When most people think of Greece, they think of the Greek Islands. They think of white houses with blue shutters on a hilltop, a sunset in the background. And it’s truly beautiful. But, if all you see are the islands when visiting, you’re missing out on all the amazing things to do on mainland Greece.
I spent a week exploring the mainland and, while I couldn’t see nearly everything there was to see, I was gobsmacked by what I did get to see. Should you ever have the opportunity to visit this gorgeous country, check out some of my favorites below.
It’s worth noting that I nabbed my Greece package at a ridiculous price with Gate 1 Travel. I pared their already-incredible price with their annual Black Friday deal. A week in Greece, flights and hotel included, all for under $900. (See? You can do it, too! Read all about trolling travel sites and buying packages in my Discount Diva series.)
Obviously, Athens needs to be on the “Things To Do On Mainland Greece” list. But, as you explore the main attractions, I’d like to make a couple of lesser-known recommendations, especially if you have a few days in Athens available.
Anafiótika may have been my favorite find in Athens. And we came upon it entirely by accident. Most people are going to approach the Acropolis from the front entrance. (Makes sense, right?) But did you know there’s a very scenic back route?
It’s a tiny, ancient neighborhood called Anafiótika, and it leads right up to the Acropolis. The best part? There’s no one else back there except the residents. Anafiótika is one of the oldest settlements in Athens and totally reminiscent of a typical Cycladic village. Think little white houses, winding alleyways, crawling flowers, and lazy cats catching some rays.
It’s located in the historic Pláka neighborhood, and the easiest way to get there is to take the Anafiótika street off Theorias (right next to the Athens University History Museum). The downside to this very easy route is that it takes you right to the top of the neighborhood and directly to the back of the Acropolis.
For some real exploration, enter from Stratonos, at the bottom of the hill. And be prepared to tackle lots of stairs. This route will walk you right through Anafiótika, to the back of the Acropolis, and give you the complete experience.
Church of the Holy Apostles
Did you know there’s another scenic back route to the Acropolis? Well, there is. While Anafiótika is on the northeast side, Areopagus Hill is on the northwest side. Acropolis visitors will stand on the rocky outlook at the top of the massive hill snapping photos of Ancient Agora below. But they won’t leave the Acropolis climbing down this way.
What does this have to do with the Church of the Holy Apostles? Well, if you don’t exit the Acropolis by descending Areopagus Hill, you might miss this gorgeous church entirely. Most tourists probably don’t know you can descend the hill directly from the Acropolis, but there are trails.
Once you get down, you’ll find this tiny gem hiding in the back corner of Agora. There are also some colorful, cute sides streets back here, perfect for photographing. Or, dare I say, for an Insta shoot.
Some sites I’ve read say the church is part of Ancient Agora, but most maps I’ve seen don’t include it. So, you’d actually miss it entering through the ruins, too. But it’s just outside the formal Agora border, behind the Library of Pantainos and the southeast temple.
Because of the conflicting information online, I’d air on the side of caution and reference the Ancient Agora hours and entry fees. Tickets are €10 and hours are 8 am–5 pm daily.
Varvakios Central Market
To say Varvakios Central Market is a “lesser-known” sight would be an inaccurate statement; it’s the city’s largest food market. But it is kind of overshadowed by the flea market, which is right off Monastiraki Square. Varvakios Market is less than a ten-minute walk from the square, straight up Athinas Street. Open Monday through Saturday from 8 am–6 pm, take a stroll through and enjoy!
When asking about things to do on mainland Greece, you’ll hear lots of recommendations for Metéora. Because it’s incredible. Metéora translates to “suspended rocks” and is named for its steep, sandstone towers. The site was first used as a religious getaway in AD 985 and two dozen monasteries were built thereafter.
All but six monasteries have since fallen into ruin, but you can tour each of them. Stairs have been carved into the rock to get visitors up the mountainsides, so get ready for some serious trekking.
I didn’t get to tour all the monasteries, but of the ones I did do, Roussanou was my favorite. Partly because it’s now run by nuns (#girlpower), but also because of the insane frescoes inside the chapel. You have to cross a bridge from one rock spire to another to access the front entrance, so that’s fun, too.
You can take the train directly from Athens to Metéora (and back) in a single day. Just know it’s about four hours in each direction and will be a longer day. Roussanou Monastery is open from 9 am–2 pm Thursday through Tuesday, closed on Wednesdays. On Sundays, it opens a little earlier at 9:30 am.
A lot of people might underestimate the Peloponnese peninsula, but I found it to be super charming. My dad and I took a day trip from Athens with Eudaimonia Private Tours and had an incredible time touring the mountain villages. While all the stops were excellent, I’ve outlined my personal, Peloponnese favorite things to do on mainland Greece here.
Guess what? It’s another monastery. But this one is really impressive. You basically have to hike down into the Lousios Gorge to access it. And then you’ll find it’s literally built into a cliffside wall. If you’re lucky, the monks will serve you tsipouro, an un-aged Brandy, and you can almost get knocked off the mountainside by a donkey. Like me. Why, yes, I will tell this tale…
We’re hiking back up the gorge trail after a couple tsipouro shots, and we run into a monk walking a donkey (who’s wearing a pack). I’m shimmying around the outside of them on the trail’s edge when the donkey shifts his footing. His big belly swung the pack right into me, knocking me off balance. I would literally have gone tumbling down the cliffside—however far down—if it weren’t for my dad. Out of nowhere, he snatched my arm. Something about parents—no matter how old you are (or they are), they still have those superhuman, parental reflexes.
Should you also want to get a little tipsy with a monk, and have a memorable incident with a donkey, Prodromou Monastery is the place for you. You could also go to see this insanely awesome monastery built into the side of a cliff. Prodromou is open daily, from 8 am–1 pm and 5–7:45 pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, it opens at 5:30 am.
Stemnitsa is a bucolic little village nestled in the Peloponnese mountains. You could spend the entire day wandering up and down alleyways amongst the little stone homes. Every now and then, you’ll find a breathtaking viewpoint. There’s a small central square that’s as cute as can be, and an excellent local restaurant called Gerousia. Stop by for some authentic Greek meze.
The Lousios River in Arcadia is a massively popular spot for white water rafting. You’ll find a break from the chaos, however, at the Kokkoris Bridge. Pack a picnic and relax under this ancient, picturesque bridge in the middle of the forest. There’s a tree swing for the more adventurous and/or prepared visitors.
More Things To Do On Mainland Greece?
This list represents only a fraction of things to do on the mainland. But they’re definitely some of my favorite experiences during my time there. Have you traveled to Greece? What were some of your highlights?