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Where to Go When you Visit Greece
Having studied Archaic and Classical Greece for the last three years, I confess that I’m only slightly smitten with the rich history that the country boasts, and its great influence upon modern societies. When I travelled to Greece in December 2011, however, I fell in love with its scenery and culture, weaving together the modern and ancient aspects to create a truly unique, beautiful picture that transcended my previous passion for its history alone. On a strict schedule of 10 days, trekking through winter, and unable to visit any of the islands, I didn’t experience the best weather and am certainly planning a return trip, but here are the places I would encourage you to visit if and when you head to this amazing country, regardless of whether you’re seeing it over a leisurely month or, like me, in a whirlwind.
- Athens: The most obvious location has to come first. Athens is the hub of Greece and allows you to truly experience that unique culture that Europe so shamelessly flaunts. Try not to get run over by the bustling traffic, admire the stray dogs and cats that are treated as communal pets, grab a souvlaki in a restaurant whilst serenaded by Greek music, and stroll through the city against the dazzling backdrop of the Acropolis. Night or day, this city is home to some extremely talkative, friendly locals, whose English, for the most part, is superb. Visiting the Archaeological Museum of Athens is a must, as is the Greek parliament and the Acropolis. Rebuilt by the politician Pericles following its destruction by the Persians in the 5th Century BCE, the Acropolis truly is an awe-inspiring piece of architecture that boasts amazing views of the city, rendering the trip well worth its time, even if you’re not one to appreciate its history. Nestled on the south-west slope lies the Theatre of Dionysus, the site of the Classical Great Dionysia Festival, of particular interest to all admirers or students of Classical Greek theatre. Walk through the modern city and stumble upon Ancient Treasures like Hadrian’s Arch and Herodes’ Theatre. It truly is an unforgettable experience.
- The Theatre of Epidaurus: From one theatre to another (and believe me in Greece you’ll see a lot) this one is not to be missed. The best preserved in Greece (so well, in fact, that performances are still hosted there) it sprawls over the landscape, offering incredible acoustics and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. One of those experiences that has to be had to be believed, to stand in the back row is breath-catching and, with a neighbouring museum, gorgeous scenery, and ruins of the Sanctuary of Asklepios all included on the site, it should definitely appear on your 'must see' list.
- Olympia: That this archaeological site makes my list despite my struggle to see it through curtains of rain, says a lot about its beauty and historical importance. Moving across to the Western Peloponnese, Olympia, the original site of the Olympic Games that were allegedly initiated in 776 BCE and held once every four years, is another must see, particularly for those interested in the history of Greece. Boasting ruins of not only the temples of Zeus and Hera, but also of countless other buildings, Olympia provides the opportunity for its guests to, among other things, take a leisurely jog or a death-defying sprint on the original Olympic race-track, and to see the mound were the ancient sacrifices took place. With full models of artists’ impressions of what the city might have looked like in antiquity, even the most unimaginative person should be able to benefit from the sight of the ancient ruins that scatter the ground like foliage.
- Delphi: It’s well worth a trek up the mountain to head to Delphi, site of not only the ancient oracle (now thought to have been high on ethylene gases seeping through a geological fault near her location) but also the temples of Athena and Apollo. Sure, it’s more ruins, and if you’ve seen anything else in Greece you’ve likely seen plenty of those, but the views from the mountain are breath taking, the archaeology is deserving in its own right, and for Greek history lovers the trip is validated by the Omphalos – the stone that denotes the legendary meeting point of the two eagles that Zeus sent to fly across the world and meet at its centre. Oh, and be prepared to meet dozens of stray cats and kittens.
- Mycenae: Of particular interest to those of us familiar with Greek mythology, particularly the legendary King Agamemnon, the ruins at Mycenae, said to be his once grand castle, are noted for the impressive Lion’s Gate, the Tomb of Agamemnon, and the famous Grave Circles A and B. See the supposed bathroom where Agamemnon was allegedly murdered by his wife, Clytaemnestra, and walk through the impressive architecture, surrounded, yet again, by superb scenery. If you’re feeling brave, take the plunge and head down into the pitch darkness of the cistern … be prepared to encounter some bats down there too.
- Kalambaka: Famous for its numerous monasteries perched precariously on the stunning rock formations that dominate the area, Kalambaka, with its somber religious atmosphere, violent art depictions, and awe-inspiring scenery, is well worth a stop over.
- Tolon: I stopped over in this village for a mere night, yet the experience is ranked as one of my finest. Stroll along the beach, watch the sunset, and grab a coffee in a beachside café, as you soak up Greek culture and the idea of the European village.
- Nafplio: Perhaps the beautiful day enhanced my experience at Nafplio, but this gorgeous seaport town is not to be missed. Wind your way through the European streets, do some shopping, grab some lunch, and make sure you struggle your way to the Temple of Palamedes. It’s quite a hike, but you will find yourself rewarded by pure, infinite beauty at the top.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, and Greece as a country offers countless other treasures that I can only hope I one day get the opportunity to explore and discover, but here were some of my favourites during my brief ten day stay. To anyone unsure about travelling to this incredible country, I would definitely encourage you to seize the opportunity, as it provided me with an unforgettable experience.