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Greece boasts thousands of miles of sandy and rocky coasts, hundreds of islands, and crystal clear waters in every conceivable shade of blue. Combined with the robust and millennia-old culture that soaks every part of the country, it's not hard to see why it has remained a popular destination for relaxing vacations.

However, a wider crowd of visitors have come to discover that Greece offers an abundance of recreational activities, adventures, and thrill-seeking pursuits that go beyond the time-honored "sea, sun, culture" holiday scheme.

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The stone pillars and historic monasteries at Meteora can be explored via a series of hiking paths. ©Curtis Watson/Shutterstock

Hiking in Meteora

Meteora is one of the most breathtaking locations on the Greek mainland. Centuries-old windswept Byzantine monasteries virtually hang from the cliffs of towering stone pinnacles. The UNESCO-protected monument is worth at least a few days of anyone's stay in Greece.

The sightseeing might be surreal, but there are many opportunities for an action-packed adventure. Hike the narrow paths and steps carved into the ancient rocks and climb through prolific greenery to one of the abandoned or existing religious communities or an awe-inspiring view of the plain of Thessaly.   

The wider area offers rafting, canoeing, and cycling (local companies can outfit adventurers of any experience level.) Visitors can also stop by the workshops of local artists specializing in Byzantine icon painting to round out a visit that's just as spiritual as it is adrenaline-pumping.

Diving in Santorini 

Santorini is world-famous for its magnificent Caldera, vibrant nightlife, and "postcard" sunsets. The star of many of its most famous viewpoints is the Aegean, which surrounds the island with uninterrupted views of cobalt-blue water.

The Aegean’s depths offer an equal, if not superior, view. Scuba divers can admire an underwater landscape configured by centuries of volcanic activity. The underwater paradise features caves, reefs, shipwrecks, and spectacular marine life. 

Scuba diving and snorkeling outfitters offer expeditions for beginners as well as pros. Many provide training sessions for novices and will rent out all the necessary gear for an unforgettable adventure.

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The Cyclades, which lie in the stunningly blue Aegean Sea, are a popular destination for snorkeling and diving. ©Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

 Marathon running in Athens

Pheidippides was the ancient courier who, according to legend, ran the 26.2-mile distance from Marathon to Athens, announcing the victorious outcome of the battle of Marathon against the Persians with his last breath. The story inspired the modern race that is held regularly around the globe. It's no surprise that many long-distance runners dream of participating in the Athenian Marathon, held on the original route.

As a bonus for the participants, the race concludes in the magnificent Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games, which were held in Athens in 1896. The Authentic Marathon, as it is called, is held every November and attracts thousands of runners from dozens of countries. The uneven terrain makes it one of the toughest, but memorable most races in the world.

Wind and water sports in the Cyclades

The Cycladic islands are studded with windmills, remnants of an era when the wind was the primary energy source. While wind power is no longer as widely used as it was, the Aegean northern wind (meltemi) is still an inextricable part of life on the islands. This wind and the currents of the Aegean sea create a perfect environment for every conceivable water sport.

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The wind, waves, and coastline of Rhodes make it an ideal destination for windsurfing. ©P Merakos/Greek NTO

Almost every beach on every Cycladic island offers the usual family fun activities such as tubes, canoes, and banana boat rides. The more adventurous types can enjoy water-skiing, windsurfing, and jet-skiing. Serious adrenaline-seekers can even kitesurf or paraglide. No matter the activity, it's not hard to find reasonably-priced excursions and instructors who can help the less experienced. 

Beaches like Mikri Vigla and Aghios Georgios in Naxos and Golden Beach and Santa Maria in Paros offer world-class windsurfing. It's fun to watch, even if you're not a windsurfer yourself. 

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Sailboats often cruise near the famous caves of Kleftiko in Greece's Cyclades islands. ©Lana Moon/Shutterstock

These windy conditions also make sailing the Aegean Sea an unrivaled summer adventure. Fledgling sailors can still enjoy the waves safely by hiring a professional crew when renting a boat.

Climbing in Kalymnos

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The mountainous terrain on the island of Kalymnos makes for incredible rock climbing, with more than 3000 established climbing routes. ©Photobac/Shutterstock

Kalymnos attracts climbers from every corner of the world, and with good reason: the mountainous Dodecanese island boasts dozens of excellent climbing sites. Visitors can find effortless but rewarding slopes for beginners and steep and challenging cliffs for skilled climbers in search of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The limestone rock faces contrast with the limitless blue of the horizon, making up a dreamy backdrop for climbing.

And after a long day of climbing, it's nice to enjoy the quiet beaches, delicious local cuisine, and welcoming locals in this unspoiled corner of the Aegean. Visitors feeling inspired to take to the water can take advantage of the diving scene in Kalymnos as well. The island’s long tradition of sponge-diving makes it the ultimate scuba paradise.

Buy Greece

Lonely Planet’s Greece is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore the elegant Acropolis, climb to witness the magnificent Meteora, and tour the venerable landmarks and vibrant culture of Athens; all with your trusted travel companion. 

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