Italy vs Greece: What’s the Difference?

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A night in Greece

Should you sip a Spritz by the sea in Mykonos or stroll through the ancient ruins of Rome this year? Both Greece and Italy are romantic destinations that offer historical sites, delicious food, and natural attractions, not to mention thousands of Mediterranean Sea coastline – making it a tough decision for travelers, unfortunately!

On the one hand, Italy offers countless historic sites, cities, and famous landmarks worldwide. There’s skiing in the Italian Alps, swimming on the vast coast, and delicious Italian food. You’ll never run out of places to visit or things to see in the many regions of Italy.

A ferry ride apart is Greece, known for the exuberant azures and architecture of Santorini, Mount Olympus, the Acropolis Museum, and much more.

Greece’s ancient history is more than fascinating, but island hopping around the Aegean Sea is what beckons beach lovers and budget travelers from around the world – that and the fantastic Greek food.

With both countries topping the lists of best tourist destinations, it’s certainly hard to choose between them for a European escape. If you’re in an Italy-Greece dilemma, read on to see what our trips to the two countries have taught us and how to plan the vacation of a lifetime.

Introductions: Italy vs Greece

Before we get into the specifics, let’s lay out the basics of these two countries and why you might want to go there. Italy and Greece are neighbors separated by a small strait in the Ionian Sea in southern Europe.

Both are major summer destinations, offer unique and popular cuisines, have ancient histories that form parts of the continent’s identity, and are beloved by travelers.

Italy: “Bel Paese” (Beautiful Country)

People enjoying the beach in Polignano a Mare, Italy
Brittney Liu / ViaTravelers

The boot-shaped country between France and the Balkans is Italy. It’s part of the European Union and the Schengen Area, so traveling to or from the country from one of the other member states won’t require any pesky border controls. The country is well-connected by air, road, rail, and ship to other places around the continent and worldwide.

Most visitors start in one of the several major Italian cities like Rome, Milan, or Venice, and many choose to stay within these big-name destinations for their trip. And while there’s definitely plenty to see in them in terms of historical sights, beautiful art, and more, the rural countryside and mountainous interior offer even more hidden treasures. Here are some of the top places to see in Italy:

  • Rome – The capital city and former seat of the Roman Empire offers the Coliseum and Roman Forum, the tiny country of Vatican City, and the iconic Trevi Fountain.
  • Venice – Known around the world for being built on a network of canals, few travelers can resist taking a gondola ride around the city before exploring places like the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square on foot.
  • Amalfi Coast – Just south of Naples, this remote stretch of coastline offers hidden beaches and picturesque seaside towns, making for a very romantic trip; you can visit the island of Capri on a day trip as well.
  • Puglia – The heel of the boot may be lesser known, making it all the better, as some of Italy’s best beaches are along this coastline.
  • Liguria – The Italian Riviera borders the French Riviera and is best known for the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Still, you can find some unbelievably beautiful villages and beaches up and down this region’s long coastline.
  • Alps & Dolomites – In the far north, the Alps of Switzerland and Austria spill over into Italy, creating hiking trails and natural wonders for anyone who wants to get off the road.

To avoid going on for days, I’ll stop myself there – but know there are dozens more cities, regions, and places to visit in Italy.

See Related: How to Plan a Month-Long Vacation

Greece: The Hellenic Republic

Beautiful fishing village of Naoussa, Paros island, Greece
aetherial / Adobe Stock

Greece is just southeast of Italy and part of the European Union and Schengen Area. It’s in the southernmost part of the continent and has northern borders with Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Since those aren’t Schengen countries and are less visited than Greece, most people fly to get there.

Major Greek cities include Athens and Thessaloniki, located on mainland Greece and home to major airports and ferry terminals; use Omio to book your ferry tickets in advance.

They’re also fascinating places for history lovers, but most visitors will look to one or more of the Greek Islands for their trip. Here are some top places to see in Greece:

  • Athens – The capital city is famous for its Acropolis, ruins, temples, museums, and other relics of ancient Greece, and it serves as a starting point for those looking to catch a ferry.
  • Thessaloniki – The country’s second city, in the north near Turkey, shouldn’t be overlooked, as it holds large portions of Greece’s Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history.
  • Santorini – The most iconic image of Greece has to be the view of Santorini from the caldera of Oia, where whitewashed cliff houses and blue-domed roofs stand high above the sea.
  • Mykonos – Party-goers have made Mykonos a European capital for music and nightlife; its seaside main town and sandy beaches are pretty amazing, too.
  • Crete – This massive island in the furthest southern reaches of Greece has several major cities, as well as luxurious resorts, hundreds of beaches, and massive mountains.
  • Corfu – Along with some of the best beaches in the country, the island of Corfu, in the northwestern corner of the country, has a fascinating and unique history.
  • Rhodes – On the other side of the Aegean, you’ll find even more variation in architecture and history, as islands like Rhodes are just a short ferry hop away from Turkey, which has influenced them over the centuries.

As with my list of Italian destinations, I will restrain myself from filling more of the page – but with 6,000 islands and a vast mainland, there are many more places to see in Greece. People come here for ancient history, stunning beaches, and great food.

Best Months to Travel to Greece or Italy

You can visit Greece and Italy any time of the year, but different seasons can make for very different types of trips. Both countries have four seasons and experience very hot summers, while winters can be mild or cold and snowy depending on the location.

Therefore, the season of your visit can make a big difference when deciding between the countries – in summary. It may be better to go to Italy if you travel in the colder months.

Summer in Greece vs Summer in Italy

Sidari
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

Summertime, specifically June through August, is the European travel high season. Countries around the continent fill with visitors, and Greece and Italy are two of the most popular thanks to the relief their idyllic Mediterranean coastlines provide from the hot sun.

While that makes for an enjoyable summer holiday, prices will inevitably rise, and crowds will be much larger.

Greece sees the huge majority of its visitors during these months, especially to the islands, as even locals from mainland cities flock to the ferries. Summer on a Greek island is all about pool, beach, and outdoor fun, so this is not the season or country for you if that doesn’t sound like a good time.

Some of my favorite spots in the Greek Islands include the Domes Miramare on Corfu and one of the many caldera-view vacation rentals on Santorini. In Italy, summertime is quite similar. Some popular seaside destinations include the Amalfi Coast and Capri, Sicily, Sardegna, and Liguria.

The city hotspots like Venice and Florence also keep their share of visitors throughout the hot months. There’s a fantastic resort in the northeastern tip of the country called Tivoli Portopiccolo Sistiana Resort for those who want to see a region less traveled and avoid the masses.

If your trip concerns seeing museums, landmarks, historical spots, and other similar things, consider avoiding the summer. There’s no reason to see all those things under the blazing sun when prices are at their highest and when everything is most crowded. However, summer could be your season if you want a seaside escape or outdoor adventure.

See Related: Best Places to Stay in Cinque Terre

Winter in Greece vs Winter in Italy

Crowd in Florence Christmas Market
Adisa / Shutterstock

Things are very different in Italy and Greece over the winter. Luckily, these countries are in the southern part of the continent, so many places don’t become too freezing cold. Beachside locales sometimes close up for the season and become ghost towns, while cities remain bustling.

Most of Greece comes to a standstill from a tourist point of view for the winter, except for cities like Athens and Thessaloniki. The islands see shops, restaurants, and hotels close down, with huge portions of the population departing for the season.

You should NOT come to the Greek Islands for a seaside holiday during the winter! However, this is a great time to visit Greece to see things like the Parthenon, Acropolis, and other historic sites and museums.

Italy is a bit different, remaining relatively open over the winter. While the beach destinations close up much like they do in Greece, many more destinations do not.

The canals of Venice, the villages of Cinque Terre, and the ruins of Rome will certainly be less crowded. Still, they are largely open for business – plus, they get beautifully decorated for the Christmas season.

The winter is a great time to visit for culture and history-oriented visitors who don’t need the sea or sun. Plus, you’ll save money as hotel and flight prices fall dramatically for much of the winter.

In summary, winter is an appropriate time to visit places like Athens or Thessaloniki in Greece, but not the rest of the country; Italy is probably better suited for winter visitors.

Fall & Spring in Greece vs Fall & Spring in Italy

Tourists taking a dip at Saturnia
Brittney Liu / ViaTravelers

Many people refer to the beginning of fall and the end of spring as the shoulder seasons of Europe, and they’re especially great for countries like Greece and Italy.

That’s because the weather is pleasant, prices are lower than in the summertime, and crowds are smaller, making it great for exploring and relaxing. Of course, the closer you visit to winter, the cooler (and potentially rainier) it can get.

The islands of Greece start their season in late spring and end in early fall, so it is feasible to plan an island trip during these times of the year. While the air and sea temperatures may be borderline appropriate for swimming, it is definitely possible.

I enjoyed my suite’s private pool at the Domes Zeen Chania on Crete this past May. You also save a ton of money and avoid nearly all crowds (probably why I got upgraded to that room!), and visiting historical places is much more pleasant.

The same ideas apply in Italy, as the resorts and restaurants of the seaside begin and end their seasons. Temperatures in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit are perfect for wandering the alleys and bridges of Florence or the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

I find this weather perfect for visiting my favorite spa resort in the country – Grotta Giusti, an Autograph Collection Resort in the hills of Tuscany. Its swimming pools are heated by natural thermal water, contrasting perfectly with a mild fall or spring day.

Fall and spring can be ideal times to visit for sun seekers and explorers. Prices are much fairer than in high season, crowds are smaller, and the weather can be just right for most activities. Just know that depending on your exact dates and destinations, places could start hibernating or coming out of it.

See Related: Top Vacations That Require No Walking

Budget Considerations in Italy and Greece

Both Italy and Greece run the spectrum when it comes to vacation expenses. You can plan a very cheap or very expensive trip to either country. However, there are certain places to go and things to know about planning appropriately for your trip.

Italy vs Greece: Budget Travelers

Those on a tight budget should consider the above advice about avoiding the summer high season, as Italy and Greece will get significantly more expensive during July and August. If you still want to enjoy the sun and sea, consider June or September for major savings and very little difference in weather.

Italy’s big cities are home to very expensive hotels and restaurants. If you’re on a budget, you will definitely need to consider staying a bit distant from city centers and main attractions.

For example, I always stay at the Voco Venice Mestre, barely 20 minutes from the canals, and I pay a fraction of what they pay on the other side of the causeway! Accommodations and dining in smaller Italian villages will also be much more budget-friendly and undoubtedly beautiful.

In Greece, food is generally more affordable, in my opinion. There are countless traditional tavernas ready to make you a Greek meal for a fair price.

Budget accommodation is easier to find here, too, as long as you stay away from the hotspots like Oia in Santorini; you will surely pay a pretty penny to stay there. Instead, look to places like Kamari Beach, one of the island’s best spots with plenty of fairly-priced vacation rentals.

Italy vs Greece: Luxury Traveling

The pool, olive trees, and unique architecture at Domes Miramare, a Luxury Collection Resort, Corfu
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

On the other hand, if you’re looking to do it big, there are plenty of luxury resorts and villa rentals around Greece and Italy. Book well in advance if you want to go in high season, as these places definitely sell out.

There are luxurious resorts all around Italy. Florence, one of the most romantic cities in the country, is home to a beautiful Four Seasons and a highly-acclaimed St. Regis, and you can find brands like these in other major cities as well. Michelin-star dining, private tours, and high-end spas are also more than available.

Greece has no shortage of luxury accommodations, but you’ll find fewer big-brand names on the islands. They definitely exist, but luxury travelers will find more in the way of villa rentals and five-star boutique hotels.

For example, I stayed at this unbelievable villa with a private pool on the island of Kefalonia last summer. It should be noted that five-star dining is less prevalent in Greece outside Athens.

See Related: Italy vs France: Which is Better to Visit?

What are the Key Differences between Italy and Greece?

Many different types of travelers look for many things when they travel. So, if you fall into one or more of the below categories, use our opinions of Greece and Italy to help you decide and plan your trip.

Beaches: Greece or Italy

Bluewater and Skyline in Milos
Brittney Liu / ViaTravelers

While the Italian coastline is stunning in many places, I have to say that Greece has the best beaches in all of Europe. From the sandy bays of Mykonos to the moonscape shores of Milos, to the black sand beaches of Santorini, to the cliff-backed hidden beaches of Corfu, there are endless places to dive in or lounge out in Greece during beach season. Read our full guide on where to stay in Corfu.

Italian beaches are often easier to access and have sandy shores, although some pebble beaches are found in the north. The island of Sardegna has some very remote and beautiful beaches that rival Greece’s. On the Amalfi Coast, you’ll find quaint cafes and cliff-perched beach hotels along the beach.

In both places, beaches may offer boating, diving, cliff jumping, hiking trails, and other activities. Don’t leave home without a proper travel insurance plan from TravelInsurance.com if you envision yourself doing anything that could go wrong.

See Related: Things to do in Ravello 

Historical Sites: Greece or Italy

People walking through the ancient ruins of Pompeii in Southern Italy
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

I will not make the call on this one – there’s way too much history in Italy and Greece to decide which one is better! Italy’s most famous historic sites include the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the ruins of Pompeii, the Sassi of Matera, and much more.

You have the Parthenon, the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, Ancient Thera and Akrotiri on Santorini, and many others in Greece, along with the ever-fascinating history of Greek names from mythology, which you can learn about nearly anywhere you visit in Greece.

If you’re planning on island hopping in Greece, I recommend taking one full day in Athens before or after getting on your ferry or flight. You can see most of the big historic spots in the city during that time. These places are everywhere in Italy, so you must plan your days carefully to hit the ones you want to.

Food: Greece or Italy

Selection of traditional greek food
anaumenko / Adobe Stock

Before we get into this, know that Greek food and Italian food are some of the best on the continent. For me, though, Greek cuisine takes the lead just a bit.

It’s rich in olive oil, herbs, and vegetables, with fresh seafood and lean meats. It’s simple, flavorful, and healthy, and essentially any taverna you find will be great (from my experience).

The food scene in Italy is nothing to complain about, and it’s going to taste way better than your favorite pizza from back home. Italian cuisine is known for its simplicity, but it’s amazing how flavorful a quality pasta dish or a properly prepared pizza can be.

Either way, Greece and Italy feature some of the best food in the world, so it’s hard to go wrong here.

See Related: Best Wine Regions in Italy

Nightlife: Greece or Italy

Aerial drone, bird's eye view photo of iconic pool club in famous Super Paradise beach, Mykonos
Aerial-motion / Shutterstock

The Greek nightlife is slightly better than that of Italy, considering it’s catered towards tourists from all over Europe and the world looking for a party. Once you’re done discovering the beaches and ruins during the day, you can dance your heart out at the clubs of Paros, Kos, Mykonos, and other southern Greek islands.

If you want to enjoy the nightlife in Italy, add Milan and Florence to your itinerary. For a luxurious nightlife scene, Riviera Romagnola is your best bet. Versilia has some of the best beach parties at night, as does the Amalfi Coast, with its club inside a cave, Africana.

Honeymoon Destination: Greece or Italy

Florence, Italy cityscape during sunset
Ekaterina Belova / Adobe Stock

Whether Italy or Greece is better for the honeymoon depends on the kind of couple you are. If you’re two adventurous souls who can’t leave their wanderlust behind even on their honeymoon, Italy is the right country for you. It has plenty of sightseeing and exploratory opportunities around famous landmarks and historical gems.

In contrast, Greece has some idyllic islands if you’re inclined to fine dining, cuddling, and relaxing by the water. There’s more of a selection of romantic seaside resorts here, and picking the right one can make you feel like you’re lightyears away from the rest of the world. Of course, there’s plenty of exploring and sightseeing around Greece, too.

See Related: Best Party Islands in Greece

Family Trips: Greece or Italy

Blue Grotto
Takashi Images / Shutterstock

Although mainly advertised as vacation spots for couples and solos, Italy and Greece are great for families too. If you’re going for pool and beach vibes, there are plenty of family-friendly resorts around both countries. If I had to choose one, I’d say Greece has more of this accommodation type.

In Italy, you can take your kids for a walk in the rose garden by the Piazzale Michelangelo or get them in touch with marine life at the Aquarium of Genoa. Kids are fascinated by Venice being built on canals and seeing places like the Blue Grotto in Capri. Therefore, Italy could be a better bet for the adventurous family.

Are Greek and Italian Cultures Similar?

Corfu old town, Greece
stoimilov / Adobe Stock

In some ways, Greek and Italian cultures are quite similar; in others, they are very different. Nearly 3,000 years ago, the Greeks sailed across the Ionian Sea and settled in southern Italy, introducing aspects of their cuisine, language, and daily life. Likewise, the Roman Empire and the Venetians sailed far and wide around the Mediterranean, establishing many settlements in Greece.

Cities in Puglia, such as Monopoli and Ostuni, are remarkably Greek-looking in architecture, while you’ll notice the streets of Corfu and Zakynthos to have a very Venetian look. Roman-style amphitheaters can be found around Greece, while ancient Greeks introduced the wine Italy is so beloved for. Both countries rely on olives as a major food item, and groves of the trees can be found throughout their countryside.

One major difference is religion, as the Greek Orthodox Church is the majority faith in the Hellenic lands. Of course, Roman Catholicism dominates Italy, as the Pope’s country is within Italy. Modern Greece experienced an economic crisis in recent years that put its development a bit behind compared to Italy.

See Related: Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) Review

FAQs

Is Italy or Greece cheaper?

Italy is generally considered more expensive than Greece, with higher accommodation, food, and transportation prices, especially in major cities. However, you can definitely find the opposite to be true, too: compare an average Airbnb on the caldera of Santorini to a small family-run hotel in rural Sicily. Prices can vary depending on the specific location within each country and the time of year.

Is Italy or Greece better to visit?

The Italy or Greece vacation dilemma is a common one. Both are known for their rich history, fascinating architecture, inspiring art, stunning beaches, incredible cuisine, and other natural scenery.

Both countries offer unique experiences, and the choice ultimately depends on personal preferences. I vote for Greece for beach and relaxation and Italy for exploration and history.

Are beaches better in Italy or Greece?

Beaches in Italy and Greece are both beautiful, but the best beaches depend on what you’re looking for. Greek beaches have more variety, with hundreds of islands offering thousands of beaches, ranging from cliff-backed and hard-to-reach paradises to party central club beaches.

Both extremes can be found in Italy, too, but you’re probably more likely to find sandy coastlines with rentable sun loungers along its shores.

Is Greece in Italy?

No, Greece is not in Italy. Greece is its own European country. They are separate countries, both located in Southern Europe.

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Woodrow Matthews
WRITTEN BY

Woodrow Matthews

Woodrow is a travel writer who enjoys sharing experiences, tips, and tricks from his vacations. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and lived for several years in France, from which he explored many parts of Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term "upgrade engineering" referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves scuba diving, hiking, beaches, and all things aviation.

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