Mention Greece and the conversation is quickly swept away by “oohs and aahs” over the islands. But Greece’s mainland is a storybook of its own.
The ancient land is inspiring to say the least. Drives through villages in the mountains put your imagination into overdrive. You almost expect a Greek philosopher to show up alongside you in a chariot.
Starting in Northern Greece, these are five unforgettable experiences on the mainland…
Thessaloniki is a foodie’s paradise. Known as Greece’s second city, it’s smaller and quieter than Athens. And it has castles!
Here is a one-day itinerary that gives you a good overview of the Thessaloniki:
+ Grab a coffee and pastry from a local bakery for breakfast.
+ Visit the castle, Heptapyrgion, that dates back centuries. It’s located above the Old Town and offers great views of the city and the Aegean Sea. Take the opportunity to walk through the neighborhood below as well. Also, stop to see the city walls that still stand from the Byzantine era.
+ Enjoy a relaxing lunch at a seaside restaurant. Try the house wine with your meal.
+ Take a stroll on the promenade along the water’s edge. Perhaps with a gelato in hand!
+ Discover more of the archeological sites, churches, and monuments around the city.
+ Have a late evening, candlelit Greek feast. Greeks eat “family style”—do the same and order a variety of traditional dishes from the menu to share.
Magical is the first word that comes to mind when attempting to describe Meteora. It brings out that gasp of wonder that happens in fairy tales. The one when a character first gets a glimpse of a beautiful kingdom that they were never before allowed to access.
Meteora is an area of giant vertical rock formations. Some reach 1,200 feet. Previously there were upwards of 24 monasteries built on top of the rocks in the 14th and 16th century, but now only 6 remain intact and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Meteora is located in central Greece just outside the village of Kalambaka.
Stay 1-2 nights and take in the views from different angles. You can hike or take a car or bus up to the monasteries. When visiting the monasteries you’ll need to have your shoulders/arms and knees covered. On-site staff will provide a wrap for you if your skin is showing.
Meteora is also a sought after location for rock climbers. Other activities in the area include truffle hunting and food and wine tours.
Situated on the side of a mountain, the views from Delphi are spectacular and the miles of scenery to get there is half the fun. If you’re coming down from Meteora you can arrange for a hotel up by the site or down near the sea in the village of Kirra. Or if you’re staying in Athens, you can visit Delphi on a day-trip. Go via bus or rent a car if you prefer to go off the beaten path along the way.
This famous archeological site has finds that date back to 4,000 BC as well as the tale of a famous oracle. As you walk through the ruins and continue uphill, you’ll eventually reach the stadium. Even if you’re dripping in sweat and don’t think you can make it up there, it’s a must-see.
Stop for a mid-day meal at one of the restaurants just outside of the archeological site. There are some that have seating overlooking the valley down below. You can also take advantage of the photo opportunities walking around the village.
Αθήνα is the largest city in Greece. It’s a bustling epicenter—the transportation, tourism, and business hub of the country. I often refer to Athens as a place where Europe and the Middle East start to blend. While it is all things Greek, it offers hints of multiculturalism and influences from countries to the west and east.
Doing a walking tour in Athens is the best way to experience the city. If you only staying a day or two, there is a hop-on/hop-off bus that will help you get around. The metro system is also very easy to use. If you’re in Athens for less than three days, focus your time on the archeological sites and “touristy spots”.
There are many things to see in Athens, but here are some highlights for a two-day Athens itinerary…
+ Spend the day seeing the archeological sites, starting with the Acropolis. Get up on time in the morning and head to the Acropolis entrance/ticket booth to beat the crowds and the hot sun. Your ticket to the Acropolis will include admission to multiple other archeological sites. [Tip: It gets very hot on top of the Acropolis in late spring, summer, and early fall—bring water and sunscreen. During the winter months, it can be cold and windy—bring a coat and hat.]
+ In the evening, relax with dinner on a rooftop, overlooking the lighted Acropolis. The best rooftop views are in the Plaka, near Monastiraki Square.
+ Go to the Parliament building at Syntagma Square and watch the changing of the guards.
+ Do some shopping. Stroll through the name brand stores in Syntagma and make your way to the Plaka—a historical neighborhood with endless shops. You can feel free to negotiate prices in the Plaka because things are often overpriced for tourists.
+ Stop for lunch and enjoy some slouvaki. There are several great places across from the Monastiraki metro station, just outside of the Plaka.
+ Visit the Acropolis Museum. There are stunning views and the unique architecture of the building alone is worth the visit. Be sure to look down when you’re walking into the building (I’ll let the punchline to that be a surprise for you!). If you enjoy museums, there are several others throughout the city depending on your schedule.
[symple_icon icon=”check” size=”tiny” fade_in=”false” float=”left” color=”#fff” background=”#000″ border_radius=”99px” url=”” url_title=””]Safety Tips
Pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way. Be sure to look both ways (and behind you!) when crossing streets. Cars sometimes drive on pedestrian-only streets, on sidewalks, and the wrong way on one-way streets.
Pickpocketing is very common in Athens, as in most major cities. Be aware of where your valuables are and be extra cautious on the metro and in crowded areas.
Nafplio is located on the eastern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula. It is a beautiful gem. With narrow streets lined with traditional Greek architecture, the medieval Old Town is inspirational and romantic.
The Palamidi Castle dominates the landscape above the city. It’s quite a trek to get up to it, but well worth the experience and view. And a must-see is Bourtzi—a Venetian fortress that sits on a rock in the sea. You can only access it by boat (available at the port for a small fee to take you over). It’s fun to explore the little island and feels as if you’re in a movie.
You can get to Nafplio from Athens by bus or car. It can be done in a full day—leaving early morning and getting back late evening. If you take a car, you can also stop to see Korinthos and the canal, which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. You will still pass over the canal via bus, but you’ll need to be rather quick with your camera.
These five unforgettable places are only the beginning. Greece has much to offer throughout the mainland and the beautiful Peloponnese peninsula. From its history and culture to the olive groves and vineyards, it does not disappoint!