The Ultimate Guide to Greece for First-Time Visitors - Full-Time Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Greece for First-Time Visitors

The Ultimate Guide to Greece for First-Time Visitors

By Esme Benjamin

Dreaming of an international vacation? If you want your next trip abroad to blend a little of everything you’ve been missing, from pristine beaches to bustling cities and from tasty food to historic sites, Greece ought to be a top contender. 

We spoke to Villy Manolia, a Travel Designer for Unforgettable Greece and a Greek citizen, to find out what makes her home country so special. “That’s my favorite question,” she exclaimed, before listing off the highlights: the weather, the history, the beaches, the food, the authentic hospitality. “Also,” she adds, “it’s a very small country with amazing diversity of nature and geography, from volcanic islands like Santorini to the green Sporades archipelago. And in the north you’ll find some amazing mountainous villages and even ski resorts.” 

Meteora | By Georgios Kaleadis

For the average 10-day trip to Greece, Manolia recommends an itinerary that includes Athens followed by two to three islands. The best way to travel between destinations is often by plane rather than boat because a map of Greece doesn’t accurately portray the distance from one island to the next. “If you take the ferry from Athens to Crete, it takes about 12 hours,” explains Manolia. “So, before coming to Greece, travelers should look into distances and how to go from place to place to ensure it’s possible in the time they have.”

Of course, having planning assistance — or at the very least some helpful tips — from a local expert makes for a smoother and more fulfilling experience. Read on for Villy Manolia’s top recommendations and insights every first-time visitor to Greece should know.

The best Greek Destinations for couples 

Milos | By Despina Galani

White-washed walls, blooming bougainvillea and the matchy-matchy blue hues of sea and sky make Santorini a supremely picturesque setting for a romantic trip. “They say even if you go to Santorini with somebody you’re not in love with, you will fall in love with them,” says Manolia, who recommends booking a food and wine experience while on the island. “A glass of local wine at sunset is every bit as beautiful as what you see in the pictures. In fact, it’s 100 times more gorgeous.” 

Milos, another volcano-forged island, is the best spot for couples who love beachy downtime. Spend a lazy afternoon on Sarakiniko, a beach with curvaceous white rock formations that resemble the moon, before devouring a seafood dinner in front of the colorful facades of the old fishing village. 

If you want a less crowded but no less beautiful alternative to Santorini, consider Folegandros. This quiet island is beloved by locals while remaining under the radar among international visitors. Come here for beautiful beaches (including a nudist beach, if that’s your cup of tea), boutique hotels and strolls through the quaint old town.

The best Greek destinations for families 

Naxos | By Chris Barbalis

It must be said that Greece is an extremely family-friendly destination: the calm mediterranean sea is great for swimming, locals are welcoming and many activities can be customized for young travelers. However, there are a handful of destinations in particular that Manolia recommends.

Crete is a solid option for families thanks to its top hotels with kid-friendly facilities, safe beaches and tours of ancient sites like Knossos, the island’s largest Bronze Age archaeological site, dating back to the Neolithic period. 

Of course, Athens is a must for all first-time visitors, including little ones. Check out the Acropolis and museums, then book a workshop the kids will enjoy (e.g. creating your own archeological artifacts). 

Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades archipelago, is one of few Greek islands with a strong agricultural tradition. Take the kids to a farm and meet the animals, try local cheese and bread, or take a family cooking class. Plus, Naxos is everything you want from Greece, aesthetically speaking: white buildings with blue frames, and long sandy beaches lapped by calm, glistening seas (with lots of watersports on offer). 

The best greek destinations for groups/friends

Mykonos | By Despina Galani

When recommending a destination to a group of friends Manolia takes into account their age and interests. For younger groups, Mykonos is the top choice thanks to its famous nightlife and dining scene. “If you like to party you can do that 24/7,” says Manolia, “but you can also do a local beer tasting, take a cooking class or charter a boat and sail around the island.” 

Island hopping by boat is actually one of the most blissful ways to see the country. Manolia often books groups on sailing trips that explore the Ionian archipelago — mountainous islands on the west side of Greece, known for their calm waters, pastel-colored houses and slight Italian vibe (they were part of the Venetian empire for 400 years).

For older groups, Manolia recommends destinations that center around archeology, historical old towns and food experiences. Crete, Rhodes, Naxos and Delphi are all winners.

What to see and do in Athens

Athens | By Evan Wise

Most visitors begin their Greek vacation in the ancient city of Athens, and it would be a crime not to spend a couple of days exploring one of the world’s most historically significant cities before heading for the islands. Don’t miss these sights and activities curated by Manolia:

  1. The Acropolis of Athens. Besides being one of the country’s most iconic places, this ancient citadel perched on a rocky hill provides incredible views of the city all the way to the sea. 
  2. Dinner in Plaka. Situated right at the foot of the Acropolis, this historical neighborhood is full of narrow streets lined with neoclassical buildings housing bistros and cafes. “It’s like you’re on an island but you’re in the center of Athens,” explains Manolia. 
  3. Visit the Athens Riviera. Located about 10 minutes from the center of the city, this pretty stretch of coastline is full of hip beach clubs and elegant hotels. 
  4. Explore the food and wine scene. There are innumerable tours you can book, but if you’d rather go it alone start by browsing mouth-watering produce beside the locals at the old market (“it’s like a trip back in time,” says Manolia), then meander through the area stopping at wine bars and restaurants until you can’t eat another bite. 
  5. See the Temple of Poseidon. Drive the Athens coast all the way to Cape Sounion (about 43 miles) and arrive at this gorgeous columned temple in time for sunset. Views from its elevated position overlooking the sea are Instagram gold. 

What to pack for a trip to Greece

Lefkada | By Valdemaras

Greece is famous for its summer season from April until October, when that deep blue mediterranean sea is at its most inviting. Needless to say, you should pack plenty of sunscreen, some light, breathable outfits and swimsuits galore. Sturdy walking shoes are another must — this is a country full of lovely, higgledy-piggledy cobbled streets that are not compatible with fancy footwear. 

There's more to Greece than the white and blue buildings and the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. If you're planning a visit, check out these places below!

📍Kokkinopilos. Preveza
📍Verliga Dragon lake, Thessaly
📍Ithaca island, lonian Sea
📍Aoos springs lake, Epirus
📍Lake Prespes, Macedonia
📍Balda di Stringa waterfalls, Epirus
📍Meteora, Thessaly
📍Pelion, Thessaly
📍Lake Zorika, Epirus
📍Mt Lakmos
📍Crete island, Aegean Sea
📍Gistova Dragon lake, Macedonia

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Swim or kayak through the limestone cliffs of the Twin Lagoon, a must-visit destination for those traveling to Coron, Palawan, Philippines. It is called "twin" lagoon because it consists of two lagoons separated by a limestone cliff, with one lagoon on top of the other. The water in the inner lagoon is warm and clear, with a stunning turquoise color that makes it popular for swimming and snorkeling.

Reel: @travelifejournal

Take a dip in a series of seven saltwater lagoons located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The Lagoons of Baltinache are known for their beautiful turquoise waters and unique geological formations. The high concentration of minerals in the water gives it a unique buoyancy that makes swimming in the lagoons a unique experience.

Reel: @everchanginghorizon

Watching the sun rise above the clouds at Haleakalā National Park is one of the most memorable experiences you could have. Haleakalā is a Hawaiian name that means “House of the Sun” and is an awesome place to watch the clear night sky and stars fade away as the sun lights up the sky and the earth.

Reel: @girlchill_sunset

Just 1 hour from Shanghai by train, Cherry Blossom Valley is a popular tourist destination, particularly in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The valley is named after the thousands of cherry blossom trees that cover the area and create a stunning display of pink and white flowers. The trees were originally planted in the 1980s by a group of Japanese experts who were invited to China to help with reforestation efforts. The best time to visit is typically in late March or early April. Get there early to beat the crowds!

Reel: @cyncynti

New Zealand is unbelievable. See it for yourself:

1. Fiordland National Park
2. A classic backcountry hut trip
3. Blue Pools walk
4. Hooker Lake
5. Milford Sound
6. Lake Pukaki

Reel: @kylekotajarvi

Surrounded by lush greenery, towering karst mountains, and the river flowing through, the Detian Waterfall is a popular tourist attraction and a symbol of the close relationship between China and Vietnam. It is the largest waterfall in Asia and the fourth largest cross-border waterfall in the world.

Reel: @sophoebelous

Escape to a serene and peaceful oasis away from the bustling city of Marrakech at Le Jardin Secret—a beautiful and historic garden where visitors can escape the noise and chaos and enjoy the beauty of nature. The garden was originally built in the 16th century and is home to many different species of plants, including exotic flowers, citrus trees, and palm trees.

Reel: @hypermiggzz

For a magical moment and bucket list travel experience, visit the end point of the annual monarch butterfly migration. Starting in August, the monarchs travel 2,800 miles south from Canada, making a temporary home amid the towering trees of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, where the two most popular sanctuaries to view them are el Rosario in the state of Michoacan and Piedra Herrada in Estado de México. Standing in silence while thousands of delicate wings beat in unison is something you'll never forget.

Reel: @juliiathompson

There's just something beautiful about snow covered landscapes like this popular attraction in southwestern Utah. Known for its unique geology, @brycecanyonnps_gov consists of a series of natural amphitheaters, called "hoodoos," formed by erosion of the rock layers.

Photo: @nathanleeallen

As we experience a couple more weeks of winter, we can't help but dream of tropical destinations like Hawaii. The warm water, sunny skies, and consistent waves make it an ideal destination for surfers. Hawaii has a vibrant surf culture and community and is also a beautiful place to explore outside of the water, with lush green mountains, stunning beaches, and unique cultural experiences.

Reel: @christopherballadarez

1. @sequoiakingsnps, California
2. @canyonlandsnps, Utah
3. @olympic_nps, Washington
4. @whitesandsnps, New Mexico
5. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
6. Knik Glacier, Alaska

Reel: @nathanleeallen

Imagine getting caught in the rain while kayaking at one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Known for its stunning turquoise-colored lake, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains, Lake Louise is home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, and moose.

Reel: @reneeroaming