Captivating vistas and delicious food, ancient history of art, and a strong Jewish connection. What more could you ask for from a travel destination? There are so many reasons to visit Greece and Jewish tours in Greece are the best way to learn about the unique history of Jewish heritage in Greece.
Take a trip to the heart of the Mediterranean. As the cradle of Western civilization, Greece boasts a legacy of ancient wonders, including the iconic Acropolis in Athens and the majestic ruins of Delphi. Beyond its historical marvels, Greece’s enchanting islands and pristine coastlines beckon travelers with their azure waters and picturesque charm. The country’s warm hospitality and delectable cuisine, featuring mouthwatering dishes like moussaka and souvlaki, make every visit a culinary delight.
Jewish heritage in Greece dates back thousands of years. Jewish communities first encountered Greeks outside of Greece after the Babylonian exile in 586-539 B.C.E. The first organized Jewish communities in Greece were established around 400 B.C.E. during the Hellenistic period, and Jewish immigrants thrived in Hellenistic cities along the Aegean Coast and the Greek mainland.
Over time, Jewish communities integrated into Greek culture, leading to the development of Romaniot Jews, who lived in the Byzantine Empire from around 476 to 1453 C.E.
During World War II, around 60,000 to 65,000 Greek Jews perished in the Holocaust. In recent times, Greece has made more efforts to preserve its Jewish heritage, protect Jewish sites, and combat anti-Semitism.
Is there Kosher food in Greece?
The Chabad House of Athens has a Kosher restaurant called “Gustio” that serves Sephardic Mediterranean dishes. They also have a Kosher store. They also provide catering and delivery services all over the country.
What is the best time to visit Greece?
Any time of year is beautiful in Greece, but Spring (April-June) and Fall (September-October are the best months to visit if you want to avoid crowds and harsh weather. The water is still warm and great to swim in, but the heat isn’t unbearable.
So, with all that said let me share with you the top 10 reasons to visit Greece.
There’s a lot of Jewish heritage to explore in Greece
When thinking about what Greece is known for, Jewish heritage may not be the first topic to come to mind. But there have been Jews in Greece for a long time, even before exile. That means there are many locations where you can find extensive Jewish heritage.
Khalkis, on the island of Euboea, boasts the oldest Jewish community in Europe, though it now only has around 150 Jews.
Rhodes once had a thriving Jewish community that played a significant role in the city’s history. The Kahal Shalom Synagogue, dating back to the sixteenth century, is one of the few remaining synagogues.
Crete, Veria, Ioannina, Corfu, Kos, Zante, and Delos also have traces of ancient Jewish communities, with some synagogues and cemeteries still preserved.
Finally, in Athens, the Jewish Museum showcases the history of Greek Jews, while Thessaloniki, with its rich Sepharadi and Romaniote Jewish community, offers numerous historic sites and landmarks to visit.
Looking to take a Jewish heritage trip to Greece? Explore your options with our amazing Greek experiences.
There’s nothing like traveling in the Mediterranean
Mediterranean travel in Greece offers an enchanting experience filled with idyllic landscapes and culinary delights.
Spend your vacation exploring the Greek islands and their pristine beaches and azure waters. Each island has its unique charm, character, and history.
From the iconic Santorini with its stunning sunsets to the hidden gems like Milos with its captivating rock formations, the Greek islands offer a diverse and captivating escape.
Travel back in time when you visit quaint fishing villages, ancient ruins overlooking the sea, and vibrant coastal towns brimming with culture.
Of course, the Mediterranean diet is well-known for a reason. In addition to being healthy, it’s also delicious. Indulge in fresh seafood, tangy olive oil, and delectable Mediterranean dishes like moussaka and souvlaki.
Greece is a perfect location for history lovers
Greece isn’t just blue waters and beautiful cities. It’s also a great place to go for ancient sites and archaeological ruins.
Head to Athens, the heart of Ancient Greek civilization, where you can tour the iconic Acropolis and be enchanted by the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Parthenon.
Delve into the mystique of the mythical oracle of Apollo at Delphi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site set against a breathtaking mountain backdrop.
Journey back to the first Olympic Games in Ancient Olympia and walk in the footsteps of ancient athletes in the original stadium and temples.
Immerse yourself in Minoan history at the Palace of Knossos in Crete, known for its legendary labyrinth and King Minos’ intriguing tales.
Santorini also has a rich past to explore, with Akrotiri’s prehistoric settlement and the Museums of Thera providing invaluable insights. And don’t forget to learn about the legendary Alexander the Great by visiting Pella and Vergina on a day trip from Thessaloniki.
Discover contemporary Jewish communities in Greece
Contemporary Greek Jewish life is characterized by a small but vibrant community of approximately 5,000 Jews, with the main centers in Athens (3,000) and Thessalonica (1,000) as well as a few smaller towns, including Ioannina.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) serves as the umbrella organization and representative body of Greek Jewry, advocating for their interests, maintaining close ties with the government and official institutions, and representing the community on the international stage. KIS also plays a pivotal role in coordinating and supporting the nine functioning Jewish communities in the country and is responsible for preserving numerous Jewish sites, such as synagogues, cemeteries, and old Jewish quarters, found throughout Greece where no Jews survived after the Shoah.
Ten active synagogues, served by permanent rabbis in Athens, Thessalonica, and Larissa, cater to the religious needs of the community. Jewish elementary schools in major cities teach Jewish languages and history alongside the standard Greek curriculum, ensuring the preservation of Jewish heritage and traditions.
See the famous city of Thessaloniki and discover the Jewish history there
Thessalonika’s Jewish community dates back to ancient times when Jews from Alexandria settled there around 140 BCE. The Jews concentrated near the port area, and their social and religious life revolved around the Etz haHayim synagogue, where legend says the apostle Paul once preached. The community became known as the “Romaniotes” during the Byzantine period.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, Thessaloniki had become a significant center of Jewish life in Europe, attracting Jewish immigrants from various regions. The city flourished as a hub for trade and craftsmanship, particularly in the silk and wool industries. During this period, it was also renowned for its learning centers and famous rabbis, some of whom left a lasting impact beyond the city’s borders.
Today, you can visit two surviving synagogues in Greece and the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki. These sites hold important artifacts and documents that showcase the community’s vibrant history.
Greece is known for its hospitality, known as Xenia
Enjoying Greek hospitality is deeply ingrained in the culture and traditions of the country. The Greeks view visitors as special guests and go above and beyond to welcome them warmly, and there’s an ancient belief that a visitor could be a disguised god.
This custom of hospitality, known as Xenia, is a sacred duty in Greece. It is not just limited to providing food, drinks, and a place to rest but also extends to helping strangers in need and showing kindness to others.
Discover Greek and Jewish food
It’s possible to find Jewish influence in Greek food, especially in Salonika. Much of the food descends from Sephardic Jews.
Savory pies, a staple in Greek communities, were adapted by communities in the country, adhering strictly to kosher rules with dairy-only or meat-only spanakopita.
Vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, were beloved by both Greek and Jewish cooks.
The emphasis on eggs, particularly huevos haminados, showcased the symbolic significance of eggs in Jewish culture and was common in Greek Jewish cuisine.
Spend your vacation at a beautiful beach in Greece
Visiting Greece for the many stunning beaches. Among the best islands for beach enthusiasts are Crete, Naxos, Paros, Ios, Milos, Mykonos, and Rhodes.
Elafonisi Beach in southern Crete stands out as a magical lagoon-like paradise with crystal-clear waters and fine sand, perfect for swimming and relaxation.
Mykonos, known for its vibrant nightlife, also impresses with its fantastic beach clubs and lively coastal scene.
Santorini may not be famed for its beaches, but its breathtaking views, tours, hikes, food, and wine make it an equally remarkable island to explore.
Whether it’s the Greek islands or the mainland, Greece is a great destination to visit some of the best beaches in Europe.
Relax at luxury spas in Greece
Greece is a great place for spa vacations.
Drawing inspiration from ancient curative practices, modern spa centers have taken wellness to new heights, integrating high-tech equipment and scientific products for highly sophisticated and tailor-made treatments.
These spas seamlessly blend the health principles of Classical Greece with therapies from other ancient cultures, creating a harmonious connection between the old and the new.
Among the many excellent spas in Greece, some have earned prestigious international awards, such as the Porto Zante Villas & Spa, Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa, and Espace Vitalite Chenot Spa at Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas on the stunning island of Crete.
Greece is a great destination for outdoor activities
With over 40 mountain ranges and 80% of the country covered in mountains, hiking enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice with coastal and inland trails.
Outdoor activities in Greece are possible throughout the year, with higher altitudes providing respite even during the hottest summer months.
The diverse landscape of Greece also makes it a paradise for sailors, with over 6,000 islands and 16,000 km of coastline to explore.
Sea kayaking in Greece offers the opportunity to discover hidden coves, sea caves, and untouched islands, with the chance to spot dolphins and sea turtles.
River-trekking enthusiasts can explore over 2,500 km of rivers that run through gorges with waterfalls and natural freshwater pools, perfect for swimming.
For those who prefer cycling, Greece’s mountain trails and scenic countryside are ideal for mountain biking, while road cyclists can enjoy quiet roads surrounded by pine trees and beautiful landscapes.
No matter your preference, Greece promises an unforgettable experience for outdoor enthusiasts.