Greece is definitely one of the most visited countries in the world despite being at the same time one of the least known. Its complex coastline featuring thousands of different islands and little isles, only 227 of which are inhabited, does not make the things any easier. In addition, more than half of the surface is covered by mountains and generally represent uninhabited and uncultivated areas. More than a third of the population lives today in the capital, Athens, an astonishing city where modern and ancient coexist side by side. The city is dominated by the large complex of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon and the other temples and theatres.
The rest of Greece is very diversified. The North offers a unique combination of cultural heritage and pristine natural beauty. If you want to dive straight into Greek mythology a visit to Mount Olympus (considered the home of the ancient Greek gods) is strongly recommended. Its rich flora and fauna attract many tourists every year and it is an ideal place for trekking lovers. Central Greece is home to astonishing sandy beaches and characteristic fishing ports, other than one of the richest archaeological sites of the country, Ancient Delphi. The view from Pilio is also awarded as one of best landscapes on the mainland. The peninsula of Peloponnese in Southern Greece is another place of major interest: Lonely Planet voted this area as the top spot of their list “Best in Europe”. It also represents an important piece of Greek history being the place where the Greek War of Independence started in 1821.
A special mention goes to Crete, one of the main Greek islands, which has been occupied over the years by Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks. Its rich cultural heritage and geographical variety will not disappoint any visitor. Destinations not to be missed are undoubtedly Iraklion (with its impressive museum and Palace of Knossos), Chania and Phaestos.
Greece combines cultural elements of the Mediterranean area, the Balkans and the Middle East. The country is considered the birthplace of democracy, Olympic Games and Western philosophy. The family is still considered the basic of Greek society and the Orthodox Church is still a very influential force. Great importance is placed on baptism and weddings and Sunday mass is still also a popular meeting occasion for socializing.
Early Greek history has been characterised by a series of episodes of rivalry between the numerous city-states present on the territory before the conquest in 338 BC by the Macedonians. With the following defeat of the Macedonians by the Romans in 168 BC, Greece became integral part of the Roman Empire and subsequently a powerful element of the Byzantine world. Following the siege of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire, Greece was ruled for over 350 years by the Turks. However, Greeks eventually rebelled to the Ottoman control in 1821 and started the War of Independence, becoming an officially independent state only in 1830 with the help of the Great Powers of Europe which established a protectorate. During the 19th century, Greece expanded its national territory claiming its sovereignty over the islands.
The island-hopping is a very common way to explore the main archipelagos, using the many ferries linking the islands to the mainland. Most of the larger islands can be reached from the mainland also by planes. Renting a car or motorcycle is another popular way of exploring the mainland, while hydrofoils and catamarans.