20 amazing holidays that prove there’s never been a better time to visit Greece

Whitewashed houses, vibrant bougainvillea, crystal waters and fresh seafood – dream no more: with most Covid restrictions dropped, now is the time to return to the Greece we all know and love.

From today, Greece waves goodbye to vaccine passports, previously required before you could sip a beer or savour souvlaki in Greece’s restaurants and bars. You’ll still have to occasionally don a mask – for example, when stocking up on local snacks at the supermarket – but that’s a small price to pay. Whether it’s pristine beaches and remarkable history, or breathtaking scenery and a captivating creative scene, there are so many reasons to love this part of the world, and so many ways to explore it, from discovering Thessaloniki’s diverse food scene and hiking Crete’s Samaria Gorge, to paddling in the Aegean and skiing on Mount Olympus. Here are 20 of our favourites.

Explore the ‘hovering’ Byzantine monasteries of Meteora

With its name derived from the Ancient Greek metéōros, meaning ‘in the air’, Meteora pretty much does what it says on the tin: this group of 24 monasteries (six still functioning) are perched atop towering stone pillars, some 400m above the Peneas Valley. A must-visit for history and geology enthusiasts, the Unesco site also offers excellent hiking. Set in the Thessaly region of central Greece, it’s easy to visit on a day-trip from Athens or Thessaloniki, while the nearby town of Kalambaka is a prime overnight spot for anyone wanting to explore a little longer.

How to do it

A one-day tour of Meteora with Meteora Thrones (meteora.com) from Athens costs £75, with a two-day tour including accommodation in Kalambaka and a Meteora sunset experience (£127). Departures are also available from Thessaloniki.

Meteora is an easy day trip from Athens or Thessaloniki

Credit: Lua­s Henrique Boucault/Moment RF

Live your own Mamma Mia 

To channel your inner Meryl Streep, head to the verdant Sporades islands and mountainous Pelion peninsula. The scenery should look familiar – these idyllic landscapes provided the backdrop for the hit 2008 film adaptation of Mamma Mia!. Top spots to look out for include the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri and Kastani Beach on Skopelos, the Old Port of Skiathos and Pelion’s Damouchari beach.

How to do it

Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk) offers a 14-night multi-centre tour of the Sporades from £1,198 (Bed and Breakfast, excluding flights), taking in five nights in Skiathos, five in Skopelos and four nights on tranquil Alonissos.

Skiathos featured in the film adaptation of Mamma Mia!

Credit: Michaela Fainova/iStockphoto

Catch a play in an ancient Athens amphitheatre

When it comes to scenic surroundings for a night at the theatre or an open-air concert, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the southern slopes of the Acropolis is hard to beat. Completed in AD 161 and renovated in 1950, the Roman amphitheatre seats around 4,500 and has played host to the likes of Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra. Today, audiences can soak up the venue’s history while taking in an ancient Greek tragedy, ballet or orchestra performance. 

How to do it

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a key venue for the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival (aefestival.gr), with tickets starting from £30 and events running from May to October. Nearby Herodion Hotel (herodian.gr) offers double rooms from £120 per night.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus seats around 4,500

Credit: thomas daskalakis

Get a taste for Thessaloniki’s unique cuisine

Unesco designated Thessaloniki Greece’s first city of gastronomy in November 2021, further solidifying its reputation as Greece’s de facto foodie city. Thessaloniki’s culinary offering reflects its history as an important trading port within numerous empires, as well as the diverse communities that have called the city home: think spiced soutzoukakia meatballs, sesame-topped koulouria bread rings and syrupy trigona pastries.

How to do it 

A two-night break in Thessaloniki with EasyJet Holidays (easyjet.com) starts at £174pp, including flights from London Gatwick.

Thessaloniki has earned a reputation as Greece’s de facto foodie city

Credit: Boaz Rottem/Alamy Stock Photo

Swim in some of Europe’s clearest waters

With over 8,000 miles of coastline, Greece is certainly not lacking when it comes to beaches. Big-hitters include the silky pink sands of Crete’s Elafonisi Beach, the dramatic landscape of Navagio Beach (also known as Shipwreck Beach) in Zakynthos, and Kefalonia’s Myrtos Beach, while families will love the shallow, gentle waters of golden Koukounaries in Skiathos (perfect for paddling). If you’re looking for high-octane beach action, Mikri Vigla on Naxos is paradise for windsurfers.

How to do it

Stay a stone’s throw (eight minutes on foot, to be exact) from Elafonisi Beach at the charming Elafonisi Resort (elafonisi-resort.com), run by the Kalomirakis family. Studios with a seaview start at £570 per night per couple, on a room-only basis.

Crete’s Elafonisi Beach: one of Greece’s best

Credit: Georgios Tsichlis/Shutterstock

Bike on Kos, Greece’s “cycling island”

Prefer to explore on two wheels? Head to Kos, which is making a name for itself as Greece’s “cycling island”. The abundance of relatively flat terrain on this Dodecanese island makes it an appealing option for anyone embarking on their first cycling holiday, while more challenging routes on dirt and mountain roads will help confident cyclists feel they’ve earned their feta. In addition to the popular beaches of Tigaki and Marmari, even Kos Town can be conquered by bike – an eight-mile cycle lane stretches along the waterfront. 

How to do it

An 11-day tour of the Dodecanese Islands with Cycle Tours (cycletours.com) starts at £630, including breakfasts and luggage transport.

Kos has an abundance of relatively flat terrain, making it ideal for cyclists

Credit: Olezzo/iStockphoto

Visit the enchanting lake city of Ioannina

The capital of the northern Epirus region, Ioannina (also known as Yannena) sits on the shore of Lake Pamvotis, surrounded by mountains. After sipping a Greek coffee at one of the lakeside cafes, explore the fortified Byzantine kastro, still inhabited today and featuring the Ottoman Fethiye Mosque, before taking a boat trip out to Ioannina island and stopping by the Ali Pasha and Revolutionary Period Museum. For a double dose of lakeside living, make an additional stop in the city of Kastoria.

How to do it

Stays at the stylish Naiades Hotel (naiadeshotel.gr) inside the Ioannina kastro start at £65 for a double room, including breakfast. Buses run every day from Athens and Thessaloniki to Ioannina and Kastoria, with routes between the two running twice weekly (ktelioannina.gr). Tickets start at £17.

Watch the sunset over the Acropolis

Touristy? Perhaps, but no Athens sojourn would be complete without seeing the Parthenon bathed in morning light or evening pink hues. Combine panoramic vistas with a mini hike by climbing Lycabettus, Philopappos or Strefi Hill – all have decent paths and are popular spots from which to admire the jewel in the city’s crown (preferably with a freddo espresso in hand). If you prefer your views to be accompanied by something slightly stronger, head to the terraces at Skyfall Restaurant and Bar or Couleur Locale. 

How to do it

Rooms at the King George Hotel (marriott.com) with spectacular views of the Acropolis from its pool and some rooms, start at £350 per night for a double room.

The views of the Parthenon in Athens are extra special at dawn and dusk

Credit: Scott E Barbour/Digital Vision

Hike Crete’s Samaria Gorge

Beyond archaeological wonders and beaches, Crete is hiker heaven. Don your walking boots and hit the trail leading through the Samaria Gorge, which cuts through the rugged White Mountains of Crete and is one of the longest gorges in Europe. Get those all-important snaps at the viewing platform, looking out for kri kri goats and griffon vultures, before descending into the ten-mile-long gorge. 

How to do it

An eight-day Crete walking tour with KE Adventure Travel (keadventure.com), featuring the Samaria Gorge, starts from £995 excluding flights.

Combine a beach and city break

Can’t decide whether to hit the beach or explore Athens or Thessaloniki? You don’t have to – combining Greece’s capital or second city with a relaxing seaside sojourn is a cinch. After ticking archaeological sites, museums and galleries off your city-break bucket list, hop on a ferry or hydrofoil from Piraeus to the islands of Aegina, Hydra or Agistri, or head to the pine forests and beaches of Halkidiki from Thessaloniki.

How to do it

Week-long twin-centre breaks in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki with Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk) start from £786, including bed and breakfast and flights from the UK, or from £912 for five nights in Athens and Aegina.

The island of Aegina can be easily combined with Athens

Credit: zoom-zoom/iStock Editorial

Dive an ancient shipwreck and meet monk seals

Just off the island of Alonissos lies Greece’s first underwater museum – a shipwreck believed to date from the fifth century BC. For a long time only open to archaeologists and those with special permission, the site now welcomes recreational divers to discover the ill-fated transport ship and its cargo, which included 3-4,000 wine amphorae. The underwater museum is set within the National Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades, home to the Mediterranean monk seal.

How to do it

The Triton Alonissos Dive Centre (bestdivingingreece.com) offers Dive & Stay packages for experienced and new divers from £650, excluding flights.

The National Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades offers divers the chance to encounter monk seals

Credit: Mondadori Portfolio

Take in Venetian architecture

From the 12th to 18th centuries, the Venetians controlled large swathes of Europe – including parts of Greece. Though the maritime empire is long gone, its architectural legacy remains. Highlights include the Palamidi, the largest Venetian fortress on the Greek mainland (in Nafplio, on the Peloponnese); Methoni Castle, also on the Peloponnese; the mansions of Corfu Town; the port in Chania and fortress of Rethymno, both on Crete; and extensive ruins in Zakynthos and Kefalonia.

How to do it

A four-night stay in the Messinia region, home to Methoni Castle, starts from £412 with TUI (tui.co.uk), including flights from London Gatwick.

Discover the chocolate-box villages of Zagorohoria

Greece isn’t just a summer destination – for a spring or autumn dose of nature, or a wintertime wander through snow-dusted villages, head to northern Greece’s Zagorohoria region. Set in the dramatic Pindos mountains, Zagorohoria is known for its 46 picturesque villages, much-photographed stone bridges, the breathtaking Vikos gorge (the world’s second deepest) and the Papingo rock pools. 

How to do it

During the summer months, Jet2, EasyJet, Ryanair and British Airways fly to the nearest airport of Preveza, with return flights from London as low as £17, excluding luggage. Real Holidays (realholidays.co.uk) offer bespoke holidays to Zagorohoria, also taking in Ioannina and Thessaloniki (prices vary).

The village of Papingo in the picturesque Zagorohoria region

Credit: Posnov/Moment RF

Sip the finest Greek wines

Greece hasn’t always been a hotspot for wine connoisseurs, with the very notion of retsina (white wine infused with pine resin) enough to keep many away. In recent years, however, Greece has begun to make a name for itself as a wine destination, with much vaunted grape varieties such as the white Malagousia and Assyrtiko, and red Xinomavro, Mavroudi and Agiorgitiko proving a draw for oenophiles. Top vineyards to visit include Domaine Sigalas and Venetsanos in Santorini, Moiratis in Paros, Lyrarakis in Crete, and Mykonos Vioma Organic Farm and Vineyard.

How to do it

An eight-day private food and wine tour in the Cycladic Islands (taking in Santorini and Mykonos) with Unforgettable Greece (unforgettablegreece.com) starts at £2,356 per person, excluding international flights.

Make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos (if you’re a man, that is)

Set on the easternmost “finger” of the Halkidiki peninsula, Mount Athos – known as Agion Oros, or the “Holy Mountain” in Greek – is one of the most important centres of the Orthodox Christian world. Visitors include both Christian pilgrims and many simply drawn by the Holy Mountain’s 20 monasteries. As a self-governing autonomous polity, Mount Athos only permits men to enter its territory, though anyone can admire the dense forests and striking architecture of the monasteries from the water.

How to do it

Accommodation and food is free on Mount Athos (though donations are accepted), but must be arranged in advance (mountathosinfos.gr). Athos Cruises (athos-cruises.gr) offers one-day or half-day cruises around Mount Athos, with prices starting from £17.

Stavronikita Monastery is one of the Holy Mountain’s 20 monasteries

Credit: Dimitrios Tilis/Moment RF

Lose yourself in the Athens art scene

With a captivating mix of independent contemporary art spaces and established galleries, the Athens art world is as diverse as it is dynamic. Big names include the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, housed in a 1920s neoclassical mansion; the National Gallery, devoted to Greek and European art from the 14th to the 20th centuries; and the Museum of Cycladic Art. Fans of the modern should make a beeline for the National Museum of Contemporary Art and Onassis Stegi (which also hosts theatre, dance and music), in addition to the Zoumboulakis Gallery and Tavros. Some of the city’s best street art can be found in Gazi, Exarchia, Metaxourgeio and Psirri.

How to do it

A three-hour street art tour with Alternative Athens (alternativeathens.com) starts at £41 per person, running daily at 10am.

Hit the slopes

Visiting Greece in winter? Combine your cultural exploration with a ski or snowboarding session, with the snow season running from December to March. Probably Greece’s most popular, Parnassos Ski Resort is only two hours from Athens in the Central Greece region, meaning you could be admiring the Acropolis in the morning and shredding the slopes by lunchtime. To ski Greece’s most famous mountain, head to the Elatochori Ski Centre on the northern slopes of Mount Olympus, or try your hand at alpine cross-country skiing in Metsovo.

How to do it

Double rooms at Ellinon Thea – Arachova (ellinonthea.com) near Parnassos start at £60 for two people, including breakfast.

Parnassos is only two hours from Athens

Credit: Hercules Milas/Alamy Stock Photo

Get ready to party

It’s impossible to write a list of the best Greek party spots without mentioning Mykonos, where chic nightlife options include chilled-out Galleraki, prime sundowner spot BAO and local institution Skandinavian Bar. Other islands known for their party scene include Corfu and Ios.

How to do it

Stay a short stroll away from the bars of Mykonos town at Semeli Hotel (semelihotel.gr), where double rooms start at £150 per night, including breakfast.

Awaken your inner archaeologist

It’s no secret that Greece is home to remarkable ruins that bring the ancient world to life. Beyond the Acropolis, from Athens it is relatively easy to visit the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion or the Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus (among many others). In Thessaloniki, you can’t miss the Roman Arch of Galerius, Rotunda and Agora, while Ancient Philippi is an ideal day trip. The Minoan Palace at Knossos in Crete will add some welcome historical flavour to any Cretan beach holiday, with the same said for Olympia in the western Peloponnese.

How to do it

An eight-night classical tour of Greece with Jules Verne (vjv.com) costs from £1,925, including flights from London Heathrow and visits to Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae and Corinth.

Greece has some remarkable ruins, such as the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion

Credit: WitR/iStockphoto

Step back to the Ottoman era

Though Ottoman-era houses can be found in Athens’s Plaka neighbourhood, traces of Ottoman rule are more pronounced in Thessaloniki, once known as “the Sultan’s Rose”. Here you’ll find the Hamza Bey, Alaca Imaret and Yeni mosques, while the Aigli Geni and Bey hamams have been converted from bathhouses to one of the city’s most happening party venues and a chic cafe, respectively. To delve deeper into the Ottoman legacy in northern Greece, head to Veria.

How to do it

A day-tour of Thessaloniki’s Ottoman architecture with Greek Transfer Services (greektransferservices.com) starts at £17 per person.

Covid rules

All travellers aged five and above must show either proof of full vaccination, or proof of recovery, or a negative PCR taken within the last 72 hours, or a negative antigen test taken within the last 24 hours. Children under five are exempt

Do Greece like a local

Look beyond Santorini

Though there’s nothing wrong with walking a well-travelled path, you’ll reap the rewards exploring Greece beyond the well-known tourist hotspots – and your bank balance will likely thank you.

Discover the mainland

Many visitors are determined to experience Greek island life, but don’t overlook the mainland. Beyond the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, the idyllic beaches of Halkidiki, Pelion and the Peloponnese are just a few mainland alternatives to a tranquil island break.

Eat dinner later

Don’t sweat it – swap your 7.30pm dinner time for 9pm or later. In summertime, you’ll be glad to enjoy the vibrant flavours of Greek cuisine in the cooler evening temperatures.

Visit off season

Though Greece is a prime summer destination, visiting off season is an opportunity to discover another side to the country (not to mention exploring archaeological sites in less sweltering temperatures!). Why not take in the autumn colours of Zagorohoria, or the spring flowers of Halkidiki?