10 Must-See Greek Island Attractions
Explore the natural beauty, ancient architecture and amazing sites and attractions of the Greek Islands.
1. Phaestos Palace, Crete
Phaestos, one of the great cities of ancient Greece, is believed to have been founded by the mythological King Minos of Crete. Overlooking Crete’s Messara Plain, this remarkable archaeological site was discovered in the 1880s. Comprising the remains of a palace built in the late Bronze Age, this well-preserved site provides a fascinating insight into Minoan life. Another palace occupied the site before being destroyed in an earthquake, and fragments of it remain.
(Photo courtesy of Rookuzz/Flirckr)
The island of Delos, home to civilizations as far back as 2500 BC, is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. As the mythological birthplace of the sun god, Apollo, and his twin, Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt, it was the most sacred place of worship in ancient Greece. The old port, with its magnificent sanctuary, amphitheatre and dwellings, can be explored.
(Photo courtesy of Apel.les/Flickr)
3. Corfu Old Town
With its cobbled plazas and tiny alleyways dating back to ancient times, Corfu Old Town continues to retain its old-world charm. Palaces, museums, fortresses, gourmet restaurants, traditional tavernas, cultural venues and a lively harbour combine to give the town its inimitable character. It has beautiful arcades reminiscent of the finest in Paris along with elegant Venetian mansions, which line the town’s main thoroughfare, the Kapodistrou. Add Greek, Italian and British influences and you have an eclectic architectural anthology.
((Photo courtesy of Ava Babili/Flickr)
4. Rhodes Old Town
This medieval citadel at the heart of Rhodes Town, the capital of Rhodes island, is a “living museum” showcasing the ancient and the medieval areas of the city. The Knights Hospitallers occupied the city from 1309 and transformed it into a formidable stronghold, but in 1522 Suleiman the Magnificent Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, conquered the Knights. The walled city boasts outstanding buildings from both periods, including the Palace of the Grand Masters, Street of the Knights, mosques and hammams.
(Photo courtesy of Bracketing Life/Flickr)
5. Monastery of St John, Patmos
The island of Patmos is reputedly where St John wrote the Book of Revelations or the Book of the Apocalypse, in AD 95. This book is the last of the New Testament. He is said to have lived the life of a hermit in a cave in ancient Hora, where he received apocalyptic visions from Jesus Christ that compelled him to write the work. The Holy Cave of the Apocalypse lies close to the monastic complex of the Monastery of St John, built in 1088 in the saint’s honour. Hora, the cave and monastery are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
6. Nea Moni, Hios
Considered on the finest examples of architecture from the Macedonian Renaissance, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its golden mosaics. Located just west of Hios town, the 11th-century Nea Moni, meaning New Monastery, was built by Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and Empress Zoe (r.1042-1050). According to legend, three monks found a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary here. It became an influential and wealthy monastery but its decline began when the Ottomans plundered Hios in 1822.
7. Pythagoreio and Heraion, Samos
Pythagoreio, named after the ancient philosopher Pythagoras, and the Sanctuary of Heraion are two treasures of Samos. Pythagoreio, now a bustling holiday resort, was an important port in antiquity, its fortifications acting as a stronghold against invasion. Remains of the town’s citadel, along with Roman baths, the harbour and an extravagant aqueduct, Tunnel of Efpalinos, can be seen. Nearby, Heraion is a sanctuary where Hera, the Greek goddess of fertility, was cult worshipped. Its architecture is among the finest from the period.
(Photo courtesy of Labrosl/Flickr)
8. Palace of Knossos, Crete
Knossos, inhabited since Neolithic times, became a powerful commercial and political centre when the legendary King Minos built his palace here in around 1900 BC. The first palace was destroyed in around 1700 BC but this seat of royalty and hub of Minoan life was quickly rebuilt. Discovered in 1878, the second palace comprises a maze of apartments, workrooms and courtyard, many with replica frescoes – originals are in Irakleio Archaeological Museum – showing Bronze Age life. Knossos is the world’s largest Minoan site.
9. Temple of Aphaia, Egina
Named after princess Aphaia, who became a Greek goddess of fertility, this magnificent temple is thought to have been built around 480 BC with loot seized from the Persians after their defeat by the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis. It is located on the site of an earlier temple, the remains of which are said to have been used in the temple’s construction. Standing majestically on a pine tree-covered hilltop above the Agia Marina resort, this temple is the most important monument in the Sanctuary of Aphaia.
This long and narrow island, which is separated from mainland Greece by the Euripus Strait, is the second-largest Greek island. Largely mountainous, Evvia was inhabited in prehistoric times when it was home to two wealthy city-states, Chalcis, on the site of its present capital Halkida, and Eretria. The remains of Eretria can be seen near the modern town of the same name. Evvia has a long commercial history and was known for the Euboian scale of weights and measures used throughout Greece. The island has been inhabited by Sicilians, Macedonians, Venetians and Turks, all of whom left their legacy on its architecture and culture.
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