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The wonders of mainland Greece

Last updated 9 November 2020

Mainland Greece is wonderfully diverse. Usually, somewhere like Greece, we would pick a region and focus on getting to know that bit of the country. However, I’ve had a love affair with Greece for as long as I can remember, and I have a long list of things to see on my first visit.

To be honest, my list revolves around ancient ruins – but as they span the country, we have a very exciting journey ahead of us.

Our first stop is Thessaloniki, a fun, vibrant city full of restaurants and cafes, shops and friendly people. We stumble across bits of culture, visit a museum or two, and enjoy wandering around at night, seeing everybody out, with children playing and dogs running around. All too soon, we find ourselves leaving Thessaloniki and on a bus to Athens, with views of Mt Olympus on the way.

Athens is interesting, and much bigger than we had expected. We stay in Exarchia, a former anarchist, student area with a definite grungy vibe. It’s central, gritty and vibrant – great to wander around, or stop for a coffee, dinner or a drink. It’s bustling during the week and lots of fun at night, with lots of young people around, however we aren’t convinced it’s the best place to stay. During the week is fine, but on Saturday and Sunday mornings it’s very quiet with hints of the debauchery of the night before and feels just on the icky side of gritty. Still, it’s very convenient and we feel like we get more insight into the city than we would have had if we’d stayed at the foot of the acropolis.

We enjoy walking through the streets and I am beyond excited to see the Parthenon in real life. Like many large, working cities, we find Athens slightly inaccessible and wish we had a local friend to take us around and give us some pointers about where to go. We eat some amazing food and I drag Matt through his first tranche of historical sites in Greece. The highlight for me is the National Archaeological Museum, although the Egyptian section is unfortunately closed when we visit.

Despite a general reluctance to go on any kind of organised bus tour, I’ve book one in Athens. We have a limited amount of time on the mainland, and I really want to see as many of the classical sites. Obviously, we can’t see them all, but we end up with a five-day tour which included Epidaurus, Ancient Olympia, Mycenae and Delphi. It’s a very good tour, comfortable with a very knowledgeable guide, but we feel very separate from the places we visit. While I get a good sense of the ancient sites, I don’t feel like I’ve experienced the modern towns we stay in. An exception is Nafplion where we organise to spend a night by ourselves, and we find the little, seaside town enchanting.

Of the classical sites, Delphi is definitely our favourite. Up in the mountains with an amazing view, it isn’t hard to believe that we’re in the navel of the world. Seeing so many sites I’ve read about for so long is absolutely amazing. I love the sense of permanence and time I can feel here.

We also visit Meteora, which isn’t exactly classical, but it sounded intriguing. The rocks are huge and beautiful, and the monasteries perched on top of them are like something from a fairytale. However, once we reach the top, it was a little anticlimatic… they’re just monasteries like any other, and very full of tourists. I wish we hadn’t gone inside and kept the romantic notions we had when looking at them in the distance.

We have a very long list of places we want go when we return to mainland Greece. The people are friendly, there are so many different landscapes and there’s so much to see and do. I’m almost tempted to stay a little longer, but the weather’s beautiful and those famous Greek Islands are calling…

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