10 Great Things to Do in Greece

The top 10 things to do on the Greek mainland will give you a comprehensive overview of what makes Greece so special. Make the trek to the Oracle at Delphi. Watch the sunset behind the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. Check out the birthplace of the modern-day Olympics. Here are the Greek mainland highlights to hit before heading off to the islands.

Kalabaka 422 00, Greece
Meteora means “suspended in air” in Greek. The town of Meteora, about a 5-hour drive north of Athens in Thessaly, Greece, is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site: six Greek Orthodox monasteries built on enormous rock pinnacles that rise up to 1,300 feet from the valley floor. Hermits settled this area in the 11th century, but the official monasteries were not built until the 14th century, during a time of political instability. At their peak, 24 monasteries provided a place of safety, refuge, and quiet contemplation until the 17th century. Six of the monasteries still operate today. Several of the monasteries are accessible to tourists on a road connecting the rock towers. Byzantine frescoes and architecture are a sight to see, and the views of the valley are breathtaking. Meteora reminds me of the American Southwest, like Moab, in Utah, with huge rock cliff walls and sandstone pinnacles, but with houses built on the tops. A natural and man-made marvel. Base yourself in the town of Kalabaka, at the bottom of the rock pyramids, where there are plenty of hotels and alfresco restaurants with a view. After quiet contemplation of the monasteries, you can also try rock climbing, hiking, and rafting. Fun Fact: The monastery of Holy Trinity was featured in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
Delphi 330 54, Greece
The belly button of the world lies eighty miles northwest of Athens, where the southern slope of Mount Parnassus, cut deeply by cascades feeding the River Pleistos, drops precipitously into the Gulf of Corinth. High above the ravine in a cleft between the Phaedriades, or “Shining Rocks,” a natural amphitheater was shaped by wind, erosion, and tectonic turbulence over the intersection of two underground faults. This is the omphalos—the spot believed by ancient Greeks to be Gaia’s own navel. Homer called it “Pytho,” because it was here that the Earth Mother gave birth to a female serpent. “Why is it the serpent is always a woman?” The goddess/serpent appears in everyone’s mythology, I remind KB as we approach six massive columns re-erected where the western pediment of Apollo’s temple once stood. “Yeah,” she replies, kicking a loose a chunk of limestone across the weathered foundation, “along with the ‘hero’ who kills her.” KB’s sinewy, suntanned legs straddle one of the pedestals at the entrance to the sekos—Apollo’s inner sanctum—and her belly button taunts me between the waistband of low-slung hiking shorts and the hem of her tank top. “Both Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis, whacked the serpent goddess,” I remind her. “Naturally, the locals erected a temple here to commemorate his bravery. It was named after a cult that worshiped the sun god in the form of a dolphin—Delphinios—Delphi for short.” “How do you remember all this stuff?” KB asks.
Agiou Dimitriou, Thessaloniki 546 33, Greece
Hagios Demetrios is known as the largest church in all of Greece, and while this interior doesn’t look as large as other European churches, the entire building and grounds are a true showing of historic periods coming and overlapping one another. You’ll find ancient ruins with Christian worship, and many relics and antiquities to see.
Delphi 330 54, Greece
Located at the foot of Mount Parnassus, Delphi was the Pan-Hellenic site of the most famous oracle of ancient Greece. It was the center of the world during its time. Delphi lies in a lush, hidden valley surrounded by craggy mountains—a pastoral paradise that was home to the Temple of Apollo, the Pythian Games (precursor to today’s Olympics), the ancient theater at Delphi, and more. It is easy to see why this location was chosen as a sacred place for the gods. The town of Delphi itself is small and convenient with plenty of hotels and restaurants on the main street, but a bit touristy. For a more tranquil overnight base, try Arachova (population: 800), a few miles down the main road. Its beautiful terra-cotta topped houses cling to the side of the mountains and make it a pleasant summer and winter stopover.
Parnassus, Tithorea 350 15, Greece
Believe it or not, Europe’s sunniest destination is also home to a few terrific ski hills, one of them being Mount Parnassos. This is Greece‘s most popular ski resort area, thanks to its close proximity to Athens. You’ll find 23 ski runs here, for all skill levels, totalling 27 kilometres.
Ioannina, Greece
Most people come to the tiny town of Ioannina to cruise Lake Pamvotida -- the town’s most popular landmark. You’ll find yourself on a small island in the middle of a beautiful fjord, where the water is smooth as glass and your surroundings are spectacular. Ioannina itself is an intellectual city, known particularly for its university. Several famous poets and novelists call this place home, and the city often runs several arts-related events year round.
Adigonidon 13, Thessaloniki 546 30, Greece
For many, Thessaloniki is a happy alternative to the chaos of Athens. Although it’s home to just under 400,000 people, it’s the second largest city in Greece. There’s a large student population here, and so you’ll find the city busy with cafes, pubs, clubs, and restaurants. Of noteworthy mention is the iconic White Tower, built in the Byzantine period and still standing guard over the waterfront. There are a number of other Byzantine monuments around as well, including the churches of Acheiropoietos and the Heptapyrgion castle. The Old Town is worth exploring as well, which has a classically Macedonian feel to it.
Located in the western Peloponnese, Olympia is home to the most important athletic event of our time, the Olympic Games. Come see the Stadium, where the first Olympic Games were held. It’s often considered the most important ancient site in Greece, but you’re allowed to make up your own mind about that.
Cape Sounio, Sounio 195 00, Greece
The Temple of Poseidon, perched on the edge of Cape Sounion, has long been a welcoming sign of “home” for sailors returning to Athens. The 5th-century BC structure is dedicated to the god of the sea, and it’s just a quick drive from downtown Athens. If you happen to come here at sunset, you won’t be disappointed.
Pelion, Zagora 370 01, Greece
Coasteering is the latest craze in Greece‘s adventure tourism, and it’s especially popular on the Pelion Peninsula. Coasteering refers to navigating the coastline by climbing, rock scrambling, and swimming. It’s definitely for the braver, more physically fit individuals, but the unique views experienced of the wild and rugged Pelion coast is definitely worth it. Even if you end up just exploring the Pelion coast, you’ll be surprised to see it’s an awful lot like being in the Greek Islands.
Thessaloniki 546 21, Greece
Nobody knows exactly when The White Tower of Thessaloniki was built, but everyone agrees that it’s been around for as long as they can remember. It’s the city’s towering emblem -- an iconic symbol printed on tourist mugs, t-shirts, and more. It’s called The White Tower because a Jewish prisoner that resided there decided to paint the entire thing white. He won his freedom with this gesture. Today, the tower is a focal point all around town. It guards the waterfront closely. Come during the evenings to see it lit up in all its glory. (Photo by Vasilis Ziogas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/68338966@N02/)
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