From the blindingly beautiful beaches of Santorini to the wonders of the Acropolis in Athens, there’s no shortage of Greek travel destinations worth your while. Greece is the perfect choice if you wish to marry leisure with learning, hot destinations with history. And while you can easily spend all of your time exploring one-stop cities like Athens, some of the country’s most worthwhile destinations will take you off of the typical tour.
Just under 70 miles from Athens, Corinth has been an epicenter of commerce, architecture, and culture since the time of the Ancients. Situated on a temped gulf, Corinth boasts swimming spots with views fit for the gods. Historically, this town was a bustling port for sailors making their way around the mainland. The isthmus and the situation of Corinth in between two different gulfs made it defendable both on land and on sea, with the Corinthians controlling both avenues. Because of the importance in ancient times, Corinth is now home to some of the most incredible ruins accessible to visitors. The archaeological site of Ancient Corinth boasts a museum full of artifacts from Corinth and the surrounding areas, the Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth, along with remnants of an ancient road and market center similar to the Agora of Athens.
When on a time crunch, a hike up the Acrocorinth will be well worth the steep trek up to the top. During the assent to the apex of the acropolis, you get the opportunity to see firsthand how the site had been occupied from ancient Greek times all the way up to the early nineteenth century. Fortress walls that date to the Byzantine Empire can be followed around the site, offering an incredible hands-on approach to the history and culture that shaped modern Greece. If you’re resilient enough to climb to the very top, you’ll be rewarded with access to the Temple of Aphrodite. Although in ruins now and only the ground plan survives, the views you get of the entire Corinthian plain is unparalleled. On a clear day, some say you can see to Athens. The panoramic views are sure to be the highlight of your Corinthian excursion. Just be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen.
When looking for an island feel that only Greece can provide, but still wanting to explore large parts of the country, Crete is the perfect compromise. Accessible by a short flight or, more commonly, an overnight ferry ride, the entire island can be circumnavigated in a week time. I suggest starting off at Crete’s largest city- Heraklion. Take time to visit the archaeology museum as well as meander through narrow paved streets and fountain dotted squares. Charming outdoor eateries overlook the harbor spotted with sailboats, producing a picturesque night of lights, wine, and authentic Greek food. Just three miles from Heraklion is the famed site of Knossos, a Minoan palace that dates to the 15th century BC. Thanks to excavation and restoration efforts in the late 1800s, the Palace of Knossos is a great place to spend the day wandering around and seeing how the ruins would have been rendered in ancient times. With restored buildings, staircases, and floors, the palace succeeds at capturing the charm and intrigue of the Minoans. Moving around the island, several more palace sites are worth the educational visit such as Phaistos and Malia.
One of the great things about Greece is the seamless coupling of historical sites and total relaxation. Crete boasts crystal waters surrounded by mountains and monuments. Just a simple drive from one town to the next promises spectacular views of plains and ruins and farms and villages; the warm weather and fresh diet inspire you to take more time to look and experience rather than rush from one spot to the next; the people are welcoming and love to talk about their own history and heritage and pointing out what makes their corner of the world an unforgettable stop. Corinth and Crete are two popular destinations, but seem to get skipped over as travelers opt for Athens or Santorini. When looking to immerse yourself in culture while also kicking off your sandals and feeling the ancient sands, they are a must see for your next Mediterranean excursion.