Here and now in the 21st century, Greece isn’t what you would define as a global superpower. But there was an era in history, millennia ago, when it was, to the point of this country being considered the birthplace of Western civilization as we know it. As such, a major part of its tourism appeal is related to structures and artifacts which are still extant from the ancient world.
However, to reiterate this is the 21st century. And whereas sites like the Sanctuary of Asclepius and the Acropolis remain major draws, Greece is so much more than that. This is a huge country, and it isn’t such that every corner is jumping with excitement. But if you know where to look, due to its diversity of things to do and enjoy, there’s nowhere on Earth quite like Greece when it comes to being a tourist.
The Tourist Islands of Greece
Part of the reason Greece was once the center of the civilized world is because it extends out into the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, it just so happens that this country is home to literally thousands of islands. Many of these islands have become tourist attractions in their own right, commonly offering a mixture of Old World flavor with New World amenities and hospitality.
There are so many Greek islands which are viable tourist destinations that we cannot mention them all here. But below you will find some of those which are most highly regarded as such.
Mykonos is one of the smaller Greek islands yet holds the distinction of being one of the country’s foremost nightlife hubs, with its nickname even being “the Ibiza of Greece”. Its residents are also known as being particularly LGBT-friendly.
Complete with its own airport (that runs internationally during the summer), of course there is an archaeological museum and such present, with Mykonos lying just east of Rheneia, another island which appears to have a more-notable standing as far as Ancient Greek history is concerned. And there are a couple of unique attractions found here, such as the Aegean Maritime Museum.
A bit south of Mykonos is the larger island of Paros. Both are specifically located in a part of the Mediterranean known as the Aegean Sea, which lies in between Greece and its eastern neighbor, Turkey.
Whether Paros ranks higher than Mykonos as a tourist destination is by and large a matter of personal preference. Whereas Mykonos is known for its nightlife, Paros is celebrated for its natural beauty and being able to retain more of a traditional Greek style. Amongst its attractions is the Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a church complex that is nearly 2,000 years old, as well what is known as Frankish Castle, which was built nearly a millennium ago.
Naxos is one of the larger Greek islands found in the Aegean. As with others on this list, one of the main sources of revenue for the local economy is tourism.
However, agriculture is also particularly important to the residents here. So if you’re interested in such activities, this would be an island to put on your itinerary, as it holds the distinction of being the most-fertile in the area.
That said, Naxos has also been celebrated for providing an all-around edifying tourist experience. For instance, there is what is known as the Naxos Airport Apollon, which most specifically accommodates flights to and from Athens. But as with Paros, this island is primarily known for its natural appeal, including pleasing, sports-friendly waters.
If you go west a little bit, past Naxos and Paros, there lies Sifnos. It appears pretty inconspicuous on a map and is not an island you would regularly come across on Greek tourism lists. But those who do visit Sifnos invariably applaud its natural environs, traditional architecture and quality foods.
So if you’re longing for more of a laid back yet quality Grecian experience, Sifnos may have more of an appeal than the big names like Santorini or Mykonos.
Skopelos is another Greek Aegean island that is better suited for the tranquil-minded visitor, boasting its own picturesque beaches and notable cuisine. There’s the likes of museums and ancient castles to visit also. And to reiterate, that tends to be one of the biggest draws with visiting this part of the world, i.e. the fact that multiple corners are steeped in interesting history.
Besides that, Skopelos is relatively close to the mainland and, as it currently stands, notably on the radar of the Ministry of Tourism. So for instance, there is reportedly an airport in the works. But for the time being, you can reach the island from various ports (i.e. ferries) which depart from Greece proper.
Skiathos is just east of Skopelos, thus placing it even closer to the mainland, which may well explain why this tiny island is known to have a thriving international community and exciting nightlife.
It may not usually be listed as one of the more-popular Grecian islands, but this is a hotspot for those in the know, an island that’s just about an hour or so away, by ferry, from various parts of the mainland, including Thessaloniki (which we will get to later).
Or if you prefer the less scenic route, you may opt, if possible, to fly into Skiathos International Airport. And this island is known to offer the best of both worlds, i.e. hard partying coupled with beautiful coastlines and of course a number of historic/religious attractions, if that’s your thing.
Some of the best views of the Aegean Sea are achievable via the natural heights of Amorgos. This island is also pretty close to Turkey, if you will, and as such has a noteworthy history, with this relatively-small land having a number of its own museum, including what is known as the Ecclesiastical Museum, which features a number of artifacts from the early days of Christianity.
Or if you’re into the more standard, non-religious past of the area, you may rather decide to check out the Archaeological Museum of Amorgos.
There is no airport on this island, though it is readily accessible by ferry. But given its location and all, it isn’t necessarily the easiest place to get to, where for instance it can take roughly half a day to get back and forth to Athens.
Also, unlike some of its counterparts, this Greek island isn’t necessarily ideal for general tourism due to its rockiness. So Amorgos is touted as more of a place to spend holidays, with this relatively-secluded locality only having about 2,000 permanent residents. Or if you’re really into hiking or doing research on the region, this island would also hold a special appeal.
Kos is only about two-and-a-half miles (i.e. 4 kilometers) from the coast of Turkey but is officially considered to be a part of Greece. So you may want to include it as part of your itinerary if for instance you plan to visit both countries.
But that said, tourism is the biggest business on this land. As such there is a good mixture of the old and new, i.e. agricultural activity and the fruits thereof (including Cos lettuce, if you ever heard of it) alongside modern tourist accommodations and a jumpin’ nightlife.
From a historical standpoint, some of the large Ancient Greek structures which remain intact, such as the Odeon and Asklepieion, can be found therein. So if you visit Greece for such research purposes, somewhere along the lines you’d probably be hitting up Kos.
Also to note, this is a fairly-large island with a population of about 40,000 inhabitants and its own international airport.
Ikaria (also known as Icaria) can be considered the model Greek island when we think of the health benefits of traditional Mediterranean culture. That is to say that it is one of only five places on Earth which has been officially classified as a “Blue Zone”, a locality where one out of every three people lives at least to the age of 90.
Reaching Ikaria isn’t particularly easy unless you’re able to book a domestic flight to the island. Otherwise, as with Kos and other Greek islands found in the east Aegean, you’re likely to engage in an ample amount of island hopping before reaching Ikaria from the mainland. But once there you will be greeted by what based on all accounts is a rich culture, on this somewhat compact land of less than 10,000 inhabitants.
This island is only 30 miles from Turkey and has a very-rich history accordingly, much of which has been lost to time, but some still extant in the form of the various museums which populate the Ikaria.
There are also some really beautiful, distinct beaches to be visited, as well as various towns and villages to be explored. Ikaria is another gem that is not likely to pop up on most other tourism sites. But if you don’t mind the journey, it’s well worth the visit as one of the more laid-back and naturally healthy parts of Greece.
Technically Lefkada is an island, albeit one that is only separated from the mainland by a bridge. On most maps, you may not even be able to tell that it is apart from the larger European continent.
Lefkada is also pretty big, with a number of attractions that fall into the historic/religious category. However, its main draw is its natural beauty, ranking it amongst the most-beautiful islands Greece has to offer. And that’s really a blessing because again, if you’re in Greece proper you can get there by car, if preferred, as opposed to airplane or ferry, though Lefkada is in close proximity to Aktion National Airport.
Ithaki (also known as Ithaca) is south of Lefkada, off the western coast of Greece and is more noticeably an island. There’s a city in New York named after it, and Ithaca also plays an important role in the Odyssey, a classic piece of Ancient Greek literature. In other words, it has a long-standing and notable history and sports a number of museums accordingly.
But people who visit Ithaki aren’t only doing so for historical purposes. Rather, it too has its fair share of natural attractions, i.e. beaches, caves, scenic villages, etc. Such is more or less in abundance as far as certain Greek islands are concerned, but one of the reasons Ithaca has proven so prominent to begin with is because of its relatively large size in addition to being somewhat close to the mainland.
But as with the days of old you would still have to arrive in Ithaca by sea, as the island is devoid of airports or bridges.
Hydra is the name of one of the most famous beasts of Ancient Greek mythology, but it is also an island found in the Aegean Sea less than 10 miles away from the mainland. This is a unique tourist destination, one that offers a sound glimpse into 18th century Greek culture, in that for instance there are no motor vehicles (besides garbage trucks) allowed thereupon.
So people are still using horses and donkeys to get around on land. And sea travel around the island is also quite popular.
That is in part due to the fact that this is a land of many suitable harbors. Hydra’s distinguishability is also partly attributable to its proximity to Athens. Needless to say, visitors will be treated to exquisite beaches, museums and historical structures that are centuries old. But interesting to note is that on this island you can also find a pharmacy, known as Rafalia’s, that has been around since the late 19th century and is considered a tourist attraction in and of itself.
Nafplio is a beautiful city which, as with nearby Hydra, has a bit of everything. However, being situated on the mainland it is of more historical significance, at least as far as ancient history is concerned. Or more specifically, it is situated in a part of the country where viewing some of the Greek’s greatest ancient attractions is easily accessible.
An interesting attraction found off the coast of Nafplio itself is Bourtzi Castle, a 15th century structure that looks like it is ascending out of the water but is actually on a small island. And overall, this city is considered to be one of the more scenic parts of Greece.
So if you find yourself in Peloponnese, i.e. the southern tip of Greece. This is traditionally one of the tourist hubs of the country.
Kefalonia, which is also known as Cephalonia, doesn’t rank amongst the most-popular Greek islands. But it is the sixth-largest and furthermore is considered one of the best to visit by people who’ve actually been there.
So what you can expect is a notably-populated Mediterranean island, complete with picturesque beaches, tour-worthy caves and fully-developed, albeit traditional-looking towns.
As far as caves are concerned, Cephalonia features the Drogarati, which is perhaps the most famous in all of Greece. Also found on this island is the Melissani Cave/Lake, i.e. a lake found within a cave, which is absolutely stunning to look at. Furthermore, the island boasts a population of about 40,000 residents engaged in diverse lifestyles (such as agriculture, fishing and olive oil production), a couple of universities, a number of museums, etc.
Zakynthos is an island found just south of Cephalonia, which is about half the size of its northern neighbor.
One of the big differences between the two is that whereas they both boast roughly the same number of residents, Zakynthos is known more as a straight-up tourist destination and particularly in regards to receiving younger visitors. In other words, if an activity like clubbing is your thing, then this is a part of Greece you definitely would want to hit up.
Besides that, of course the island is naturally beautiful, with nearly 30 beaches to receive you. Additionally, Zakynthos boasts its own international airport. So it can be taken as sort of a beach-party island. Or at least that’s its reputation as far as the Greek tourism industry is concerned.
Rhodes is the second-largest island on this list and one of the easternmost parts of Greece. Its size and positioning, laying within close proximity to Turkey and the Levant, also made this landmass of major significance back when boats were the main source of transportation in the region.
In fact it once housed the Colossus of Rhodes, which ranks amongst the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and could be considered the Statue of Liberty of the B.C. era.
The Colossus of Rhodes may be a thing of the past, but in more modern times visitors can still partake of the remnants of the Acropolis of Rhodes. “Acropolis” is another word for city (on a hill), and accordingly this site is quite huge.
And whereas people don’t live there anymore, due to its historical importance, it has been pretty well preserved.
There’s also another extant acropolis on the island found in the village of Lindos which is quite impressive, especially in terms of its scenic value. Besides that, Rhodes is an island of nearly 120,000 people, so alongside its historical attractions and beaches there’s also plenty to enjoy on the social front.
But most of the biggest tourism draws are those such as Rhodes Old Town, Palace of the Grand Masters and the Archeological Museum of Rhodes, i.e. which speak to the island’s notable history.
Crete holds the distinction of being the largest of all Greek islands. In fact it is so huge that you can spend an entire month touring it without going to any other parts of the country.
So besides being one of the country’s top tourist destinations, outside of the mainland it is also known as being the most-diverse part of the nation.
For instance, there are various beaches of course but also a number of mountain ranges, and it is all quite beautiful. Moreover, Crete is home to Knossos, a major archaeological site which is known to be the oldest (non-resident) city in all of Europe.
Besides that, the island boasts a population of over 600,000 people and a number of distinct cities and villages in their own rights. Additionally, there are a couple of airports which cater to international passengers.
So to reiterate, if you intend to enjoy Crete in its fullness, then you need to plan a pretty-lengthy trip besides visiting the rest of Greece.
Corfu is known for its colorful natural environment and traditional feel. There are other islands on this list that are regarded similarly. But in the research we’ve conducted, Corfu tends to be convincingly ranked higher than other parts of Greece, including the rival islands.
So since Santorini, which we will get to next, is generally considered to be Greece’s best island, then Corfu can be taken as more of a hidden gem. It boasts a couple of museums, gardens, a number of temples, its own “Old Town” which is protected by UNESCO, etc.
But the reason Corfu edges out Santorini on some people’s lists is because the latter is more ideal for lovers and people wanting to get away from it all, while Corfu is more of a holistic social experience, though both being naturally-beautiful locations.
The island of Santorini has established itself so firmly as a tourist destination that A list American rapper Rick Ross even dropped a track titled “Santorini Greece” back in 2017. Travel + Leisure also dubbed this locality ‘the World’s Best Island’ in 2011.
So all things considered, this can perhaps be taken as the premier tourism destination in all of Greece since, as this list infers, tourists in the country tend to prefer the islands over the mainland.
The interesting thing about Santorini is that, unlike most other Greek tourism hotspots, it isn’t known for historical landmarks per se. Rather the environment is absolutely gorgeous. It is one of the few parts of the world you’re likely to come across that is heralded due to the beauty of its sunset (most especially from the village of Oia).
The island is also hilly, and the architecture that has been built in spite of that geographical challenge is quite exquisite.
And speaking of geographical features, it just so happens that a volcano sunk a good chunk of the middle part of the island a few millennia back. But what was an unfortunate event for the residents back then turned out to be a blessing for the tourists of today, as that phenomenon granted Santorini a very unique, sloped coastline in the affected areas.
So visiting is such that you really can’t go wrong, as Santorini is a certified tourism hotspot and is known to have a particular appeal to the likes of couples and romantics.
Most of this list is centered on Greece’s islands, and rightfully so. But there are of course viable attractions to be found on the mainland also. The mainland, in general, may not be as beautiful as some of the islands are. But it has its appeals, and there are certain areas which are also must-see.
Thessaloniki is the same “Thessalonica” of New Testament fame. That’s more or less a recurring theme on this list, i.e. visitors to Greece having access to sites which have been around, in some instances, for thousands of years. For instance, this city traces its origins back to 315 BC.
So this part of Greece has quite a few tourist attractions, some of which may be considered ancient, though more specifically, as far as standing structures go, being from the Byzantine period onward (i.e. anno domini).
But Thessaloniki’s standing as a historical hotspot is buttressed by the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, which does hold ancient and even prehistoric artifacts. In fact, this would be a good time to note that Thessaloniki is actually the second-biggest city in Greece. Accordingly, it is replete with all types of museums, one or more of which are bound to tickle just about any scholar or curious person’s fancy.
Moreover it is a coastal metropolis, and various parts of the country, mainland and islands alike, can be accessed from it.
And since this is such a major city we’re talking about, with about 1,000,000 inhabitants, Thessaloniki also boasts a vibrant nightlife and other such draws you would expect from a large urban center. So this is definitely one of those ‘best of both worlds’ parts of Greece, where visitors are able to partake of the region’s unparalleled historical significance while simultaneously enjoying the best of modernity.
Meteora is perhaps the most unique entry on this list. It isn’t an island, nor is it a poppin’ Greek city per se. Rather, Meteora is the name of an eye-catching rock formation found in a section of mainland Greece known as Thessaly.
The rocks themselves aren’t as much of a tourist attraction as the ancient monasteries which lay amongst them, some of which survive only as ruins, but a handful also remain active to this day. Either way, even some of the defunct ones remain open for visitation.
But in going to see the monasteries up close in person, especially some of the further ones, you should be prepared to engage in some hiking.
Next to Meteora is Kalabaka, which isn’t a city but a large, well-developed town with some pretty exquisite attractions itself. So Meteora is definitely worthy of visitation and again, in a country replete with beautiful islands and notable cities an extraordinary change of pace.
One of the nation’s most notable ancient attractions is called Delphi. This site, found on Mount Parnassus, is pretty remote, with no major cities being directly nearby (though Athens is less than three hours away). However, there is an adjacent town of about 1,000 people.
As the story goes, Delphi was once considered the center of the world by the Ancient Greeks. As such, they transformed it into a major religious site which also held widespread cultural significance.
And the best thing about Delphi in terms of its tourism significance, besides its scenic hilltop surroundings, is the fact that many of the associated structures from those days are still standing, in all their glory, if you will.
So venturing to this location is about as close as one can get to traveling into Greek’s past, and visiting grants a sound glimpse into how architecturally astute the Ancient Greeks actually were. And since this is a major tourist attraction there is an associated museum, as well as a ski resort in the immediate area.
Athens is the long-standing capital of Greece which also holds the distinction of being its most-populated metropolis. Actually, it’s been the capital city for only about the last 200 years. But it has been around for over three millennia prior to that and was a notable location in Ancient Greece.
As such, it is home to visitation-worthy structures from the days of lore such as the Acropolis of Athens, which is basically an entire B.C. city that is still intact (though unpopulated).
Furthermore, since this is Greece’s capital, there are a number of museums, including the National Archeological Museum. In fact Athens can be considered the center as far as the historical study of Greece is concerned, with it being home of the Archeological Society of Athens, so on and so forth. So for historians and scholars visiting Greece, Athens is absolutely a must-see.
But all of that historical stuff aside, of course Athens is a modern metropolis on par with Europe’s other First World capitals. So there’s only so much we can say in terms of promoting it.
Visiting the capital city is invariably part of an itinerary no matter which country you go to. But seeing Athens is even more important due to Greece’s unparalleled contributions to Western civilization. But that noted, others would be enticed to go there simply because it is the country’s largest city.
Greece is very special, being the birthplace of a civilization that would go on to dominate the world. But that’s just part of its tourism appeal. This land is also located smack-dab in the Mediterranean Sea, complete with innumerable islands to call its own.
And as far as the climate goes, the Mediterranean is considered the most hospitable and arguably beautiful part of Europe. Also, in modern times Greece has been able to maintain its status as a First World nation. Those factors combined make it one of the most-notable places to visit in the world.
And further adding to the allure is the fact that all the aforementioned attributes, to varying degrees, can be found at numerous locations throughout the country.