The best cities in Greece may sound like a subjective term. However, there is a little something for everyone in this beautiful Mediterranean country.
Athens, with its sun-bleached ruins, cobbled promenades, and bustling piazzas, is probably the first Greek city that springs to mind. It is true that most people travel to Greece for the islands, as opposed to for the cities. It’s a shame, as many of these underrated destinations are steeped in history and culture.
- 1 Best Cities on the Greek Mainland
- 2 Best Greek Island Cities
Best Cities on the Greek Mainland
Greece’s cities are a diverse bunch. From picturesque cities perched on mountain slopes to bustling megalopolises. There is something in Greece to captivate every type of traveller.
Leafy Ioannina (sometimes called “Yannena” in Greek”) is a beautiful student city in the Northeastern part of Greece and a popular student town. The city borders Pamvotida lake and is arguably the most scenically beautiful city in the country.
During the days of the Ottoman Empire, Ioannina was ruled by the notorious leader Ali Pasha. The city was considered a commercial and intellectual hub, and today it is rich in fascinating historical sites and Ottoman ruins.
You can easily spend 3-4 days in Ioannina enjoying the laidback Greek lifestyle amidst the breathtaking mountain scenery. Scale the crumbling walls of the old Byzantine castle, and visit the remains of the Fethiye and Aslan Pasha mosques, before boarding a wooden boat at Plateia Mavili and sailing out to the nameless, inhabited island at the centre of the lake.
Ioannina makes a good jumping-off point for exploring the wider Epirus region – including Zagorohoria, the Vikos Gorge, and quaint Metsovo.
Best Things to do in Ioannina
- Sail out to the nameless inhabited island at the centre of Pamvotida lake
- Visit the city’s various Ottoman ruins: the Fethiye Mosque, the Aslan Pasha Mosque, and the old Ottoman houses
- Tour Perama Cave with a local Archaeologist
- Stroll through the old fortifications of the Castle of Ioannina
- Sample delicacies that are particular to the Epirus region of Greece
Kastoria is a beautiful lake city that is perched on the banks of the Orestiada Lake, close to the Pindus Mountains. Its pastel-coloured houses and buildings cascade down the hilltops in a manner that resembles Italy’s idyllic Amalfi Coast.
While Kastoria is not a tourist destination, it’s a nice alternative place to spend a day or two if you are exploring the northern reaches of the country. There are more than 60 Byzantine churches in Kastoria. However, few tourists stop by to visit them. Nature lovers will adore the numerous hiking trails that twist and turn throughout the woodland surrounding the city.
Best Things to do in Kastoria
- Admire the vibrant frescoes of Kastoria’s 60 Byzantine churches
- Rent a bike and cycle around Orestiada Lake
- Venture inside the mysterious “Dragon’s Lair” cave
- Drive out to the eerie abandoned village of Gavros
Charming Nafplio sits at the heart of Greece’s rugged Peloponnese region. This is one of the best Greek cities for history lovers. With its maze-style network of narrow cobbled streets and quaint piazzas, Nafplio feels like a journey back in time.
In the 19th century, Nafplio was the capital of Greece. Today, it is a popular romantic getaway destination for Athenians who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
The city has been invaded and conquered numerous times over the last few centuries. The Turks, the Arabs, and the Venetians who invaded have all left their mark on the city.
Best Things to do in Nafplio
- Sail across to the Bourtzi fortress
- Revel in the views from the top of Palamidi Fortress
- Hike the scenic Arvanitia promenade
- Window shop at the quirky boutique stores of Vasileos Konstantinou Street
Athens is Greece’s largest city. It is grittier, punkier, and altogether more chaotic than other European capitals. However, Athens is grossly underrated.
Here, you can admire some of the oldest and most important sites in human civilization. Follow in the footsteps of Plato, and enjoy some of the best nightlife in the country.
Most visitors to Athens only stay a day or two. However, besides the historical sites, Athens has plenty to offer.
Best Things to do in Athens
- Visit the Acropolis: One of the most important historical sites in the world
- Be captivated by the boho vibes of Koukaki with its eclectic clothing stores, art galleries, and coffee shops
- Check out the politically motivated street art in Exarchia
- Lounge on the idyllic beaches of the Athenian Riviera
- People watch at the Athens Central Market (Varvakios Agora)
- Marvel at the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus
If you visit the ethereal Meteora monasteries, it is likely that you will either base yourself in or pass through Kalambaka. The beauty of Kalambaka is often overshadowed by its proximity to one of Greece’s most popular tourist attractions. However, the city itself is equally worthy of exploring.
Best Things to do in Kalambaka
- Step inside the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoro – the largest and oldest monastery in Meteora
- Check out the colourful paintings inside the Varlaam Monastery.
- Watch a majestic sunrise over the Meteora monasteries
- Travel to Theopetra Cave – a cave inhabited by humans for 130,000 years
- Learn about the botany of the area at the Natural History Museum of Meteora
Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city. It sits in the Northeastern part of the country, overlooking the Thermaic Gulf.
Thessaloniki is a good place to base yourself if you want to explore off-the-beaten-track wonders of Northern Greece,. From here you can do day trips to paradisiacal Halkidiki, and beautiful nature spots like Kerkini Lake and Mount Olympus.
Despite its size, Thessaloniki has a very small-town ambiance about it. The city feels worlds away from the traffic and chaos of Athens. Thessaloniki’s districts each have their own distinct personalities and combine a blend of different architectural styles.
Best Things to do in Thessaloniki
- Explore the old Ottoman district of Ano Poli
- Sip Freddo espressos in charming cafes overlooking the Thermaic Gulf
- Uncover the macabre history of the White Tower
- Indulge in sumptuous Greek cuisine at the tavernas of Ladadika
Most travellers simply consider Piraeus as the place that they need to get to in order to get a boat across to the islands of the Saronic and the Cyclades. Admittedly Piraeus may not be the most beautiful place to look at. However, it is something of a diamond in the rough.
The elegant port areas of Mikrolimano and Marina Zeas are nice places to enjoy an evening tipple or two by the water, while the historic Kastella district is a photographer’s dream filled with neoclassical mansions, colourful Ottoman houses, and sweeping views out to sea.
Best Things to do in Piraeus
- Enjoy evening cocktails in Mikrolimano and Marina Zeas
- Haggle your way through the Piraeus flea market
- Swim at Votsalakia beach
- Shop for Greek agro products at Mandragoras
Volos is an attractive port city on the east coast of mainland Greece. Greeks speak affectionately of weekends spent hanging out at the seafront tsipouro places of Volos. The city is a great place to stopover on your way to the Sporades.
According to Greek mythology, the location where Volos stands today was once occupied by the city of Jason and the Argonauts! The archeological museum in Volos is one of the oldest in Greece. It houses an extensive collection of artifacts recovered from the region.
Best Things to do in Volos
- Hike along the footpaths of Mount Pelion
- Take an afternoon stroll along the Pagasetic Gulf
- Play backgammon and drink tsipouro at the bars of Oikonomiki Street
- Have dinner in Palia – the old part of Volos
The picturesque city of Trikala is not a tourist destination. Foreign travellers only typically stop by here when making transport connections on their way to the Meteora monasteries. However, as far as a lot of Greeks are concerned, Trikala is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
River Lithiaios runs through the city. A pleasant way to while away an afternoon in Trikala is to wander along the riverside path.
The water here is filled with trout. If you find yourself on the river banks in the mornings, you will find dozens of local fishermen prepping their hooks and trying their luck at making a catch.
For dinner and nightlife, head to Manavika. This was once a trader district but today, its streets are lined with countless trendy restaurants and bars. Different regions of Greece have different Greek food specialties. In Trikala, you can sample delicious smoked country sausages and appetizers of galotyri cheese.
Best Things to do in Trikala
- Watch the local fishermen as they fish for trout at River Lithaios
- Sample local delicacies such as delicious smoked country sausages and galotyri cheese
- Enjoy the Trikala nightlife scene in the renovated old trader district of Manavika
- Adventure through the old Varousi district to see Ottoman ruins and quaint old houses
- Have a coffee at Fairydust Coffee – an eclectic spot based on the Madhatter’s Tea Party
Nafpaktos is a large seaside town in Western Greece that overlooks the Corinthian Gulf. Most foreigners have never even heard of Nafpaktos, but a lot of Greeks venture here for their summer vacations.
Blue flag beaches extend along the Nafpaktos coastline, offering the perfect place for a little rest and relaxation. Gribovo and Psani beach are well serviced and offer sunbed rentals, toilet facilities, and plenty of nearby restaurants. For something a little more secluded, head to Monastiraki beach which sits just outside an idyllic fishing village.
Nafpaktos centre is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful seaside towns in Greece. It was once ruled by the Venetians who called it “Lepanto”. It was then occupied by the Ottoman Turks until the Greeks achieved their independence. The architecture is an interesting blend of colourful Ottoman houses and grand Venetian structures.
Best Things to do in Nafpaktos
- Treat yourself to lazy days spent relaxing on Nafpaktos’ beaches
- Climb up to the Venetian Castle and enjoy breathtaking panoramas over the Corinthian Gulf
- Delve deeper into Nafpaktos’ history at the Museum of Botsaris
Patras is a university city on the west coast of mainland Greece. Mention of Patras is almost synonymous with Apokries carnival – one of the most important festivals in Greece. During this festival, more than a million people take to the streets to celebrate and dance in the colourful parade.
Apokries aside, Patras is worth a visit if you find yourself in Western Greece. This is Greece’s third-largest city and it provides an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional and cultural, with the modern and contemporary.
Things to do in Patras
- Catch a theatre performance at the Roman Odeon theatre which dates back to the 1st Century AD
- Celebrate Patras carnival with Greek locals
- See the extensive collections of Roman mosaics and partially-restored Roman houses at the Archaeological Museum
- Climb the ancient staircase to the Castle of Patras
The city of Kavala is a highlight of any Northern Greece itinerary. This port city is home to more than 50,000 residents and is divided into two sections: Nea Poli (new town) and Palia Poli (old town). Of the two sections, it is the Palia Poli that holds most of the charm.
Kavala’s old town is centered around a Castle (Kastro). Its narrow lanes twist and turn to reveal Ottoman buildings, traditional tavernas, neoclassical buildings, and historic monuments. The Ottoman rule over Greece has left its mark on the architecture of Kavala.
The new part of Kavala (Nea Poli) has a hip, youthful vibe. Its streets are filled with countless trendy fusion restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. If you want to swim in translucent waters and sink your toes into fine golden sands, head to the beaches of Ammolofi and Ammoglossa Keramotis.
Best Things to do in Kavala
- The Archaeological Museum of Kavala
- Stop for fresh pomegranate juice at the Imaret hotel – an old minaret that has been converted into a luxury hotel.
- Visit the nearby paradise island of Thassos
- Explore the grounds of the Halil Bey Mosque
- Take a day trip to the Philippi Archaeological Site – one of the most important ancient cities in Central Macedonia
Kalamata is the second-largest city in the Peloponnese. The scenery here is distinctive and unique – Kalamata sits against a beautiful backdrop of rolling green hills, forested mountains, and pristine beaches.
From the 13th century Castle of Isabeau, you can enjoy a magnificent birds-eye view of the city. This is particularly beautiful as the sun sets, and the skies are illuminated with hues of pink and orange.
At the foot of the castle, you will find Kalamata’s Palia Poli (old town). The winding cobbled streets here are home to more than half a dozen churches which date from the 13th to the 18th centuries. When the evening draws in, stop by Aristomenous street. This pedestrianised walkway is packed full of quirky coffee places, restaurants, bars, and taverns.
Best Things to do in Kalamata
- Explore the quirky coffee places, restaurants, bars, and taverns on Aristomenous street
- View ancient artefacts and exhibits at the Archaeological Museum of Messinia
- Organise a tasting and tour at a Kalamata olive mill or olive farm.
- Tour the 2,300 year old ruins of Messeni
Best Greek Island Cities
It is typically the Cerulean waters of idyllic beaches and the little whitewashed Cycladic hill houses that draw people to the Greek islands, as opposed to the cities. However, you may decide to pass through or base yourself in a Greek island capital while enjoying a wider Greek island-hopping itinerary.
In the tavernas and bozoukias of Greek island cities, you can sample the local cuisine, listen to traditional island folk music, and even join in with the residents when they engage in some local dancing after a glass of tsipouro or two. Exploring Greek island cities is just as enjoyable as visiting the beaches and fishing villages.
The eastern city of Heraklion is the capital of Crete. Heraklion sits at the halfway point between Retyhmno and Lassithi.
Heraklion may be the most populated place on the island. However, the city possesses a laid-back small town vibe.
Dozens of picturesque coffee shops line the seafront. You will encounter several historic structures as you make your way around the old town.
Look out for the Koules fortress at the Venetian port, the Venetian Loggia and the old Venetian fountains. Heraklion makes a great jumping-off point for visiting the nearby ruins of Knossos.
Best Things to do in Heraklion
- Take a day trip to Knossos and learn the myths and legends of the minotaur
- Watch the sunset over the Cretan sea from the Rocca a Mare fortress
- Try Cretan raki paired with regional delicacies at one of Heraklion’s cosy tavernas
- Drink Ellinikos Kafes in the vibrant square besides the Morosini Lions Fountain
Rhodes City, Rhodes
Rhodes city is often overlooked in favour of the island’s quieter resort towns. This is a shame as the island capital certainly has plenty to offer.
The city consists of two parts: an old town and a new town. Both are spectacular in their own way.
The architecture of old town Rhodes tells the story of the various countries and civilisations that have conquered and left their mark on the island over the centuries. Here you will find classical-era homes that sit beside ramshackle Ottoman houses, and Italian churches.
The “new” part of Rhodes is everything that you would expect of a modern Mediterranean city. This cosmopolitan area boasts boutique stores, a raucous nightlife scene, world-class dining options and long stretches of white-sand beaches.
Best Things to do in Rhodes
- The Churches of Agia Aikaterini and Agia Triada
- Hire an expert guide to help you discover the cobbled streets of Rhode old town like a local
- Climb the Roloi Clock Tower and enjoy breathtaking birds eye views over Rhodes
- Enter the Suleiman Mosque and learn about the city’s Ottoman past
- Check out the buildings that were constructed during the Italian occupation: the National Theatre of Rhodes, the City Hall, the Bank of Greece, and the Archbishops Palace
Fira may well be the capital of Santorini but more often than not, it is the eastern town of Oia that captures the hearts of most travellers. Once upon a time, Oia was the island’s centre of trade.
The city is built into the slopes of Santorini’s volcanic caldera. Oia demonstrates some of the very best Cycladic architecture that you will find in the entire Cycladic archipelago. Many of the houses, stores and restaurants here have been carved directly into the volcanic rock.
Santorini may well be one of Greece’s most overcrowded and popular tourist destinations. However, after a visit to Oia, you soon start to realise why.
Best Things to do in Oia
- Hike from Oia to Fira through stunning volcanic landscapes
- Have a seafood lunch at Ammoudi Bay
- Go swimming and cliff-jumping at Agios Nikolaos rock
- Watch the famous Santorini sunset over the Caldera
- Shop for local handicrafts and artisan products
The city of Mytilene is the capital and port of Lesvos island. You can easily dedicate an entire week to exploring Lesvos. Mytilene makes a great starting point.
The Lesvos capital is bursting with history. The city is built across seven hills. Its skyline is dominated by the St Therapon church, and the Gateluzzi castle.
Lesvos in general, is home to some of the most incredible scenery in the Aegean. The island is famous for its ouzo production, and is often lovingly referred to as Greece’s “ouzo island”.
Best Things to do in Mytilene
- Tour the castle of Mytilene, its crypts, towers, and Ottoman baths
- Treat yourself to an ouzo tasting and sample the island’s famous alcoholic tipple
- View Roman mosaics and artworks at the New Archaeological Museum of Mytilene
- Meander along the main shopping street of Ermou
- Admire the church of St Therapon – an unusual structure built with Baroque, Gothic, and Byzantine elements
Rethymno is Crete’s third-largest city. It is often overlooked in favour of Chania and Heraklion. However, Rethymno is just as worthy of your time.
The winding cobbled streets of the city’s old town overlook the shimmering cerulean waters of the Mediterranean. Pristine coastlines extend as far as the eye can see – from Rethymno, all the way out to Panormo.
Best Things to do in Retyhmno
- Check out the Minoan artifacts at the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno
- Stroll through the car-free streets of Rethymno’s Old Town
- Tuck into delicious Cretan cuisine at the Old Venetian Harbour
- Enjoy breathtaking panoramas from the Ottoman Fortezza fortress
- Hike in the foothills of Psiloritis and journey to the Arkadi Monastery
Corfu town is a very popular tourist destination, particularly during the summer months. However, that definitely doesn’t attract from the town’s charm. Some places are popular for a reason.
Best Things to do in Corfu Town
- Fall in love with Corfu’s UNESCO protected Old Town
- People watch at the Esplanade – the second-largest square in Europe
- Visit the 16th century Venetian fortress and the Doric church inside
- Watch locals shop for fresh fruit and veg at the Corfu open-air market
- Take a boat from Kanóni harbour to Mouse island
Chania, like much of Crete, is a fabulously multicultural place. Visiting Chania feels almost like venturing back in time. This is thanks to the city’s mishmash of grand Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman buildings.
Chania is the Crete’s second largest city. There is so much to do here that you could easily dedicate a week, or at least, a long weekend to touring Chania. Indeed, Chania is a highlight of many people’s Crete itinerary.
Best Things to do in Chania, Crete
- Take a Chania food tour and learn the origins of Cretan cuisine
- Explore the maze of narrow streets that make up Chania old town
- Have dinner at one of the trendy renovated restaurants in Tabakaria
- Experience the best of Chania’s nightlife at Daliani Street
- Don your comfiest walking shoes and spend a day at Aradena Gorge
Do you have any questions about planning your vacation to Greece? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments below, or join my Greece Travel Facebook Group. I have lived here for three years now and I am happy to assist as best as I can. Geia sou! Melissa xo