For such a small country, only about 10 million people, Greece has had more of an effect on western civilization than any other country or culture. Basically ancient Greece has influenced all of our lives in every aspect of it, from the buildings we live in, the literature we read, mathematics, science, even medicine, much of it goes back to this tiny country and its history.
Nowadays most people associate Greece with sandy beaches and clear blue sea, many of us visiting the islands every summer on package holiday, or island hopping. It is true that Greece has probably the best beaches in Europe with a fantastic climate, and it is worth visiting just for this. But, there is a lot more to Greece than the beaches and sea, Greece is a diverse country with each island, each region having their own identity, from the snow capped wilderness of Epirus to the barren dry islands of the Aegean.
Most visitors to Greece go to the islands or a quick stop in Athens and don't bother to visit the mainland, which is a great shame as mainland Greece has some incredible sights including some amazing beaches, which are less crowded than they are on the Greek Islands. Most of the famous archaeological sites are found on the mainland of Greece as well as some of Greece's most scenic countryside. For hiking and walking the mainland of Greece is as good as anywhere in Europe, especially places like Zagoria in Epirus, the Samaria gorge in Crete or many other places throughout north and central Greece.
Not only are the people and enviroment of Greece diverse but also the wildlife. The island of Lesbos in the north Aegean is a favourite with bird watchers as it is visited by some rare migratory birds every spring. In the Ionian Islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia there are breeding grounds for the rare Loggerhead turtles, the same islands are also home to monk seals. Areas of north Greece still have wild brown bears and wolves, the Vikos gorge in Zagoria has plants and fauna that are unique and found only in the gorge. Some of the Aegean islands are famous for dolphins and seals that visit their waters.A stone bridge over a mountain river in Zagoria, Epirus. Zagoria is a mountainous area of north west greece and is great for hiking and outdoor activities.
Greece has a rich history, with ancient temples, Byzantine churches, Roman towns, Venetian castles all scattered around the country, some like Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia and Knossos are some of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Corfu town on the island of Corfu in the Ionian Islands is rich in Venetian history and the town looks more like an area of Venice than a part of Greece. Athens the Greek capital is steeped in history and has plenty of sites to see like the Acropolis, it is also home to two of the world's best museums, the National archaeological Museum and the Acropolis museum.
The Ionian Islands are on the western side of Greece, stretching down from Albania all the way to the Peloponnese opposite Southern Italy. The Ionian group are made up of Corfu, Lefkada,Kefalonia and Zakinthos, all are very popular with package tour holidays. These islands were occupied by the Venetians for centuries and have a lot of Italian like Architecture and feeling to them, especially Corfu. The Islands are a lot Greener than other islands in Greece and have some excellent sandy beaches.
Epirus is in North West Greece and is the least populated area of Greece. The capital of Epirus is Ioannina in the north of the region, other major towns are Arta in the south, Preveza and Parga on the coast and Igoumenitsa the main port to Italy and Corfu. In the North of the region is the area of Zagoria, a mountainous wilderness that includes the deepest gorge in the world, the Vikos gorge.
The Peloponnese is the southern area of mainland Greece, almost like a large island only being connected to the rest of Greece by the small Corinth isthmus. The centre of the Peloponnese is very mountainous and forested and great for walking and hiking. The Peloponnese has its fair share of places to see more so than other parts of Greece, ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Tyrins, Nafplio, Nemea, Olympia, Pylos, Mani, Epidauros and Sparta.
Attica is in East side of Greece and is home to the capital, Athens where over one third of Greece live. Other famous towns in Attica are Marthon, Elefsina and Megara. There is plenty to see especially in Athens, but also out in the countryside, places like Cape Sounion and ancient Bauron.
Attica has some excellent beaches, though usually crowded, most run down from Athens to Cape Sounion. Between Attica and the Peloponnese is the Saronic gulf with the islands of Aegina and Salamina, Aegina is famous for its ancient temple.
Central Greece has so many places to visit and some amazing countryside it is a surprise that it gets so few tourists. In the South of central Greece, on the Corinth gulf, is the very famous Delphi one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Next to Delphi is the Alpine like town of Arachova which is very popular for skiing during the winter months.
Further North are the famous monasteries of Meteora, these monasteries are built on huge rock pinnacles hundreds of feet above the ground. The two main towns of the region are Thebes and Volos, although there isn't that much to see in Thebes it does have a lot of Myths and history associated with it. On the coast in the East is the site of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans fought the Persians and one of the most important battles in the history of Greece.
Macedonia is in the north East of Greece and was home of Alexander the Great. The main city of the region is Thessaloniki and is the second largest city of Greece after Athens. To the East of Thessaloniki is the Halkidiki peninsular which is very popular for package tour holidays and is also the home of Mount Athos a huge complex of monasteries. Also in Macedonia is the archaeological site of Virgina and what is believed to be the Tomb of King Phillip, father of Alexander.
Crete is the largest Island in Greece and is as close to Africa as it is Greece. This huge island is very popular with tourist as it as something to offer everyone, from the 18 to 30's favourite, Malia to the much more quiet Agios Georgios. The main towns of Crete are the capital, Iraklion, Hania in the West and Rethymon also in the West. Crete was also the home of the famous Bronze Age civilization the Minoans, you can visit their capital Knossos, just a few kilometres outside of Iraklion.
The Cyclades are a group of Islands in the Aegean South East of Athens and are probably the most famous group of islands in Greece. Some of the famous islands of the Cyclades include Santorini and the party island of Mykonos which have thousands of visitors from all around the world every year. All the Cyclades are similar in appearance with the white washed cube houses blue roofs, doors and windows, this is what most people think of when they think of islands in Greece. Other islands in the Cyclades are Tinos, Paros, Naxos, Delos, Andros, Poros.
Dodecanese literally means twelve islands, and as you imagine it is a group of twelve island in the South East Aegean just of the coast of Turkey. The two most famous islands of this group are Rhodes and Kos, Rhodes is one of the most popular destinations in Greece.
The Sparades are a group of islands off the coast of East central Greece, the islands include Skopelos and Skiathos which were made very popular in recent years since the making of the movie Mama mia.
These islands include Lesbos, Chios, Samothrace and Thassos, perhaps not as famous as other Greek islands but still worth visiting.
Greece is a country that has something for everyone, if you like beaches and the sea then there is no where better in the world. For people who like a bit of culture, Greece is like one big archaeological site from the Acropolis of Athens to the ruined towns of Corinth, Delphi and Mycenae, there isn't many places that can compare to Greece for this.
There are areas in North Greece and the Peloponneses that are perfect for hiking and walking, in these same places you can do things like paragliding, white-water rafting, rock climing and many more things. For nature lovers Greece has some very rare creatures like brown bears, turtles, wolves even migratory birds.
Although most people associate Greece with summer holidays there are actually some Ski resorts in Greece, the most famous one is Arachova, which is just a few kilometres from Delphi in central Greece.