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The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real Greece

Most visitors arrive in Greece via Athens, and Athens has plenty to offer travelers, from the stunning Acropolis to its lively taverns. It is, after all, known as the birthplace of democracy, and one of the oldest cities on earth. You’ll find great street food and a modern high-speed Metro, with a line that runs directly from the airport to downtown. But it’s a big city with four million people! So, get out of town, and get to know the rest of Greece!

Visit a Quiet Island

The number of inhabited Greek islands is disputed — it’s somewhere between 119 and 227, but only 54 have more than 1,000 residents. To find the “real” Greece, limit your time on Crete, Mykonos, and Santorini, and head instead to a smaller, lesser-known island. Tinos is the third largest of 24 islands that comprise the Cyclades Group. It boasts more than a dozen picturesque mountain villages, along with beautiful beaches, hiking trails, scores of churches, shrines, and monasteries, a tradition of marble crafting, and distinctive dovecotes or pigeon houses. Other unique small islands are Iraklia, Schinoussa, and Andros.

Take a Sail

Greece is an island nation, and there’s no place better to experience it than from the sea. Embrace the symbolism of blue and white, the colors of its flag, as you take a day sail in a blue-hulled boat and watch billowing white sails and the clouds in a blue sky. Book your excursion from any seaside village, or charter a boat to visit the Cyclades Islands, where the law, since 1967, has mandated that whitewashed buildings be trimmed only in blue!=

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Eat, Eat, Eat — and Drink

There’s more to Greek food than souvlaki, baklava, and gyros — much more. It’s simple and healthy, prepared with olive oil and loaded with fresh vegetables. Desserts tend to be sweet, honeyed, and delicious! Ouzo, flavored with anise and typically served with water and mezedes (appetizers or finger foods) is the “national drink” of Greece, but you’ll find distinctive wines and strong black coffee everywhere! Be sure to stroll an open market and sample street food!

Enroll in a Cooking Class

Take some of Greece home with you, in the form of new recipes and the confidence to prepare taste-tempting meals for friends and family. There’s a wealth of opportunity, from gourmet instruction and a rooftop dinner with a view of the Acropolis in Athens to a small-group class taught by a Greek “grandma” in a family kitchen on one of the Greek islands. It will be a lasting, usable memory with meaning. 

Celebrate!

Celebrations are part of everyday life in Greece. There are so many celebrations — religious and otherwise throughout the year — that you’re not likely to miss the fun. Party like a Greek during the celebration of Epiphany on January 6, at Carnival in February or March, Independence Day on March 25, Easter, World Heritage Day on April 18, the various panigiria — holy days that celebrate various patron saints, OXI Day on October 28, or during Christmas season. A bonus is free admission to museums and historical sites on many of the holidays.

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