Interesting Cities to Visit in Greece
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.
OIA IN SANTORINI
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 IN CRETE
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 IN THE PELOPONNESE
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.
Experiencing Greek Food
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!
LGBTQ+ History of Greece
From Zeus, the King of the gods, to Herakles, the greatest of heroes, to Sappho, the greatest lyric poet, Sophocles, the greatest tragedian, Socrates, the inventor of philosophy, and Alexander the Great: most of the greatest figures in ancient Greek culture had LGBTQ+ relationships. And these loves were not secret or devalued: instead, same-sex love was considered the purest love, the basis for education, and (in contrast to modern attitudes) the root of military courage. And almost every museum or archaeological site in Greece has something related to this LGBTQ+ culture. For instance, in Delphi, one of the highlights of the museum is a cult statue of the god Antinous—the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Greek lover, who was made into a god when he died; in Olympia, there is a statue of Zeus with his boyfriend Ganymede—and the mythical founder of the Olympic games, Pelops, was the boyfriend of Poseidon, god of the sea. And of course, you can go to Lesbos to soak in the Sapphic atmosphere! In short, Greece is not only a gorgeous country with an amazing history: it is also a paradise of LGBTQ+ history and art!
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ visitors to Greece
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.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for Greece
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