The Most Underrated Places in Greece
If watching Mamma Mia! left you—like us—with a severe case of wanderlust for the Grecian isles, hold onto your hats: the sequel is getting ready to hit theaters July 20, and we can't wait to dive back in. While it's all too easy to wax lyrical about the white domes of Santorini and the legendary beach clubs of Mykonos, there's far more to Hellas than its two famous islands. From lesser-known villages where the black wine flows to an overlooked city in plain view, these are (in our opinion) the most underrated places in Greece.
Recognize those steep cobbled lanes and sunny marina? Picturesque Skopelos, reachable by ferry from nearby Skiathos, stood in as the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi—where Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried danced and sang in the original Mamma Mia! film. The beautiful main town is a cascade of Byzantine-era monasteries and whitewashed buildings with orange tiled roofs that tumble down to the water's edge. Spend your time walking the island's hiking trails edged with walnut trees or bathing in the sea at its pebbly but utterly serene beaches. (Kastani, on the western coast, was made movie-famous and is the only one on the island that gets crowded).
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This rugged, 75-square-mile Aegean isle just north of Mykonos remains far more under the radar than its more famous Cycladic neighbors—but there's much to discover here, including a burgeoning food scene (think small-scale beekeepers producing local heather honey) and rolling vineyards like Domaine de Kalathas, which produce natural wine. The gravely sands of Livada Beach may not be the softest on your feet, but you’ll find few crowds and spectacularly clear waters perfect for swimming. Lodgings are of the bed-and-breakfast and inn variety. Our favorite is Crossroads Inn in the hillside village of Tripotamos, which has its own terraced vineyard and offers a delightfully authentic experience.
Yes, you read it right: for a nation whose islands attract the bulk of its visitors, Greece’s capital remains one of the country’s—if not Europe's—most overlooked destinations. Visitors tend to tick off a quick visit to the Parthenon before catching a ferry for the Cyclades, but all of that is changing. Now that the financial crisis is in the rear-view mirror, Athens is finally enjoying a cultural moment. You can feel that new creative energy at spots like Six D.o.g.s., a trendy café and art space down an alley in the buzzing neighborhood of Monastiraki, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened to much fanfare in 2016. When the sun comes calling, head to Astir Beach, just out of town along the Athens Riviera, where well-heeled Athenians soak up the sun and linger over long seafood lunches at stylish spots like Nice N Easy Seaside.
You won’t find even a fraction of Santorini's omnipresent Instagram crowds on the island of Kythnos—the first stop on the Western Cyclades ferry route after you depart the port of Piraeus. It’s well worth your while to hop off and explore: we suggest hiring a scooter for a leisurely tour that takes in the island's healing thermal springs in the village of Loutra before checking out the whitewashed village of Messaria, which is full of stately mansions and domed cave houses. After building up an appetite, stop by any one of the seaside tavernas around the island (Byzantio is a favorite), which are popular with locals and the sailing set. There are some wonderful beaches to explore, too, including the long, sandy stretch known as Agios Dimitrios on the island’s south side.
Thanks to its rather remote location in the Northern Aegean, Lemnos offers a delightfully quiet escape compared to the busy islands of southern Greece. The hilltop Castle of Myrina sits above the main town of the same name, which rambles languorously across two bays. You can spend your days learning to kite surf on Keros Beach, where Surf Club Keros gives lessons. (They also offer an onsite spa and glamping tents if you wish to stay the night.) For a more upscale experience, check out Varos Village, a formerly dilapidated town that's been reimagined as an elegant resort sporting villas and suites with stunning sea views.
For something different, take a break from Greece's magical sea islands and explore inland Lake Pamvotida and the town of Ioannina, about five hours northwest of Athens. Many a Grecian novelist and poet hails from this town, which is also known for the works of its brilliant silversmiths as well as its imposing castle. Built in 528 B.C., it remains the oldest Byzantine fortress in all of Greece. Just a few streets away (and within a short stroll of the lake), you'll find Hotel Antique, a charming sleep decorated with Persian rugs and works by local artists. For dinner, you can't go wrong with Mpoukia Mpoukia, a popular restaurant for meze best washed down with a glass of local wine.
The Ionian Islands' close proximity to Italy lends a uniquely Italian twist to their Grecian local culture. To get off the beaten path (i.e. beyond Corfu), set your sights on Paxi, the smallest in the archipelago where underwater caves, rolling green hills, and beaches that slide into the shoreline like fjords harbor much in the way of adventure. Actually comprised of two islands (Paxos and Antipaxos), Paxi is riddled with olive groves and scenic villages tucked into pine forests, all criss-crossed by hiking trails. Sample the local “black wine” from small, family-owned vineyards in Antipaxos, then take a dip in the water at Orkos Beach (one of the most beautiful sands in the Ionians). If you're visiting in the summer, mark your calendar for the many local music festivals that take place throughout both islands.
If you’re looking to get as far away from Mykonos's vibrant nightlife and social scene as you can, consider Antiparos, another underrated island in the Cyclades swirl to the north of Santorini and just off the southern shore of Paros. Here, it’s all about the simple life, where even celebrities like Madonna and Tom Hanks come to fly under the radar. The main town is centered around a 15th-century Venetian castle, and further afield, there are caves to explore. Stay in town at the minimalistic Kastro Antiparos, a cozy hotel just a short stroll from the harbor that comes with a pool and sea views.
Located on the southern edge of the Cyclades, the rocky island of Folegandros has been called the most Greek of all of them. The main village of Chora has often been referred to as the most beautiful town in the Cyclades and, with Santorini just to the southeast, that’s saying a lot. Most of the island’s beaches are accessible by boat only, and local companies offer tours to shuttle you to remote caves and coves. The luxe Anemi Hotel, a short walk from a pretty, pebbled beach, ticks all the boxes thanks to its gorgeous infinity pool and high-design suites with private pools overlooking the sea.
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