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Rick Steves Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese
By Rick Steves
With Cameron Hewitt
With Gene Openshaw
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- Trade Paperback $24.99 $30.99 CAD
- ebook $16.99 $21.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 23, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Comprehensive coverage for spending two weeks or more exploring Greece
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from the Parthenon and the Agora to the small towns and beaches of the Peloponnesian Peninsula
- How to connect with culture: Go back in time at the National Archaeological Museum, sample olives and feta in the Mediterranean sunshine, or sip ouzo at a local taverna
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
- Detailed maps for exploringon the go
- Useful resources including a packing list, a Greek phrase book, a historical overview, and recommended reading
- Over 500 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
- Complete, up-to-date information on Athens, Nafplio, Epidavros, Mycenae, Olympia, Patra, Kardamyli, the Mani Peninsula, Sparta, Mystras, Delphi, Hydra, Mykonos, Delos, Santorini, and more
Spending a week or less in the city? Check out Rick Steves Pocket Athens!
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
This book offers you a balanced mix of Greek cities and villages, ancient sites and Byzantine churches, and great museums and relaxing beaches. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of historic attractions, I recommend only the best ones. And it’s in-depth: My self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into Greece’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.
I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Greece to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging by the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Kalo taxidi! Happy travels!
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
A Feast of Greek Pleasures
Greece’s Top Destinations
Map: PLACES COVERED IN THIS BOOK
Planning Your Trip
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
Athens and the Peloponnese in Two Weeks by Car
Athens and the Peloponnese in Two Weeks by Bus and Boat
Trip Costs Per Person
BEFORE YOU GO
Rick’s Free Video Clips and Audio Tours
Slip a coaster under that rickety table leg, take a sip of ouzo, and watch the sun dip into the sea. You’ve arrived in Greece.
Greece offers sunshine, whitewashed houses with bright-blue shutters, delicious food, and a relaxed lifestyle. And, as the cradle of Western civilization, it has some of the world’s greatest ancient monuments.
The ancient Greeks—who reached their Golden Age apex in Athens in the fifth century BC—have had an unmatched impact on European and American culture: democracy and mathematics, medicine and literature, theater and astronomy, mythology and philosophy. All of these—and more—were first thought up by a bunch of tunic-clad Greeks in a village huddled at the base of the Acropolis.
Today the capital of Athens is the teeming home of 3.75 million people—about one-third of the country’s population of 11 million. Athens is a fascinating mix of ancient ruins and an old center with modern upgrades—world-class museums, fun pedestrian zones ringing the Acropolis, fine public transport, and a state-of-the-art airport.
By day, tour the Acropolis, the Agora, and the history-packed museums. Light a candle alongside black-clad widows at an icon-filled church. Haggle with a sandal maker at a busy market stall, or have coffee with locals in an old town café. At night, join the pan-European party of eating, drinking, and dancing in open-air tavernas, especially in the colorful Thissio and rickety-chic Psyrri neighborhoods.
Athens is a great city to see, and worth a few days to explore. Centrally located, it’s also the perfect launchpad for farther-flung Greek destinations. Commune with ancient spirits at the center of the world: the oracle near the mountain hamlet of Delphi. Take a vacation from your busy vacation on one of the best and easiest-to-reach Greek islands, traffic-free Hydra. Other top isle getaways are the whitewashed village-island of Mykonos and the ridge-topping crescent of Santorini, cradling a volcano’s flooded crater.
Athens’ market square—Monastiraki—with an Acropolis backdrop; a stroll through the Ancient Agora
An hour’s drive west of Athens, the peninsula known as the Peloponnese hangs from the rest of the Greek mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Corinth. This stark, mountainous landscape is dotted with the ruins of Mycenaean palaces, ancient temples, frescoed Byzantine churches, and medieval hilltop castles built by the Crusaders and the Venetians. At Mycenae, visit the hub of a civilization that dominated Greece from 1600 to 1200 BC. Hike up the stone rows of the world’s best-preserved ancient theater at Epidavros. Run a lap at Olympia, site of the first Olympic Games. To round things out, enjoy the stunning landscapes of the wild Mani Peninsula and the engaging old Venetian towns of Monemvasia (a fortified, village-topped giant rock hovering just offshore) and Nafplio (the first capital of independent Greece).
Greece is easy on travelers. Tourism makes up 20 percent of the country’s GDP, and the people are welcoming and accommodating. Greeks strive to demonstrate filotimo (“love of honor”), roughly translated as being open and friendly and doing the right thing. Social faux pas made by unwitting foreigners are easily overlooked by Greeks.
You’ll find two Greeces: traditional/old/rural and modern/young/urban. In the countryside, you’ll see men on donkeys, women wearing headscarves, and families harvesting olives by hand. In bigger cities like Athens, it’s a concrete world of honking horns and buzzing mobile phones. Well-dressed, educated Greeks listen to hip-hop music and Instagram their vacations. As the rural exodus continues, cities are now home to a majority of Greeks.
Despite modern changes, many Greek men and women play traditional roles. Women generally run the home; fewer women join the workforce than in other European countries. Men like to hang out at coffee shops, playing backgammon, watching sports on TV, and arguing over politics.
The Greek Orthodox Church—a rallying point for Greeks during centuries of foreign occupation—remains part of everyday life. Ninety-five percent of all Greeks declare themselves Orthodox, even if they rarely go to church.
Orthodox elements appear everywhere. Icon shrines dot the highways. Orthodox priests—with their Old Testament beards, black robes, cake-shaped hats, and families in tow—mingle with parishioners on street corners. Greeks routinely pop into churches to light a candle, asking for favors. Even the young celebrate feast days with their families and make the sign of the cross when passing a church.
Timeless Greece: Jesus in a Greek Orthodox church, locals in black in a whitewashed town
The appealing town and island of Mykonos; men grilling souvlaki for a feast-day celebration
Greeks are family-oriented, with large extended families. Kids live at home until they’re married, and then they might just move into a flat upstairs in the same apartment building. The “family” extends to the large diaspora of emigrants. Three million Greek-Americans (including George Stephanopoulos, Pete Sampras, and Tina Fey) keep ties to the home country through their Orthodox faith and their festive celebratory traditions.
On warm summer nights, families spill into the streets to greet their neighbors on the evening stroll. For entertainment, they go out to eat, where they order large amounts and share it family-style. And when the music plays, it’s time to dance.
Culturally rich, Greece has given the world the Olympic Games, tall tales of gods (such as Zeus, Apollo, and Aphrodite), and exciting heroes (Achilles, Odysseus, and Hercules). From Socrates to souvlaki, Greece has a classical past and a hang-loose present.
It’s easy to surrender to the Greek way of living. With its long history, incomparable sights, and simple lifestyle, Greece has a timeless appeal.
Greece’s Top Destinations
Opa! Over its 3,000 years of history, Greece has created more sights than you have time to see. To help you plan your trip, this overview breaks the top destinations into must-see sights (for everyone) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.
These three places—Greece’s bustling capital, a pleasant port town, and a sleepy island—give you the essential Greek experience in an easy-to-manage package.
▲▲▲Athens (allow 2-3 days)
Greece’s capital features the ancient world’s most magnificent sight—the Parthenon atop the Acropolis hill—plus excellent museums (Acropolis and Archaeological), the Ancient Agora, an atmospheric old town, the lively Central Market, and funky neighborhoods bursting with avant-garde nightlife.
▲▲▲Nafplio (2 days, including day trips)
Strategic Nafplio, on the Peloponnese, was Greece’s first capital. Today it’s just a cozy port with an elegant old town, energetic street life, and a cliff-topping fortress offering dramatic sea-and-mountain views. A good home base, it’s handy to the ancient sites of Mycenae and Epidavros.
▲▲▲Hydra (2 days)
The small island of Hydra—an idyllic and relaxing getaway—is an easy ferry ride from Athens or the Peloponnese. Hydra has a picturesque harbor, casual beaches, and enticing coastal trails. It’s wonderfully traffic-free, unless you count the donkeys.
Evening fun in Athens’ Psyrri neighborhood; burro on the traffic-free island of Hydra; one of the island’s beaches; hilltop castle in Nafplio
(Clockwise from top) Ancient Epidavros theater; statuary from Olympia; refreshing Kardamyli; Lion Gate in Mycenae
Ghost town on the Mani Peninsula
You can weave any of these destinations—rated ▲ or ▲▲—into your itinerary. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to Nafplio, Epidavros is nearly next-door), but some out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.
At 2,300 years old, this is the best-preserved theater of the ancient world, with unbelievable acoustics. Open to sightseers by day, it’s used for performances on summer weekend nights.
Long before Athens’ Golden Age (450-400 BC), the mighty Mycenaeans built this now-ruined mountaintop fortress, dating from roughly 1300 BC. The grand Lion Gate and massive beehive tomb impressed even the Golden Age Greeks and still wow tourists today.
▲▲Olympia (1 day)
Birthplace of the Olympic Games, this famous site has evocative temple ruins, a still-functional stadium (and original starting line), an intimate museum of ancient masterpieces, and a town nearby.
▲Kardamyli (1 day)
The cozy, unspoiled beach town is a fun hangout and a good jumping-off point for the Mani Peninsula. Stroll the town, pop into food shops, relax on the pebbly beach, and hike up to old fortifications.
▲Mani Peninsula (1 day)
Easiest for drivers, this remote, rustic region has seaside villages, eerie ghost towns, Byzantine churches, spectacular caves (Pyrgos Dirou), stark ridges, and jagged coastlines.
▲Monemvasia (1 day)
An old fortress town, dating from Venetian and Byzantine times, caps a gigantic rock peninsula jutting out into the sea. The modern town on the mainland offers million-dollar views of the monolith.
▲▲Delphi (1 day)
These dramatic mountainside ruins, near the town of Delphi, are draped with the Sanctuary of Apollo, where ancients came to consult the oracle. A great museum displays statues and treasures found on-site.
▲▲Mykonos (1-2 days)
This quintessential, popular island has a postcard-perfect whitewashed village, old-time windmills, and pulsating nightlife. Temple ruins on nearby Delos, reachable by ferry, mark the fabled birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.
▲▲Santorini (1-2 days)
This stunningly situated, romantic island—actually the lip of a volcano’s flooded crater—is renowned for cliff-clinging white villages, blue-domed churches, volcanic-sand beaches, and spectacular sunsets.
Rocky Monemvasia looming at twilight; a Santorini village spilling down the hill
Planning Your Trip
To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
As you read this book and learn your options...
Choose your top destinations.
My recommended itinerary (see here) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in two weeks, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame.
Athens has the country’s best museums, ancient sites, shopping, and nightlife.
Drivers enjoy road-tripping, especially on the wide-open Peloponnese, which offers tempting sights without crowds—the monolithic Monemvasia, the beach village of Kardamyli, the remote Mani Peninsula—and wherever you go, ancient ruins are nearby. Explorers may want to linger.
Historians zero in on the ancient sites—the best are in Athens, Delphi, Epidavros, Mycenae, and Olympia. Hikers and nature lovers make tracks for the Peloponnese destinations of Nafplio, Kardamyli, and Monemvasia, and the islands of Hydra and Santorini. Nearly every hike in Greece comes with grand panoramic views.
If basking appeals, unroll your towel on one of the islands. Little, low-key Hydra is easy to reach and enjoy. Picturesque Mykonos offers more nightlife and a quick ferry to ancient Delos. Santorini has the best mix of beaches, sights, and stunning natural scenery. Photographers want to go everywhere.
Decide when to go.
Tourist season is roughly Easter through October. Peak season is summer, when Athens is packed with tourists, and hotel prices can be high. July and August are the hottest.
The best time to visit is late spring (May) and fall (Sept-Oct). It’s pleasant, with comfortable weather, no rain, and smaller crowds (except during holiday weekends).
Winter (late Oct through mid-March) is colder, with some rainfall. Sights may close during lunch, TI offices keep shorter hours, and some tourist activities vanish altogether. Hotel rates are soft; look for bargains. Avoid the islands in winter, when many hotels and restaurants close, and bad weather can delay or cancel ferries.
For weather specifics, see the climate chart in the appendix.
Connect the dots.
Link your destinations into a logical route. Determine which cities you’ll fly into and out of. Begin your search for transatlantic flights at Kayak.com.
Decide if you’ll travel by car or bus. A car is great for exploring the mainland and the Peloponnese, but is useless in Athens (rent when leaving Athens). Outside of Athens, buses get you to popular destinations such as Delphi, but can be sparse and frustrating elsewhere. If you travel by bus, allow extra time.
To determine approximate transportation times between your destinations, study the driving map in the Practicalities chapter or check Google Maps. To connect Athens and the Greek islands, take a ferry or a flight.
Write out a day-by-day itinerary.
Figure out how many destinations you can comfortably fit in your time frame. Don’t overdo it—few travelers wish they’d hurried more. Allow enough days per stop (see estimates in “Greece’s Top Destinations,” earlier). Minimize one-night stands. It can be worth taking an afternoon drive or bus ride to settle into a town for two consecutive nights—and gain a full day for sightseeing. Include sufficient time for transportation; whether you travel by bus or car, it’ll take you at least a half-day to get between most destinations.
To get over jet lag, consider starting your trip in a more laid-back destination, such as Hydra or the other islands, before tackling Athens.
Check if any holidays or festivals fall during your trip—these attract crowds and can close sights (for the latest, visit Greece’s tourist website, www.visitgreece.gr).
Give yourself some slack. Every trip, and every traveler, needs downtime for doing laundry, picnic shopping, people-watching, and so on. Pace yourself. Assume you will return.
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- "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
- "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
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- On Sale
- May 23, 2023
- Page Count
- 584 pages
- Rick Steves