You don't have to be well versed in the classics to understand why ancient Greece is referred to as the cradle of western civilization. Greek sculpture and architecture set the standard for the development of western art, and great Greek minds such as Aristotle, Plato, and Pythagoras are still commonly discussed today. However, Greece has much more to boast about than its historical contributions to the development of western civilization. Today, visitors are drawn to Greece for a number of reasons, which include exploring the ancient city of Athens and island hopping -- and with over a thousand islands to choose from, there is no shortage of things to do.
The capital city of Athens is a remarkable sight, as ancient monuments are situated among a bevy of modern architecture. Greece's seat of government for thousands of years, Athens is where you need to go to experience ancient history first-hand. Stroll through the Acropolis, a UNESCO world heritage site, which houses the world-famous Parthenon. This ancient temple was built by 438 B.C. for the Greek goddess Athena, who was also regarded as the patron god of Athens. Today, the Parthenon is regarded as the quintessential example of ancient Greek architecture. The Acropolis is elevated above the city, and is a great place to get a view of Athens as well as a majestic sight to behold from below. Several other points of interest can be found along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, also known as the Museum Mile. Aside from providing visitors access to a wealth of antiquity at the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Benaki Museum, the Museum Mile is a pedestrian friendly area. The city also offers great shopping in the form of flea markets, antique markets, and specialty shops, many of which are found in Monastiraki Square, Ermou Street, and the Plaka shopping area. The contrast of old and new makes for a stunning scene and sight-seers should check out attractions like Hadrian’s Arch and Memorial to the Unknown Solider.
Also known as Salonica, Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, but refuses to stand in Athens's shadow. Instead, this northern city has earned its own reputation as the cultural capital of the country. It has a lively nightlife, and its many wide boulevards and squares make the city both picturesque and easy to explore on foot. Thessaloniki also has a rich history, boasting a large number of Byzantine style churches and monasteries from early Christian settlements. Smaller and less populated than Athens, Thessaloniki has none of the smog or traffic. Aside from its visual and historical appeal, it also provides visitors with fine dining, party places and chic shopping options that are unparalleled in the rest of the country.
While Greece's mainland boasts such cultural gems as Athens and Thessaloniki, its 1,400 picturesque islands that dot the Aegean and surrounding seas have a different kind of appeal. The ever-popular Santorini, one of Greece's southernmost islands, is a highly touristic destination that remains spectacular despite hordes of visitors. Its whitewashed houses, azure waters, and dramatic cliffs combined with spectacular sunsets make the fairytale island worth every euro you spend getting there. Kos is another popular island that is only a stone-throw away from the Turkish city of Bodrum. While Kos town is the place to be if you want a vibrant nightlife, Kos's southwestern-most point Kefalos is a tranquil, scenic escape from the hubbub. Climb atop ruins of an ancient temple to Apollo or swim out to the Agios Nikolas monastery, located just off the shore of Kefalos village. For an island experience with even more historical appeal, head to Crete, home of the ancient Minoan culture. Aside from archeological sites, Crete, Greece's largest island, also has its fair share of beaches, gorges, and caves to be explored.
Both an archaeological site and a modern town, in Delphi, tourists will find the Temple of Zeus, as it's where the Greek God is believed to have been born. The temple is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world built nearly 2,500 years ago in 5th century BC. An even older attraction is the Olympic Stadium, where the first games were held in 8th century BC.