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15 Hidden gems and unique places to visit in Greece

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15 Hidden gems and unique places to visit in Greece

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Beyond Athens. (And Athens is worth visiting, by the way!) Beyond Mykonos. Beyond the tried-and-true in the guidebooks, there are endless unique places to visit in Greece.

The country has more than 6,000 islands and islets – plenty of quiet and romantic Greek islands with pinch-me-I’m-dreaming beaches to escape to.

And with thousands of years of history, Greece is also home to mythical sites and one-of-a-kind spiritual places to soothe the soul.

So if you’re keen to discover Greece’s unique, alternative and secret side, read on!

Unique places to visit in Greece

Contents: 15 Unique and secret places in Greece

Unique Greek Islands – Ikaria, Delos, Santorini, Milos and Skyros

Unique hidden gems in Greece – Monemvasia, Kythera and Kefalonia

Unique romantic places in Greece – Skiathos, Folegandros and Rethymnon

Other unique places in Greece – Mount Athos, Phillippi, Meteora and Mycenae

Unique Greek Islands

1) Ikaria

One of the most unique places to visit in Greece is Ikaria.

This remote Greek island is located off the Turkish coast, about a 2-hour ferry ride from Mykonos. And it’s unique for a very interesting reason – it’s one of the world’s five “Blue Zones,” places where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else.

The other Blue Zones are Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy) and Loma Linda (California).

On the remote Greek island of Ikaria, the people live long and healthy lives.
On the remote island of Ikaria, the people live long and healthy lives

One in 3 people on Ikaria lives to be over 90.

And they live well too.

No dementia. No depression. Few people get cancer. And there’s significantly less heart disease than what plagues North Americans.

You can enjoy a healthy stress-free holiday in Ikaria

So what’s Ikaria’s secret? The same recipe as for a great Greek getaway.

The Ikarians eat a good healthy diet – think fresh fish, locally grown wild greens, beans and lots of other vegetables. They walk. They make love a lot (well into their old age too!). They’re not stressed about time. And they make their own organic red wine.

If you go, you’ll want to hang out on Faros Beach.

The sand-and-pebble beach boasts calm clear water – with several nearby tavernas for quaffing some of that local wine.

Of course, Ikaria has beaches!

2) Delos

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the uninhabited island of Delos (less than 2 square miles in size) is covered with archaeological ruins dating from 300 BC.

Centuries ago, Delos was once a fabulous Greek island city.
Centuries ago, Delos was once a fabulous island city

Delos was once the most prosperous commercial center in the ancient world.

The wealthy had grand villas with beautiful mosaic tile floors. The panther head in the House of Dionysos, for example, is remarkably well-preserved.

The mosaic-tiled floor in one 2nd century BC house on Delos shows Dionysus riding a panther.
The mosaic-tiled floor in one 2nd century BC house on Delos shows Dionysos riding a panther

You can even see remains of the residents’ toilet rooms in these once-opulent villas – canals under the whole city took waste water out to sea.

To visit Delos, take an excursion boat from the nearby island of Mykonos.

Boats leave from the Mykonos harbor for half-day guided tours of Delos.

The Delos Archaeological Museum on the island houses beautiful ancient marble sculptures
The Delos Archaeological Museum on the island houses beautiful ancient marble sculptures

3) Santorini

Talk about unique!

Santorini is the island whose middle was blown out by a massive volcanic eruption in 1600 BC.

Santorini really is a place like no other
Santorini really is a place like no other

Any good Greece travel guide will tell you that walking along the edge of the caldera from the capital of Fira to the white sugar-cube village of Oia is one of the most pleasurable ways to take in the heart-stopping views.

Sailing offers a different viewpoint from which to enjoy Santorini’s scenery.

Booking with Sunset Oia, we joined four other couples aboard a swish catamaran.

From Oia, we cruised past the island’s craggy brown and white rocks to swim at a red sand beach.

For lunch, the crew barbecued huge shrimp and mussels, serving that with Greek salad featuring Santorini’s sweet juicy cherry tomatoes and unlimited goblets of wine.

A day sailing trip is a great way to see a different side of Santorini

We ended the day jumping off the boat to swim to underwater hot springs gushing up by the uninhabited lava islet of Nea Kameni.

The water was actually only luke-warm, but it was fun to slather on the red-brown sulphuric mud (said to be good for the skin).

Tip: To round out your unique Santorini experience, stay in a cave hotel like Ikies Traditional Houses.

4) Milos

Another unique Greek island, Milos is unspoiled – for now.

Milos is one of Greece's hidden gems.
Milos is one of Greece’s hidden gems

You may know Milos as the island where the famous “Venus de Milo” statue was discovered (now displayed in the Louvre).

What you may not know is that this volcanic island has natural hot springs, ancient mines, spectacular rock formations, cute harbor towns with fishing boats bobbing offshore and – because of its local population – several good authentic restaurants.

One of the most unique Greek islands is Milos.
Milos is a lovely quiet Greek island

5) Skyros

When seeking out unique and non-touristy Greek islands, also take a look at Skyros.

A best-kept secret, Skyros is a quiet Greek island in the Sporades archipelago (which includes Skiathos, #9 below, and Skopelos).

When seeking out non-touristy Greek islands, take a look at Skyros.
Don’t tell too many people about Skyros!

Escape to Skyros for beaches, snorkeling in crystal-clear waters, charming cafés in the island’s sole town (Skyros town) – and even a sea cave transformed into a chapel.

English poet Rupert Brooke is buried in an olive grove on a hill on the island.

You’ll also want to see the unique and rare breed of Skyrian horses.

Almost extinct, they look like regular horses, but shorter (about 3+ feet high). You can meet them at the Skyros Island Horse Trust, dedicated to saving the breed.

Skyrian horses on the quiet Greek island of Skyros
Skyrian horses on Skyros

Unique hidden Gems in Greece

6) Monemvasia

Monemvasia, one of the most unique places to visit in Greece, is built on a rock island.
Monemvasia is built on a rock island

If we were 17th century Venetians, we’d have to cross a drawbridge (or wade through the sea) to enter Monemvasia.

Today a modern causeway links the medieval fortress town, built atop a steep rock islet, with the Greek Peloponnese mainland.

Yet Monemvasia itself still evokes the past – a web of car-free cobblestone paths, just wide enough for a donkey pulling a wagon, winds past gold-tinged houses that date back to the Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman empires.

Olive-wood souvenirs for sale in Greece
Olive-wood and other souvenirs for sale in Monemvasia

We visited Monemvasia on a Greek cruise.

It’s also possible, however to visit the town on a road trip from Athens, as Monemvasia is located on the mainland.

We admired the gold-leaf icons in the town’s historic Greek Orthodox churches. Sampled the famous sweet Malmsey wine that originated here (and relaxed over iced cappuccinos). Swam in the cool waters at a pebble beach just outside the town’s walls.

And dreamed of ways we could plan a return visit, so we could stay longer next time…

Iced cappuccino and orange biscuits in Monemvasia
Iced cappuccino and orange biscuits in Monemvasia

7) Kythera

Sea cave in Kythera
An underwater sea cave in Kythera

Is this the perfect Greek island?

Ribboned by gorges, waterfalls and valleys, Kythera is one of the most beautiful islands in Greece.

One of several waterfalls in Kythera
One of several waterfalls in Kythera

Lying off the southern tip of the Peloponnese Peninsula, Kythera has much to offer if you make the effort to get there. (Few international visitors go because the journey is bothersome, e.g., a 7-hour ferry ride from Athens.)

But once there, you can visit castles and hike up to fortresses left behind by the Venetians.

Wonderful swimming spots include pebble beaches plus idyllic freshwater ponds splashed by waterfalls in the forests.

The island boasts several charming villages too, each retaining their own traditional characters – Mylopotamos is set around a duck pond.

A Venetian-style balcony in Kythera
A Venetian-style balcony in Kythera

8) Kefalonia

Then again… Maybe Kefalonia is the most beautiful Greek island.

It’s most famous (if you know your Greek facts) for being the place where the movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” was filmed.

If you seek picturesque waterfront villages, look no further than Asos on the northeast coast.

The 16th century Asos Castle perches on a rocky hill above the town. Just down the road, Myrtos Beach beckons – the beach dazzles with its marble and limestone pebbles.

The village of Asos on Kefalonia (possibly the most beautiful island in Greece)
The village of Asos on Kefalonia (possibly the most beautiful island in Greece)

Like hiking?

Step out into the pine and fir forests in Mount Ainos National Park for picture-perfect views over the Ionian Sea and the Peloponnese.

Or if beaches are your preferred reward, hike to pristine hidden beaches like Kimilia Beach in the northern part of the island.

Unique romantic places in Greece

9) Skiathos

Remember Mama Mia with Meryl Streep?

It was filmed on this hilly pine-covered island (and nearby Skopelos).

Skiathos is one of the most romantic places in Greece.
One of the most romantic Greek islands? Skiathos!

Difficult to get to (which just makes it all the more attractive), Skiathos is beautiful – one of the best Greek islands for couples.

Skiathos beach
Come on in, the water’s just fine!

It’s not untouched by tourism though.

With more than 60 beaches and fine hotels, it’s on the tourist radar.

Still, its pine forests threaded with hiking trails and boat-only accessible beaches call out to couples looking to get off the beaten path.

Note: May, June and September are the best months to visit Skiathos. July and August are busy, and it’s known for its nightlife then too.

Skiathos Bench
Bench with a perfect view of Skiathos

10) Folegandros

Close to Santorini (#3 above) – but soooo much quieter – is Folegandros.

A small Greek island, it’s only 8 miles long. But it scores high on the romance scale! (Anemi Hotel is honeymoon-worthy.)

Looking out from the Anemi Hotel on Folegandros
Looking out from Anemi Hotel on Folegandros

Beaches are oh-so-pretty and practically deserted. Footpaths wind around the island, making it a pleasure to walk. And one of Folegandros’ three small towns, Chora, is car-free.

Must do: Climb the stone zig-zag path up to the Church of Panagia (a 15-minute walk). It boasts a unique (and glorious!) location at the top of a rocky hill above Chora.

The Church of Panagia on Folegandros offers fabulous views of the island and the sea.
The Church of Panagia on Folegandros offers fabulous views of the island and the sea

11) Rethymnon

One of the most beautiful cities in Greece, Rethymnon (or Rethymno) is the third largest city in Crete.

Built on a cape “on the boundary between calmness and fierceness,” as local writer Pantelis Prevelakis poetically described it, Rethymnon is bordered by a long sandy beach on one side and a rocky coastline on the other.

One of the most beautiful cities in Greece is Rethymnon
One of the most beautiful cities in Greece is Rethymnon

Rethymnon boasts a wonderful old harbor and a massive Venetian fortress.

By the harbor, its centuries-old Venetian-Ottoman quarter is a maze of narrow flagstone streets, graceful wood-balconied houses and ornate Venetian monuments.

Rethymnon, Crete
Shop to your heart’s content!

What’s lovely to see is that this Old Town is full of local life – women embroider while sitting on doorsteps, students drink coffee and play tavli (backgammon) in cafés and children kick balls in the alleys.

Avli, a 16th century Venetian villa, has gorgeous suites for a romantic stay in the heart of the Old Town.

Discover hidden cafés and other delights by the harbor in Rethymnon
Discover hidden cafés and other delights by the harbor in Rethymnon

Other unique places in Greece

12) Mount Athos

One of the most secret places in Greece is Mount Athos.

A peninsula with steep cliffs climbing up from the sea, Mount Athos is dominated by a tall mountain in the middle, with clouds crowning the top.

At one time, it was home to some 40 monasteries.

Today, there are 20 Orthodox monasteries on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is an autonomous Greek state (like the Vatican). Because of its profoundly devotional nature, it’s a haven for those seeking a spiritual retreat.

Mount Athos is an ancient monastic community in northern Greece

We didn’t actually set foot on Mount Athos, but cruised slowly by (boats have to keep a distance of over 1,500 feet away).

To visit, you have to request permission from your own consulate, get recommendations about your good character and supply reasons why you want to visit – and then you can only visit Mount Athos for three days.

What makes Mount Athos one of the most unique places to visit in Greece (if you can get in) is that no women are ever permitted entry.

In fact – get this – while the self-sustaining monasteries have farms, female animals are even prohibited too!

Women (and female animals) are banned from Mount Athos.
Women (and female animals) are banned from Mount Athos

13) Ancient ruins of Philippi:

Philippi is all about gold, wine, murder, mayhem, Alexander the Great and St. Paul.

Intrigued? Then read our post on the ancient Philippi ruins.

14) Meteora

A complex of monasteries perch precipitously on soaring rock formations in Meteora
A complex of monasteries perch precipitously on soaring rock formations in Meteora

If you’ve ever seen photos of Meteora, you’ll agree that it’s one of the most interesting places in Greece.

Starting in the 11th century, several remarkable Byzantine monasteries and nunneries were built in Meteora – which means “suspended in air.”

Monks and nuns still live in these monasteries and nunneries, perched atop towering sandstone rock pillars over 1,200 feet high.

The Great Meteoron Monastery is the oldest and largest of the monasteries. It houses priceless Byzantine-era manuscripts and an ossuary with the skulls of monks who lived there.

Frescoes inside one of the Meteora monasteries
Frescoes inside a Meteora monastery

Fascinating? Yes!

The only thing is that we had to jostle with hundreds upon hundreds of tourists all wanting to eye this popular site, which detracted from our experience. We visited Meteora in high summer.

Tip: To avoid the crowds, we’d suggest timing your visit for the off-season – maybe late October or even November?

One of the most unique places to visit in Greece is historic Meteora, with its monasteries built atop rock pillars.
Historic Meteora monastery atop a rocky cliff

15) Mycenae

If you dig ancient Greek history, Mycenae is calling to you.

The ancient city of Mycenae was the center of the highly developed Mycenaean civilization, which Homer wrote about in the Iliad around 850 B.C.

The archaeological site of Mycenae
The archaeological site of Mycenae

King Agamemnon was buried here with all his gold treasures. (His brother’s wife Helen was the lovely lady taken to Troy by Paris, igniting the Trojan War.)

But there’s no real gold to be seen – the treasure had already been looted when Heinrich Schliemann first excavated the site in 1874. Schliemann was the person who discovered Troy, proving that Homer’s heroic epic poems were rooted in reality.

All that remains today inside Agamemnon’s huge, rounded limestone tomb (which would have looked like a grassy mound centuries ago) is black soot clinging to the walls, remnants of the cooking fires lit by medieval occupants when they lived here.

The gold funeral Mask of Agamemnon on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Copy of the gold funeral Mask of Agamemnon (the original is on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens)

Your favorite unique place in Greece?

So there you go – the best places to visit in Greece for a unique trip. Do you have a favorite? Let us know! (You can comment below.)

Experience more of Greece!

Read our posts on:

Mykonos | Mykonos is a slice of cool in the hot blue Aegean. See our Mykonos travel guide, including the 5 best Mykonos beach hotels.

Santorini | Looking for a hotel that wows with discreet luxury? You’ll love Vedema Resort.

Crete | Chilling out at St. Nicolas Bay Resort was just the prescription we needed for R&R after exploring Greece’s ruins.


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Unique places to visit in Greece

Photo credits: 9, 10, 16 to 20, 41, 46, 48, 50, 53 and 54 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 12 to 15 Sunset Oia | 38 Anemi Hotel


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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