The best books on travel in Greece, ancient and modern

Why am I passionate about this?

I became passionate about ancient Greece as a teenager when I studied the ancient languages and history at school. I was also lapping up ancient Greece on film—back then the so-so Burton-Taylor Cleopatra really impressed. I got enthused by historical novels too, Mary Renault’s especially. My first visit to Greece as a university student hooked me on modern Greece as well. Since then, I’ve become a professional academic specialising in ancient Greece and have been lucky enough to develop a lifelong relationship with modern as well as ancient Greeks. I lived in Greece for six years in my twenties, and have gone back repeatedly ever since. I’ve published widely on Greece’s ancient history and archaeology.


I wrote...

What the Greeks Did for Us

By Tony Spawforth,

Book cover of What the Greeks Did for Us

What is my book about?

The ancient Greeks shape many aspects of our daily lives. We use words derived from their language, watch Olympic sports, and participate in democracies. My book traces the presence of ancient Greece in everything from religion to popular culture, medicine to beauty standards. We have been inspired by the ancient Greeks, and we have romanticised them too. I expose the realities of ancient Greek culture, from misogyny to slavery, and look closely at the use and abuse of their ideas in modern times, including the Nazis’ obsession with ‘racial purity‘ and today’s extremist groups who claim to be followers of the ancient Spartans. The book demonstrates just what, for better or worse, the Greeks have done for us.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Villa Ariadne

Tony Spawforth Why did I love this book?

This book brings back to life the pioneering British archaeologists who, basing themselves at the atmospheric Villa Ariadne, rediscovered the prehistoric civilisation of the Minoans at Knossos on the island of Crete.

I love this book because it brings back memories of when I excavated at Knossos—the local workmen lowered an apprehensive me into an ancient well to measure its depth and I stayed next door to the Villa, taking walks in the surrounding countryside carpeted with wildflowers.

The Villa was purloined by the Germans in World War II. The book also taught me about the bravery of the Cretan resistance to the Nazis, including the dramatic kidnap of a German general on the Villa’s doorstep. 

By Dilys Powell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Villa Ariadne as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Villa Ariadne is a meditation on the island of Crete, centred on the house built by Sir Arthur Evans, the famous archaeologist of Knossos. Dilys Powell captures the spirit of a place she loved dearly and a group of people she knew well, from local Cretans to the archaeologists Evans and Pendlebury, and the German General Kreipe who was famously kidnapped on the island by Paddy Leigh-Fermor in one of the most audacious actions of World War II. Weaving the myths of the island with its archaeology, ancient history and modern tales, she gives us a loving portrait of…


Book cover of Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

Tony Spawforth Why did I love this book?

This book is a gem for lovers of Greece and of superlative English prose.

For me the book is far and away the best evocation of a wild and remote part of Greece that I got to know and treasure when tramping through its olive fields in search of ancient inscriptions. Leigh Fermor was incapable of writing a dull sentence.

His imagination allied with what he observed himself in his wanderings combine to bring out all the strangeness of Mani’s history of brigands and vendettas, of villages bristling with defensive towers and of fishermen descended—perhaps—from Byzantine emperors.   

By Patrick Leigh Fermor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mani as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is Patrick Leigh Fermor's spellbinding part-travelogue, part inspired evocation of a part of Greece's past. Joining him in the Mani, one of Europe's wildest and most isolated regions, cut off from the rest of Greece by the towering Taygettus mountain range and hemmed in by the Aegean and Ionian seas, we discover a rocky central prong of the Peleponnese at the southernmost point in Europe.

Bad communications only heightening the remoteness, this Greece - south of ancient Sparta - is one that maintains perhaps a stronger relationship with the ancient past than with the present. Myth becomes history, and…


Book cover of Mermaid Singing

Tony Spawforth Why did I love this book?

Clift creates a sympathetic and highly informative picture of the islanders of Kalymnos in Greece’s Dodecanese.

She lived here with her family in the 1950s, when the island’s males made their dangerous living from diving for sponges. Clift brilliantly captures the suspended animation of the families left behind by the diving fleet, loved ones who could only hope that fathers and sons would return alive and intact.

I’m familiar with today’s Kalymnos, its port choc-a-bloc with tourist boats. It’s salutary to be reminded of the hardships of traditional island life and how modern tourism can be a benefit, not a blight.

By Charmian Clift,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mermaid Singing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1951 the Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston left grey, post-war London for Greece. Settling first on the tiny island of Kalymnos, then Hydra, their plan was to live simply and focus on their writing, away from the noise of the big city. The result is two of Charmian Clift's best known and most loved books, the memoirs Mermaid Singing and Peel Me a Lotus. Mermaid Singing relays the culture shock and the sheer delight of their first year on the tiny sponge-fishing island of Kalymnos. Clift paints an evocative picture of the characters and sun-drenched rhythms of…


Book cover of Aegean Notebooks: Reflections by Sea and Land in the Archipelago

Tony Spawforth Why did I love this book?

This is a dreamer’s book—notes about life, literature, and the universe written by the author after accepting on the spur of the moment a Greek friend’s invitation to go island-hopping in a little sailing boat.

I like it not just because I knew the author’s late daughter and treasure his affectionate references to her, but also for its erudite musings and reflections. They remind me of how, even from the deck of one of today’s decidedly unromantic ferries, the glinting sea and island silhouettes induce a state of semi-trance or reverie, pushing your thoughts into overdrive.

The author was a heavyweight figure on Greece’s literary scene, but this little book is charming, short, and accessible.

By Zissimos Lorenzatos, Liadain Sherrard (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aegean Notebooks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Zissimos Lorenzatos (1915-2004), essayist, thinker and poet, was arguably Greece's most significant man of letters in the twentieth century. In the Aegean Notebooks, a record of his observations and reflections while sailing among the Greek islands in the 1970s and 1980s, the special quality of his literary and philosophical gifts, and of the man himself, are vividly present. Along with everything a mariner yearns to bring ashore, all he has felt and experienced at sea with the wake of the boat unfurling behind him, Lorenzatos brings us in addition a lifetime's learning and contemplation. For him, life, and the living…


Book cover of Guide to Greece: Volume 1

Tony Spawforth Why did I love this book?

This is the daddy of travel books about Greece, penned by a Greek from western Turkey who toured the sights during the pax Romana (2nd century AD).

Catching ancient Greece before it fell into ruin, he enthusiastically wrote up the buildings and artworks and the local history of places both famous and obscure. My own copy, decidedly battered, has been a companion of my academic career since my twenties.

You can still follow Pausanias on certain archaeological sites, like Delphi or Olympia. On others it’s fascinating, after visiting them, to turn to this ancient guide to read how he described the same places when they were intact.

Peter Levi’s translation is highly readable and well equipped, but not overladen, with footnotes.  

By Pausanias, Peter Levi (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Guide to Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written in the second century AD by a Greek traveller for a predominantly Roman audience, Pausanias' Guide to Greece is an extraordinarily literate and well-informed guidebook. A study of buildings, traditions and myth, it describes with precision and eloquence the glory of classical Greece shortly before its ultimate decline in the third century. This volume, the first of two, concerns the five provinces of central Greece, with an account of cities including Athens, Corinth and Thebes and a compelling depiction of the Oracle at Delphi. Along the way, Pausanias recounts Greek legends that are unknown from any other source and…


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Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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Interested in Greece, Crete, and Ancient Greece?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Greece, Crete, and Ancient Greece.

Greece Explore 165 books about Greece
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