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The Ancient Theater of Delphi (Shutterstock)

Spanning a rugged, history-rich mainland and some 6,000 islands and islets, Greece is one of the world’s oldest and most popular travel destinations. From the Acropolis of capital Athens to the Byzantine ruins of hilltop Mystras, to the Crusader-built citadel of Rhodes, history cracks the surface of almost every town and city. And yet Greece is more than a living museum.

For the millions who travel here every year, its twinkling azure waters and sun-struck islands are irresistible, but there is plenty to experience beyond the busy coast. Whether trekking the hanging monasteries of Meteora and Lousios Gorge, searching for the wild bears of the Pindos mountains or diving into the clan histories and tower houses of the Mani peninsula, there are countless ways to glimpse the sides of Greece that all too often go unseen.  

Key to this is the wave of sustainable and slow travel experiences that have spread across the country in recent years. Zero-waste stays, car-free islands, organic vineyards and new cycling trails have cropped up in corners where you’d least expect. And in places like Chios, where mastic has been harvested for centuries, or the city of Thessaloniki, whose UNESCO-listed gastronomic culture is based on an abundance of local produce, embracing traditional Greek styles of living and eating are offering up new ways to explore an ancient nation.

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When to go to Greece

Greece is a popular destination, and the peak summer months (Jul-Aug) tend to be incredibly busy, especially on the busier islands. This period is best avoided, if only to spare locals and reduce the load on island infrastructures that aren’t geared for mass tourism.

Spring (Mar-Jun) and autumn (Sep-Nov) are far more preferable, and the milder temperatures make exploring Greece’s ancient sites – which typically have little shade – or gorge-cut walking trails much more enjoyable.

Winter is cooler and rainier, though it’s still pretty mild in November. You’ll find far less footfall at the major sites and museums during this period, making it a great time to soak up the culture of the Cradle of Western Civilisation.

International airports

On mainland Greece: Athens airport is around 35km south-east of the capital; in the north, Thessaloniki airport lies about 16km south of the city. On the Greek islands: Heraklion and Chania (both Crete), Rhodes, Corfu, Kos, Santorini, Zakynthos and Mykonos airports all welcome a large number of international flights.

Getting around in Greece

There are limited rail services on mainland Greece, where the main railway lines link Athens’ Larissa station with Thessaloniki in the north or Patras in the west. In Athens, the metro network runs overground as it drips down into Attica. More specialists rail services are found in places like Diakofto in Western Greece, where a magnificent cog-railway transports passengers through Vouraikos Gorge and up to the mountain town of Kalavryta, while the steam train found on the Pelion Peninsula crosses some beautiful landscapes.

The various KTEL bus networks (which are divided regionally) cover far more ground than rail services, including on the islands. Buses are typically comfortable and reliable, though can fill up fast on the major routes in and out of Athens. Sadly, no solitary website covers the entire network, so it can be a bit of a task to work out the various regional connections. More often than not, it’s just easier to hire a car. Driving in Greece is pretty straightforward, though some routes in the mountainous south of the Peloponnese and down in the Mani can be rather dizzying to drive.

Since Greece is scattered across some 6,000 islands and islets, internal flights and ferries are common. By sea, useful ports for the Ionian islands include Patras, Kyllini and Igoumenitsa; Athens’ Pireus, Lavrio and Rafina ports link up the Saronic, Aegean, Cycladic and Dodecanese islands; Thessaloniki connects to the Eastern Aegean islands; and Agios Konstantinos is the gateway to the Sporades islands.

Health & safety

There is little to worry about crime-wise, even in large cities such as Athens, though it’s always wise to be vigilant. Nor are there any special jabs required.

Bear in mind that wildfires have become a regular occurrence during the summer months, particularly on the Peloponnese peninsula and islands such as Rhodes and Corfu. During this period, temperatures can soar well into the high 30sºC, so it’s wise to drink plenty of water, wear high-factor sun protection and cover up; on the islands in particular there is often little shade.