Delicious food, stunning beaches, entrancing history and unique culture – Greece has a bit of everything, making it a sure-fire success for practically every type of traveller.
Here’s what to look forward to, how to island hop like a pro, and which islands to add to your itinerary whether you’re visiting with the entire family in tow, on a romantic retreat or travelling solo in search of a party.
Last year, Greece snagged fourth place on the World’s Trending Honeymoon Destinations list, just behind the Maldives, Italy and Bali. Greece and its islands boast countless luxurious resorts offering incredible specials on stays for couples, with some of the most lavish honeymoon suites in the world.
“Just a few activities that should be on every couple’s radar include a hand-in-hand stroll through the romantic coastal city of Nafplio, known for its waterfront that glows a lustrous peach-pink at sunset, and its charming narrow streets and alleyways,” says Antoinette Turner, General Manager of Flight Centre South Africa.
“Another option is to splurge on a private yacht tour or to take to the ancient city of Athens at night when iconic monuments, such as Acropolis and the Parthenon, are illuminated and the crowds have dispersed,” she adds.
Of course, no holiday in Greece would be complete without traditional Greek meals and wine tasting – did you know the country has a history of wine producing dating back 6,500 years? Greek wine is known for its bold, complex flavours and aromas, heavily influenced by the country’s unique terroir, climate and winemaking techniques.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love the idea of spending the day on the beach? The Greek coastline promises approximately 16,000 kilometres of silky beach sand where the kids can run free, and parents and grandparents can relax. The country and its islands also see over 3,000 hours of sunshine annually. In short, it’s easy to see why Greece is such a popular choice for family and multi-generational getaways.
Along with soaking up some rays, families can enjoy exploring the ancient ruins and learning about the country’s fascinating history. Family cooking classes are also available, allowing everyone to get stuck into the process of whipping up some of Greece’s best-loved dishes like moussaka and souvlaki.
Is your tribe more into fancy footwork than food? Then a must for your itinerary is a family dance class, where you’ll learn how to perform various traditional dances, such as the syrtos and kalamatianos, and have loads of fun doing it!
Visiting solo? Consider a cruise! Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises are exceptionally sought-after amongst the solo traveller market.
“Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is preparing for the summer cruise season in the Greek Isles, and we’re catering for every type of traveller, including our solo voyagers. We’ve earned Porthole Magazine’s title of ‘Best Cruise Line for Solo Travellers’ for six years in a row, and we were the first cruise line to build staterooms and common areas specifically for the single cruiser,” says Kevin Bubolz, Vice President & Managing Director Continental Europe, Israel, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA).
“Greece and the Greek Isles are definitely a top choice for solo cruisers in 2023 and beyond. Greece is a safe and welcoming country, with friendly locals and a lively social scene that makes it easy to meet new people. Further, Greek cruises typically stop at multiple destinations and islands, allowing travellers to explore many different places, from stunning beaches to vibrant villages,” Bubolz adds.
Everything you need to know about island hopping
Greece has 227 inhabited islands and six main island regions, each with their own unique appeal. For example, couples and families looking to de-stress and spend quality time together will prefer the Saronic Islands, such as Hydra and Aegina (don’t miss the chance to savour a meal inside a traditional seafood tavern!), whereas the younger crowd looking for a party vibe will find it in spades on the Cyclades, such as Mykonos and Ios – both known for their beach clubs.
But how to get around and explore these islands? You’re in luck. There’s a pretty complex network of ferries in constant operation, along with daily flights from Greece’s 15 airports. However, it’s a good idea to plan your holiday route carefully if you have specific islands in mind.
“Take the ferry schedules and travel times between islands into account. Most islands are well-connected by ferries, but some routes may require multiple stops or overnight stays. You can also consider booking a guided tour, cruise or hiring a private boat for a more customised experience,” advises Antoinette.
Island hopping is exciting, and it’s certainly a fantastic way to get a taste of as much beauty, culture, history, architecture and, of course, local cuisine as possible on your trip.
“Just be careful about cramming too much movement into your itinerary. Ideally, you should set aside at least two to three days to soak up the experience on every island you visit. This allows for plenty of variety, but also enough downtime to ensure your vacation day-to-day doesn’t feel too demanding.”
The top 5 Greek islands in 2023
The largest of the Ionian islands, Kefalonia was recently named the ‘best Greek island’ in a Which? Travel survey, scoring an overall 85% rating, and five stars in the peace and quiet category.
Kefalonia is also popular amongst foodies, serving up various unique dishes like Kefalonian meat pie and sea urchin salad. Pair your meal with Robola wine. It’s produced using the Robola grape variety, grown exclusively on the island.
As mentioned, Mykonos is party central for anyone looking for a good time. It’s also a mecca for the LGBTQ+ community, with a reputation for being one of the most LGBT-friendly destinations in Europe.
Aside from living your best life on the beach, take some time to snap a selfie in front of the island’s famous windmills, which were once used to grind wheat.
Santorini is an excellent base for honeymooners and first-time visitors to Greece. It’s well-known for its unique landscapes: black and red sand beaches, rugged cliffs and dramatic views of the caldera – a massive crater caused by a volcanic eruption approximately 3,500 years ago.
The island’s sunsets are also pretty iconic, as is its clifftop town of Oia, often hailed as the ‘Sunset Capital of the World’.
Syros, the capital of the Cyclades, is a go-to for culture vultures and anyone interested in architecture (Syros is crammed with neoclassical buildings). Slightly lesser known compared to some of the other islands, it promises fewer crowds and the chance to explore freely.
Be sure to catch the Syros International Film Festival and the Syros Jazz Festival if you’re a film or music fan.
Corfu’s main selling point, aside from its picture-perfect forests and olive groves, is its Old Town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe.
Corfu’s cuisine is also memorable, known for its unique blend of Greek and Italian flavours.
Don’t forget your visa!
Gearing up to get to Greece and its gorgeous islands as soon as possible? Don’t forget to leave yourself enough time to get your visa sorted.
If travelling on a South African passport, you’ll need a short-stay Schengen visa (valid for 90 days and available as a single or multiple entry visa). Most applications are processed within 15 – 30 days, but it’s worthwhile applying at least six weeks in advance just to be safe!
καλό ταξίδι (Have a nice trip!)