If you are planning your first trip to Greece, there are a few things you must do.
Second, you must feast on spanakopita, olives, gyros with loads of tzatziki, fresh seafood, Greek coffee and ouzo. There's nothing like the locals' passion for food and Greek salad at its very freshest.
Finally, you absolutely must visit at least one of the Greek islands that are famous for being serene and picturesque. With stark white cubed homes and buildings against brilliant blue waters, seafood taverns lining the docks, and small cobble-stone lined streets packed with shops and vendors - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain when it comes to visiting Greece.
Ever wanted to know about travel experts' favourite European destinations? The TripAtlas.com Staff weigh in: Our Favourite European Destinations. Be sure to also check out our Top 10 Portside Cities in the Eastern Mediterranean for some of the most charming places in Europe or go old-school and read about Irresistible Rome: 5 Classic Highlights of the Eternal City.
From 1200 BC to Today, Greece's Islands are Fabulous
Greece's islands have been inhabited and part of its rich history for thousands of years. Each has developed its own story, its own taste, and has its own claim to fame:
Ithaca has been known for thousands of years as the home of the brave Odysseus of Greece. This mythical hero was immortalized by the poet, Homer in his works of poetry: the Iliad and the Odyssey, the latter of which tells the story of Odysseus' long journey back to Ithaca after the Trojan War in the 11-12th century BCE.
The Island of Patmos in the Dodecanese Islands, where Saint John is said to have written the Apocalypse of John, also known as the Book of Revelations approximately 68-96 CE. John was exiled on Patmos during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian who persecuted many Jews and Christians during 90CE.
Today, Santorini, found in Cyclades Islands, is known as one of the honeymoon capitals of the world - the picturesque place to sit by the beach and relax with ouzo.
Touring the Greek Islands and Sights
With some 1400 islands, over 150 are inhabited, and only 78 have a population larger than 100. From Greece's west coast Ionian Islands to the Aegean Islands (Saronic, Cyclades, Crete, Dodecanese, North and Eastern Aegean, and the Sporades) - it can sure get confusing! Not to mention you can't miss spending time in Athens, visiting Olympia, or pretending you're a Spartan warrior.
How do you decide which islands to visit? So many islands, so little time!
"The best way to see, taste, and experience the hundreds of Greek islands is to take one of the many Greek Islands cruises," explains Jessie Morrissey, seasoned travel industry professional and experienced world traveller. "This way, you'll be able to experience and get a taste of the larger, better known islands. You can come back on another trip to get to know the smaller ones."
TripAtlas.com asked Jessie what her favourite and most recommended spots were to recommend to its readers - and here they are, just for you. Enjoy!
Top 5 Destinations In and Around the Greek Islands
Sun, relaxation and romance? Santorini is your spot. Located in the Cyclades, many couples spend their honeymoon here because of the unique accommodations and very romantic. "There is nothing like sitting in an outdoor cafe with a cold drink overlooking the harbour. If you are lucky, your ship will have a late sailing and you can watch the sunset," comments Jessie.
Cultural and coastal getaway? Visit Crete. In its four main spots: Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Heraklion, Rethymno, you'll find history, culture, food, beaches, relaxation, fishermen's boats, beautiful architecture, resorts, and small streets with stray dogs and ivy coloured walls. Watch the boats come in and out, delivering today's special while you await your lunch: a grilled fresh fish served whole.
History lesson? Ephesus is part of the Turkish mainland today and located just to the north east of the Aegean Sea. Located in the Selcuk district of the Izmir Province, its ruins include the large stunning Petra-esque Roman Celsius Library, the Gate of Augustus, the Tomb of St. John and the outdoor Theatre that once sat 44,000 people. Ephesus is known after the book of the same name in the Bible. An eerier site found in Ephesus is its large gladiator graveyard.
Such great heights? Meteora, Central Greece is by far one of the must stunning and unique places in the world - and our bonus location, since it's not really an island! Meteora is a group of several large rock pillars some 400 to 550 metres from the ground upon which monks began to live and build monasteries in the 11-12th century.
Jessie explains, "You may remember a James Bond film when he used a kite to soar down a mountain? Well, that was Meteora. This is where the monks gathered when religion was banned. They built their monasteries on top of the mountains and were only accessible by rope pulleys with baskets. They now have one road that takes you up to these monasteries. One note: you should be fit if you take this tour since there is a lot of climbing and walking!"
Looking for party central? Mykonos in the Cyclades is the most popular island, attracting thousands of visitors every year. It is famous for its busy streets by day and buzzing night life at night, attracting a large gay community as well as party goers from every corner of the world. Sights in Mykonos include its famous ivory towered windmills - as well as its nude beaches!
Want a great trip deal to Greece? Go here for a custom TripAtlas.com Trip Deal!
Share and discuss this story with your friends
Gizelle Lau is a freelance writer & photographer in Toronto, Canada with a passion for food and travel.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: cities, culture, food/wine, paths-less-travelled, photography, wildlife