Starting in Athens is the way to go when seeing Greece. This city has so much to offer. Great food, lots of history, and beautiful weather! A must is a tour to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. Once there, with a guide, you’ll learn that construction began in 449 BC, and construction of the Parthenon began in 457 BC and was completed 9 years later. This temple was dedicated to the Athena, and contained a huge statue dedicated to the goddess.
Athens is loaded with museums, and you could spend days seeing them! The number one museum for most people with limited time in Athens, will be the National Archeological museum. It houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archeological locations around Greece.
The plaka is the old historical district of Athens in the shadow of the acropolis. This is where we enjoyed a traditional Greek evening with a ton of local delicacies like tzaziki, moussaka, Greek salad and so much more! The dancers and singers entertained us throughout the entire time.
This was a full day! Starting with some incredible views, the day just got better and better. Walking in temps of up to 35 Celsius can be trying, but when you are seeing buildings and monuments up to 2300 years old, it makes it all worthwhile. Crossing the Corinth canal that connects the Aegean Sea to the Ionian started the day. Our first stop is at ancient Corinth where St Paul preached. The museum shows us impressive mosaics and pottery that have been uncovered over the years. Then, on to Mycenae to another archeological site. This was a fortified city located between two hills on the Argolid plain of the Pelopponese, Greece. The acropolis that is through the impressive Lions Gate, dates back between 14th and 13th centuries BC. The museum at this site is very informative and is a perfect starting point. It is also air conditioned!!
Our last stop before reaching Nauplia, is Epidarus for a tour of the well preserved 2300 year old open air theatre. This theatre can seat 15000 people, and the acoustics are far beyond what in would have imagined.
Day 3 – Nauplia to Olympia
A beautiful drive through the Akkadian Mountains lead us to a great afternoon wandering the museum that houses Praxiteles magnificent statue of Hermes. Then we wandered into the original Olympic Games stadium. This was definitely a highlight, as we were able to walk (or run) on the track. The first written Olympic results date back to 776 BC. Olympia was never a city, but a pilgrimage. People would come from all over to worship at the the temples of Hera and Zeus and to watch or participate in the games. The ruins of these temples are there to see and imagine what it must have been like so many years ago. The Olympic flame is still lit at this site prior to every Olympic Games in the world today.
Day 4 -Olympia to Delphi
What a day! Picturesque views along the Ionian Sea kept us in awe for most of the morning. Then lunch by the sea before heading up to the ruins of Delphi. This is situated on Mt Parnassus. It is the site of the 4th century BC temple of Apollo, once home to a legendary oracle. It was built high above the valley below. The views are amazing from anywhere in this site.
The museum just below the site is filled with relics and statues that give you some idea of ancient times.
Day 5 – Delphi to Meteora
Today’s drive took us up steep winding roads, past ski resort areas and then down again into a magnificent valley on the edge of the Aegean Sea. We enjoyed fresh pomegranate juice along the way. We see this fruit, along with many other fruit trees all over Greece. It is a delicious, refreshing drink! Other crops in this area include rice, cotton and of course, olives.
We continue on toward Meteora and stop just below the most incredible rock formations for lunch and shopping. The food in Greece is so great everywhere. Also worth mentioning, is the baklava. This is found in almost every bakery we’ve seen.
After lunch, we head up to see the monestaries that are built on top of the rock formations. Meteora means… somewhere between the earth and the sky. It is incredible to imagine how these monasteries were built before roads were in place. They had nets that would lift people, building materials, and other supplies up to them. Meteora is definitely a top highlight on this trip so far.
Day 6 – Meteora to Athens
This was an easy day of driving and seeing the countryside. We did stop at Thermopylae to visit the site of the heroic battle of Leonidas 300 doomed Spartans against Xerxes huge Persian army. The site consists of a few monuments that commemorate this.
On the way into Athens, we drove past the Olympic stadium that was built for the 2004 Olympic Games.
Day 6-8 Cruising the Greek islands
Our day started at a reasonable time. We arrived at the port of Pireaus around 9:30am and boarded our ship — The Celestyal Olympia right away. It’s a smaller ship with approximately 1600 passengers. It’s a great way to see some of the beautiful Greek Islands, and Kusadasi in Turkey, without having to unpack and repack.
Our first stop is Mykonos. This island is popular with the rich and famous all summer long. And there are thousands of tourists that stop by on cruise ships to spend a few hours, or even to spend a couple of days. The largest town on the island is Mykonos town, also known as Hora. Mykonos is famous for its beautiful blue waters, white painted houses with brightly colored shutters, iconic windmills and colorful fishing boats. It’s a great stop for some great sunset photos.
Back on the ship for the evening, and the next days stops at Kusadasi, Turkey and Patmos
The highlight of Kusadasi is the ruins of Ephesus. This was a vibrant city with more than 250,000 inhabitants. I have seen many ruins in my travels, and Ephesus is still the most impressive so far. The library of Celsus was originally built in AD 115-25. Today, you can see the impressive restored facade while walking through the city. A little further away is the Theater which can hold 25,000 people. The Kusadasi area of Turkey has a great vibe. It is peaceful, with lots to see and do. This is also a perfect place to shop for hand made rugs, leather goods and spices.
Next stop – Patmos
This small Greek island in the Aegean Sea is most famous for being the location of the writing of the book of Revelation. Because of this book, Patmos has a long history as a destination for Christian pilgrimage. Visitors can see the cave where John is said to have received his Revelation, and several monasteries on the island are dedicated to Saint John
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands. The largest city is Heraklion. There is a lot to see on this island, but with only a few hours, we chose the Countryside tour with a stop at a winery, farm. This place is high up on a hill, with olive trees, grapes, herbs, and other fruit trees. We learned from the owner, the process of making wine and olive oil. Inside, we are offered fresh tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and olives. We also had the opportunity to sample their wine, Raki (similar to ouzo), and other liqueurs, while being entertained by local dancers.
We have ample time to shop for some of the olive oil, wines etc that we can bring home with us.
Santorini! This island is spectacular. The views are incredible. Again, because we only have a few hours, our choice is to go to Oia for views of the blue domed roof tops and sunset views. It is a busy with tourists this year (great for Greece), so we do have crowds to contend with. Everyone is happy to be there, so it makes it easy. Our tour is short, but definitely worthwhile. The trip back to the ship includes a short walk through Fira, and then a cable car ride down to the dock to catch the tender that will take us back to the ship.
There are donkeys that will take you up a steep trail into Fira from the docks. Përhaps on the next visit!
Greece is a country that has so much to offer. I would suggest a guided tour, and then maybe a few days stay on a Greek Island. Santorini is my fave, but there are a lot to choose from!