Greece is graced with blue water, warm winds, undersea life, dramatic cliff faces, flourishing forests and ancient walkways – but only recently have visitors looked up from their sunloungers to notice. If you’re a novice kitesurfer or avid cyclist, if you want to hike deep gorges or ski from lofty heights, opportunities abound.

Water Activities

Diving & Snorkelling

Snorkelling can be enjoyed just about anywhere along the coast of Greece and equipment is cheaply available. Especially good spots to don your fins are Monastiri on Paros, Paleokastritsa on Corfu, Xirokambos Bay on Leros and anywhere off the coast of Kastellorizo (Megisti). Many dive schools also use their boats to take groups of snorkellers to prime spots.

Greek law insists that diving be done under the supervision of a diving school in order to protect the many antiquities in the depths of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Until recently dive sites were severely restricted, but many more have been opened and diving schools have flourished. You’ll find schools on the islands of Corfu, Evia, Leros, Milos, Mykonos, Paros, Rhodes, Santorini, Skiathos, Crete, in Glyfada near Athens, and in Parga and Halkidiki in northern Greece.

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI; www.padi.com) has lots of useful information, including a list of all PADI-approved dive centres in Greece.

Windsurfing

Windsurfing is a very popular water sport in Greece. Hrysi Akti on Paros and Vasiliki on Lefkada vie for the position of the best windsurfing beach.

There are numerous other prime locations around the islands and many water-adventure outlets rent equipment. Check out Kalafatis Beach on Mykonos, Agios Georgios on Naxos, Mylopotas Beach on Ios, Cape Prasonisi in southern Rhodes, around Tingaki on Kos and Kokkari on Samos.

You’ll find sailboards for hire almost everywhere. Hire charges range from €15 to €30, depending on the gear and the location. If you are a novice, most places that rent equipment also give lessons. Sailboards can be imported into Greece freely (one per passenger) provided they will be taken out of the country on departure, but always check customs regulations for your country.

Kitesurfing & Surfing

With near-constant wind and ideal conditions, Paros' Pounta beach is a magnet for kitesurfing's top talent, attracting both the Professional Kiteboard Riders Association and the Kiteboard Pro World Tour. With a shallow side, this is also a great place to learn surfing. Mikri Vigla on Naxos is also an excellent spot, with courses off the gorgeous white-sand beach.

Waterskiing

Given the relatively calm and flat waters of most island locations and the generally warm waters of the Mediterranean, waterskiing is a very pleasant activity. August is sometimes a tricky month, when the meltemi (dry northerly wind) can make conditions difficult in the central Aegean. Poros is a particularly well-organised locale, with Passage hosting a popular school and slalom centre.

White-Water Rafting

The popularity of white-water rafting and other river-adventure sports has grown rapidly in recent years as more and more urban Greeks, particularly Athenians, head off in search of a wilderness experience. While spring and autumn are the best times, with high water levels and decent weather, many operators offer trips year-round on the larger rivers.

Athens Extreme Sports (www.athensextremesports.com) offers rafting on several rivers including the Ladonas and Lusios Alfios. Compass Adventures, based in northern Greece, guides rafting excursions from the Zagorohoria village of Aristi down the frothing Voïdomatis River.

Land Activities

Hiking

Much of Greece is mountainous and, in many ways, a hiker's paradise. Popular routes are well walked and maintained; however, the EOS is underfunded and consequently many lesser-known paths are overgrown and inadequately marked. You’ll find EOS branches in Ioannina in Epiros, Litohoro by Mt Olympus, Crete (Greek Mountaineering Association) and Evia (Halkida Alpine Club).

Northern Greece has plenty of rugged hiking terrain, especially around the Zagorohoria in the Pindos Mountains and the hill trails around Prespa Lakes. Beyond the mainland, the Lousios Gorge and the Mani, both in the Peloponnese, are two of the best places in Greece to explore on foot. With the launch of the 75km Menalon Trail (www.menalontrail.eu), hikers can embark on newly certified short walks or even a five-day trek along the Lousios Gorge, Mt Menalon's western slopes and scenic villages galore. Crete's Samaria Gorge is rightly a global favourite, but western Crete boasts many gorges suitable for hikers of different skill levels.

On small islands you will encounter a variety of paths, including kalderimia, which are cobbled or flagstone paths that have linked settlements since Byzantine times. Other paths include monopatia (shepherds' or monks' trails) that link settlements with sheepfolds or link remote settlements via rough unmarked trails. Shepherd or animal trails can be very steep and difficult to navigate.

If you're venturing off the beaten track, a good map is essential. Most tourist maps are inadequate; the best hiking maps for the islands are produced by Anavasi (www.anavasi.gr) and Terrain (www.terrainmaps.gr), both Greece-based companies. Be realistic about your abilities. Always inform your guesthouse or local hiking association of your planned route before setting out.

Spring (April to June) is the best time for hiking; the countryside is green and fresh from the winter rains, and carpeted with wildflowers. Autumn (September to October) is another good time, but July and August, when temperatures rise to around 40°C (104°F), are not much fun. Whatever the season, come equipped with a good pair of walking boots to handle the rough, rocky terrain, a wide-brimmed hat, a water bottle and a high-UV-factor sunscreen.

A number of companies run organised hikes. The biggest is Trekking Hellas (www.trekking.gr), which offers a variety of hikes ranging from a four-hour stroll through the Lousios Valley to a week-long hike around Mt Olympus and Meteora. The company also runs hikes in Crete and the Cyclades. Many of the treks require a minimum number of participants or the price hike is steeper than the trail.

Top Island Hikes

Alonnisos, Sporades

Skill Level

easy

Description

A network of established trails that lead to pristine beaches

Hydra, Saronic Gulf Islands

Skill Level

easy

Description

A vehicle-free island with a well-maintained network of paths to beaches and monasteries

Paxi, Ionian Islands

Skill Level

easy

Description

Paths along ancient olive groves and snaking drystone walls; perfect for escaping the crowds

Samaria Gorge, Crete

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

One of Europe’s most popular hikes with 500m vertical walls, countless wildflowers and endangered wildlife (impassable mid-October to mid-April)

Zakros & Kato Zakros, Crete

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

Passing through the mysterious Valley of the Dead, this trail leads to a remote Minoan palace site

Tragaea, Naxos, Cyclades

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

A broad central plain of olive groves, unspoiled villages and plenty of trails

Sifnos, Cyclades

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

Monasteries, beaches and sprawling views abound on this freshly updated network of trails, covering 200km of island terrain

Tilos, Dodecanese

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

Countless traditional trails along dramatic clifftops and down to isolated beaches; a bird-lover's paradise

Dimosari Gorge, Evia

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

A 10km trek through a spectacular gorge of shady streams and cobbled paths ending at a small bay

Ithaki, Ionian Islands

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

Mythology fans can hike between sites linked to the Trojan War hero Odysseus

Samos, Northeastern Aegean Islands

Skill Level

easy to medium

Description

Explore the quiet interior of this island with its mountain villages and the forested northern slopes of Mt Ambelos

Nisyros, Dodecanese

Skill Level

medium to difficult

Description

A fertile volcanic island with hikes that lead down steep cliffs to reach steaming craters

Steni, Evia

Skill Level

medium to difficult

Description

Day hikes and more serious trekking opportunities up Mt Dirfys, Evia's highest mountain

Cycling

Greece has recently established itself as a cycling destination both for mountain bikers and novices yearning to take a spin on its coastal roads. Bicycles can usually be taken on trains for free, though you may need a ticket. On ferries, mention your bike when booking tickets.

Much of Greece is very remote. Be sure to carry puncture-repair and first-aid kits with you. Motorists are notoriously fast and not always travelling in the expected lane; extra caution on corners and narrow roads is well warranted. In July and August most cyclists break between noon and 4pm to avoid sunstroke and dehydration.

  • Cycle Greece (www.cyclegreece.gr) Runs road- and mountain-bike tours across most of Greece for various skill levels including some sail-and-cycle tours.
  • Hooked on Cycling (www.hookedoncycling.co.uk/greece) Offers boat - and bike - trips through the islands plus tours of the mainland.
  • Bike Greece (www.bikegreece.com) Specialises in mountain biking, with various weeklong tours for beginners and the experienced.

Skiing & Snowboarding

Greece’s main skiing areas are Mt Parnassos (1600m to 2250m), 195km northwest of Athens, and Mt Vermio (1420m to 2005m), 110km west of Thessaloniki. The best action is in the north, with Metsovo, Konitsa or the Zagori villages all possible bases for snow sports around Vasilitsa in the Pindos Mountains.

Resorts are used mainly by Greeks and can be a pleasant alternative to western Europe’s expensive resorts. If you want to combine city and snow, ski Vigla-Pisoderi as a day trip from Florina or head to Mt Vermio from Veria.

The season depends on snow conditions but runs approximately from January to the end of April. Get information from the Hellenic Skiing Federation (www.eox.gr) and check conditions and ski centres at Snow Report (www.snowreport.gr).