Venture outside the tourist box to see how Athens’ ever-changing present syncs with its age-old past! The book ‘111 Places in Athens You Shouldn’t Miss’ was written to offer you exactly that. This is just one of 10 unmissable places that even locals often miss, offered exclusively for IN+SIGHTS GREECE readers by the guide’s publishers EMONS.
This World Heritage monument, whose church has some of the most stunning mosaics in Greece, has been under almost constant repair since its beginnings. The plot, once a laurel wood, first held a temple dedicated to Apollo Daphnephoros (the laurel bearer). That was destroyed in 395 A.D. by barbarians, all but a few Ionic columns, which were incorporated into the first monastery erected in its place in the 6th century. Only one is left; Lord Elgin made off with the rest, which have been replaced with obvious too-white marble copies.
Despite its prestige, it was later abandoned until the 11th century, when someone high up in the Byzantine imperial court restored it, building a new church and lining it with ravishing mosaics. But with the nefarious Fourth Crusade in 1204, Crusaders took over the Byzantine empire and the monastery became part of the Duchy of Athens, run by Cistercians. The sarcophagi near the entrance belong to two Catholic dukes.
Semi-abandoned once more under the Ottomans, it was variously used as a garrison, a base for Greek revolutionaries, a Bavarian bar- racks, and a lunatic asylum as well as a monastery. In our day, though, owing to earthquake damage, it has been closed for repairs for decades and has only recently become visitable again.
Worth seeing are the crenellated battlements of its outer walls, the cloisters on either side and the superb mosaics – of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, the saints and prophets – dominated by the piercing eyes and stern face of the Pantocrator (Ruler of All) in the golden dome. There’s no doubt he knows your secrets. But take your binoculars because, except for the flowers above the north door, most of the mosaics are too high to examine properly. Many gaps reflect the church’s chequered history, but it’s a miracle any survived. There was even an attempt to melt down the tesserae for their gold.
Address: Athinon, Haidari 12400, +30 210 5811558
Getting there: Metro to Agia Marina (M 3) and then bus 811; buses from Athens A 16, G16 or 836, or from Piraeus 801 or 845
Hours: Tue & Fri 8am – 3pm.
Tip: At the Haidari ‘death’ camp just beyond the monastery, hundreds were executed by the Nazis in 1944 in reprisals for partisan attacks against them. It was the most notorious prison in Greece.
111 Places in Athens That You Shouldn’t Miss can be found at all major bookstores worldwide as well as online at Amazon.
Kos, otherwise known as Hippocrates Island, is the third-largest isle of the Dodecanese.
Suitable for families, couples, and young people there is plenty to discover here and moreover, it’s a destination where you can travel low cost by choosing apartment stays and eating at local taverns, or opt for a more luxurious experience with sophisticated boutique hotels and fine dining restaurants.
Having visited plenty of times, as my husband has relatives that live on this island, here is my insider information to help make your visit beyond memorable.
Getting There & Getting Around
You can fly to Kos from Athens, which is just under an hour flight or a 9.5-hour ferry ride from Piraeus Port. Kos is a large island so I recommend hiring a car or Vespa.
Where to stay
Kos Town is the main area with shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and a great place to base yourself. If you prefer a spot that’s quieter Kardamena has nice beaches and plenty to offer. Kefalos, which I think is the best beach on the island is also a nice area to stay, perfect for lots of R&R.
Where to sleep
If you are after ultra-luxurious facilities and five-star service, Lango Hotel is for adults only and designed to spoil its guests. White Rock at Kefalos is also perfect for couples looking to splurge. If these are out of your price range but seeking an adults-only stay check out OKU Hotel, which is located on the beach of Marmari. For a real boutique feel Albergo Gelsomino in the heart of Kos Town is a gorgeous pick, while Costas Palace is a family-run hotel that won’t blow the budget. Hotel Agrelli in Kardamena is also a great option for apartment-style facilities, as well as More Meni in Tigaki, which is modern and minimal.
Where to eat
Let’s start off with our favourite places for seafood. Barbouni is a must not only for its ultra-cool vibe but also for its fresh fish, oysters, lobster, and all things delish! For a traditional Greek Psarotaverna (seafood tavern) Ta Votsalakia offers the most authentic dishes and local produce. Another local gem is Nestoras Taverna, where you can enjoy a late lunch right next to the water. For a farm to table experience and everything homemade from the bread, wine, and their own olive oil, Oromedon in Zia serves up great dishes and a fabulous view of the famous Zia sunset. If you are around Kefalos check out family-run tavern Maistrali and head to Mylotopi for great food, amazing wine, and a spectacular view of the island. When you are in the main town our picks are Broadway, which offers classic dishes with modern twists and meat lovers should head straight to Stavlisio Steak House for a range of grilled goods.
For Sweets & Coffee
For the best Crepes in all of the Dodecanese check out Crepa Crepa, with an amazing range of sweet and savoury options. For the widest range of homemade desserts, pastries, gelato, and bread, Zamagias Bakery is where all the locals go. One of our favourite places to sit back and enjoy a coffee is at Kaseta Café, where you can enjoy a Freddo or short black, and Select Café is also great.
Where to drink
For a drink in the sun and right next to the water head to Avra. If you are after a real Greek island feel head to Sitar. If a chic bistro is more your style make your way to Kaseta and to enjoy some live music while sipping on your wine head over to Marina. Our fave beach bars are H20, which is modern and sleek, and for tribal décor Mylos Beach Bar is perfect.
Local Delicacies & Dishes
Try the Possa– it’s a wine-cheese made from sheep’s and goat’s milk, heated and then placed in special jars with wine mud. Pitaridia is handmade pasta sheets cooked in broth. Katimeria are fried cheese pies served with syrup and the Marmarites are traditional pancakes baked on marble. To get a real taste of local beverages try the Kanelada, a handmade refreshment filled with lots of cinnamon and the Alefaskia is a local tea like herb.
Where to swim
Near the main town head to Mylos, Ammos, or Heaven Beach. And definitely make a day of swimming at Kardamena, Agios Stefanos and Tigaki which are all lovely perfect for a long, relaxed day by the sea.
In the main town, you will find the Hippocrates Tree where the famous physician is said to have taught his students. Also, check out Casa Romana and Roman Odeon, which shows the Roman influence that dominated the island in the Hellenistic and Roman Times. The medieval castle of Neratziais is the best-preserved on the island, and definitely make time for Palio Pyli Castle, which also offers breathtaking views. The fortress of Antimachia also has a lovely Folklore Museum and make sure you get to the Archaeological Museum of Kos, which only reopened a few years back and gives a great glimpse into the island’s rich history.
Palio Pyli Castle
Where to shop
Around the main town, you will find small alleyways full of beautiful jewellery stores and plenty of local handmade products. At Hippocrates House, you can discover traditional confectionery, sweets, and olives. Olive Wood is filled with handmade wooden decorations, jewellery, and games and at Eleftherias Square you will find indoor markets. In the beautiful village of Zia, you can also purchase a range of local products to take home with you and you must visit Delfis Art Studio where you will find gorgeous handmade ceramics, paintings and other gifts.
Zia, Delfis Art Studio
Can’t leave until
Having the most amazing dinner and watching the sunset at Zia
Enjoying a meal under the Hippocrates Tree at Platanos Tavern
Experiencing the holistic and therapeutic Therma Springs
Visiting Haihoutes, the abandoned village with a gorgeous cafe
Having a coffee or late lunch at Maistrali in Kefalos
Hiring a boat with Archon Yachting and cruising around Kos and nearby islands
Swimming across to Kastri Island from Agios Stefanos Beach
Visiting the Holy Monastery of Agios Ioannis in Kefalos
Chania, with its pretty beaches, a unique mix of architecture, narrow pebbled alleyways, charming villages, and buzzing town- is the perfect place to experience a lively city where the old-world meets new. Having visited several times, here is our Complete Travel Guide to Chania.
Getting There & Getting Around
The flight to Chania from Athens is around one hour, otherwise, you can catch a ferry. There is a direct ferry line that takes around 6.5 hours, or you can do an overnight trip, which is roughly 9 hours. Depending on how much of the island you would like to see, we strongly recommend hiring a car, which allows you the flexibility to visit the many beaches, villages, and historical spots around town.
Where to Stay
If you like being close to restaurants and nightlife, we suggest you stay around the Old Town, Venetian Port, or the New Town. If you prefer a more relaxed vibe and being somewhere close to nature (mountains or sea) try Kissamos, Paleochora, or Sfakia. For those wanting to be footsteps away from the beach, we highly recommend Marathi and Loutraki, in the Akrotiri area.
Where to sleep
For a great stay in the heart of the Old Venetian Harbour Cretan Renaissance, Domus Renier, or Casa Delfinio all offer stunning views of the Old Port and the famous Lighthouse. For more of a city vibe, base yourself around the New Town and try Samaria Hotel. If you prefer apartment living, check into Casa Ntore Luxury Apartments or Trianon. And for something closer to the water, we recommend Domes Zeen,Ammos Hotel, and Marathi Villas.
Domus Renier Hotel
Where to eat
For authentic flavours head to Evgonia– don’t expect fancy décor but the food is amazing (we recommend the grilled fish). Ta Chalkina at the Port offers the complete Cretan experience- great views, live music, and traditional cuisine. Tamam in the Old Town is where you can experience local dishes served in a rustic setting. Further across town at Kaliviani village, you will find Gramvousa Taverna, which offers magnificent food and gorgeous views. Taverna Mpourakis in Kounoupidiana is a local favourite and their specialty is Xoirino Kotsi (pork hog), which is baked for hours. Nea Chora is a waterfront location lined with traditional fish taverns- our favourites include Akrogiali, Volakas, and Achilleas. For modern cuisine and stylish decor try Pallas and Mon.Es- great food and ambiance.
Yes, you can try Bougatsa all over Greece, but you can’t find Bougatsa Iordani anywhere else. This famous pastry- made using fresh Cretan Mizithra (ricotta) – has been a local favourite since 1924. If you are looking for a variety of sweets, make your way over to Koukouvagia which has been named Greece’s best dessert shop on many occasions- and for a good reason! Here you can try the famous Zoumero (a fluffy chocolate cake) as well as Lemonopita (lemon cake), Mosaiko (chocolate biscuit cake), Mille Feuille, Milopita (apple pie), Karidopita (walnut cake)- plus the view is spectacular. Lastly, if you love crepes (like us) head to Roxanis and try the classic Nutella and Banana!
For great local wine and spectacular views of the sunset, head over to the harbourside bar, Pallas. You will catch most of the locals over at Sinagogi- a chic and rustic spot hidden away in the ruins of the old Jewish synagogue. And for a pre-dinner drink or a late-night cocktail, try Fagotto Jazz Bar, one of Crete’s oldest bars.
Local Delicacies and Dishes
Achinous (sea urchins) may be rare to find at your average restaurant but here they appear on most menus. Gamopilafo is a traditional wedding rice dish and is likened to a deluxe risotto prepared in a rich meat broth. Saligaria Tiganita (fried snails) is a local favourite and served as an appetizer. Stamnagathis (local wild greens) are boiled and served with a dash of olive oil and lemon juice. The famous Cretan Dakos is a rye dusk topped with juicy grated tomatoes and crumbled feta (can be eaten any time of the day). Kaltsounia are delicious Cretan cheese pies, and Arni me Stamnagathi is a lamb dish, where the meat is sautéed in hot olive oil, then served with either avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce) or a squeeze of lemon juice. If you love cheese, you should definitely try the local Graviera, Pichtogalo Chanion (which has AOC protection), and Myzithra, a young Cretan whey cheese. Raki or Tsikoudia is a locally made Cretan Brandy that is distilled from grapes and served in every Cretan taverna and kafeneio (not for the faint-hearted).
Seitan Limani offers magical views and pristine waters- it’s a bit of a hike to get there as you need to walk down steep steps- but definitely worth it. For a morning swim and a great Freddo (cold coffee) head to LoutrakiBeach, where you will find lots of sunbeds. Marathi is perfect for families and it’s where the locals go. Also good for those with young kids are Falasarna and Stavros Beach (where Zorba the Greek was filmed). Balos Lagoon, Elafonisi, and Gramvousa Islet are by far Chania’s most photographed beaches- you can’t leave Chania until you have been to at least one. While Golden Beach with its golden sand and clear, calm waters also deserves a visit.
Around the Old Port
Walking through the charming Old Town (while taking in the magnificent sites) allows visitors to discover the Venetian, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences. Chania has an impressive Archaeological Museum, a Naval Museum, Folklore Museum, and several others that are all as significant as each other. Then make your way over to Prophet Ilias, where you will find the Tombs of Eleftherios Venizelos, a famous politician who was Prime Minister of Greece- no less than 7 times! Here you will also get panoramic views of Chania, as well as the chance to go inside the local chapel. On the other side of town, check out the Municipal Garden, which was designed in 1870- here you can get up close to the historical 1927 Clock Tower. You can also enjoy coffee or tea at the famous Café Kipos, which is a member of the European Association of Historical Cafés. And while you are at it, catch a film at the nearby open-air cinema!
Chania is home to many sacred and historical monasteries that are well known. The most frequently visited is Agia Triada Tzagarolon, which was built in the 17th century by two monks. The Gouvernetou Monastery was designated as a preserved monument in 1900, while the abandoned Monastery of Aghios Ioannis is said to be the most ancient monastery of Crete (dating back to the 6th- 7th centuries).
Agia Triada Monastery
Where to shop
For small boutiques filled with handmade jewellery, sandals, ceramics, and other great gift ideas head to the Old Town and stroll through the beautiful alleyways to find a range of stores catering to all tastes. If you are after fast fashion such as Zara, H&M, or other local chain stores- make your way across to the new part of town where you will find all the latest shoes, clothes, and accessories. If you prefer to take home some tasty Cretan treats- check out the local markets in the Agora, where you will discover the freshest home-grown food and delicacies.
Can’t leave until… you have brunch at Ginger Concept, and lunch at Dounias in Drakona, where all the dishes are farm-to-table and created by owner/chef Stelio Trilykaris, who prepares it all using traditional cookware and a wood-fired oven. For some adventure, hike the 16km-long Samaria Gorge- one of Europe’s longest canyons- but try to get there early morning to avoid the crowds. For a unique cultural experience visit artist Manousos Chalkiadakis, who transforms clay into stunning vases, boats, and balloons. His studio is located in a small village and the hospitable artist will also take you next door to see a 300-year-old house. You should then drive to the village of Maza and eat at Dris in the main square (ask the owner to unlock the door to the tiny Byzantine chapel in front of his shop, which contains amazing 13th-century artifacts). Also, pay Manolis Tsouris a visit- where you’ll find a range of wooden art pieces. Last but not least, you should listen to live Cretan music and join in on some local dancing, which will be one of the most memorable experiences!