Hidden Gems of Greece

By Sarah A. Lybrand

Greece is a wonderland of over 6,000 picturesque islands and islets — each with its own unique history, postcard-perfect beaches, and countless adventures you either have to be a local — or especially ‘in-the-know’ — to experience.

So we’ve put together a list of excursions a few steps off the beaten path — to show you some of the most beautiful and mythical sites Greece and all its isles have to offer. Here are just a few:

From Athens

Even as a bustling travel hub, Athens still has plenty of unexpected ways to discover the expected:

Snap a (better) pic of the Acropolis from a nearby rooftop

As an alternative with fewer crowds, a higher vantage point, and a zero dollar price tag (unless you’re nice and buy a cup of ‘jo at the rooftop cafe) try checking out the Acropolis looks from the beautiful Athens Gate Hotel. You can take the elevator all the way up to the Garden Rooftop, or, if you’re up for a stroll through the Mets neighborhood, you’ll find a secret entrance to the park (er, more like an opening in the fence?) at the top of the stairs on Kleitomachou Street where, down the path, you’ll get a great view of Athens and an even better view of the Stadium.

Take a day trip to the epicenter of an Ancient Greek civilization

Just two hours from Athens, a scenic drive through the fertile Peloponnese region, history buffs won’t want to miss the ancient Island of Mycenae. Once the center of the highly developed Mycenaean civilization (which Homer wrote about in the Iliad around 850 B.C.), this 13th-century citadel is home to one of the most iconic archaeological sites in the world.

From Santorini

Santorini is famous for its sunsets, caldera, black-sand beaches, and its mouthwatering cuisine. But maybe you didn’t know you could also:

Catch an open-air flick in a Santorini town square

What’s better than sharing a bottle of wine on a warm summer night while taking in some outdoor entertainment? From ancient times, the theatres in Greece were open-roofed; when cinema was born, films were often shown in the “Kafeneions” or theaters in the village square. Many still operate, and the Open Air Cinema (Cinekamari) in Kamari is a great one, located just across from the bus station on the main road from Fira.

Explore the charming seaside village of Pyrgos

If you’re seeking the whitewashed buildings, narrow streets, and panoramic views of an iconic Santorini village — try the relaxed charm of Pyrgos. It’s decidedly less touristy than Oia or Fira — but just as replete with quaint churches, meandering cats, and stunning views of the sunset and sea. Pyrgos might have fewer hotel infinity pools than its neighbor Fira to the north — but harkens back just as vividly to Grecian villages of yesteryear.

From Mykonos

Mykonos has much to offer in its own right, but its location smack-dab in the middle of the Aegean Sea makes it an ideal launching point for all sorts of island-hopping activities.

Escape the crowds at Kalo Livadi Beach

Gorgeous beaches on Mykonos’ southern coast abound, but to catch some rays out of the fray, Kalo Livadi Beach is a beaute. It’s just over six miles southeast of Mykonos Town and has all the soft sand, turquoise water, and views of the Mediterranean you could ask for — but with fewer sun-kissed crowds. Bonus: Kalo Livadi can also be reached by public bus.

Discover the secret to a long life in Ikaria

A two-hour ferry ride from Mykonos is Ikaria, a remote Greek isle just off the Turkish coast. However, it’s famous for an unusual reason: one in three Ikarians live to be over 90 years old. For that reason, the island has been identified as one of only five of the world’s “Blue Zones,” or places on the planet where humans seem to live longer and healthier than anywhere else. For this reason, the ancient baths, and Ikaria’s cuisine (featuring goat, local honey, and very little meat and dairy) shouldn’t be missed.

From Crete

Greece’s largest island is home to endless interesting things to do and see, but for further consideration:

Take a scenic drive out to Kato Zakros

For a diverse and scenic drive, take a rental car through the mountains and along Crete’s east coast out to Kato Zakros, a laid-back, beachfront village sitting next to a historic Minoan palace (also home to some epically adorable turtles). After all that exploring you’re going to need platefuls of fresh seafood and dakos (Crete’s regional dish resembling, well, tacos) and thankfully, there are a number of beachfront tavernas happy to serve.

Explore an abandoned leper colony on Spinalonga Island

Just off of Crete’s northeastern coast is a tiny island with a torrid past: Spinalonga was home to Arab raids, the violent collision of Venetian and Ottoman empires, and most notably, a 20th-century leper colony (shuttered in the 1950s)—making this an oft-overlooked, but notable, island in Greece.

Whether off-the-beaten-path, or just away from the crowds, this Aegean hit-list of travel gems are unique, budget-friendly experiences that will be sure to please!

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