Few cities rival Athens when it comes to historical importance. As the sun rises over the smooth marble monuments of the Acropolis and fills the cobblestone streets along its base, the people of Athens emerge from their homes and head to local markets or sidewalk games of chess. Life moves more slowly, as if the entire city is reveling in blissful retirement from its glory days as a political and cultural powerhouse. But as the sun sets, Athens' contradictions come to light: The air thickens with the aroma of spiced lamb and music from a nearby taverna, dance clubs blast rock music amidst ancient columns, and the bright lights of Omonia Square mirror the glistening columns of the Parthenon, illuminated for all to see.
Used as the backdrop for epic tales by both Homer and Shakespeare, the island of Corfu (also spelled Korfu or Kerkyra) continues to attract weary travelers looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The sight of its lush green landscape and the scent of olives and citrus from nearby groves is enough to melt away any ounce of stress. And the feel of the sprawling, pebbly beaches beneath your feet or the view of the cerulean waves of the Ionian Sea is enough to make you feel as though you've found paradise.
If there was one word to describe the Greek island of Crete, it would be "diverse." Sandy beaches hide among soaring mountains, palm tree forests grow in the middle of sprawling plains, bustling modern cities share coastlines with centuries-old structures. And speaking of cities — in Crete, they reflect the people that came before. The streets are lined with architecture mirroring the styles of the Minoans, the Venetians and the Ottomans, as well as contemporary Greeks. Despite the visible contradictions, this island maintains a sense of unity, felt whenever you step onto the street, dine at a local taverna, or enjoy a glass of raki at a sidewalk café.
The cube-shaped buildings and whitewashed exteriors of Mykonos scream Mediterranean. Winding roads twist through the main city center of Chora, past expensive storefronts and beautiful churches that give the island a grounded sense of Greek tradition. But Mykonos is far from conservative, as it's known for its rowdy beach parties and energetic nightlife. In the "Ibiza of Greece," you're never far from a party at any point in the day.
A massive volcanic eruption around 1650 B.C. forced the center of what was then a single island to implode and succumb to the sea. Some say that this was the original home of the lost city of Atlantis, which long ago disappeared into the ocean's depths. Whatever remains of this mythological metropolis is now guarded by beautiful beaches and stately whitewashed homes. Today, Santorini consists of two inhabited islands and several islets. Most visitors spend their time on Thira (the archipelago's largest island), which is home to Santorini's major towns, including Fira and Oia. Sleepy Thirassia makes for a relaxing daytrip too. And don't count out the quieter islands: Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni are worth exploring.
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