The top 10 cultural holidays in Greece
Our experts' pick of the top 10 cultural holidays in Greece for 2016, including festivals, archaeological tours and art classes, in destinations such as Athens, the Cyclades, Santorini and Paros
For more general advice on booking a holiday in Greece, see our Greece summer holidays guide. Our guide features expert recommendations for beach, villa, culture, food and drink and activity holidays.
1. Hellenic Festival
Often wrongly called the “Athens Festival”, this is the mother of all Greek summer festivals. Musical and theatrical performances take place in Athens and Epidaurus on the Peloponnese. The main Athens venue is the Herodes Atticus Roman theatre on the Acropolis’s south slope; better known as the Iródio, it’s a thrilling setting for a Greek musical extravaganza or symphonic concert. The great ancient theatre at Epidaurus, with hear-a-pin-drop acoustics, hosts ancient plays (in modern Greek), while the “Little Theatre” in the nearby coastal resort of Néa Epídavros is an intimate stage for contemporary Greek musicians. Athens events run from mid-June to early September, with Epídavros confined to July and August.
The 2016 programme will be available from February at greekfestival.gr. Marc Dubin
2. Sani Festival
The Hellenic Festival is a hard act for the country’s few dozen regional summer bashes to follow. Many lately have drastically shortened or vanished altogether amid funding woes. But this one, based at Sáni resort on Halkidikí’s Kassándra peninsula, makes a good fist of it, running from mid-July to mid-August for over two decades. My favourite of the three venues is Sani Hill, a grassy knoll overlooking the sea and sporting a medieval watchtower. The Orpheus Cinema hosts classical music concerts as well as film screenings, while the Garden Theatre stages avant-garde acts.
Prices from £8-£20 per event (sanifestival.gr). MD
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3. Philippi Festival
It used to be called the Thasos Philippi Festival, but now that the ancient theatre on Thásos island is off-limits, it’s just plain Philippi, about to embark on its 59th season. Classical drama, staged in the theatre of ancient Philippi, is the backbone of the almost nightly July-August programme, but expect also modern plays (Greek and foreign), concerts by local stars, concerts and photo exhibits. Besides Philippi’s ancient theatre, other atmospheric venues include the castle, the Paliá Mousikí (a restored converted mosque) and the Imaret (Islamic student hostel), all in Kavála’s old town.
Ticket prices from £4-£14 (philippifestival.gr) . MD
4. Peter Sommer Tours
Specialising in cultural/archaeological/culinary tours of Greece (plus Turkey and Italy), Peter Sommer Travels relies on gulets (traditional Aegean motor-sail caiques) for getting around the island bits of their programme. Itineraries are sensibly scheduled for the most pleasant spring or autumn months, and are led by a roster of nearly 30 academic but amiable experts. Among eight Greek itineraries for 2016, we especially like the two-week tours “Exploring the Peloponnese” (£3,650 per person), touching on well-known and up-and-coming attractions; “Cruising to the Cyclades”, plus several less usual Dodecanese (£3,775).
Full details at 01600 888220; petersommer.com. MD
5. Samos Young Artists Festival
Each mid-August for a week, the pint-sized ancient theatre outside of Pythagório resort on the south-east coast of Sámos hosts nightly performances by up-and-coming musicians from across Europe and North America. Highlights from 2015 included recitals of solo classical piano, solo percussion, chamber trios, a jazz ensemble, jazz piano and operatic arias. The festival has been going since 2010 and looks set to become a summer fixture. Admission has up to now been attractively cheap because the events are endowed by an Austrian foundation. The dates for 2016 festival are August 7 - 13.
Tickets £4 (schwarzfoundation.com/en/). MD
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6. Peloponnese archaeology tour
The lush green Peloponnese abounds with archaeological sites from various periods. Discover Peloponnese offers an eight-day Classic Tour, taking you back 3,500 years to the Mycenaean civilisation, as well as calling at Nafplio, modern Greece’s first capital city (1821-1834). From your base in Tripoli in Arcadia, you will make day-trips by minibus to sites including Ancient Olympia (site of the Olympic Games in classical times) and Epidaurus (home to the 4th-century BC theatre). The final two days cover Ancient Delphi, once the religious centre of the Greek world, and Athens, where you can see both the Acropolis and the ultra-modern Acropolis Museum.
From £712 per person, flights not included (00 30 27102 41937; discover-peloponnese.com). Jane Foster
Photo: Â© SuperStock / Alamy
7. Central Macedonia archaeology tour
Discovery of an ancient tomb at Amphilopolis in summer 2014 has reignited interest in the Macedonian region of northern Greece, home to Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Martin Randall Travel offers a one-week central Macedonia tour in May, led by expert lecturer: Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones. The tour takes in the Roman monuments, Byzantine churches and the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, as well as nearby Hellenistic sites, including Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great, and Vergina, where archaeologists uncovered the tomb of Philip II (Alexander the Great’s father), filled with a hoard of golden treasures, in 1977.
From £2,680 per person (020 8742 3355; martinrandall.com). JF
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8. Photography holidays
Professional photographer Antonis Nikolopoulos runs one-week photography courses for four to eight people in Athens, the Meteora, and on the islands of Santorini and Kefalonia. Inspired by stunning Greek landscapes and local architecture, you’ll learn about picture composition and exposure, as well as mastering various technical features of photographic equipment. Courses include night-time photography, and also look at how to process images on a computer to achieve the best possible final results. They’re suitable for photographers of all levels, who should bring their own digital compact, mirrorless, or DSLR camera.
From £660 per person based on a double occupancy (00 30 210 898 2448; photographyholidays.gr). JF
9. Secrets of Crete
This new Crete itinerary from Cox & Kings in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts explores the influence of the Minoans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians and Ottomans on the Greek island of Crete. Led by Dr Konstantine Politis, a Greek archaeologist and scholar, the nine-day tour includes special access to the INSTAP study centre at the Minoan town of Gournia, a private tour of the archaeological site of Eleftherna, which is still under excavation and closed to the public, and an exclusive visit to Villa Ariadne at Knossos, once home to British archaeologists. Other highlights include visits to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, the Minoan palace of Phaestos and the convent of Agia Irini, where you will enjoy a private guided tour with a nun.
Departure dates between May and October, from £1,795, including some meals. Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk). Trisha Andres
10. Ceramics workshops in northern Greece
Hector Mavridis, a practising artist and ceramics teacher, runs seven- and 10-day residential pottery courses at all levels at the Almond Grove, 15km east of Thessaloniki. Courses include six hours of hands-on studio work daily, and cover throwing clay to create various forms, glaze theory and techniques, and raku, pit and barrel firing, along with discussions about ceramic art and art in general. You’ll also have the chance to experience Greek hospitality and home cooking, and explore the historic port city of Thessaloniki and the sandy beaches of the Halkidiki peninsula.
From £790, including instruction, materials, accommodation and meals (00 30 2310 450451; hectormavridis.com). JF
For our other expert holiday selections in Greece see our top 10 villa holidays, beach holidays, activity holidays and food and drink holidays.