[Note: Travel Diary updated to include Greece!]
Get up and close to the Parthenon at the Acropolis
Keeping up with my tradition of a outlining the highlights following a big trip (like my European Adventure Round-up), here is a big fat round-up of my spectacular adventure in Greece!
As an aspiring writer who is kicking things off with a fantasy novel, I am a sucker for the ancient world. For those who have not read my European Adventure Round-Up, my favourite attraction from that trip was Palatine Hill in Rome (a large area of ancient ruins). Greece is full of places like that, and many of them more spectacular and better preserved, plus there are the amazing, absolutely breathtaking views. I had never been much of a scenery kind of guy, but the things I saw on this trip just blew me away! I had already seen too many churchs and cathedrals (to the point where they kind of all melt into one), so Greece was an exciting new experience for me.
We had roughly 8 days in total, but you need to keep in mind that my wife and I were lugging my 60 year-old parents with us (though they are in supreme shape and after often mistaken for being in their late 40s). Hence there was a lot of starting and stopping, some decent rests in between. We probably saw less things but it was a lot more relaxing than it would have been had it just been the two of us. If I had more time and money, 2 weeks would have been perfect, though you could easily spend a month island hopping if you wanted to.
- 2 days in Athens;
- 1 day cruise to the Saronic islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina;
- 1 day trip by taxi to the Peloponnese (Corinth, Mycenae and Nafplio)
- 1 day trip by taxi to Delphi;
- 1/2 a day on the Cycladic island of Milos; and
- 1 day on the Cycladic island of Santorini.
It’s too hard to pick a single experience as the best in Greece, so I’ll pick 2.
The first of course is the marvellous island(s) of Santorini, definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world. There’s just something magical about the place, made more mystical due to the suggestion that it may be the lost island of Atlantis. Every picture you take in Santorini could be slapped onto a postcard. Whether you’re into ancient archaeological sites (Ancient Thera or Akrotiri – when it opens again), beautiful scenery (Fira, Oia), volcanoes (Nea Kameni) or just like to hang out on the beach (Kamari, Perissa or the Red Beach), Santorini caters. No wonder it is a favourite for celebrities and weddings. It’s a place I’d very much like to visit again if I get the chance.
People waiting to catch the sunset in Oia (Santorini)
The second is the archaeological site of Delphi, one of the surprises of the trip. Delphi is jaw-dropping because of where it is situated, the sheer size of the site, the granduer of the structures and the amazing level of preservation. There are temples, theatres, halls, treasuries, stadiums – you name it. If you only see one archaeological site in Greece, Delphi is the place to go (though it’s hard to skip the Acropolis in Athens).
Easy – our hellish ferry ride from Athens to Santorini that took 23 hours instead of the scheduled 5. Double-booked seats, poor safety, mass vomiting, disorganisation to absolute chaos, the ride just about had it all. I think it’s something I’ll look back upon as a fascinating experience, but it’s certainly not something I want to go through again!
Too hard to pick. In terms of pure natural beauty, you can’t go past Santorini. Views from both Fira and Oia are unmatched. he volcanic island of Nea Kameni is also worth visiting. On the other hand, the island of Hydra (though we only spent 90 minutes there) was also very pretty. But if you prefer views over Athens, Lycabettus Hill and the top of the Acropolis are my picks.
In terms of the biggest spectacle, there’s the archaeological sites of Delphi, the Acropolis and Ancient Agora. I just can’t make up my mind.
You can see the Acropolis atop Lycabettus Jill
I only went to 2 museums, the massive National Archaeological Museum in Athens (near Victoria metro station) and the small but impressive Museum of Prehistoric Thira on Santorini. Nevertheless, both were excellent and I would recommend them to anyone wanting to learn a bit about the fascinating history of Greece.
Note at the time of visiting, the highly anticipated Acropolis Museum in Athens had not yet opened, but it has now, and I hear that is a must-visit too.
I hadn’t heard of Palamidi Castle in Nafplio before, but if you are visiting the Peloponnese I’d recommend checking it out. It is exceptionally well-preserved and you can explore the various bastions, climbing up to the top if you want to. The views are also impressive. The place gave me plenty of ideas for the settings in my fantasy novel.
Palamidi Castle was superb
I don’t want to call any place ‘overrated’ in Greece because they were all good in my opinion, but if I had to pick one it would probably be the Mycenaen Acropolis. Apart from the Lion Gate at the entrance and a few grave circles here and there, there wasn’t all that much to see in terms of archaeological structures. That said, the view from the top was still mighty impressive. However, if you visit somewhere like Delphi then you can probably give Mycenae a miss.
Top 5 must-see attractions
It’s extremely difficult to pick 5 out of so many attractions in Greece. Of the top of my head here are mine, in descending order.
5. Ancient Agora (Athens) – I wish I had spent more time here because it was so big and there was a museum there too, but even just an hour or so in Ancient Agora was enough to place it in my top 5. The Temple of Hephaestus is perhaps the most complete and well-preserved structure I’ve ever seen at around 2,500 years old, but it’s not the only thing to see there. If you’re in the area make sure you go and take a look.
4. Palamidi Castle (Nafplio) – maybe I am overrating it here, but the surprise element probably has something to do with Palamidi Castle being ranked 4th. The scale and scope and views are all top-notch and I love how you can explore the grounds – each bastion is a mini-adventure.
3. Nea Kameni (Santorini) – you can’t really call the whole of Santorini an ‘attraction’, but it’ll be a crime not to include something from Santorini in the top 5 – so I’ve chosen Nea Kameni, the magnificent volcano that left me awestruck at its devastating power. If you’re making the 90 minute trek to the top of the volcano and back, make sure you wear a hat or bring an umbrella and bring plenty of fluids, and remember to avoid wearing open-toed shoes.
Nea Kameni volcano at Santorini
2. The Acropolis (Athens) – it was a tough choice to put the Acropolis at number 2. Typically, the number one attraction can get hyped up too much, but no amount of hype can make the Acropolis disappointing. It needs to be seen, simple as that. Don’t forget to check out the Theatre of Dionysos and Odeum of Herodes while you’re there. And now, with the Acropolis Museum, it’s a must-must-visit.
1. Archaeological Site of Delphi – there’s an element of surprise with this one as well, but the archaeological site of Delphi is a true wonder of the Ancient Greek world that every visitor to Greece should experience. When you’re there, try and imagine what it was like more than 2,600 years ago, and no matter how unbearable hot it gets, try and make it to the very top. The view of the entire archaeological site is something I will always remember.
Delphi is No. 1
There were many other attractions that I left off the list that are worth visiting. Just missing the cut include Lycabettus Hill, the Temple of Olympic Zeus, the island of Hydra and the National Archaeological Museum. The towns of Fira and Oia (especially for the sunset) on Santorini aren’t too shabby either.
Places I wish I saw (or want to see next time)
My biggest disappointments on the trip were missing the theatre at Epidavros (Epidaurus) and the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia at Delphi. I would have also liked to have visited more places on the Peloponnese, such as Olympia and Sparta. On the mainland I wish I had time to visit Meteora, which I hear is awesome, but you’d need to take a 2-day trip from Athens. In terms of islands of course I wanted to see Mykonos and also Crete. If I visit Athens again I’d also like to see the new Acropolis Museum and the Benzaki Museum near Syntagma Square. Maybe next time.
For more details see the following individual posts or my Travel Diary: