The Grand Tour
- 2 Weeks
First trip to Greece? Here's a mixed bag of the country's top sights, most beautiful beaches, cultural highs, contemporary cities and laid-back island life.
Begin in Athens, visiting grand ancient sites and museums. Dive into the markets, contemporary-art scene and award-winning restaurants. Catch a ferry to chic Mykonos, with its fashionable bars and crowd-pleasing beaches. Day-trip to the sacred island of Delos for its fascinating ancient ruins. Hop a ferry to spectacular Santorini to watch the sun sink from the dramatic cliffs of its volcanic caldera.
Depending on your time, take a ferry or a flight to Iraklio, Crete's vibrant capital. Explore the nearby magnificent Minoan ruins of Knossos. Catch the bus to Hania with its charming harbour and labyrinth of backstreets, then discover the island's wild side on a trek through the famous Samaria Gorge, which spills out on to a beach lapped by the crystal-clear Libyan Sea.
Return to Iraklio and hop a flight to cultured Thessaloniki to lose yourself in Ottoman-style architecture, Turkish sweets and a vibrant arts scene. Scale the slopes of Mt Olympus (2918m), Greece's highest peak, then visit the monasteries of Meteora, perched high on narrow pinnacles of rock. Your last stop is Ancient Delphi, former home of the mysterious Delphic oracle.
Ionians & the Peloponnese
- 3 Weeks
If you’ve a hankering for island life along with beautiful medieval towns, ancient historic sights and dramatic scenery, a tour of the Ionian Islands and the neighbouring Peloponnesian peninsula will more than satisfy you. This is doubly true if you’re keen to toss some outdoor activities into your trip.
Begin on Corfu, spending a couple of days wandering through the amazing blend of Italian, French and British architecture in Corfu’s Old Town, indulging in gourmet cuisine, exploring picturesque coastal villages and lounging on sandy beaches. Corfu is also great for windsurfing, or biking in the mountainous interior.
From Corfu, hop across to Igoumenitsa on the mainland, and travel down to Lefkada where Lefkada Town is a charming place to spend a day or two, or you could head to village in the mountainous interior. It's a short ferry ride from here to Kefallonia. Visit the picturesque village of Fiskardo, kayak to isolated beaches and sample the island’s local wine.
If you have your own transport then you could use the ferry (mid-May to October) from Pesada to Agios Nikolaos on Zakynthos. Otherwise it's easier and cheaper to cross to mainland Kyllini and reach historic Zakynthos Town from there.
Return to Kyllini and make your way inland to Ancient Olympia where you can stand in the stadium that hosted the first Olympic Games. Stay overnight in the town and take in some of the excellent museums. Head south to the captivating World Heritage–listed ruins of Mystras. This massive ancient fortress town was the last stronghold of the Byzantine Empire.
If you have time and your own wheels to explore continue south to the rugged Mani region to discover the remnants of the unique Maniot culture and to go hiking. Otherwise, head north to graceful Nafplio with its mansions, museums and lively port. From here, it’s easy to do day trips to the impressive acropolis at Tiryns and the citadel of Ancient Mycenae. East of here is the ancient theatre of Epidavros, where it’s well worth taking in some starlit classical performances. Then hop on a ferry from nearby Methana to end your journey in Athens.
Crete & the Dodecanese
- 4 Weeks
Eastern Crete offers a tranquil side of the island with relaxed resorts and impressive sights. From here it’s a short hop to the neighbouring Dodecanese, with their wealth of culture and speedy catamaran services that make island hopping a breeze.
Begin in Iraklio, taking in the excellent archaeological museum. Make a day trip to the captivating Minoan ruins of Knossos before sampling fine vintages in the Iraklio Wine Country, a mosaic of shapely hills, sun-baked slopes and lush valleys.
From Iraklio head east along the northern coast to the relaxed resort town of Agios Nikolaos, which radiates charm and chilled ambience. This makes a great base for exploring the surrounding region. Explore the massive Venetian fortress on Spinalonga Island, a leper colony until 1957 and just a short ferry ride across the Gulf of Mirabello. Visit the surrounding Minoan ruins, such as the Palace of Malia, still filled with mysteries, and rent a bike to explore the tranquil villages of the fertile Lasithi Plateau, lying snugly between mountain ranges and home to Zeus' birthplace.
Continue on to Sitia, from where you can head for the clear water and white sand of Vaï, Europe's only natural palm-forest beach. You can also head south from here to Zakros to hike through the dramatic, cave-honeycombed Zakros Gorge to Kato Zakros and its Minoan palace.
From Sitia, get settled on a twice-weekly, 12-hour ferry ride to Rhodes. Spend a couple of days exploring the atmospheric, walled medieval Old Town and checking out its burgeoning nightlife. Visit some of the surrounding beaches and stunning Acropolis of Lindos. Catch a catamaran to lush Nisyros to explore atop the alarmingly thin crust of its caldera and then carry on to Kos to spend a couple of days on gorgeous, sandy Kefalos Bay and to sip coffee and cocktails in Kos Town’s lively squares. There still may be time to squeeze in a quick trip to Patmos to experience its artistic and religious vibe and to visit the cave where St John wrote the Book of Revelations before backtracking to Kos from where you can catch onward flights to Athens.