It’s no secret that Greece has a plethora of tourist attractions scattered throughout the mainland and islands, but while everyone may have heard of Parthenon and the Acropolis, there are just as many more unique destinations that are less well known.
The history and culture of Greece is abundantly incredible, and combined with the friendliness of locals, offers any traveler an endless supply of mythical and magical places to visit. With more than 6000 islands and islets scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and only 227 actually inhabited, discovering Greece is truly a phenomena.
Whether you’re a thrill seeking traveler, one who wants to delve into ancient Greek history, or simply lie on an isolated beach, there’ll be places that aren’t always covered by every guidebook: from secret beach coves, mountain retreats, hidden harbors or capturing mythical legends, there’s much more to this country than sun-kissed islands. Add mouth-watering cuisine of local delicacies served up either in chic restaurants or traditional tavernas and you’ve got yourself a vacation from heaven.
If you’re planning a trip to Greece and looking for some travel inspiration, make sure you add these hidden gems on your bucket list and discover an alternative Greece which takes you off the beaten track and into another world.
18 Tourlitis Lighthouse
You might be thinking, why bother seeing a lighthouse? But this little gem is a wonderful photogenic opportunity if you want to capture the essence of this picturesque attraction.
Located on the strikingly beautiful Andros Island and rising out of a spindly chunk of sea rock is the magnificent Tourlitis Lighthouse. At first glance it may seem like it’s been photoshopped, such is its precarious positioning. However, this little lighthouse has undergone extensive renovation, the original having been destroyed during World War II, and now stands alone and proud 200 meters just off the harbor at Chora on Andros Island.
First built in 1897 as one of Greece's most modern lighthouses, it sits on top of a stone column which has been shaped by natural erosion and provides a perfect pedestal for this charming beacon. Having been left to decay for a number of years, it was finally rebuilt in the 1990s, to be transformed into its current day surreal tourist attraction and become the only lighthouse in Greece entirely built by Greek hands. It also happens to be the first automated lighthouse eliminating the need for a lighthouse keeper and can be reached by a winding staircase made from the rocks that lead to the door of the beacon.
When traveling in Thessaly, central Greece, you’ll discover a huge terrain of rock formations which has been wowing visitors to the site for centuries. Also known as the grand canyon of Greece, these stunning tectonic rocks of Meteora are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and, according to geologists, were established over 30 million years ago when the sea receded to reveal this magical landscape.
This prompted monks at the time to use this breath-taking area as the perfect isolated site to build numerous monasteries and churches which were built on the top of the magnificent boulders. Hence the name, Meteora, whose literal meaning is defined from ‘suspended in the air.’ Although only six of the initial 24 monasteries are open to visitors, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sensational setting that inspires both peace and beauty which contributes to the creation of the largest monastic city in the country, after Mount Athos!
If you’re not one of the pilgrimages coming to this holy place, you can participate in one of the many activities which include rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and hiking. Beginners to the more experienced climbers can often be seen hanging off the sandstone peaks and crags and the area is increasingly becoming a popular hive for rock climbers looking for a unique thrill - a far cry from monks having to previously pull themselves up by ropes!
16 Athens Riviera
When you think of Athens, you might not be aware that just a few kilometres out of the Greek capital lies a unique coastline which begins from the city’s southern suburbs and stretches out to the most southern point of Cape Sounio. While they may not be the most stunning of Greece’s beaches, they offer a perfect escape from ancient explorations in the city to spend some time chilling close to the cool waters.
With excellent transport links from Athens, either by bus or train, you can soon be in one of several beaches including Voula and Vouliagmeni, the latter of which also happens to be famous for its spring waters. Devote time strolling around the blue-green coastline enjoying the marina views or navigating around the rocky caves. For the more sporty travelers, have a go at windsurfing and sailing in one of the bays.
If it's total relaxation you're after, check into one of the 5 star resorts or simply take time out to rest in one of their spas. Alternatively, after hitting one of the free beaches, give yourself time for shopping at the stylish shops in Glyfada before heading out to one of the seaside clubs. If you’re a culture vulture, don’t miss out on the Temples of Apoolo Zoster and Poseidon.
15 Windmills of Lasithi Plateau
Surrounded by tiny villages and situated more than 800 meters above sea level is the Lasithi Plateau in eastern Crete. Despite its height, the water tables are extremely low but access to water is very accessible. An abundance of crops and grain were irrigated by thousands of windmills standing proud with their sails taking advantage of the constant winds to produce vegetables for local farmers.
Inhabited since Neolithic times, and a superb example of authentic farm living, the area covers 25 square meters. There were previously more than 10,000 windmills but now there remains a little over 5,000, which is still an impressive sight. However, the original stone windmills, dating back to the 1800s, are even less in numbers; so many have now been abandoned in favour of modern technology of electrical and diesel pumps.
While effort continues to take place to replace the original windmills, you cannot help but be in awe of the white sails adding to the backdrop of this vast landscape, so make sure you have your camera ready for some fantastic photo opportunities. When you’re in the area, it’s also worth taking a look at Kera Monastery with its stunning frescoes adorning a stone built church.
14 The Diapontian Islands
Whilst Cofu is probably better known as a popular tourist destination, the Diapontian Islands are less notorious and yet are perfect locations to escape far away from the crowds. You’ll find them clustered in the northwest of Corfu, close to Italy, and are made up of the small islands of Mathraki, Erikoussa, Othoni as well as the even smaller islets including Gravia and Diaplo.
Whether you chose to take a day trip or stay longer island hopping, these islands will woo you with their wild scenery, pretty villages and hidden, sandy beaches with secret caves. Boats leave the harbor regularly and only take around half an hour from the coast of San Stefanos to either reach the inhabited bigger islands or the islets. When you’re not swimming in the blue waters, explore the secluded hamlets and whitewashed churches during the cooler evenings, and enjoy a few drinks in one of the vine-covered tavernas.
The Diapontian Islands are the ultimate getaway if it's peace and tranquility you’re earning for, especially before it really becomes developed by tourism which is increasingly gaining in popularity. While you’re there, keep an eye out for dolphins, especially around Ericusa, the northernmost island in the chain.
13 Valley of Butterflies
From late June to September you can be enchanted by the natural habitat of the Valley of Butterflies, a little place of paradise, just a short drive or bus ride from the city of Rhodes and near the villages of Damatria and Theologos. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of dense vegetation, the sounds of cicadas and cool waters of ponds and waterfalls. Walk over wooden bridges through the valley and along the river Pelekanos and take advantage of the serenity this little haven offers.
One of the unique features and attractions for the butterflies is the attraction to the plant, Zitia and is the reason they use the area as a breeding place. The native Panaxia Quadripunctaria butterfly is nocturnal so don’t expect them to be fluttering around you during the day, rather they can be found as still life in tree trucks and rocks if you look closely enough. However, there are many other colourful species of butterflies who gather in the valley due to its micro climate, seeking for humidity to feed and mate.
When you’ve finished walking around this harmonious environment, head to the Museum of Natural History, housed in a beautifully restored Italian house build in the 1930s. Inside here you can not only discover more about the flora and fauna located in the reserve but also a butterfly hatchery where they reproduced within this protective condition.
When you want to find an alternative to sandy beaches or ancient history, take a trip to Epirus, one of the most mountainous regions in Greece. This barely untouched landscape can be found in the north-west of Greece, looming between the Ionian Sea and the mountain range of Pindos. The nature loving tourist won’t help but be impressed with dense forestry, mountain lakes and wildlife which includes wolves, jackals, brown bears and many varieties of birds of prey.
The mountainous landscape provides the tourist with a range of activities other than hiking; try your hand at some extreme mountaineering, mountain biking and climbing, or if water sports are more your thing, kayaking, rafting and canoeing can be experienced on the drakolimnes - dragon lakes. If you’re not into adventure sports, hike to isolated clifftop monasteries, sacred sites or through the many trails connecting to the villages. Alternatively, explore one of the quiet seaside resorts.
If you’re not relaxing on one of the quiet seaside beaches, there are many historical attractions to visit: the ancient theatre on the archaeological site of Dodoni; the Roman Nikopolis, or one of the many monasteries. Some of the unspoilt villages are coined, ‘poetry in stone’ due to their striking architecture and exceptional stonework which make for a picturesque stroll to admire their handiwork.
If you’re an admirer of local crafts, you’ll find a range of treasures and skills from local craftspeople to take home as a souvenir.
11 Melissani Cave
If you get the chance, make sure you visit Melissani Cave, otherwise known as The Cave of the Nymphs. Here, set amongst the backdrop of lush vegetation and awe-inspiring beaches is a magical cave that will transport you to another world. Situated on Kefalonia, one of the Ionian Islands just off the south of Corfu, you’ll be guaranteed to carry the memory of your time here forever.
This unique cave structure is also home to an underground lake whose waters reach 39 meters in depth. The opening at the top of the cave allows light through and gives the impression that the boats above are floating in air. Having taken the footsteps down through a dense subterranean world, you’ll discover the stalactites inside which date back 16,000 to 20,000 years! The archaeological finds on Melissani are said to date back as far as 3rd and 4th centuries BC.
After you’ve taken a tour of the lake, you can sample the delicious local cuisine as some of the Kefalonian specialties which include traditional sweets, honey and wine. Like many of the Greek food highlights, their sea saltiness feta is top of the list and is made from sheep and goat milk.
10 Cape Sounion
Mythical stories from antiquity to modern times surround this southernmost corner of the Attica peninsula which meets the Aegean Sea: on his way back from Troy, the ship of Menelaus was said to stop here; and King Aegeus was said to drown himself on this very spot. Later, it was written into Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, and in more recent times, Lord Bryon, the English Romantic poets, allegedly inscribed his name onto one of the Doric temple’s columns in 1811.
A mere 65km south of Athens, Cape Sounion is the perfect place to watch the sunset from its cliffs so arriving a few hours before will give you time to discover the other famous attraction of the Cape, the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon, the mythical sea god. Being surround by three sides of the sea, it provides the perfect opportunity to embrace the stunning views over the Aegean. The base of the Temple also offers a great swim in the small beach when you need to cool off from all the exploring.
While you’re there, indulge in some appetizing fresh seafood and fish in one of the tavernas where you can drink in the views and local wines.
If you want to kick back and immerse yourself in local Greek culture, then a visit to the medieval town of Nafplion could be the perfect choice. This coast town in the southern mainland is considered to be one of the most splendid destinations of all the mainland towns, even by the Greeks. It may get busy during the tourist seasons but it’s much quieter during the rest of the year for its beach resorts and unique character.
When you’re not relaxing on one of its long beaches, take time out to explore the historic ambiance along the narrow streets of the Old Town. The architecture is reminiscent of Venetians and Turkish influences when they occupied certain parts of Greece from the 1300s and the atmosphere still lingers on to this day. Additionally, Nafplio is a base for the ancient sites of Mycenae and Epidavros and due to its close proximity to Athens, only two hours away, is a welcomed retreat for both locals and tourists, especially weekends.
If that’s not enough to keep you busy while you’re there, the town also offers great restaurants, a lively evening scene and the views of the sea from the fortress on the hill above Nafplion will take your breath away.
Perfectly preserved, the castle town of Monemvasia is known for being ideal for a romantic, fairytale getaway. Situated on the south eastern coast of Peloponnese, it has a medieval fortress perched on a monolithic slab and is entirely carved on the sea rock which originally could not be seen from the mainland so it could be avoided by enemy attacks. The very name, Monemvasia, means, ‘one entrance’ and this entails of a narrow tunnel whereupon you enter into the town on the other side.
Once inside, you can explore the history of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian influences along the cobbled alleyways, some of which dates back to the 13th Century. The walk up to the top of the medieval Castle is great for amazing photo opportunities and for following in the footsteps of crusaders, pirates and emperors, and sights of the grand mansions where the nobility once lived. It really is one place where time does stand still.
After a day of exploring, what better way to spend your evenings than by indulging in the local cuisine? Famed for its homemade pasta, a flour based gnocchi and cheese and herb pies (saitia), there are an abundance of elegant and chic restaurants to enjoy a meal. Don’t forget to try out their legendary sweet wine, Malvasia, also known as the ‘nectar of the nobles’.
7 The Island of Ithaca
This might be a little island in the Ionian Sea but it’s big on fame for being home to Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey so fans of Greek mythology will love a trip to Ithaca. Get immersed in the history of Homer and his hero, Odysseus where you can even visit the school where he taught students about his writings.
However, Ithaca has way more than Homer to offer the traveler and if you’re in need of touring a local destination, then this would be a great choice. Swim in the some of the most crystal waters belonging to the local beaches of Filiatro, Sarakiniko and Agios, or there are also plenty of more private coves to chill out in or try your hand at snorkeling. Each little village has its own unique character: the sailboats surrounding Frikes or the beach promenade of Vathy. If nature is your thing, there are many opportunities for beautiful hikes with a wide variety of flora and fauna.
You won’t help but be charmed by the authenticity of this little island, and because it is both small and somewhat tricky to reach, you won’t find the mass tourism that is prevalent in many of the other islands. Instead, you’ll be welcomed by the local community as you enjoy the atmospheres from inside the tavernas, and may even see a celebrity or two while you’re there such is its exclusivity.
6 Davelis Cave on Pendeli Mountain
If ever there was an unexplained mystery then Davelis Cave on Pendeli Mountain must be high on the list. One of the rarest visited and surrounded in superstition and legends, you’ll have to have a car to visit this secluded place.
Pendeli Mountain is also famed in its own right for sourcing and bringing marble to build the Parthenon and you can still see the tracks where the network of carts transported it to the city all those years ago! However, it is the cave that attracts attention with its network of tunnels carved under the mountain side.
Named after the bandit, Davelis who used the cave, along with his band of as a hideout in the 1800s, the mysteries and legends are ignited by a series of paranormal occurrences. These have often been narrated by natives, and include glowing orbs, strange creatures and vague shadows of humans. It is even rumored that these shadows have been revealed from images inside the cave, or that cameras have suddenly not worked while attempting to capture these supernatural images.
Despite being closed to the public in the 1980s by some government agencies who undertook their own investigations which were never revealed to the public, the cave continues to reveal more stories and evidence of mysterious behaviour. Some explorers entering the cave and the labyrinth of tunnels have yet to return so bare this in mind on your visit!
5 Volcanic Rocks on Lemnos
The island of Lemnos is often underrated but this little gem on the Northeastern Aegean Sea is a prime example of the amazing work from Mother Nature: over 100 stunning beaches, beautiful nature and charming villages. According to legends, it’s also the place where Hephaestus landed having been thrown off Mount Olympus by the God, Zeus.
One of the highlights on Lemnos are the dormant Miocene volcanoes, a group of spectacular rock formations which are made from previously frozen petrified lava and created the bizarre shapes that can be seen today. These volcanic shapes range from odd indents in the rock faces to 3D spirals. Known to the locals as “faraklo” or “fragokefala” - “bald” or “bald heads” and can be found on the northern part of the island, close to Poliochni beach.
When you're done visiting the rock formations, have a go at windsurfing which is increasingly becoming more popular here or kick back and chill out on one of the many secluded beaches. Take advantage of the stunning coastline and stay until the evening where you can watch the sundown from the top of the hill and sample their local white cheese or thyme honey as part of a picnic.
4 Symi Harbor
Considered to be one of the most beautiful harbors in Greece, Symi is a magical town situated north of Greece in the Southern Dodecanese and very close to the coast of Turkey. Arriving here you’ll be greeted by a tier of yellow and white Neo-Classical inspired houses, retaining the spirit of bygone days of the island undisturbed by modern day concrete construction.
Symi bay is surrounded by clear blue water on three sides and consists of the main harbour (Yialos), the town of Chorio, a Monastery at Panormitis in addition to other smaller settlements of Marathounda and Nimborios. Yialos has been an architecturally protected area ever since the 1970's and the night time vision of the glowing colors from the tiered mansions is a view not to be missed.
During high season, the harbor gets busy with day trippers from Rhodes but it’s easy to escape to one of the beach coves by taking one of the water taxis or by foot. Alternatively, you can even take an excursion to the Turkish coast for a few hours and experience a different kind of culture altogether. If you end up staying overnight, enjoy fine dining in one of the many chic restaurants or traditional tavernas for some tantalizing cuisine
3 The Oracle of Delphi
Hidden for a long time, this is the sacred site to the god, Apollo and was the Pegan center of the Greek world for thousands of years. History tells us that the priestess, Pythia, while inhaling hallucinogenic fumes from deep inside the hillside, initiated the Oracle of Delphi from this mysterious, dark window to the gods.
Fast forward to the present day and the ruins of Temple of Apollo, once destroyed in 390 CE by the Emperor Theodosius, stills evokes an eerie feeling from the ghosts of the past. This stunning location was also home to series of Olympic games and you can take a trek to the top and pretend to race in the remains of the stadium. You’ll also find a museum houses some great artifacts to enrich your knowledge of history.
Although The Oracle of Delphi may not be the most preserved of the Greek ruins, the structures have somewhat been restored they’ll still capture your imagination and draw you into the lure of what it might have been like. Getting there might be a long bus ride from Athens but the winding, narrow route offers breath-taking scenery and views. Just make sure you arrive in the early morning to beat the crowds and heat!
2 Trichonida Lake
Nature and adventure lovers will love a visit to Trichonida, the largest lake in Greece but despite this it still remains one of Greece’s hidden places. Located between the two mountains of Panaitoliko and Arakynthos, it’s so vast that when you gaze out the waters are visible as far as the eye can see. The area around the lake is rich in vegetation including eucalyptus, poplar, willow and citrus trees along with rare flowers such as orchids. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to spot amphibians, reptilians or some of the many 140 species of birds.
For those who like to be more adventurous, the lake hosts an abundance of water sport activities and opportunities for boat rides. The clear crystal waters make it ideal for a refreshing swim but only in certain areas which are safe. Alternatively, have a go at para gliding and take in the magnificent views from above.
If you’re into culture and hiking head to the small town close to Trichonida where you’re bound to be inspired by many significant archaeological sites including impressive temples, arcades and historic streets. On your travels stop off to buy traditionally made products such as feta cheese, honey, wine and gruyere, or pick up a local folk art souvenir.
When you’re looking for somewhere unspoiled away from mass tourism, then head to this tiny fishing village in south west of Crete. Loutro is the perfect setting for a chilled out break from other more popular destinations which doesn’t have any resorts, overcrowded beaches and even cars! One of the reasons for this is that no roads lead to here so it’s only accessible by boat or by foot.
Named after the baths found in the area, Loutra is where local Cretans escape for their own holidays and has yet to be overrun by foreign visitors so is one of Greece’s best kept secret hideaways. You won’t find a roaring nightlife or entertainment; instead have a fantastic meal in one of the fish tavernas.
Arriving in this village, not only will you be able to indulge in a slower pace of life, you can also take advantage of the hiking opportunities amongst rugged countryside with its stunning gorges, ravines and valleys. If it’s fun on the water that you desire, have a go diving, canoeing or just take a boat ride and admire the majestic scenery from outside the bay. Lounge around on the tranquil beaches of Glyka Nera, Timios Stavros, or Pervolaki and simply relax. After all, you are on vacation!