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Greece holidays: Take a dreamy cruise to these idyllic & enchanting Greek islands

Author: Sophie Chichester

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Greece holidays offer tourists unique and fascinating activities, gorgeous beaches, delicious food and so much more. Which Greek destination is best for you?

Greece is home to beautiful islands and a mainland steeped in history, culture and rich gastronomy.

Cruise holidays here enable visitors to explore the country's gorgeous coastline - with smaller ships stopping where bigger vessels are unable to.

But cruises aren't just about life onboard - you want to make sure your shore excursions are just as rewarding.

Greece boasts a great many hugely popular holiday hotspots and it can be hard to pick where to go. Here we take a look at just some of the brilliant places you can visit in Greece.

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Heraklion

Heraklion can be found on the gorgeous island of Crete.

Ancient history buffs will love the Archaeological Museum, one of the most important museums in Greece where visitors can find almost all the unique treasures of the Minoan civilisation unearthed at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and elsewhere.

Among the most outstanding sights in the city are the fortification walls that delimit the “old city”. The first fortifications were built by the Arabs and later reinforced by the Venetians in the 15th century.

Many monuments in Heraklion date back to the Middle Ages - a time when the city enjoyed great prosperity. The Venetian Loggia is just one highlight - a magnificent, ornate arcaded building decorated with blazons and trophies which served as a meeting place for the duke and other noblemen during the Venetian period.

Beach lovers will also be happy in Heraklion – there are some lovely sandy blue flag beaches.

Meanwhile, food lovers should head to the city's market where traditional Cretan products such as olive oil, raki, local wine, honey, herbs and more are sold.

Visitors to Heraklion should try to fit in a trip to Knossos - it's one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe and the legendary centre of the Minoan civilisation from 1900 to 1400 BC.

Heraklion KNOSSOS Photo by the Region of Crete
Greece holidays: Heraklion can be found on the gorgeous island of Crete.

Santorini

Santorini's iconic blue and white painted buildings perched atop rugged cliffs are a well-known sight and the spot is hugely popular with tourists.

Santorini - formed by a (still active) volcano - is a group of islands consisting of Thira, Thirassia, Aspronissi, Palea and Nea Kameni in the southernmost part of the Cyclades. Don't worry though, the last big eruption occurred 3,600 years ago.

Visitors to Santorini are spoiled for choice. Fira, perched high up on the edge of the Caldera, is the picturesque capital of the island. The city, together with Oia, Imerovigli and Firostefani, located high above on a cliff, make up the so-called “Caldera’s eyebrow,” the balcony of Santorini, from where visitors can admire amazing views of the volcano.

The smaller villages are also well worth exploring and soaking up their distinctive traditional atmosphere is a rewarding experience.

As for the coastline, expect deep blue waters and beaches with white, red or black sand or volcanic pebbles, spectacular rock formations and impressive lunar landscapes.

And, when you're ready for a rest, treat your taste buds to some famous traditional dishes such as cherry tomatoes, white aubergines, fava, caper and “hloro tyrí” (a special kind of fresh goat cheese). Or why not try some of the exceptional wines produced from grapes grown in the volcanic soil of the island?

- READ MORE: Crete, Athens or the Cyclades - where to go -

Oia Santorini photo by Region of South Aegean Islands 1
Greece holidays: Santorini's iconic blue and white painted buildings perched atop rugged cliffs are a well-known sight.

Koufonisia

Koufonisia is a small group of two islets called Pano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi which boast some of the Aegean's best beaches.

The name Koufonisia translates to Hollow Islands due to the islands' huge caves which gave the impression of hollow islands to pirates who spied them from a distance.

Only Pano Koufonisi is populated and is the ideal spot for holidaymakers looking to relax and drink in Koufonisia's sheltered golden sand beaches, its small natural pools of turquoise waters and abundance of fresh seafood.

The best beaches can be found on Loutro, Parianos, Foinikas, Fanos, Italida, and Pori where you can windsurf as well. Be sure to tour the island by boat to explore the sea caves and nearby islets.

The typical Cyclades village of Chora with its white-washed houses and picturesque alleys is also worth a visit. Why not rent a bike or go hiking?

Koufonisia 0186
Greece holidays: Koufonisia is a small group of two islets called Pano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi.
Iconic ports

Santorini

Postcard-perfect Santorini, one of the Cyclades islands located in the Aegean sea, is famed for its…

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Mykonos

Situated in the heart of Greece’s Cyclades archipelago, cosmopolitan Mykonos has gained a…

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Heraklion

The bustling port city and capital of the Greek Island of Crete, Heraklion has become a popular…

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Naxos

Naxos is the biggest and greenest island in the Cyclades. It features high mountains, fertile valleys, lush green gorges, stunning seascapes and traditional villages.

It has a rich history and even features in Greek myths. The islet of Palatia can be spotted as visitors enter the port. The impressive marble gate of the Temple of Apollo, which dates to the 6th century BC, still stands here. According to mythology, the god Dionysus met Ariadne there after she was abandoned by Theseus (of minotaur fame).

Culture vultures will appreciate the Archaeological Museum, housed in a historic building of the Venetian Period, while Chora, the capital, has an imposing Venetian castle. There's plenty of amazing architecture to ogle here - it's a unique blend of Cycladic and Medieval.

Outdoor types will love the many hiking routes on offer - alternatively, explore by bike!

There are a number of picturesque villages on Naxos, too. Apeiranthos has impressive architecture (think stone towers, old houses, churches and marble paved alleys) while Halki is home to Byzantine churches, colourful alleys and lovely old mansions. Look out for traditional windmills in the area, too.

If you’re heading to the beach, be sure to visit Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna and Plaka which are sandy with crystal clear waters and ideal for families and couples.

Foodies will love the quality local products, such as olive oil, potatoes, the island’s famous liqueur (Kitron), mouth-watering wine and above all the renowned cheeses of Naxos. These include graviera (hard cheese), xinomyzithra (sour myzithra, made of goat or sheep milk, yeast, and salt), xinotyro (sour cheese), arseniko (a tasty hard cheese made of goat and sheep milk).

Drz naxos town 1727
Greece holidays: Naxos is the biggest and greenest island in the Cyclades.
Mykonos
Greece: The southern coast of Mykonos is home to the most popular beaches.

Mykonos

Mykonos also played a part in Greek mythology. It's said Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules while the island took its name from the grandson of Apollo, Mykonos.

Visitors to the capital Hora can enjoy strolling around the city's pretty streets - check out its whitewashed houses with colourful doors and window frames, bougainvillaea trees in purple bloom and hidden churches.

Of course, one mustn’t forget the cosmopolitan side of Mykonos. There's good shopping to be done in the capital, with glamorous Matoyánni Street lined with brand name stores, charming cafés and stylish, high-end restaurants.

Be sure to head to the buzzy waterfront where fishing boats are moored, and the local pelican can be found.

The bird has been the official mascot of Mykonos for many decades ever since Pétros the Pelican was found by a fisherman after a storm in 1954. He eventually became the locals’ companion and when he died, the community was so devastated a replacement was soon found. In honour of Pétros, the locals have established a long tradition of pelicans wandering around the waterfront as an essential part of everyday life.

Alefkántra or “Little Venice”, an 18th-century district, is also worth a visit. It’s one of the most idyllic and iconic areas of the Cyclades and is perfect for a cocktail or a romantic dinner.

The southern coast of Mykonos is home to the most popular beaches, with Paradise and Super Paradise known for partying, but, if you want something calmer, try Panormos, Kalafatis, Ornos and Agios Ioannis beaches.

Mykonos is also ideal for watersports, from windsurfing and jet skiing to sea parachuting and diving.

As for food, tuck into pepper-flavoured kopanistí, a soft cheese seasoned with pepper - the island’s gastronomic trademark. Try it as a topping on a round rusk spread with grated tomato, a favourite local mezés (appetiser). Meanwhile, meat-eaters can sample “loúzes” (cooked pork filet with spices) and tasty local sausages sprinkled with pepper and local oregano. To finish off your meal, tuck into two exceptionally good local pastries: “amigdalotá” (small round cakes with ground almond, rosewater and caster sugar) and honey pie.

To find out more about visiting Greece, click here.

Greecenew
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