The question for many when trying to decide between Italy or Greece, is what separates these European holiday destinations from each other? Yet while both nations have similar climates and are great coastal destinations, each has it’s own distinct histories, cultures, sights to visit, and cuisines that set them apart.
Below is our honest comparison as we pit Italy vs Greece. We compare both before looking at the sights to explore, the food you can try, what natural attractions you can see in each, as well some amazing towns and cities you should visit.
Italy or Greece: Which is the better vacation destination?
Both countries offer unique and exciting vacations, but which one is better depends on your priorities.
Where Greece really excels is on the coast, as it boasts over 6000 islands! Therefore if you’re looking for a holiday where beaches are the priority, then Greece will be the better choice. Greek beaches are much better than Italian ones in our opinion, plus the weather and temperature is often more favourable for swimming and sunbathing.
Additionally, Greek islands often have a real rustic regional charm to them . These islands have incredibly rich histories too, and countless centuries-old architecture, some of which stretches back to Ancient Greece and beyond! For history and culture, very few places on earth can rival Greece.
However Italy is one of those countries that does give Greece a run for its money. This nation has a rich history and architectural gems from the Roman Empire are everywhere. Furthermore, cosmopolitan cities like Milan, Rome, Florence, and Venice are famous for their galleries, museums, and beauty.
In fact, when it comes to sightseeing Italy has it all. Every city and region of the country is packed with things to do and see. A trip to Rome, for example, can easily last a week and you still wouldn’t be bored!
The food scene is also phenomenal in Italy, so if cuisine is top of your holiday list then Italy should be your choice. The transport system is also very good, so traveling around the country is relatively easy.
In essence Italy is perfect for urban tourism, art and food lovers, but also has some stunning scenery – such as the Dolomites mountain range, and the island of Sardinia.
In contrast, Greek cities and regions tend to have far less to do that their Italian counterparts, and the transport system is not as efficient.
However it does win when it comes to cost – we’ve found that Greece tends to be cheaper than Italy for a vacation.
For us, Greece is also the better holiday destination if you’re looking for relaxation, time spent outdoors, and an island hopping adventure.
Below we look at some of the natural sights you will come across in Greece and Italy, as well as comparing their cuisines and cities!
Greece or Italy: Alluring natural wonders
With so many islands, it will come as little surprise to hear that Greece is packed with natural wonders.
The Ionian archipelago is a popular destination for tourists, and one of the best places to see nature’s greatest work. Visit the Melissani Lake Cave on Kefalonia for an other-worldly experience. Situated 20 meters underground, you can explore this magical cave by rowing boat.
The island of Zakynthos has some of Greece’s best beaches, and is a popular destination because of that. Also named Zante, this island has a lively nightlife scene so is perfect for tourists who want to sunbathe and swim in the day, but dance and drink at night. Zante is also home to the Blue Caves, a series of underground waterways that wind their way into the coastline.
Of course Greece is packed with many stunning islands, and one of the best things about this country is the ability to island hop and discover your own favourite. One of ours is Milos, which is where the Venus de Milo was found! This gorgeous little volcanic island has dozens of beaches, breathtaking turquoise waters, and a friendly local population.
Mainland Greece also has some spectacular scenery that has to be explored. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meteora in central Greece is well worth visiting. The atmospheric huge rock formations jut out of the ancient landscape, and on top are centuries-old monasteries. They used to be reached by ladders, but can now be reached by foot via stairs. It’s a place which transports you back in time.
In fact mainland Greece is full of fantastic hiking trails – many long distance – that take you between ancient villages that have existed for generations. One of our favourites is the Menalon Trail, a 45 mile hike in south Greece that takes you between the picturesque mountain villages of Stemnitsa and Lagkadia.
Northern Italy has fantastic beaches, and the capital of seaside tourism in north Italy is Rimini on the Adriatic coast – famous for its fine sandy beaches and promenade of bars, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
Northern Italy also happens to have some of Europe’s most iconic and beautiful lakes. The stunning Como, Garda, Iseo and the highly underrated Orta lakes are all within easy traveling distance from Milan.
Further north are the hiking and winter sport paradises of the Italian Alps and the Dolomites – possibly Europe’s most easily recognisable mountain range.
The island of Sicily in the south has an attractive climate, historic cities such as Palermo and Catania, miles of fine sandy beaches, vineyards, Greek temples, Roman sites, and gorgeous baroque towns.
Back on the mainland of Southern Italy is Cinque Terre – the postcard-perfect collection of ancient villages on the Liguria coastline.
This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site receives 2.4 million visitors a year. Why? It’s gorgeous! From north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each with unique character and superb sea views. This is mostly a place for beaches, outdoor activities, and water sports.
The rocky mountainside of Aspromonte National Park in Calabria has the abandoned ghost town of Pentedattilo and a wild untouched landscape that is well worth visiting too.
Greece vs Italy: Fascinating cities and towns
Stepping away from package holiday resorts and into the cities and towns of Greece and Italy will give you a richer, cultural experience.
Greece excels when it comes to towns and cities with the ‘wow’ factor.
One of the islands which has that in abundance is Santorini. The two biggest towns here, Fira and Oia, hang on to the cliff-face of this volcanic island, and the buildings within them – whitewashed and often with blue-domed roofs – stand strikingly against the backdrop. It’s a must-visit place in Greece, but also one of the most popular places throughout the country being visited by around two million tourists per year!
The historic and ancient capital of Athens is well worth a night or two, and is home to iconic buildings such as the 5th century BC Acropolis and Parthenon. The museum at the Acropolis is full of artefacts from Ancient Greece and a must for any history buff.
Situated beside the Acropolis is our favorite area of Athens – Plaka. The quaint streets in this neighborhood wind their way up hilly slopes and are adorned with flower pots and tiny independent shops selling jewellery and clothes. With family-run taverns and boutique coffee shops, this is one of the best places in Athens – and Greece – to grab a bite to eat and watch the world go by.
The title of Greece’s most picturesque town could go to Agios Nikolaos – a little port settlement on the island of Crete. Surrounded by the sea on three sides, this town has several waterfronts which have a great selection of shopping and dining opportunities. The infamous ‘leper island’ of Spinalonga – which was in use up to 1957 as a quarantine center – is close by and can be visited from the town.
City breaks to Italy are popular throughout Europe due to the cosmopolitan feel, and perfect mix between old and modern.
Bologna is a gorgeous medieval city in North Italy that has thrived with a steady flow of students that has kept this city a vibrant place to visit. Food lovers can delight in the city’s food festivals like Eataly and a slew of food markets where you can learn more about its cuisine. This is also an excellent choice for art, music and Italian film enthusiasts who are all catered for inside Bologna’s galleries and museums.
Face the tourists and head to Venice, but take your time strolling its hidden side streets, canals, piazzas and local shops and cafes. Discover a treasure trove of history in its museums, visit St Mark’s Cathedral and Venice’s ornate churches, the exquisite old theatre Teatro La Fenice and the sprawling art museum Gallerie dell ’Accademia. Or take a boat to see the colorful island of Burano.
In the heel of Italy’s boot is the region of Puglia which is home to the charming city of Lecce. Its streets are perfect for wandering to discover its hidden piazzas, beautifully detailed buildings and churches including the baroque Santa Croce. The city’s main square is Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the site of a Roman amphitheater and in the evening join in with the local tradition of strolling down the evening passeggiata before dinner. Day trips include the lovely seaside towns of Otranto and Gallipoli for moreish local flavors.
The cosmopolitan city of Milan is not known for being incredibly ‘Italian’, it lacks the cobbled streets and ochre buildings that Italy is best known for, but it has a wealth of culture to discover. The main sights include the majestic Sforza Castle, the incredibly detailed Duomo where you can climb up onto the roof and the ornate Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – a shopping center with beautiful mosaics and designer stores. Outside of this, the canal area offers chic eateries, all-you-can-eat sushi, street art galore and vintage shops plus bars to enjoy the city’s lively aperitif culture.
Greece or Italy: Tempting cuisines
The traditional food of Italy and Greece is a Mediterranean cocktail of the various civilizations that have inhabited these nations.
Like many Mediterranean cuisines, Greek food involves a lot of fresh vegetables, olive oil, grains, and a good dose of wine!
One of the most famous food exports from Greece is moussaka. This mincemeat and potato or eggplant dish is served everywhere in the country. It’s almost always guaranteed to be excellent in any family-run taverna.
Greece is famous for its dips, such as tzatziki – which is made up of garlic, yoghurt and cucumber – and fava, which is made from split peas.
To wash everything down, you must try Greece’s national drink, Ouzo. This strong liquor is made from aniseed, and is usually served with cold water which turns the clear drink a cloudy white.
The eight provinces of Northern Italy all offer unique culinary traditions, influenced by neighboring countries such as France, Austria, and Slovenia.
In the Aosta Valley try Fontina cheese, with its milky and sweet flavors. In Emilia-Romagna you’ll come across piadini sandwiches, a flatbread stuffed with cheeses, hams, or salad.
Of course, the north is most famous for prosciutto di Parma (from Parma); balsamic vinegar (from Modena and Reggio); and Parmigiano Reggiano.
In Venice, sample, Risotto al Neri di Seppi, risotto flavored with cuttlefish and colored with its black ink.
South Italy is the birthplace of pizza! Go to Naples for an authentic classic Margherita pizza and fried pizza calzone style.
The Amalfi coast offers fresh seafood while you sip your Limoncello lemon liqueur – which also tastes good in cake form!
On Sicily, sample Nero d’Avola red wine, a native grape to the island and don’t leave without trying the wonderful couscous of Trapani or the pastries of Noto.
Greece or Italy: Which one should you choose?
Which country is the better destination depends entirely on what you want from your vacation.
If beaches are your priority then Greece will be a better holiday choice than Italy. Greece has over 6000 islands, and the coastline is spectacular. It also has great hiking opportunities, and tends to be cheaper than Italy.
Italy is perfect for tourists who love exploring cities, and its urban centers are world-renowned for their art, culture, and exquisite buildings. The opportunities for sightseeing are probably greater in Italy, and the food scene is better than Greece.