Mainland Greece: The Ultimate Guide To Exploring Athens and Beyond

Melina Thalassinou
Table of Content
Table of Content
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Key Takeaways

  • The Acropolis in Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, and Meteora are fascinating archaeological sites in mainland Greece that offer insights into Greece's rich heritage.
  • From the majestic peaks of Mount Olympus to the dramatic gorges of Vikos and Samaria, outdoor enthusiasts can explore and appreciate the country's natural beauty.
  • Mainland Greece offers an opportunity to connect with locals, experience Greek traditions, and immerse oneself in the country's rich cultural scene.
  • From Athens, visitors can easily access popular island destinations like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes via domestic flights, ferries, or catamarans.

zagorochoriaZagorochoria - credits: Pit Stock/Shutterstock.com

Greece's natural beauty and millennia-old civilization give it a history as a tourist destination that dates back to the days of the Roman Empire.

The number of tourist arrivals to Greece increased 87% in 2022, presenting an upswing in tourism. 

The success of films like Percy Jackson has renewed interest in Greek mythology and history, but tourism remains below pre-COVID levels.

As in much of the world, the Greek tourist industry is in the midst of a gradual recovery process. This gives travelers a chance to see ancient sites on mainland Greece without having to brave the usual crowds. 

Perusing a map of Greece reveals that Greece contains many islands in addition to the peninsulae on mainland Greece that connect to mainland Europe. The northernmost part of Greece borders the Balkan nations of Albania, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria.

Mylopotamos pelioMylopotamos, Pelion - credits: Ververidis/Shutterstock.com

If you are not in the mood for water travel or already have experience with the islands of Greece, try a tour of the mainland, which includes the historic capital city of Athens. 

Whether or not you visit Athens, mainland Greece has a lot to offer, from bustling seaside cities to mountain retreats.

Greece has 18 sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, including many on the mainland, such as the Acropolis, Mount Athos, Meteora, and Christian sites at Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, known for its imposing White Tower, and old town. 

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that you can never step into the same river twice. Now is your chance to see mainland Greece at a unique time in its history.

This guide will show you when to go, how to get there, and what to do to make the best use of your vacation time.   

The Best Times To Visit Mainland Greece

Arachova townArachova Town - credits: Vagelis Pikoulas/Shutterstock.com

Mainland Greece is a gorgeous place to visit any time of year. Each season has its advantages. Before your plan your travel schedule, find time for some of these seasonal activities.

Greek Independence Day Observances

March 25th celebrates the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire in 1821 and is a time of festivities. The Feast of Annunciation is in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church, making the holiday doubly important to Greek history and culture.

palaios panteleimonasPalaios Panteleimonas - credits: Georgios Kritsotakis/Shutterstock.com

Summer in Greece

As a country in the south of the Northern Hemisphere, Greece offers warm, sunny weather as early as April and as late as September. Summer is a fantastic time to sample the produce of mainland Greece, including many types of fruits and vegetables and the world-famous honey of the Halkidiki peninsula.

Winter Activities

Although the warmer seasons bring more tourist traffic, the winter months offer plenty to do on mainland Greece. Christmas festivities and religious ceremonies are a must-see, and the International Film Festival of Thessaloniki occurs in November.

Parts of Mainland Greece

mount olympusMount Olympus - credits: S-F/Shutterstock.com

Before you plan your itinerary, familiarize yourself with the main parts of mainland Greece and the unique attractions of each. 


Thrace in northeastern Greece (a small part of the classical Greek province and ancient Roman province) is a lesser-known tourist destination compared to other parts of Greece.

Historians believe that the famed Thracian gladiator Spartacus came from what is now Bulgaria, not modern Thrace. Thrace has breathtaking natural scenery, including picturesque seaside towns, forests, the Evros River, and historic buildings such as monasteries. 


Macedonia lies to the west of Thrace. There, you can visit Pella, the birthplace of Philip of Macedon and his illustrious son, Alexander the Great. Pella and other Macedonian sites feature the ruins of ancient temples, stores, bathhouses, and more. Winter travelers can enjoy skiing at Naousa, Katerini, and other popular destinations.

Travelers with an interest in the development of the early Christian church can see locations where Paul the Apostle and other members of the early church lived and spoke. Drink "Apostle Paul's Holy Water" at the Monastery at Vlatadon.


To the west of Macedonia, south of Albania, you can find Epirus (or Iperos). Nicopolis, the "city of victory," features prominently in ancient and recent history.

There, you can see Roman ruins, Byzantine monuments and architecture, and the site of battles that shaped the development of modern Greece.


ambelakia larisaAmbelakia, Larissa - credits: Georgios Tsichlis/Shutterstock.com

Thessaly lies between Macedonia and Central Greece. Many people consider it the cultural center of Greece, but tourists often overlook it in favor of Central Greece and the Greek islands.

When you visit Thessaly, take in the natural scenery that inspired the ancient Greeks to come up with the tales of Greek mythology, enjoy local produce, and visit its many cultural and archaeological sites, including:

  • Amphitheaters
  • Bridges
  • Castles
  • Byzantine Churches
  • Orthodox Monasteries
  • Stone-age ruins

The beautiful city of Volos stands out as a city in Thessaly with vibrant nightlife as well as deep historical roots.

The town also features a potent local brandy called Tsipouro. Other towns to consider are Trikala and Larissa.

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Central Greece

Central Greece contains the mythic Mount Parnassus, nearby Delphi, with its famous ancient ruins, and towns such as Thebes and Lamia with roots going back to the Bronze Age. A visit to Central Greece offers a chance to reflect on Greece's ancient past, see museums, hike through ancient trails, and more. 


couple walking monastirakiA couple having a sunset stroll in Athens - credits: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock.com

The region of Attica, which includes Athens, is the cornerstone of many trips to Greece and Eastern Europe in general.

In Athens, you will experience the grandeur of the Parthenon in the archaeological site of the Acropolis, the Temple of Hephaestus, the ancient Agora, or the Panathenaic Stadium.

If ancient science intrigues you, visit the Tower of the Winds, a recently restored weather station over two thousand years old.

The contemporary architecture of Athens draws upon its history and modern art trends to create a rich 21st-century landscape.

Visit the Onassis Stegi cultural center for performances and exhibitions or simply to take in the innovative use of marble.

The Benaki Museum is striking inside and out, and it houses exhibits from crucial periods in Greek history. Of course, the Acropolis Museum and the archaeological museum are also not to be missed, showcasing Greek history and heritage in style.

For more information about traveling to Athens, staying there, and seeing the sights, visit our comprehensive guide to Athens.

pelion fakistra beachFakistra Beach, Pelion - credits: Giannis Papanikos/Shutterstock.com


The Peloponnese peninsula is located in southern Greece to the southwest of Athens and has played an integral part in Greek history from its beginnings. 

The Mycenaeans belonged to a bronze-age civilization that lived in Greece over 3,000 years ago.

This civilization produced impressive cyclopean architecture, so named because the stones were so large that later Greeks believed that the mythical giants created the buildings. 

One of the highlights of the Peloponnesian peninsula is the sanctuary at ancient Olympia, the site of the original Olympic Games. 

While you won't be able to compete in the Olympic Games, it is easy to add events like sailing and wine tasting to your exploration of the Peloponnese.

These examples are only a taste of what mainland Greece has to offer. For more information about select cities on mainland Greece, you can also visit the Greek National Tourism Organization website. 

Traveling to Mainland Greece

Delphi ancient ruinsDelphi - credits: elgreko/Shutterstock.com

Crossing borders can be more of a challenge than it used to be since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check with the Greek General Secretariat for Civil Protection for the latest guidance on travel restrictions.

From the Balkan Countries

You can take toll roads south of Albania. To reach Greece from the country of Macedonia, you can take a train, a bus, or a combination of the two.

By Air

The main airports for international travel to mainland Greece are:

  1. Athens International Airport
  2. Thessaloniki International Airport
  3. Kalamata International Airport in Peloponnese 
  4. Alexandropouli Airport, serving East Macedonia and Thrace

volosVolos - credits: KOSTAS TSEK/Shutterstock.com

By Sea

High-speed ferries and conventional ferries run from Albania to Greece. Ports such as Alexandropoulis in Thrace offer ferry access to many Greek islands.

Plan Your Trip

Be sure to allow time to travel to and from different locations on your itinerary. Athens has a convenient rail system to help you get to important hotspots and cultural sites.

You can reach many cities by rail or car or join a bus tour to visit many sites on a single trip. Some cities, like Delphi, do not have train access, so check the rail lines and bus schedules in advance. If you are traveling by train, Hellenic Train has recently upgraded its food service and offers 100% Greek food products.

Places to Stay in Mainland Greece

epirus aoosAoos River, Epirus - credits: Arnaoutis Christos/Shutterstock.com

Visitors to Greece have a wealth of lodging options, from stately traditional hotels to avant-garde boutique hotels and quaint bed and breakfasts. The following are just a few of the unforgettable hotels in mainland Greece.


AthensWas is 90 meters from the Parthenon and less than a kilometer away from many of Athens's most incredible sights. See the Acropolis through the window while dining on traditional Greek food.

The Hotel Grand Bretagne

Built in 1874, the Hotel Grand Bretagne is the oldest hotel in Athens. It has a complex history from its start under Ottoman rule through occupation during World War II to a luxurious haven for Hollywood's elite.

Agramada Treehouse

The Agramada Treehouse in Halkidiki lets you experience the height of luxury from the literal height of a treehouse.

Vaela Hotel Cultural Resort

A boutique hotel in Elatochori, Central Macedonia, the Vaela Hotel Cultural Resort is close to skiing and other outdoor activities. You can escape to Greek village life without having to leave luxury behind.

Where To Eat in Mainland Greece

eretriaEretria - credits: Aerial-motion/Shutterstock.com

Greece's warm climate and established position at a global crossroad make it a perfect place for exquisite fresh food, whether your tastes favor traditional Mediterranean cuisine, Middle Eastern delicacies, or something more adventurous.

The Old Tavern of the Psarras 

The oldest restaurant in existence in Athens stands mere kilometers from the Acropolis and offers a wide selection of outstanding salads, fish, and meat dishes.


For an unbeatable mountaintop view of Athens, dine on the top of Mount Lycabettus. From 900 feet above sea level, look out upon the cityscape of Athens and the surrounding hills.


Naoumidis is an exceptional restaurant near Lake Vegorritis in Macedonia, Greece. 

Sightseeing in Mainland Greece

imbros gorgeImbros Gorge - credits: KVN1777Shutterstock.com

A traveler could spend a year in mainland Greece and not exhaust the possibilities. Greece has been at the forefront of world history since the days of the Mycenaeans.

Throughout central Greece, you will see traces of classical Greece, Greece under the Roman Empire, the development of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and pivotal clashes in World War I and World War II. 

Ruins of Classical Greece

Despite millennia of warfare, religious changes, and political struggles, ancient structures survive, some in places you might not think to look.

While you visit the famous temples, don't forget less glamorous sites, such as quarries, walls, and remains of personal residences. 

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Churches, Monasteries, and Ottoman Sites

Under the Christian Roman and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empires, Greece's old religious practices gave way to Christianity, leaving the country with a wealth of historic buildings.

The Church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Athens, for example, is nearly one thousand years old and exists on the site of an older temple. 


One way to get a rich cultural experience and explore the more out-of-the-way parts of mainland Greece is to stay near the site of a historic battle. Consider a trip to:

  • The Thessaly plains, where the gods and titans fought, according to legend.
  • Visit the legendary battle site of Marathon, where you can enjoy resort accommodations close to the beach or make a day trip from Athens to the battle site. 
  • Visit Thermopylae and see firsthand where the Spartans faced off against the Persians.

The battlefield might not look the same as it did thousands of years ago, but the scene still resonates.

Do I Need To Visit Athens During My Tour of Mainland Greece?

Kapnikarea athensKapnikarea Church, Athens - credits: Shutterstock.com

It is hard to imagine a trip to Greece without spending some time at the Greek capital. The city brings pollution, crowds, and other hassles that many travelers are trying to escape. As you can see from this post, mainland Greece has a lot to offer beyond Athens.  

Final Thoughts

metsovoMetsovo - credits: Marmaras Stavros/Shutterstock.com

Any trip to Greece has limitless potential and countless opportunities to escape the well-worn tourist paths. Going beyond Athens gives you a deeper insight into the life and culture of Greece.

Visiting the olive groves, orchards, waterways, and forests that sustained Greek civilization throughout the ages gives a complete travel experience. 

Start planning your trip to mainland Greece today!

Our Tailor-Made Trip Planning
Hop on a quick call with a local expert from our team
Receive a tailor-made itinerary for your journey
Fine-tune the details and you're ready to go

Frequently Asked Questions

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