Photo Courtesy of Sarah Eskandarpour
Whether your first view of Greece is of the sparkling Mediterranean or the stubbornly steadfast Acropolis, you’ll realize you’re somewhere special. Sit down at any taverna by the sea for a feast of fried fish and baked feta, and get wrapped up in ouzo and the musical flow of the Greek language. For …history and classics geeks, the mainland is your treasure trove. The Oracle at Delphi will provide you with answers, and the sheer size of the ruins at Olympia will give you new appreciation for the ancients. Hike through the rugged landscapes and coastlines of the many islands, including Santorini’s fractured caldera, and Crete’s Samaria Gorge. Take the edge off while partying in the whitewashed alleyways of Íos Town, or relax on a lesser-known island like Icaria.
What to know before you go to Greece
Although summer in the Mediterranean is never disappointing, late spring and early autumn are by far the best times to visit. Prices remain lower between March and May, and crowds have thinned. The same goes for the end of September to November. The fall season, though sometimes rainy, offers a sea that is still blissfully warm after a scorching summer.
Athens is the main travel hub. It’s possible to score fairly priced flights from Europe to some of the more popular islands—especially Santorini, Crete, or Mykonos—but it’s much easier to fly into Athens International Airport. From there, you can take a ferry from Piraeus Port to just about anywhere.
One of Greece’s many charms is that nobody is ever in a rush. This applies to transit as well. Airplanes and ferries are by far the most efficient modes of travel around the country, especially to the islands. On the other hand, the subway system in Athens is actually quite modern, having been built for the 2014 Olympics. It’s handicapped accessible, thanks to elevators in every station. Athens' bus system is less reliable. On the islands, buses are the way to go, unless you opt for car rental. For all schedules, check out the Greek Travel Pages.
Food is at the heart of Greek living. Seek out the tavernas—you’ll find one in every town—serving steaming bowls of baked feta, fried eggplant, grilled fish, lamb chops, and fresh halva. The Greeks aren’t big drinkers; being inebriated in public is an embarrassment. But the local liquors should be tried: ouzo, raki, and tsipouro are the most common. Tsipouro tends to be underappreciated by travelers. Mix with ice and a small dose of water, and pair with mezedes—generous tapa dishes. If you love wine, head to Santorini. If you're needing cool refreshment, opt for a frappé, the beloved iced coffee drink of Greek youth.
Despite being surrounded by culturally diverse countries like Turkey and Serbia, Greece has held steadfast to its roots. Athens is a bit of an exception, thanks to a large influx of Albanian and Turkish immigrants. For full immersion into Greek culture, head to the lesser-known islands that do not depend on tourism, like Lesbos or Hydra.
Holy Week in April is an exciting time to be in Greece and celebrate Orthodox Easter. Traditionally, celebrations include lamb roasts, fireworks, homemade wine, and dancing in costume. Santorini is one of the best places to celebrate; here people take elaborate care fixing up their property for the event. Carnival in March is a great time to take part in costume parades, drinking, and dancing. Go to Skyros to witness the “goat dance,” or anywhere in the Ionian islands for more Italian-style celebrations. The Athens Festival in June pays tribute to Greek culture and arts. You may be lucky enough to be in town during a feast of the saints, like the Feast of St. Nikolaos or the Feast of St. Demitrius.
The locals know that autumn is the best time to visit Santorini. Ferry strikes and Greek protests can often cause delays in travel, but they are usually harmless. Check in advance. Study up on the language a bit before arriving, especially if visiting the quieter islands, where little English is spoken.
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Candice Walsh is a freelance travel writer and award-winning blogger currently based in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Her obsession with classics and experiential travel has led her to many great adventures in Greece, as well as to several dozen plates of baked feta. You can follow her story at CandiceJodyWalsh.com.