Prior to its independence in 1832, Greece was not a common destination for tourists; its popularity began an upward swing in the late 50s, reaching its apex in 2000 (13 million tourists, nearly twice the country’s population). Today tourism is the main Greek industry, with all the social and ecological problems that brings. A poor country whose economy has been further crippled by the sanctions imposed upon it by the EU and the IMF, Greece must struggle to compete in the tourism field with few resources other than its stunning natural beauty and the wealth of its cultural artefacts as the birthplace of Western civilisation.
Greece needs its tourist industry now more than ever; anyone choosing Greece as a holiday destination is helping to support its economy. Though struggling, it has lost none of its attraction for visitors; the Parthenon is still as breathtaking, the sea still as blue and the sand as white (and the Retsina as delicious) as ever. Greek people are unbelievably warm, child-friendly and hospitable and Greek food is healthy and delicious. Go to Greece for the holiday of a lifetime – you will neither regret nor forget it.
1. Parthenon (Athens)
No visit to Athens would be complete without a visit to the Parthenon, which together with Propylaea, Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis in Athens was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It was built between 447 and 438 BC and is generally considered the summit of Doric architecture. At an imposing 45 metres high, it dominates the surrounding architecture and is impossible to miss!
The Parthenon is easily accessible by metro from Athens railway station in 19 minutes (exit: Acropolis). A 12 minute walk up the Acropolis is necessary.
2. Meteora Monasteries (Kalambaka)
Perhaps the most breathtaking sacred architecture in the world are the six monasteries in the Meteora (literally: suspended in the pure air) mountains, which rise over 360 metres above the villages of Kalambaka and Kastraki in northern central Greece. These unique religious sites were built by monks in the 14th to 16th centuries to escape religious persecution; all six are fully functional and open to tourists.
350 kilometres north of Athens, Kalambaka can be reached from Larissa railway station by train in just over 4 hours, or from Thessaloniki in just over 3 hours.
The romantic and magical island of Santorini is a favored holiday destination in Greece, particularly by honeymooners! With its clear blue water, black pebbled beaches and breathtaking views, Santorini is an idyllic destination for all tastes. Donkey riding, sailing, wine tours and excellent cuisine round off the mixture, while its sunsets are world famous.
Santorini has its own airport, with regular flights from the Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens; alternatively, ferries run regularly from Piraeus (around 9 hours) or Rafina (8 hours).
4. Knossos (Crete)
Probably the oldest city in Europe, Knossos dates from the Bronze Age. Excavations began in 1900 and were to continue for 35 years, during which it became apparent that the city was at least three times larger than originally thought. The restoration of the palace of Knossos began in 1922. It is a major tourist attraction on Crete; one can still see the labyrinth under the palace in which the legendary Minotaur was supposedly held captive, and the sacrificial altar. Anyone staying on Crete should definitely visit Knossos.
Knossos can be reached by car from Heraklion in around 20 minutes. Public transport is poor; car rental is advised.
5. Climb Mount Olympus
For avid hikers eager to follow in the footsteps of the Gods, a trek up Mount Olympus is a must! Eleven major Greek Gods supposedly lived on this stupendous mountain range on the border between Macedonia and Thessaly, 3.000 metres above sea level, and the Stefani peak was the throne of Zeus. Even for lesser mortals, mount Olympus offers lush scenery, wonderful air and breathtaking views.
The town of Litochoro (92 km south of Thessaloniki) – in itself a picturesque and culturally rich destination – is a traditional place to start exploring Olympus, and is also only a few kilometres from the sea. Litochoro can be reached by bus from Thessaloniki in 1 hour 45 minutes, or under an hour by car.
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