North and Central Greece is usually not visited often (with the exception of Delphi), especially by people who have limited vacation time. It covers quite a large area, and I found very few resources to plan my time there. In spite of that, I found this area to be one of the best parts of my trip to Greece. Northern and central Greece are a stark contrast to Athens and the Cyclades, which are more popular destinations for tourists, and almost always have the excellent Mediterranean weather. There’s a lot of places covered here, so feel free to look at only what interests you, though I think you may be pleasantly surprised by the other places, as I was.


Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki

General Tips

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Stay in the old town area or close to Aristotelous Square. This is a central location, and close to most of the sites.

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[expand title = “Transportation”]

If you are coming from Athens, take a flight (~1hr). Driving from Athens takes about 6 hours, and trains are probably longer.

Driving in the city is tricky, especially around the old town area where the streets are very narrow. Parking is also difficult. There’s some public transportation, but it’s limited, so It’s better to walk around.   

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

Carry water in a thermos like bottles to keep it cool especially for when it gets very hot.

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Most places are cash only.

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The sky is usually hazy and overcast in the mornings, until about 11AM or noon. Some of the best views of the city are only accessible from the top of steep hills. You can take a taxi, but it’s probably better to walk if you can.

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Differences between Thessaloniki and Athens:

  • This is the second largest city in Greece, but it’s less touristy than Athens. Business travelers come here primarily.
  • It’s more laid back and less touristy; friendlier hotels and businesses.
  • Mix of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian cultures, which is evident in their architectures, while Athens is classically Greek (and classically Roman).
  • Food is inexpensive compared to Athens. You can a get a gyro for as little as 1.50 Euros.
  • Accommodations are significantly cheaper than Athens too.
  • It’s much cooler than Athens, so bring a light jacket with you when you sightsee, especially in the mornings and evenings.

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Sites

1. White Tower

Thessaloniki from White Tower

Why it’s worth it: The views from the top are nice, and if you’re interested in learning about Thessaloniki, you can from the exhibits.

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  • Location/Transportation:

15 minute walk from Aristotelous Square.

  • Tickets:

Get tickets once you enter the tower.

  • Site Information and Tips:

The tower has a museum spanning multiple floors, which can be skipped through or glanced.

  • Photography:

Head to the top for some great views of the city.

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2. Aristotelous Square

Why it’s worth it: This is the most picturesque square in the city, where you can see the architectures from the various cultures that have had a presence in Thessaloniki blended together.

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  • Location/Transportation:

The square is located at Nikis Avenue, across the seafront.

  • Site Information and Tips:

This is the most central square in Thessaloniki boasting monumental buildings and shopping center.

Stroll down Nikis Avenue across the seafront the extending from the city’s Port (to the W) up to the Statue of Alexander the Great (in the E).

Be careful of all the pigeons (there’s a lot of them – they seem to outnumber all the people around the square).

  • Photography:

The square is pretty in the day, but gorgeous in the evening. You can use a tripod and use long exposures to get stunning shots of the square.

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3. Hagios Dimitrios

Why it’s not worth it: I didn’t find anything remarkable with the church architecture or decorations, but if you’ve never seen the inside of a Greek orthodox church, you can go here.

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  • Location/Transportation:

This church is 1.1km from Aristotelous Square, away from the sea, if you keep walking straight.

  • Site Information and Tips:

This is a Greek orthodox church.

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4. Rotunda (Roman Temple) and Arch of Galerius

Roman Rotunda     Arch of Galerius

Why it’s (maybe) worth it: The Rotunda is like a small version of the Rome’s Pantheon. The Arch of Galerius is a few steps from the Rotunda. The interesting thing about the Arch is that the carvings are three dimensional.

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  • Location/Transportation:

The Rotunda and the Arch are close to each other (within 250m of each other). These are located about 10-15 minutes away from the White Tower.

  • Tickets:

You need tickets to the Rotunda, but not to the Arch.

  • Site Information and Tips:

The Rotunda is also known as Roman Rotunda or Roman Temple. There’s not much inside, but you can see some of the remaining friezes on the ceiling and walls.

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5. The City Walls (aka Acropolis wall)

Why it’s (maybe) worth it: It’s worth it for pictures of the city, but more than that, you see just how expansive and dense Thessaloniki is.

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  • Location/Transportation:

You can get here by walking or by taxi. It’s quite a walk, as it’s far and you have to walk up steep hills, so if you’re not up for it, and don’t want to go by taxi (since there’s not a whole lot to see), feel free to skip it.

  • Site Information and Tips:

There’s not much to see with the walls (there’s no entrance or anything). It’s in ruins, but there’s a small portion that’s fairly tall.

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Pella 

PV-WLAT-Greece-2016-81

General Tips

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I don’t think there’s any place to stay in Pella.

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You can either take a day tour or drive here from Thessaloniki. Driving is, of course, more flexible, since you can go to other places, like Dion and Meteora. It’s approximately 45 minutes away from Thessaloniki. If in doubt, there are signs to the museum once you get close to Pella, and you can follow those.

If you use a GPS, route it to the museum first (“Archaeological Museum of Pella”), because, for one thing, the coordinates for the archaeological site aren’t at the entrance, and the GPS will probably route you incorrectly, through an off-road path on a farm, which doesn’t lead to an entrance, and also because you can’t get tickets from the archaeological site.

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

Carry water in thermos to keep it cool especially for when it gets very hot. There’s a few taverns around, but I believe they have limited hours, and there’s no shops to buy water. Also, bring some snacks with you.

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Cash only!

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Pella is currently a small town, but the ancient and very wealthy city was the capital of Macedonia during Alexander the Great’s reign (it’s also his birthplace).

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Sites

1. Archaeological Museum

Pella Museum   Jewelry worn by woman in Pella

Why it’s worth it: Pella is grossly underrated. The museum’s collections are well-preserved, and you can’t see these particular items in any other museum (including in Athens’s National Archaeological museum).

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  • Location/Transportation:

See “Transportation” under Pella’s General Tips.

  • Tickets:

There’s a single ticket for the archaeological museum and the archaeological site. The ticket is only sold at the museum.

  • Site Information and Tips:

You must store any big bags or backpacks at the bag check counter near where you purchase your tickets.

The museum’s collections include ancient Macedonian coins, jewelry, furniture, etc. They also have restored tile floors that were originally part of the ancient homes in Pella. The tile floors are quite stunning – they’re large and the designs are mostly elaborate.

  • Photography:

You can take pictures, but flash is prohibited.

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2. Archaeological site

Pella Archaeological Site   Banquet Hall inside ancient Pella home

Why it’s worth itThe homes are quite grand – the residents typically had 2 stories, where one story was used as a banquet hall for parties hosted in their homes. The wealthier homes also had more elaborate tile floorings (though they’re mostly in the museum now, instead of outside).

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  • Location/Transportation:

The advice from the “Transportation” section under Pella’s General Tips applies here, but to get to the archaeological site, you can ask the museum’s friendly staff how to get there.

  • Tickets:

Use the ticket from the archaeological museum at the archaeological site. The ticket is only sold at the museum.

  • Site Information and Tips:

The archaeological site has the remains from the homes that ancient Pellans lived in. Watch for the Helen of Troy’s chamber.

Also, if you have questions about the site, there are museum employees who are present at the site and more than happy to answer questions while walking with you.

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Vergina

General Tips

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There aren’t any places to stay there overnight (as far as I know).

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Vergina is at the foothills of Mt. Pieria is at a distance of 75 KM from Thessaloniki and 550 KM from Athens. You have to drive there. There may be tour busses going there, though I didn’t see any.

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

Take a light jacket with you.

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Sites

1. Royal Tombs

Why it’s not worth itThe tombs are overrated and overpriced for 12 Euros. There’s nothing in the “site” (aka the outside). It only took 30 minutes to see it thoroughly.

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  • Location/ Transportation:

The “Transportation” section under Vergina’s General Tips covers almost all of this. However, the museum is on a one way street. You have to park a little distance further and walk about five minutes to the museum (there are signs).

  • Tickets:

The tickets are available at the entrance and costs 12 Euros per ticket. You can use a credit card.

  • Site Information and Tips:

The royal tombs are underground for protection and preservation.  The tombs of Philip II and some of the other members of Alexander the Great’s family are in tact. (Alexander the Great is not buried here)

Additionally, their original silver dinnerware are on exhibit. It’s remarkable to see them in pristine condition.

You must leave your large bags at the bag check, just outside the museum.

  • Photography:

Photography is prohibited in the museum. 

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Dion

General Tips

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There are a couple of places to stay in Dion.

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You have to drive here as far as I know. It’s about an hour away from Thessaloniki, 75 minutes from Pella, and about an hour away from Vergina. If in doubt, there are signs to the museum once you get to Dion, and you can follow those.

If you use a GPS, route it to the archaeological site first. The site is quite large, and split into two portions, so it will take quite a bit of time. The fastest route to Dion also has tolls, so keep some cash on you to pay for the tolls.

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

Carry water in thermos like bottle to keep it cool especially for when it gets very hot. The site spans a great distance, and even though the entrance/ticketing area has a convenient store inside, it’s pretty far walk. Food is not allowed on the site grounds, so make sure you consume some snacks before starting your sightseeing.

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Most places are cash only here, though you can pay for the tickets with a credit card.

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Dion is very close to Mt. Olympus. You can actually see it from the site grounds.

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Sites

1. Archaeological site

Dion    Replica at site, original in museum

Why it’s worth it: There are not many visitors in the site, and you can see the temples and public places, as well as the ancient residential areas. This site was so famous in ancient times that people would walk to it from long distances (even by car). It was sobering to be able to go to a place easily when compared to what the ancient Greeks did.

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  • Location/Transportation:

See “Transportation” under Dion’s General Tips.

  • Tickets:

There’s a single ticket for the archaeological museum and the archaeological site. The ticket is sold both the site and at the museum.

  • Site Information and Tips:

The archaeological site is huge, and was a place of religious importance in ancient times. Nature has reclaimed the place, and it has basically become a swamp. Still, you can see the Greek, and even some Roman, temple ruins, and you can get a feel of how large most of the temples were. You can also get a sense of scale of the entire site compared to Mt. Olympus, which is visible from the site.

It includes the Greek temples of Zeus, Demeter, Isis (the Egyptian Goddess who was sometimes worshipped in Greece), and Asclepius. There are also remains of a Hellenistic theatre, a partly-preserved 2nd century AD Roman theatre, ancient baths, and the ruins of several ancient villas.

The site has been preserved to the state in which it was discovered in recently. However, because nature has reclaimed the site, stick to the paths instead of straying onto the grounds; there are snakes, spiders, and other creatures, as well as itchy plants.

  • Photography:

You can take a picture of the ruins, as well as Mt. Olympus from the site. To get a decent picture of just Mt. Olympus, you might need a telephoto lens.

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2. Archaeological Museum

Original tile flooring from archaeological site

Why it’s worth it: The items at the museum are largely from the site. These items were restored when they site was being excavated and studied, and now the originals reside here, while the replicas were placed in the archaeological site where they were found.

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  • Location/Transportation:

The advice from the “Transportation” section under Dion’s General Tips applies here, but to get to the archaeological museum, you can follow the road signs on how to get there.

  • Tickets:

There’s a single ticket for the archaeological museum and the archaeological site. The ticket is sold both the site and at the museum.

  • Site Information and Tips:

You must store any big bags or backpacks at the bag check counter near where you purchase your tickets.

The museum is two floors and has a basement. Allow at least 30 minutes to an hour for the museum. Though it doesn’t matter which order you take (museum or site), it’s better to go to whether you go to the museum.

  • Photography:

You can take pictures, but flash is prohibited.

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Meteora & Kalampaka (Kalabaka/Kalambaka)

Meteora at Dawn from Kalampaka

General Tips

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Almost all of the accommodations for Meteora are in Kalampaka, and there are a number of places to stay there. I highly recommend staying at Doupiani House Hotel (where we stayed). The rooms are very comfortable, a full Greek breakfast and wifi are included, and the views are unobstructed and stunning.

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You have to drive to Kalampaka as far as I know (rental car or tour bus). Although you can hike to the monasteries in Meteora, it’s better to drive because it’s far, steep, and there’s no separate hiking path. If you hike, you have to share the roads with the numerous vehicles, including busses, which can get scary.

If you drive, parking is free and and not enforced if you park in “illegal” spots.  You can park almost anywhere even when there is no-parking sign.

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

Carry water in thermos like bottles to keep it cool. The monasteries don’t sell food and beverages, so it’s a good idea to also bring snacks with you (to eat when you’re outside of the monasteries).

It’s a good idea to bring a light jacket since it can get a little on the cool side.  

Lastly, wear decent shoes. If you can, wear shoes with deep treads, or better yet, wear hiking shoes. Some of the monasteries (and convent) have steep steps, which are more dangerous when it rains, even lightly.

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Almost all of the places are cash only here.

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Food is very inexpensive. Lamb chop was 12 Euros from almost 1.5 to 2 lbs (640-900g).

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It is pretty neat to see Meteora at night and at dawn, especially from the hotel room balcony, if you have one.

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Sites

  • You have to see the cliffs to appreciate how grand are they are; they look like large, tall, and rounded boulders, almost like pillars.
  • There are six major monasteries in Meteora. You don’t have to go to all of them, but you should see the Megalo Monastery, the largest of them all.
  • Be conscientious of the open hours. Not all the sites are open/closed on the same days or even times.

1. Megalo Monastery

PV-WLAT-Greece-2016-50    View from Meteora

Why it’s worth it: This monastery has a lot to see, including some paintings at the museum exhibits. I found the descriptions for the paintings depicting religious scenes somewhat comical (in a sad way). There’s also another exhibit with turn-of-the-(20th)-century Greek military artifacts, like the uniforms and weapons.

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  • Location/Transportation:

The “Transportation” section under General Tips covers most of the information, but this monastery is at the end of the road that leads to all of the monasteries.

  • Tickets:

Purchase tickets at the entrance. Note that women must use a wrap if they’re not wearing skirts or dresses (I believe the length is irrelevant). When I was there, this wasn’t strictly enforced.

  • Site Information and Tips:

This is the largest of the monasteries, as previously mentioned, and at the tallest height. It gets crowded, so keep that in mind when traversing through the monastery.

To reach the monastery entrance requires climbing lots of stairs, so be prepared for that. There is a cable car, but that’s only for the monks to use to avoid the tourists.

  • Photography:

You can take photos in all of the outside areas, and a few indoor areas, but photography is prohibited in the chapel and the museum exhibits.

In the outdoor areas, you can see two or three of the other monasteries, including the Great Monastery (which is “next” to the Megalo Monastery). You can also see the town below.

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2. Convent (I forget the name, and I am unable to find it)

Why it’s not worth it: The convent was fine, but there wasn’t much to see. In terms of ticket prices, it costs the same as the Megalo monastery, but only has a chapel (no museums or exhibits). However, it was nice to support the only convent amongst the Meteora sites.

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  • Location/Transportation:

The “Transportation” section under General Tips covers most of the information, but this convent is the first one that you’ll see if you go left (towards Megalo Monastery).

  • Tickets:

Purchase tickets at the entrance. 

  • Site Information and Tips:

This is the only convent at Meteora. It is also at the lowest height from all of the convents/monasteries at Meteora.  

To reach the convent entrance requires climbing a number of steps, so be prepared for that, and when it rains, the steps get slippery.

Note that women must use a wrap if they’re not wearing skirts or dresses (I believe the length is irrelevant), and this is strictly enforced. Wraps are available for free at the entrance, after you purchase tickets.

  • Photography:

Photography is prohibited. The convent itself is pretty small and since it’s relatively low, there’s not much of a view from the balcony.

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Delphi

Oracle of Delphi

General Tips

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There are plenty of good accommodations in Delphi at reasonable prices. Almost all of them are on the same street, which if you keep following, you’ll reach the museum/site. I would recommend to stay in Delphi instead of staying instead of taking a day trip from Athens for several reasons:

  • Delphi is cheaper than Athens.

 

  • Tour buses from Athens get around 11 AM.  The site and museum open at 8 AM, so you can get three hours before hordes of tourists arrive at the site. And, as a bonus, there’s plenty of parking available before the day tours arrive.

 

  • The archeological site and museum is only a five minute drive from the hotels.

 

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Delphi is only 2.5 hours away from Meteora and 2.5 hours from Athens. You can drive from either place. The other option is take a day tour from Athens.

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

Carry water in a thermos like container to keep it cool especially for when it gets very hot.

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You won’t need too much cash since most places, including the museum, take credit cards.

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This is the site of the 4th-century-B.C. Temple of Apollo, once home to a legendary oracle (picture above). Fun fact: scientists/archaeologists say that the oracle’s predictions, which were pretty vague, were probably the result of hallucinations from the gases around her home in Delphi.

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Sites

1. The Delphi Archaeological site and museum

Why it’s worth it: The place is of great historical interest and the valley is breathtaking.

Temple of Apollo    Theatre of Delphi

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  • Location/Transportation:

The museum is a 5 minutes drive from the town. You could potentially walk to it if necessary, though you may want to save your energy for the archaeological site.  

  • Tickets:

You can buy tickets near the museum for 12 Euros. This covers the museum and the archaeological site. 

  • Site Information and Tips:

I would suggest seeing the museum first and then proceeding to the site because by the time you return from the site, you will probably be tired. 

The museum focuses on the history of the Delphic sanctuary and oracle, covering the long time span from prehistory to late antiquities and has many neat artifacts and statues, some of which depict mythological stories in stone, like Hercules’s 12 Labors (below).  

12 Labors of Hercules depicted in stone at Delphi

The archaeological site consists of following points of interest: Temple of Apollo, Treasury of the Athenians, the Ancient Theater, the Ancient Stadium, Polygonal Wall of Delphi, the Treasury of Siphnians, Stoa of Athenians, the Sacred Way, Castalian Fountain, and the Tholos of Athena Pronaia.  

The site is very steep and slippery, especially the path from the Theatre to the Stadium. Don’t wear shoes without good treads, and don’t be ashamed to use the hand rails on the one one side.

Also, there are parking spots available in front of the museum/site, and you can park on the roadside if you can’t find any spots.

  • Photography:

Photography is allowed inside the museum without flash, and you can, of course, take pictures at the archaeological site. Try to reach the museum and site around 8 AM before the tourist busses arrive to get good pictures uninterrupted.

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Arachova

Arachova, Greece

General Tips

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There are plenty of good accommodations available. After all, this is a ski resort town.  

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[expand title = “Transportation”]

Arachova is a good stop on the way between Delphi and Athens, by car.

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[expand title = “Health and Safety”]

This place is much cooler than other places, including Delphi. You might need a light jacket in early morning or evening, and if it rains.

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Cash is preferred.

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This is a picturesque ski town at the foot of Mt. Parnassós in Viotia, between Delphi and Athens. It has panoramic views, uphill small houses, and the cobbled streets show a picturesque architecture.

Parking is stricter; don’t park in undesignated places. You may get ticketed.

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Why it’s worth it: It is a very picturesque ski town between Delphi and Athens. Stopping there for a about an hour should be sufficient, unless you’d like to spend the night there and/or go skiing.  

 

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