Did you know that life as most of the world knows it today can be traced back to ancient Greece? Ideas and inventions from democracy to modern medicine put this Southeastern European country in the history books forever. Most people, however, are more interested in Greece as one of the world’s best travel destinations. Surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and thousands of exotic islands, it’s little wonder.
Greece is steeped in history and has perfect weather almost all the time. It’s packed with more than a dozen international airports so getting there is easy from almost anywhere, and it’s surprisingly affordable. Before you pack your bags, enrich your trip by taking the time to learn What Greece is famous for.
If you live in a democracy and want to oust a political leader, you have the chance thanks to the city-state of Athens. Around the 5th century BC, a 6,000-member Athenian Assembly voted on important issues. (It was all men, but a beginning). The city-state had been ruled by aristocrats until the poor and enslaved rebelled, causing so much unrest, the educated and enlightened came up with a political system that is the foundation of today’s democracies. The word democracy literally means “power to the people.” The concept of peer jurors and trial by jury also originated in ancient Greece.
Around the 6th century BC, with democracy firmly established, great thinkers like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato emerged. They sought to answer life’s big questions beyond mythology and religion to explain the world through science and logic. They used observation, reason, and empirical evidence to study the world, the oceans, and the solar system. Many others would follow, and today, philosophy is an academic discipline.
Although the basis of geometry existed in Egypt and Babylonia first, it was the Greeks who expanded on the mathematical concept and established deductive reasoning for geometric facts. The Greek mathematicians Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, and Thales of Miletus introduced the geometric axioms taught in education today and are critical in architecture and design. Geometric principles are also found in nature.
People in ancient times were convinced that sickness and disease was a punishment from the gods until Hippocrates showed through experimentation that disease is the body’s reaction to germs. Today, Hippocrates is known as the Father of Western Medicine. He founded the Hippocratic School of Medicine and established the Hippocratic Oath for religious and ethical standards of treatment.
Although Athens was the scene of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the very first were held in Ancient Greece as far back as 776 BC. Held to honor Zeus, the god of all gods, the games took place in Ancient Olympia. Like today, they were held every four years and people traveled from all city-states to participate. Unlike today, only men of Greek origin could participate, and women weren’t even allowed to attend. Emperor Theodosius suspended the games in 393 AD due to the expansion of the Byzantine Empire and began again in 1896.
The world has lost many ancient wonders to time, but the Theatre of Epidaurus is still standing. In ancient times, religious performances and festivities took place to honor Asklepios, the god of medicine. Today, thousands flock to the site every year to experience its grandeur and attend summer performances and festivities. It’s located near modern Lygourio on the west side of Cynortion Mountain near the ancient sanctuary of Asklepios.
The stories of Greek mythology are known around the world. The myths were used to explain the origins of the world through numerous gods and heroes. The 12 Olympic gods are at the center of the myths, each with a specific role. All of the gods lived on Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain in Greece. The earliest known sources of the myths are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days. You’ll find features of Greek mythology in many museums, including a collection of sculptures at the Museum of Ancient Olympia.
From flat foldable ones to Google Maps, thank the Ancient Greeks for cartography and map-making. Born sometime between 611 and 610 BC, a pioneering cartographer by the name of Anaximander was the first to introduce the skill to Greece. He used longitude and latitude to draw maps representing the world’s inhabited regions at that time. His map included the Pillars of Hercules in the west, parts of Europe, and Ethiopia and the Nile.
The Acropolis is a complex of ancient temples and buildings of which the Parthenon is the most notable. Most of them were built in the 5th century BC during an era called the Golden Age of Pericles. A not-to-be-missed place to visit while in Athens, the Acropolis is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Tour on your own or with a knowledgeable guide to learn its fascinating history, social meaning, and architecture.
The Tower of Winds, the world’s first known clock tower was built near the Acropolis back in 473 BC. Still standing today in Plaka, it features eight sundials and a water clock. Its purpose was to help merchants to determine the times of delivery for their products. It was also used as a weather station.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sanctuary of Delphi is one of Greece’s most famous landmarks. Situated on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, the surrounding beauty is breathtaking, especially in the spring. It overlooks the Valley of Phokis on one side and a coastal plain on the other. The sanctuary is the home of the Temple of Apollo, once the seat of Pythia, the Oracle, a priestess who was said to go into a dreamlike trance to channel the prophecies of Apollo himself.
Popular with elite vacationers around the world, the Greek Islands are scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian Seas. There are thousands of them. If fact, the real number of islands isn’t known. Some say there may be as many as 6,000. Only 170 of them are inhabited, but you’re sure to find paradise at them all. The largest one is Crete, and Evia is second in size. The islands are grouped together with names like the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, and the Ionian Islands. For the ultimate vacation, go island hopping by catching a ferry from one island to another.
The Temple of Hephaestus, known in earlier times as the Theseion, is a well-preserved Greek temple that remains largely intact. It is a Doric peripteral temple, meaning one that is surrounded by a portico with columns. The temple is situated on the top of a hill northwest of the Agora of Athens.
Both a natural and architectural wonder, the Meteora became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in1988. The massive column-like rock formations make it one of the most important Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece and the world. In the 16th century, 24 monasteries sat on the towering pillars that soar above the peaceful valley below. Today, there are six functioning monasteries. accessible by bridges and steps. Spectacular views make this one of Greece’s most favored attractions.
Much of the Greek language will sound familiar to English-speaking travelers. That’s because many English words are derivatives of the Greek terms. You’ll find these terms in the areas of history, philosophy, psychology, and more. The predecessors of the Ancient Greek language are thought to have developed around 4000 BC. The Ancient Greek language was used in the Iliad and Odyssey and during the Golden Era of Pericles. The language later evolved into Koine Greek and was used during the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. Koine became the official language of the early Byzantine Empire. English is spoken widely in Greece, but for fun, learn a few words before you visit Greece.
Some of Greece’s graceful olive trees have been around since the 13th century, and they still produce olives. Today, Greece is one of the world’s leading producers of olives and olive oil. You’ll find olive museums, orchards, and olive presses to tour all around the country. Some tours over olive oil tastings. The Koroneiki olive is the most popular one for olive oil.
Greece is a foodie’s paradise and a big part of traveling to the country. The cuisine is among the world’s most diverse and delicious. Traditional dishes are influenced by neighboring Italy and Turkey. Look for street food dishes such as pastitsio and moussaka for tastes that reflect these influences. Greece is also a flagship for the Mediterranean diet popular with health-conscious people around the world. It features quality ingredients such as fresh grains and vegetables and extra virgin olive oil. Greece also has some excellent wines, and baklava and galaktoboureko are favorite desserts in Greece.
Greece has a unique geographical location with varying climates from region to region. It only really gets cold in the highest mountains and snow is possible. But the rest of the country can rightfully brag about the wonderful Mediterranean weather and boast about 250 sunny days out of the year. Central and Southern Greece is warm and beautiful from March to November. Spring, summer, and fall are excellent times to plan a trip to that part of Greece.
Ouzo is the favorite alcoholic drink in Greece and is especially consumed in the summer. Sampling a little Ouzo is a must for travelers. It is a strong distilled liquor with distinctive anise and can be drank watered down, on the rocks, or straight up. It goes well with all Greek dishes, especially fish.
If you’re looking for an exciting and diverse nightlife, you’ll find it in Greece. Few places in all of Europe can compare. Plan on an early start and a late (actually early morning) finish. For the locals, it begins with cocktails after work on a rooftop bar. But the real party begins well after midnight in nightclubs and music venues.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.