Beyond Santorini: Underrated Getaways on a Greece Vacation

People & Culture

Top view of Naxos Island, Greece

For thousands of years, Greece has attracted people with its ancient history, golden beaches, deep-blue waters, volcanic landscapes, and endless opportunity for sunny idylls. It’s impossible not to be taken with the historical masterworks of Athens, the beautiful white-washed homes of Santorini, or the famous party beaches of Mykonos, which promise endless fun in as gorgeous a landscape as you can hope for. But with the fun comes the crowds and the guarantee that you will not have these magnificent spots to yourself. If you want to experience the beauty of Greece, but want to avoid the usual tourist routes, allow me to suggest you visit some of the underrated islands and landmarks while on a Greece vacation.

Not only does this allow you to avoid some of the crowds that are sure things on Santorini and Mykonos, but you’ll get to venture through ancient temples, see the birthplace of the Olympics, and enjoy golden beaches without having to jockey for towel space on the sand. Santorini and Mykonos are great, but there’s plenty of wonder beyond these islands. These underrated Greek getaways will ensure you take full advantage of all the history and natural comfort this ancient nation has to offer.

Journey to the Unheralded Islands of the Cyclades

Santorini and Mykonos are the stars of the show, but you can overlook them entirely and still have a wonderful Greece vacation in the Cyclades. In particular, you should try to get to Naxos, Ios, and Paros, which don’t get as much attention as their flashier neighbours, but have plenty of historical sites and pretty beaches to appeal to travellers. Goway even offers a trip across these islands that includes Athens.

Suggested Itinerary:
10-Day Greece Highlights: Athens, Paros, Naxos and Ios

Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades. It also happens to be the greenest, owing to the huge amount of rainfall the island gets each year. It’s covered in olive trees and vineyards and fairly mountainous, making it a great island to hike across and explore at leisure. In particular, the island has the aptly-named Mt. Zeus, which is the highest mountain in the Cyclades and a great excursion option for an afternoon. You’ll also want to spend some time in the island’s main city, Hora, where the picturesque waterfront draws the majority of the attention. Also, we can’t forget mentioning the incredible door-like ruin of the Portara that lies near the port on the islet of Palatia. The marble doorway dates back at least 2,500 years and was meant as the doorway to a temple that was never completed. As it stands today, it’s Naxos’ most enduring historical ruin and almost looks like a portal into another realm.

Portara of Naxos, Greece
Portara of Naxos

Ios is a bit like Mykonos 2.0. It’s known for its party atmosphere, which can get a little rowdy, but definitely appeals to a certain type of traveller. You’ll find nightclubs and raves across the beaches here, but even if you aren’t into clubbing, you’ll still find a lot to like on Ios. If you wander away from the port towns and beaches, you’ll find all manner of hidden escapes, from rustic goat farms to hillside villages to beaches you can have all to yourself on your Greece vacation.

Like Ios, Paros skews a bit modern in its most popular spots. It has plenty of resorts spread along the coastline and a good dining scene that rewards people there for the day or those staying longer. The island serves as a ferry hub, but it need not be a stopover destination. In fact, if you spend some time exploring it, you’ll find some historical gems, like the ancient marble quarry where the stone used to carve the Venus de Milo was extracted over 2,000 years ago.

Fishing boats in Naoussa port, Paros Island, Greece
Fishing boats in Naoussa port, Paros

Explore the Peloponnese

The Peloponnese is one of the most significant historical landscapes in the world. During the times of ancient Greece, it was the site of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, and in medieval times, it was the site of Byzantine conquest. As the location of the ancient cities of Sparta and Corinth, it was home to some of the most significant philosophical and religious breakthroughs in the western world. In short, it’s a place where history is dense and every city and town has some relic of the past.

On an Antiquity to Byzantium tour with Goway, you can experience an overview of many of the most significant historical events and destinations along the Peloponnese. But regardless of whether you’re on this tour or explore the peninsula at your leisure, you’ll find a lot to reasons to spend significant time here.

Suggested Itinerary:
8-Day Antiquity to Byzantium: Athens to Athens

As should be expected on a peninsula with as much history as the Peloponnese, you’ll find a lot of ancient ruins during your journey. The ancient city of Epidaurus is a good starting point, as it’s not too far from Athens. Its centrepiece is an ancient theatre that dates back to the 4th century BC and remains one of the best-preserved ancient theatres in the world. Not far to the north, you’ll find Mycenae, home to ancient palaces and royal tombs mentioned in the writings of none other than Homer himself. Among the many ruins, pay special attention to the Lion’s Gate, Mycenae Palace, and Agamemnon’s Tomb, which was thought to be the resting place of the mythical king who led the Greeks in the Trojan War, but is more likely the tomb of an unknown ancient king of Mycenae.

Archaeological site of Mycenae with the famous Lions Gate, Peloponnese, Greece
Archaeological site of Mycenae with the famous Lions Gate

If you head to the south of the Peloponnese, you’ll reach the Mani Peninsula, where you’ll find the former Spartan naval base of Gythion. More intriguing, however, are the Caves of Diros, which are probably the most significant geological formations in all of Greece. On your Greece vacation, you can book a boat trip through the caves and cruise along the underwater river, gazing up at the intricate rock formations and dangling stalactites and stalagmites that adorn the ceiling.

Continue west along the peninsula and you reach Pylos, off the coast of which the Greek city states defeated the Ottoman fleet in the 19th century, laying the groundwork for modern Greece’s independence. Just outside Pylos, you’ll find Nestor’s Palace, which is mentioned by Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey and another significant ancient archaeological site.

Of all the sites along the Peloponnese, none have as much universal appeal as Olympia, where the ancient Olympic Games were first held. You can visit the ancient stadium and the Olympia Museum to learn about the competition. You’ll also want to make time for the Temple of Hero, the Temple of Zeus, and the Philippeion.

Archaeological site of ancient Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece
Archaeological site of ancient Olympia

Soak in the Sun on Crete

All the Greek Islands get a lot of attention, but I’m always surprised that Crete isn’t mentioned in the same breathless manner as Santorini or Mykonos. It’s the largest of the Greek Islands and home to Heraklion, the fifth-largest city in the country. It has a great collection of attractions, from sandy beaches to ancient ruins to a great dining and bar scene, so if you can only visit one island during your Greece vacation, you should consider making it Crete. It checks all the boxes of a Greek Island getaway.

Suggested Itinerary:
5-Day Heraklion: Crete Explorer

History buffs will want to spend some time in Heraklion, as it has the massive Koules Fortress, the Palace of Knossos, and the Heraklion Archeological Museum. It’s also a good spot to base yourself out of, as you can easily connect to beaches and vineyards across the island on day trips, and then head back to Heraklion each evening.

Boats in the old port of Heraklion, Crete, Greece
Boats in the old port of Heraklion, Crete

Beachgoers will love the dry heat and general lack of rain that Crete enjoys year-round. Furthermore, the ocean is accessible regardless of the season, so whether summer or winter, you can find a beach and swim in the waters of the Mediterranean. And let’s not forget the food. The Cretan diet is one of the most beloved diets in the world and lauded as one of the healthiest. It consists largely of fresh vegetables and grains, olive oil is its main source of fat, and it includes a moderate quantity of red wine. As well, dairy and yogurt are a big part of meals. Eating on Crete will disabuse you of the notion that fat is unhealthy. The Cretan diet consists of three times the amount of fat as other western diets, but is considered much healthier.

Crete combines ancient history, gorgeous landscapes, and deliciously healthy food. There’s no reason not to go.

Traditional Cretan Dorada fish with Greek salad, Kissamos, Crete, Greece
Traditional Cretan Dorada fish with Greek salad, Kissamos, Crete

These Greek getaways are by no means unknown to the world, seeing as they take in some of the world’s greatest history and culture. But compared to island stays on Santorini or Mykonos, or city stays in the capital Athens, they’re definitely underrated when considering a Greece vacation. The next time you’re planning a trip to Europe, consider adding these other Greek gems to your itinerary.

Related Article:
Explore Glorious Greek Islands on Your Greece Vacation