Dreaming of a Mediterranean vacation but unsure whether to choose Greece or Italy? Well, you’ve come to the right place…We’ve put together a comparison of these two beautiful countries, discussing what’s on offer in each to help you choose which one is right for you this year.
There are plenty of reasons to visit both. They’re both wonderful destinations that are known for their warm climates, beautiful landscapes, pristine beaches, delicious food, incredible history – we could go on and on! But there are also key differences here that mean each place caters to a slightly different type of traveler.
That’s where this guide comes in. It will focus on the main things that set each place apart. From the history and the art that’s on offer to culture vultures to the wild natural reaches of each place and the shimmering beaches, it will run through the whole shebang to help you decide where you’ll be going in Europe this year…
Table of Contents
Greece or Italy: History and art
There is no doubt that history lovers will be in their element in either of these two destinations. Greece, considered the very birthplace of western civilization, is filled with the remnants of ancient temples, monuments, and arenas, all with names straight out of mythology. Where else can you climb Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, run on the first-ever Olympic track, visit the birthplace of Aphrodite, or the home of Odysseus? Plus, it’s got one of the most recognizable historic sites in the world: The Athenian Acropolis and Parthenon.
There are not many countries as steeped in history as Greece, but Italy is one of them. Italy leads the world for the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites with a whopping 58 up its sleeve. They include the entire historic center of Rome, with its Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi fountain, and the Sistine Chapel. Then there’s Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. There’s Pompeii, where you can get a glimpse of ancient Roman life, and Milan where you can view one of the world’s most famous paintings, da Vinci’s Last Supper. It’s almost endless!
Winner: It’s got to be a draw – Greece and Italy are two the most historic places in the world!
Greece or Italy: Islands and beaches
Greece’s beautiful islands, scattered across the Aegean and Ionian seas, are one of the main reasons that tourists flock to this country by their millions every year. The collection of just over 6,000 islands is home to some of Europe’s best beaches, some of the continent’s most pristine waters, and its most beautiful holiday destinations. Yep, there’s an island to suit virtually every taste, from the glamour of Mykonos to the buzz of Zakynthos, historical Crete to laid-back Lipsi. But why pick just one? Island hopping tours can take you to five, 10, 20, in one single swoop!
While Italy’s islands might not be as well known, they are still pretty special. Sardinia is a beach lover’s paradise, while Capri is an education in glamour, and Sicily offers volcanic landscapes, ancient ruins, great food, and modern artistic flair. Or how about visiting Italy’s most southern island, Lampedusa, with its otherworldly beautiful beach Spiaggia Dei Conigli? Back on the mainland, you might have to hunt for the beaches amidst the rugged stretches of cliff-lined coastline. But, between the northern shores of Portofino, Adriatic Rimini, the breathtaking Amalfi Coast, and Tropea down on the “toe,” you’ll undoubtedly find a stunning beach to suit you in Italy.
Winner: Greece. The islands and the beaches are legendary.
Greece or Italy: Natural wonders
It’s not all about the beaches. Both of these destinations have incredible natural landscapes that are well worth exploring. Why not take a rowing boat through Melissani, ‘the Cave of the Nymphs’, in Greece? Head to Lemnos to explore the Gomati Desert, or hike the Stone Forest in northern Epirus. Up north, there’s the strange karst rock formations of Meteora, which look like something out of Avatar with mystical temples on their tops. Talking of mountaintops, check out the soaring summits of Olympus (2,900 meters up, you know?) or the Lefka Ori of Crete, with its gorges and summits above the Libyan Sea.
Then comes Italy. Here, you can hike or ski the jagged peaks of the Dolomites. They’re considered some of the most stunning mountains in the world – yep, the whole world! You can take a tour of Italy’s spectacular lakes, from romantic Como to grand Garda to beautiful Orta and serene Maggiore. You can soak in the geothermally heated pools of Cascate del Mulino, explore the magical Blue Grotto of Capri, and climb the tiered limestone cliffs of Sicily. And of course, visit Europe’s most active volcano, the constantly smoking Mount Etna.
Winner: For the sheer drama of the Dolomites, Mount Etna, and the Lakes, we’re giving this one to Italy.
Greece or Italy: Towns and cities
There is no shortage of beautiful cities in Italy. Naturally, you’d start with Rome. The capital is packed with ancient wonders like the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, but also buzzes with life on the Piazza del Popolo and beyond. Then comes artistic Florence, with its Renaissance frescoes, enchanting Venice, with its waterways and lagoon, and modern Milan, the epicenter of all things fashion and shopping. Down south is gritty Naples, known for its chaotic attitude and surprising beauty. There are smaller spots, too, like Siena, nestled amidst the beautiful Tuscan countryside, or fair Verona of Shakespearean fame.
While it’s true that most people visit Greece to go island hopping rather than city hopping, the country isn’t without its urban charms. Athens is the oldest capital city in Europe, home to some of the most recognizable historical sights in the world, a cosmopolitan shopping, art, and restaurant scene, and some thriving nightlife. Thessaloniki is a little quieter than Athens, but it has its own impressive history, as evidenced by the Byzantine Castle overlooking the city. You’ll also find plenty of excellent restaurants and a vibrant, youthful party scene there. We also should mention UNESCO-tagged Rhodes Town and lovely Chania, where you can get lost in an old Venetian neighborhood by the sea.
Winner: Italy’s cities are more plentiful, more beautiful, and filled with bucket-list experiences like seeing Juliet’s balcony, the Colosseum, or taking a gondola ride. It’s a win for Italy.
Greece or Italy: Nightlife
The nightlife in Italy is all about enjoying aperitivo. Those are early evening cocktails that come before a long dinner. Then it’s cue the fantastic nightlife hubs in all the cities. Milan has perhaps the most modern scene, while Rome is known for its live music, and Naples is always lively with al fresco bars. Or head to the Versilia area of the Tuscan coast for some of the best beach parties in Italy. Rimini, on the East Coast, is known for its festivals. The the Riviera Romagnola there draws young people from all over Europe every summer to party till dawn along the endless stretch of bars and clubs.
Greece has long been known as one of the biggest party spots in Europe. Mykonos is arguably the most famous island for nightlife (sorry, Ibiza!), and it prides itself on its cool clubs and chichi vibe. For something less exclusive, try the party strips of Kavos in Corfu, Faliraki in Rhodes, or Laganas in Zakynthos. Skiathos and Kos also know how to have a good time. If you want to party city-style, head to Athens, where you’ll find cool cocktail lounges, glamorous bars, hipster hangouts, LGBTQ+ venues, and super clubs alike.
Winner: While Italy’s nightlife is undoubtedly very cool, it’s geared more towards locals than tourists. Greece’s nightlife is more inclusive and accessible, so we’re giving them this one.
Greece or Italy: Food and drink
The beauty of Greek food is in its simplicity. Yep, the ethos of this southerly Mediterranean cuisine is to take the freshest ingredients and do very little to them. For example, a Greek salad is a straightforward yet delicious mix of vine-ripened tomatoes, salty feta, and drizzles of the local olive oil. Bliss!
We’re also big fans of lightly grilled fresh seafood, vine leaves stuffed with fragrant lemon rice, courgette and feta fritters, and souvlaki skewers of perfectly cooked meat. For heartier fare, try the ultimate Greek dish: Moussaka. That involves oven-baked layers of spiced meat, and eggplant in a creamy béchamel sauce. You can finish it off with a tipple of Ouzo, an aniseed-flavored spirit drunk with a dash of water and a cry of Yamas!
Italy has a global reputation for culinary excellence and you’ll find a lot more diversity between regions than in Greece. Each area has a traditional dish or signature way of preparing it, and a tour around the country is a chance to sample many different delicacies.
In Tuscany, try bistecca Fiorentina (steak of Florence) or fresh ravioli stuffed with ricotta. In Naples, the birthplace of pizza, sample the most delicious margherita of your life (check out Sorbillo for one of our favs). Be sure to try the fried sardines and squid-ink risotto in Venice, eat pesto pasta in its birthplace of Genoa, and enjoy exquisite cream-filled cannoli in Sicily. And, this being Italy, pair your meal with excellent local wines, finish up with a tiny, potent espresso, and then – if you have room – go in search of gelato!
Winner: Although we’d happily eat Greek food for the rest of our lives, we’re giving this one to Italy for variety.
Greece or Italy: Budget
One of the best things about both of these countries is that they cater to all budgets. There is enough variety of destinations and accommodations in both Italy and Greece to let you find package holidays, budget breaks, and luxury escapes to suit all tastes.
Italy is perhaps a little more expensive than Greece, especially if you want a city break. That’s because Rome, Venice, and Milan all come with a higher price tag than Athens or Thessaloniki. And places like Capri, Portofino, Lake Como, and the beautiful Cinque Terre are renowned for being high-end destinations that are filled with jet setters. For a more affordable break, try Marche, Naples, Sicily, or Apulia.
Similarly, in Greece, you can opt for exclusivity and luxury with a trip to Santorini or Mykonos if you like. However, there are loads of budget options to balance those out. You could try south-coast Crete, the less-trodden parts of Zakynthos, Corfu later on in the season, or even the remote towns and villages of the Peloponnese.
Winner: You can holiday in either spot on a big or small budget, but since Greece is marginally cheaper, it wins this one.
Greece or Italy: Getting there
There’s good news for anyone looking to get to either Greece or Italy. These two sun-kissed Mediterranean countries are among the best connected in all of Europe. That’s almost solely down to the fact that they are such popular holidaying destinations. Let’s break it down a little more:
Greece has just one major air hub: Athens. It’s the biggest airport in the country and virtually the only place that handles long-haul flight links. However, there are also countless smaller airports on the various islands and in other towns across mainland Greece. They do tend to have a much more seasonal array of flights, though, meaning most connections run between May and September and then stop for the season. That said, it’s also easy to get to Greece by ferry, as there are international links from Italy (across the Adriatic Sea) and from Turkey (from Bodrum and Maramaris).
Italy has several big airports. Rome alone has two major hubs, while Milan boasts three! And that’s not even mentioning Pisa, the gateway to Tuscany or the arrival points of Naples and Palermo in the south. Basically, there are loads of flight options, and many run all throughout the year to cater to sun seekers and skiers alike. On top of that, you can reach Italy on high-speed train links from Paris and on overnight trains from Germany, along with international bus connections from all across Central Europe.
Winner: Italy – more airport, better coach and train links to the rest of Europe.
Greece or Italy: Top things to do
Greece has made a name for itself as one of Europe’s top R&R destinations. There are shimmering beaches, idyllic coves, and oodles of villas and hotels by the Aegean Sea that can help crank up the relaxation factor. It’s also one of the world’s premier sailing locations, and anyone with a skipper qualification should seriously look at a yacht charter to explore the islands – it’s a bucket-list activity for sure. History tours of sites like Delphi and Epidaurus also come close to the top of the list in Greece, along with island hopping the trodden Cyclades isles routes between Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, and others.
Italy’s a bit more varied than that. The north is different to the south when it comes to activities. In the Dolomites and the Aosta Alps, you can hike in summer, bike in autumn, and ski in the winter months. Going south brings you to Tuscany, the home of wine tasting and culinary trips. Further south again means you hit the sunnier climbs of Sicily and Campania, which host beach resorts a bit like the sort you get in Greece. There are also cultural and romantic adventures to be had here, especially on city breaks to Florence, Rome, Venice, and Milan.
Greece or Italy: Conclusion
It’s a 6-4 ending in favor of Italy, folks! But it’s a really close call on some of those and hopefully, you can see from this that there is no bad choice when it comes to Greece versus Italy. The decision really comes down to personal choice. Both destinations are capable of giving you a dream vacation, but if you’re an urban explorer or an art lover, if you want to hike dramatic mountains and tour the lakes, if you want to check off those bucket-list experiences that only Rome and Venice can provide, it had better be Italy. However, if your priority is island hopping, sailing from one pristine beach to the next, partying till dawn, or immersing yourself in ancient mythology, then it’s got to be Greece!