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Greece is the birthplace of democracy, the Olympic Games, Western Philosophy and Western theories of tragedy and comedy. It is also ancient, with the capital, Athens, one of the oldest and longest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
As such it has a rich cultural heritage, boasting the largest number of archaeological museums in the world, more than any other country. Greek cuisine is also testament to its rich history with influences dating back to the Ancient Greek Empire, the Romans, Byzantine and Ottomans.
Greece has more than 2,000 islands, of which around 170 are populated. The largest is Crete and the most popular are Santorini and Mykonos, particularly with LGBTQ+ travelers in the summer months. As such, there are an abundance of white sandy Mediterranean beaches to discover.
With regards to LGBTQ+ rights, Greece has not always been very LGBTQ+ friendly. Society is predominantly Greek Orthodox, which is known for being conservative and homophobic. Families have traditionally expected men to get educated, find a good job, marry and produce many children. Women are expected to stay home and look after the house and children. However, over the past few decades, attitudes have started to change as more LGBTQ+ issues are discussed in the media and the government has passed proactive LGBTQ+ laws such as anti-discrimination in employment and allowed LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military and the right to change gender.
Greece has still not legalized same-sex marriage, but civil unions were allowed from 2015. Adoption is only possible for single LGBTQ+ individuals, not yet for couples. There are no LGBTQ+ anti-bullying laws in schools yet and conversion therapy remains legal in Greece.
Athens and Mykonos are Greece’s top LGTBQ+ friendly destinations along with several other cities, however when venturing into small towns and villages, some locals may be homophobic so you should be cautious with public displays of affection.
Travelers to Greece often come to marvel at the rich archaeological history, particularly prominent in Athens, home to the Acropolis. The islands and beaches are another popular draw, particularly during the summer months.
Greece has four clear seasons: winter (December to February), spring (March to May), summer (June to August), and fall (September to November). The busiest time is July and August when hotels are usually sold out, prices are at their highest and beaches become packed with people. The ideal time to visit Greece is around these months, especially in June, September and October when it’s less packed, temperatures are comfortable and not too hot, and prices not as high.
During the off-season in winter, Greece offers skiing opportunities in the mountainous areas, with many ski resorts.
The capital city of Greece is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been inhabited for over 7,000 years. The most popular draw of Athens is the Acropolis, an ancient citadel dating back to the 5th century BC. It sits atop a hill right in the heart of the city, making it visible from most places in Athens.
At the foot of the Acropolis is the central district of Plaka, which is like a small village within the city, with narrow cobblestone streets, small boutique shops, buskers, sidewalk cafes and family-owned tavernas. Nearby is the Gazi neighborhood where the majority of the Athenian gay hangouts can be found, like Sodade2.
Santorini is the most visited of all the Greek islands and for good reason. It has been formed by volcanic activity leaving behind a very dramatic, picturesque landscape. One particular highlight is the town of Oia at the northern tip of the island, which has many of the whitewashed buildings so visually linked to the Greek isles and culminates in a cliff with a large drop. This is also a famous spot to admire the sun setting over the Aegean. It’s so popular that every evening, crowds gather to watch the sunset, then clap as it finishes.
During the touristic months of June to September, Mykonos island comes alive with crowds, particularly in July and August. Mykonos Town is the main transport hub into the island and the place most will stay. It’s a pretty place, with houses painted white to reflect the strong sun, with the characteristic blue church domes. Mykonos Town is also the beating heart of the LGBTQ+ community, with gay bars like Jackie O’, Babylon, Porta, Kastro’s and Elysium.
LGBTQ+ travelers will also want to check out the XLSIOR gay festival that takes places in Mykonos Town in late August, sometimes early September.
Chania is the second largest city on Crete, but the island’s prettiest. The central point of Chania is the Old Port, which was built by the Venetians in the 1300s. It’s a romantic place to stroll, lined with many restaurants, cafes and hotels. There is a large 21m (69ft) high octagonal Egyptian lighthouse looking over Chania, which is great to visit for the best views. It is the oldest lighthouse in the world, built by the Venetians in the 1500s to protect the island. Further inland, in the Old City of Chania based around Stivanadika Street, you can find many folk art souvenirs, herbs, olive oil, jewels and leather products.
Greece’s second city, in the north, is Thessaloniki. It is considered as Greece’s cultural capital, renowned for festivals and events taking place throughout the year.
The city is characterized by the 34m (112ft) high Lefkos Pirgos (meaning “white building”), which used to form part of the defensive walls of Thessaloniki. The beachfront promenade runs from this building and is one of the most popular meeting spots, with many excellent cafes to hang out. The city has a small LGBTQ+ scene with hangouts like eNola and Don’t Tell Mama.
Halkidiki is the most popular tourist destination of Northern Greece—three peninsulas that stretch into the North Aegean Sea. Each peninsula has long sandy beaches but the first peninsula, Kassandra, is the most developed with thriving nightlife, resorts and busy beaches during the summer months. The second peninsula, Sithonia, is much quieter and relaxed with less crowded beaches.
The third peninsula, Athos, has been completely untouched by modern development. It is in a monastic state, closed off to the world, and only open to male visitors by prior application (see more below).
Monemvasia is almost an island linked to the mainland in the Peloponnese region of Greece by a narrow causeway. It is comprised of two towns: the lower at sea level, which has been restored, and the upper, called citadel, which is still largely in ruins.
It’s a beautiful place to wander with stunning sunsets every evening, making it a popular spot for couples. One of the best times to visit is during the spring when the grass is green and the wild flowers are in bloom.
The Greek islands are one of the highlights of the country. There are over 2,000 islands, of which around 170 are populated. Each one has its own identity and landscape. For example, Santorini is arid and famous for its dramatic volcanic landscape, whereas Thassos is very green.
One of the best ways to experience them is either to charter a yacht or take a cruise in the islands. The best time to visit is between April to November, but avoiding August when it becomes too busy. You can also island hop using the extensive ferry network.
One of the best ways to get up close to the clear blue Mediterranean world is to dive right into it. There are many wrecks, stone arches, caves and healthy thriving coral with an abundance of marine life, particularly off the coastal area of western Crete from Chania.
Diving is best during the summer/autumn months when the water temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) in August and around 24 (75 F) in July, September and October. You are most likely to see sharks in June, July and August, seals in May, and turtles in April/May.
While Greece may be famous for its beaches, over 80 percent of the country is in fact mountainous terrain. During the winter months, these areas receive heavy snowfall, which has led to a large skiing industry developing. The advantage of skiing in Greece over the Alps is that it is a lot cheaper.
Around the famous Mount Olympus there are numerous skiing centers like Elatochori, which has six slopes, two lifts, and a snowboarding and sled run. Other popular skiing spots in Greece include Parnassos, Kalavryta, Pisoderi, Vasilitsa and Tria Pente Pigadia.
Mount Olympus is the highest peak in Greece, reaching 2,918m (9,574 ft). It is also the mythical home of the Ancient Greek gods: you can hike up to the peak and imagine sitting on Zeus’ throne. It is a 7-mile round trip, which takes around seven hours. You can either do it in a day, or better to stay overnight at one of the refuges on the east side of the mountain.
While you can hike up to Mount Olympus at any time of the year, it is best done between May-October when temperatures are slightly warmer.
The UNESCO listed Meteora Monastery complex, located at the foothills of the Pindus mountains, is a geological wonder with gigantic sandstone pillars that soar from the ground, hundreds of meters high. On top of these, monks started to build monasteries dating back to the 11th century.
The monasteries flourished during the Ottoman conquest of Greece in the 1400/1500s when the Orthodox monks were persecuted, so they fled here to seek refuge as it was so remote and hard for the Ottomans to reach. Today, steps have been carved into the rocks for tourists to safely visit the monasteries.
The Peloponnese region of Greece is famous for Kalamata olives, beautiful beaches and the site of the first Olympic Games at Olympia (between 776BC to 393AD). While Greece generally is not the most cycle-friendly country, the roads of the Peloponnese are not as busy as other parts of Greece and are ideal for cycling, with 817 routes to explore.
The best time of year for comfortable cycling in the Peloponnese is in May, June, September and October when it’s not too busy or expensive (avoid July/August for this) but still warm enough to enjoy the sea.
The third peninsula of Halkidiki in north Greece is a UNESCO-listed monastic state ruled under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It has 20 monasteries, maintained by around 2,000 monks living an ascetic life cut off from the rest of the world. It is completely untouched by modern development, which makes it a huge draw for both Orthodox pilgrims and nature lovers.
Ouranoupolis is a village in the north, which is the closest you can get without a permit. To enter further into the peninsula, you have to apply for a permit, which are limited to 10 a day for non-Orthodox men and 100 a day to Orthodox men. Women are strictly not allowed to enter the Mount Athos peninsula. Without a permit, anyone can see it from afar via a cruise.
Greek Mediterranean cuisine is also testament to the country’s long history, dating back to the Ancient Greeks who had a strong focus on olive oil, wheat, wine, and fish. The Byzantine era introduced new ingredients like meats, feta cheese, caviar, nutmeg, basil and lemons. The Ottoman Empire then contributed to the Greek cuisine, introducing staples like moussaka, tzatziki (yoghurt/cucumber/oil/mint dip), yuvarlakia (meatball/rice/lemon soup), keftethes (mince meatballs) and boureki (baked filled pastries).
Today, a traditional Greek meal will be at a taverna where you can order mezethes, many small plates of different specialties starting with olives, hummus, tahini, and tzatziki, and moving on to other starters like cheeses, keftethes, and dolmathes (stuffed vine leaves), before moving on to different meats or fish depending on which type of meze you pick.
The most popular wine in Greece is retsina, a white wine that has a distinct resin flavor. Greece also produces other fine wines, like Athiri, Malagousia and Moscofilero. Another popular alcoholic beverage to look out for is raki, a clear unsweetened, often anise-flavored and very strong drink, often drunk as a shot after a heavy meal. Be careful, it’s lethal!
While Greece may not be as LGBTQ+ friendly as other countries in North America or north/west Europe, it has evolved considerably over the past few decades, with a strong LGBTQ+ community gaining confidence and having a strong positive impact on society. For example, in 2015, civil unions for same-sex couples were allowed. Anti-discrimination laws in employment were introduced in 2005.
LGBTQ+ travelers are unlikely to experience any problems in the big cities. However, when traveling in a small town or village, attitudes are likely to still be very conservative.
A word of caution for all LGBTQ+ travelers, Greece is still strongly affected by the economic crisis, with planned strikes taking place, which may affect ferries, traffic and airport staff. It is worth checking before booking any travel plans and ensure you have adequate travel insurance.
Athens Pride has taken place every year since 2005, becoming more and more popular each year, with celebrities, politicians and other public figures attending. Over the past five years, other big cities in Greece have started to host their own pride events, including Thessaloniki, Patras and Heraklion in Crete.
Athens has the largest LGBTQ+ community in Greece, particularly in the Gazi neighborhood, which has an array of gay bar and clubs like Sodade2. It also hosts an annual gay and lesbian film festival called Outview.
Mykonos island has one of the most famous LGBTQ+ scenes in the world and becomes a gay mecca during the summer months, which culminates with the XLSIOR Festival.
Thessaloniki has a small LGBTQ+ community with a handful of LGBTQ+ hangouts. In 2020, Thessaloniki will host the 27th EuroPride.
Stefan and Sebastien are a gay couple who met in London in 2009. They have since been traveling the world extensively together, particularly Europe, Asia and the Americas. Sebastien is from France and Stefan is British/Greek Cypriot. Stefan spent a lot of his childhood with family in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki, worked in Athens as a student and traveled around Greece both alone and with Sebastien. The boys write about their travels on their Nomadic Boys gay travel blog.
Featured image photo credit: @wanderfulwives
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