The wide-open skies, blue Aegean Sea, hundreds of islands, Byzantine culture, and picturesque villages make Greece a popular tourist destination. Greece is often considered to be the “Cradle of Western Civilization” and is known to be the birthplace of democracy.
When most people think of Greece, they reminisce about Mount Olympia and the Gods, philosophers like Plato, and ancient ruins like the Parthenon. The country has an extensive historical timeline that extends back to ancient times and continues on in modern Greece today. Modern day Greece is home to a population of 10.77 million who are eager to welcome visitors and share in their unique history and culture.
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What To Do in Greece
Yia Sas – Welcome to Greece!
Athens is the capital of Greece and has been for centuries. The city has always remained as the heart of the country from ancient times to today. Athens is famously home to 5th Century BC landmarks like the Acropolis, which is where the Parthenon rests in ruins. Athens is considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world and continues to entice visitors to unlock its ancient secrets.
Culture and Language
Greece is a small country in southeastern Europe. The country consists of a mainland and hundreds of smaller islands of which Santorini and Mykonos are the two most popular for tourists. The gorgeous Aegean Sea is the backdrop for the coastline and islands and is easily one of the most recognizable features of the country. But beyond the pristine landscape, Greece is steeped in history and culture from Neolithic to modern times.
The first people of Greece lived over 40,000 years ago and had a simple farming lifestyle, but they also survived off of hunting and gathering. The first Greek civilization were the Minoans. The Minoans lived during Greece’s Bronze Age from 1600-1100 BC and helped make way for Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greece is the birthplace of democracy and was often considered to be highly sophisticated. The culture at the time was steeped in art and philosophy. The Greeks loved their sculptures, which often depicted the male body and they painted their stories on pottery. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are famous Greek philosophers whose ideologies are still taught today. After Ancient Greece, the Romans took control which paved the way for the Byzantine Empire. Then in the 15th century, Greece became part of the Ottoman Empire which helped modernize the country into what it is today.
In Greece today, the country’s past is proudly on display and the culture is steeped with traditions and festivals. One popular festival is the panygiria, which is a religious celebration of the saints with music and dance, which takes place in the summer. While Greece’s culture is strong, one of the oldest parts of the country’s identity is their language: Greek.
Greek is the official language of Greece and is the oldest recorded language in the world with clay tablets found in Messenia, which have been dated back to as early as 1450 BC. Today, modern Greek is spoken throughout the country, though there are a few different variations. However, due to Greece’s location and diverse culture other languages like English, German, French, and Italian may also be spoken in the country.
Greece is officially part of the Schengen Area, which means that US citizens do not require a visa before arrival to the country if they are staying less than 90 days. However, you will need to apply for an ETIA, which will give you the authority to travel to the Schengen Area. The ETIA application is available online and costs 7 Euros or about $8 US dollars. If you have visited the Schengen Area previously and within the past 3 years, your ETIA should still be valid and will not need to be renewed.
Aside from the ETIA, you will need to have a valid passport. It is highly recommended that you travel to Greece with a passport that has 6 months of remaining validity. You will also need one blank page in your passport for your entry stamp. Customs in Greece will likely also ask for proof of sufficient funds for your duration of time in the country. A few ways to prove your funds are sufficient are a bank statement with a 3-month history, credit cards, cash, proof of employment, and pre-paying for accommodation or transportation. For legal entry, you will need to prove that you have a minimum of 50 Euros or $55 US dollars per day to spend and per person.
While you are more than likely eager to explore the beauty of Greece, you’ll need to consider your spending budget when you plan your trip. Greece is a small country, so you could potentially travel and see a lot of different destinations on a limited budget. But like any country, your budget could cost thousands of dollars depending on where you stay, how you travel, and what you do.
One of the biggest parts of your budget and the most challenging to secure will be the plane ticket. Greece tends to have flight costs that fluctuate to extreme levels with tickets priced as low as $300 US dollars or up to $6000 US dollars, if you’re leaving from JFK International Airport in New York City. The huge price difference is down to leaving from New York City. If you leave from Los Angeles, tickets have a smaller range of fluctuation with prices usually between $500 and $900 US dollars. As with any flight, traveling in tourist off season will reduce prices. But if you want to travel during peak tourist season, you should always try to book your ticket as early as possible because the prices will be lower.
After you’ve booked your flight, accommodation will be the next big cost of your budget and where you choose to stay can make your trip more or less affordable. Hostels are actually very affordable in Greece, with some businesses asking for 10 Euros or $11 US dollars per night. Hostels are a great accommodation for those on a budget and there are many well reviewed hostels throughout Greece. If private accommodation is preferred, you should expect to spend about 25 Euros or $28 US dollars per night. The Airbnb accommodations in Greece are actually affordable and many are situated in the most popular tourist locations.
However, there are plenty of hotels in Greece too. If you would prefer to stay in a hotel, you should expect to spend about 75 Euros or $82 US dollars per night for a nice hotel. But Greece is also full of luxury resorts, which can easily cost thousands per night if you have a high budget.
Other big parts of your budget will be your food, drink, and entertainment. Greece has a Mediterranean based cuisine which incorporates vegetables, olive oil, fish, meat, and wine into the palate. Amygdalota is a Greek almond cookie that is often enjoyed with a cup of coffee. Dolmadakia are grape leaves with meat and rice. Gyros are perhaps the most famous, which is meat wrapped inside a pita with Tzatziki sauce, onions, lettuce, and tomato.
But drinks may also be on the menu and Greece is famous for their wine. Wine in restaurants can cost anywhere from 8-12 Euros or $9-$14 US dollars for a glass. However, as always, there may be premium selections which cost more. In grocery stores, an entire bottle of wine can cost 2-15 Euros or $3-$16 US dollars. Other alcoholic beverages will cost about 5 Euros or $6 US dollars per drink, when you are out at bars and restaurants. Two of Greece’s most famous bars are in Athens. These two bars, Bada Au Rum and Clumsies made the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2018.
Between your accommodation, food, and drink, there are a variety of daily budgets. Travelers on a backpacker budget should expect to spend about 25 Euros or $28 US dollars per day. Mid-range budget travelers will spend about 85 Euros or $94 dollars per day. While a high budget would be to spend 195 Euros or $215 US dollars per day. As always, your budget may go higher if you are staying in luxury accommodations, traveling a lot, or paying for various excursions.
How to Get Around
As we’ve said, Greece is a small country, but the unique layout means that there are also hundreds of islands for tourists to explore, which can make transportation more difficult. Many of the islands do have airports, so flights are available for purchase and will range from $50-100 US dollars.
The most affordable way to get around the islands is to use a ferry. The ferries are highly recommended and affordable for any traveler. Most ferries cost about $38 US dollars. Another huge benefit of taking the ferry, besides saving money, is seeing more of the coast and sea. The routes that many ferries take will provide you with excellent views of Greece and its islands.
If you are trying to get around a specific city, you might try hailing a taxi. Greek taxis will normally cost about $4 US dollars per ride for short distances. Uber no longer operates in Greece but Taxibeat is an alternative, which can be more affordable than a street taxi.
Unfortunately, many tourists will find that public transportation is not the most reliable and they will choose to rent a vehicle. Cars can be rented for about $55 US dollars per day and will likely be manual transmission. ATVs can also be rented and will cost slightly less with the average about $30-$50 US dollars per day. Scooters are the most affordable rental option and are available in a variety of sizes. Most scooters will cost $11-$22 US dollars per day.
However, in some neighborhoods or cities, it is perfectly safe to walk. Walking will allow you to see more of the city and is free, so you can save a little and put the money elsewhere in your budget.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Greece may be small but there are still many different places to visit. Here, we will give a brief overview of the country’s most popular tourist cities.
Athens is the capital of Greece. Athens has always been important to the country and was even the heart of Ancient Greece. The city is most popular because it is still home to 5th century landmarks, which have been preserved. The Acropolis is home to the Parthenon, which sits like a crown at the very top. This area is full of monuments and sanctuaries that are made of white marble. The Acropolis was listed as a World Heritage site in 1987 and has a modern-day Acropolis Museum so that you can learn its history.
Aside from the history, Athens is also popular with tourists who seek its energetic vibe. The city is filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, and cozy neighborhoods to explore. While musing over Ancient Greece, you can also appreciate modern day Greece and its friendly people, tasty food, and overall charm.
Thessaoniki is a hub for culture, art, and gastronomy. It is one of the largest cities in Greece and is popular for exploring the country’s ancient history. The Museum of Byzantine Culture holds treasure from that time period alongside hundreds of other artefacts. The Arch of Galerius dates back to 303 AD and lets visitors step inside history.
Kalampaka is a popular destination because it gets close to the Metéora, which is a large rock formation and World Heritage site. The Metéora is popular for its unique and breathtaking landscape, but it is quite remote. This is why Kalampaka is a popular place where you can stay and enjoy the modern city but take a step into nature which is just a short distance away.
Volos is uniquely situated on the water but surrounded by mountains. The dramatic landscape is also nearby to the Pelion Villages, which are popular with tourists. The villages are close to Mount Pelion. Portaria is a village that is famous for their Byzantine architecture and cheese. While Zagora has an amazing view of the sea and is home to tasty red wine.
Nafplio is a romantic seaside city which is popular for its culture and gastronomy. Old Town is idyllic for taking a stroll and features brightly colored buildings and impressive street art. There are many authentic Greek bars here, which sell glasses of local wine.
Nafpaktos is usually a stopover city for tourists who are going to Olympia, but it is a gorgeous place to visit in its own right. The city is a Venetian port, which is host to local businesses that rest on the edge of the blue water. The Medieval characteristics make the city unique. While it is more of a local area, Nafpaktos will give you an authentic look into Greek culture.
Naxos is the best choice for those seeking adventure. This city is an island in the Cyclades and has plenty of thrilling activities to choose from. Tourists can experience windsurfing, horseback riding, hiking, and diving a deep-sea wreck. With plenty to do, you’ll have a full itinerary ready for Naxos.
Points of Interest
While there are a lot of cities to choose from, there are also a lot of points of interest to visit in Greece too. While some may be a museum, others that we will highlight below are some of the country’s infamous islands.
As we stated, the Acropolis is in Athens and one of the busiest tourist spots in the city. The ancient temples stand in ruins but are preserved and open to visitors. The Parthenon is the most famous feature of the Acropolis and it is built from various columns. The Archeological Promenade is the best walking path to see the Acropolis and it is 2.5 kilometers (1 ½ miles) long.
Besides the ancient buildings of the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum is also a popular point of interest because it houses all the artefacts found at the ancient Acropolis site. The museum has a modern style and architecture with a beautiful terrace for a view of the Acropolis in the distance.
Santorini is one of the most famous Greek islands because of the cliff hanging towns and deep blue waters. The white buildings are uniform and help the colors of the landscape stand out more. The island is also home to black sand beaches, archeological sites, and an ancient Minoan settlement. Tourists today mostly visit Fira and Oia, which have become a popular destinations for weddings and honeymoons.
Mykonos is another stunning island location in Greece, which has more colorful architecture and is famous for its lively nighttime activities in Mykonos Town. There are numerous sandy beaches along the coast and is host to numerous resorts. More recently, Mykonos has grown to become very popular with international celebrities.
On mainland Greece, Delphi is an ancient site that was once used to worship the god Apollo or to ask advice from an Oracle. The ruins of Delphi are now a World Heritage site and the Delphi Archeological Museum, which has numerous archeological discoveries from the site, is located nearby. With gorgeous views, the site sits on Mount Parnassus and overlooks a dramatic ravine.
Corfu is unique because it has Italian architecture and an absolutely breathtakingly clear blue Ionian Sea. The capital, Corfu Town, is a World Heritage site and has pedestrian only streets. Outside the main town, the island has limestone rocks that fall into the sea and lush green hills. Paleokastritsa is the most popular beach which has deep bays and pebble beaches.
Located in Metéora, the monasteries sit atop the impressive rock formations and have done so for centuries. Inside the monasteries are religious shrines, icons, and Byzantine frescoes. There are six monasteries open to the public, but you will have to climb multiple flights of stone steps to reach them.
Rhodes Town is built of two different towns, the Old Town and the New Town. The two towns are vastly different but immensely popular amongst tourists. The Old Town has high medieval walls and a deep moat. While the New Town is home to gorgeous resorts, upscale shops, and buzzing waterfront bars. The two towns are some of the most visited in all of Greece because of the unique blend of history and modernity.
Zákynthos will take your breath away with the beauty of its beaches and sea caves. Shipwreck Beach is the most famous for the sea caves where the color of the blue sky is reflected off the water and onto the cave walls and ceilings. The Blue Caves are very popular, and many people choose to snorkel and scuba dive in the area.
Olympia is located in Peloponnese and it is an archeological site of Ancient Greece. Olympia is where Greece started their Ancient Olympic Games and the modern-day Olympics still have the Lighting Ceremony of the Olympic Flame start in Olympia before the opening of each of the games. At Olympia, you will see sport sites like the stadium, gymnasium, and other sport facilities.
Crete is the largest Greek island and it has an extremely diverse terrain with both mountains and beaches. The Crete landscape is very popular for tourists to explore with driving tours and treks offered to tourists. In the crystal-clear waters, the most popular activities are boating, snorkeling, and kayaking. But Crete is also known for its cuisine and village culture. Fresh seafood, meat, cheese, olive oil, and wine are all offered. The villagers are very lively, welcoming, and often showcase their culture through traditional music and dance.
Get Out and Go
Greece is an overall stunning country that offers tourists the chance to escape into pure bliss and beauty. The country’s architecture, landscape, and history have become top destinations for adventure hungry and curious travelers. With history at every turn and jaw dropping beauty in every scene, Greece will likely entice you to take multiple trips to this exciting country.