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Athens and island life
Fly Direct

Athens and island life

by Sarita RAO 8 min. 29.05.2021
The ancient treasures of Athens, the Minoan civilisations of Crete, and the Knights of Rhodes plus, of course, beautiful beaches
Archeological sites like the Parthenon are open again to tourists
Archeological sites like the Parthenon are open again to tourists
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Greece has put in a lot of preparation to welcome tourists again to its beaches and historical sites. With most destinations just over three hours from Luxembourg (flying direct), you can soak up some sun, try local delicacies, and enjoy island life or the buzz of the capital. 

Requirements for flights 

Anyone travelling to Greece by plane must fill out and submit a PLF (Passenger Locator Form) at least 24 hours before they are due to travel. It will ask for the address you will stay at in Greece (if you are staying at several places, you can list the first stop). One PLF is enough for all family members.

You should receive a confirmation email once you’ve submitted your PLF with a link to a QR Code on the day that you are scheduled to travel.

To enter you will need to show one of the following:

  • A negative PCR test of less than 72 hours before your arrival (mandatory for children over 5 years).
  • A vaccination certificate from your country of origin (English, French or German is acceptable), to show you completed your vaccination(s) at least 14 days before entered Greece.
  • A certificate stating you have recovered from a Covid-19 infection a minimum of 2 months and a maximum of 9 months from the date of arrival.

The name on the PCR test or vaccination certificate must match the one on your passport.  Passengers arriving from Luxembourg do not need to self-isolate/quarantine unless they are tested positive as part of the random health screening.

All passengers arriving in Greece are subject to random health screening on arrival which is mandatory. If you are selected and refuse to be screened, you may be refused entry into the country. If you are selected you will be given a rapid antigen test, and if positive,  you will need to isolate in a quarantine hotel (which will be paid for by the Greek state).

What’s open and what can I do?

Archaeological sites are open to visitors and up to three people can enter as a group (more if you are from one family). Wearing a mask and social distancing is mandatory. Beaches are also open, but with the exception of families, individual umbrella/sun loungers may be used by a maximum of two people.

Museums have re-opened but with restrictions (on 14 May), and open-air cinemas operate with a 75% capacity. Live events can be held at open-air venues (from 28 May) with seated guests, at 50% of normal capacity.

Restaurants, cafes and bars are open outside only from 5.00 to just after midnight. Up to six people can sit at one table, and two customers at a counter, but a 1.5m distance must be kept, and masks must be worn when not seated.

Athens

Home to Plato and Socrates, with a history spanning 3,400 years, you can combine historical wonders, with nearby beach resorts. You can fly with Aegean airways Tuesday, Friday and Sunday on the 3 hour trip to the Greek capital.

Athens’ historic centre is now a 3km pedestrian zone around the Acropolis. Visit the Parthenon, and several other impressive temples, plus the Acropolis Museum, which houses 4,000 artefacts found on the site. In the same zone you’ll find the Ancient Agora, the commercial, political and religious centre of ancient Athens. The Plaka neighbourhood that surrounds these sites is in itself a delightful place to wander through the narrow streets, filled with churches, and Byzantine and Turkish architecture, and several museums on folk art and music.

Art lovers should head to the Museum of Cycladic Art, filled with marble statues and Greek vases. For tranquillity, the city’s National Gardens were built in 1840 and incorporate ponds, and an animal enclosure with goats, peacocks and chickens. At sunset, you can settle on a rooftop bar with a view of the Acropolis in the Monastiraki quarter, also home to Athens’ best markets, and shops selling hand-made jewellery.

A 20km taxi or bus journey from Athens and you’ll be on the Aegean coast with beaches stretching from Palaio Faliro to Cape Sounion. For some luxury, try Astir Beach with its stylish bars, and for family fun with shallow water and soft sand, Varkiza beach also has a few tavernas selling seafood. 

Island life

Heraklion, Crete

Crete is Greece’s largest island, with mountains and archaeological remains as well as beaches.

You can fly twice a week with Luxair currently, and three times a week from July to mid-September, with a flight time of 3 hours 10 or 20 minutes depending in which direction you are travelling. Aegean Air flies Fridays and Sundays and sometimes on Tuesdays but these are not direct flights and involve one or more stop.

Heraklion's old harbour
Heraklion's old harbour
Photo: Shutterstock

Heraklion is the largest city on the island, and has been under Arabic, Venetian and Ottoman rule. The old city fortifications are still in place, including one remaining gate (from four) to the city marked by the winged Lion of Saint Mark. The old venetian port is overlooked by the 16th century Koule fortress, and in the city, you’ll find monuments dating back to the middle ages. The Byzantine church of Agios Titos stands next to the Venetian Loggia, an ornate arcaded building with intricate decorations, which was a meeting place for nobility during the 16th century.

Across Heraklion you’ll find fountains, the most famous of which, the Morozini Fountain, was built in 1628. There are also Turkish fountains, including the Idomeneas Fountain behind the Historical Museum of Crete.

There are plenty of impressive churches including Agia Ekaterini, which is also a museum with exhibits from the Cretan Renaissance, and the Agios Markos, a 13th century church which towers over Venizelou Square. The city’s archaeological museum contains almost all the unique treasures of the Minoan civilisation found at Knossos, Phaistos, and other sites. There’s also a natural history museum and aquarium in Gournes. You can buy local olive oil, raki, honey, and herbs at the market.

Knossos lies 5km south of Heraklion and was the centre of Minoan civilisation from 1900 to 1400 BCE. It contains a palace, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1450 BC. Built around a central courtyard, the palace contained royal apartments, ceremonial quarters, treasure rooms and workshops. There are several other archaeological sites dotted on the island.

Whilst your there you can try the many Cretan wines and cheeses, produced locally, including Anthotiros, a mild sheep/goat cheese and the hard cheese Graviera, made from sheep’s milk. You can even eat the cheese in pies, called Sarikopitakia or Kalitsounia.

Rhodes

Direct flights leave Luxembourg twice a week (Thursday and Saturday) for the 3.5 hour journey to Rhodes. In July and August, flights take off three times a week, and in half a day you can be on this Dodecanese island dipping your toes in the crystal clear water of the Aegean, or visiting Byzantine and medieval monuments.

Main gates of the Knight's Grand Master Palace
Main gates of the Knight's Grand Master Palace
Photo: Shutterstock

In winter Aegean Air flies from Luxembourg to Rhodes starting 2 November 2021 until 25 March 2022.

Rhodes has held a strategic position since 407 BC when the island’s city was first constructed, and it began life as trading centre, later becoming part of the Roman empire. In the 14th century the Knights of Saint John conquered Rhodes and built strong fortifications to protect the island, but in the 16th century the island was incorporated into the Ottoman empire. In 1912 it was seized by the Italians, who built many of the buildings and squares you see today, as well as preserving historical elements from its past. Rhodes finally became part of Greece in 1948, and forty years later it’s historical city was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

If you don’t fancy a day at the beach, you can visit the medieval town to marvel at the different architecture bestowed upon it by its different occupiers, from fortresses, bastions, gates, minarets, and fountains. The Palace, originally a Byzantine fortress, was built at the end of the 7th century, and is now a museum, whilst the hospital of the knights is now an archaeology museum. The Orthodox Cathedral hosts the Byzantine museum, and by the harbour you’ll find the Turkish district, home to the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and some 16th century Turkish baths.  Rodini Park contains cypress trees, oleander bushes, and peacocks. Atop Saint Stefanos Hill, you’ll find the site of the Acropolis, and the remains of the temple of Apollo.

There are several beautiful beaches and holiday resorts on the island, plus a traditional village, Koskinou, where the houses are painted in bright colours and decorated with ceramic tiles. Ialissos Bay is home to a fortress turned monastery and offers stunning views, plus an enormous crucifix which is illuminated at night. You can go walking or cycling, windsurfing or kitesurfing, or visit Archangelos for traditional pottery and hand-made tapestries.

Hikers will enjoy the tour of the Valley of Butterflies (3 hours), or the 4 hour walk that departs from the village of Salakos to the summit of Profitis Elias. For something more challenging it’s a six hour hike to conquer the summit of Ataviros, the highest mountain on the island.

 Other destinations in Greece

Luxair flies to Corfu, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Thessaloniki, and Aegean Air flies to several destinations in Greece, you can check them here.     


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