8 immersive bucket list experiences to try this year
26 February 2024
The sun-soaked landscapes and glorious ancient history of Greece are a joy to discover. Visitors can cast their gaze back in time at no fewer than 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites dotted across the Greek mainland and islands. Piercing blue skies and the deep indigo of the Aegean and Ionian Seas form the perfect backdrop for sightseeing, while shady tavernas and the fulsome Greek hospitality are waiting to welcome weary travellers in for a recharge.
To pique your interest, here comes a whistle-stop tour of the most amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Greece.
Rising above the city of Athens like something from a fairy tale, the magnificent Acropolis is the big daddy of Greece’s historical sites. It’s visible from almost anywhere in the city, so you’ll often catch glimpses of the milky-white marble of the Parthenon glinting in the fierce morning light. By late afternoon the mighty columns glow in warmer hues, then by night the whole affair is illuminated like a proud ship on the horizon.
The site has a history dating back to around the 13th century B.C., but it was in the 5th century B.C. that the great leaders, artists and thinkers of Athens created the complex of monuments that we see the remnants of today.
The Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the Temple of Athena Nike were all constructed using the finest materials and the most eloquent of intentions. These monuments stand strong today, along with the pillars of Greek civilisation – philosophy, democracy, freedom of speech, art, and theatre.
Another champion of ancient Greek World Heritage Sites is Olympia. Set amongst mountains and olive groves in the Peloponnese region, this was the site of the very first Olympic Games held nearly 3,000 years ago. The heart of the site is the Stadium, which would have accommodated some 40,000 spectators, the roar of the crowd echoing through the valley every four years for over 400 years.
As well as athletic prowess, the complex was built to celebrate and worship the Greek god Zeus. A great temple was built in his honour as well as a huge statue, remnants of which can still be seen today.
High on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, with outstanding views across the Gulf of Corinth, Delphi is without a doubt one of the best historical sites in Greece. It is home to the sanctuary of Apollo, the Olympian god of light, knowledge and harmony.
For hundreds of years, pilgrims made their way here to receive the teachings of the oracle via the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. Infused with a powerful sense of peace, this is a place to tread with reverence and wonder.
Two great cities lost in the mists of time, Mycenae and Tiryns are some of the most important and ancient of Greece’s World Heritage Sites. Inhabited from around 1,600 B.C. by the hugely influential Mycenaean civilisation, the cities are closely linked to the 9th century B.C. works of Homer.
With fortifications built by the giant Cyclops to house and protect the (possibly) mythical King Agamemnon, these grand ancient cities inspired the epic poems of the Iliad and Odyssey.
The fortified medieval city of Mystras tumbles down a steep mountainside surrounded by orange and olive trees. Its cobbled streets, palaces and churches were long inhabited by the Byzantines, and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention has declared it the best medieval site in the country.
The city was abandoned over the course of the 1800s, and today visitors can wander its atmospheric streets and imagine the lives that played out here all those centuries ago.
Not one, but three beautiful Byzantine monasteries have made it onto the UNESCO list in Greece. Despite being some distance from each other, they are classified as one entry under the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
All three share a distinct style characterised by grand architectural flourishes in marble and gold, alongside elaborate mosaics and frescoes.
The slender sandstone peaks of Meteora rise up from a vivid landscape of fields and forests. Crowning some of these ‘columns in the sky’ are some fine examples of Byzantine architecture in the form of monasteries. Seemingly clinging to the lofty pinnacles of rock, their existence is an extraordinary architectural and technical feat.
The rocky, sun-baked island of Delos in the middle of the Aegean Sea may be small, but it is still one of the most important World Heritage Sites in Greece. This island city is said to have been the birthplace of the sun god Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, the moon goddess.
The Sanctuary of Apollo was established here in at least the 9th century B.C. and the island became a thriving free port from 167 B.C. onwards. In the proceeding few centuries, its great riches were successively raided, plundered and seized until the city was gradually abandoned.
The island of Rhodes is just across the water from Turkey and was once part of the Ottoman Empire. Later it came under Italian rule and was then taken over by the Order of St John. In its medieval old town, Byzantine architecture sits side-by-side with mosques, grand baths, palaces, and imposing Gothic fortifications.
Positioned at the entrance of the Aegean Sea, the island of Corfu was a strategically important site over the centuries. Its old town, a fortified port city, has harboured many different empires and peoples as far back as the 8th century B.C.
With Byzantine architectural influences, graceful Venetian plazas and networks of narrow, winding lanes, it is a town for wandering through and for getting pleasantly lost in.
To explore the best historical sites in Greece, chat with one of our local experts and design a Greek odyssey based on your interests.
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