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January 22, 2018, 3:21 pm

Step into the ring where Olympians first competed. Climb steps were hewn out of stone to Meteora’s monasteries, perched atop towering rocks. Contemplate the oracle’s insights from the grandeur of Delphi, take in a starlit drama at an ancient outdoor theatre and be stunned by massive marble sculptures dredged up from the Aegean. The cultural treasure chest that is Greece is filled with other-worldly experiences and a plethora of sites that are unique, remarkable and inviting to travelers with different interests.

Wander along cobbled Byzantine footpaths, hike into volcanoes, watch for dolphins and sea turtles, and cycle through lush forests. Meander through olive groves, idyllic villages and petrified forests. Thrill seekers can discover world-class kite surfing, wreck diving, and rock-climbing locations with dizzying views. Visitors are bound to feel at home with the warm welcoming nature of the local population in a country where socializing is not just a pastime, but is in fact adopted as a way of life.

Athens: With equal measures of grunge and grace, Athens is a heady mix of history and edginess. Cultural and social life plays out amid, around and in ancient landmarks.

The city is still dominated by 5th-century BCE landmarks, including the Acropolis of Athens, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings like the colonnaded Parthenon temple. Visible from almost every part of the city, it reminds tourists and locals alike of the city’s many transformations and rich heritage. A glimpse of this magnificent sight cannot fail to exalt your spirit. It is a showcase of lavishly colored colossal buildings and of bronze, marble and gold gargantuan statues.

The Acropolis Museum, along with the National Archaeological Museum, preserves sculptures, vases, jewelry and more from Ancient Greece.

Beyond Athens, down the Attica peninsula, are more spectacular antiquities, such as the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, as well as remarkable beaches, such as those near historic Marathon.

A contemporary city, it is not uncommon in Athens for the nightlife hubs of Kolonaki, Psiri and Gazi to stay busy until dawn. Some areas of the city are pedestrian-only, such as the winding lanes of the Plaka neighborhood, lined with cafes, traditional tavernas and neoclassical houses. The Grand Promenade walkway, created for the 2004 Olympics, circles the Acropolis, passing fabled remains such as the crumbling Ancient Agora of Athens complex.

Santorini: Resembling a giant slab of layered cake, Santorini is filled with multicolored cliffs soaring above a sea-drowned caldera, drawing tourists and travelers from around the world for much of the year.

The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia. It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique microbrewery and some of the Cyclades' finest accommodation and dining experiences. The multicolored beaches are simply the icing on the cake.

The main island of Thira will take your breath away with its snow-drift of white Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops and, in places, spilling like icy cornices down the terraced rock. Ancient Thira consists of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ruins and is an atmospheric and rewarding site to visit. The ruins include temples, houses with mosaics, an agora (market), a theatre and a gymnasium with splendid views.

Mykonos: The great glamour island of Greece that Mykonos is, proudly flaunts its lively reputation. Also known as Hora, the island’s well-preserved port and capital is a warren of narrow alleyways and whitewashed buildings overlooked by the town’s famous windmills.

Located in a sheltered bay on the west coast, narrow, mazelike lanes are lined with white cubiform houses trimmed with bougainvillea and blue doors and shutters. In the heart of the waterfront Little Venice quarter, which is spectacular at sunset, tiny flower-bedecked churches jostle with glossy boutiques and decadently enhancing the streets and corners are cascades of bougainvillea that are bound to take your breath away.

Matoyianni Street is the heart of the retail scene, with chic, high-end shops, cafes and art galleries. The town's Little Venice quarter is filled with waterfront bars, seafood restaurants and houses with colorful balconies. Nearby, Panagia Paraportiani is a whitewashed church with a famously lumpy, lopsided shape. Mykonos is also the jumping-off point for tourists keen on exploring the archaeological site of the nearby island of Delos.

Naxos: The largest of the Cyclades, Naxos is an increasingly popular destination among tourists keen on excitement and luxury minus the financial toll. The main city here has a gorgeous waterfront and a web of steep cobbled alleys below its hilltop kastro, all filled with the hubbub of tourism and shopping. You need not travel far, though, to find isolated beaches, atmospheric mountain villages and ancient sites. On an islet near the Naxos city harbor is the immense marble gate of Portara, part of an unfinished temple from the 6th century BCE, dedicated to the Greek god Apollo.

Naxos was a cultural centre of Classical Greece and Byzantium, and Venetian and Frankish influences also left their mark. Its high mountains form rain clouds, and consequently Naxos is more fertile and green than most of the other Cyclades islands. It produces olives, grapes, figs, citrus fruit, corn and potatoes. Mt Zeus (also known as Mt Zas) is the Cyclades’ highest peak at 1004m and is the central focus of the island’s mountainous interior, where you will find enchanting villages such as Halki and Apiranthos.

Rhodes: By far the largest and historically the most important of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes (ro-dos) abounds in beaches, wooded valleys and ancient history. Whether you arrive in search of buzzing nightlife, languid sun worshipping, diving in crystal-clear waters or to embark on a cultural journey through past civilizations, all your needs can be fulfilled here.

The atmospheric Old Town of Rhodes is a maze of cobbled streets that will spirit you back to the days of the Byzantine Empire and beyond. Further south is the picture-perfect town of Lindos, a soul-warming vista of sugar-cube houses spilling down to a turquoise bay.

A steep footpath climbs the 116-meter rock above Lindos to reach the beautifully preserved Acropolis of Rhodes. First walled in the 6th century BCE, the cliff top is now enclosed by battlements constructed by the Knights of St John. Once within, you are confronted by stunning ancient remains that include a Temple to Athena Lindia and a 20-columned Hellenistic stoa. Silhouetted against the deep blue sky, the stark white columns are dazzling, while the long-range coastal views are out of this world.


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