Revered by classicists as the fount of European civilization, Greece is an easy country to fall in love with.
When you’re not cruising around its many islands in the Aegean Sea, or counting columns at the Acropolis, it's the people who make this place so memorable. Visitors to Greece should consider getting a guide — in addition to helping with navigating the staggering number of archaeological sites, a guide can also share the stories (and Greece has lots of them) from a real, live source.
No matter how you explore, here are some of the best sites to see on a trip to Greece.
For a taste of what ancient Greek life may have looked like, book a stay in Samothrace. Not much has changed on this rugged Aegean island, which floats right near the Turkish border.
Paradise is probably the first word that comes to mind: There are olive groves, deserted beaches in the south, and hidden lagoons with waterfalls, making this a great spot for self-guided tours.
The cliffside village of Santorini is one of the most beautiful — and most photographed — islands in all of Europe, nevermind just Greece. With its pristine beaches, blue-painted roofs, and charming network of narrow, mazelike stairs, this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of spot, and you’re going to want to soak up every minute here.
Even if most of your time is spent on a black sand beach, doing absolutely nothing.
Part of a metropolis with over 1 million inhabitants, Thessaloniki is nothing short of enchanting. The seaport, dating back to the 4th century B.C., sits on a crescent-shaped coast overlooking the Thermaikos Gulf, and is a culture-rich city with overlapping influences from all over the ancient world. Make sure to stop by the impressive Hagia Sophia (a Byzantine church), marvel under the Roman-built Arch of Galerius, and finally, meander down the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, Ano Poli.
If you find yourself in Crete, the one restaurant you’ll need to add to your itinerary is Peskesi. Outfitted like a king’s wine cellar with arched ceilings and delicately lit alcoves, the menu here is strictly Cretan — all meat, dairy, and veggies are grown on the island, so you can trust them when they say “all snails are collected by us.”
Way out on the Peloponnese peninsula, quaint, precipitous Monemvasia has to be seen to be believed. The tiny town clings to a rock that rises vertically from the sea, just out of reach from the mainland.
Sparkling waters lap at the town’s shore (there are a few saltwater pools here too, where locals like to swim), but the real attraction is on top, in the crumbling ruins of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine fortress, offering up one of the prettiest views in the Peloponnese.
You can’t get much more classic than the Acropolis. Perched way up over modern-day Athens—the word literally means “highest point of the city” — the site shows signs of human habitation as far back as the 6th millennium.
Of course, its most famous feature is the extraordinary, but you’ll also want to check out the Temple of Zeus, the Balcony of Athens, and the new Acropolis Museum.
Do yourself a favor and book a full guided tour of this sprawling ancient site, which covers roughly 185 acres. Known as the seat of power of King Minos (and by association, the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth), the ancient palace was discovered in 1878 and has fascinated both historians and tourists ever since.
Greeks like to say this was the birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis—as a result, this island was held as sacred for many centuries, and its former power is palpable even now, in the splendid statues and temple fragments that have been preserved.
From Mykonos, it’s a quick half-hour boat ride, making this UNESCO World Heritage Site a good daytrip for those exploring Greece’s eastern Cyclades islands.