Attica – Athens
Athens is located in Greece’s most populated region, known as Greater Athens or Attica basin. It lies between the mountains of Hymettus in the east, Pendeli and Parnes in the north, the low hills of Mt Aegaleo in the west and the Saronic coastline of the southwest.
Travel to and from Athens is easy. Within the city itself, roads have been upgraded, fly-overs built, new Metro lines installed and an impressive tram network created.
The main transport hub is Syntagma, from which most of the main sights are within a 20 minute walk. Use the city’s most frequently visible high points, the Acropolis and Lykavittos, to get your bearings.
Walking is often the quickest way to get about in the city centre. The 4km tree-lined, pedestrianised, Archaeological Promenade that begins at the Acropolis metro station links all the city’s main archaeological sites.
Athens’ blue-and-white buses are frequent and cheap but often crowded, so visitors frequently opt for a taxi instead. Athens’ yellow cabs are inexpensive, but don’t be surprised to be sharing the ride (but not the cost) with other passengers if you hail one from the street. Meanwhile, yellow trolley buses link all the main points such as Syntagma and Omonia.
The metro provides the quickest link between the city centre and the port at Piraeus to the south, the airport to the east and the suburbs. The new tram line, again thanks to the Olympics, runs a fast, comfortable and cheap service from Syntagma in the city centre to the beach at Glyfada on the coast, with stops in between.
Greece’s second city stands proudly at the crossroads of East and West. It stretches over 12 kilometres in a bowl formed by the low hills facing the Aegean, at the top of the Thermaikos Gulf. To the west, the city reaches the banks of the Gallikos river and to the east as far as the wealthy suburb of ‘Panorama’.
The city is divided into the Upper Town (Ano Poli), with its narrow alleys and Ottoman style houses clustered around the remnants of the Medieval fortifications, and the Modern Town. The Modern Town was redesigned on a grid system following a devastating fire in 1917.
By air, Thessaloniki can be reached from numerous European and some non-European locations, including the USA. Its airport serves frequent domestic flights from Athens, Ioannina, Hania, Heraklion, Lemnos, Lesvos, Rhodes and Skiathos.
Rail services link Thessaloniki with Athens, Macedonia and Thrace.
Take a boat to Thessaloniki from Lemnos, Lesvos, Chios and Pireaus all year round; in the summer connections are available with the islands of the Sporades, Dodecanese and Cyclades.
Rhodes, known as the Crusader Isle for its ancient history, lies at the southern end of the Dodecanese chain of islands that follow the line of the Turkish coast. It is the largest island in the Dodecanese group and has a mountainous interior with fertile coastal strips that produce wine and fruit.
The capital, Rhodes, located at the island’s northern tip, has a medieval centre designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This atmospheric city centre is dominated by the Gothic architecture of the Crusader Knights of St John, who occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523 and transformed the city into a stronghold. Their Palace of the Grand Masters, the Street of the Knights and the Great Hospital can be found in the Upper Town. In the Lower Town, the Gothic architecture is intermingled with mosques and public baths from the Ottomans.
Crete would be a favourite in any beauty contest for the Greek islands, with its rugged mountain scenery, sun, sea and sand. Situated in southernmost Greece, it is the largest island in the archipelago and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean.
The island is long and thin and the population is confined to the north coast by the huge mountain ranges that make up the backbone of the long, slender island. This mountainous backbone is split north to south by spectacular gorges and dotted with picturesque hill villages. It’s worth making the effort to get away from the beaches to see this ruggedly beautiful scenery.
The capital Heraklion can be chaotic; instead visit Chania and Rethymnon, also on the north coast, both of which boast a wealth of Venetian and Turkish architecture at their centres.
Thanks to its southerly location, Crete has the longest summers in Greece. In spring the island is awash with flowers, including 20 types of native orchid. The hills are known for their fragrant heathers and wild herbs. However, by July the days are incredibly hot and can be blighted by the meltemi wind that blows down from the north. In keeping with the rest of Greece, south coastal beaches tend to be calmer and safer during these gales. The mountain regions are cooler throughout the year and can be covered in snow well into spring.
Administratively, Crete is divided into the four prefectures of Chania (capital Chania) in the west, Rethymno (capital Rethymno) and Heraklion (capital Heraklion) in the centre and Lassithi (capital Aghios Nikolaos) in the east.