There is more to Greece than Athens; that much is obvious, but what exactly does the country offer in the realm of smaller, lesser-known tourist spots? For some reason the country doesn’t seem to be as popular as other destinations in this part of the world, but lack of scenery is certainly not the reason. Greece’s stark cliffs, jutting above entrancing valleys below, make the country one of the most beautiful in this part of the globe.
The part of the Bible known as Thessalonians comes from the place-name Thessalonica, a Greek city whose very name evokes mystery. That same city (although much larger and influential than in its ancient days) is now called Thessaloniki. If you are interested in ancient history or Biblical history in particular, you should by all means travel here, but if you want more in a vacation, Thessaloniki has more to offer. For history-lovers who seek a sophisticated pasttime, try the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle or Museum of Byzantine Culture. You will also find outdoor shops, churches and other spiritual attractions.
If you want to explore ancient Greek cities you should definitely take at least a day in Piraeus. It is in many ways a modern city, but with enough culture to intrigue history lovers. There are many things to do, from theaters (check out Delfinario and the Municipal Theater of Piraeus) to churches (many to choose from; there are even temples named for Greek deities) to statuary (a figure of a lion is one of the city’s most famous attractions). Anyone traveling to Piraeus by the harbor would see this statue, and so the city was once called Porto Leone. Make sure to study the history of the city before going; it will make your trip more interesting.
You may have heard of the legends surrounding the Oracle of Delphi, but you may not have realized that the city is loved not only for its history, but for its beauty and scenery. Stunning mountains and woodland are scattered throughout ancient columns and other ruins that attest to Delphi’s former glory. Parts of some buildings are still standing; usually only columns remain, but part of the Treasury of the Athenians is still intact and shows the graceful building style that became famous in Greece and Rome. The remains of the Theater of the Sanctuary arc out gracefully from the high plateau while rocky cliffs soar over the spectator seats. This is not a place to visit without a camera.
Though not part of the mainland, various islands play a part in Greece’s makeup; some are more famous than others. The aspiring traveler should research Santorini before finalizing vacation plans. Those choosing to visit Santorini will be absolutely amazed by the beautiful neighborhood of Ia, where small white homes abound and a few blue roofs make the view interesting and picturesque. Also in Santorini, you can find ruins of former settlements and learn their history and importance. Some of the settlements are now known as Akrotiri and Thira. To explore Thira more thoroughly, drop by the aptly-named Archaeological Museum of Pre-Historic Thira in Santorini.
If you’ve decided to limit your Greek vacation to some of the more well-known islands, you can choose between the Northern Aegean Islands, the Northern Sporades, the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades, and Crete. Crete is probably the most familiar of all of these, and for good reason; there is literally something for everyone, and if you leave Crete without finding something specifically tailored to your needs, it’s because you just weren’t looking hard enough.
Are you a museum-trekker? The Historic Museum of Crete, Archaeological Museum, Historical and Folk Art Museum, and Iraklion’s Archaeological Museum should keep you busy for days. For those who love the great outdoors, you shouldn’t miss the stunning views to be found at Dikteon Cave and Samaria Gorge National Park. If you thought Greece couldn’t get any prettier, you’ll be surprised after you visit these terrific places.
Perhaps the most interesting and unusual attraction is the Palace of Knossos. For those familiar with Greek mythology, the minotaur (the kind of creature you wouldn’t want to bump into in the night) lived among the many twists and turns within the palace. Whether or not you believe the stories, it’s an eerily exciting place to visit. You will find many ancient sites in this part of the world, and Crete is no exception; don’t forget to visit the Malia Ruins.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer