Worried you’ve missed you’re chance for a Greek summer holiday in 2017? Don’t be – these last-minute destinations should still have rooms available. Oh, and they’re all pretty fantastic.
With Greece on track to host more tourists than ever in 2017, many of the country’s more popular destinations (such as Santorini and Mykonos) are booked solid for this summer’s high season. But what’s amazing about Greece is just how much it packs in to a relatively small space. With over 30 inhabited islands (not to mention plenty of wonderful seaside and mountain summer destinations on the mainland), there are plenty more places to have a wonderful vacation.
To help you look, we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite spots that, at time of writing, still have rooms available.
(And if you missed it, check out The Best Last-Minute Destinations in Greece: Volume I)
1. Mani – Made of Stone
The middle peninsula of the Peloponnese is its most rugged, with an arid rocky landscape and locals that pride themselves on their independence and hardiness (but who also have a genuinely warm sense of hospitality). Myriad villages both inhabited and abandoned are made almost entirely out of stone, featuring the pyrgospita, or tower-houses, that are characteristic of the region. A must visit is the capital of Areopoli with its renovated historic center and delightful cafes and traditional restaurants with great local fare.
While the peninsula does not have many sandy beaches, many of the swimming spots, particularly on the southwestern shore have an energy of their own, where one can swim off rocks or pebbled beaches into deep cool waters. It is perhaps no coincidence that the ancients held that at the tip of the peninsula – Tainaros, mainland Greece’s most southern point – lay an entrance to the mythical underworld realm of Hades. Indeed entrances to the very real underworld do exist such as the Cave of Diros with its underground lake which can be toured by boat (a fantastic experience).
Gentler seaside landscapes are also within relatively easy reach in Gerolimenas, or further on, Kardamyli.
2. Nafplio – Cultured Capital
The original capital of the modern Greek state, the small city of Nafplio is a gem of a destination steeped in history, culture and natural beauty located only 150km from Athens in the Peloponnese. Enjoy lazy romantic walks on the waterfront with a freshly-made Italian-style gelato in hand under the imposing fortress of the Palamidi. Visiting the latter is also worth the 500-step climb to take go back in time to the scene of bygone battles, or if only to take in the stunning 360-degree view from the top.
Alternatively, rent one of the publicly available municipal bicycles and ride through charming streets lined with grand neoclassical mansions. For ancient history buffs the key sites of Mycenae and Epidauros are also easily accessible. That said, if you just want to beach it, the region has a wide variety of sandy stretches to choose from that will satisfy everyone – from beach-bar hoppers to young families, to free-spirited campers.
3. Poros – Saronic Gem
A green island in the Saronic Gulf near Hydra and Spetses, Poros can either be reached by boat from Piraeus or by driving down to Galata in the Peloponnese and taking the 10-minute ferry across the narrow channel. The island’s proximity to the Peloponnese creates an enclosed almost lake-like body of water ideal for water-skiing and wake boarding and for many years the internationally renowned waterski center of Passage has operated in the area.
The charming town is a maze of streets lined by neoclassical houses perfect for getting lost in, as well as a hub of cultural events such as high-quality music events and art exhibitions. Rent a small boat to take a tour around the island and reach charming coves and beaches such as Alykes with its taverna offering great food made from home-grown ingredients.
4. Limnos – Salt of the Earth
The volcano that created the Limnos (aka Lemnos) in the northeastern Aegean may be extinct today, however its presence is still very much felt on the island. The ancient residents, who likely witnessed the volcano’s activity, connected the island to Hephaestus, the god of fire and metallurgy (whose name literally means ‘volcano’ in Greek), naming their biggest city after him. At the Sanctuary of the Kaveiries (deities of the underground and metallurgy) mysterious rites were held associated with fertility and rebirth. Visit the archaeological site to walk along a route lined with ancient columns and which ends at the cave of Filoktiti next to the sea.
The largely flat island is blessed with a large numbers of sandy beaches. In the area of Gomati, huge sand dunes create a desert-like landscape, whereas the large bay of Keros offers a range of conditions suitable for windsurfers and kitesurfers of all abilities. A surf club also operates on the beach and features luxury tents and yurts to accommodate guests.
The volcanic past of Limnos has also bestowed it with fertile lands and the island is famed for its unique wine, grains and meat and dairy products.
5. Lesvos – Ouzo’s homeland
The island may have become more associated with the refugee crisis than tourism in recent years, but Greece’s third biggest island remains a fantastic choice for a holiday, accessible by plane or boat and with diverse areas to explore.
The quiet village of Sigri on the western shore has gorgeous beaches and a well-put-together natural history museum dedicated to the areas petrified forest – the second largest in the world. See ancient trees and the fossilized remains of the huge beasts that once roamed the island in a different geological era.
Get a taste of the mountains at Agiasos – a colorful village with quaint cafes shaded by huge plane trees, or visit the seaside castle village of Molyvos, one of the most stunning in the country with cobbled streets and stone-built homes that look like something out of a fairytale.
The birthplace of ouzo of course knows how to properly consume Greece’s most famous drink, pairing it with a wide variety of mezes – small plates of local delicacies like grilled octopus, and the islands famed cured sardines from the closed bay of Kalloni. After a swim head to one of the islands many ouzeries for the full ouzo experience.
Another large island in the eastern Aegean, Chios brims with culture, history and natural beauty. Take a trip back in time via a visit to the mastic villages, which for centuries have been producing the aromatic tree resin the island is famous for. Their story is now on full display at the newly opened and well-put-together Mastic Museum. For an even more involved experience, visitors can become mastic growers for a day or pick their own vegetables via tours offered by eco-tourism companies.
Meanwhile the north of the island lends itself for stunning hikes up mountains and along gorges. Organized bike rides, group hikes, kayaking and activities for children are also available.
One of Chios’s most famous beaches is Mavra Volia, whose name refers to its round, black pebbles. Less famous but also exceptional is Apothika, a pebble beach with crystal clean waters, and the Tortuga canteen – a beach bar and diving school in one.
Covered in dense green forests, Samos is one of the most biodiverse Greek islands, featuring many endemic plant species and some of the last remaining breeding populations of chameleons and golden jackals in the Mediterranean.
Discover a wide variety of beaches cater to all tastes, from long sandy stretches at the edge of a pine forest to pebbled beaches with clear, deep waters. Marathokambi and Psili Ammos are perfect for families with children, organized with all the amenities and with shallow, protected seas.
The ancient home of Pythagoras also has much to interest archaeology buffs including a temple dedicated to Hera and not one but two archaeology museums. Visitors can now also walk along the entire length of the Eupalinian Aqueduct, a major feat of ancient engineering that has been described as the 8th wonder of the world. The kilometer-long tunnel through solid rock was created in the 6th century BC to carry water to the ancient city at the site of today’s Pythagorio.
Famed for the longevity of its residents, Ikaria has its own unique energy and rhythm that keeps many diehard fans coming back year after year. It’s the utlimate ‘go with the flow’ island which, if you let it, will sweep you up to the point that you might want to never leave (indeed it is hardly unheard of for temporary visitors to become permanent residents).
Among its many gorgeous beaches, Seychelles is the most famous, and anyone who visits will immediately understand where it got its name. On the northern side big waves often pound the shore and are surfable in some spots. Alternatively take a boat ride to the small island of Fourni, inhabited by about 2,000 people and with many superb remote beaches.
Above all however to get the full Ikaria experience one needs to attend a traditional feast – all night affairs with delicious local food, tons of dancing and copious amounts of wine. Make sure to also enjoy all of the other products Ikaria has to offer, including honey, herbs and wine – they may add years to your life!
Only a short ferry ride from Athens, Kythnos nevertheless feels worlds away from the capital with all of the charm one expects from a Cycladic island: white-washed stone-built homes, hillsides covered in herbs, the startling blue of the Aegean all around. Perfect for even a short trip out of the city.
However it also has its unique quirks and eccentricities: the island is also known as “Thermia” thanks to the hot springs that exist in the seaside village of Loutra. These can even be enjoyed for free on the beach where a small pool has been built in the sea.
The island also boasts one of the most unique beaches in Greece – Kolona – which is a pebbled stretch with sea on both sides making for a fun swimming spot.
Inland, the village of Dryopida has a character all of its own with a history of ceramic-making reflected in the village’s tiled roofs and a visitable cave where the residents would historically seek refuge from marauding pirates and Ottomans.
The island also boasts some fantastic hikes and bike rides, such as the routes that take you to the castle of Oria.