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In Greece, heralded as the birthplace of democracy and theater, history is never far away. In fact, you can visit an exhibit of Neolithic and Early Helladic artifacts inside the Athens airport. Whether tromping through joyously chaotic city streets or hiking the coastal idyll of an island, it’s likely you’ll turn a corner and be confronted by a building many thousands of years old. The brassy star of the show is the Acropolis, whose regal columns watch over Athens, taking on an especially dramatic cast when lit up at night. But Greece is also a perfect place to live in the here and now, especially if that means losing yourself in the beauty of white-sand beaches, cerulean waters, and quaint villages that cluster on rural mountainsides. The Mediterranean calm lures many here, along with impossibly fresh food. Soft, salty cheeses; briny seafood; plump figs; and fragrant olive oil will keep you pinned gratefully to your seat at the local taverna.
The largest airports in Greece are Athens International Airport (ATH), located just outside that major city, and Thessaloniki Airport (SKG) in northern Greece. Once you’re on the ground, there are several ways of getting around the country. A network of railways including commuter, high-speed, and long-distance trains will carry you to many destinations, and include scenic routes. The mainland is connected to the islands by ferries. The major urban centers are served by public transportation and taxis. A rental car will allow you to set your own sight-seeing agenda, and is best for rural travel.
Summer is Greece’s high season, when temperatures rise and crowds swell. People flock to the beaches, and you can expect to work up a sweat as you explore the ruins. For a calmer, slightly cooler time, consider the shoulder months of spring and fall. Greece enjoys a balmy Mediterranean climate, but winter is cooler, and it even snows in some places. Some of Greece’s biggest festivals are religious ones, the largest being Easter in February, which kicks off a week before the main event on Sunday. Carnival season arrives in January with a month of colorful street parties, the biggest of which is in the city of Patras.
This chain of islands in the Aegean Sea might be the Greece you picture when you close your eyes: blue water, sugary beaches, whitewashed homes, and vibrant nightlife. Live it up in glam Mykonos, explore the ruins of Naxos, or recharge on a secluded Anafi beach. Hire a boat to ferry you from place to place, or avail yourself of the ferry network that connects the islands.
High atop towering, spindly rock pillars, these ancient monasteries are astounding feats of ancient architecture. Built in the 14th century, they were once accessible only by a series of rope ladders. Six of the monasteries are occupied, and you can still climb up to them — albeit via staircases carved into the rock — or join a tour that drives right up to the top.
Tear yourself away from Santorini’s glittering shoreline for an afternoon to explore this fascinating, prehistoric ruin. Established more than 3,000 years ago, the city of Akrotiri was destroyed by a volcanic eruption that preserved many of the settlement’s features, including buildings, colorful frescos, and artifacts such as pottery and statuary. Entering this ancient ghost town is the closest you’ll get to time travel.