Greece is one of our favorite countries in the world. It has all the things we love, including great weather, fascinating history, vibrant culture, a gorgeous coastline, stunning natural landscapes, delicious food and fun-loving people. However, even though mainland Greece has all these attributes and more, many people only visit the islands.
Don’t get me wrong, we also love the Greek islands and could happily spend weeks or even months soaking in their idyllic beauty. In fact, we have done just that. But, in our opinion, overlooking the diverse and spectacular Greek mainland means missing out on much of what makes Greece so special.
We still have a lot of mainland Greece to explore, but we have managed to check quite a few places off our long list.
Our Favorite Places on Mainland Greece
If you’ve ever been to Greece, it’s likely you have at least passed through the historic city of Athens. I have now been to Athens six times and Nathan has been four times, and we find something new to fall in love with on each visit. You may have heard some negative things about the capital of Greece, such as that it’s big, busy and dirty. This is true to an extent, but then what major city doesn’t have those attributes?
Having spent many months in Athens over the years, we can say with certainty that the positive far outweighs the negative. Athens is an incredible place to visit, with a huge array of historic sites, incredible museums, unlimited food options, lively nightlife and charming neighborhoods. Athens even has beaches in the suburb known as the Athens Riviera.
Just a few of the must-see sights in Athens:
- Ancient Acropolis
- The Acropolis Museum
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Ancient Agora
- Mount Lycabettus
We recently re-visited Meteora after 10 years, and we wondered if it would live up to our memories. We were not disappointed. Meteora is a magical place with both stunning landscapes and a fascinating history.
The town of Kalabaka, which is the best place to stay to access Meteora, has grown since we were there last, but the backdrop of magnificent rock formations is no less impressive. These unique sandstone formations rise more than 600 meters and provide hikers with fabulous scenic trekking.
Aside from the impressive natural beauty, Meteora is famous for a series of byzantine Greek Orthodox monasteries perched impossibly on top of the rocky pinnacles. There were once 24 monasteries in this area built by monks between the 13th and 14th centuries to protect themselves from the invading Turks. Today, there are six active monasteries, and they are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All six are open to visitors year-round. You can hike, drive or take a tour of these monasteries, but we suggest that self-drive would be the least desirable way to visit.
If you’re able-bodied enough, then hiking is a good option. However, it’s advisable to use a guide or at least get a map and directions, as the trails can get confusing.
Top Tip: For all your Meteora needs, we highly recommend Visit Meteora. We used their services on our first visit 10 years ago and again in 2023, and they were great both times. Visit Meteora has a website for pre-planning and a visitor’s center in downtown Kalabaka where you can pick up maps and information or book a tour. On both of our visits, we combined some self-guided exploration and tours with Visit Meteora guides. We found it to be the perfect balance.
The Peloponnese region deserves an article all its own (which is coming soon) due to its size, ancient history and gorgeous scenery. We still have not seen all this area has to offer, but we’ve explored enough to know it’s well worth a visit. For now, here’s a taste of some of the must-see places in the Peloponnese.
The charming town of Nafplio is one of our favorite places in the Peloponnese and at only 2 hours’ drive from Athens, it’s an easy addition to any mainland Greece itinerary. Nafplio was the first capital of modern Greece from 1823 to 1834, but its history goes back centuries. The town has been under the rule of the Ottomans, Venetians, Frankish and finally Greeks.
Its bayside location, relaxed atmosphere and romantic cobblestone streets of Old Town make it a popular mainland Greece destination for both a romantic getaway or family vacation. The backdrop of hills and mountains and turquoise water will also appeal to those looking for a scenic place to relax and enjoy good food and wine.
We were invited to join a 3-day JayWay Travel tour to Nafplio and loved it. Along with exploring the sweet town we also enjoyed a Chef’s Table Experience and a cooking class with wine tasting at a nearby winery. We highly recommend adding one or both to your list of things to do in Nafplio.
Top Tip: JayWay Travel is a boutique tour operator that has been offering custom tours to Europe since 2006. We first used their services a few years ago to visit Bulgaria for the first time and were really impressed. So, we jumped at the opportunity to travel with them again.
Before you say, “I’m not a tour group traveler”, know that JayWay is not that. They specialize in semi-independent travel and will customize your trip to include as much or as little guidance as you desire at a price point much lower than a fully escorted tour. Plus, they have on-the-ground locals providing options for experiences most tourists won’t know about.
This is one you likely won’t yet find on many must-see lists for Mainland Greece, but that’s one reason we urge you to go. The lovely village of Trikala is in the mountainous region of Corinthia and is reached via a scenic 2-hour drive from Athens through olive groves and vineyards.
The Greek name, Trikala, means “three goods” referring to the abundance of three natural qualities of the region: fresh air, vineyards and spring waters. The village itself also reflects the name, as it is divided into three sections: Ano (upper), Mesaia (middle) and Kato (lower).
Driving through the village, we were greeted with the sight of traditional wood and stone buildings housing charming guest houses, shops and restaurants. After two days in Trikala Corinthia, we were in love with the place, the people and the gorgeous scenery.
If you’re looking for an authentic Greek village stay with easy access to mountains, lakes, vineyards and olive groves, then this is a must-see on mainland Greece.
Epidaurus and Mycenae
We love exploring historic sites and ancient ruins and mainland Greece is overflowing with these wonders. Epidaurus and Mycenae are both fascinating sites in the Peloponnese that can be visited on the same day.
The ancient archeological site of Epidaurus is one of the most important in Greece and is said to be the birthplace of Escelpius, son of Apollo. Escelpius was a healer and people would go to Epidaurus seeking treatment at the sanctuary and healing center. There is also an impressive ancient theater on site that was built for ceremonies and performances to thank the gods for their healing.
Mycenae is another very important Greek archaeological site that has ties to Helen of Troy and the legendary Agamemnon. Sights here include the possible tomb of Agamemnon, the Cyclopean Walls and the Lion Gate that leads to the hilltop citadel.
The seaside town of Kalamata is another spot you may not see on a mainland Greece top list, but we spent a week there and really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and proximity to other sights. As you may have guessed by the name, it is famous for its delicious olives. But its long, sandy beach also makes it a popular destination for Greek holidays.
In the summer months, Kalamata is buzzing with life as young people and families pour in for some relaxation and fun nightlife. Plus, there is an international airport, so it can be used as a jumping-off point for other parts of the Peloponnese.
Other Mainland Greece Sights
Despite visiting Greece many times over the years, there are still lots of places on our own list of must-sees in mainland Greece. This includes Momenvasia, Olympia, Thessaloniki, Delphi and Sparta, to name just a few. Check back as we add more top destinations on mainland Greece.
Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.