A wealth of enticing towns and cities await those who venture beyond the Greek capital
Greece’s ancient capital may steal the limelight in the city break stakes but it’s far from being the only game in town. While some historic Greek centres such as Sparta may have paled in importance over the years, and others such as Kalamata and Prevezia function primarily as regional air gateways, many others remain ripe for exploration, awash with charming old towns, unique cultures and vibrant local cuisines. Here are six of the best.
Notwithstanding the excellent Archaeological, Byzantine and Olympic museums, Greece’s second city, on the northeastern coast, cries out to be explored with your feet and taste buds, its unique energy, cuisine and architecture borne of a fascinating fusion of historic influences, from Greek and Roman to Ottoman and Byzantine.
Revitalised areas such as Ladadika and Ano Poli throng with inviting bars, restaurants and fancy buildings while walking tours curate grand gestures such as the Rotunda of Galerius, Aristotelous Square and Heptapyrgion fortress, offering sweeping views over the city. Scenic strolls along the coastal promenade meanwhile are watched over by the city’s emblematic White Tower.
Halkidiki’s sun-soaked resorts are within easy reach too, as are the epic landscapes and trails spilling out from Mt. Olympus. Alternatively, conjure a beach-backed twin centre by adding time in Kavala, 100 miles east.
Located halfway between Athens and Thessaloniki on the Greek mainland, Volos is a mythical destination where tourists can walk along Argonauts Avenue and bask in the region that the centaurs called home.
The city of Volos has a rich history. Grand mansions and government buildings tell their own tale, while walking along the seafront you can eat in small restaurants that look over fishing boats and yachts – and even a replica of the ancient ship Argo.
Sightseers can visit Volos Castle, in Palia, towards the west of the city, or head to Agios Konstantinos, a pretty corner of the city that that is perfect for wandering around.
The region stretching out around Volos is beautiful. Visitors can tour archaeological sites, explore nature, get to know Pelion or set sail for the lush-green Sporades islands.
This northwestern charmer owes much of its allure to the idyllic lakeside setting, ringed by mountains.
Cosy cafés dot the shady, tree-lined promenades edging Pamvotis Lake, offering a great place to kick back over a drink or a bite. More attractions await those who venture out to its island, not least the Ali Pasha Museum and fresco-filled Byzantine monasteries.
Another of Ioannina’s draws is the 6th century Byzantine castle area, which remains inhabited. It’s a fascinating place, the Byzantine Museum and Acropolis of Its Kale featuring among its highlights.
The town also makes a great base for touring the wider area, from the mystical monastic landscapes of Meteora, so beloved of hikers and photographers, to the national parks of Pindus and Vikos-Aoos, with its famous gorge and natural springs.
Gastronomes find much to savour in the airport-backed Cretan capital. Plani, Thigaterra and Erganos offer a mere taste of the city’s foodie credentials, with operators such as Tasting Crete serving up all manner of culinary experiences. Fresh local produce and snacks also flavour the Central Market on 1866 Street, vying with souvenirs for visitors’ attention.
Beautifully floodlit by night, Koules fortress, by the old Venetian port, adds an air of romance to pre- or post-prandial harbourside strolls while the impressive archaeological museum helps school visitors ahead of a visit to Knossos. The major Minoan site is but a short bus or taxi ride away, as are some lovely elevated inland villages such as Archanes. Exploring the latter makes for a pleasant diversion, powered by tasty pastries from the local bakeries, or extended stops at welcoming tavernas.
Not for nothing has Chania been prized as a settlement since Neolithic times. Served by an international airport, the city offers a more compact and characterful alternative to Heraklion, some 90 miles east along the northern coast.
Despite its clear Ottoman and Byzantine influences, and Minoan and Roman roots, much of its prized architecture hails from the Venetian era, including the remnants of the fortified walls and harbour. The latter help define the Old Town where myriad bars and restaurants grace the narrow stone alleyways, and squares such as Eleftherios Venizelos. Bargains await at the central market while the inviting harbourside eateries make worthy outcomes for evening strolls along the promenade.
Outside of town the pink-sanded beaches of Balos and Elafonissi await, with Samaria Gorge National Park catering to active types.