Whilst masses of tourists flock to the Greek islands, only a few people think of discovering mainland Greece. And yet it’s just as beautiful – and more importantly a lot less busy. Here, you can read about the towns and beaches you’ve just got to explore.
Are you still on the hunt for the perfect holiday destination? If you can’t find anything amongst the well-known destinations and you’re not feeling extremely exotic, then it doesn’t hurt to change your perspective a little. So, what would it be like if you approached Greece in a different way… Well, this year put the beautiful Greek islands aside and make your way to the not quite so crowded mainland of Greece. Very few people are aware of the fact that mainland Greece is in no way inferior to classic islands such as Crete, Lefkada, and Rhodes. Alongside many archaeological treasures, the mainland has got something for everyone. Picturesque sandy beaches, rugged mountain ranges, and jungle like footpaths offer a unique holiday which you will love – trust me! Take a look for yourself and prepare to be amazed!
Thankfully the stunning Greek beaches are easily reachable during the summer season. Direct flights depart for Thessaloniki in the north and Athens in the southern part of the mainland. Other destinations with direct flights from Ireland are Corfu, Crete, Kos, Rhodes and Zakynthos. In the graph below you can spot the cheapest months to fly to Thessaloniki, while you can also find my latest top deals to Greece below (not exclusively to the mainland).
You have probably heard of this holiday destination before but unfortunately the Peloponnese is often overshadowed by the more famous resorts. And yet this peninsula in the south of Greece has everything you could ask for if you want a dreamy week away in the summer. On the coast, you can walk along the endless sandy beaches and live it up on your long-awaited holiday by the sea. However, as the region is more than double the size of Crete, it’s strengths don’t just lie with the magical coast. A journey across the Peloponnese offers you an unbelievable variety of scenery – from completely unspoiled coastal areas in Kyllini to proper cycling paths in Lakopetra. Don’t forget the popular Old Towns and their romantic bars!
The town of Nafplion is the most beautiful in all the Peloponnese, with its winding, narrow streets and its charming squares. The town in the east of the Greek Peninsula acts as an ideal starting point – on top of Athens. The fantastic bus network can easily take you to places on the Peloponnese such as Mycenae, Epidauros, and Dendra.
Remember to take day trips…
If you don’t go on any excursions, then you’re missing a trick! Nature lovers and beach goers are in good hands in the amazing outdoor locations, but the Greek Peninsula is particularly distinguished for its cultural and historic importance. The Peloponnese means ‘The Island of Pelops’ and is named after the son of the famous King Tantalos – an important figure in Greek mythology. These legends have left their mark on numerous archaeological sites.
The fitness junkies among you can marvel at the birthplace of competitive sport. It simply started with track running, but the now historical town of Olympia was expanded to include facilities for long jump, javelin, discus, wrestling, boxing, and chariot racing. The site hasn’t made the list of UNESCO world heritage sites for nothing!
But the Ancient Greeks weren’t the only ones who enjoyed themselves in the Peloponnese. Hit the road and take yourself on a journey through time and pay a visit to Mycenae, the Palace of Nestor, Methoni, Corinth, or Nafplion. You can learn about the Mycenaean culture and also the comparatively young remains of the Franks, Venetians, and the Ottomans. Don’t you see? The Peloponnese must be a worthwhile place to spend your summer holiday as it’s already attracted so many different people!
Thessaloniki – the metropolis
Also known as a Saloniki, the large urban area of Thessaloniki is a true metropolis. It is home to over 1 million inhabitants, and has narrow alleyways, busy streets, and a superb public transport network. The majority of tourists fly into Thessaloniki International Airport, as Aegean Airlines offer direct flights from all over Europe. This airport is also ideal for connections to other top holiday destinations in Greece. The shops do not disappoint. As is right for any large city, the shopping streets are filled with the biggest international brands and more original local stores. Welcome to the vibrant cultural hub of the Macedonia!
Alongside the great nightlife, the major historical sights contribute to the fame of the city. Early Christian and Byzantine buildings have established Thessaloniki as another entry for Greece on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The White Tower of Thessaloniki on the waterside promenade isn’t a symbol of the city for nothing!
Chalkidiki – the green hand of Greece
If you take a look at the map, you’ll immediately see where all flower power has come together – Chalkidiki! The region is just oozing with greenery and alongside the sun lovers, it also attracts many nature lovers. Chalkidiki has more to offer than just sun bathing. Chalkidiki is huge so it makes sense for new-comers to Greece to distinguish between the inner mainland and its coastal region.
The three-pronged Peninsula: Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos
This trio on the Greek Peninsula couldn’t be more different. The three “fingers”, which protrude 30 miles/50km into the Aegean sea, are real celebrities when it comes to travel destinations – but don’t paint them with a broad brush!
Many guide books about “Chalkidiki” are concerned solely with Kassandra. This tourist stronghold has the most beautiful beaches up its sleeve, boasts great bars, and there are plenty of opportunities for some water sports. It is a paradise for those who want the best summer of their life. The region has adapted well to the high demand. It has plenty of hotels and bars, where the staff speak English. Signs and information are also in English.
A little bit of peace and quiet..
You should visit Sithonia, if you want to distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of the crowds on holiday, and instead crave peace and quiet. The middle finger of Chalkidiki – and the most scenic area – turns its back on a fast pace of life. Get in touch with nature. Sithonia is home to a fantastic variety of plants, a well-kept network of footpaths as well as beaches, where you can find a spot for your towel. The 808 meter high mountain makes for an exciting landscape, so put hiking tours and mountain biking on your list. Take note of the small towns Sarti, Nikiti, and Neos Marmaras.
Last… and least?
The spiritual outsider among the the fingers of Chalkidi – Athos. This place is somewhat unpopular and controversial – and not without reason. In the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain, which is run by monks, there are a few entry requirements…
Number one: You have to be a man.
Number two: You have to request and pay for a visa months in advance.
Mount Athos is unique to Europe. It has been a monastic state for years and it has never changed its (arrogant and sexist) exclusivity. Just leave them to it ;)
Pelion – the insiders’ tip
Are you a trendsetter? Do you want to discover something that your friends definitely won’t have heard of? Then Pelion is the place for you! The Pelion Peninsula, in Thessaly, is located halfway between Athens and Thessaloniki, the two largest cities in Greece. It’s a smart destination, if you’re planning a Greek road trip.
Far away from the crowds, this place is also often named “Greek Switzerland” or “The coast of the Centaurs”, taken from Greek mythology, of course! On your visit to this Mediterranean country, you’ll encounter at least one anecdote from Greek mythology at every location. Arrive in Pelion and you’ll no longer wonder why people talk about mystic figures and legends. Stony bays and densely vegetated forests characterise the landscape which send every hiker onto cloud 9. There are paved paths and bilingual signposts so hiking here is a lot more pleasant than in other destinations.
Let your hair down…
With the Pagasetic gulf on the west coast and the Aegean on the east coast, Pelion is often described as the “Black forest with Greek island beaches and Caribbean waters”. It is a paradise for all water lovers! I can particularly recommend the Papa Nero Beach in the east and Agria in the west. They are both regarded as wonderful places to relax under the Greek sun. You can get a bit more of an insight into the local culture in the fishing village of Kala Nera and in Afissos village. Both places are on par with the more popular travel destinations in Greece which is down to the amazing views of the Pagasetic Gulf from Afissos.
In the village of Trikeri, the white mansions stand alongside each other and offer the perfect backdrop to your holiday photos. There is a piece of history hidden behind the charming exterior. Between 1750 and 1850 aristocrats built three story mansions, known as Archontiko. Today these villas are mostly private hotels which you can use as a base to discover the villages of Pelion. When in the Greek villages, always take yourself to the Platia, the market place, which is normally located in the centre. Here, you can eat, take a walk, and chat about life in the coffee shops.
If you want a bit more excitement, then pay a visit to the one time trade city of Volos. If possible go just after your arrival as it’s close to the airport. One of its charms is its unique bus network. From the bus station you can go pretty much anywhere quickly and cheaply. Alternatively, you can make the 90 minute journey from Ano Lechonia to Milies with the historic Pelion railway. The 15 kilometer journey is peaceful and offers the perfect opportunity for a coffee break. On arrival, you can even help with the steering of the timber wagons. That’s what I call back to basics!
Delphi – the mysterious one
Of course, I can’t not mention Delphi. Once known as the centre of the world, the ancient city is home to one of the most famous sights in Greece – The oracle of Delphi.Situated at the top of a 2,500 metre high mountain in the centre of Greece, many important people of the ancient world came here to ask for advice. The most popular questions were those regarding war or territorial conquests. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, they bring together a lot of historical events, myths, and culture. As a history lover, you definitely shouldn’t miss this sightseeing trip under any circumstances!
Mainland Greece – Add it to your Bucket List
Obviously, the Greek islands are not a popular travel destination for nothing – after all you can spend a divine holiday in Rhodes or Crete, for example. Obviously, there are an enormous amount of attractions for tourists. But, don’t forget the dream destinations on mainland Greece! As you have seen, you can experience a high-class cultural holiday, visit countless historical sights, and still get a neat tan on the sandy beaches. As this destination is not that mainstream, the masses don’t tend to flock to the Greek mainland – perfect for you! So, what are you waiting for?
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