Home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, offering a plethora of art, culture, and history, Greece is probably one destination that is on every traveller’s wish list. This diverse land brings along a perfect vacation — a glimpse of the ancient world, picturesque views, sunbathing hours, and scrumptious local delicacies — all served on a Mediterranean platter. #DSSCRecommends top five things to do on your trip to Greece.
Explore The Forts And Palaces Of Crete
If ancient civilizations, spectacular architecture, and turquoise waters pique your interest, then a visit to Heraklion, the capital of the island of Crete, is a must. The Venetian Fortress, also known by its Turkish name, Koules, is an impressive structure that stands at the entrance of this port town. Explore the history of the massive two-storey fort with carefully curated exhibits that showcase its remains, as well as a short documentary open for viewing inside the fortress. You can also enjoy lovely walks along the fortress, by the Mediterranean Sea on a long pier that stretches out for almost 2 km.
Located on the outskirts of Heraklion, the ruins of Knossos Palace are a true testimony of Minoan architecture. On a tour of the palace, you will come across various reconstructed remains of the complex, vibrant frescoes, and artefacts. Knossos is also associated with many Greek legends, especially those of King Minos. It was here that King Minos made Daedalus build the infamous labyrinth to imprison his wife’s son, the mythical creature, Minotaur.
Go Museum Hopping
Greece is home to a numerous museums that are privy to the secrets of this age-old civilization, most of which have been an active source of inspiration for the Western world. A visit to the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, should be on your itinerary before a visit to the actual complex. As you make your way inside the museum, a closer look at the glass floor will reveal the ruins of an ancient Athenian neighbourhood. Also housed here, are precious artefacts from the Acropolis beginning from the Mycenaean period, right up to the Roman and Christian times. One of the most mesmerizing sights in the museum is that of the Parthenon Frieze that beautifully captures the Panathenaic Procession, a part of a larger festival in honour of Greek Goddess Athena’s birthday. While in Athens, do drop in at The National Archaeological Museum and the Benaki museum. The former, one of the biggest in the city, is a haven for history lovers and offers a display of exhibits that cover entire spans of the Greek civilization. From beautiful frescoes to skillfully crafted Hellenic sculptures, block out an entire day to absorb all that the museum offers. The Benaki Museum hosts fascinating art exhibits and gives the visitors a glimpse of the Benaki family’s private collection of Islamic Art. Moving south, The Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete traces the history of the Minoan Civilization, with over 10,000 artefacts giving an insight into a slightly different version of Greek history.
Mix it up and pair the history lessons with some vino. Ditch the regular tasting tours for a comprehensive insight into winemaking at the Santorini Wine Museum. Named after the Koutsoyannopoulos family, the museum is nestled in a cave with a maze-like structure. Here, learn about the history of wine, and the various stages of the winemaking, including raucous grape stomping. Indulge in a small wine tasting to round up your museum visit.
Delve Into Mythology
Greek myths are some of the most popular in the world and Athens is living proof of this fact. Named after the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, the Capital of Greece is home to some of the most magnificent heritage sites in the world. The Acropolis of Athens with its various monuments is one such complex. Situated in the heart of the city, it rests atop a rocky hill and bears the remnants of several ancient buildings, including the Parthenon. One of the most important surviving buildings of Classical Greece, the Parthenon was a temple dedicated to Athena. With its elegantly carved Doric columns standing tall, the ancient temple, which one may identify from Greek picture postcards, is the largest one on the Acropolis.
Coming down from the Acropolis, one can either walk through Plaka, a labyrinth of streets dotted with various shops and restaurants, or head towards Syntagma Square, the city centre around which, you will find the remains of the Temple of Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian. If you have more time in hand, hail a taxi and drive down to Cape Sounion to visit the Temple of Poseidon and catch a beautiful sunset.
Soak In The Natural Beauty
From intriguing geological formations to majestic mountain peaks and serene beaches, Greece is a tapestry of natural wonders. Santorini, one of the most famous Greek islands owes its unique geography to a series of volcanic eruptions over centuries. The Santorini caldera (a cauldron-like volcanic depression) is considered the most beautiful in the world and attracts thousands of visitors each year. A boat tour around the island and caldera is a great way to explore Santorini. Take in the expanse of the island, as you come across different cliff sides dotted with tiny houses. Prepare to hike up the volcano, Nea Kameni, and catch a gorgeous vista of the sparkling Mediterranean surrounded by the villages of Santorini.The tour will also take you to a small island inlet where you can jump off the boat and into the clear sparkling waters; a great way to cool off after the hike! As you swim a little further, you will reach the hot springs, which are red in colour and slightly warmer. #DSSCTopTip: Do not wear your best swimsuit to the hot springs, as the red will bleed and no laundromat will be able to save it.
A top tourist attraction on the island of Santorini is the sunset panorama, and Oia, a small village at the northern tip of the island, offers the best view in town. A landscape of white and blue houses, Cycladic architecture with pebbled streets resting against the deep blue of the Mediterranean — almost every nook and cranny of Oia is a photographer’s delight. Head on early to grab a spot, either by the Old Castle or the windmill and witness a breathtaking sight, as the sunset bathes the caldera, in beautiful hues of orange and yellow. If you are not staying in Oia and want to avoid the crowds, you could reserve a table at the Red Bicycle, the Santo Winery in Thira, the Koukoumavlos in Fira or any other restaurant offering you a glimpse of the sunset. Do book in advance as these tables are hard to come by. Sit back with a glass of wine and dust off the day as you watch the sun melt into the sea.
Relish Your Taste Buds
As diverse as its history, the Greek cuisine is an absolute delight for your tummy, heart, and soul. Kick off your meals with a variety of fresh salads topped with incredibly fresh feta. There is of course nothing that beats having an authentic Greek Salad in Greece. In Athens, the food tends to be a tad spicier due to Middle-Eastern and Turkish influences. Rather than relying on a web search, trust your gut, walk down the streets of Plaka, and choose a restaurant out on a whim. Besides the more popular options of Souvlakis and Moussakas, ask the chef for the dish of the day and try new local flavours and surprise yourself.
Santorini is every seafood lover’s paradise. With most of the taverns offering a fresh catch, this is where you should experiment and indulge your palate. Known for recipes that embody wholesome and fresh food, the Cretan cuisine is another story altogether. With a multitude of olive oil mills in the region, you will find it being used in almost every dish. A must try here are the Zucchini Balls and the Yemista, a Cretan speciality of stuffed peppers and tomatoes.
#DSSCTopTip: While in Crete, book yourself a tour to an olive oil mill. These family-run estates regularly offer visits to the factory and farm along with activities such as cooking classes. Get ready to empty your wallets and take home bottles of olive oil and a host of organic beauty products on your visit.
Chances are, you will be offered a slice of Greek hospitality as many restaurants serve a complimentary dessert at the end of your meal. This could be a plate of fresh fruits or a more indulgent serving of Loukoumades. In Crete, you are also likely to be a served a local alcoholic beverage called Raki, as an aperitif. On a hot sunny day, select from an array of flavours and grab a gelato or some Greek Yoghurt. For caffeine lovers, the Freddo Cappuccino is an absolute must.
Go, live your Mamma Mia! dream.
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