Greece is a summer holiday icon, full stop. So when Visit Greece highly recommend three particular destinations for family summer holidays, you have to be a little curious to know more. Especially as they’re probably not the first names that spring to mind. They’re all extraordinary, all very different, and all remarkably easy to get to from the UK. Ready for the big reveal? Have a look at Kavala, Thasos Island and Samothrace.
Kavala has earned a lot of flattering nicknames over its 27 centuries, but the one that sticks is ‘Blue City’, a nod to the fact that the Aegean is particularly dazzling here and virtually surrounds the city on all sides. 2700 years means there’s no shortage of history to dig into and Kavala old town is considered one of the prettiest in this part of Greece. Over a dozen beautiful beaches, several with Blue Flags, are no distance at all from the city centre. And if you want an impressive intro to archaeology for kids, the stunning Acropolis of Philippi is the one with World Heritage monuments and fabulously thrilling stories to go with them.
Exploring the colourful Old Town on foot is great fun with kids. Its pretty cobbled alleys are so narrow cars are out of the question so prepare for a bit of a climb. But grand mansions, local architectural quirks, flower-filled gardens and amazing views, the higher you go, are all every motivating.
You can’t miss the Fortress of Kavala, not only does it dominate the ancient city from the very top of the Old Town, it covers an area of no less than 13 hectares, which is immense by any standards. The original Byzantine castle was razed by the Ottomans in 1425. Kids will love its idiosyncratic design and it’s another spot for incredible sea views.
Kavala was once a major tobacco producer, hence the opulent mansions. The industry no longer exists, though the climate that was so perfect for growing the plants is still very much the same. And if you want to see who, what, when and where, the city’s Tobacco Museum is fascinating. Look out for the black and white portraits of the workers for a glimpse of how multi-cultural this trade was back in the day.
Kavala’s beaches are as brilliant as you’d expect in a city that’s almost totally surrounded by sea. Try Blue Flag Batis Beach for long golden sands, water sports and play areas. Kalamitsa is another Blue Flag beauty even closer to the city. And for sheer beauty, Ammoglossa Keramotis Beach is definitely a day out worth doing with kids – it’s about 30 minutes drive east of Kavala, and Blue Flag too.
The vast Acropolis of Philippi is the must-do of all must-dos in Kavala. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, astonishingly diverse and remarkably intact. Plus, hoards of exciting tales and legendary names even the most history-shy will recognise, really brings the experience to life for kids.
There are almost as many traditional villages round Kavala as there are beaches. Nea Karvali is a must for its famous Kourabiedes biscuits; Akontisma is so authentic it could be mistaken for a heritage village. And kids will be amazed by the mud baths at Krinides – open all summer.
Make a point of exploring the Kamares aqueduct. It’s been an imposing presence in the city since the 16th century, and at a height of 52m, the 60-arch marvel is as mighty today as ever. It’s also the landmark of landmarks in Kavala and a family pic here is almost a city rule
How to get to Kavala
Direct flights from London to Thessaloniki take three hours, five minutes.
Kavala is one hour, 30 minutes drive east of Thessaloniki Airport.
Thasos is known as the Emerald Island. It’s the most northerly in the Aegean and much loved by Greek families for beaches and great food, traditional villages, outstanding cultural events like the annual Summer Festival, not to mention superb local olives, wine and honey. Understandably kids might be more interested in the freedom of cycling super-safe island roads, snorkelling in clearest of clear seas or mountain biking forest trails. And if they’ve a bit of room left, quite a few of the island’s many beaches are up and ready for a whole range of wildly good fun water sports.
7 reasons why families love Thasos Island
Almost 30 beaches trim the Aegean on Thasos Island and you can choose from pristine pebbles to sugary-fine sands, beaches for water sports and teen-heaven games or beaches where toddlers won’t mind getting their toes wet.
The annual Summer Festival in July and August is hugely cultured and attracts visitors from all over the world, but it also incorporates curious local customs. So if you’re on the island on 31 July, don’t be surprised to witness villagers ‘jumping the fire’.
The 100km coast road round Thasos is spectacularly scenic, low on traffic and easy to cycle, even with younger kids.
Older kids and teens in search of a more adrenalin pumping ride can always sign up for motocross, try out quad biking or take mountain biking to a new level on the island’s technical trails.
Sweet little holiday island it might be today, but in the 5th century B.C the Thassian Navy was second only to Athens’ in size and importance. Discover more historic surprises in the excellent Archaeological Museum in Limenas.
For a more intimate look at the past visit the Thassian House in Limenas, it’s packed with fascinating day-to-day items bequeathed by the islanders themselves over the years.
Thasos is famous for its pure white marble, but in ancient times the island was also quarried for precious metals. Keen young snorkellers can still see the sunken gold quarry on the Alyki Peninsula with, or without, local guides.
How to get to Thasos Island
Direct flights from London to Thessaloniki take three hours, five minutes.
Kavala is one hour, 30 minutes drive east of Thessaloniki Airport and daily ferry crossing from Kavala to Thasos Island take just over an hour.
Right at the heart of Samothrace stands Mount Saos, the highest mountain in the Aegean where, according to legend, Poseidon stood to watch the Battle of Troy. If you’re getting the sense that this is a very mystical and special place, you’re absolutely on the right track. The island is drenched in myths, piled high with history and engulfed in nature at its most spellbinding. It’s a perfect choice for adventurous kids – the amazing waterfalls and natural pools could fill an entire holiday all by themselves. Young archaeologists will be mesmerised by the 50km² site of Palaiopolis and the Nike Monument – original site of the world famous Winged Victory of Samothrace statue, currently in The Louvre. And if you like a spot of trekking, now is the time to discover the Old Routes of Samothrace which are in the process of being restored across the island.
7 reasons why families love Samothrace Island
Swimming in the island’s Vathres (deep, natural rock pools) is an unforgettable experience for kids. Attempt Gria Vathra for a first taste of the exhilaration, it’s about 10 minutes hike from the village of Therma.
The stories of the Kaviria Mysteries interwoven with the monuments in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, at Palaiopolis, have endless appeal for soulful teens.
The fortunate pairing of an unusual microclimate and marvellous landscape is adventure-perfect for families and you can try anything from gorge walking and river rafting to kayaking, mountain biking, paragliding and climbing.
The captivating island capital, Chora, defies all logic by appearing to hang off a hillside and kids take to walking around here instantly. Make a stop for the Folklore Museum and the lofty medieval castle of the Family Gateluzi.
If the island’s atmosphere doesn’t soothe you completely, head for the legendary thermal springs at Therma, they’re part of the reason Samothrace has such a superb reputation as a wellness destination.
Lazing around on beaches isn’t the main appeal of Samothrace, but you can break with tradition for the day and make for the extraordinary black pebble shores of Kipoi: as idiosyncratic as everything else here.
Unspoiled is the watchword on Samothrace, so don’t be shy about hiring a boat – or booking a local cruise – to visit some of the island’s more remote beaches or wildly beautiful areas like Katarti, Vatto, Grias ta Pania or Gyali.
How to get to Samothrace Island
Direct flights from Athens to Alexandroupoli take one hour.
The ferry crossing from Alexandroupoli to Samothrace takes between two and three hours during summer months.