Greece map & itineraries

Greece is synonymous for far too many with ‘sun, islands, sea’. Don’t ignore the sun-kissed archipelagos and 15,000km of coast but discover its panoply of other highlights. Glorious mountains mix stark peaks with lush alpine meadows and woods – plus dazzling snow fields in winter. There are rivers and dramatic gorges, plus quiet hiking trails as easy or difficult as you wish. Everywhere you'll find richly diverse flora and fauna. Thousands of years of colourful history place a host of legendary gods and humans amid one of the world’s finest concentrations of stupendous archaeological memories. Enjoy the sun – but explore.

1. Arkadia

Few places give their name to dream visions but this central Peloponnese mountain-ringed enclave inspired the poetic ‘Arcadia’ as an idealised unspoiled wilderness. And fairly so. Atmospheric medieval villages dot wooded hills, shady valleys and lush meadows, while gorgeous monasteries cluster in the magnificent Lousios Gorge. There’s even 100km of unspoilt coast around the pretty town of Kiveri. Sounds idyllic to us.

2. Athens

Once the heart of Ancient Greece, Athens itself has an unfortunately pretty grubby air, but the grandeur of its archaeological sites can never be diminished. There are few tall buildings allowed in Athens, so that famous view of Acropolis Hill is never obscured. Then there are the ancient theatres of Herodes Atticus and Dionysus, the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Zeus. A day in Athens at the start or end of your trip is always rewarding.

3. Crete

Friendly and spirited, Crete distils Greece into one sun-baked island. The scenery blends hills carpeted with olive groves and vineyards with dramatic mountains split by epic clefts like the Samaria Gorge, and sublime beaches backed by welcoming tavernas. Add a panoply of history from the majestic ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos to memories of Venetian, Byzantine, Moorish and Ottoman settlers once drawn here too.
The Cyclades

4. The Cyclades

The Cyclades offer a meze of Greek charms. On Naxos, walk the orchard-filled Tragea Valley and scale the chain's highest peak, flanked by tiny hamlets. Traverse the unforgettable volcanic caldera on Santorini, or ancient paths across Paros and Syros from virgin cove to virgin cove. Nature abounds - from Natura 2000 havens like Amorgos and Koufonisia to dolphins, seals and turtles accompanying inter-island sailing.
Delphi & Parnassos National Park

5. Delphi & Parnassos National Park

For 1500 years, rulers and pilgrims came to Delphi to hear Apollo's fateful prophecies in a temple by precipitous cliffs on Mt Parnassos, and the majestic ruins still exude spiritual power. Today, activity pilgrims climb the adjacent Parnassos National Park or stride along trails through scented woodland of juniper and fir and alpine meadows, overflown by vultures and eagles.

6. Ithaca

Tiny off-the-beaten-track Ithaca ranks high in myth as the beloved island home of Odysseus – plus the cave of nymphs where he reputedly hid plunder after the epic return from Troy chronicled by Homer. Gorgeous shingle coves like Minimata, Gidaki and Sarakiniko are backed by pines, cypress and olives, set against tumbling mountains concealing peaceful valleys and quiet hiking paths.

7. Lefkada

A green Ionian island jewel, Lefkada's tracery of ancient footpaths brings walkers to traditional mountain and coastal villages, the wildlife-rich ancient oak Skaros forest, plus valleys watered by falls and natural springs. Its eponymous main town sits on the Gira lagoon, alive with flamingos and penguins. A west coast beach voted the best in the Med (Egremni) is icing on the lovely cake.

8. Meteora

Meteora boasts UNESCO World Heritage status, a giant rocky forest of surreal pinnacles topped by ancient monasteries once reachable only by rope ladders (there are steps now!). Medieval monks fled Turkish invaders to pray here in cave chapels – but today Meteora draws hikers and rock-climbers to pointy-up bits with names like Devil's Tower, Iron Edge and the Corner of Madness.
Mycenae / Epidaurus / Nafplio

9. Mycenae / Epidaurus / Nafplio

The 3,500-year-old ruins of Mycenae - home of Agamemnon – offer mountain views and a fine museum, while the sweeping auditorium at nearby Epidaurus is a cradle of Western drama, wrapped in low hills and groves. The lovely seaside town of Nafplio, meanwhile, was modern Greece’s first capital, laced with memories of Venetian rule – take a boat to the bay's island fort.
Mystra / Sparta

10. Mystra / Sparta

Sparta was home to ancient Greece's fiercest warriors, famed for the epic stand of 300 against thousands of Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae – commemorated with a giant statue at the nearby battle site. The city itself also boasts an impressive acropolis in the lee of the Peloponnese's highest mountain. Mystras, meanwhile, is a Byzantine hillside beauty filled with ravishing churches and monasteries.
Northern Pindos

11. Northern Pindos

One of southern Europe's great wildernesses, the mountains of this northeastern National Park are bountiful wildlife enclaves, centerd on the Valia Kalda valley. It's Greece's best spot to track brown bears plus lynx, wild cat, wolves and marten amid forests of black pine and beech percolated by mountain streams full of otters. Up above, various eagles share airspace with the lovely shore lark.
Thessaloniki & Mt Olympus

12. Thessaloniki & Mt Olympus

Athenians may disagree but lots of Greeks rate their 'second city' far pleasanter than the capital. Compact and friendly, Thessaloniki's cosmopolitan vibe comes with 2,500 years of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman memories, fine museums and a waterfront lined with sundowner spots. It’s also a base to visit the monasteries of Athos plus Mt Olympus – Greece’s highest peak, and reputed home of ancient gods.
Travel Team
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Greece travel times

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Greece.

Athens – Thessaloniki: 5 ¼ hours by train Nafplio to Mycenae (Pelopponese): 35 minutes by car Athens to Delphi: 3 hours by bus/car Base of Mt Olympus (Prionia) to summit: 6 hours on foot Fira – Oia (Santorini): 3 hours on foot
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Alex Antoniadis] [Arkadia: Franco Pecchio] [Athens: Ryan Spencer] [Crete: _dChris] [The Cyclades: Tom Grimbert] [Delphi & Parnassos National Park: tacowitte] [Ithaca: SPolykalas] [Lefkada: Alf van Beem] [Meteora: Sorin Cicos] [Mycenae / Epidaurus / Nafplio: Sharon Mollerus] [Mystra / Sparta: Ronny Siegel] [Northern Pindos: JuVlai] [Thessaloniki & Mt Olympus: Cristo Vlahos]