After featuring prominently in the world news for all the wrong reasons, for a while it seemed that Greece was all washed up. Just when everyone thought it was down and out, the country rose from its own dusty ruins to turn a tarnished reputation to its advantage. In what is nothing short of a success story, post-crisis Greece has enhanced the traditional charm of sugar-cubed houses atop cliff-tops, sun-kissed Aegean beaches, voyages to antiquity and Mediterranean cuisine.
As if Greece couldn’t be more alluring anyway, there are 10 more reasons to visit the country right now.
1. Greece for all seasons
There’s more to Greece than the sun and sea, which is why the government has unveiled a new tourism policy that pledges to “prolong the tourism season” and make Greece one of the five most popular destinations in the world.
For your average traveler, this means greater access to thematic tourism all year round. Now, families can take advantage of the special family discounts at winter resorts, enjoy off-season rates at the Athens Half Marathon or partake in kick-ass rock-climbing fiestas on the jagged slopes of Kalymnos island.
Greece is now the happening place, with lots to do and see in every season, from the fledgling Tweed Run on picturesque Spetses in the spring to the Red Bull freerunning competition on Santorini in the autumn and then some.
2. Value-for-money lodgings
The home bubble has burst, and ordinary Greeks have rushed to put property that otherwise wouldn’t have been available on the market. Competition has never been greater.
“Safety is at an optimal level and prices, due to the recent economic turmoil and capital controls, are at the best rate. In our sector, you can get a room for 30 euros that would otherwise have been more expensive,” says Kostas Brentanos, who heads SETKΕ, which represents Greeks who rent out tourism accommodation.
“Even high-caliber lodgings, with exquisite services and facilities that once charged 120 euros are now available at 70 euros with owners themselves bearing the brunt of the hotel VAT increase (from 6.5 to 13 percent) rather than the guests.”
3. Fly direct, no hassle
In the wake of terror attacks and health epidemics, more travelers have chosen Greece. Increased demand means more direct flights to destinations around the country. Euromonitor travel analyst Wouter Gerts explains that as the whole Middle East is “associated with insecurity in the mind of the western tourist,” Greece has emerged as a comparable alternative thanks to its similar weather, cheap prices and security.
German tour operator TUI recently confirmed that tourists are turning to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy in increasing numbers for their upcoming spring and summer holidays. At the same time, bookings to Turkey dropped by 40 percent.
Greek civil aviation data shows that there was an 11.5 percent-spike in Greek airport traffic in January alone. Some 1.8 million passengers travelled on 19,890 flights, enjoying the advantages of direct flights at budget rates.
4. Discover virgin territory
Yes, it looks set to happen in 2016. Obscure backwaters are being opened to the public for the first time thanks to a fast-track law that speeds up procedures for public-private investments. This means that the seaplanes projects at four Greek destinations – Skyros, Alonissos, Paxi and Agia Marina at Grammatiko – can move to the next stage of completion.
“The aim of the ministry is to create a waterways network by next summer, which will bring substantial benefits to the economy, create jobs and contribute to the interconnection of small and isolated islands as well as the development of local communities,” said Energy Minister Panos Skourletis.
With bated breath, the Hellenic Seaplanes company can literally taste the start of operations in 2016 after three years in the planning, with some 50 waterways already mapped out. The goal is to connect the country through seaports to allow for the exploration of virgin territory before it is changed forevermore by the influx of crowds.
5. More reasons to sail the seas
Greece – a country carved by the sea with a whopping 13,676-km coastline – is, was and will always be a seafarer’s paradise. Though local mariners know as much, National Geographic recently identified the large island of Evia as one of the top ten international sailing destinations. And it comes as little surprise that Athens and the Greek islands ranked among the top ten most-searched cruise destinations on Yahoo in 2015.
Top-ranking three-time Olympic sailor Armando Ortolano, one of the founders of the Greek Isles Yachting company, says that Athens is a unique yachting destination. Its docks are exceptionally close to the Saronic islands and city sights, an advantage that has kept interest stable despite adversity that has kept investments at bay.
“We’re doing our best to keep business afloat with 20 percent cheaper charter rates since before the economic crisis began,” he says. “This means that a yacht with a capacity to carry six people can now be leased for 1,500 euros per week, meaning 200 euros per person for seven days, and with a skipper to boot!” Best yet, 2016 is the year of innovation for his company, which is planning to offer a “lifetime memories in a day” package, offering tailor-made options for day trips such as fishing and scuba diving.
6. All roads lead to Athens
Athens moved up a notch to second place in the prestigious European Best Destinations 2016, the Brussels-based electronic pool seeking the best of European culture and tourism. Elpida Rekka, of the City of Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, points to the iconic Acropolis as just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beauty of the city. A myriad of other offerings include affordable museums and archaeological sites, a high rate of Michelin-starred restaurants, a brilliant city-sea combination with a 55km of scenic coastal road stretch dubbed the Athens Riviera.
Now just behind Zadar in Croatia in the European Best Destinations rankings, Athens is eyeing gold in 2017.
7. Up-and-coming conference hotspots
When in October a government minister predicted that Greece could easily become a summer conference location centre rivaling Davos in the Swiss Alps, local authorities embarked on a frantic search for prospective venues.
Saronic Magazine reported that cosmopolitan, car-free Spetses was a sure contender.
Truth be told, the whole of Greece – located at the cross-roads of three continents – has potential. Athens, especially, is an event planner’s dream thanks to its bevy of gold-class Olympic facilities and other venues. Rekka is gushing about the obvious advantages of Athens as an international conference center, which include the city’s vibrant pulse, its safe reputation and high-quality, value-for-money MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) products. Let’s not forget that conferences in Athens take place near a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 44 world-class museums for those who wish to indulge themselves in history and culture.
With so many assets, Greece ranked among the nine most popular countries from around the world for conferences in the December 2015 edition of the Pacific World Destination Index. In fact, it is among the top three destinations in the Europe, Middle East and Africa category, coming third behind Spain and France.
8. Hospitality is in the blood
The ancient Greek Stoics regarded hospitality as a gods-given right for foreigners, sanctioned by Zeus himself. Refusing to abide by this was hubris. The notion is so deeply engrained in the Grecian psyche that – despite cash flow problems – there’s usually a local entry near the top of the awards in any hospitality industry ranking.
Accolades keep coming with Achtis Hotel, in Halkidiki in northern Greece, and Canaves Oia Hotel, on Santorini, ranked 5th and 12th, respectively, in TripAdvisor’s top 25 hotels worldwide listing for 2016. Meanwhile, Amathus Beach Hotel in Rhodes and Grace Santorini Hotel rated highly in the 6th European Hospitality Awards. Another four Greek hotels took titles at the coveted Historic Hotels of Europe (HHE) awards in 2016: Allegory Boutique Hotel on Rhodes, Marpessa Smart Luxury Hotel in Agrinio (three awards), Aigialos Hotel in Santorini and Villa Galini in Halkidiki.
9. Less money, more innovation
The financial crisis may have made life difficult for the locals, but it has also made them far more inventive when it comes to tourism. Sites like dopios.gr and initiatives such as This is My Athens have paved the way for a new brand of tailor-made tourism that is ripe for the picking. These sites connect travelers with a community of local storytellers offering the real spirit of post-crisis Greece to the world.
Always hospitable, tech-savvy Greeks have now gone digital to showcase their cities to foreign visitors with treks to graffiti-laden anarchist quarter of Exarchia in Athens or a dinner invitation to where else but yiayia’s kitchen, where granny’s home-cooked meal rivals that of any Michelin-starred chef.
Not authentic enough for you? George Arapoglou, head of the Athens Invisible Paths tours organized by Schedia, a magazine sold by homeless street vendors, says that he’s been amazed by the reception. “Our tour guides are homeless or have been homeless people at some point in their lives. Sharing their journey to soup kitchens, sleeping areas, detox centers and other pitstops helps them feel less socially excluded while also breaking down barriers,” he says of the tours, which are available in Greek, English, German, Spanish and Italian. Call (+30) 213.023.1220 for more info.
10. See heroes at work… and become one, too!
There’s nothing like a crisis to bring out the hero in ordinary people. Locals, tourists and volunteers from around the globe have been working day and night to help shelter, feed and nurse hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who had found themselves in Greece. Swarms of tourists that come for the Greek sun end up unleashing the hero within themselves by staying on to help in the human tragedy well-after their holidays have ended.
These Herculean efforts have not gone unnoticed. Greek intellectuals pooled together to send a letter to the Nobel Peace Prize committee with three local nominations. Meanwhile, a petition on the online Avaaz petition site states that “residents of the Greek islands deserve the Nobel Peace Prize” and nominates “fishermen, housewives, pensioners, teachers – ordinary residents of the Greek islands and other volunteers (that) have opened their homes and hearts to save refugee children, men and women fleeing war and terror.” Already, nearly 700,000 signatures have been gathered.
The Avaaz campaign organizer Stephen K. from the US points to Greek acts of filotimo (friends honor) and filoxenia (friendliness to strangers/hospitality) as clear examples of love for others in the world to use and learn from.
If these 10 reasons are not enough to convince you that now is the time to visit, then consider:
* The earth-gripping Amphipolis tomb discovery in 2014 was just a pit-stop in a never-ending treasure trove of antiquities. Bursting with archaeology, there’s always a new site in Greece to visit that wasn’t there the last time you visited.
* Friends of Plato, take note: a new digital, interactive multimedia museum dedicated to the philosopher was inaugurated in November 2015 at the Plato Academy. Call (+30) 210.528.4851.
* Scuba divers that have always enjoyed the crystal-clear waters of Greece may soon have another reason to visit now that plans for a unique archaeological scuba diving park in the Gulf of Evia are underway. The project will include an underwater museum featuring 26 shipwrecks.
* More incentives for Russian tourists are available thanks to a three-year-entry visa that simplifies travel procedures.