9 mainland Greece destinations that should be on your radar

Photo of Robin GauldiePhoto of Robin Gauldie
By Robin Gauldie

6 July 20238 min read

Panoramic View of Parga Harbour in Greece with colorful and traditional houses reflecting in the Mediterranean Sea

Love Greece but looking for a change of scenery? Look beyond the islands to the mainland and you’ll discover postcard-pretty harbour towns where tall old houses cluster beneath medieval castles, family-friendly beaches on calm bays and an array of ancient temples and natural wonders.

We've picked nine holiday spots between sixty minutes and three hours’ drive from four mainland airports: Athens, Thessaloniki in northern Greece, Preveza on the west coast and Kalamata in the Peloponnese.

1. Galaxidi

From Athens: 230km | 140 miles | 3 hours

Perched on a natural harbour overlooking the silvery, mirror-calm Gulf of Corinth, Galaxidhi feels more like an island than a mainland town – even though it's just off the humming E65 motorway.

Its narrow streets and waterfront are lined with old ship-owners' houses, dating back to its 19th-century heyday as a prosperous trading port. Nowadays, the schooners are long gone and many of these mansions have been turned into stylish boutique hotels.

You'll find some cracking seafood restaurants on the waterfront and three small beaches a short walk from the centre of the village. The ruins of Delphi, one of Greece's most evocative ancient sites, are around 30km (20 miles) away and shouldn't be missed.

2. Parga

From Preveza: 65 km | 40 miles | 1 hour

Parga feels like a little slice of Italy, complete with pastel-painted old mansions with red-tiled roofs set around flower-filled squares and on hilly lanes. It was once part of Venice's overseas empire and a 16th-century fortress looms above its perfect crescent bay.

With south and west-facing beaches, it’s a great destination for late summer sun. Try Valtos beach, a sweep of sand stretching almost a mile westward from the harbour, or Lychnos, around 4km (2.7 miles) east.

For a history hit, stop off on the way back to Preveza for a peek at the ruins of Roman-era Nikopolis or visit the spooky Necromanteion of Acheron, gateway to Hades, around half an hour's drive inland from Parga.

3. Navplio (Nafplion)

From Athens: 167km | 104 miles | 2 hours

Stroll through the bougainvillea-drenched streets of this tranquil little town with stucco-fronted old houses, and you'll wonder why Navplio isn't better known. Perhaps the Greeks are keeping it for themselves.

It's a favourite getaway for Athenians – which explains the plethora of excellent seafood restaurants and lively ouzeri bar-restaurants where you can discover mouthwatering meze dishes.

Ancient Greece is on your doorstep: the hilltop ruins of Mycenae, home of Homer's semi-mythical Agamemnon, and the awesome theatre at Epidavros are both less than 30km (18 miles) away. The 18th-century Palamidi citadel looms above the town and the Bourtzi island fortress that dominates the harbour is another relic of Venetian rule.

You'll find beaches with sun-loungers, restaurants and watersports at Neraki, around 3km (2 miles) from the town centre, and Karathonas, a little further out.

4. Monemvasia

From Kalamata: 178 km | 110 miles | 3 hours

Arriving in Monemvasia is like stepping straight into a Game of Thrones set. Massive stone ramparts surround a centuries-old fortress city that is like no other in Greece. Once the unconquerable 'Gibraltar of Greece', it finally fell to the Ottoman Empire and by the 1970s was an uninhabited ruin – until the 1980s, when it was rediscovered by Athenian hipsters and its old Venetian mansions began to be converted into romantic, upmarket hideaways.

For a dip in crystal-clear water, follow the stone stairway to the Portello, a narrow-arched gateway that leads to a rock quay with a bathing ladder. For sand and pebble beaches and more affordable eating and drinking, cross the causeway that links Monemvasia with Gefira, a cheerfully unpretentious harbour village.

Take time on your way back to Kalamata to visit the ruined palaces and churches at mysterious Mystras, an awesome Byzantine relic in the foothills of the rugged Taygetos mountains.

5. Koroni

From Kalamata: 43km | 27 miles | 1 hour

An impressive Venetian castle looks out over the Messinian Gulf from its crag above the red-tiled rooftops and palm trees of Koroni. You'll find family-friendly beaches either side of this historic town, with an array of places to stay that includes apartments, small hotels with pools and a sprinkling of romantic boutique hideaways.

Tourism has only arrived in Koroni recently, so the old town still has plenty of authentically Greek places to eat and drink – in fact, connoisseurs reckon it's one of the best places in Greece for the real thing.

For a day out, Methoni – the second of two formidable medieval fortresses once known as the 'Eyes of Venice' – is a 40-minute drive away, and you can stop for a swim at sandy Finikoundas.

6. Stoupa

From Kalamata: 54km | 34 miles | 1 hour

Sat between two sandy beaches overlooked by the awesome peaks of the Taygetus mountain range, Stoupa is still little more than a cluster of pretty, old stone houses and narrow streets brightened by purple clusters of bougainvillea and cats snoozing on sunny whitewashed doorsteps.

You can also snooze in the sun on Stoupa's own beach (a child-friendly stretch of sand and pebbles) or on the powdery sands of Kalogria, a 15-minute walk from the village.

There are plenty of waterside eating and drinking options in summer, and an even bigger choice of tavernas that pride themselves on home cooking using local produce. Accommodation is mostly in small family-run hotels and apartments; you’ll find villas with pools here too.

7. Vourvourou

From Thessaloniki: 103km | 65 miles | 90 mins

Like a bubble of the Indian Ocean transplanted to the Aegean, Vourvourou's tranquil blue lagoon is sheltered from the open sea by a scatter of tiny desert islands and fringed by a long sweep of golden sand.

Beyond lies a chain of tiny bays, each with its own white sand. For beachcombers, this is bliss. Rent a motorboat (no licence needed) for snorkelling and beach picnics on the sandy beaches of Diaporos and even tinier islets just offshore or just chill on the long beach in front of the village, where shallow water is good for tots. Vourvourou isn't really for night owls, but if you fancy living it up a little you can head for Talgo, a couple of miles away, which is something of a local legend for its summer beach parties.

Hop on a boat from Ormos Panagias (about 9km/5 miles north of Vourvourou) to cruise around the 'Holy Mountain' of Mount Athos and view from afar the onion-domed Orthodox monasteries that cling to its steep slopes. You can't land without a special permit (and not at all if you're female) but it's a great trip.

8. Pilion

From Thessaloniki: 273km | 130 miles | 3 hours

The boot-shaped, mountainous Pilion peninsula, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki, is a world away from the sun-baked plains of central Greece. Here, you could almost believe you're in the tropics. Lush green forests, apple and apricot orchards and chestnut groves cloak steep slopes where fast-flowing streams plunge to dazzlingly blue seas and beaches of white pebbles.

You'll find some of the best boutique hotels in Greece high up in villages like Makrinitsa and Tsagkarada, where old manor houses built by wealthy fruit farmers have become stylish places to stay and tavernas cluster on cobbled village squares beneath the shade of huge plane trees.

For a beach stay, Damouchari is a tiny fishing hamlet by a pristine white-pebble beach. Agios Ioannis, with a long sand-and-pebble beach and an assortment of small hotels and guesthouses, is a family-friendly little resort.

With miles of old cobbled mule tracks criss-crossing tree-shaded slopes, Pilion is a delight for walkers. Don't miss an outing on the vintage narrow-gauge steam train to the pretty village of Milies.

9. Gythion

From Kalamata: 134km | 83 miles | 2 hours

The drive to Gythion, through the awesome Taygetus mountains, is spectacular, and delivers you to an old-fashioned harbour town that may have seen better days but still has its airs and graces.

Its neoclassical townhouses date from its heyday as a booming schooner port, before railways and steamships ended its coastal trade. These days, cruise ships call, and when one of these leviathans is in port the quayside cafes can be a bit crowded. After the big boats depart, you'll likely be outnumbered in town by lively locals bar-hopping along the harbour esplanade with its excellent seafood restaurants and ouzeris.

Gythion isn't for ardent beach bums, but you'll find long stretches of sand at Mavrovouni, a couple of kilometres south. For explorers, though, it's an unbeatable base – the gateway to the arid, desert-like Mani peninsula, where tower villages built by warring clans seem to grow out of rocky slopes.

A day's drive takes you past some of the most spectacular of these (Vathi is the most striking) to Tainaron, the southernmost point on mainland Greece, where a hidden sea cave was reputedly one of the entrances to the underworld. Gerolimenas, on its perfect, fjord-like natural harbour, is a lovely place to stop for lunch.

Getting around mainland Greece

You'll find off-the-shelf packages including airport transfers to spots like Stoupa, Koroni and Parga, but to discover secret beaches, ancient ruins, medieval castles and verdant vineyards near your mainland hideaway you'll need a car. Expect to pay around £300 for a seven-day rental from Athens International Airport in high season.

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