Greece has such versatility and natural beauty from the islands to the mainland that it has become a wonderful setting for many novels. The rich history of myths and legends from ancient times inspires writers, whose books are often set in Greece. These novels can transport the reader to Greece via literary journeys throughout time, history, and location.
Here’s a wonderful list for all of those who wish to wander by reading novels set in Greece:
This post may contain compensated links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please refer to my disclaimer here for more information.
- 20 Novels Set in Greece for Your Next Vacation
- Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernières)
- My family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell)
- The Island (Victoria Hislop)
- The Thread (Victoria Hislop)
- Zorba (Nikos Kazantzakis)
- The Colossus of Marousi (Henry Miller)
- The Magus (John Fowles)
- The Girl Under the Olive tree (Leah Fleming)
- The song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
- Circe (Madeline Miller)
- The Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood)
- The summer house in Santorini (Samantha Parks)
- My Greek Island Summer (Mandy Baggot)
- The Two Faces of January (Patricia Highsmith)
- My Map of You (Isabelle Broom)
- Villa of Secrets (Patricia Wilson)
- One Summer In Santorini (Sandy Barker)
- Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (Patrick Leigh Fermor)
- Chasing Athens (Marissa Tejada)
- Fugitive Pieces (Anne Michaels)
20 Novels Set in Greece for Your Next Vacation
The first on the list is a 1994 novel, written by the British author Louis de Bernières. It is the story of Captain Corelli, an Italian captain positioned in the wonderful Ionian Island of Cephalonia during the second world war (1941). There, he meets Pelagia, the daughter of Dr. Iannis, a physician, whom he later falls in love with. She, in turn, is engaged to Mandras, a local man, who goes off to war as well. Pelagia is determined to hate the Italian and German forces who took over their island.
As the war rages, however, Germans will turn against the Italians, when Italy joins the Allies. The German soldiers will massacre thousands of Italian soldiers, Captain Corelli will be saved at the last second, and Pelagia will find herself treating him.
A lovely literary journey into the very dark history of German and Italian occupation and WWII, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (as well as its film adaptation) can easily bring out the atmosphere of the era, the Greek idiosyncrasies, and all those contrasting with the stunning beauty of the island of Cephalonia.
Another British author whose novel is set in Greece is Gerald Durrell, who writes My Family and other Animals in 1956.
This novel tells the story of Durrell’s family’s stay in Corfu, another Ionian Island. It is an autobiographical account of 5 years of his childhood, starting at the age of 10. It emphasizes the family members, the life on the island, and their interactions.
This chronicle of a rather dysfunctional family holds the reader’s interest as they also get glimpses of Corfu’s unparalleled landscapes.
Victoria Hislop’s The Island is a painstakingly beautiful historical novel set in Crete, Greece. It was the first novel Victoria Hislop ever wrote and a great success.
The plot focuses on the leper community on Spinalonga, an islet where lepers were sent as exile for isolation purposes. The story is that of Alexis, a 25-year-old woman who wants to learn more about her family’s past, something she has been denied for years due to her mother’s insistence.
The whole novel is set in Plaka, a seaside village just opposite Spinalonga, and goes back into the family’s history.
Another example of Hislop’s fine historical fiction is The Thread, which tells the story of the cosmopolitan second capital of Greece, Thessaloniki.
In it, many characters are presented, from different periods, spanning over a hundred years and retelling the story of the city’s long-lasting troubles. From the great fire that afflicted the city in 1917 to the Catastrophe of Smyrna with the Great Fire of 1922, the book recounts all the misfortunes suffered by people from Asia Minor.
It is not a story about the characters, but rather, a story of Thessaloniki as a city.
Considered an all-time classic, Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis is a novel set in Greece during the beginning of the 20th century.
Published in 1946, it tells the story of the protagonist, a reserved young man, and the exuberant Alexis Zorbas, all within the rural atmosphere of 20th-century-Greece. The story of the dubious and enigmatic character of Zorbas is unfolded with the view of the Cretan mountains and a barren landscape of immeasurable beauty.
The novel was also adapted in an Academic Award-winning film starring Anthony Quinn back in 1964.
Henry Miller was a friend of the Durrells and was invited to Greece. During his stay, he explored not only Athens but many places in Greece. The novel, therefore, is an exceptional travel memoir, and it is great at portraying pre-WWII Athens and its distinct cosmopolitan character.
George Katsimbalis, who was an intellectual is also the protagonist in Miller’s novella The Colossus of Maroussi, set in a northern suburb of Athens, Greece.
Perhaps one of Fowles’ greatest novels, The Magus (which can translate into The Wizard) is another novel set in Greece.
It tells the story of Nicholas who has studied at Oxford University and now moves to a Greek remote island to work as an English teacher. The isolated life does not suit him and soon he feels overwhelmed with boredom until he meets a rich Greek gentleman, who is there to play mind games with Nicholas.
The novel is set on Phraxos Island, which is an imaginary island that Fowles invented based on his idea and personal experience of Spetses, as he also worked there as an English teacher.
This is the story of love within the cruelty of war. Back in 1938, Penelope George will move to Athens to help her sister, Evadne. She becomes a student and a Red-Cross nurse and comes across a stranger who is bound to change her life. Yolanda, a Jewish nurse becomes her friend as Greece is invaded by nazi German soldiers. The rest of the story finds Penelope stranded in Crete and waiting to return to her long-forgotten capital.
A compelling and evocative read, Fleming’s novel depicts the cruelty of this historical era and the power of human nature.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a myth retelling novel set in many parts of ancient Greece and Troy. It is based on Homer’s Iliad, an epic that has shaped literary production worldwide. It tells the story of Patroclus, Achilles’s companion in life and war, as well as Achilles, who seems to be the center of the story.
We get references to Phthia, the kingdom where Achilles was born, as well as Mount Pelion, where they were taught the art of life and war by Chiron.
Miller manages to portray the beauty of the Mediterranean ancient landscapes, as well as the complexities of the Homeric masterpiece and the feuds that lay hidden between the lines.
She gives a fresh perspective, and a much-needed eulogy to love without boundaries.
Similarly, Miller also explores ancient Greek mythology by drawing on Homer’s Odyssey and telling the story of Circe. Set in ancient Greece, this novel lets us readers follow the life of sorceress Circe, who has been demonized for centuries.
We learn of the perspective of Circe, who lives in exile for having shown sympathy to Prometheus when she was simply a child, as well as her encounters with Odysseus and his men on the island of Aeaea, a mythical island whose location is still questioned.
With this wonderful retelling, we get glimpses of various ancient Greek places, including Ithaca, Odysseus, and Penelope’s home.
This delightful novella by Margaret Atwood also belongs to the genre of myth retelling and parallel novels. This time we follow the story of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, in yet another open interpretation of Homer’s epic. Stranded on Ithaca Island, in what seems like a century of waiting for her husband, Penelope undergoes many stages of grief, loss, personal growth, and realization.
Written in compelling language, in interludes and rhyme, this novella also entails the Chorus, the voices of Penelope’s lost maids.
It is a great novella to get glimpses of Ithaca Island, from the perspective of an inhabitant who is isolated and left there to deal with this isolation.
Anna, the protagonist of this novel, flees from her failed and boring life to Santorini, perhaps the most popular island in Greece. As she re-finds herself among volcanic landscapes, endless Aegean blue, and blue-domed dwellings, Anna meets Nikos and falls in love with him.
This delightful book is the perfect beach/summer read and holiday companion!
Also set in Corfu, Greece, My Greek Island Summer by Mandy Baggot is an easy read, telling the story of Becky Rowe, who lives on a villa with picturesque views while on business there. All is dreamy until she meets Elias Mardas, a charming Greek businessman.
The adventures are endless, from Athens to Kefalonia and back to Corfu, this story is sure to guide you through different Greek locations.
Unlike the other novels on the list, this novel is a psychological thriller set in Greece, published in 1964. It tells the story of Chester McFarland, who suffers from alcoholism, and his wife Collette.
During a quarrel with a policeman, Chester kills a Greek policeman and is left with the help of Rydal Keener, a law graduate. The trio finds themselves in Crete, hidden from authorities and under false names. The story takes a very dark turn…
The shockingly haunting book is also adapted twice on screen, with the most recent adaptation (2014) starring Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.
Another chick-lit gem, My Map of You follows the steps of Holly Wright, who is mysteriously bequeathed with a house in Zakynthos Island by an aunt.
With her newly-found burdens and the grief of her mother’s loss, Holly visits Zakynthos, unravels the mysteries of her family’s past, and meets Aidan, a lovely gentleman.
Villa of Secrets by Patricia Wilson is a book set in Rhodes, the wonderful Dodecanese Island.
It revolves around Rebecca, who is desperate to have a child and in a marital crisis. After her estranged family in Rhodes contacts her, she flees to Rhodes to see her grandmother, Bubba, who has more than one secret to keep.
Family vendettas, long-lost memories, Nazi occupation history, and strong personalities collide in a most interesting novel.
Another novel set in Greece, and particularly the stunning island of Santorini is written by Sandy Barker.
On a sailing trip around the Cycladic islands, Sarah searches for her long-lost serenity, away from men and complicated relationships. It is there she meets two charming yet very different men. And so, trouble begins.
The easy-to-read holiday romance genre is a must-read for a summer escape around the Greek islands.
This travel book by Patrick Leigh Fermor is a wonderful read and a personal journal of his travels to the peninsula of Mani considered almost unhospitable and remote. Its distinct beauty unfolds simultaneously with the rich history of the Maniots, its inhabitants.
From Kalamata to the Taygetus, to the coastal areas and the lovely olive groves, this book is a true journey through Mani in the Peloponnese.
This novel is clearly set in Greece, as its title suggests. The story is that of Ava Martin, an expatriate who follows her husband in Athens when he relocates there to accept a new job opportunity. Soon, tables are turned and Ava is left alone in a lovely capital with many struggles, and without her husband, as he asks for a divorce shortly after.
Poetic and beautiful, Tejada’s prose allows a journey through the heart of Athens, and fleeting images of the popular Greek islands.
Published in 1997 and written by Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces earned the Orange Prize of Fiction, among other acclaims.
Its central character is Jakob Beer, a seven-year-old boy saved from conviction or murder by Nazis in Poland. He is discovered by Athos, a Greek geologist who decides to take Jakob back to Zakynthos to hide there forever and grow up free.
In a stunningly evocative novel, Michaels portrays the ugliness of Nazi occupation and persecution, the tenderness of the soul, the fragility of childhood, and all those against the stunning nature of Zakynthos and its breathtaking landscapes. The story also partly takes place in Athens and Toronto.