Sleepy, white-washed villages, azure waters and a rich history… Greece offers a beach holiday with a difference. A number of stunning boutique hotels have opened in beguiling locations over recent years, giving discerning family travellers options that fly in the face of the country’s outdated package holiday image. And with over 1000 islands, plus an extensive mainland coastline, the hard part is choosing where to go.
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Where to Go in Greece
Athens is high on most people’s wish lists with its hilltop Acropolis, home to the Parthenon temple. See it at night in all its floodlit glory. The ancient Agora also impresses with its temple ruins. For panoramic city views, take a cable car to the peak of Mt Lycavittos – sure to be a hit with younger visitors. Don’t miss the high-tech New Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum (but note that most museums are closed on Mondays). Athens has a fantastic nightlife and remains lively all year round, so is a good option for an out-of-season extended weekend break.
The closest islands to Athens are the Argo-Saronic Archipelago – pretty Hydra features restored neo-classical mansions that are now home to chic boutique hotels.
With rugged mountains and fertile valleys, the Peloponnese offers a pleasantly lush contrast to Athens. It is also home to Nafplion, a beautiful and romantic city. For culture buffs, there’s Ancient Corinth, Ancient Olympia and Epidaurus. South of the Peloponnese lies Kalamata with its delicious black olives.
Stretching off the coast of Turkey, from lush Samos in the south to Thasos in the north, the Northeast Aegean Islands centre on Mytilini (aka Lesbos), home of ouzo, and Chios island with its medieval villages.
The Northern Cyclades are within easy reach of Athens. Its best-known islands are Mykonos, Santorini and Ios, but there are smaller isles for a quieter, more restful break.
The largest – and most southerly – Greek island, Crete has its own unique culture and atmosphere. The coastline is punctuated by dramatic cliffs, wide beaches and hidden coves. The capital Heraklion is the main entry point, though Rethymnon and Chania are more aesthetic with pretty Venetian architecture. Agios Nikolaos retains plenty of character, while the towering White Mountains offer spectacular hikes and drives to hilltop villages and the white windmills of the Lasithi Plateau. Renowned as the birthplace of Zeus, no stay in Crete is complete without taking in the fascinating, ancient Minoan hostory. With a temperate Mediterranean climate in the north and a drier, hotter weather system in the lesser-known south, Crete is perfect for a warm, off-peak holiday.
The lush Ionian Islands offer stunning beaches and rocky interiors that are popular with hikers, and those seeking a laid-back island lifestyle. Corfu and Zakynthos are the busiest, while Kefalonia came to fame following the publication of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It retains its many charms, with winding coastal roads, remote tavernas with mesmerising sea views and characterful harbour towns.
The Dodecanese are scattered around Rhodes, which, despite its package holiday image, features off-the-beaten-track appeal. Medieval Rhodes Town is a delight, with little alleyways, craft shops and tempting tavernas. Ferries link with smaller islands, some retaining pastel-coloured neo-classical buildings and elegant harbours – a legacy of their trading past. These islands are loved by artists and historians, plus discerning holiday-makers looking for a slice of authentic island life.
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When to go
The summer months of July and August are high season in Greece, so whilst all the restaurants and attractions are open, it can get busy and prices for everything, including accommodation, are at their highest. Expect potentially very high temperatures in some areas, although many of the islands do enjoy sea breezes. Pack accordingly with plenty of sun protection and cover-up clothing for younger children. Plan to stay in accommodation with A/C and plentiful shade, especially around the pool.
Spring (April – June) and Autumn (September – October) see lower temperatures, but it is still a very pleasant time of year to visit – indeed preferable for those who want to avoid the heat of high summer. It can be a fantastic time of year for younger families with preschool-aged children to visit as accommodation is usually discounted. However, internal flights and ferries may operate reduced schedules.
Winter in Greece is usually very quiet, with many hotels, sights and restaurants closed, especially on the islands where tourism is very seasonal. Between November-February the weather can be unpredictable, but there is usually a significant drop in temperature. Athens and Crete have been known to see snow, but it is generally mild compared to Northern Europe. If you do visit over winter, you should be able to grab a bargain with hotel rooms up to 50% less than in high season. Expect ferry schedules to be reduced and plan accordingly.
Many airlines like British Airways run regular flights to mainland Greece and all the islands. This includes: Athens, Corfu, Crete, Kalamata, Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Preveza, Rhodes, Santorini, Skiathos, Thessaloniki and Zante.
Typical carbon emissions for a return flight (Economy) per person: 160 kg.
FCDO travel advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/greece
Time Zone: GMT+2
Capital City: Athens