As its mythical Sirens were reputed to do, Greece has long lured travelers to its scintillating shores.

Across an expansive island archipelago, traditional whitewashed villages, azure seas and waterfront tavernas enchant visitors. Greece’s mountainous mainland, rich in UNESCO World Heritage–listed ancient sites, treasure-filled museums and spirited cities, is no less fascinating. As you contemplate your dream Greece itinerary, consider these 10 favorite places to add to it.

The Caryatids of the Parthenon at sunset, the Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Athens teems with ancient monuments – and with urban life © Luca Tonelli / Shutterstock

1. Athens

Wherever you walk in Greece’s storied capital, the ancients have walked before – whether you see the evidence or not. From the Acropolis (whose jewel in the crown is the fifth-century BCE Parthenon) to the underground metro (where some stations feature archaic finds), Athens is teeming with historical sites, monuments and museums. A combo card affords entry to the Acropolis and six more sites; the Acropolis Museum is also a must-see.

Easy to tackle on foot, Athens is also one of Europe’s liveliest metropolises – and strolls through neighborhoods like old-town Plaka, flea market–famous Monastiraki and hip Pangrati are highlights. By night, catch a live band in gritty Gazi, catch a movie at an outdoor cinema in Thission or go bar-hopping off the main commercial street Ermou.

Local tip: Book tickets online for a reinvented Greek tragedy or dance troupe performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus amphitheater as part of the Epidaurus Festival, which takes place each summer.

Stunning photograph of a young woman diving in the deep and crystalline waters of the Cyclades islands, Milos,
Milos is as beautiful under the water as it is above the surface © Breva Colmeiro / Getty Images

2. Milos

A collection of over 70 beaches, sea caves hidden beneath limestone cliffs and technicolor traditional boat houses are just some of the reasons why mineral-rich Milos has won the hearts of many travelers. Evidence of its volcanic origins can be seen in the almost lunar landscape of Sarakiniko, where the more daring dive into a jade-colored Aegean. Arrive early at Gerondas beach to nab the generous shade of caves and enjoy floating silently in still waters.

Planning tip: Save a couple of days to spend on Kimolos, a small island northeast of Milos reachable by ferry. One of its most impressive beaches is Prassa, where coarse, blindingly white sand shows off shallow, aquamarine waters to full effect.

The medieval old town of Rhodes, Dodecanese, Greece
The restored buildings of Rhodes Town will transport you to the Middle Ages © Franz Marc Frei / Getty Images

3. Rhodes

Rhodes has long been the Dodecanese’s biggest draw thanks to its atmospheric UNESCO World Heritage–listed medieval old town. Transformed in the Middle Ages by the Knights of the Order of St John into a formidable fortified city, it fell to the Ottomans, who erected mosques, baths and houses, many of which have been restored. Youngsters might envision armored men on horseback thundering down the cobblestoned Street of the Knights.

Make sure you visit the Palace of the Grand Master, which features stunning Roman and Early Christian floor mosaics, and the Church of Our Lady of the Castle.

Planning tip: Book a state-licensed tour guide to show you around the old town for a full picture of its long and fascinating history.

A couple walks among the iconic white buildings of Oia, Santorini, Cyclades, Greece
Santorini is the Greece you’ll see on postcards – and it’s a dream for couples © Amriphoto / Getty Images

4. Santorini

Whether you’re coupled up or not, it’s hard not to fall for Santorini’s charms. Whitewashed and pastel-hued, cube-shaped homes cling to steep cliffsides above a cobalt Aegean and the island’s famed caldera, formed by volcanic eruptions over millennia.

Weave your way through the narrow alleyways of the postcard-perfect village of Oia amid blue-domed churches. Bathe in thermal springs warmed by an active volcano, splay out on black-sand beaches and don’t miss the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri, which features an advanced drainage system.

Planning tip: Book a private tour of Santorini’s smaller wine estates, whose new generation of vintners is breathing new life into traditional wines like mezzo and Nychteri.

Path to the Hermits Cave, near Monastery of Agia Paraskevi, Monodendri, Vikos Gorge, Greece
Mountainous Epiros feels a world away from the rest of Greece © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

5. Epiros

In Greece’s west lies Epiros, a remote region of soaring mountain peaks, fast-flowing rivers and hidden rock canyons. Hike to the alpine heights of Mt Tymfi’s Dragon Lake, which freezes over in winter, or traverse the thick forests, inclines and descents of spectacular Vikos Gorge. Whitewater rafting thrills and spills await in the Voidomatis or Arachthos rivers, while canyoning enthusiasts can choose from routes of varying difficulty.

View Of a windmill at the top of the whitewashed Hora Village in Serifos, Cyclades, Greece
Serene Serifos can show you a different side of Greece © Freeartist/Getty Images

6. Kythnos and Serifos

If peaceful sandy shores, unassuming waterfront tavernas and sleepy villages are more your style, the low-key West Cyclades isles of Kythnos and Serifos are worth a stop. Kythnos has deep, sheltered bays and tamarisk-dotted silver-sand beaches, among them Lefkes and Naousa.

Wallet-friendly tavernas line the laid-back fishing settlements of Loutro and Meriha, while wind-whipped Serifos, a two-hour ferry ride from Piraeus, features sweeping sandy beaches, sheltered bays, ghostly mining relics and a jewel-like hilltop capital whose neoclassical town hall stands sentinel over the buzzy main square.

Inside Kapani, one of the largest and most popular markets of Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece
Anyone who loves food will love Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city © Heracles Kritikos / Shutterstock

7. Thessaloniki

At the crossroads of East and West, where the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans have held sway over the centuries, Thessaloniki tempts serious foodies. Bougatsa, a phyllo pastry pie usually filled with semolina custard, spinach or mince meat, makes for a hearty breakfast. Pick up olives and spices at the olfactory-awakening open-air markets and Pontic cheeses from indoor food hub Modiano, which dates back to 1922. In the former oil merchant district of Ladadika, mezedopolia serve dishes revealing strong Anatolian and Middle Eastern influences, customarily with the fiery clear spirit tsipouro.

Planning tip: Thessaloniki is also renowned for its fish and seafood, served with fervor and pride whether it’s a backstreet taverna or an upscale restaurant. Bookings are recommended for the latter.

Amazing beach of Votsi in Alonnisos island, Greece
Corfu is one of the best places to sail in Greece © Shutterstock / Georgios Tsichlis

8. Corfu

Tranquil, turquoise seas, fir-studded hillsides and a regal capital make Corfu one of the most beautiful parts of the country to go sailing. The Ionian isle is the ideal starting point for novices who can take a sailing course and gain certification.

Afterward, join a flotilla for a leisurely cruise around Corfu, dropping anchor at Kalami Bay (of The Durrells fame) and lush Paleokastritsa. In Corfu Town, admire Venetian fortresses, the French-designed Liston Arcade and The Palace of St Michael and St George, built during the island’s British administration.

Planning tip: Few venture to Erikousa island, northwest of Corfu, which is blessed with pristine beaches and shallow cerulean seas.

Venetian harbour of the Pittoresk Cretan town with colorful old houses and loads of people
Crete, Greece’s largest island, brims with culture © Shutterstock / Tom Jastram

9. Crete

Greece’s largest island, Crete abounds in historical sites, well-preserved monuments and modern museums. A wander through the Minoan-era palaces of Knossos, Malia, Phaestos and Kato Zakros won’t disappoint any fan of classical culture.

Stroll along the Venetian Harbour in Hania, lined with Ottoman monuments such as the Kioutsouk Hasan Mosque. Trek up to Byzantine and Venetian fortresses such as the Fortezza in Rethymno and Kastelli in Hania. In the east, the 16th-century Venetian fortress on Spinalonga islet reveals a harrowing, more recent past as a leper colony.

Among noteworthy museums are the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Chania’s Maritime Museum of Crete, and the Museum of Ancient Eleutherna in Rethymno.

Homosexual couple watching the sunset at Mykonos
In addition to world-famous parties, Mykonos has stunning beaches © da-kuk / Getty Images

10. Mykonos

In the 1960s and 70s, Mykonos hosted roving hippies, celebrities and moneyed jet-setters who flirted and danced till the sun came up. While new five-star hotels and swanky brand-name restaurants may have altered the landscape and driven up prices, the fabled Cycladic isle still reigns supreme when it comes to summer nightlife in the Mediterranean.

Revelers can choose from the thumping bars lining Little Venice in Hora, as well as beach bars, cabaret restaurants and iconic clubs like seaside Cavo Paradiso, where illustrious music DJs fire up the crowd.

Planning tip: August is Mykonos’ busiest month. It’s also when you can witness the hottest DJs and surprise appearances by music artists, including prominent hip-hop names.

This article was first published Jul 5, 2021 and updated Mar 4, 2024.

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