Greece has an incredibly rich history stretching back thousands of years, so it’s no wonder it’s a total gold mine when it comes to must-see sites. Think crumbling relics, time-worn temples and ancient acropolises.
With so many things to tick off, the only problem is knowing where to start! Here’s our rundown of not-to-be-missed marvels…
Just off the north-west coast of the mainland sits the island of Corfu, blanketed by olive groves and ringed by blissful beaches. Underneath all this though, you’ll find a treasure trove of history.
Let’s begin on the east coast in the UNESCO-listed Old Town, which dates back to the 8th century. Strolling these streets will make you feel like you’ve hopped back in time, following in the footsteps of Greek gods and goddesses that once called this place home.
One of the first things you’ll spot is the Church of Saint Spyridon’s soaring bell tower shooting out of the skyline with its recognisable red-domed top. It’s the tallest bell tower across all the Ionian Islands!
This Greek Orthodox church was built in the 16th century in a typical Venetian style that’s like many of the other buildings in the Old Town. However, once you step inside the church, it’s very, very different. The ceiling is adorned with intricate frescoes and glittering gold accents, and at the altar, you’ll find a huge silver casket which holds the remains of Corfu’s patron saint – Saint Spyridon.
Heading west, you’ll get to uncover the Byzantine Angelokastro Castle, also known as the Castle of Angels. It sits atop a 305-metre-high peak overlooking the glittering Ionian Sea, and as you can imagine, showcases some amazing views. In fact, the views are so good, they even helped defend the island against Ottoman attack.
Island-hop across to Crete and there’s a whole load more history to discover. Make a beeline for the Venetian harbour on the north coast which yep, you guessed it, was built by the Venetians back in the 17th century. You can walk around the original fort walls or grab a Greek coffee and take in the views.
Next up, why not check out the Palace of Knossos? This crumbling site, close to Heraklion, will give you a taste of Minoan Crete. Weave your way through the labyrinth of buildings and admire the ancient artefacts and replica wall paintings.
In between Kefalonia’s rugged mountain landscape and secluded sandy coves, you’ll find some more pieces of Greece’s historic jigsaw puzzle scattered across the island. Start your adventure on the east coast, close to Sami. Climb 150 metres down below ground into the depths of the Drogarati Cave, which is said to have formed around 150 million years ago! It boasts some seriously staggering stalactites as well as amazing acoustics.
After that, travel west to the coast and spend some time at the stunning Kipoureon Monastery. It was built in the 17th century on a steep slope, around 90 metres above sea level. So as you can imagine, the sea views from here are incredible – and if you’re around at night, the sunsets are out of this world! Monks once tended to these flourishing gardens to make a living, but today, just one monk resides here and welcomes visitors throughout the year.
You’ll find Rhodes’ oldest ruins in Lindos, in the shape of an acropolis rising from the rocky landscape. The well-preserved relics of this ancient citadel date back to the 8th century and overlook the whitewashed village at the bottom of the cliff. The archaeological remains of this site really make you realise the wealth this part of the country once had.
Around the site you’ll also find the remains of a theatre and the original 37-step staircase that leads to the acropolis’ highest point. To reach the acropolis, you can walk up the steep hill or opt for the old-fashioned mode of transport – a donkey!
Another must-see in Rhodes is the capital, Rhodes Town. It sits on the island’s most northern tip and has an eclectic mix of old and new. The fortified section of medieval Rhodes Town is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning it’s well worth a look! Charming cobbled streets lead you to the Palace of Grand Master of Knights, which was originally built to house the Knights of St John but later became a holiday home for Mussolini. That’s 158 rooms of holiday heaven!
Part of the Sporades Islands cluster, Skiathos has much more to offer than just its aquamarine shores and untouched coves. If you can tear yourself away from the coast and explore on dry land, you’re in for a real treat.
Close to Skiathos Town, you’ll find the Monastery of Evangelistria. This charming, stone-built monastery is considered to be the most important religious site across the whole of the archipelago. It was built into the mountainside back in the 18th century and is surrounded by fragrant pine forests. Today, you can browse the folklore museum that’s housed inside and see Byzantine icons, silver and gold crosses, and lots of other local artefacts from a bygone era.
Hop across to the neighbouring isle of Skopelos and you might just recognise some of its sublime spots. The hit film Mamma Mia! shone a spotlight on the stunning Church of Agios Ioannis Kastri which sits at the top of a rugged cliff. You’ll have to climb a whopping 200 steps to reach it but once you’re there, you can snap pictures of this tiny, whitewashed church. And drink in the outstanding panoramic views across the Aegean of course.
Finally, let’s head to the lively isle of Zante which sits just south-west off mainland Greece. This island’s famed for its golden beaches and buzzing nightlife, but once you look a little further, there’s so much more to discover.
Learn about the local patron saint, Dionysios of Zakynthos, when you visit the Church of Dionysios. You’ll find it in Zante Town on the east coast, surrounded by traditional, coral-hued buildings and the hustle and bustle of life in the capital. The patron saint was laid to rest here back in the 16th century but his remains are said to still be fully intact! You can see his tomb at the very front of the church.
While you’re here, why not travel ten minutes north to tick the ancient site of Bohali Castle off your history hunting list too? It sits at the top of a very steep hill, so make sure you’ve packed some comfortable shoes! Once at the peak, you can stroll along the battlements and see the viewpoints that were used to ward off pirates during attacks. The best part? The views from up here are something else!
Posted: 2nd Nov 2020.