If you've never been to Greece, this is a good place to start planning your trip. Deep down, traveling to a new country is a very simple exercise. You define what you want to do during your holiday, choose the appropriate places to visit, book your tickets, and prepare to travel. Once you define your interests, the rest should be a lot easier. If you are not sure, and you'd rather choose by location, visit the other pages of this site to see if something inspires you.
Choosing a destination by defining a "destination" might seem like a circular argument, but in real life, one way to travel, and we do it often, is to be inspired by a photo, a story, or by the history of a place. We often say "I'd like to be there some day" or "places I'd like to see in this life", assured that the destination itself is the goal. Greece won't disappoint in that respect. There are a myriad of inspiring, unique, and spectacular places that can act as the inspiration and a spectacular backdrop for a wonderful holiday.
Visit the Best of Greece and the photos of Greece to see if some of the exceptional destinations included there can inspire you to spend a few days there and take a look at some sample travel itineraries
If swimming, tanning, and relaxing by the beach is your first priority, Greece won't disappoint. There are beaches for all styles and desires. While the mainland has many, you probably need to plan your itinerary around one or more Greek islands. Some of the best beaches of Greece can be found on Crete, Mykonos, Naxos, Kos, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Corfu, Lefkada, Skiathos, Rhodes, and Elafonissos.
On the mainland there are many places with fine beaches, but in general they are spread apart so you won't be able to visit more than one comfortably on one trip. Chalkidiki in Macedonia, Preveza on the west coast, and Pelion on the east coast offer a good sampling of fine beaches bunched close to each other, while Peloponnese, Eubea, Thassos, Amorgos, Samos, would be fine destinations if swimming is your priority. I have compiled a collection of pages with information about beaches in Greece, and a page with our favorite ones in the best beaches of Greece page.
If your time is limited to one week or less, choose one of the smaller islands since most offer more than one beach. Within one week you can actually pack a couple of islands in your itinerary comfortably, but if you have longer time available, you can contemplate an expanded travel itinerary.
If you enjoy quiet time and you just plan to get away from it all, combining this priority with fine beaches could make you feel like you landed in paradise. While most fine beaches are well known and attract big crowds, there are many gems that are either hard to get to, or haven't been discovered yet. Most islands have a hot-spot where everyone gathers leaving other parts to solitude.
As a general rule, the quiet destinations are way far away from the big cities of Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, Heraklion). But "far" is relative and Greece is a small country. If you have your own boat you can pick your own quiet beaches, usually in the side of islands where roads and cars can't reach. If you don't have a boat, choose one of the smaller, or the least "touristy" islands in Greece. Places like Karpathos, Kythira, Koufonisia, Amorgos, Symi, or Antiparos would offer serenity that in some cases borders on isolation.
Take a look at the quiet destinations in Greece for a bit more information and ideas for travel, but also consider the time of travel. Even the most quiet of spots in Greece get packed with visitors in August. Mid-may to mid-june is a perfect time to enjoy Greece away from big crowds, but September is usually too cool to enjoy swimming.
Partying has a long tradition in Greece. While the Dionysian mysteries were wild and packed with cultural events, modern parties have dropped the "culture" part altogether so they can enjoy the "party"without overexerting the brain. Extreme party-spots in Greece are usually places where people under 30 frequent and enjoy.
Such places have also surrendered all architectural good taste to wild development, but after the fifth drink that doesn't seem to matter much, so Faliraki in Rhodes, Chersonnisos/Malia in Crete, Laganas in Zakynthos, Tolo in Argolis, and Benitses in Corfu get packed every summer by low budget travelers who have only two things in mind: find a transient companion, and get really-really drunk (not necessarily in this order).
Those who prefer a milder form of partying will find it in every island and coastal town. Mykonos of course is the upscale party capital of Greece.
On the opposite end of the scale, Greece is also a great destination if you are interested in ancient history, art, and culture. If we accept the wild claim that western civilization has a birth place and time, it would be hard to argue that ancient Greece wasn't it. But even if we reject that wild claim, it would be equally hard to argue that ancient Greek thought, art, and culture, hasn't dominated western civilization for over two thousand years.
But even if you don't care about the deeper meaning of the significance of ancient Greece, you should at least let yourself enjoy the magnificent products of Greek civilization. Hard-core ancient history enthusiasts will be living in wonderland every time they lay their eyes on the plethora of ancient ruins, archaeological sites, historic places, and of course, ancient art and architecture.
I have compiled in one page the most significant places of ancient Greece that one should absolutely see while in Greece, many of which would warrant a trip around the world to enjoy them. It would not hurt to know a little bit about the history of Greece.
Even though through our articles we advocate and enjoy independent travel, we understand the value of kicking back and doing nothing while a luxury boat takes you around the most spectacular islands of Greece. I have worked on cruise lines in my youth (both around the world and around the Aegean), and I have enjoyed a few cruises as a passenger, so I can understand the attraction and value many see in cruise ships.
The Aegean is one of the most popular cruising destinations in the world, and cruise ships for all styles and wallets sail through its water every summer. The itineraries are identical between most cruises and include seven, four, or three-day cruises with destinations such as Mykonos, Santorini, Patmos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Istanbul (Turkey). These are the staple islands, and some add other popular destinations that include Crete (Heraklion), and Rhodes, but rarely other ports like Skiathos, Volos, or Nafplion.
In general, you can expect decent comfort, tons of free food and drinks (for a flat fee), and limited time in each port of call. Most of the cruise lines offer deep discounts in cabin tickets, but have interesting ways of enticing passengers to sign up for extras like bus tours in each destination. From my experience, the bus tours are of good value in places like Kusadasi, Patmos, and Herakion, but you can safely skip them in favor of a leisurely walk around towns like Mykonos and Santorini.
Having been both a crew member and a passenger of the one-day Saronic gulf cruises out of Athens, I could not recommend them. From our experience, they offer extremely limited time to enjoy each port, while the ammenities on board are extremely limited and of low value. A better alternative would be to use the local ferries to enjoy Aegina, Poros, and Hydra on a day-trip out of Pireas (the port of Athens.)
Somehow, adventure travel is not something that Greece is known for. That's in large part due to the fact that Greece is a small country and it would not be easy to find spots where civilization hasn't crept in. If hiking and trekking can be considered adventures, there are plenty to do in Greece. Many islands offer ancient footpaths one can follow for hours, and there are mainly gorges and canyons that offer different degrees of difficulty to trekkers.
The most well organized (and promoted) is Samaria gorge in southern Crete, but the same island is home to dozens of little known and sometimes very dangerous gorges, especially in the south. Another well known gorge is Vikos gorge in Epiros. If you decide to undertake a trip through the gorges of Greece, you should make sure that you are well prepared, that you travel with company and with a qualified guide that can take you through and show you the most interesting routes safely. It is not uncommon for tourists to be lost or get stranded, and too often for comfort injure themselves or lose their life.
There are several rivers in northern Greece and the interior of the Peloponnese that are offered for Kayaking and white-water rafting. Again, our advice would be to search a qualified guide for such adventures because local conditions can trump even experienced adventure seekers.
Of course, you don't have to confine yourself in one of the above categories. The beauty of Greece is that it can offer more than one experience for one trip. You don't have to settle just for swimming, or culture, or adventure. You can do everything, every day! You can go hiking through winding footpaths early in the morning, swim at a deserted beach at the end of the path in mid morning, enjoy a beautiful meal for lunch, take a nap and read a book in the afternoon, go bar hopping at night, and take an excursion or day-cruise the next day to a spectacular archaeological site or museum.
The best part is, you can do all of it in just about every destination you choose. That's really what makes Greece such a unique place for a memorable vacation: the fact that you get to travel the many different dimensions of life as one imagines it can be enjoyed!
To avoid huge crowds and congestion, choose to travel in early summer (late may and early June). The sun shines constantly, the sea is warm enough for swimming, and the chances of rainy days are low. In addition, the oppressive heat of July and August is extremely rare.
The heat of the summer is the time when millions of people from around the world visit Greece, and it's by no means a bad time to schedule a trip. July and August are almost guarantee sunny days, heat waves that make the cool sea so much more inviting, and more fun seekers to mingle with. In addition, August transforms the entire country into the domain of pleasure and fun seekers with the majority of the Greek population vacating urban centers to return to their roots in the villages and islands.
While many travel guides mention September as a good time to travel to Greece, my experience is that it's a hit or miss time to visit Greece. It's true that most vacationers return to their homes so prices go down, crowds dissipate, and you get more space to yourself, it's also true that after mid-September, the weather changes abruptly toward more wet and cool days and nights. Toward the end of September, swimming is not a persistent option any longer, and after October, you'd be hard pressed to find hotels and restaurants that are open. Fall is wet and considerably cool in Greece, so activities like hiking and archaeological site visiting would be much more comfortable.
Winter in Greece is cold and bitter. I know many who only visit Greece in the middle of the summer would have a hard time comprehending, but that's one of the most beautiful aspects of the Mediterranean climate: you get to experience the full force of each of the four distinct seasons. Additionally, the vast majority of Greek dwellings and hotels are not prepared for the cold the way northern European homes are so you can experience the cold with a bit more severity even indoors. But there there is solace in that the Greek winter is very short and the bitter cold days only last from December to mid-February. If you plan your vacation for the winter, you should know that swimming is not an option at all, and you should plan accordingly. Read a bit more about the weather in Greece and about what to pack so you can make better informed decisions, but do make reservations ahead of time because the vast majority of hotels, especially islands (Athens and the big cities are not a problem) are all closed.
In our own travels, we always book our trip through online travel agents. We have more control and we can do our search from the comfort of our own computer. But it's not only about comfort, it's also about having more control. It's easier to check prices, places, hotel locations, and everything else while connected to the whole web .
It is more work on our end, but it's also what makes the trip much more tailored to our needs. If you don't want to book your own flights and hotels, you can always head for your nearest travel agent. Ove the years we learned that booking directly with airline companies doesn't guarantee better prices. More often than not, airline companies make special prices available to online and brick and mortar travel agents in return for booking certain number of seats for them. This is just a general understanding and it doesn't even approach the complexities of airline seat and hotel room pricing of course.
If you have already booked your vacation, it's never too early to begin preparations for traveling. There are several things you can do before you go that would make your vacation much more enjoyable, and packing for Greece appropriately would ensure a comfortable time there. This travel guide to Greece can give you some idea what to expect in terms of prices, safety, money, and swimming in Greece among other topics. Let the fun begin!