Escapes: Greece

SUN-kissed Greece leaves little doubt as to why the ancient Greeks worshipped Apollo, the god of light and sun.

With sunshine for most of the year, Greece is an ideal place to work on a tan and live the relaxed European lifestyle.

Much more than feta cheese and ouzo, Greece is a land of ancient ruins, 15,000km of coastline and iconic landscapes.

Island hopping is a popular way to experience the Greek archipelago yet the mainland boasts the capital Athens, a truly unique glimpse into the country’s long history.

Athens

Capital city Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities and is considered to be the birthplace of Western civilisation.

Despite its lack of aesthetic appeal, the true beauty of Athens is in its vibrant culture.

Dotted among the ruins of a bygone age are busy modern bars, restaurants and upmarket shopping centres: a lively mix of old and new.

Athens has been inhabited for more than 7000 years and is the birthplace of democracy, the Olympics, Western philosophy and literature, major mathematical principles and theatre.

The city’s natural centre is the towering Acropolis, with the Parthenon as its iconic centrepiece.

The marble monument is the chief temple of the Greek goddess Athena, for which the city is named, and was built in the middle of the fifth century.

It is the biggest Doric temple completed in Greece and took 15 years to complete.

The Acropolis features a number of other archaeological treasures, such as the temple to Athena of Victory, Nike Athena and the Pinacotheca.

A wander down from the Acropolis to the Ancient Agora – once the centre of economic, social and political activity and the spot where Socrates presented his philosophy – is another good introduction to the history of the country.

If that isn’t enough to satisfy the history nut, a visit to the National Archaeological Museum will do the trick, which features a huge collection of ancient Greek artefacts and is just one of many museums in the Greek capital.

The city’s Monastiraki and Plaka neighbourhoods offer travellers something different with an array of quirky shops and cafes, including the daily Monastiraki flea market. Head to the central market Varvakios Agora to see how the locals stock their kitchens.

For night owls, Athenian nightlife is among the best in the world, filled with food, music and dancing.

The Islands

Not far from the mainland are the Cyclades, the best place to enjoy Greek island-hopping with some of the most popular spots for a getaway.

Mykonos is well-known for its 24-hour parties, attracting several million tourists per year to the popular and high-profile island.

While the island’s Old Town and high-end restaurants and clubs are famous across the globe, its crystal-clear water and traditional architecture and windmills keep popular Mykonos grounded. For a break from hedonism, visit Delos – the mythical birthplace of Greek Gods Apollo and Artemis – just offshore.

The vivid cliffs and white housing of Santorini are dramatic reminders of its unique position on the Aegean Sea. Santorini was formed by 12 volcanic eruptions, each causing a collapse and crater, and surrounds one of the most well-known volcanoes in Europe.

Thira, Santorini’s main island, is a drawcard for tourists with its red, white and black-sand beaches, intriguing landscape and cliff-hugging tavernas with scenic views. Sunsets on the island are particularly grand, gifting tourists a lasting memory of Greece.

One of the best islands for Greek food is Crete – the island of sunny beaches, friendly locals and the mythical birthplace of Zeus.

Crete is rich in history and natural beauty and is the perfect place for a long lunch; the quintessential Greek summer experience.

The Palace of Knossos is a must-see, which is considered the oldest city in Europe and the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on the island. Crete is the birthplace of the Minoans, the first advanced European society, and is evidenced at Knossos.

What to know

Like Australia, Greece is blessed with a favourable climate most months for the year. Due to the size of the country, weather depends on where the traveller is visiting. However, the months between April and September are the best time to go.

It’s relatively easy to travel around Greece, either on land or between islands: buses are an effective way to travel between major destinations and ferries are the best way to island hop.

It takes about 24 hours to get from Australia to Mykonos, with most major airlines flying the route. Greece is easily accessible from European cities to extend a summer getaway.