Cultural and Historical Holidays: Treasures of Greece
Uncover more than 3000 years of civilisation in a country renowned for great beaches, all-night parties and delicious cuisine. Walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Plato, Homer or Agamemnon. Explore Byzantine churches and monasteries, Venetian fortresses and Crusader castles, as well as ancient sites dating from the Minoan, Hellenistic and Roman eras.
At the ancient site of Delphi, walk on stones where the ancient Greeks once consulted the Oracle about the future - perhaps try it yourself! Meander around the dramatic ruins of the Parthenon in Athen's ancient Acropolis, trek to the mountain monastery of Meteora and venture into the gloomy Gates of Hades. Stroll around the fallen columns on the island of Delos or descend into the frescoed Minoan palaces on Crete.
Cool off with a refreshing swim in the Aegean Sea and improve your tan on a pretty beach. Later, savour a glass of Ouzo or two in a seaside taverna, indulge in a delicious seafood dinner and simply relax as the sun sets over a picturesque harbour: in Greece you'll have your pick.
The Acropolis and ancient Agora - Built as a symbol of Athen's imperial confidence, the Acropolis was as famous throughout the ancient world as it is today, and stands as one of the archetypal images of western culture. Soaring abruptly 100m from its surroundings on a steep-sided, flat-topped crag of limestone, the Acropolis is visible from almost everywhere within the city. Stroll around the Parthenon; gaze up at the Erechtheion; wander to the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaia and ancient Agora in a single circuit. Appreciating these ancient monuments from almost every angle along the specially constructed walkway. Delphi - Site of the famous Oracle, believed by the ancient Greeks to be the centre of the earth. Climb the steps to the Sacred Way and wind your way up the steep rocky hillside to the Temple of Apollo, past the Sanctuary of Athena to the site of the 4th-century BC tholos (dome), probably the most striking of Delphi's monuments. Continue upward to the theatre, offering stunning views over the World Heritage-listed site; further uphill lies the ancient stadium. Don't miss looking into the Delphi Museum, full of amazing treasures - among the highlights is the celebrated life-size 'Bronze Charioteer'. Knossos - The capital of Minoan Crete and home of King Minos' mythical Minotaur. In mythology, Knossos was the court of the legendary King Minos, whose wife Pasiphae bore the Minotaur, half-bull, half-man. To contain the monster, a labyrinth was constructed by Daedalus and youths were brought from Athens as human sacrifice until Theseus arrived to slay the beast and, with Ariadne's help, escape its lair. Descend into the ruins of the labyrinth and discover a vivid reconstruction made possible by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered the site in 1900 and spent 35 years and a small fortune of his own money excavating and reconstructing sections of the palace. Meteora - The Byzantine monasteries of MetÈora, perched atop huge pinnacles of smooth rock, are one of the most extraordinary sights in mainland Greece. Originally accessible only by climbing removable ladders, the monasteries provided monks with a peaceful haven from the bloodshed of the 14th century. Today you can reach the monasteries by climbing steps hewn into the rock face. National Archaeological Museum - In one of the world's great museums, discover some of the most important finds from archaeological sites throughout Greece. Gaze in awe at Mycenaean antiquities, including the Warrior Vase depicting men leaving for war and a woman waving them goodbye, and the Mask of Agamemnon unearthed at Mycenae. Also see the Vaphio gold cups, depicting men taming wild bulls, regarded as among the finest examples of Mycenaean art and found in a tholos (a beehive-shaded Mycenaean tomb) at Vaphio, near Sparta. Enjoy Minoan frescos from Santorini (Thira) and superb figurines of the Cycladic collection that inspired such artists as Picasso. Don't miss the 460 BC bronze statue of 'Zeus or Poseidon', found in the sea off Evia. The Acropolis of Lindos - Located on a bluff 116m high and overlooking Lindos village and beach stands the magnificent ancient Acropolis with its Doric Temple of Athena. Climb the well-worn flight of steps past a warship hewn out of the rock by the sculptor Pythocretes and enter the Acropolis via a vaulted corridor. Explore the remains of a 20-columned Hellenistic stoa (portico) dating back to 200 BC, then continue up the wide stairway past a 5th-century BC propylaeum to the 4th-century Temple to Athena, the site's most important ancient ruin. Enjoy the stunning view over the Aegean Sea and after climbing back down, cool off with a swim at nearby P·llas beach or at St Paul's harbour - named after the apostle who is said to have landed here in 58 AD. Monastery of AyÌou Io·nnou TheolÛgou - Built in honour of St John the Divine on the island of Patmos. Take time to meander around this huge monastery, with its warren of interconnecting courtyards, chapels, stairways, arcades, galleries and roof terraces. Vergina - One of Greece's most famous archaeological sites, the first capital of Macedon and the place of Philip II's assassination in 336 BC during his daughter Cleopatra's wedding. Walk inside the darkened interior of the tumulus (domes) to visit four separate tombs: those of Persephone, Phillip II and Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great; the fourth tomb was looted in antiquity and no clues remain as to who is interred. The site is World Heritage listed. Temple of Poseidon - Dramatically set on a cliff above Cape So·nio, the Temple of Poseidon is a familiar landmark to sailors and one of the most evocative ruins in Greece. Admire the 16 picturesque columns -†the sole standing survivors of the original 34. Marvel at the stunning views over the Aegean Sea, from the islands of Kea, Kythnos and Serifos to the south-east, and Egina and the Peloponnese to the west.
Best time to go
Greece is best visited between Easter and mid-June, and from the end of August until mid-October when the beaches and ancient sites are relatively uncrowded. The high season lasts from mid-June until the end of August. Winter, from the middle of October until the beginning of April, is generally quiet everywhere. Winter in Athens averages 10C. Summer temperatures on the islands range from 25C to 30C, with the heat softened by the northerly 'meltemi' wind.
Best buys include lace, jewellery, metalwork, pottery and leather goods. Look out for silver from Ioannina, ceramics from Skopelos, embroidery and lace from Crete, Rhodes and Skiros. In Athens head for the Sunday morning flea market in Monastiraki, below the Acropolis.