Category Archives:

Greek Macedonia

Greek Macedonia, or the Macedonia region in Northern Greece to be more precise, includes most of ancient Macedonia, the kingdom of Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great. It is the largest, most diverse and the second most populous region in Greece.
Continue reading

Posted in Mainland Greece | Leave a comment

Famous Places to Visit in Greece

As the oldest civilization of the western world, Greece has a plethora of remains and buildings from the last 5000 years. In addition to the historical sites and sights, there’s modern Greece, with popular beaches and nightlife. With so many choices, what should you see? We give you ten of the most famous places to visit in Greece.
Continue reading

Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

The Best Greece Beaches

We’ve already gone through the first five of the best Greek beaches. Now it’s time to find out what the top five are.

Armenistis Beach, Sithonia, Halkidiki

Armenistis Beach

Armenistis Beach, Halkidiki

Armenistis Beach is a quiet, sandy beach located on Sithonia, the middle ‘finger’ of the Halkidiki peninsula on mainland Greece. Armenistis is not a typical resort beach, but actually a camping center beach. Apart from campers, it is surrounded by beautiful pine forests, and has a view across the bay to Mount Athos, the holy mountain. The closest village is Sarti, while Thessaloniki is a three hour drive away.

Vai Beach, Lassithi, Crete

Vai Beach

Vai Beach, Crete

Vai Beach lies on the eastern side of Crete, and is backed by Europe’s largest natural palm grove. The trees are Cretan date palms, and according to legend, they grew from date stones that had been thrown away by Saracen pirates and then washed up on shore. The spectacular curved beach with golden sand and clear water, is actually owned by Monastery Toplou, which also runs a beach restaurant that serves traditional Greek food.

The beach was a hippie favourite in the 70s, and in the 80s it turned into a garbage-littered campground for backpackers. Eventually the grove was protected and fenced off, and the beach cleaned up. Today Vai Beach is the center for beach resorts in Eastern Crete, and the beach can get very crowded in high season. Snorkeling, windsurfing and jet-skiing are all popular activities at the beach.

Koukounaries Beach, Skiathos

Koukounaries means pine cones, because the beach is surrounded by a fragrant pine forest, which can provide shade on hot days. The beach itself is a mile long crescent of fine golden sand with deep blue clear water, and offers stunning sunsets. The forest and beach is a protected biotope, and as a result Koukounaries is one of the most pristine natural beaches in the Mediterranean.

However, this doesn’t mean you’ll get the beach to yourself. The region around the beach is actually the second largest resort on Skiathos, in the Sporades. This has made the beach a favourite among families and watersports enthusiasts.

Navagio Beach, Zakynthos

Navagio Beach

Navagio Beach, Zakynthos

Navagio Beach (which means Shipwreck Beach) is one of the most famous beaches in Greece, located on the northwest tip of the Ionian island Zakynthos. The shipwreck in question is the wreck of the alleged smuggler ship Panagiotis. For this reason the beach is also referred to as Smugglers Cove.

The isolated sandy cove is surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, with white sand and clear blue water. It is only accessible by boat, but due to its reputation, Navagio is still visited by large amounts of tourists. Avoid the beach when the excursion boats from Zakynthos Town drop by, and rent a small boat instead.

Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia

Myrtos Beach

Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia

Myrtos Beach is one of the most dramatic beaches in Greece. The first time you see it from the coast road above is breathtaking. It is surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, and the bright white marble pebbles contrast with the colours of the water, which varies from turquoise to sky blue. During sunsets, the water takes on magnificent reddish hues. No wonder this is one of the big draws of the Ionian island of Kefalonia.

The beach shelf drops quite steeply off shore, so it’s not a great place to splash around if you can’t swim. The beach has also been kept free of watersports, so that basically leaves a paradise for sun worshippers, who aren’t bothered by the lack of shade on the mile and half long beach. There’s a single beach bar where you can buy refreshments.

This is also the location for the mine explosion in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but that is probably the least interesting thing about Myrtos Beach.

That ends our list of the best Greece beaches. We hope you get the opportunity to visit as many of them as possible.

Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

The Best Greek Beaches

The beaches are one of the main reasons people travel to Greece and the Greek islands. We are going to show you what we consider the very best Greek beaches.

10. Tsambika Beach, Rhodes

Tsambika Beach

Tsambika Beach ©iStockphoto.com/letty17

Tsambika is one of the most popular beaches on the east coast of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese. The water is very clean, and the sand dunes on the long, shelved beach are sheltered by promontories on both sides.

The beach has no permanent development, because the nearby land is owned by the Orthodox Church. This includes a monastery overlooking the beach with a splendid view.

9. Vroulidia Beach, Chios

Vroulidia Beach is a small beach with pure white sand and clear emerald water, sheltered in a cove with cliffs on both sides. It has a relatively secluded location, on the southern tip of Chios, in the northeast Aegean. Despite this, the scenery is breathtaking enough to draw plenty of beachgoers. The good news is that if the beach gets too crowded, there are several similar beaches close by.

8. Plaka Beach, Naxos

Plaka Beach

Plaka Beach on Naxos

As the biggest island of the Cyclades, Naxos has miles of beaches. But the 4 km long Plaka Beach is the most pristine among them. Located on the west coast of the island, Plaka Beach is an extension of Agia Anna, about 10 km south of Naxos Town (Hora). This open cove beach is almost untouched by human development, and its tranquil, clean sea and view of neighbouring Paros makes it very beautiful.

It is well protected from the northern summer winds (meltemia) and in places there’s natural shade from cedar trees.

7. Paradise Beach, Mykonos

Paradise Beach Mykonos

Paradise Beach Photo by pandemia, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Paradise Beach on the south side of Mykonos, is the ultimate party beach. It was once an anonymous nudist beach, but has today helped turn Mykonos into Greece’s foremost open air clubbing venue, only matched by Ibiza in the Mediterranean overall. It is a place to see and be seen. Party lovers, both famous and unknown, flock to the beach for watersports by day, and clubbing by night. Happy hour starts at 4 PM, and at night Paradise Club is filled with people dancing to top international DJs.

The facilities on the beach includes a bar, taverna and souvenir shops

6. Elafonisi Beach, Crete

Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi Beach on Crete

Elafonisi Beach is located on the very western edge of Crete, about 80 km from Chania city. Its white and pinkish sand, combined with warm and shallow turquoise water, gives the beach an almost tropical feel. The beach is completely natural and in pristine condition.

The pure white sandbars lead to the small islet of Elafonisos, only 100 meters out, and shallow enough to walk there. The islet has the occasional ruined wall and even more beaches, though they have waves, unlike the main beach. The islet and beach name come from the word Elafi, which means deer in Greek, because people first discovered how shallow the sandbar was when when they saw a deer walk across.

The whole district has been classified as a special environmental interest becase there are some endangered species in the are, and development is therefore restricted. There’s only a small cafe on the beach.

Move on to the final five best beaches in Greece.

Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

Rhodes City

The City of Rhodes lies on the northern tip of the island of Rhodes. It has been the most important harbour of the island since it was founded in 408 BC.

The old town

The medieval old town of Rhodes city has been declared a UNESCO world Heritage site, and has a mixture of medieval and Turkish buildings.

The old town can be divided in three parts: The Knights’ Quarter (Kollakio) with most medieval sights, the Turkish Quarter (Hora) with shops and restaurants and the Jewish Quarter where only a few typical Jewish buildings remain.

The layout can be confusing to tourists, as the streets aren’t even close to form a grid. Winding alleys and side lanes abound, and many of them don’t even have a name. If you get lost, you can either explore, or ask someone for the directions to Sokratous, the largest street in the Old Town.

The walls

The old town is surround by massive walls 4 km around and up to 12 metres thick, built by the Knights of St. John (Knights Hospitallier). The fortifications have a series of gates and towers, and are still remarkably intact. For a small fee, you are allowed to walk on top of the walls, and there’s a guided tour for small groups. starting at the Palace of the Knights.

The Knights’ Quarter

The Street of The Knights (Ippoton) is one of the best-preserved medieval sites in the world. The 600 metres long cobblestone street was constructed on top of an ancient road that led from the port to the Acropolis of Rhodes. The inns along the street are divided according to the place of origin of the Knights of St. John who lived there: England, France, Germany, Italy, Aragon, Auvergne and Provence. Each group was led by a bailiff and was responsible for the defence of a part of the bastion.

The large 15th century Knights hospital now houses the archeological museum, with the entrance on Museum Square. The most famous exhibit is a marble statue of Aphrodite of Rhodes, an adaptation of a Hellenistic statue from the 1st century BC.

The Palace of the Knights (also known as the Palace of the Grand Masters) was built by the Knights Hospitallier, with building starting in 1309. This is where the Grand Master of the order lived until 1522, when the Ottomans were able to conquer Rhodes, forcing the knights to leave for Sicily and later Malta.

Large parts of the palace were destroyed in 1856, after an ammunition depot blew up in 1856. The current palace is actually what the Italians rebuilt from 1912 to the 1930s, to use as a holiday residence for Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and later for Benito Mussolini. As such it is more of a fantasy than a historically accurate recreation. There’s a museum inside with mosaics from Kos and a collection of antique furniture.

The Turkish Quarter

The best-known building in the turkish quarter is the Mosque of Suleiman at the top of Sokratous, with its pink dome and slender minaret. It was built in 1522 to commemorate the Ottoman victory against the Knights of St. John.

The municipal turkish baths are located in a 7th century Byzantine building, and were last upgraded in 2000. The hamam (Turkish for bath) is in Plateia Arionos. Men and women enter through separate entrances and disrobe in separate cubicles. Cool marble floors and domed chambers with glass paned roofs makes this place well worth a visit, and the cost is only 2 or 3 euros, depending on the day.

The Jewish quarter

The Square of the Jewish Martyrs (Plateia ton Martiron Evreon) is dedicated to the memory of the 1,604 jews who were rounded up by the Gestapo on the 19th of July 1944 and sent to Auschwitz. The square is also called Sea Horse Square because of the sea horse fountain.

The hospice of St. Catherine has its entrance on the square. It was built by the Knights of St. John in the 14th century to house important guests. The hospice has been restored and has intricately carved and painted ceilings, beautiful sea pebble and mosaic floors, a lavish bed chamber and some interesting exhibits.

Near the square is Kahal Shalom Synagogue, established in 1557. This makes it the oldest synagogue in Greece. It has a commemorative plaque also in memory of the deported Jews. Although the Jewish community is smaller today, the synagogue is still open for prayer in the morning, and services are held on Friday night. There’s also a small museum connected to the synagogue.

New town

The new town embraces the old one and extends south to the resorts. At the northern edge is the city beach, in a place called 100 Palms, and the famous Mandraki harbour where you can find both tour boats and yachts. The municipal beach and Elli beach are popular during daytime.

Around Plastira and Cyprus Square you’ll find most of the hotels in New Town. New Town also has most of the nightclubs, discos and bars in the Town of Rhodes, so it’s good bet after dark.

The Acropolis of Rhodes

The impressive remains of the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes are located at the north end of the island, overlooking the city from Mount Smith, with the sea on two sides. The stadium once held competitions in preparation for the olympic games, while the theatre was used for lectures by the Rhodes School of Rhetoric. Both of these buildings have been restored, and in combination with the trees there provide a pleasant scene for a picnic.

Only four of the pillars and parts of the architrave of the Temple of Pythian Apollo remain, but are enough to give an idea of what the temple originally must have looked like.

You can get back and forth to town by taking city bus 5.

The Colossus of Rhodes

In antiquity the Colossus of Rhodes was one of seven wonders of the world, which makes it the most famous sight of Rhodes through history. Unfortunately for us, nothing of it remains today.

After surviving a siege by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 304 BC, the people of Rhodes sold the siege equipment that had been left behind, and spent the money on a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios, the sun god. Construction was led by Chares, a native of Lindos, and the statue was built by the harbour entrance between 292 and 280 BC. The 30 meter high statue only stood for 56 years, until an earthquake in 226 BC destroyed the statue. The pieces could still be seen at the harbour for another 800 years, when the remains were removed.

What if you really want to see the status? Well, the design and dimensions of the Statue of Liberty in New York are actually based on what the engineers believed the Colossus of Rhodes looked like, so that’s a decent approximation. In addition, a project for a modern Colossus of Rhodes is underway in Greece. This is planned to be a lighter structure between 60 and 100 metres tall, costing 200 milllion euros, and will be placed in the harbour like the original.

Nightlife

In general, new town is livelier than the old town. You’ll find cafes on the harbour, behind Academy Square or on Galias, while bars aplenty line Dakonou. If you want to party in Old Town, most clubs and bars are on Miltiadhou street, but usually with more locals than foreigners. There are more than 100 clubs in Rhodes, and Rhodes is a relatively compact city, so it’s easy to go exploring until you find something you like.

Next to the Grand Hotel is the Casino Rodos. This was government-run for a long time, but is now a regular business with roulette and blackjack, located in the Grande Albergo delle Rose, in the New Town. You have to bee at least 23 years old to enter.

At Papagou, south of Plateia Rimini, there’s a sound and light show that tells the story of a youth that entered the monastery in 1522, the year before the Ottomans conquered Rhodes. Most performances are in english, but there’s also French, German and Swedish presentations.

Posted in The Greek Islands | Leave a comment

Rhodes Island

Rhodes island (also known as Rhodos/Rodos) is the largest island of the Dodecanese, and the easternmost of all the Greek islands. It lies just a few miles south of the Turkish mainland, a location that has made it a focalpoint for trade and wars throughout the millennia. Greeks, Romans, The Knights of St. John, Turks and Italians have all controlled the island and left their mark.

The terrain of Rhodes is more similar to Asia Minor than a typical Greek island, with pine and cypress forests and a mountainous interior. Beautiful and clean beaches, a historical old town in Rhodes city, the stunning village and acropolis of Lindos, untouched villages in the interior and a valley of butterflies makes the island of Rhodes one of the Greek islands that you shouldn’t miss.

Rhodes town

The city of Rhodes is the capital of the island, and its Old Town is a World Heritage Site. In ancient times it was known for one of the seven wonders of the world, the Colossus of Rhodes. There’s so much to see, that we’ve dedicated a separate article to the town of Rhodes.

Lindos

The town of Lindos is the most picturesque town on Rhodes, and its Acropolis is what brings most tourists out of Rhodes city. The town was first settled in 2000 BC, and was an important Doric site because of its good harbour and good view of the sea.

Lindos has bays on two sides, and the village consists of white painted 17th century houses, many with black and white pebble mosaic floors (hohlakia). The main streets are filled with shops and cafes, but its worth exploring the side streets to really see the beauty of the village. Above the village lies the Acropolis, originally built in ancient times, and later expanded by the Knights of St. John.

To the south of Lindos lies the lovely beach at St. Paul’s Bay. This is where St. Paul supposedly landed on his way to Rome. To the southwest is Mount Krana, where caves hid cults to Athena after Christianity had taken over.

Buses leave frequently from Plateia Rimini in Rhodes town. Taking a taxi instead will cost about 40 euros. Excursion boats also depart from Mandraki harbour.

Acropolis of Lindos

The Acropolis of Lindos is placed on the 116 meter high rock above the village. It’s a bit of a walk, but well worth the effort. The impressive remains of the Sanctuary of Athena Lindos were later surrounded by turreted walls, when the Knights of St. John refortified the acropolis. The Italians tried to reconstruct parts of the acropolis, but did a poor job, so there’s ongoing restorations to repair the site.

When you reach the inside of the entrance gate, you’ll see a square with a famous relic carving of a trireme, a three-banked ship, from the 2nd century BC by the sculptor Pythocretes. From the top of the ramparts you’ll have a splendid view of Lindos and the surrounding areas.

At the acropolis itself, you’ll find the remains of a Hellenistic stoa from 200 BC, with 20 columns. There’s also a 5th century BC propylaeum. but the main sight is the 4th century Temple to Athena. Athena was probably worshipped here as early as the 10th century BC, so this temple replaced earlier ones.

Medieval Lindos has the gorgeous Byzantine Church of Agios Ioannis, from the late 14th or early 15th century. The floor is made of sea pebbles, while the church has more than 200 restored frescoes (originally from the 18th century) covering the walls and ceiling, depicting creation, nativity, passover and the last judgement.the village.

Ancient Ialysos (Ialyssos/Ialisos)

10 km south of Rhodes city, you’ll fiund Ancient Ialysos, which has contains Doric, Byzantine and medieval remains.
The Phoenicians were the first known settlers here, but they were driven out by the Dorians in the 10th century, who built a temple to Athena and Zeus Poliios on Mount Filerimos in the 3rd century. The base of the temple can still be seen. The Dorians also built a fountain in the 4th century BC, which has been restored to good condition.

The Knights of St. John also embarked from Ialysos when they began their conquest of Rhodes. They built the Chapel of Agios Georgios, a small subterranean chapel with frescoes of knights and Jesus. Later the Italians built the Monastery of Our Lady right over it. Proper dresscode is required for visitors to the monastery.

The ruined fortress at Ialysos was used by Suleiman the Magnificent during his siege of Rhodes Town.

Ancient Kamiros

The remains of ancient Kamiros are larger than those of Ialysos, and are located on a hillside on the coast, 34 km from Rhodes town, This Doric town peaked in the 6th century BC, prospering from the production of figs, olives and grapes, the latter two sold in the form of oil and wine. Its significance waned as the town of Rhodes rose, and it was finally destroyed by earthquakes in 226 and 142 BC.

The town was divided into an upper porch for religious purposes, and a lower valley for everyday life. At the lower half you can see the remains of a Doric temple, the main street with some well-preserved houses and the ruins of a 3rd century stoa with a 206 m long portico. At the upper level is a 6th century cistern, which was filled with water through use of aqueducts, and at the very top a temple dedicated to Athena.

Buses from Rhodes city stop along the coast road, 1 km away from the ruins.

Valley of the Butterflies (Petaloudes)

The Valley of the Butterflies is among the most popular sights on Rhodes. The area consists of ponds, footbridges and streams. During July and August, millions of butterflies gather, attracted by the scent of resin from the storax trees. The butterflies are actually black-and-white striped moths (Callimorpha quadripunctaria), which are revealed to have intensely red undersides when they take flight, often as a result of being disturbed by noise.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll see the moths in flight, but its worth a visit. Petaloudes is 25 km south of Rhodes and inland.

Other sights

A couple of kilometers south of Kamiros lies the knights castle of Kastellos (Kritinias Castle), built in the 15th and 16th century, with a dominating view of the sea.

If you go south from there, and then inland to the northeast, you’ll reach Embonas, the wine capital of Rhodes. The white Villare and the red Cava Emery or Zacosta are worth a taste, and can be purchased at Emery Winery. There’s not much else to see in Embonas, but the tavernas around the main square serve good barbecued meats, and often have live music and entertainment.

Beaches

The best beaches in Rhodes are along the east coast, and with 300 days of sunshine each year, you’ll probably want to visit one during your stay. Many of the beaches are off road and a bit difficult to get to. The upside is that you’ll be able to find undisturbed beaches even in the middle of tourist season.

The easiest beach to access is probably the one next to Lindos. There are also a couple of beaches south of Lindos,

Kalithea Thermi is a restored spa, originally built by the Italians. The beach is ised by the diving schools in Rhodes. Buses from Rhodes Town stop nearby,

Ladiko Beach, often called ‘Anthony Quinn Beach’ by the locals, consists of two coves with a pebble beach on the north side, and volcanic rock on the south. The beach is realtively undisturbed from nearby development.

Kolymbia and Tsambika beaches are nice and sandy, but also quite crowded.

Epta Piges (Seven Springs) is a beautiful valley 4 km from Kolymbia, where springs flow into a lake. The area is a popular tourist destination.

Stegna Beach lies near Arhangelos, further south, and can offer the sandy cove of Agathi, with nearby beach restaurants, and the Castle of Faraklos as a backdrop.

How to get there

Diagoras International Airport is located 14 km southwest of Rhodes city, and has regular connections to Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete and Turkey. During summer there’s service to Karpathos and Santorini, as well as a myriad of international charter flights to Rhodes.

Ships, ferries and hydrofoils regularly go to Athens, Crete, Cyprus, Turkey and Israel. In high season daily departures also leave for nearby destinations in the eastern Aegean, like Kos, Patmos and Samos.

Posted in The Greek Islands | Leave a comment

The Palace of Knossos

The Palace of Knossos is among the foremost archeological sites in the world, located in the suburbs of Heraklion. The first palace at Knossos was built around 1900 BC, but was destroyed by a earthquake in 1700 BC. It was then rebuilt even grander, and stood until 1450, when it was destroyed again. Knossos was the capital of the Minoan empire, which at its height ruled all of Crete and many of the nearby islands. Scholars still debate the exact function of Knossos, but it was certainly an important for many important religious and administrative functions.

The Minotaur and the Labyrinth

Knossos also has a suitable legend. The legendary Minos, which the Minoans have been named after, struggled with his brothers for the right to rule Crete. He prayed to the god Poseidon for a white bull as a sign of approval. Poseidon granted the bull, but instead of thanking Poseidon by sacrificing it, Minos decided to keep it for its beauty. Aphrodite punished Minos by making his wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull, and she mated with it. The offspring was the Minotaur, with the head of a bull and the body of a man, and it could only feed on human flesh.

King Minos consulted the oracle at Delphi about what to do, and then decided to have the master craftsman Daedalus construct a giant labyrinth near Knossos to house the Minotaur. Minos had defeated the city of Athens in war, and demanded young Athenian men and women as sacrifice to feed the beast. When the third annual shipment of young Athenians was about to be shipped to Crete, Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens, volunteered to go and slay the Minotaur. When Theseus arrived at Knossos, King Minos’s daughter fell in love with him, and helped him find his way in the labyrinth by giving him a ball of thread, that he could use to trace his steps. Theseus killed the Minotaur, and found his way out again by following the thread.

Excavation

Knossos was completely forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, a local antiquarian. He made the first excavations at Kephala Hill, and sold the rights to the amateur archeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the year 1900. Evans spent the next 35 years and 250,000 pounds of his own money to excavate the site and reconstruct parts of the palace. Other historians and archeologists have critized Evans’s reconstructions, claiming they owe more to his own imagination than historical evidence, but most tourists seem to appreciate his efforts to visualize the past.

Exploring Knossos

While it’s called a palace, it’s not what we usually associate with a palace. Instead it’s 1300 interconnected rooms, serving all sorts of functions, from sleeping quarters and throne rooms, to storage and crafting areas. Many believe that the palace itself is the mythical labyrinth.

The palace at Knossos is also well known for its frescoes. Many of them are held at Heraklion Archeological Museum, but there are copies of the originals at the site. Columns have also been reconstructed, painted in a deep red with gold and black capitals. As you walk around, notice all the things that shows how much thought has been put into the construction, such as the light wells, porches, verandas and drainage system, helping make the palace as comfortable as possible year round.

Central Court

The central court is an area of 30 times 60 meters, which was used for audiences and ceremonial purposes. While the palace was still standing, there were high walls on all sides, much different from the open area currently exposed to the sun.

Piano Nobile

On the west side of the palace is the Piano Nobile, the nobel hall, so called by Evans because he believed this was the audience hall of the Minoan kings. The walls are decorated with copies of leaping bull dancers, the most famous frescoes found at Knossos.

Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase leads from the eastern side of the palace to the royal apartments. Out of the five original stone steps, four are still preserved. Three smaller staircases and many corridors would have led off these. The area is decorated with a copy of the shield fresco that was originally found here.

Royal Apartments

The Hall of the Double Axes is named after the double axe marks, a well known Minoan symbol, found on the light well at one end of the room. At the other end there was a balcony, to ensure air circulation. It was the king’s megaron, used for both sleeping and feasts, sacrifice and council. Connected to the hall is the queen’s megaron, which has a dolphin fresco above the door. The adjacent bathroom has a terracotta bathtub and one of the first examples in history of a water closet, albeit it had to be manually flushed.

Throne Room

The entrance to the so called throne room is from the northwest corner of the courtyard. The rom has a worn stone throne with a fresco of two griffons behind it. There are benches along the other walls, and a ceremonial basin in front of the throne. Evans believed the throne was used by the king or the queen, but it’s more probable that it was the seat of a priestess. The room is closed off for visitors, but you can see it through the glass.

Storage Area

In the northern part of the palace is the storage area, where Evans found more than 100 huge pithoi, storage jars used for olive oil, olives, grain and other supplies. Some of them are up to 2 meters high, with a capacity of 200 litres, and such jars are being used by Greeks up to the present day.

How to get there

Buses number 2 and 4 leave Heraklion every ten minutes, from the bus stops by the eastbound bus station.

If you are driving, you can park at a parking lot outside of Knossos. Be warned that it’s both expensive and tends to fill to capacity as the day goes on.

During summer, the site is open from 8 am to 7 pm. Opening hours the rest of the year are 9 am to 3 pm. There’s a constant flow of tour groups through the site during most of the day. If you want to avoid the crowds, your best bet during high season is the last couple of hours before the site closes.

Posted in Crete | Leave a comment

Epidaurus

Epidaurus is located on the Peloponnese in mainland Greece, and was famous as a place of healing during ancient Greek and Roman times. Visitors came from afar to visit the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Today most people come to see the theatre of Epidaurus, one of the best-preserved ancient theatres in the world, and still in use during the Hellenic Festival. Epidaurus is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sanctuary of Asclepius (Asklepieion)

Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis, who died giving birth to Asclepius. Apollo put Asclepius in the care of the centaur Chiron, who raised Asclepius and trained him in the art of medicine. Epidaurus was originally dedicated to Apollo, but by the 4th century BC Epidaurus had become synonymous with Asclepius, and was believed to be his birthplace. The treatments administered here includes diet, herbal medicine, mineral springs and surgery. The green surroundings and pine trees probably didn’t hurt either.

The propylaia was the original entrance to the site, and is a large gateway at the north edge. Some pavement from the Sacred Way that led north is also preserved.

When visitors first arrived, they were placed in the enkoimitirion, a big sleeping hall. There Asclepius himself would appear in their dreams, and give advice on what sort of treatment that would heal them.

In the northwest corner is the tholos, which function is uncertain. It is believed that its concentric circles were used either for sacred rituals by the priests, or as a pit for the holy snakes. To the east of the tolos are the remaining foundations of the Temple of Asclepius.

South of the tolos is the stadium, which still has intact stone benches, and you can also make out a starting line. This is where the athletic part of the Festival of Asclepius was held every four years.

In the south is the katagogeion, a huge guest house for patients and pilgrims, which had 160 guest rooms.

On the eastern side you’ll find the Sanctuary of Egyptian Gods, an indication that Asclepius was modelled after Imhotep, who had a similar position as healing god in Egypt.

Epidaurus Museum

The museum has surgical instruments, statues, stone inscriptions and reconstructions of the tholos. The tholos was the most impressive building in Epidaurus after the theatre, and on display are remains of intricately detailed reliefs from the tholos’ ceiling.

Epidaurus Theatre

This theatre was designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC, and is famous for its wonderful acoustics. Guides love demonstrating this to their tour groups, by dropping a coin or similar on stage, making a sound that can be easily heard in the entire theatre. The seating is made of limestone, which dampens low frequency sounds and reflects high frequency sounds from the stage. During Roman times, 21 rows were added to the original 34 rows, which meant this theatre could take as many as 15,000 people, for example during the Festival of Asclepieia, when drama and athletics were performed at Epidaurus.

The theatre is also one of the best-preserved ancient Greek buildings. Thanks to its relatively remote location, its masonry was never stolen and used for other purposes. The Corinthian pilasters flanking the entrance are restored, however

The Hellenic Festival

Epidaurus Theatre hosts performances every Friday and Saturday, during the Hellenic Festival in July and August. Both ancient Greek dramas as well as modern theatre is performed. You can buy tickets either on site in Epidaurus, or from the Hellenic Festival office in Athens (Panepistimiou 39, Syntagma). During the festival, there are special bus connections from Athens and Nafplio. See http://www.hellenicfestival.gr for more details.

How to get there

There are daily buses to Epidaurus from Nafplio, 30 kilometers away. Buses also go daily between nearby Ligourio and Athens, a two and a half hour trip.

Posted in Mainland Greece | Leave a comment

Corfu

Corfu is the greenest and best-known of the Ionian islands, to the west of the Greek mainland. Corfu town is both charming and sophisticated, while there’s plenty of beaches (with and without resorts) and lush interior on the rest of the island.

Corfu town

Corfu town is a beautiful and stylish mix of British, Italian, French and Greek influences and architecture. The old town is in the north, and is dominated by Venetian mansions, while central area has plenty of Parisian and English style buildings.

Archeological Museum

The Archeological Museum has a variety of exhibits from the island’s ancient history. This includes one of the finest Archaic sculptures found in Greece, a massive depiction of Gorgon Medusa. This was once part of the west pediment of the 590 BC Temple of Artemis at Corcyra, the ancient capital, just south of Corfu town on the Kanoni Peninsula.

Museum of Asian Art

This is probably not the kind of museum you expect to see when you visit a Greek island, but it is well worth a look. The neoclassical building was originally the residence of the British Lord High Commissioner, but was refurbished after World War II, and now houses Chinese porcelain and bronzes as well as Japanses prints, sculptures and ceramics.

The Old Fortress (Palaio Frourio)

On the eastern edge of town is the old fortress, separated from the rest of town by a moat. The area has two peaks (koryphi), which is the origin of the island’s name. On each peak is a castle, offering nice views of Albania and Corfu itself. A sound and light show is held here during summer.

The New Fortress (Neo Frourio)

You’ll find the new fortress on a hilltop in the north, between the new and the old harbour. It was initially constructed in the 12th century, and also has wonderful views.

Solomos Museum

This is a small museum dedicated to Dionysios Solomos, the writer of Greece’s national poem, who lived on Corfu for 30 years. The museum contais his desk, poems, letters and old editions of his books.

Church of Agios Spyridon

Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of Corfu, and the 16th century church with its special campanile, houses the relics of the saint in a beautiful silver coffin.

Shopping

Corfu town has many shops selling jewelry, leather goods and needlework. A specialty of Corfu is kumquat liqueur, produced from fruit grown locally since the Chinese fruit was imported in the 1800s.

Nightlife

For a relaxed night out, try one of the cafes at the Liston or at the north side of the Espinade. The nightclubs around Corfu town go in and out of fashion, but if you want something more wild, there’s plenty to be found a couple of kilometers northwest of Corfu town, where there are discos and bars.

Daytrips

You can go on excursions from Corfu to several destinations, including Kefalonia, Paxi and Albania. An excursion to Kefalonia includes Melissani Grotto and Drogarati Cave, while a trip to Paxi includes the blue caves. If you go to Albania, you should visit Butrint, a UNESCO world Heritage Site.

How to get there

Corfu airport is 4 km south of the town, and there are daily flights between Corfu and Athens. There’s also regular flights to Thessaloniki.

Half a dozen times a day, ferries and hydrofoils go between Corfu and Igoumenitsou on the mainland. If you want to go to the neighbouring island of Patras, there are several ferries each week. During high season, many of the ferries between Greece and Italy also stop a Corfu.

Posted in The Greek Islands | Leave a comment

Delphi

Delphi is one of the most visited sights on the Greek mainland. According to legend Zeus sent out two eagles to find the centre of the earth, and the eagles met over Delphi.

From the 8th century BC to 393 AD, Delphi was known as the most important oracle in the world. Kings and commom people alike would give a tribute in return for the wisdom of the god Apollo, transmitted through the oracle at his Delphi temple.

The actual prophecy was made by a priestess known as the Pythia, who was seated inside the temple and inhaled vapours that came out of the rock. This put her in a trance, believed to make her able to receive messages from Apollo himself. The travellers weren’t allowed to see the Pythia, but a priest would ask her the question and also interpret the answer she gave. The result was of course that the answer would be based on knowledge of politics of the day, what the traveller would expect to hear, plus a little guesswork. In addition, the answer was often worded ambiguously wording. The best-known prophecy was given to King Croesus of Lydia, who asked what would happen if he went to war against Persia. The answer he received was that a great empire would be destroyed. The king took this as a good sign, but as it turned out, it was his own empire that ended.

The Sacred Way

When you enter the area known as The Sanctury of Apollo, or The Sacred Precinct, you’ll walk up the Sacred Way to reach the Temple of Apollo, just like the ancient travellers did. On the sides were 3000 statues and a series of treasuries, that held the riches donated by various city-states. On the north side of the Sacred Way, you can see a reconstruction of one of these treasuries.

Temple of Apollo

The temple was originally erected in the 6th century BC, but the remains currently there are from the 4th century BC. The French archeologists that found the temple in 1892, also made some reconstruction on the temple. As a result, you can get an impression of the scale of the temple.

Theatre

Above the Temple of Apollo lies the a large theatre, that could hold 5000 people, and almost rivals the great theatre in Epidaurus. Delphi held a festival every 8 years, in honour of Apollo’s killing of the great snake Python. The festival included poetry and music, performed at this theatre.

Stadium

From 582 BC the musical festival was called the Pythian games, held every four years, and athletic competitions were added. Many of the athletic competitions were held in this stadium, that is almost 200 meters long, and able to hold 7000 spectators. The current seating is from Roman times.

Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

Southeast of the Sanctuary of Apollo, lies the so-called marble quarry (Marmaria Precinct), where the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is. It contains the remains of two temples dedicated to Athena, built around 5 centuries BC. Between the two temples is a circular tholos. It is not known what it was used for, but the three columns that were re-erected in 1938, has certainly made it the most easily reconizable building in the sanctuary.

Gymnasium

This is where the athletes would bathe and exercise. The Castalian spring further up supplied only cold water to the baths, until the Romans added hot water in the 2nd century AD. East of the baths is the training area, surrounded by remains of exercise and changing rooms. Poets and philosophers would also use this area to lecture. In addition there’s also a covered track, which made it possible to have athletic events even if the weather was too bad for the stadium.

Delphi Museum

The nearby Delphi Museum has a collection of sculptures and artifacts that is only surpassed by the ones found at the Athens Acropolis. The museum has a total of 13 rooms, with the a statue known as The Charioteer, a life-sized bronze statue. Another notable piece is a Roman copy of a navel stone, Omphalos, the stone that marked the centre of the earth. There’s also a model of the temple of Apollo.

How to get there

Delphi is three hours away from Athens by bus or car, and there are several departures each day. The nearby modern village of Delphi has accommodation if you wish to stay the night.

Because of the large amount of tour buses that come to Delphi, it is advisable to go early, if you can.

Posted in Mainland Greece | Leave a comment

Heraklion

Heraklion

Heraklion (Iraklion/Iraklio) is the capital and largest city of Crete. The Venetian old town, a wonderful archeological museum and the ruins of Knossos are the highlights for anyone visiting. Unfortunately Heraklion was heavily bombed during World War II, and large parts of the city destroyed. This in combination with large urban growth, has led to a modern city, but perhaps not what most tourists come looking for. Despite municipal rebuilding in later years, Heraklion is not a particularly pretty or charming city.

The Harbour

The harbour is dominated by a fortress, built between 1523 and 1540, and called called Rocca al Mare by the Venetians. The impressive building looks like something out of a movie, and it is easy to understand how it took the Turks 24 years to conquer the city. During daytime the fortress offers some great views, and during night the whole place is lit up by floodlights. The only other remaining Venetian building on the harbour is the arsenal.

The City Walls

The border between the fortified old town, which was known as Candia, and the rest of Heraklion is clearly marked by the massive city walls. It is in fact possible to walk the whole way round on top of them. You’ll be rewarded with some nice views, and some not so great, looking straight at people’s roof tops.

At the southwestern corner of the walls, on the Martinengo Bastion, lies the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1947). He is the author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, and also a native of Heraklion.

The Market

The open air market is one of the most charming remains of the old city, an can offer all kinds of foods, from the expected fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, to cheeses, yoghurts and spices. In addition to food, there’s also souvenirs, leather goods and all kind of knick knacks you may or may not need. And you often feel like you’re in a bazaar further east than Europe.

The Archeological Museum of Heraklion

The museum was founded in 1937 because of all the Minoan sites on Greece. The finds has made The Archeological Museum of Heraklion the most important collection of Minoan artifacts anywhere, and also the second largest museum in Greece. If you are planning to go to Knossos, a visit here first will help you get into context. Some of the most famous exhibits are the Hall of Frescoes, with frescoes found at Knossos, and the Phaestos Disc, which has still undeciphered Minoan linear script on it.

The museum is a popular destination for tour groups and tourists in general, so try to go early in the morning or late in the evening, if you want to avoid the crowds.

The Historical Museum

This museum covers the period from early Christianity to the modern age, including plenty of Byzantian, Venetian and Turkish items. The prideof the museum is a painting by El Greco, Crete’s most famous painter. It also has a recreation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s’ study.

The Museum of Religious Art

Here you can see the finest collection of Cretan icons in the world. The museum is housed in a church, built in the fifteenth century. The church was one of the centres of the Cretan Renaissance, and its students produced many works where Byzantine tradition mixed with Venetian Renaissance. Among the most famous students were Vitzentzos Kornaros, El Greco and Mihailis Dhamaskinos. The latter has six of his works displayed here.

Knossos

Right outside Heraklion lies the palace of Knossos, the remains of the Minoan capital, and the biggest tourist attraction on Crete. The Minoans ruled Crete and several of the nearby islands between approximately 2650 BC and 1450 BC, when the Minoans sites, including Knossos, were abandoned.

The ruins of Knossos were rediscovered in 1878 by the Cretan antiquarian Minos Kalokairinos, In 1900 the wealthy archeologist Arthur Evans bought the site, and started massive excavations, and uncovered a large Minoan palace. Knossos was used as both a religious as well as an administrative centre, with hundreds of interlinked rooms. This could be the origin to the myth of the Labyrinth that was built by Daedalus for King Minos, to hold the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature.

Knossos was the capital of the first great civilization in Europe, and the colourful frescoes and grand courtyards makes this one of the most remarkable arhceological sites in the world, and certainly worth a visit by everyone who comes to Crete.

How to get there

Nikos Kazantzakis Airport is 5 km east of the city, and is actually the second busiest airport in Greece. There are direct flights to Athens, Thessaloniki, Rhodes, Santorini and several other of the islands. During summer there’s also many international flighs from all over Europe, because of Crete’s popularity as a holiday destination.

Heraklion has a busy port with daily ferries to Piraeus outside Athens, as well as frequent connections to many of the other islands.

Posted in Crete | Leave a comment

Mykonos

Mykonos has been the party capital of Greece since the 70s. The two main reasons why people come here during summer is the nightlife and the beaches, both of which rank amoong the best in Greece. Unfortunately this has also made the prices the highest of any of the Greek islands, and the island is absolutely crowded from mid-July to the end of August.

Mykonos town (Hora)

The island capital is labyrinth of streets, with classical Cycladic architecture in the form of white-walled houses. The town has a mixture of tiny churches, trendy shops, galleries, jewellers and music bars. The area known as Little Venice , so named because of the many houses overhangig the sea, has a lot of trendy bars with an excellent view of the sunset. The windmills at Kato Myli is a well known landmark of Mykonos, while the most famous church on the island is the rocklike Panagia Paraportiani (Our Lady of the Postern Gate), that has four small chapels.

There’s a handful of small museums in Hora. The Archaeological Museum has pottery and jewellery from Delos and Renia. The Nautical Museum of the Aegean details naval history, including ship models. Lena’s House is a recreation of the home of a middle class family from the 19th century, named after Lena Skrivanou, the last owner. The Museum of Folklore displays examples of local crafts, instruments and furniture, including a kitchen from the 19th century.

Ano Meria

This is the only other town on the island, and it has the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani from the 18th century. The monastery has a church with some wonderful details. and a small museum with liturgical items. One kilometer southeast is Monastery of Paleokastro from the 12th century. The town also has a charming food market.

Delos

The island of Delos lies 3 km to the west, and is the main reason to come to Mykonos besides partying and beachlife. The white marble island is covered with marble monuments. According to legend, the maiden Leto was impregnated by Zeus and tried to escape the wrath of Zeus’s wife Hera. Poseidon made Delos as a sanctuary for Leto, and here she gave birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis. As a result, the ancient Greeks considered Delos one of their holiest places, around which the other Cycladic islands circled. In antiquity people were not allowed to be born or die on the isle. It was also an important commercial port for a long period, and up to 10,000 slaves were sold daily.

There are both guided tours and unguided transport from Mykonos to Delos, Tuesday to Sunday, starting around 8.30 AM, and the last return transport from Delos leaves at around 4 PM. As the day goes on, the crowds and heat both increase, and there is no shadow on the island. Good shoes, a hat, water and sun lotion are recommended for the visit. And don’t put off visiting Delos to the last day of your stay at Mykonos, because some days it’s impossible for boats to dock because of rough seas.

Beaches

The beaches closest to town are both crowded and not especially nice. The best beaches in terms of sand and little wind are on the south side of the island, but this is also where it gets most crowded. Ornos is south of town and is a popular destination for families. Platis Yialos has gorgeous water and plenty of water activities, but is always crowded because it’s so close to town. Psarou is a beautiful beach with white sand, with a great resturant called N’Ammos. Here you can also go diving, water-skiing or windsurfing. Paradise and Super Paradise are party beaches, with loud music almost around the clock. Paradise is also the original nude beach on the island. Further east is Kalo Livadi, perhaps the most quiet beach on the southern coast. And furthest east you’ll find Kalafatis, a long beach with clear water and separated from nearby buildings by a row of trees.

The northern beaches are usually too windy for bathing, the exception is those few days when the wind blows from the south instead of the north. Then heading to Ayios Sostis or Panormos is a good idea.

Nightlife (and daylife)

On Mykonos you can party both day and night. During daytime parties are mainly on the beaches. On Paradise Beach, the Tropicana Bar and the Sunrise Bar has mixed crowds, and at Super Paradise, there are two bars with respectively gay and mixed crowds. However, Paradise Club on Paradise Beach draws the most people, with an enormous swimming pool and nightly fireworks.

The clubs and bars in town usually start out a bit classier. Most of the popular spots are in Little Venice, with its great sunset view, with Caprice and Kastro as two of best-known bars. Astra is renowned, as it changes from an elegant lounge early in the evening to a dance club with top DJs. But the truth is that the entire town of Mykonos is crawling with clubs of all kinds.

The beach clubs usually close at midnight, but open again at 2 AM, and keep it going well past sunrise, with international DJs, pools and theme nights. In town there’s Yach Club which also stays open past 4 AM.

Diving, surfing and windsurfing

Mykonos is known as one of the best diving spots in Greece. The preferred time to dive is September, with 30 meters of visibility and water temperatures of around 25 degrees celsius. There are diving courses and packages offered at Paradise Beach and Kalafatis Beach, as well as in Mykonos town.

The northern beaches of Mykonos are too windy for beachlife and partying, but perfect for surfing and windsurfing. There’s windsurfing beginner’s courses and rental at Kalafatis Beach. The most popular beaches for surfing are Fokos and Panormos Bay’s Ftelia. There’s no public transport here, so you’ll have to rent a moped or a car.

Shopping

Mykonos has plenty of shops, and is especially known for its jewellers. Soho-Soho is perhaps the most famous shop on the island, selling outfits to both men and women, including many celebrities. And of course you’ll find international brand stores such as Lacoste, Dolce & Gabbana and Body Shop. The town has many art galleries, as well as a few shops that sell loomed goods.

When to go

As mentioned, Mykonos is completely packed in July and August. But if you absolutely want to go during this period, make sure you reserve a room in advance, or you risk not having anywhere to stay! Local police does not appreciate loitering tourists. Unlike many other islands, Mykonos doesn’t shut down the rest of the year, but rather shows a quieter, more sensitive side. This might be a better time to go, if you are more interested in the actual island and neighbouring Delos than the nightlife.

Posted in The Greek Islands | Leave a comment

Chania

Chania (also known as Hania or Xania) lies in the western part of Crete, and is located where the Minoan city of Kydonia once was. With lovely beaches to the west, mountain peaks to the south, an enclosed harbour and an old town was mainly built by the Venetians, it is no wonder that the second largest town is Crete is considered among the most beautiful in all of Greece.

Old town

The old town consists mainly of colorful buildings constructed by the Venetians from the 13th century forward. Then the Turks conquered the town in 1645 and held it until 1898, and left mosques, public baths and fountains as the most evident evidence of their occupation. While the area was bombed during World War II, the area is still considered the most beautiful urban area in Crete. The entire harbour front comes alive in the evening, with lights reflecting in the water and a bustle of locals and tourists eating at the restaurants.

The Mosque of Janissaries is located on the eastern side of the inner harbour, and often has art exhibitions. It is the oldest Ottoman building in town, built in 1645.

Kastelli

The hill behind the mosque and inner harbour was the first inhabited area of Hania, since it was easily defended. The name comes from a Byzantine fortress that once stood here. The Venetians and Turks also used it as the center of their towns. If you walk up the hill, you can see that several parts of the area are being excavated. Archeologists believe there was once a Minoan palace here, similar to the one in Knossos. This belief comes from the find of the outline of a large building, as well as clay tablets with Minoan linear script.

New town

The larger new town is where most of the locals live and work. While nowhere near as heavy with tourist attractions as the old town, it has some nice public gardens, and the square of Platía Eleftherías, with a statue of Venizelos. It also has more of the regular stores you’d expect in a city, and not just souvenir shops.

Museums

The Archeological Museum, located in the 16-century church of San Francisco, shows artifacts left from the Neolithic to the Roman era, including Minoan pottery, coffins and inscribed tablets. From the classical Greek and Roman eras you can see sculptures and mosaics. While much of this is everyday items from the lives of common people, they are well worth a visit. In the garden outisde, notice the fountain, built by the Turks when they converted the church into a mosque.

The Naval Museum is housed in the bastion at the outer harbour. It contains a mix of everything naval, from seashells, through model ships, marine instruments and a reconstruction of a destroyer bridge, to an exhibition of the Battle of Crete.

If you pass through the main gate, you can visit the small naval garrison, and climb the Firkas, the seaward fortifications where the Greek flag was raised for the first time on Crete in 1913.

The Byzantine and Post Byzantine Collection of Chania is located in the church of San Salvatore, west of the fortress, and covers a period from early Christianity to the end of the Venetian occupation. Its exhibits are small items such as icons, sculpture, jewellery and coins, including an icon of Saint George slaying the dragon.

Cretan House Folklore Museum has traditional crafts, such as weavings, tapestries and other artefacts. It is all contained in a copy of a traditional Cretan house, which can make it pretty packed with visitors. The museum also sells tapestries and cloths.

Restaurants and nightlife

Chania has a large selection of cafes and restaurants, but as with most popular sights, going outside the most crowded areas will get you better quality and lower prices, but the view from the harbour might be worth a few extra euros.

If you want to party all night long, the most popular places are Platanias and Agia Marina, west of Chania. But there are of course places in Chania proper for that as well, mostly around the harbour area.

Shopping

Chania has the best shopping on Crete, with both souvenir shops and craft stores, the latter often run by local craftsmen. The street of Halidhon is shopping area number one in Chania. It lies on the border between the old and the new town. Nearby Skrydlof is well known for its leather shops, and the central municipal market sells fresh food of every kind.

Beaches

The city beach at Nea Hora is just a ten minute walk west from the harbour. It’s clean and sheltered, but very crowded. If you contine west for twenty minutes, you’ll reach Ayii Apostoli, with nice yellow sand, near the town’s camp site.

Even further west is Hrissit Akti, the so called Golden Beach, which is popular with the locals and near the apartment area. Further on is a long stretch known as Oasis Beach, which is often crwoded, until you reach Kalamaki, where there’s a bus going back to the town centre.

The White Mountains and Samaria Gorge

To the south of Chania lie the beautiful White Mountains, Lefka Ori.
Up on the Omalos plateau is also where The Samaria Gorge begins. The second biggest tourist attraction in Greece is a 16 kilometer long gorge that runs all the way south to the Libyan Sea. An ancient river has dug out the spectacular natural wonder, in places only 4 meters wide and with almost vertical walls 400 meters high.

How to get there

There are daily ferries and catamarans between Piraeus outside Athens, and Souda harbour, located 8 km southeast of Chania. Buses run regularly between Souda and Chania.

Chania has an airport 15 km east of town, on the Akrotiri Peninsula. In addition to domestic flights, some international airlines also fly to Chania, especially during summer. While a bus connection exists between the airport and town, it’s pretty sketchy, so you’re probably better off taking a taxi.

The bus station in Chania offers several daily departures east to Rethymno and Heraklion, and far fewer to nearby villages.

Posted in Crete | Leave a comment

Meteora

The Meteora is a series of monasteries in central Greece, spectacularly located on sandstone mountain tops. The word meteora means “suspended in the air”, a fitting name for this sight. The monasteries that are still inhabited are open for visitors, and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in mainland Greece.

History

No one can say for sure how the idea arised of building these monasteries, but the first known person who came here for the solitude, was the hermit Barnabas in 985 AD. In the 14th century, Neilos, who was the prior of Stagal, built a small church in Meteora, at the bottom of the rocks. Then the first monastery, Megalo Meteoro, was founded in 1382 by Athanasios, who legend says was carried by an eagle to the top.

24 monasteries were built in total, but only six of them are still in use. The earliest way to get up was using removable laddes. Later visitors would be lifted in nets that were winched up and down using ropes. The latter method could be very nerve-racking, especially since it was said that the monks only replaced the rope when God deemed it fit, i.e. when the rope broke. In the 1920s steps were cut into the rock to make it easier to visit.

There’s a small entrance fee to each monastery, usually 2 euros. And visitors are expected to dress respectfully, that is to say no bare shoulders, and women should wear long skirts (below the knee) instead of pants, while men should wear pants and not shorts.

Megalo Meteoro

Also known as The Great Meteoron, this is the largest, highest and first monastery to be founded, back in 1382 by the monk Athanasios, who came from Mount Athos. He is buried in the church, and by the entrance you can see the cave where he supposedly lived. More monks followed later, and built most of the monastery in the 16th century.

Its katholikon (church) is magnificent, in the form of a Greek cross, with a 12-sided central dome. There are frescoes inside, depicting Christ on the dome, with the apostles and prophets below, and the liturgical year along the walls of the nave. There’s also a small museum, with a religious texts and icons. Perhaps a bit surprisingly to some, there’s also a wine cellar in this monastery.

Ayios Nikolaos Anapaphsas

This monastery is known for the wonderful frescoes in its katholikon, painted by the Cretan monk Theophanes Strelizas. Two of the most beautiful are one showing the death of St. Ephraim the Syrian, with scens from his life, and The Naming of Animals by Adam in Paradise, with an abundance of animals and plants.

Roussanou

This 13th century monastery is perhaps the one with the most spectacular location, on the the tip of a narrow rock. There’s a church of the Metamorfosis (1545) which is illuminated by beautiful coloured glass. Inside there’s stunning frescoes of the Resurrection and Transfiguration. The current residents are not monks, but nuns.

Varlaam

The monastery is named after the first hermit who lived and built a tiny chapel on the mountain top in 1350. The chapel is currently an annex of the main church. Inside there’s a nice garden, a small icon museum and a katholikon, a church adorned with frescoes by the iconographer Fragkos Katelanos, including one of the two founding brothers, Theofanis and Nektarios, who had to kill a monster that lived on the summit, according to legend. There’s also a nice mural of The Blessed Sisois at the Tomb of Alexander the Great, which shows the famous general as a skeleton.

Ayia Triada

This monastery was featured in the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”. It’s 140 steep steps to the top, but in return you’ll reach an otherworldly place. It has a spectacular view of its surrounding area, and a small, but beautiful katholikon.

Ayios Stephanos

During World war II this monastery and its frescoes was badly damaged, but its most famous relic survived, namely the head of St. Charalambos, said to ward off illness. There’s also a small museum, with religious robes and items. The nuns here also sell souvenirs to visitors.

Kalambaka

This is the town where most tourists going to the Meteora will arrive and/or spend the night. Most buses stop on Plateia Dimarhiou, the main square. The sights for Kalambake itself include the vertical rocks at the northern edge of the town. Apart from that there’s the 12th-century Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, which has a series of frescoes from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

Rock climbing

Meteora has been a popular destination for rock climbers for a while. There are hundreds of routes for climbers of all skills, covering more than 100 peaks. It’s mainly traditional face climbing, with a 5-rating on the UIAA international scale. A climb will take around 3 hours and will cost around 50 euro per person, depending on difficulty and route.

How to get there

From Athens there’s bus connections several times a day. The trip takes about 8 hours. All the monasteries are in a radius of 25 kilometers from Kalambaka.

Posted in Mainland Greece | Leave a comment

Santorini

Many people consider this island the most beautiful of all the Greek islands, because of its dramatic dark, volcanic cliffs, in contrast with the blue Aegean sea, and whitewashed buildings. The island is now officially called Thira, but is still referred to as Santorini by many.

Santorini is what remains of the caldera of a volcano that exploded 3600 years ago, leaving this crescent shaped island. The eruption is also believed to have ended the Minoan empire, here as well as on Crete. While the outside of the crescent is sloping terrain with normal beaches, the inside of the crescent is steep cliffs up to 300 hundred meters high, and many of villages are located at the top of such cliffs.

Fira

Fira is the largest town and municipal centre of Santorini, and is spectacularly perched on the edge of the caldera. In addition to the expected Greek Orthodox cathedral, there’s also a Roman Catholic cathedral, built when the Venetians controlled the islands. The name Santorini is actually a mispronounciation of Saint Irene.

There is an abundance of shops aimed at tourists, especially jewelry shops. During summer there’s loud, all-night partying, so it might not be the best place to stay if you want a good night’s sleep. If you arrive at the port of Skala, a nice option is to take the cable car up to Fira.

Oia

The village of Oia is the second largest settlement, and also the most picturesque. There are beautiful 19th century mansions, and houses are seemingly built into the rock itself. The fortress remains of the kastro are one of the most popular places to watch a famous Oia sunset. One of the mansions houses a naval museum, that shows life on Santorini before tourism, when it was still dependent on the sea.

Akrotiri

This is the best-known Minoan site outside of Crete. Prior to the volcanic eruption, the inhabitants of this village fled the island. The remains of the town were preserved under layers of volcanic lava, which has resulted in Akrotiri being called the Greek Pompeii. While the buildings are not as grand as the Minoan palaces found on Crete, Akrotiri was a wealthy commercial town, judging by the buildings and the colorful frescoes found by archaelogists. Some pale copies can been seen on site, while the best originals have been moved to the National Archeological Museum in Athens. Some other original frescoes can be seen at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira.

Akrotiri mathces Plato’s descriptions of mythical Atlantis, which has led many to believe this is actually the fabled city that disappeared.

The canopy that protects the ancient town collapsed in 2005, and as a result the site is closed either completely or in part during the rebuilding, so you aren’t guaranteed to be able to visit.

Ancient Thira

If you should be unlucky enough that Akrotiri is completely closed, you can always visit Ancient Thira (which you should do anyway). The large archeological site is at the top of a hill, with cliffs on three sides, overlooking a black beach, and has buildings from all of its many inhabitants, including Byzantine walls, Roman baths and Greek agoras.

Historical museums

The Museum of Prehistoric Thira has finds from Akrotiri, including frescoes. It also displays items from Minoan Crete and other islands.

The Thira Foundation has colourful reproductions of the frescoes in Akrotiri, showing what it must have been like to see them when they were new.

The Archeological Musueum in Fira holds Cycladic figurines and finds from Ancient Thira.

Wineries

Santorini has a very dry climate and no natural water sources other than rain, which means the island is not well suited for agriculture. However, because of the volcanic soil, what is grown is of very good quality. The tomatoes and eggplants are famous. and its wine is the most popular export wine of Greece. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than buying a ticket to one of the wine farms for some wine tasting.

When to go

Mykonos is probably the only other Greek island more crowded in July and August. You’ll have a more pleasant stay during another month, but if you absolutely must go at the height of the tourist season, a reservation is a must, or you’ll end up with an overpriced, shoddy room.

Posted in The Greek Islands | Leave a comment

Mycenae

The Citadel of Mycenae can be found about 90 kilometers southwest of Athens. It is one of the most popular sights in the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland, but for a long time, the city was only known through Greek legends and Homer’s Illiad.

The amateur archeologist Heinrich Schlieman managed to find the city only based on the descriptions and landmarks from the Illiad. Mycenae is located on a hill between two mountains, and overlooks the Plain of Argos, one of the most fertile plains in Greece. The hill had been populated since 3000 BC, and by 1400 BC Mycenae controlled most of Greece, including many of the islands. But by 1100 BC some disaster had wiped out this once powerful civilization.

Legend

Perseus was the supposeed founder of the city, but the most famous royal family of Mycenae is named is after King Atreus. He had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon ruled Mycenae with his wife Cassandra, but when Menelaus’s wife, Helen, was kidnapped by Paris of Troy, Agamemnon led the Greeks in the 10 year long Trojan War to bring her back. When Agamemnon returned, he was murdered by his wife’s lover, Aegisthus.

Acropolis

The entrance to Mycenae is through the famous Lion Gates in one of the massive walls. On the slopes of the hill are the remains of the administrative buildings, while the palace is at the top of the hill. The palace had plenty of bedrooms, court rooms, a throne room and a ceremonial hall, where you can see the remains of the altar. There is also a small bathtub, which Scliemann thought was the place where Agamemnon was stabbed to death. At the north east corner is an enormous cistern, which helped the city withstand long sieges.

Grave Circle A

This area is famous for being the place where Schliemann found the so called Mask of Agamemnon, on a body in a burial shaft in 1876. Schliemann truly believed this gold death mask was used for the funeral of the legendary king, sent a message to the king of Greece: “I have looked upon the face of Agamemnon.” Later dating of this mask and four others found in the same area, have concluded that they are from 1550-1500 BC and belonged to kings who died long before Agamemnon, but the name still remains. The original is displayed in the National Archeological Museum in Athens, but there’s a copy in the Mycenae Archeological Museum.

Treasury of Atreus

This is the largest of the beehive tombs in Mycenae. It is an enormous construction from 1300 BC. The lintel stone over the doorway weighs an astounding 120 tons, while the tomb itself is 13 meters high, and has a 14 meter diameter. The tomb was plundered already back in antiquity, but it was once richly decorated, and the bronze nails in the ceiling held bronze rosettes. No one knows for sure, but if this was in fact the family tomb of the House of Atreus, it might very well have been the Tomb of Agamemnon, as it is referred to by some.

Mycenae Archeological Museum

The museum, opened in 2004, displays many of the artifacts found at Mycenae, but its galleries are small, making it difficult to get a good look when the museum is crowded, so you are better off visiting early.

Inside there’s a model of the Mycenae citadel, as well as copies of the jewelry and gold masks found at grave circle A. The exhibitions are arranged by the location they were found, trying to give a sense of everyday life on the acropolis.

Posted in Mainland Greece | Leave a comment

Athens Attractions and Sights

Athens has plenty of sights, especially when it comes to museums and archeological sites from Acient Greece.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis is Athens’ number one sight in several ways. It has millions of visitors each year, its Parthenon temple is instantly recognizable worldwide and it is visible from miles away, It is the one thing you can’t miss if you go to Athens. But there’s a lot more than the Parthenon on the famous rock, so we suggest you check out our Acropolis page for all the details.

The Ancient Agora

Situated north of the Acropolis, close to Monostiraki square, is an area with several notable buildings. The Ancient Agora was a marketplace and the political centre of Ancient Athens. This is where political meetings were held and democracy was born, as well as where Socrates was sentenced and executed. In addition, it was also a social and financial focal point.

Stoa of Attalos

This is a reconstructed version of the Stoa of Attalos, originally used for shops, next to a covered walkway. It was rebuilt in the 1950s, thanks to a large donation from John D. Rockefeller. Today it houses a small museum, that displays a wide variety of items, everything from toys and sandals to trade tools.

Hephaisteion

West of the agora is the best preserved doric temple in the world, the Temple of Hephaestus, the god of metal-working, and Athena Egane, the goddess of pottery. The reason the temple is so well preserved, is that it was used as an orthodox church dedicated to St. George, from the 7th century until 1833.

Tower of the Winds

The so called Tower of the Winds is a distance east of the agora. It was constructed by the Syrian astronomer Andronikos Kyrrestes in the 2nd century BC, and was meant to function as a water clock. The mechanisms of the water clock are gone, but you can still admire the outside friezes that represent the eight winds, from chilly Boreas to gentle Zephyros.

Kerameikos

Kerameikos is an area that consists of both the potters’ quarter and a burial ground. It was divided by the city walls, and was where the Sacred Way from Eleusis reached Athens and passed through the Sacred Gate, on its way to the Acropolis.

The majority of the remaining graves are along the Street of the Tombs. Rich people had funerary art placed on their graves, in the form of relief sculptures and columns. The excavated sculptures are displayed at The National Archeological Museum and the nearby Oberlander Museum, but you can see plaster copies where the originals used to be.

Panathinaiko Stadium

This stadium lies a kilometer east of The Temple of Olympian Zeus. This is not the original stadium, nor is it the marble stadium built by the rich Roman Herodes Atticus. It is a restored version of Atticus’s stadfium, financed by Georgios Averof, for the first modern Olympic games in 1896. It can seat up to 60 000 people, and was used again during the Athens olympics in 2004, when it marked the finishing line of the marathon event.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus

Southeast of the Acropolis, you can find Hadrian’s Arch, built by the Roman emperor of that name. The inscription on the west side facing the Acropolis says This is Athens, once the City of Theseus. On the east side it says This is Hadrian’s and not Theseus’s City. But the huge columns a hundred meters east of the arch are in fact Greek, and belong to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in Greece, each column 17 meters high. Construction began in the 6th century BC. Although it should be said, it wasn’t finished until Hadrian dedicated it to Zeus in 132 AD, including a gold and ivory covered statue of Zeus. Next to it, he put up a statue of himself, but none of these statues remain.

The National Archeological Museum

The National Archeological Museum is a world class museum which showcases numerous artifacts from pre-historical Greek to Roman times. The civilizations of the Minoans, the Mycenae, the Greek city states and the Romans are all represented. Among its finest exhibits is a death mask made of gold, found at Mycenae, and once thought to have belonged to the Agamemnon, the legendary king. It also has several exquisite statues, including The Youth of Antikythira and Aphrodite and Pan.

Benaki Museum

This privately owned museum was founded by Antonis Benakis, and is housed in the mansion where the Benakis family once lived. The museum contains art and craft from the history of Greece, all the way back to the Neolithic. Its best-known exhibits are the El Faiyum portrait from the third centruy BC, and an icon of St. Anne from the 15th century.

Syntagma square

This is where the Greek parliament building and Tomb of the Dead Soldier are located. On the tomb is relief of a dying hoplite solder, and on the sides are Perikles’s famous funeral oration.

The National Guard, dressed in their characteristic uniforms of kilts and pop-pom clogs, stand guard in front of the tomb. Every hour there’s a changing of the guard in an intricate, ceremonial manner. On Sundays at 11 am, they perform the long version of this ceremony.

Posted in Athens | Leave a comment

The Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens is a rock that rises 150 meters above sea level in central Athens. The rock has been used for nearly 5000 years, as it is easily defended, The great Perikles, who led the Greeks against the Persians. ordered the construction of three temples and a gate on the Acropolis in the middle of the 5th century BC. In addition to the temples, there’s also two ancient theatres on the south side of the cliff.

Parthenon

This grand marble temple is recognizable worldwide, and is still the foremost symbol of Athens. It was purposefullly built to appear perfectly symmetricala, and a large statue of Athena, the patron God of Athens, was once placed. Today, nothing remains of the statue, but a smaller Roman-made copy can be seen in the National Archaelogical Museum. Friezes and metopes along the walls depict scenes from Greek mythology, and form an elaborate sculptural decoration. Through the years the Parthenon has been used as a church, mosque and an arsenal. This latter usage by the Turks led the Venetians to bombard the temple in 1687, eventually blowing up an ammo dump, destroying parts of the structure and the roof in the process. The Greek government has started a major restoration project on the Parthenon..

Erechtheion

This temple on the north side of the Acropolis is named after the hero Erichthonius, and possibly also king Erechtheus II. On the south side of the temple is the famous “Porch of the Maidens”, with the six caryatids, draped female figures, as supporting columns. The temple itself was dedicated to Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechtheus. According to legend the two competed for the favour of the city. Poseidon struck his trident and created a salt water well. In return Athena struck the rock with her spear, and a sacred olive tree sprang forth. The people preferred olive trees to salt water, and thus the city become known as Athens.

Propylaia and Temple of Athena Nike

If you want to enter the Acropolis, you have to pass through the Propylaia gate on the southwest side of the rock. The propertions of the columns in the gateway mirror the ones in the Parthenon, and the gateway itself marks the end of the Sacred Way that stretched all the way from Eleusis to Athens. The southern wing of the Propylaia leads to the small temple of Athena Nike. This temple has slender columns and is only 23 feet high, and was the first temple finished on the Acropolis.

Theatre of Herodes Atticus

To the south of the entrance is a theatre built by the Roman consul Atticus, in memory of his wife. It houses 5000 people, and is used for ballet, opera, orchestras and theatre performances during The Athens Festival, held every summer. It orginallly had a wooden roof to shield the spectators from the elements, and to improve the acoustics.

Theatre of Dionysos

Carved into the southern side of the rock, is the theatre where the playwrights Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides and Sophocles had their plays performed for the first time, and its therefore known as the birthplace of Greek tragedy. The Romans greatly expanded the theatre and used it for gladiatorial battles among other things.

The New Acropolis museum

If you want to see all the remaining 4000 sculptures and friezes that were once on the Acropolis, you should visit the New Acropolis Museum, just opened in 2009. You’ll find it along the promenade going southeast from the entrance of the Acropolis. The museum is actually built on top of the Makrygianni archeological excavation site, easily seen in front of the entrance to the museum. One of the reasons for building the museum, is the expected return of artifacts from other museums around the world. The former Acropolis museum had been criticized for being too small for the increasing amount of findings.

Posted in Athens | Leave a comment

Crete

Crete is the largest of the islands, and the southernmost region in Greece. With its own culture and language, the island is large enough that you you won’t be able to see everything in one visit. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations, with around 20% of the total visitors to Greece. While the most popular areas are very crowded, especially during the summer, you can easily find a desolate beach or mountain village. Tourists come for the beach resorts, but also because the island has a varied cultural heritage, from the Minoans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantine empire annd the Venetians. The Minoans were an ancient civilization that existed between 3000 BC and 1200 BC. Their wealth was based on sea trade, and their legacy is  most visible in the palaces left behind, the two best known being Knossos and Phaistos.

Heraklion

Heraklion is the capital and largest town of Crete. A large Venetian fortress stands as an easily recognizable landmark of the harbour. Its open air market offers everything from local delicacies to souvenirs. The town also has a wonderful archeological museum, displaying artifacts from the island’s ancient Minoan, Greek and Roman empires.

Knossos

In the suburbs of Heraklion lies the palace of Knossos, perhaps the biggest attraction of Crete. Knossos was the capital of the Minoan empire, and was used as both an administrative as well as a religious centre. It was destroyed around 1450 BC, probably by the volcanic eruption that created Santorini, and wasn’t discovered again until the 20th century. Since then a large Minoan palace has been excavated. Legend has it that this was the home of the king Minos, and that the minotaur roamed a labyrinth  beneath the palace. No such labyrinth has been found, but this was the capital of the first great civilization in Europe, as evidenced by grand courtyards, gates and frescoes.

Chania

Chania lies on the western part of Crete, and is located where the Minoan city of Cydonia once was. With lovely beaches to the west, mountain peaks to the south, an enclosed harbour and an old town was mainly built by the Venetians, it is no wonder that it is often considered the most beautiful town in all of Greece. Add the best shopping on Crete and a selection of good museums, and you’ve got a winner.

The Samaria Gorge

This national park and natural tourist attraction lies in the White Mountains, south of Chania. The gorge was created by a small river, and starts at an altitude of 1250 meters above sea level, and then runs 16 kilometers south util it reaches the Libyan sea. you can hike the entire distance, and pass by the so called Iron Gates, where the gorge is a mere four meters wide, while the walls reach 500 meters up on either side.

Other places of interest

A short distance east of Heraklion you’ll find Rethymno, Crete’s third largest town. Even though it flourished under the Venetians, palm trees and many Turkish buildings gives Rethymno an exotic feel.

Near the south coast lies the remains of Phaistos, the third of the major settlements of the Minoans, along with Cydonia and Knossos. Here two palaces have been excavated.

The archeological site of Gortyn, also in the south, has remains from a mixture of eras, but is predominantly Roman.

While the northern coast of Crete has most of the towns and tourists, the southern coast can offer some of the most beautiful beaches. In the southeast you can actually find Europe’s only beach bordered by a dade palm forest.

How to get there

Crete is easily accessible by the two international airports in Chnania and Heraklio. Boats from Piraeus outside Athens go to all the bigger towns on Crete.

Posted in Crete | Leave a comment

The Greek Isles

If there’s one thing Greece has plenty of, it’s islands. There’s 6000 of them, though only 227 are inhabited. Most of the Greek isles are located in the Aegean sea, between the Greek mainland and Turkey, although there’s also a few off the western coast. The islands are divided in several island groups, each with their own characteristics. Most tourists associate these islands with beaches, romantic getaways and partying all night long. You can experience all that of course, but also a whole lot more. There are direct flights to the most popular destinations, while all inhabited islands are reachable by ferry, either from neighbouring islands or from Crete or Piraeus, the harbor city of Athens.

The Ionian islands

This is the only island complex in the Ionian sea, to the west of the mainland. The islands are greener and more temperate than most of the other Greek islands. Most famous among the islands is Corfu. It has a cosmopolitan town, beaches (both undeveloped and overcrowded), a lush interior and nice archeological sights and buildings,

Crete

Crete is the largest island in Greece, and effectively forms the southern edge of the Aegean sea. But it also has its own identity and history. The earliest advanced civilization in Europe appeared here. The Minoans ruled between 3000 BC and 1200 BC, and has left many remains on the island, including their capital of Knossos, which is located in the suburbs of Heraklion, the capital of Crete today. There are loads of  hotels and beach resorts of all price ranges on the norther coast, and the Cretan towns range from party-town Malllia, via the sophisticated city of Agios Nikolaos, to Chania, which is as typical Cretan as it gets. Inland there’s natural wonders like the Samariá Gorge, and the southern coast is a good option if you want to get away from the masses of tourists.

The Cyclades

This island group has some of the most popular destinations in Greece. Mykonos is infamous for its partying and beaches, regular as well as nude. The downside is that it’s also the most crowded and expensive.

Santorini is the result of a volcanic explosion 3600 years ago, that left this beautiful Greek island, with steep cliffs made out of dark volcanic matter. Its sunsets and blue roofed white houses makes it postcard pretty.

The Dodecanese

Between Crete and southwest Turkey you’ll find the Dodecanese islands. Rhodes is largest of these, and was in ancient times the site of Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Its medieval old town is today a World Heritage Site. The terrain is more typical Turkey than what you would usually associate with Greek islands.

The Saronic Islands

These islands lie to the south of Athens, and are prime targets for a daytrip from Athens, for tourists and Athenians alike. Aegina is the largest one, and very close to Athens. It has a beautiful temple dedicated to Aephina in addition to several nice beaches and resorts.

Further south the entire island of Hydra has been declared a World Heritage Site, and with good reason. Its crescent shaped harbour and town is a popular destination for the wealthy, and the no-car town has plenty of charming shops and restaurants.

The Sporades

The island of Skopelos has a scenic port town, and neighbouring Skiathos has been a popular charter destination for a long time, well-known for its nightlife and activities. But after the movie Mamma Mia! was filmed there, tourism has truly skyrocketed.

The Northeastern Aegean Islands

Best known among these is perhaps Lesbos, which name has taken on a special meaning because of the love poems of the female poet Sappho to other women. But the emerald island is worth a visit in its own right, with one of the few petrified forests in the world, historic churches and some lovely beaches.

Posted in The Greek Islands | Leave a comment

Athens

Athens is ancient metropolis, and can offer classical sights, great food, a vibrant nightlife and friendly people, in addition to everything else you would expect from a city of 4 million people. The only reason to avoid Athens, is if you are only looking for beachlife, and not culture and history. For that you should probably go to one of the islands instead.

Sights

The best known sight of Athens is of course the Acropolis of Athens, a cliff that dominates the skyline of central Athens, housing several temples, including the Parthenon. Museums such as the National Archeological Museum and the Benaki Museum showcase the impressive legacy of Ancient Greece, where much of western civilzation originated. But there are several other attractions in Athens worth checking out.

Cafes, shopping and nightlife

Despite the size of Athens, there’s no problem finding charming street cafes in general, and in the area called Plaka in particular. Right next to it are the street markets of Monostiraki, usually swarming with both salesmen and tourists. Athens has both designer shops and meat market, depending on what you want to see.

During night time, Psyrri is the place to go, with numerous restaurants, bars and clubs. The nightlife is unusual in that several of the most popular clubs actually relocate to one of the islands during the summer.

When to go

The climate is generally hot in summer and mild in winter, with daily highs up to 20 degrees celsius even in January. The tourist season lasts from June to September, with crowded tourist attractions and restaurants, and baking heat, as evidenced by the fact that Athens has the European temperature record, of 48 degrees celsius. As in several other Mediterranean countries, many of the locals close shop and leave the city on vacation in mid-August. The best months to visit are generally considered April and May, when tourists are relatively few, and temperatures would still be considered pleasant summer temperatures by most North Americans and North Europeans.

How long to stay

Three days is plenty to see all the major sights in Athens itself. There’s always another museum to visit, if you have a special interest in the culture and history of Greece, but few people will feel they have missed anything, if they’ve spent those days well. That being said, it’s no problem to stay longer, and simply use Athens as a base for one or more day trips, e.g. to Delfi, Sounio, Corinth or the Aegian islands.

Day trips

If you want to prolong your visit to Greece, but go someplace else as well, there’s ferry connections from Piraues to almost everywhere in the Aegean sea, the port of Athens. As an example, a boat trip to Santorini will take you 8 hours by regular ferry, or 4 by hydrofoil. A more expensive option is to take a domestic flight from the Eleftherios Venizelos airport. The domestic connections are extensive, and should be able to take you to all the better-known tourist sites in Greece.

Posted in Athens | 1 Comment

Mainland Greece

Mainland Greece outside of Athens, can offer unique experiences, but is sadly overlooked by many tourists. You can find everything from ancient ruins, mountaintop monasteries and gorgeous landscapes to modern, cosmopolitan Greece.

Near Athens

Several of the sights are located near Athens. Northwest of the capital is Delphi, where the remains of the temple of Apollo is located. Travellers from all over the ancient world came to see the oracle at Delphi, called Pythia. The travellers asked questions, and she would answer with a prophecy, often ambiguous.

Cape Sounion lies on the top of a cliff southeast of Athens. Here the Greeks built a temple dedicated to Poseidon, the sea god. It is easy to see why, as the cliff plunges into the Aegean sea on three sides, and sailors who approached Athens were able to see the temple from many miles away.

The Peloponnese

If you travel west from Athens, you’ll reach ancient Corinth, on the narrow isthmus that separates the southern peninsula of the Peloponnese from the rest of Greece. This strategic position has made Corinth a strategically important city for millennia. Today the man made Corinth canal is the shortcut from the Aegean sea to the to the Gulf of Corinth, but in earlier times Corinth made much of its fortune by hauling the goods across land.

On the Peloponnese proper there are well-preserved ruins after many large settlements. Not far from Corinth is one of the oldest, the palace complex Mycenae. named after the Mycenae civilization. This was the last large civilization of the bronze age, around 1600-1200 BC, several hundred years before the Greek city states.

On the north east coast of the Peloponnese is Epidaurus, dedicated to the god of healing, Asklepios. Epidaurus is best known for its ancient Greek theatre, which is still used during the summer.

In equal distance from Epidaurus and Mycenae lies the still vibrant Nafplion. With marble pavements, Venetian architecture and surrounded by no less than three fortresses, this is one of the most picturesque towns in Greece,

Ancient Olympia was located in the western part, and was a center for religion and athletics. This was where the ancient olympic games were held between 776 BC and 393 AD.But it was also dedicated to the worship of Zeus, as suggested by the naming after Mount Olympos, home of the gods.

Northern Greece

A highlight of central Greece is the Meteora, a series of 24 monasteries built during the Byzantine period, and almost impossibly perched on sandstone mountain tops. Monks still live in 6 of these monasteries, but they are open for visitors, and are one of the most spectacular sights in Greece.

Thessaloniki is the place to go if you want to see Greece at its most urban. Greece’s second largest city has a higher density of designer shops and cafés than anywhere else in the country, and a matching young population. At the same time, it is also an important center for the orthodox church, The internationl airport means there are direct flights to this northern Greek city from all over Europe.

Not far south from Thessaloniki is Chalkidiki, known for its many beach resorts. In sharp contrast, Chalkidiki’s easternmost peninsula, Mount Athos, is something as rare as an autonomous republic ruled by the 1700 monks that live in 20 monasteries. Only 10 non-orthodox men are allowed to visit the peninsula each day, but it’s possible to see the monasteries from boat trips around the coast.

As you can see, mainland Greece offers a bit of everything. If you are going to Greece, you should seriously consider visiting such sites as Meteora, Delphi, Corinth, Nafplion and Thessaloniki, just to get a different perspective of this varied country.

Posted in Mainland Greece | Leave a comment