Mainland Greece is bursting with ancient history, culture and beauty. Travellers are often unaware of the beauty that the mainland offers. From the must-visit cities of Thessaloniki and Athens to the ancient ruins of Delphi and Mycenae and mountain peaks of Mount Olympus, there’s something in Mainland Greece for everyone.
I asked some top travel bloggers to share their experiences of the best places in Mainland Greece and the best Greece attractions to help you plan your bucket list of places to visit in Greece.
This guide will take you through some of the best mainland Greece destinations, things to see in the Greek mainland, and the best mainland Greece destinations to help you plan the perfect trip to mainland Greece.
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Best Places to Visit in Mainland Greece Map
As the capital and one of the best places to visit in Greece, Athens is one of the most popular places to visit in mainland Greece. The city is bursting with a rich history and culture and amazing beaches, often missed by travellers using Athens as the ‘gateway to the Greek islands.
The Acropolis archaeological site is a must-visit for travellers to Athens with an amazing view at the top! I recommend using a hop on hop off bus tour to see the rest of Athens. See my other post, ’10 things to see and do in Athens for backpackers’, for more information on amazing things to do in Athens, or if you are short on time – 24 hours in Athens for backpackers.
During my visit, I visited Kavouri Beach on the Athens Riviera, and it ended up being the best part of the trip. I also recommended Kavouri beach as one of the most family-friendly beaches in the whole of Greece in this post.
To reach Kavouri beach, take the metro to Elliniko station, board the 122 bus or take a taxi from the rank outside the metro station.
More on Athens:
- 10 Things to do and see in Athens for backpackers
- 24 hours in Athens for backpackers
- Mount Lycabettus Hill with kids
- Best beaches near Athens
Accommodation in Athens
I stayed in Athens backpackers during my visit. The hostel features an amazing rooftop bar with an excellent sunset view of the Acropolis. It’s also near walking to major sights. Athens backpackers is definitely the place to stay while backpacking Athens. If you’re looking for a private room, then ‘Athens Studios’ is run by the same people and has a brilliant vibe too.
The Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum is a true showpiece of Greece and almost as important as visiting the Acropolis. It is located in Makriyanni, 300m below the Acropolis and near the Acropolis station. It was opened in 2007 and is a spectacular building.
Galleries are named for the major buildings on the Acropolis, and the exhibits for each gallery were found in those buildings. However, there is also an underground exhibition. The spectacular Sloping Gallery shows archaeological finds from the slopes of the Acropolis through a sloping glass floor.
The dilemma that many travellers have is – should I visit the Acropolis or the Acropolis Museum first? For me, the answer comes down to Athens logistics! The Acropolis is usually hot and crowded, and the Acropolis Museum is quieter and cooler.
I recommend visiting the Acropolis first thing in the morning and then exploring the Museum. It’s easier to appreciate the wonderful finds in the Acropolis Museum when I can picture in my mind their original location on Acropolis Hill.
Submitted by Monique, Trip Anthropologist
I have spent months in Greece and travelled the mainland and islands extensively, and nothing was as emotionally resonant or as spiritual as the time I spent visiting Delphi.
The ancient Greeks believed that this was the centre of the universe and one of the homes of the god Apollo. The temple of Apollo here feels like it is perched on the edge of the world.
Delphi was the home of the Pythian Games, so there’s a stadium here that’s a great place to relax (or pretend you’re an athlete).
The site is not only a popular tourist destination, but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The entrance fee is 9 euros, though I came with an organized tour that was more expensive but included a guide to show us around and round-trip transportation from Athens to Delphi. The trip is about three hours by bus, but there is no direct public transportation option. This makes the bus tour a great option to make sure you see it as a day trip from Athens.
Submitted by Stephanie, History Fangirl
After the always stunning capital, Thessaloniki must be the second-best Greek city to visit on the Greek mainland. Facing the Aegean sea, this port city’s history is as interesting as it gets. With enough gems to keep culture and architecture interested visitors entertained for a few days. To get there, you can fly to SKG – Thessaloniki Airport Makedonia. Alternatively, you can take a bus or train from any nearby city.
Once there, do not miss exploring its Ano Poli (old city), a cafe in Aristoteles square, eating in one of its best restaurants (such as the traditional Tsir Tsir Meze and modern Thira) and enjoying the world-famous Greek food ( one of the best cuisines in the world). Don’t miss strolling along the sea between the photography museum and its white tower, and watch the sunset from the umbrella sculpture of George Zongolopoulos.
Finally, if you are looking for a recommended place to sleep, the Astoria hotel is very well located. It’s also close to the lively Tsimiski street and the commercial Nikis avenue.
Submitted by Inma, A World to Travel
Acropolis of Thessaloniki
Submitted by Nikos, Miles with Vibes
Enclosed within the old city walls, the Ano Poli (Upper Town) of Thessaloniki is the only part of the city that survived the great fire of 1917. Stroll between the narrow streets and enhance the numerous historical gems and colourful neighbourhoods; Ano Poli will make you feel as if the time has frozen.
What to see | Acropolis of Thessoliniki
Take some time to visit some of the oldest buildings in the area, the Byzantine churches of “Agios Nikolaos” and “Hosios David” along with the “Vlatades Monastery”, all of them being UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All “Ano Poli” walks in Eptapyrgio, the grand Ottoman and Byzantine fortress overlooking Thessaloniki. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to view Olympus on clear days.
Where to eat: Try Igglis or Tsinari; both restaurants offering traditional dishes at very reasonable prices.
How to get there: You can either catch the bus (no. 22 or 23) or reach Ano Poli on foot, if you don’t mind a bit of uphill walking.
Meteora is one of the most magical destinations on the Greek mainland as the landscape is quite unlike any other. The almost-mythical limestone peaks rise majestically from the valley floor, with monasteries teetering atop the cliffs as rugged, remote places of worship.
Located around 4-5 hours north of Athens, Meteora is a monastery complex that once housed 24 monasteries atop different peaks. Now has six active sites open to visitors.
Agios Stefanos is the most accessible monastery as it is the only one that can be reached via a bridge rather than a stairway. As such, this is also the most popular site among tourists. Other favourites are Great Meteoron and Varlaam. Try to visit these early if you wish to explore the site in relative peace.
Some of the monasteries have staircases with between 150-300 steps, so they’re not for the faint-hearted, and unless you’re extremely fit, you won’t want to plan a visit to all six monasteries in one day!
Most visitors choose to discover Meteora as part of a tour or a day trip, while others choose to stay nearby at Kalambaka so that they can start their day early and get to the site for opening time.
Submitted by Chrysoula, Travel Passionate
If you can visit only one mountain region during your trip to Greece, make it Mount Olympus! Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and the mythological seat of the ancient Greek gods. It hosts Greece’s oldest national park, 238 square kilometres filled with lofty peaks, deep gorges, dense forest, rushing rivers and waterfalls.
The most popular base for trips to Mount Olympus is a village called Litochoro, at the eastern foot of the mountain. It provides all the necessary amenities for the visitors, from accommodation and restaurants to shops and an information centre.
Litochoro can be reached by car, bus or train, making it an ideal destination for independent travellers. It takes approximately 4 hours to drive to Litochoro from Athens and 1 hour from the northern capital, Thessaloniki. Moreover, from the popular seaside resort in Leptokaria, it is only a quick 15 minutes bus ride.
Hiking and mountaineering are the most popular activities on Mount Olympus. Depending on your experience and fitness level, you can choose from a wide network of marked hiking trails crisscrossing the mountain. From shorter strolls in the lush green Enipeas Gorge, leading to hidden pools and waterfalls, to challenging multiday climbs to one of Olympus’ charming mountain huts and the summits, there is something for everyone!
Submitted by Helena, Just for one summer
The impact Olympia has had on the world has rung throughout the millennia. Of course, I’m talking about the Olympic Games. Imagine almost 3,000 years ago, athletes from all corners of the mainland and Greek islands would gather at Olympia to compete in events like foot races, boxing, chariot racing, and long jumps – just to name a few. Olympia is one of the most popular places to visit on the Greek mainland.
Today, many wrongly assume that all that’s left of Olympia are a couple of ruins and dusty running tracks. However, the site offers much more to visitors, as it was an epicentre for competition in the Greek world.
Vestiges of massive temples, where competitors would try to gain the support of the gods, pepper the grounds. No temple’s more famous in Olympia than the Sanctuary of Zeus. Famed for once holding the colossal statue of the most powerful Greek god. A statue that was one of the ancient wonders of the world before being lost to time.
Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, has a well-preserved temple on the grounds.
There are also the remnants of the Roman Emperor Nero’s house and dozens of other sites to check out.
Olympia’s a sobering place that still shows the impact the Greeks have had on the planet.
And it’s mindboggling to think; what started here in 776 BC can still see being seen in the world’s culture today – how cool is that!
Entry to the site cost 12 Euros, but this also grants you entry to the Archaeological Museum of Olympia (which has some amazing reliefs). Olympia can easily take up an entire half-day, and it’s one of the best places to visit on the Greek mainland.
Submitted by Stephen, A Backpackers Tale
The Ruins of Mycenae
Mycenae is a ruined city and fortress complex located in the north-eastern Peloponnese, not far from the Isthmus of Corinth. Settled as early as 5000 BC, Mycenae was a dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean, right through until its collapse in around 1200 BC. These days, the ruins of Mycenae are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Greece’s most popular attractions.
It’s an absolutely fantastic place to visit. The whole complex sits on a large hill, surrounded by large stone walls in concentric circles. Outside the walls, on the plains below, are a series of tholos, or tombs.
Many incredible artefacts are in these tombs, including the magnificent Mask of Agamemnon – a solid gold burial mask. One of the highlights at Mycenae is the Lion Gate, a monumental relief sculpture located above the main entrance to the citadel. It dates from around 1250 BC and depicts two lions (or lionesses) standing guard over the gates.
It’s a truly magnificent sight and one that was surprisingly well-known across the ancient world. Incredibly, it was still standing when a Roman traveller named Pausanias visited in around 120AD, nearly 1,500 years later! Mycenae really is a must-see for any visitor to Greece.
Entry to the site is 12 euros (less if you have a student/pension discount, with ID), including the ruins and the nearby museum.
I recommend visiting the museum first as it gives a solid context for the ruins you’re about to see. Mycenae is about two hours from Athens, so it’s an easy day trip if you have your own transport.
There are also hundreds of options for guided tours that often include another nearby UNESCO site, the Sanctuary at Epidaurus. Via public transport, it’s easiest to stay in Nafplion – catch a bus there from Athens and then another bus out to the citadel.
Submitted by Joel, World Heritage Journey
The Vikos Gorge holds the Guinness World Record as being the deepest gorge in the world. Somehow it remains firmly off the beaten track. Most visitors to Greece have never even heard of it, and even if you spend a full day hiking through the Vikos Gorge, you’ll probably only pass a handful of other people.
There is no entry fee to access the gorge. We started our hike in the small village of Monodendri and finished in Mikro Papigko. There are several other hiking routes you could take. Monodendri and a few other villages in the area are connected by bus to the small city of Ioannina. These buses only run a few times a week, so plan your trip carefully.
If hiking is not your thing, several viewpoints offer spectacular views looking down into the gorge from above. It’s easiest to have a car to visit these viewpoints and the picturesque bridges along the way. Although walking along the tarmac road is also possible too.
Suggested Tour | Vikos Gorge full day hike
Submitted by Wendy, The Nomadic Vegan
Top Mainland Greece Destinations Summary
- Mount Olympus
- Ruins of Mycenae
- Vikos Gorge