassical mansions and proud churches and overlooked by the 18th-century Palamidi Fortress. Nearby attractions include Tiryns, Epidaurus Theater, and Ancient Corinth.
Overlooking the Aegean Sea in northern Greece, Thessaloniki (Salonica) is the country’s second biggest city after Athens. Founded in 316 BC due to its position close to both Bulgaria and Turkey, it has always been a crossroads of various cultures and religions. Its main sightseeing attractions are its UNESCO-listed Byzantine churches, but there are also several Roman monuments (including the Triumphal Arch of Galerius and the 4th-century Rotunda), the 15th-century White Tower on the seafront, and an excellent Byzantine Museum.