Published on Monday, 18 September 2017 00:00
Written by Cheryl Teo Kai Lin
The magnificence of Greece is unparalleled to any other country in the world; from its awe-inspiring legends of vengeful gods and vicious giants to ornate temples and intricate statues of bygone ancient civilizations carved out of marble. Everywhere you turn in this breathtaking country are wondrous sights and experiences that will enrapture all senses. With ceaseless splendors just waiting to be discovered, we curate the best for you.
1. Bask in the Magnificence of the Parthenon on the Acropolis
Perched on the hill of the Acropolis in Athens is a grandiose temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, built in 447 BC. The striking construct instills a sense of wonder with its towering marble columns and colossal proportions. With the view of Athens laid bare beneath your feet, and the wind whipping through your hair while you're surrounded by the grandeur of this ancient architecture, it is truly an unforgettable experience to remember for life.
2. Soak in Thousands of Years of History at the Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum houses priceless artifacts that have once inhabited the classical buildings set up on the hill. These precious pieces of history have withstood the test of time and the destruction of wars. The museum features forests of marble statues depicting young women, giant slabs of marble carved with gods and giants, and huge ornaments that have once decorated the buildings within the Acropolis.
3. Catch the Changing of Guards at the Greek Parliament Building
Dressed in floofy skirts that resemble tutus and shoes with giant pom poms attached to the tips of their shoes are the Evzones – a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades, who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. The guards stand in perfectly stoic stillness for an hour before they swap. The official ceremony is on every Sunday morning at 11am with the official costumes and the steps that the official ceremony requires at the time of changing are carried out in really slow motion to protect their blood circulation after 60 min of immobility.
4. Indulge in Tipples at Brettos Plaka
Teetering shelves pushed against every inch of the walls and crammed with hundreds of brightly colored liquids that shoot up from the floor to the ceiling adorn the oldest distillery in Athens. Brettos Plaka has been producing its own ouzo (Greece's national alcoholic beverage), brandy and a rainbow assortment of liqeurs since 1909 using old family recipes from Smyrni (Izmir, Turkey). It is the 2nd oldest distillery in Europe!
5. Cool down with Gelato
Gelato shops are rampant everywhere in Greece with tubs upon tubs of both local and exotic gelato flavors. The Greeks love their sweet treats, so you can be sure that practically every Gelato shop you walk into will not disappoint with its huge selection of frozen desserts.
6. Admire Ancient Artistry in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is the sanctuary of thousands of important artifacts derived from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. These historical treasures date back as far as 10,000 years ago, and the artwork on these pieces that include jewelry, burial items, sculptures, headstones, and statues are nothing short of exquisite. The museum also temporarily features antiques from other countries on an occasional basis.
7. Taste Greek Sea Urchin
Sea urchin is served in some of the tavernas littered along the coastal regions. Greek sea urchin gonads are tiny in comparison to its Japanese counterparts, and served in generous quantities in a bowl, inundated in a salty and tangy liquid. The sea urchin roe is just a tad sweet with prominent briny and salty flavors of the sea.
8. Become a Sucker for Octopus
Octopus is a popular ingredient in Greek cuisine and it is cooked in a variety of methods, our favorite being grilled. When the octopus tentacle is grilled, it gives a pleasantly smoky flavor which perfectly complements the springy yet tender meat that explodes with delicate sweet juices and a faint hint of saltiness from the sea as you bite down into its fresh and plump flesh.
9. Forget About Heroes, Gyros will Come to Your Rescue
When you are traveling on a budget and money is scarce, this Greek dish made from the shavings of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie will soon become a staple in your daily diet as you explore Greece. The pure unadulterated pleasure of eating a gyro coupled with its extremely affordable pricetag seems like a deal too good to be true. In fact, it boggles our minds how anything this divine and so complex in taste can cost as little as €2.50. Even if you have unlimited travel funds, we still urge you to take a bite of this deliciously wholesome wrap. It comes in a variety of meats; pork, chicken, beef, veal or lamb wrapped within a pita bread along with its quintessential ingredients like onions, tomatoes, lettuce and tzatziki.
10. Consider Yourself So Lucky to Discover Souvlakis
Another popular casual Greek food would be the souvlaki. The souvlaki is basically pieces of meat or minced meat grilled on a skewer. Excavations in Santorini unearthed the fact that souvlakis have been consumed more than 3,500 years ago in 17th Century BC. Souvlakis are generally pork, but chicken, lamb and beef are available too. We favor souvlakis made with minced meat over the ones cut from whole chunks of meat as the former is much more tender and every bite yields a spray of fatty, savory juices.
11. Get Lost Within the Graffiti-ed Labyrinth of Plaka
The old historical neighborhood of Plaka in Athens practically begs to be roamed. Most of the streets can only be explored by foot as automobiles are prevented from entering. Built at the foothill of the Acropolis, this charming district features vibrant crowds, picturesque neoclassical houses, flowers creeping up buildings and stretching across ledges, idyllic little tavernas, boutiques retailing anything from olive oil products to the Greek evil eye amulet that ward off bad luck, and graffiti ranging in all colors and sizes adorning and brightening up alleyways. Just be careful of pickpockets lurking around!
12. Test the Amazing Acoustics at the Theater of Epidaurus
The Theater of Epidaurus, built in 340 BC, is the best preserved and finest example of a classical Greek theater. The ancient theater was ingeniously built in such a manner that allows the slightest sound (like paper ripping apart or a coin dropping to the ground) to be carried from the center of the stage to the farthest and highest row of marble seats. This allows for amazing performances with remarkable acoustics without the use of any technological equipment. Get your travel buddy to hike all the way up to the top row of the theater while you stand in the very center of the stage and belt out a song in your usual volume, the sound will miraculously reach your friend's ears almost as clear as if you were to sing next to him/her. May we also take the time to remark on the absolute splendor of the mountain-studded horizon from the very top.
13. Live the Greek Myth in Mycenae
Legend has it that the legendary hero, Perseus (a demi-god who was fathered by the almighty Zeus), founded the Mycenaean Civilization and instructed the mythical Cyclopes to build the walls of Mycenae with giant stones that no human could move. Up till now, researchers still don't have any inkling on how the people of Mycenae managed to move such colossal boulders without the use of modern machinery and stack them atop one another to form the fortified walls of the city that have extraordinarily withstood the harsh elements for more than 3,600 years. It's a mystery for the ages and one that you should definitely stop by to ponder and stare in awe.
14. Walk in the Footsteps of Ancient Champions in Olympia
Discover the cradles of sportsmanship and athleticism at this sacred ancient site where the first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC. Follow the dirt path where ancient champions once treaded on their journey to victory amidst the hauntingly beautiful ancient ruins like the temples of Zeus and Hera, the pink explosion of blooms on Judas Trees, and wild poppies and daisies swaying their heads in the breeze. Initiate a foot race in the ancient Olympic stadium and relive Greece's glory days.
15. Delve into Delphi's Prophecies
In ancient times, Delphi was regarded as the center of the world, where heaven and earth met. As you trek up the antediluvian civilization carved out in staggered levels on a mountain, the latter may actually seem true. Ethereal landscapes laid out as far as the eye can see, partially enshrouded in a dreamy mist, is the perfect setting where the legendary Greek myths are conceived. This was regarded as the place on earth where man was closest to God. In mythology, Delphi was the meeting place of two eagles, released by Zeus and sent in opposite directions. Where they met indicated the center of the earth.
16. Glorify the Greatest Badass in All History – King Leonidas
THIS IS SPARTA! A monument dedicated to King Leonidas – the greatest badass the world has ever known – was erected at Thermopylae in 1955 in close proximity to where the famous 300 Spartan warriors fell. The monument features a bronze statue of Leonidas with a sign underneath that reads: “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” (“Come and Take Them”), which was Leonidas defiant reply when Xerxes offered to spare the lives of the Spartans if they surrendered and gave up their weapons.
17. Get in Touch with Your Spirituality in Meteora's Monasteries
The gargantuan skycraping rocks of Meteora loom above the town of Kalambaka, majestic and imposing. Christian Orthodox monasteries are perched on some of these grand summits in mankind's everlasting desire to connect with the divine. The fusion of both natural wonders and man-made structures provide an other-wordly experience. The vertical Meteora rock formations were regarded as the perfect place to achieve absolute isolation, to discover peace and harmony and, thus, to support man's eternal struggle for spiritual elevation. Today, only 6 of the ancient monasteries have survived and are still inhabited by pious monks and nuns. The gold-plated frescoes, intricate architecture and tranquil courtyards in these monasteries instill a sense of mystical peace and serenity, yet takes your breath away with its grandeur.
18. Buy Byzantine Art
One of the finest forms of ancient art that has been carried down for generations, Byzantine artwork originated more than 1,600 years ago, and still continues to inspire artists and art connoisseurs with its painstaking procedure, the precious mediums used in its craftsmanship and the over-all opulence of its final results. Authentic Byzantine art crafted by hand does not come cheap, but its superb artistry and fastidious approach taken for every piece makes it worth the money. Byzantine art typically feature Christian scenes and are extravagantly decorated in 24-carat gold leaf.
19. Watch the Sunset Through the Doorway of the Temple of Apollo on Naxos
Apollo is the god of the sun, and according to Greek Mythology, his daily task is to herald the sun across the sky on his four-horse chariot so it is extremely befitting and rather poetic to watch the flaming ball set the sky awash with golden beams while framed by the doorway of the ruined temple as it makes its fiery descend.
20. Explore the Quaint Maze of Alleyways Circumferential to the Castle on the Top of the Hill in Naxos
From the Temple of Apollo, walk straight towards the little hill in the city and you will soon find yourself meandering around a labyrinth of quaint houses, some abandoned, some inhabited. There is an old world charm contained within the cramped and quiet winding alleyways. Don't panic if you get lost, because the charisma of this maze of alleyways manifests and unfurls upon itself the deeper you venture in. Just lose yourself in the moment of exploration, take many photos and continue on with your little adventure. Eventually you will find an opening out of the intricate maze that surrounds the castle.
21. Rent a Quad-Bike and Zip Around Naxos
Naxos is a cache of both historical and modern hidden gems scattered in abundance on its little island like seashells on a beach. From the abandoned Temple of Demeter standing out in the overgrown fields of wild flowers to lovely little churches with friendly locals who invite you to partake in feasts, from a town carved entirely out of marble to broken statues of young men dating back thousands of years tucked away in the wilderness, from breathtaking sceneries overlooking the valley to the ringing chime of grazing goats, there is something always waiting around the corner to surprise you.
22. Hole Up in a Cave House in Santorini
You may want to splurge a little for at least a night's stay in a hotel/Airbnb modeled after a traditional cave house unique to Santorini. The cave houses initially came about from poor fishermen and sailors who couldn't afford to construct houses on top of the cliffs, so they dug holes into the rock instead, creating homes instead of building them. This amazingly economical concept also keeps the houses warm in winter and cool in summer thanks to the insulation that the rock provides. Today, these cave houses that have become unique to Santorini are not as economical to reside in, but are undeniably pretty, cozy and welcoming. You can read more of my personal travels in Santorini here
23. Take the Cable Car Down to Fira Old Port in Santorini
For just €5 per person, the small but sturdy cable cars are a quick way to get down to the Fira old port with a brief but beautiful view of the town of Fira cut up high into the cliffs. Kick back and relax at one of the tavernas along the little habour while the gentle lapping of water against the port's edge puts you into a tranquil state of mind.
24. Take a Thrilling Donkey Ride Up the Marble Steps in Santorini
There is some controversy towards the treatment of the donkeys but research suggests that the donkeys employed to trot up and down the 600 marble steps linking the old port and the town of Fira are humanely cared for. They amount huge in numbers so that they may have plenty of rest, water and food in between rides. Maybe skip the donkeys if you weigh above 90kg, as that is the maximum weight a donkey can comfortably carry. The €5 ride up will be surprisingly thrilling as the donkeys each have a mind of its own, occasionally breaking out into a sprint up the steps, stopping abruptly for a break, nipping at other donkeys, and veering towards the side of the handrail. The donkeys will occasionally slip on the marble steps too, so it's definitely not for the faint-hearted.
25. Marvel at the World Famous Sunsets in Santorini
There are a myriad of locations to catch the beguiling sunsets of Santorini that have captured the hearts of travelers all around the world. Other travelers may recommend securing a spot on the romantic castle ruins in Oia but that gets crazily overcrowded and stifling and you may have to turn up at least three hours before the sunset to claim a good spot. When we were in Santorini, we had a hotel with a private veranda that overlooked the caldera, and hurried back to it everyday to watch the sun dip into the horizon. If you don't have a balcony to admire the sunset from, you can head to a restaurant that promises sunset views. We personally hold Mezzo Restaurant in Imerovigli in high esteem for its quality culinary offerings that could rival the beauty of the setting sun. You will find it difficult to stop yourself from being enthralled with the rainbow streaks that the receding sun paints across the blue skies.
26. Walk Through Greece's Very Own Pompeii – the Akrotiri – in Santorini
The Akrotiri in Santorini is Greece's very own version of Pompeii sans the petrified dead bodies terrifyingly frozen in torment for all time. The ancient civilization of Akrotiri dates back a mind-boggling span of 7,000 years. Akrotiri was destroyed circa 1627 BC (3,644 years ago) by the Theran eruption which blew up more than half of Santorini (classically called Thera, now officially renamed Thira) to hell. If you take a look at the map of Santorini, it depicts a gaping hole (the caldera) where land used to be, now occupied by seawater. The Akrotiri excavation site is housed indoors, sheltered from the elements, under a sturdy modern roof built over the ancient village. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the the archaic civilization as it is speculated that the excavated portion makes up only a modicum of the entire site.
27. Stroll Down the Striking Black Beach in Santorini
Wriggle your toes in the toasty, jet black sand granules on Perivolos beach as you relish in the cool ocean breeze. The contrasting deep blue waves gently rolling onto the black volcanic ash shore give the illusion of two worlds colliding. Take a moment to revel in the scent of the salty ocean breeze, the honeyed fragrance of wild flowers that bloom in wild abandonment and the warm sunshine upon your face.
28. Get a Bird's Eye View of Santorini on Profitis Ilias
Sure, you can go all out and book a helicopter tour in Santorini to get an amazing bird's eye view of the island, but there is something divine and hallowed up at the top of Profitis Ilias – the tallest hill in Santorini named after the venerable prophet Elijah. This is the perfect place to get down on one knee and pop the question if you are thinking of proposing to your beloved with the spectacular view of the valleys and agricultural landscape that lay beneath, along with the sparkling sea that stretches on forever. It may seem like a great idea to lay down a picnic mat on a grassy spot at the summit amidst the wild daisies, poppies and lavender, while feeling like you're presiding over men from the top of the clouds. However, unless you want to develop cancer, don't stay on that hill for more than 30 minutes. The pinnacle is home to a military radar that emits huge waves of radiation that can cook you from the inside out. Go up, gasp at the marvel of Santorini's landscape, take a couple of photos and GTFO.
29. Set Your Gaze Upon the Iconic Santorini Postcard View in Real Life
While exploring Oia, you may want to wander into side alleys off the main shopping street in search of photo opportunities. Most of these alleyways usually lead to nothing but private properties overlooking the sea (signs on the gates of these private properties warn people from proceeding any further lest they wish to be persecuted for trespassing), but some alleyways open up to the trademark scenery unique to Santorini; the scene of blued-domed churches set against a backdrop of staggered, mismatched buildings, carved into the curvature of a cliff that looms above the jeweled waters of the sea.
30. Hunt Down a Literary Treasure Trove in Oia, Santorini
Atlantis Books is a rustic hole-in-the-wall bookstore located along the main shopping street of Oia filled with quirky signs and teetering shelves crammed with an assortment of titles. Even if you're not a bookworm, this charming literary treasure trove is still worth checking out with its beautiful fairytale-esque interior. Each book that you purchase as a souvenir will be carefully stamped with the Atlantis' Books' logo of a tidal wave.
Of course, the list of unique life experiences you can acquire in Greece for your personal Greek Odyssey goes on and on. You just will have to truly live in the moment while you discover new hidden treasures and create your very own brand of Grecian adventures.
Hi, I'm Cheryl. I possess a joie de vivre spirit unique to my character, my expressions of euphoria are wild in nature and I approach life like one colossal party. I love venturing into the unknown and exploring all that is possible; from exotic foods to cliff-diving. When I am not seeking out something extraordinary to check off my bucket list, I love curling up on a comfy couch with a glass of wine and a book in hand. Follow my personal adventures in my blog here where I let loose of all inhibitions, voice my inner-most emotions, exult in all that is wonderful, unleash the monsters within, lose myself in beautiful reveries, reminisce treasured memories and curate recherché experiences.