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Hidden Gems in Greece: Authentic islands & Non-Touristy Things to Do

Melina Thalassinou
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The soft sunlight illuminates a picturesque Greek island while you hear the waves crashing toward the coast. Fresh fish and Baklava fill the nostrils with fresh air when shopping at souvenir shops in the markets.

It is not a secret that Greece has become a major tourist destination throughout Europe, attracting millions of visitors yearly.

You surely know the iconic Parthenon and the ancient Acropolis or dream of settling in a luxurious villa on Zakynthos island.

At the same time, you enjoy the view of the sun setting over the charming Mediterranean coastline while you enjoy a glass of wine.

Despite the fact that Greece has 6,000 islands that span three separate oceans, only a few are inhabited.

The beautiful islands and the Greek peninsula offer unique natural splendor, known for its gorgeous sandy beaches, blue skies, and iconic whitewash landscape.

GREEKING ME TOUR compressedPhoto credits: Greeking.me

Greece is far more than the travel magazines claim to be. It's far more than stereotypical Greek taverns where 'Zorba' plays on a loop and whitewashed alleys swamped by people.

Greece has many secrets that are as accessible as they are beautiful. It's a stunning, diverse country with stunning natural scenery and abundant attractions.

Here, we'll show the hidden gems in Greece; the authentic islands and non-touristy things to do in the country that will transform your trip to Greece and an authentic and original experience only the locals enjoy.

Top non-touristy things to do in Greece

1. Learn more about  Ancient  Athens

athens temple of zeus Pamela Loreto Perez shutterstockAthens' Temple of Zeus - credits: Pamela Loreto Perez/Shutterstock.com

Greece is the end all be all of the ancient civilizations and noteworthy history. Ancient Athena and many more ancient cities are testimony to the country's rich past, and no visit to Greece would be complete without exploring these.

Apart from the obvious tourist attraction of the Acropolis with the world-renowned Parthenon temple, there are countless archaeological sites you can admire, such as the archaeological site of Delphi, the archaeological site of Olympia, ancient Mesini, the temple of Poseidon in Sounio, and Epidaurus theater.

Choosing to visit the striking ancient sites that are peppered all around Greece will be the best decision for your trip to Greece, as it will give insight into the authentic Greek culture, ancient Greek Mythology, and local life and help you understand its roots.

2. Explore its countless cultural treasures in the country's fascinating museums and art galleries.

heraklion museum Anna PakutinaHeraklion Arcaheological  Museum - credits: _Anna_Pakutina/Shuuterstock.com

Just like the Acropolis is not the only site worth seeing, you should not restrict your museum itinerary to the modern Acropolis museum. Although it is awesome and worth a visit, it is one of the many museums and art galleries in Athens and Greece, in general, that will enrich your cultural knowledge and show you the country in a different light.

Through their permanent and temporary collections, you will witness Greece through the years and see the changes that made it what it is today.

3. Relax in the National Garden.

national gardens Anastasios71 shutterstockNational Gardens of Athens - credits: Anastasios71/Shutterstock.com

If you want a breath of fresh air during your Athens, there is no better way to relax than with a walk in the National Gardens, which offers a little escape from the bustling city.

The National Garden is a designated Historic Site in the center of Athens and is located between the districts of Kolonaki and Pakrati. It has an area of 15.6 hectares, and its first name was 'Royal Garden.' The park is located next to the Hellenic Parliament and extends southwards to the Zappeion Megaro opposite the Panathenaic stadium.

The garden houses ancient ruins, columns, and mosaics but also more modern busts of Greek politician Ioannis Kapodistrias and Greek writers Dionysios Solomos and Aristotle Valaoritis.

4. Go hiking - especially in Crete.

samaria gorge central crete Dziewul shutterstockSamaria Gorge, central Crete - credits: Dziewul/Shutterstock.com

If hiking interests you, hiking in Greece will be a lifetime experience for you. There are countless places in the country that boast hiking trails made of dreams.

However, nothing compares to the grandeur of Samaria Gorge; it is a good enough reason in itself to make you visit Crete. Even if you are not an experienced hiker, you will love walking through the beautiful Samaria Gorge

This gorge is the longest in Europe at 10 miles, and you pass through forests, mountains, and rocks. Despite the crowds – over 170,000 hikers pass through the gorge each year – your hike through this majestic gorge will surely be an adventure to remember.

5. Enjoy the sun and swim at the most beautiful beaches in the world.

foneas beach kardamylli mani Pit Stock shutterstockFoneas beach, Kardamylli, Mani - credits: Pit Stock/Shutterstock.com

Greece is very proud of its pristine beaches. However, its best beaches are not the ones everyone knows about, nor do they have to be located on a popular inhabited island in the Aegean or the Ionian sea in order to be gorgeous.

You can find beautiful white sand beaches surrounded by stunning scenery on the mainland or a remote Greek island that has remained unspoiled by tourism.

Even better, you can go around as many beaches as humanly possible on a Greek island hopping adventure that will include off-the-beaten-path islands you don't get to see on the covers of magazines.

6. Visit Lindos

lindos acropolis rhodes Timofeev Vladimir shutterstockLindos Acropolis, Rhodes - credits: Timofeev_Vladimi/Shutterstock.com

Lindos, the ancient village in Rhodes, allows the visitor to walk through the island's history in a maze of houses and cobbled streets.

It is by far one of the best things to do in Rhodes, and although it is not the most off-the-beaten-path experience, it is one of the most unique on the island that will be the highlight to improve your overall trip.

The village is at the base of a rock and is surrounded by the sea. At the top of the rock, you can discover the Acropolis of Lindos, with an impressive sea view.

The coastal settlement of Lindos is located on the southeastern side of the island and at a distance of 55 km from the city of Rhodes. The ancient city was built on the site of today's village, between the acropolis and the Krana cape.

Lindos is the main archaeological site of Rhodes, centered on its rock, dominated by its citadel, and one of the most important cities on the island. According to tradition, it was founded by the Danaids, the 50 daughters of the eponymous hero of the Argives Danaus, who built a temple of Athena in Lindos, coming to the island from Egypt, where they lived.

The hero Danaus had fled to Egypt to escape the jealousy of the goddess Hera. The period of great prosperity of the city is the archaic (7th - 6th century BC).

7. Explore Northern Greece

thessaloniki white tower Ververidis Vasilis shutterstockThessaloniki - credits: Ververidis_Vasilis/Shutterstock.com

The Greek mainland is just as impressive as the country's islands, despite being often overlooked for the beautiful sandy beaches of popular islands such as Mykonos and Paros.

While it is very common for tourists to visit Athens, as it is the most popular city in the country, other regions of the mainland are not shown as much love.

The northern part of Greece is a hidden gem and should be included in your schedule. Northern Greece was the homeland of Alexander the Great, and this reason alone should intrigue you to visit it.

Olympus, Athos, and Thessaloniki are some of Northern Greece's impressive regions. While the weather there is colder than what you would expect from Greece, it boasts endless sights and a world of beauty you should make a point to explore.

8. Wine tasting

lunich in Santorini Santorines shutterstackWine and lunch in Santorini - credits: Santorines/Shutterstock.com

Greece has a long-standing wine tradition that never fails to impress both its locals and its visitors from around the world. It is one of the highest-quality wine countries in Europe. Yet, its delicious wine is a hidden gem giving way to its olive oil.

For wine lovers, tasting many different varieties of wine is one of the must-dos in Greece. You can go around by yourself and try to taste as many indigenous wine varieties as possible, or you can book a private wine tour in the beautiful landscape of the volcanic island of Santorini or any other part of Greece known for its wine production, such as Nemea.

Bottoms up!

9. Climbing Mount Olympus

Climbing Mount Olympus is atmospheric and a challenge. Thousands of tourists visit Olympus every year to enjoy the beauty of nature and the lush greenery and explore its peaks.

It is the highest mountain in Greece, known mainly because it "hosted" the 12 Olympian gods. Its highest peak is Mytikas, which stands at an altitude of 2,918 meters.

Olympus is the second highest mountain in the Balkans - after the Rila mountain range, which is seven meters higher in Bulgaria - and dominates the borders of Macedonia and Thessaly with high peaks and deep ravines. At the same time, since 1938, it has been declared a National Park.

Organized mountain refuges with a variety of hiking and climbing routes are at the disposal of visitors who want to explore its beauties. It is characterized by deep ravines and dozens of smooth peaks, several of which have an altitude of over 2,000 m.

Sounds edgy enough for you?

10. Visit Mystras

mystras Joaquin Ossorio Castillo shutterstockMystras - credits: Joaquin_Ossorio_Castillo/Shutterstock.com

I think it's safe to say that you've never heard of the castle town of Mystras before. This is no surprise, as it is not the typical tourist destination you will see international reporters gush about. Nevertheless, it is magical.

Mystras is located in Laconia, five kilometers northwest of Sparta, on a rocky hill at the foot of Mount Taygetus. The nowadays deserted castle state was a brilliant and powerful Byzantine state.

It was the swan song of the Byzantine Empire but also the last stronghold of Hellenism before the conquest by the Ottomans, as well as the cradle of Byzantine art and Neoplatonic philosophy.

The archaeological site of Mystras consists of the medieval castle and the fortified settlement, which encloses within its walls monasteries, churches, chapels, houses, and palaces.

It is one of the few well-preserved Byzantine settlements that have survived to this day. The restoration works, which have been carried out in recent decades by the Archaeological Service, are gradually giving the area the glamor of the past.

11. Windsurfing

wakeboard K Petro shutterstockWakeboard - credits: K_Petro/Shutterstock.com

While there is an endless supply of Greek beaches that boast calm waters, excellent for family visits, many also offer the perfect opportunity for watersports, such as windsurfing.

The strong winds make many parts of the Greek coast the ultimate destination for adrenaline junkies. In fact, there is probably at least a couple of beaches on every Greek island that offer the opportunity for fun sports in the sea.

Some of the most popular places for windsurfing are Paros, Naxos, Andros, and pretty much any Cycladic island, as they are known for having strong winds throughout the year.

12. Food, wine, shopping, and relaxation in Kolonaki

shopping Rawpixel.com shutterstock2 compressedShopping - credits: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

If exploring mainland Greece or the islands and chasing after adventures are not the type of holidays you want for yourselves, that is totally understandable. If you prefer to relax in the city and indulge in Athenian shopping, food, and wine, you can do so in a not-so-obvious and touristy way.

Instead of choosing the biggest commercial street of Athens, ereErmou, you can opt for alternative neighborhoods of Athens, such as the luxurious Kolonaki, the middle-class Pagkrati, or the hip Eksarcheia.

In all of those regions, you will find an interesting market and a wide variety of choices for dining and entertainment.

13. Chat with the locals

GREEK LOCALS compressedChatting with the locals - credits: Greeking.me

Nothing will give you better insight into Greek culture and what's good n the country than having a chat with its locals.

They have earned the reputation as some of the most hospitable people for a good reason, and they are always eager to make whatever they can in order to ensure visitors of the country have a good time!

All you have to do is sit in a cafe or tavern or just approach someone on the street and ask about their favorite activity, restaurant, bar, or place in the city!

In no time, you will have a list of things added to your Greece itinerary, and you will have probably made a friend too!

14. Watch a classical performance in Epidaurus Theater

Epidaurus GLontras ShutterstockEpidaurus Theater - credits: GLontras/Shutterstock.com

As already mentioned above, the ancient theater of Epidaurus is one of the most gorgeous archaeological sites in the country.

In addition to that, it is still a working theater, and its impeccable acoustics and history make watching a performance there a unique experience you don't want to miss.

Every year, a ton of theatrical and musical performances are organized in the ancient theater in the context of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival. If you're interested in having this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will have plenty of opportunities.

Here you can check out more information about the annual festival.

The Most Authentic and Unknown Greek Islands

Greek Island - credits: EGUCHI NAOHIRO/Shutterstock.comGreek Island, hidden gems in Greece - credits: EGUCHI NAOHIRO/Shutterstock.com

For those looking to explore a side of Greece most visitors don't get to see and take a trip to an unknown Greek island summer destination, we recommend the following five options for you to experience the authentic side of Greece.

Greece is a country that has more than 6000 islands and islets floating in the seas surrounding its mainland. With more than 200 of them inhabited, there is a wide range of options capable of satisfying even the most demanding traveler. 

In this article, we aim to introduce you to some of the authentic and unknown Greek islands that promise you a lifetime travel experience.

Paxoi islands

The port of Paxos, Gaios, hidden gems in Greece - credits: aa-charter.com.com

Located in the western part of Greece, in the Ionian Sea, Paxoi consists of two main Greek islands (Paxos and Antipaxos) along with some other uninhabited islets.

The main port lies on the largest island of Paxos and is reachable either from the port of Igoumenitsa or Corfu.

For those traveling from Athens, there are buses that make the trip to Paxoi in case you don't have a car of your own.

Unlike the popular, bustling island of Corfu, Paxoi is characterized by its tranquil atmosphere, the seclusion of a small island, and many amazing sandy beaches for you to choose from.

corfu Eagle Watch shutterstockCorfu, hidden gems in Greece - credits: Eagle_Watch/Shutterstock.com

In ancient times, people believed that the Greek islands of Paxoi were originally connected to Corfu until the god Poseidon struck the end of the mythical island with his trident to create an island retreat for his beloved wife, Amphitrite.

Despite its small size, many significant events in Greek history took place there, such as the naval battle of Paxos between the Greeks and the Illyrians in 229 BC.

mediterranean pixabayView of the sea, best hidden gems in Greece - credits: pixabay.com

After Byzantine times, the island was continuously attacked by pirates, seized by Crusaders, and included in the Venetian rule in the 14th century. Paxoi were ceded to the rest of Greece in 1864, just like the rest of the Heptanese Islands.  

By the time you reach Paxoi, you will find yourselves at the small port of Gaios, which according to tradition, took its name from the pupil of Apostle Paul, who introduced Christianity to the island.

Spare some time to stroll the picturesque village of Gaios with its characteristic Italianate architecture, common to this part of Greece. For those that want to take the next step, swimming on the small island of St. Nicholas is something you should definitely not miss.

sea pixabayThe Greek sea, hidden gems in Greece - credits: pixabay.com

Just a short walk of 50 meters away from Gaios, the islet of St. Nicholas stands as the guardian of the port, ensuring its security.

Appropriately, Paxians dedicated it to St. Nicholas, who, according to Christianity, is also the patron saint of sailors.

At the island's highest point, you will explore the castle of St. Nicholas, overlooking the port area.

It was built by Adam San Ippolito in 1423 to protect the Paxians from pirate raids and the continuous attempts of the Ottoman fleet to control the island.

In 1814, the castle fell under the rule of the British Empire until the unification of the Heptanese to the New Greek State.

Within the port of Gaios, you will find the charming Museum of Paxoi, a neoclassical building hosting antiquities from prehistoric and classical times to historical manuscripts and artifacts of WWII.

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Enjoy your stay at Paxoi, a densely forested island offering you the chance to swim in emerald waters, explore caves, hike to some spectacular locations, and lose track of time in the most relaxing environment. 

Do not miss the chance to pay a visit to Antipaxos, with its 20 inhabitants, and enjoy some premium local wine brands close to the seaside.

Symi island

Symi island, hidden gems in Greece - credits: discovergreece.com.com

Symi or Syme is located in the southeastern part of Greece in the Aegean Sea, next to the island of Rhodes, less than 8 km away from the Turkish coast.

A jewel of the Dodecanese islands, the beautiful Greek island of Symi is thought to be the birthplace of Charites (Graces), the ancient Greek deities of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, and fertility.

The island is accessible by ferry from the Piraeus port or the neighboring islands. Symi is surely a unique island in Greece with interesting architecture, stunning natural beauty, and stunning beaches.

Arriving at the port of Gialos, you will witness firsthand the neoclassical architecture of the houses, painted with vivid colors, contributing to the particular aesthetic standards of Symi.

traditional greek aesthetic kos island leoks shutterstockTraditional Greek aesthetic, hidden gems in Greece - credits: leoks/Shutterstock.com

The economic boost of the 19th century with the formation of a middle class that surpassed in wealth even the neighboring Rhodes and the interest of the Symians in trading is evident throughout the island.

Large houses following the Neoclassical architectural trend, with influences from Marseille, Trieste, and Athens, are scattered throughout the port and the island's main settlements.

Do not miss the chance to visit the Castle of Symi just above the port. A fortified location since ancient times, today’s visible ruins come from the 15th century and the time of the Hospitallers Knights

Nowadays, Symi proves to be an up-and-coming tourist destination that offers a unique summer experience. With the island's rich history, beautiful villages and towns, lots of activities for every traveler, and dozens of beaches for every taste, perhaps you should consider the island of the Graces as your next Greek destination.

Psara

The small Greek island of Psarra,Chios, hidden gems in Greece - credits: el.wikipedia.org

Some miles west of the island of Chios, there is the tiny island of Psara, a small island but with enormous significance for Greece.

Even a whole neighborhood of Athens, Psirri, is named after this small island. Inhabited since prehistoric times, life in Psara had its ups and downs until the 16th century when the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman II the Magnificent, changed everything.

He attacked and pillaged the island with his fleet, capturing and enslaving all the inhabitants of the island, resulting in its abandonment. He later on relocated Ottomans from different parts of the Empire to the island, but quickly, Greeks from Thessaly, Epirus, and Chios became the dominant ethnic group of Psara again.

During the 17th century, the last Ottoman landowners left Psara, making it again a Greek island. Its inhabitants were soon involved in really profitable activities of that time, mainly in trading.

sunset pixabayGreek sunset, the best-hidden gems in Greece - credits: pixabay.com

Many Psarians found their way to different courts of Europe, collecting money and creating a significant fortune and legacy.

One of the most famous benefactors of the New Greek State was John Varvakis, originating from this tiny island and responsible for building the Central Market of Athens.

Despite its small size, the island contributed largely during the War of Greek Independence in 1821. The inhabitants relied mostly on their naval power and experience to tackle the Ottoman fleet and army in many battles. One of the greatest heroes of the War of Independence, Konstantinos Kanaris, came from Psara, among many others.

In 1824, the island suffered from second total destruction by the Ottoman navy. Then, the protectors of the medieval castle courageously sacrificed themselves in the name of freedom.

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Today, the island symbolizes virtue and bravery, loved by its people and the rest of Greece. Do not miss the chance to visit Psara, dive into its history, realize its importance for modern Greek mentality, and wander around its small picturesque town.

Psara is also an ideal destination for trekking lovers, those enjoying wild nature, and long-stretched beaches offering seclusion and tranquillity. 

Choose to have a short trip around the island by a local boat, discover locations not accessible on foot and sail to the islet of Antipsara, a few miles away. If you are looking for an unspoiled Greek island, Psara is your best bet.

Nisyros

Mandraki on Nisyros, the best-hidden gems in Greece - credits: lifo.gr

Located between the Greek islands of Kos and Tilos, the small circular island of Nisyros belongs to the Dodecanese islands region in the eastern part of Greece. Nisyros’ shape gives away its important feature. It is a volcano, still active, with a huge caldera of about three to four km wide.

According to ancient Greek mythology, Nisyros was formed after Poseidon, during the fight between the Olympian Gods and the Giants, cut off a piece of nearby Kos and threw it on giant Polybotes to prevent his escape. Homer also mentions the island in his Iliad, and it has had continuous habitation since antiquity.

pexels sebastian voortman 189349Unknown Greek islands, hidden gems in Greece - credits: sebastian voortman/pexels.com

Reaching Nisyros is quite a task. During the summer months, there is a connection to the port of Piraeus, but the whole journey is gonna take you more than 12 hours.

The best way to get there is by plane to the nearby Greek islands of Kos or Rhodes and then hop on the ferry that will take you to this unspoiled destination. For those who want to meet the island's ancient past, a stop at the settlement of Mandraki is mandatory.

There, you can find traces of the classical past of Nisyros and probe a bit deeper into the island’s history by visiting the small but wonderful archaeological museum. For nature-lovers, the volcano creates landscapes of unique beauty waiting for you to discover them. 

There is a wide range of beautiful beaches that are secluded, offering you the chance to relax and feel the island's energy. Do not waste more time and look for Nisyros island, an option that won’t let you down!

Kasos

Kasos Island, the best-hidden gems in Greece - credits: www.kathimerini.gr.gr

Kasos is definitely an untouched Greek island. It is the southernmost island of the Dodecanese region. Getting there is perhaps the hardest thing about your trip if you choose to take the ferry.

The journey will last approximately 24 hours if you start from the port of Piraeus.

Luckily, the beautiful island has an airport, so taking the plane and reaching Kasos in an hour or so can prove to be a wise decision. In any case, a beautiful sandy beach will make it up to you.

porto timoni beach afionas corfu Simon Dannhauer shutterstockWoman on a Greek beach, the best-hidden gems in Greece - credits: Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock.com

Kasos is an unspoiled Greek island with incredible natural beauty, gorgeous sandy beaches, and whitewashed villages. There are five main settlements on the island, with the one of Polis and the port bearing the ancient ruins of the past. 

If you choose Kasos as your summer destination, the island's numerous pristine and forgotten beaches promise you the rawest island experience you will ever get.

Do not miss the chance to explore most of them, dive into the culture of Kasos and let this place forgotten in time, enchant you with its mesmerizing, almost primitive beauty.

Final Thoughts

cat greek islands pixabayGreek islands, hidden gems in Greece - credits: pixabay.com

From the Ionian islands to the eastern borders of Greece to Turkey, the Greek seas are full of surprises that need more than a lifetime to meet them.

If you are looking for something quite different this summer, like a secluded Greek island, have a look at the choices listed above and our Greece itinerariesplan your own trip to one of them, or check out our Greek Island Hopping guide.

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