It’s not easy to distil the best holiday destinations in Greece down to under 10 locations. This is the home of the majestic Parthenon, the great Crusader castles of Rhodes, the white-blush beaches of Kos, and the incredible history of Corinth and Olympia. On top of that, the country encompasses a whopping 6,000 islands and goes through four different seas, all while managing mountains of nearly 3,000 meters high!
Some places in Greece have risen to become super popular vacation hotspots, drawing millions of people every year with the promise of sun, sea, and some of the best cuisine in Europe. Other parts of the country remain pleasantly off the beaten track, beckoning with rustic homestays and highland vistas and coves where no one else has left their footprints.
This guide will try to offer a mix of both the popular and the unknown. It will range from the Ionian Islands out west to the cusp of the Turkish Riviera, the Libyan Sea to the serrated summits of the Olympus massif, all in search of the best holiday destinations in Greece for 2022…
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Ithaca is the famous destination that the legendary Odysseus was trying to return to after the end of the Trojan War. It’s easy to see why he was so desperate to get home. Hidden away in a strait between much-larger Kefalonia and the Greek mainland, it’s a jewel of an isle that’s fringed by bijou coves of blinding-white pebbles.
At around just 13 miles from tip to toe, you can almost walk the whole of Ithaca. In fact, it’s all virtually carless because there’s nowhere to drive apart from on and off the ferry. The main town is Vathy, which you’ll find tucked deep into a natural harbor with high coast hills rising above. It hosts a few yacht berths and a good naval museum, but we prefer strolling north to find the small cove of Loutsa, where you can dip in the Ionian before a long Greek dinner.
When morning comes, be sure to rise early and hit the historic donkey paths. They crisscross the backcountry of Ithaca to link up spectacular beaches like Sarakiniko and Paralia Piso Aetos, where it will often be just you, a small taverna, the swaying olive trees, and a few venerable fishing skiffs.
Mention the jet-setter destinations of the Med and there’s a chance that Hydra will be with them. Yep, this one’s drawn artists and celebs over the decades, and even played host to the legendary Leonard Cohen for some time. It still has those vibes – upscale cocktail bars dot the cliffs and the hotels are noticeably chic. So, it’s one of the best holiday destinations in Greece if you’re looking to be pampered.
Hydra actually sits at the join between the Saronic Gulf and the Aegean Sea. That means it’s accessible after just two hours on the boat from Athens. Sadly, that does crank up the crowds in the summer, which is why we’d recommend a late-season jaunt in September and October.
Thanks to its rugged, rocky geology and treeless interior, Hydra is known for its crystal-clear waters. It’s among the top scuba spots in Greece, with visibility that can crank up to 30m or more. Also be sure to pack the hiking boots, because there’s a gorgeous coast walk past the windmills on the north shore, along with a challenging ascent up Mount Eros to see a mystical Orthodox monastery in the hills.
No list of the best holiday destinations in Greece could possibly be complete without at least a mention of Athens. Welcome to one of the most iconic capitals in Europe, where the symbolic Parthenon looms on the Acropolis hill and the Agora where democracy itself was born sprawls out below.
Culture vultures won’t be disappointed. The acclaimed Acropolis Museum now offers an insight into the great UNESCO treasures at the town’s heart. There’s the uber-prestigious National Archaeological Museum, where relics of Mycenean and Minoan and classical civilizations abound. Oh, and there’s the Plaka area, which sprouts Roman ruins next to Orthodox domes.
Athens is also a gritty, lived-in town. You can head to areas like Koukaki to join the Greek hipster crowd in roaster coffee joints. Or, you can drift across to Exarcheia, where the streets host regular protests and the walls are scrawled with murals and there are squat bars playing anarchist rock (just be careful if you do that!).
One fantastic thing about Athens is that it’s easy to combine a trip here with a number of the other best holiday destinations in Greece on this list. Just hop on the metro to Piraeus port and there are ferries to Poros, Hydra, Milos, Crete – you name it!
Mykonos is a regular on lists of the top islands to visit in Greece. It’s been entertaining jet setters, A-listers, and good-time seekers for decades now. So, it’s pretty darn good at offering that cocktail of things that many a traveler looks for from this part of the Med: Sun, sand, sea, good nights out and long days on the shoreline.
Most of the action revolves around the western coast of Mykonos. That’s where you find Mykonos Town. It’s capped off by a series of pretty Venetian windmills that have stood there for centuries, and has the wonderful gastronomy district of Little Venice, where you can sip ouzo as the waves lap close to your feet.
There are some beaches on Mykonos that really hit the headlines. They include Paradise Beach (known for its bumping clubs and nightlife) and Psarrou (the main celeb locale, with its elegant spa hotels and restaurants). Sometimes, though, we prefer ditching the crowds and going east to the end of the island, where lesser-known bays like Kalafati converge on grottoes and forested coast hills.
You can land in Athens International, jump on the metro, change to a ferry and be in Poros within a single morning. That’s how close this island is to the buzzing capital of Greece. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Poros is washed by the azure waters of the Saronic Gulf and crumpled by mountains topped by pine woods.
There’s a single town where the ferries and the yachters dock up. They bring a real buzz to the quays in the summer, packing out Poros’s cocktail joints and pubs. You can join them or escape along the southwest coast of the island. Going by bike is best – it’s 20 minutes’ cycling to gorgeous Love Bay, a charming cove with a small Greek chapel, and 30 minutes’ cycling to the bays around Faros lighthouse, which are usually secluded and empty.
Poros is also linked to the mainland town of Galatas by regular foot ferry. They take about five minutes to cross the straight and cost just €1 per person. Hop aboard to explore a more lived-in, local part of Greece, where the cafés hum with chatter. There’s also a wonderful eco-community stay in Galatas, complete with its own plunge pool and spectacular sunset views.
Ah, Crete! The largest isle in the country also soars up there with best holiday destinations in Greece. How could it not? There are enough locations here to get the jaw dropping for weeks on end, whether that’s the pink-tinged isle of Elafonisi on the south coast or the turquoise dashes of water that flow into the Balos Lagoon up north.
Crete also brings craggy mountains into the mix for the hikers. The Lefka Ori, or White Mountains, are a wonderland of old donkey trails where you can step up to over 2,400 meters above sea level at the summit of Mount Ida. Below, the carved Samaria Gorge (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, mind you!) beckons with steep-sided canyon walks and resident mountain goats.
Beaches and peaks aside, Crete mainly promises to be a perennial fav because of just how versatile it is. Want history? Cruise over to Knossos to see the old Minoan Palaces. Keen on nightlife? Check out Malia’s buzzy strips. Family holidays? Go to Chania for hotels by the north-coast beaches. Oh, and Crete is accessible, as it comes with a duo of airports and loads of ferry links across the Aegean Sea.
Anyone looking to reconnect with their spiritual side whilst also delving into the rich history of ancient Greece should consider adding Delphi to their holiday itinerary this year. It’s not your usual vacay spot, since there aren’t really many beaches or hotel resorts. What it can offer is access to one of the most iconic archaeological sites outside of Athens.
Yep, the complex at Delphi was once one of the most important religious sites in the world. It hosted the Pythia, a revered priestess who would breathe the volcanic fumes of the mountain and give advice to the elders of the various Greek city states. You can still see the remains of the mighty Temple of Apollo where the oracles resided, along with loads, loads more.
Delphi is located on a high plinth in the mountains of the Greek mainland. It’s not a place on the normal tourist trail, but it does open up some amazing parts of the country, from the soaring summits of the western Peloponnese to the glistening waters of the Gulf of Corinth (is it us, or is the water there bluer than in the Aegean?)
Corfu has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s a stunning place. Even the ancient inhabitants of Greece considered it one of the best-looking islands in the country. Then it became a muse to poets and artists, who waxed lyrical about its lush interiors and high mountains, butterfly-filled valleys and idyllic coastline of coves and crevices.
The reputation has given Corfu a boost in the tourism world. It’s now one of Greece’s most-visited islands. There are fully equipped resorts like Benitses and Mesongi on the east coast that offer family hotels and pebble shores that are great for swimming. There’s also Kavos, a pumping 18-30s party hub that hardly sleeps between May and August.
Thankfully, Corfu is large enough to absorb the crowds and still offer some truly off-radar attractions. In the west, there’s Palaiokastritsa, a series of glinting pebble beaches set in a dramatic cleft in the coast under an old monastery. Inland, you can venture to villages like Klimatia and Nymfes, where tavernas are still run by the same family they were 100 years ago, and workshops sell handicrafts that put the souvenir touts to shame.
The Deep Mani
The Deep Mani is one of the least-trodden corners of the great trident-shaped mass of the Peloponnese. It’s located on the bottom half of the Mani Peninsula, which extends into the Aegean in a symphony of limestone mountains and windblown capes.
You come here to get forgotten villages that crown dusty hillsides. You come to find sleepy fishing towns with boat-filled harbors. It all begins at Areopoli, where the road narrows and starts to wiggle south past coast caves at Diros and the mystical Panagia Faneromeni Monastery.
The pinnacle of the headland is where the true gems lie. Pint-sized settlements of crooked cottages await in Porto Kagio and Gerolimenas. They are for the people who want vacations of long Greek lunches and quiet days on the shingle coves all to themselves, far away from the baying crowds who flock to Santorini, Crete and others.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Anafi before. Here’s a classic case of somewhere stealing the limelight. Just look at where the island is located – it’s a whisker to the east of Santorini. That’s arguably the most famous place in the country, drawing millions (yep, millions!) of people every year. But we think Anafi deserves a spot with the best holiday destinations in Greece because it manages a little of Santorini’s drama, only without the crowds.
Rock-ribbed cliffs drop suddenly to a wavy sea at the bay of Paralia Roukounas in the south. Livoskopos Beach in the north has beige sands that are super hard to access and almost always 100% empty. There are also long-lost shrines like the church of Saint George that you’ll encounter on the backcountry trails, looking like they haven’t been touched for centuries. It’s wonderful
Getting here will probably require a ferry connection from Santorini. They run regularly in the main season (May to September) but can slow (and often be canceled) in the fall and winter months. Also be sure to book your accommodation on Anafi well in advance. There’s not much here and it can sell up fast.
Winter and shoulder-season trips to Syros will reveal a place that doesn’t sleep when the tourist hordes go home. Nope, this is the lived-in capital of the whole Cyclades chain.
It’s crowned by the Technicolor city of Ermoupoli, a town that was founded during the tumultuous years of the Greek Revolution to host refugees from other islands. Today, it’s the pretty much the only city proper in the region, where you can seek out an amazing archaeological museum and the teal dome of fantastic Agios Nicholaos Church.
Outside of the urban hub, Syros gets rustic, quickly. Its shores are rocky and beset by tiny coves. You’ll often have them totally to yourself for those morning dips and the water reveals reefs bristling with urchins and small fish.
The north is distinctly mountainous, with crumpled hills that rise to windmill-topped summits where lonely villas enjoy fantastic views. There are a couple of off-radar archaeological sites there, along with the forgotten beaches of the Ano Meria park.