If you’re planning a holiday in Greece, the good news is that it is very difficult to go wrong. Every island and mainland destination has plenty to recommend it. Which is why putting together a list such as this one is tricky – and please note that it is far from comprehensive, there are many, many places that were not included for no good reason other than we ran out of space (and please feel free to click around our site and discover the many more things that Greece has to offer).
That said, our selection below are places that we feel have a little bit extra going for them in 2018 – either due to better access (the completion of major roads in the Peloponnese and the west of Greece in 2017 was a significant factor), or because there are interesting events lined up for those who like to combine their holidays with cultural or sporting events. And so with that in mind here are 18 suggestions for your 2018 planning!
Patmos is a strong contender for the island with the prettiest Chora (main village), built around the Monastery dedicated to St John the Theologian who is believed to have penned the Book of Revelation on the island.
As of last year sporting events were also added to the summer itinerary in the form of the Patmos Revelation, a three-day event of running and open water swimming races that will take place again at the end of June.
And of course there are plenty of unique and gorgeous beaches to enjoy such as Lambi and Psili Ammos, among others. Nearby are the almost uninhabited islands of Marathi and Arkoi which are also highly worth exploring.
TL;DR: A gorgeous Aegean island, favoured by tourists and saints alike.
A Cycladic island where you’ll want hiking boots as well as flip flops to explore the villages and natural beauty of the island. “Sifnos Trails”, the network of paths that has been developed on the island in recent years is one of the largest in Aegean, with over 100km to explore. There are 19 routes along professionally marked footpaths at every difficulty level that will take you to small, seemingly forgotten chapels, ancient temples, quaint villages, farmhouses and olive groves all backed, of course, by majestic views of the Aegean. A number of hotels have now been credited as being Hiker Friendly, serving nutritious meals and offering hiking equipment, maps and more.
Family-friendly Sifnos has also been making great gastronomic strides with some fantastic tavernas and restaurants. Every year it also hosts the Cycladic Gastronomy Festival Nikolaos Tselemedes over three days in September.
TL;DR: Hike, eat, swim, repeat.
What did busy, cosmopolitan Santorini look like 50 years ago? A taste of the volcanic, Cycladic island as it was before the age of mass tourism can be had by taking a short boat ride across the caldera to Santorini’s little sister: the island of Therasia. This under-the-radar destination, has only 250 permanent residents and in the summer mainly receives day-trippers by boat from Santorini who come to explore its serene settlements carved into the landscape, charming churches and hiking routes that offer panoramic views as they pass in between the dry-stone terraces built over generations to allow the cultivation of the arid landscape.
Therasia is not aiming to replicate the tourism of Santorini; it is a destination for travelers looking to get away from the crowds and offers options for high-end vacations. These include Perivolas Hideaway – a boutique guesthouse that blends seamlessly into the wild and rocky landscape and which can only be accessed by boat or helicopter. High-profile guests that have stayed here over the years include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
TL;DR: Santorini without the selfie sticks.
Famed for its volcano – one of the few active ones in Greece – this Aegean island has avoided rampant development, maintaining its authenticity and evolving into a favorite destination particularly among artists and the creatively inclined.
Here you can walk in the hydrothermal craters of the volcano, get lost in the delightful narrow alleys between pristine white homes, enjoy a refreshing glass of iced soumada (a sweet, almond-based drink) at a traditional café, hike along the extensive network of old farmers’ paths, relax in the thermal springs at the Municipal Baths and visit some of the best preserved ancient defensive fortifications in the Aegean.
Among the most significant recent developments on the island is the creation of the Sterna Art Project, housed within the Venetian castle in the picture-postcard village of Emporio. A non-profit organization, Sterna hosts exhibitions as well as residency programs for artists to create works on the island, drawing inspiration from its unique energy and landscapes. As the community of Greek and foreign creators drawn to the island grows, so too do the number and scale of the exhibitions as well as workshops available for visitors to take part in: from painting, ceramic-making and cyanotype to traditional Nisyran embroidery.
TL;DR: Perhaps the most cultured volcano in the world.
The largest island of the Ionian is most well-known for its stunning beaches, lush forests as well as being the setting for the book and film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. But there is much more to it than that. Now on reaching the airport you will find a wine map of the island that was created last summer.
Local families with long traditions of winemaking on the island have joined forces to promote indigenous varieties such as Robola, and also create experiences that go well beyond wine tasting. For example, the Haritatos Vineyard, a 19th country estate decorated with antique furniture and oil paintings, hosts music events in the summer as well as outdoor wine and move nights with films screened in the garden. The latter are organized in cooperation with the SeaΝema Open Air Film Festival which, over the last three years, has been organizing screenings of critically acclaimed films by the sea.
Kefalonia is also home to the Saristra Festival, an annual event for fans of indie and electronic music. Launched in 2012, the festival has become a mainstay, held in the ruins of the mountainside village Palia Vlachata which was abandoned after it was severely damaged in the earthquake that leveled much of the island in 1953. As much a tribute to the old villages and communities of Kefalonia as it is a boundary-pushing creative undertaking, the Saristra Festival fills the empty village with music, dancing, exhibitions and all manner of creative expressions.
TL;DR: Pack your mandolin.
This mountainous area in the region of Epirus is a true jewel. Traditionally a favorite option for winter getaways among Greeks, its incredible natural wonders have made it increasingly popular for foreign visitors in the summer as well. Now easier to get to than ever from Athens and Thessaloniki, thanks to the completion of the Ionia and Egnatia motorways (and also served by the international airport in the nearby city of Ioannina), 2018 is looking very promising for this stunning part of the country.
With hundreds of kilometers of well-marked paths, passing through mature forests and deep gorges, over stone-built bridges spanning streams and rivers and connecting monasteries and 47 villages, Zagori is a true hikers paradise. The trails are also used for the Zagori Mountain Running event, now a well-established fixture held every summer. Meanwhile more dedicated mountaineers can also climb to the alpine Drakolimni Lake or to one of the surrounding peaks. Alternatively opt for rafting or canoeing, or simply dive into the bracing waters of the area’s many rivers and plunge pools. Getting around is now easier than ever thanks to the Sense Zagori App, a virtual tour guide to the area. Zagori also boasts the world’s best eco-lodge in the Aristi Mountain Resort which picked up the coveted title in the 2017 World Travel Awards.
TL;DR: Seriously like something out of a fairytale.
In 2017 three major motorways were completed that have brought Parga much closer to Athens and Thessaloniki. Located on the western coast of Greece, lapped by the Ionian, Parga may be a mainland destination but it has a distinctly island feel. The picturesque town lends itself to pleasant strolls along its narrow streets that lead up to Parga’s castle with stunning views over the bay.
Here you can enjoy stays in boutique hotels and ouzo and seafood by the sea. Neighboring long sandy beaches mean you can always find a quiet empty stretch to spread out your beach towel for a dip in the Ionian, while Parga is also close to a number of archaeological sites including the temple of necromancy (the nekromanteion) next to the Acherontas river which was thought to be linked to the underworld in antiquity.
The springs of the same river are also a joy to behold – crystal clear waters flowing through a plane forest, or you can go for easy rafting and boat rides, or hike along the gorge the river flows through.
TL;DR: Road trip to the Ionian!
Lefkada is the easiest Ionian island to get to by car as it is connected to the mainland by a floating bridge. And, as above, this route has recently gotten easier and quicker following the completion of the Olympia and Ionia Odos (aka Motorway 5) which have cut travel time almost in half to about 3.5-4 hours from Athens.
The island features incredible beaches under dramatic cliffs, rich forests and an August full of cultural events. Particular standouts are the Lentil Festival in the village of Eglouvi, the Traditional Wedding in Karya and the International Folklore Festival – a dance festival featuring groups from all over the world promoting friendship, communication and cooperation.
TL;DR: Road trip to the Ionian!
The annual host of the popular International Animation Festival + Agora each September, the island of Syros shows its hospitable character year-round, even in the winter when the other Cycladic islands close shop. Hop on a ferry and go meet the neoclassical Ermoupoli (the island’s port and capital) and the medieval Apano Chora (upper village), two settlements of unique charm that will keep you enchanted for hours as you explore their countless, meandering lanes. (Although of course if it is beaches you’re after, Syros has plenty – both shallow, sandy and easy-to-get-to swimming spots, and others that can only be reached by boat).
In Ermoupoli make sure to pay a visit to the neighborhood Vaporia with its gorgeous neoclassical houses, the Apollo Municipal Theater with its superb frescoes, the restaurant Avant Garden for delectable dishes, and of course don’t leave without filling your bags to the brim with renowned local products (legendary San Michalis cheese, thyme honey, capers, and the Syros version of Turkish delight, to name just a few).
TL;DR: The cultured capital of the Cyclades.
Following documenta 14 which put Athens in the international cultural spotlight, and the opening of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which now houses the National Library and Greek National Opera, the capital continues to blossom; 2017 saw an all-time record in international arrivals and 2018 is expected to break it. Business and boutique hotels are opening in the center, while Airbnb continues to take many neighborhoods by storm, exposing foreign travelers to the charms of areas beyond heavily-touristed Plaka and Thiseio.
Located in the shadow of the Acropolis, of Koukaki is one of the platform’s top neighborhoods worldwide with plenty of excellent offerings at low prices, while other central neighborhoods such as Pangrati and Exarchia are also winning rave reviews thanks to their excellent restaurants and nightlife. At the same time the cultural schedule remains as busy as ever, filled with numerous original, must-see exhibitions and events. This year will also see the opening of a new museum by the Goulandris Foundation, housing works by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and others.
For 2018 Athens has also been selected as the UNESCO World Book Capital, and events are to be held including talks with writers and illustrators, concerts, poetry nights and professional workshops and more. And when you’ve had enough culture, history and the rest, excellent meals await, with more creative Greek, international and fusion offerings than ever before, while the nightlife scene is second to none, with tasteful and quirky bars throughout the city center filled with young (and not-so-young) patrons looking for the next best cocktail.
TL;DR: Simply one of the coolest cities in Europe.
On this elegant isle, you will find the blue-green waters of the Saronic Gulf meeting pine forests that stretch down to the water’s edge. Its rich history, in part as the home of wealthy shipowners who played a key role in the Greek War of Independence, is evident in the grand architecture of its aristocratic villas in the main town.
This history also wonderfully informs a number of unique events on the island from the springtime Tweed Run organized by the historic Poseidonion Grand Hotel to the Armata in September (commemorating a famous naval battle with fireworks) to the Classic Yacht Regatta which sees beautiful classic sailboats going head to head.
The Spetses Yacht Club also organizes sailing lessons for children – both those on the island as well as special programs for those visiting the island in the summer. Meanwhile for those who enjoy the challenge of endurance races, the island also hosts the Spetses mini marathon and the Spetsathlon. Accessible by car from Athens (about a 3hr drive) and a popular getaway for Athenians, the island has plenty of life from April through October.
TL;DR: Come by ferry, car or (better) a wooden yacht.
A neighbor to Spetses in the Saronic Gulf, Hydra maintains an old-world charm thanks to its architecture and historic villas, its lack of cars (which are prohibited on the island), donkeys and small tavernas on rooftops and in flower-lined courtyards.
At the same time it has become a favorite among the international contemporary art world thanks to the annual exhibitions by the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, housed in the old abattoir; the Old School Project; the activities of the collector Pauline Karpidas at the Hydra Workshop and many other exhibitions and activities every summer.
Or you just may want to relax and enjoy a calmer, more refined pace of life at this island that is only a short hop from Athens and the Peloponnese.
TL;DR: Leonard Cohen was right about the place.
If you think of Crete only as a destination for high summer, then think again – or better yet book a ticket any time of the year for Irakleio, a city that in 2017 was the fastest growing tourism destination according to data from Euromonitor.
You will have to explore it to discover the reasons why this – at first glance chaotic – city is quickly on the rise as a city break destination. In years past, the city chiefly played host to tourists seeking to take in the Minoan palace of Knossos before moving on to a seaside resort. But in recent years it has acquired 6 modern and refurbished museums, contemporary restaurants building on the best of Cretan products and cuisine, new hotels and a pedestrianized city center.
Add to that the youthful energy of a student town, its mild climate, and that it is a safe destination that is both lively year-round and easy to get to thanks to year-round international flights. Visit in particular in spring or early summer and you will not regret it.
TL;DR: Don’t listen to the haters.
The Venetian harbor of the city of Hania (aka Chania) with its lighthouse and the Ottoman mosque of Yiali Tzami is usually what first draws the attention of visitors. But don’t linger too long as there is a lot more to see in this region of Crete which combines everything from mountain landscapes to freshwater lakes to, of course, incredible beaches.
Take a visit to Vamos village for an eco-tourism / agritourism experience in a charming traditional village. The lake of Kourna is also a fantastic place for a visit to feed the ducks and take a jaunt out on the water with a paddle boat.
Of course one of the main attractions of Hania, is the excellent traditional Cretan cuisine made with products such as apaki (smoked pork), local cheeses, incredible fresh vegetables bursting with flavor and bountiful seafood on the coast.
For swimming the two most famous (and for a good reason) beaches are the gorgeous lagoons of Balos and Elafonisi. However during the high season they can get busy, so another lower-key option is Kedrodasos (meaning cedar forest) which is just as beautiful but draws fewer crowds.
Hania is also a hikers dream with some of the most beautiful gorges in the country such as the renowned gorge of Samaria as well as smaller and easier gorges to hike like Deliana.
TL;DR: Hania simply has it all.
Famed for it’s laid-back vibe, its cosmopolitan history and its excellent nightlife, Thessaloniki has plenty to make it a thoroughly enjoyable city-break destination all year round. It is easy to get around, with most points of interest within easy walking distance and has everything: tasteful restaurants and great street food, ancient, Byzantine, Jewish and Ottoman historical sites, and a beautiful seafront that is a joy to stroll along, to name a few.
It is also on its way to becoming Greece’s top city for festivals and it is worth timing your trip to coincide with one. Especially in the spring and summer something is happening almost every weekend, but particularly noteworthy for 2018 are the 1st Thessaloniki Coffee & Brunch Festival (17-19.2.18), the Thessaloniki Streetfood Festival (28-29.4.18), the Urban Pic Nic Festival at the end of August, a major music event in the form of the Reworks Festival (September 2018) and of course the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (November 2018).
TL;DR: Quite possibly the best city-break destination in Europe.
Leοnidio is a small, traditional town on the eastern coast of the Peloponnese in the region of Arcadia. Clean and tidy with narrow streets and well-maintained stone tower houses, it has somehow managed to avoid being over-run by mass tourism, despite being relatively easily accessible by car from Athens.
As a destination it does that wonderfully Greek thing of offering both seaside and mountain experiences, with plenty of wonderful beaches and all the beauty and hiking trails of Mount Parnonas. Behind the town tall cliffs even offer excellent rock-climbing (considered the best in the Peloponnese) and in 2017 the town organized its second rock climbing festival, scheduled to be repeated this year.
Leonidio is a great destination for those who enjoy relatively quiet destinations and want to experience the incredible variety the Greek countryside without having the trouble of dealing with ferry boats. When you go, also ask the locals to speak to you in “Tsakonika” – a dialect that many linguists maintain is related to that of the ancient Dorians.
TL;DR: Sea, check. Mountains, check. Ancient Dorian dialect, check.
Identified in myth as the birthplace of Aphrodite, Kythira is simply one of the most beautiful islands in Greece. It is also one of the most unique, not fitting in easily to any of the main island groupings (Cyclades, Ionian etc).
The island features old Venetian castles, verdant hills, pristine beaches (such as Kaladi, Kombonada and Halkos) and many foreign visitors (especially French and Italian) who either return year after year, or did one better and moved to the island permanently.
The road network is not the most ideal but don’t let that stop you from exploring the many different villages: pass by the quiet, whitewashed Chora and the pretty seaside village of Avlemona (with a number of family-friendly seafood tavernas); head to Kapsali for drinks and nightlife and the village of Potamos where the music-cafe Astikon is open 20 hours a day and frequently organizes live music events and is famous for its freshly squeezed lemonade, served either virgin or with rum, vodka, gin or tequila.
TL;DR: Aphrodite didn’t pick Kythira as her birthplace by chance.
18. Pylos, Messinia
Long a secret known in more alternative circles, Pylos is gaining serious attention. It is located in the region of Messinia in the southwestern Peloponnese, a region that after years of being almost shamefully overlooked has been placed on the global tourism map by the award-winning Costa Navarino resort which highlighted the region’s many treasures.
Here you will find one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the curiously named Voidokoilia (or Cow’s belly), as well as many enormous stretches of sandy beaches, but there is plenty more to do than just swim and sunbathe.
Near to Pylos is the Palace of Nestor, a well-preserved Mycenaean palace that, following a major project by the Ministry of Culture is now protected by a soaring roof under which visitors can take in the archaeological site, looking down from raised walkways. Nearby an unlooted grave belonging to a nobleman – the so-called ‘Griffin Warrior’ – was recently discovered, yielding incredible finds from an area that has already taught us much about Mycenaean civilization.
Whatever time of the year you visit you will see golfers taking advantage of the region’s mild climate, hikers, kitesurfers, birdwatchers, foodies, history buffs, culture lovers and more. And now it is easier to get to than ever following the completion of the new Corinth – Patras road which makes the drive from Athens a mere 2.5 hours (and far less stressful than before). Or simple fly to the international airport in Kalamata which is only about 1 hours drive away through the beautiful countryside.
TL;DR: The best place you didn’t know about.