When you think of travelling to Greece, the first thing that comes to mind is its antique treasures, such as Mount Olympia and the Acropolis in Athens. It's impossible to ignore the rich past of the country, when we know that Greek civilization extends back to the Palaeolithic era. But Greece enjoys countless other tourist attractions, which make it one of Europe's favourite holiday destinations.
Greece is hard to disassociate from its mythical sights and brimming history. Mount Olympia, the Acropolis, Ancient Greece; all have contributed so considerably to our present civilisation that this country deserves to be explored with time and attention. Its Mediterranean climate makes for pleasant temperatures all year round - hot in the summer but refreshed by the Meltemi or seasonal winds. The Greek Islands are also an idyllic destination with their established reputation and their own distinct identity. Whether you decide to explore Athens or sail the islands, the country's rich diet of taramasalata, tsastiki, humous, stuffed vine leaves and moussaka will have you coming back for more.
Over 130,000 km², Greece is home to a large number of treasures. Greece is situated between Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and is across the Mediterranean from Egypt. The archipelago also consists of more than 9,000 islands - a large expanse of land, of which only 200 are inhabited. The islands contrast with the mountainous terrain of the mainland, which covers more than 70% of the territory, and gets as high as 3,000 metres at Mount Olympia. There you can find the monasteries of Meteora, one of the country's most extraordinary tourist destinations. These religious buildings are perched atop dramatic rock formations, eroded away as if suspended in the sky. Indeed, the site is so beautiful that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Greece's Mediterranean climate means you can enjoy a visit there at any time of year. The warm summer temperatures on the coasts are soothed by the Meltem, a seasonal wind, and even during the winters it is still cool in the planes. The Greek Islands may receive a lot of tourists in the summer, but even during the peak seasons each one is still characterful.
Amongst the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes is at the head, between Karpathos and the Turkish coast. It is the largest island in the region. At 1,400 km², its peaks at 1,216 metres high thanks to Mount Attavyros, which looms up to the heavens.
The Cyclades are the pinnacle of the Greek islands, and are definitely worth a tour. The archipelago consists of 24 inhabited islands, where you will find the same beautiful sight: small villages of picturesque white houses, with distinctive large blue shutters. The panorama of this countryside inevitably provokes a certain happiness, evoking a sweeter side of life. The tranquil beauty of the Mediterranean nature mixes with the archaeological treasures, and that's not to mention the beautiful beaches and nocturnal life. The island of Amorgos is famous as the set of the film the Big Blue. The north of the island is frequented by those who simply want to sit back and relax in the sun, thanks to its beaches - larger and less developed than the in the south. Tourism hasn't so far had a major negative effect on the region's nature or culture. It is known for hiking lovers, particularly paths that travel along the ridges between the monastery and village of Potamos.
Generally speaking, accommodation in Athens is less expensive than on islands such as Mykonos. Expect to pay double during peak season (July and August) on the islands. Ferries and boats between islands are relatively cheap, depending on how close together the islands are. Islands are brimmed with fun activities such as kayaking, parasailing and banana boating, but if you want to visit the ancient sites you will find them in the mainland.
As Greece is very hot, be careful not to get dehydrated. Drinking water is available for free at town springs and village fountain-taps, allowing you to save a few Euros by topping up a water bottle. Or, if you prefer an alcoholic beverage, why not try the local ?tsiupouro'. This strong spirit is distilled from grape residue and is not produced anywhere else in the world. It contains approximately 36% alcohol per volume, yet allows you to wake up with a clear head.
You don't need a visa to enter Greece. As a British passport holder you can stay as a visitor for up to 3 months. For longer stays, you will need to apply for a residence permit. It's illegal to smoke in all indoor public places. The penalty for violating this law is a fine of up to ?500.
98% of the 10.6m population of Greece speaks Greek, which is the country's official language. However, don't worry if you don't speak a word of Greek - most Greeks are familiar with tourists and they will help you if you need directions or an explanation. Also, most street signs are in both Greek and English. However, it may be useful to learn a few basic Greek words to help you on your travels!
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Orthodox Christianity is an essential part of the Greek population's daily life. For the Greeks, Easter celebrations are far more important than Christmas, and are an occasion of grand preparations and various festivities and feasts. The celebrations are huge, and all shops and museums are closed during the week.
Remember that nodding or shaking your head doesn't mean the same thing in Greece as elsewhere - in fact, it means the opposite!
Despite the intrusive tourism development, certain locals, especially inland, have preserved their legendary hospitality. If you go through the trouble of learning to speak a few words of Greek, then they will reveal themselves as welcoming and generous.
Days go by following the rhythm of the Mediterranean. Mornings end with lunch between 1:00 and 3:00 pm. Then comes the siesta. Life kicks off again from around 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm, which is the time for evening walks and terrace discussions, and around 10:00 pm it's time to gather for dinner!
It is impossible to ignore Greek cuisine, being as important worldwide as it is. All around the world, you can find Greek restaurants - evidence of its popularity. But make no mistake: the best Greek food you can find is always in the homeland itself. Historical Turkish occupation has given Greek cuisine an unmistakeably oriental edge, particularly through the way in which meals are served. Every meal begins with mezzes, small plates of hors d'oeuvres.
Fish is eaten less and less due to its rising price, except on the islands where it can still be found frequently. There you can find crustaceans, molluscs, as well as squid and octopus. Amongst the very traditional dishes are of course moussaka, a very European pie of beef, aubergines, tomatoes and vine leaves - not dissimilar to British shepherds' pie.
As for meat, in Greece people eat a lot of lamb and poultry. Beef is often eaten as part of souvlaki (large brochettes) which can be found anywhere and everywhere. Don't overlook these delicious brochettes - they are succulent, especially when they are hot off of a real charcoal barbecue.