With vaccine efforts across the world well underway, several countries continue to ease restrictions and open their borders to travelers from across the globe. One of the most recent countries to announce the opening of their borders are the majestic islands of Greece.
Popular for its plethora of ruins, fresh Mediterranean cuisine, and sunny climate, it’s no surprise that Greece is climbing the ranks on many post-pandemic bucket lists. From May 14th onward, travelers from the United States, EU and Schengen states, and select other countries will be allowed entry with proof of full vaccination, a negative Covid test, or proof of antibodies.
However, while hot spots like Mykonos and Athens are a given, there are some lesser-known gems throughout the Greek isles that absolutely can’t be missed. Read own below to learn of the top 5 hidden gems in Greece to put on your list of summer travel destinations:
1. Oia, SantoriniA colorful coastal town on the northwestern tip of Santorini, Oia is most known for its charming traditional Greek-style whitewashed houses, narrow streets, blue-domed churches, and sun-bathed verandas.
Considered one of the most picturesque villages on Santorini, it holds the record for the most visited spot in Greece to catch a sunset. This volcanic island is most popular among honeymooners, as it attracts more than 30 million visitors each year.
Some of the most popular activities nearby among locals and tourists alike include a visit to the Palea Kameni hot spring, hiking the Santorini Volcano, and swimming at Thirassia.
Oia is also home to a number of famous luxury hotels including Katikies Santorini, Armenaki, and the Canaves Oia Sunday Suites.
2. Agios Nikolaos, Crete
Another seaside gem is Agios Nikolaos, the Capitol of East Crete. Known for its sandy beaches and a warm, mild climate all year long, it’s one of the sunniest locations in Greece.
While many travelers spend afternoons strolling the streets to window shop at boutiques or sip espresso at a quaint seaside cafe, there are many other cost-effective activities to partake in around Agios Nikolaos.
Also known as “The bottomless lake,” it is the perfect place to take a stroll in the early morning or evening. The lake itself is surrounded by local eateries and boutique stores, and there are plenty of cafes serving delicious local seafood and cuisine. The edge of the lake is always swarming with colorful fishing boats, which makes it a great spot to sit at lunch. At night, watch the lights of the city dance across the surface of the water as you sip your favorite cocktail.
Cretan Olive Oil Farm
For a truly “Greek” experience, a trip to the Cretan Olive Oil Farm will do the trick. Here, you can explore the lesser-known side of Crete and learn more about one of Greek’s oldest and most famous agricultural processes: the making of olive oil. Taste test the olive oil varieties, watch first-hand how traditional olive farms create magic, or partake in a cheesemaking and cooking class if you have time.
With turquoise transparent water, Ammoudi Beach makes the perfect spot for snorkeling. For travelers that wish to be a bit more adventurous, other water sports and nearby hiking at the Samaria Gorge (the narrowest gorge in Europe) are nearby. To get to this beautiful pebble beach, it is recommended to take a rental car to explore, as public transportation in Southern Greece is not very developed.
Agios is also a top destination for some of Europe’s top VIP executives and travelers. The most well-known luxury hotel is the exclusive ELOUNDA. Here, you will find a unique waterfront hideaway full of bungalows, fine dining, and luxe cocktail lounges. Other hotels worthy of a mention are the La Maison Ottomane, the Rimondi Boutique Hotels, and Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa.
3. Assos, KefaloniaLocated on the west coast of the island of Kefalonia, the remote village of Assos is not to be missed. Though it features only 100 inhabitants and four restaurants in the entire village due to its unique nature, they all can be found along Assos Beach.
For those who enjoy easy to moderate hikes, the Assos Castle provides breathtaking views over the bay of Asia Kyriaki. This Venetian fortress stands on top of a 170m high rocky hill and is protected by a wall of 2000 meters in length.
Renting a car is not necessary in this village as the island has decent public transportation including buses and taxi services that offer fixed fares in between major locations.
If your goal is to find a quiet beach set amongst dramatic cliffs to read and relax, Assos is your destination. Watch the sailboats pass you by during the day before venturing out for dinner at a quaint taverna at night (sounds like perfection to us).
4. Cameo Island, Zakynthos Island
One small but mighty island that is unknown to many who visit Greece is the mini “Greek Caribbean” oasis known as Cameo Island.
Why is it nicknamed the ‘Greek Caribbean’ you ask? Thanks to one small bridge that connects Cameo to Zakynthos Island. Even though an earthquake separated the two pieces of land in 1633, today, crystal clear beaches and rolling hills with idyllic views span as far as the eye can see. The island also boasts a church that is more than sixteen centuries old.
In the daytime, it’s the perfect place to swim in the crystal-clear waters and enjoy a cocktail on the beach. Watch bright white cloths flutter in the wind from homes and boats as you feel the warm waves between your toes. It’s also a popular spot for honeymooners and those wishing to have a secluded beach wedding.
Keep in mind this is a private island, and visitors must pay a 4-euro fee (though a drink is included in the price!) Getting to the island is fairly easy, as you can take a taxi or bus to Agios Sostis starting at 19 euros each way.
5. Olympos, KarpathosLocated on the Southern side of the Aegean Sea, Karpathos is a lesser-known Greek island but nonetheless stunning. A gem situated between the islands of Rhodes and Crete, Karpathos is easily accessible as there is an airport that receives daily flights as well as ferry service that runs from Crete three times a week.
If you’re lucky enough to step foot on the emerald gem, make sure you check out the colorful village of Olympos! By far the most impressive village on the island, it’s secluded location and lush green valleys and forests make it a can’t miss destination. The village only has a population of 400 inhabitants, most of who work in farming, fishing, and agriculture, which make it the perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle.
History and Greek Mythology run deep in Olympos, as many churches from the 16th century still stand. Every year on August 15th, the citizens of the village organize a festival celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin, where women dress in elaborate costumes while men play traditional Greek instruments and dance well into the early morning hours.
There are several options for lodging on Olympos as well if you prefer to stay overnight to explore. The top-rated villas on the island include Irene's House (located in the center of the village), and Olympos Archipelagos located in the slopes under the Horseshoe Mountain range.
When to Visit GreeceWhile the Greek Islands are stunning year-round, the best seasons to visit Greece are in the spring, between the months of April and June, and in the fall from the months of September to October. Both seasons yield mild weather and less crowds than the warmer summer months. The cheapest months to book a trip to Greece are in the fall, though be mindful of when you book to make sure the shops and tour groups are still operating before shutting down for the winter months.
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While the last year and a half have been uncertain and less than ideal for everyone, recent reports have shown a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the future of the travel and hospitality industry. In fact, a recent consumer survey from VRBO, the American vacation rental online marketplace, 82 percent of families have a trip planned for 2021, while 65 percent of travelers overall said they had more plans to travel in 2021 than they did in previous years.
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