We previously shone the spotlight on Athens, Greece’s capital, so let’s look at more top destinations for travellers to the Greek mainland. Less frequented by tourists than its islands, mainland Greece enjoys a wonderful topography of idyllic coastline and rugged interior, interspersed with dynamic cities, bucolic villages, and fascinating historic sites.
Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki is a vibrant university hub and historic port scenically nestled beside the Aegean. An eclectic mix of ancient Byzantine monuments and contemporary waterfront restaurants, visitors will discover a thriving cultural and arts scene, excellent gastronomy, shops, museums and buzzing nightlife. Wander the charming Ladadika neighbourhood by the harbour, and relax in the sunshine with a coffee and a delicious ‘bougatsa’ (filo pastry layered with creamy custard and cinnamon). Scale the city’s emblematic White Tower, and discover UNESCO sites such as the Rotunda, Roman Agora, and Byzantine baths.
The Halkidiki Peninsula
This popular coastal region in northern Greece comprises a trio of enticing peninsulas: Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. These three verdant fingers of land protrude into the Aegean Sea and boast over 300 miles of superb sandy beaches, and turquoise seas perfect for swimming, diving, kayaking and sailing. Kassandra is the most developed, home to abundant coastal resorts brimming with hotels, lively clubs and tavernas. On Athos you’ll find unspoilt sands, along with Mount Athos, a UNESCO World Heritage site of over 20 Byzantine monasteries. The hermitages date back 1,000 years, and are home to 2,000 monks. (Note women are not permitted to visit Mount Athos and visitor access to this male-only domain is limited.) Beautiful Sithonia is quieter and less developed than Kassandra. Here you can relax on pristine beaches, hike or bike the pine forested inlands, and visit vineyards and traditional fishing villages such as Nikiti and Porto Koufo.
Historic Greece’s most significant religious preserve, the spectacular monuments of ancient Delphi lie a 2.5 hour drive from Athens on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Situated on the edge of modern-day Delphi village, the archaeological site commands impressive views across the Gulf of Corinth. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the ruins include the revered Sanctuary of Apollo, whose Doric columns date back to the 4th century BC. Here, scores of pilgrims and state leaders once flocked to receive the highly prized prophesies of the high priestess Phythia, Delphi’s revered Oracle.
A gloriously unspoilt mountainous region dotted with traditional Greek settlements, olive groves and fir, oak and chestnut woodlands, and fringed by stunning beaches. During winter, snow transforms the landscape and its highest peak, Mount Pelion, attracts hordes of skiers from Athens and Thessaloniki. Discover the delightful scenic villages of Portaria and Tsagarada. Bathe in crystal azure waters off the beaches of Agios Ioannis, Platanias and Fakistra. Take a scenic ride on the ‘Moutzouris’, Pelion’s traditional steam train, as it wends its way uphill from Ano Lechonia to picturesque Milies, a quaint mountain village boasting welcoming tavernas and breath taking views across the sea.
Greece’s central region hosts a celebrated geological phenomenon, the towering rock pillars of Meteora. This otherworldly landscape and UNESCO site has long attracted hiking and climbing enthusiasts. The area is renowned for its religious significance: the dramatic sandstone pinnacles house a unique complex of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. Built as homes for hermit monks between the 11th and 16th centuries, several of these seemingly inaccessible sanctuaries perch on the summits of pillars. The reclusive occupants originally used rope ladders to enter and exit the monasteries – thankfully access has improved over the centuries! Of the 24 original monasteries, only six remain; still inhabited by monks and nuns, they also open their doors to curious visitors.
This upmarket seaside resort sits on an attractive waterfront flanked by a grand central plaza paved in marble, and watched over by the town’s 18th century Venetian fortress, Palamidi. Explore the delightful old town, a knot of pretty squares, churches, restaurants and boutiques. Take your pick of numerous sandy beaches and coves that line the scenic coastline. Napflio makes a great base for some of Greece’s key archaeological sites. Don’t miss the impressive Treasury of Atreus/tomb of Agmemnon in nearby Mycenae, and visit the beautiful ancient theatre of Epidaurus, where you can watch a live performance during the summer.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com