Greece sightseeing travel guide: ancient ruins, rugged mountains, and Mediterranean waters

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Greece has long been a wildly popular tourist destination for Americans and Europeans alike.

Here are a few must-see places to consider when planning your trip to the capital, Athens, and Greece’s rugged mountains and numerous islands.

The Acropolis

Towering over Athens, the Acropolis and its iconic Parthenon, is arguably the most revered tourist site in Greece.

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In the mid-fifth century BCE, Pericles called upon the city to embark upon a new construction program: three temples, and later the Theater of Dionysus and the Theater of Herodes Atticus, were built on the promontory overlooking the city. The Theater of Herodes Atticus was restored in 1955 and is used as an outdoor concert venue.

Although the famous sculptures of the Parthenon, the Elgin Marbles, are controversially still held at the British Museum in London, the Parthenon still affords views of ancient sculptures, particularly on the east pediment. Make sure to visit the olive tree that Athena planted to compete with Poseidon.

Acropolis of Athens, Greece

The National Archaeological Museum

During the ravages of World War II, this museum’s precious treasures were divided up and buried underground to protect them from destruction. After the museum reopened in 1946, top experts began the painstaking process of reorganizing and displaying the formidable collection.

Heavy on sculpture, pottery and jewelry, it is divided into seven collections: Neolithic and Cycladic, Mycenaean, Geometric and Archaic Sculpture, Classical sculpture, Roman and Hellenistic sculpture, pottery, and the Thira frescoes. Not to be missed are the gold Mask of Agamemnon and the iconic bronzes “Horse with the Little Jockey” and “Poseidon.”

Monastiraki

This lively and active area serves as the city’s flea market, with the streets of Areos, Ifaistou and Pandrosou abounding with interesting and varied shops specializing in a variety of antiques, like books, jewelry, furniture, artwork, tools, and metal and leather goods.

The heart of the market is the Plateia Avyssinias, which is booming with business on Sundays. In addition to antiquing, many shops sell items of interest to tourists, and there are numerous cafés and restaurants nearby to take a break from shopping.

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Greek election

Athens is the economic and cultural hub of Greece. (Reuters/Louiza Vradi)

Samaria Gorge

Tucked away on the southern island of Crete, the 10-mile-long Samaria Gorge runs from Omalos in the White Mountains down to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea.

Its towering mountains and lush forests make for a once-in-a-lifetime hiking experience. Located on the southeastern corner of the island, hikers should bring plenty of water and good footwear, and be prepared for a five- to eight-hour excursion.

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus is not merely the name for the highest point in Greece, the home of the Greek panoply of gods, but for the entire mountain massif, 12 miles across.

Located in northern Greece, the Olympus National Park is roughly a two-hour drive south of Thessaloniki. The flora and fauna feature more than 1,700 plant species as well as chamois, boars and deer.

Only experienced hikers should attempt to summit Mytikas Peak, the highest point in Greece. It’s a 12-mile round-trip hike with a particularly steep and exposed final ascent and a grueling 6,200 feet of vertical gain.

Greece-Turkey-Tourism

The Aegean Sea has long drawn tourists from the U.S., Canada and Europe, who prize its beautiful beaches and extravagant nightlife. (Associated Press)

Corinth

Located just 50 miles west of Athens, Corinth makes for a perfect day trip.

The city’s most impressive feature is the Acrocorinth, a castle fortress atop a massive rock overlooking the city. The American School’s Corinth Excavations began here in 1929, and it is widely regarded as one of the most important medieval castles in Greece.

Nearby, one can walk the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and view the dramatic Corinth canal, passing through two rocky cliff faces.

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Zakynthos

The Blue Caves of Zakynthos are a bit off the beaten track but well worthy of a visit.

Located on an island off the nation’s southwest coast, they feature some of the most stunning blue water and rugged rock formations in Europe. The nearby beach resorts of Tsilivi and Alykes offer fun in the sun and ample water sports opportunities, while Laganas is famed for its spirited nightlife.