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Did You Know…?

  • The first recorded Olympics, in 776 B.C., featured one event: a foot race.
  • In Greece, a nod of the head means “no.”
  • Locally, the country’s name is Elliniki Dhimokratia; the short versions are Ellas or Ellada.
  • The first person to espouse an atomic theory was Democritus (fifth century B.C.).
  • The first marathon was a messenger’s run to announce the Greek victory at Marathon over the Persians (490 B.C.).

Where the Olympics began

Travelers don’t go to Greece to study Homer or Plato, but they are drawn by the physical evidence of the Greeks’ glorious past — temples, statuary, archaeological sites and the like.

Visitors also speak highly of the weather, hot in the summer and mild in the winter, with lovely springs and autumns. Further, Greece is a favorite for those who like to explore the beautiful islands that flank the mainland and who find cruising the Aegean stimulating to the mind and relaxing to the body.

Thousands of years ago, gods and goddesses were active in our world, interfering in human lives, deciding the course of wars, occasionally granting a favor and mating with humans to produce demigods like Hercules. Tradition says this happened in Greece, the place that also became known as the birthplace of democracy and Western civilization.

Sightseers find an overwhelming amount to see and do whether on the mainland or in the islands, and if one’s interest is ancient history, it’s heaven — or Mount Olympus. The Olympics date from that ancient past, too. The Greeks staged the quadrennial events for 12 centuries until they were canceled by a Christian emperor because they honored Zeus. Fittingly, the modern series opened in Athens (1896), and 21st century enthusiasts saw them return to Athens in 2004.

Travelers at the middle of the personality scale find the Greeks warm and friendly, and the modern culture just exotic enough. They also like the fact Greece can be inexpensive compared with other European destinations. Where there are mountains and islands, there are hiking and water sports so, naturally, active travelers season their sightseeing with exploratory walks in the hills, scuba diving, fishing and the like. But it is the least venturesome, in love with the weather and charming islands accessible on cruise ships, who praise Greece most.

The pace of modern life slows down outside Athens, and traveling through this beautiful land with its many reminders of ancient and mysterious civilizations transports life into another dimension, for a few sunny days, at least. The glory that was Greece is there for tourists to discover. Modern Greece offers its own attractions, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Plan a hiking tour in the North Pindos mountain range where there are several trails to choose from, varying from day walks between a succession of villages to multiday routes that involve some real climbing. This is the part of Greece brought to our attention in the book and movie, “Eleni.”
  • Join an archaeological dig. One place to look for opportunities is through the Archaeological Institute of America.
  • Stay in a monastery or convent. Several provide lodging for travelers, but you will be expected to behave and dress so as not to offend. The holy Mount Athos accommodates only men, who must apply for a “visa” to overnight there.
  • Stretch your island hopping to include smaller places like Samos, for its temple ruins, and Chios, for its Byzantine mosaics — in addition, you’ll have the pleasure of traveling to Greece’s easternmost islands, in the Aegean near Turkey.
  • Take Greek language classes on Crete. Or take classes in Greek dance and music.
  • Here is an unusual idea for the intrepid. Get yourself to one of several villages (Ayia Eleni, Langada and others) that are the sites of something called the Anastenaria Fire-Walking Ritual. Adherents in a trance and carrying church icons walk on hot coals. Despite a Christian veneer, the ritual is considered a survival of practices of the Dionysian cult in ancient Greece. Be aware events include animal sacrifices.

Things to do for Centrics

  • The complex on the Acropolis — the Parthenon, the Theater of Dionysius and the Erechtheion Temple — is a must-see for every visitor.
  • Epidaurus hosts a world-famous drama festival each summer. Join 50,000 other theater buffs or historians for Greek drama at its purest.
  • Minoan civilization began in Crete, to which Athens paid tribute for many years. Legend has it that Theseus slew the Minotaur at the Palace of Knossos and so broke Crete’s control, but earthquakes and fires probably contributed also.  Take the ferry for maximum pleasure, or fly to allow more time to see the ruins and the Archaeological Museum.
  • Go to Delphi, where the oracle once offered up incomprehensible answers to the ancients’ questions. Today, it is a stunning collection of ruins in a dramatic mountainside setting that calls for some climbing to explore. Overnight there so you can see Delphi at sunrise.
  • Join an early winter tour to islands such as Chios or Lesvos that lets you learn how to pick olives, see how olive oil is made and observe how to cook Greek foods with the local oil.
  • And for one of the world’s most visually striking sights, search out the Meteora, which is a cluster of rock formations that simply shoot skyward, and this is where the determined religious built and once supported 24 monastic communities. Today, most are closed and a handful are museums.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit Mykonos at Easter time, Greek Easter, that is, when the services and celebrations are spectacular performances, featuring processions, firecrackers and outdoor services at midnight.  No matter when you visit, look for the section of the island’s capital that is called Little Venice.
  • Traditional church music in Greece is chanting that sounds “eastern” to the western ear. For good examples, attend Greek Orthodox services in any city.
  • Visit the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, which covers the entire expanse of Greek civilization and offers special exhibits from time to time.  Or select from the hundreds of other museums scattered around Greece and covering 6,000 years of history in this relatively small country.
  • Attend a performance of traditional Greek folk dancing.
  • Buy souvenirs, things like a Greek fisherman’s hat or worry beads. You can pick up olive oil, too, if you are willing to pack it in checked luggage.
  • Feast on Greek foods, like moussaka (meat and eggplant), stuffed grape leaves, souvlakia (grilled lamb on skewers), spanakopita (spinach pie) and baklava (an outrageously decadent sweet built with filo pastry, nuts and syrup).

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Greek National Tourism Organization at