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16 days in Greece in December - looking for itinerary and budget advice

I'm going to be studying abroad this fall in Rome. The last classes of the program are on the afternoon of December 4. The last day I can be in Europe on the 90-day short stay visa is Dec 21. I plan to go to Greece after the program ends and I'm trying to figure out how to make the best use of my time there. If I leave for Athens early on the 5th, and leave the morning of the 21st I'll have 16 days in Greece. I will be traveling solo.

Places I'd like to go:
Athens, 2 or ideally 3 days
Hydra, either a long day trip or overnight
Crete, at least 2 days but 3-4 would be nice
2-3 days on another island. Rhodes seems like an obvious choice simply because it has direct flights from both Crete and Rome.
5+ days in the Peloponnese. Places I'd like to see along the way: Delphi, Olympia, Mani Peninsula, Monemvasia, Nafplio. I will be renting a car.

As for the car rental logistics, I'll be 22 and am currently learning to drive stick shift. If that keeps going well I'll rent manual, otherwise automatic. While on the Peloponnese I want to have one day with no driving if reasonably possible, and I want to keep the average driving to no more than 2-3 hours a day (I'm fine with one or two days with 4ish hours though). I found deals through Europcar for $120 manual or $140 automatic including basic insurance coverage. They won't sell me zero deductible insurance since I am under 26.

I don't have a hard limit on budget, but I want to spend as little as possible. I expect I will be traveling with just a small carryon size suitcase and a backpack, which should keep flights cheap. I'm open to taking the night ferry to Heraklion instead of a flight. For Rhodes if I go there, it seems like flights are the only reasonable option due to the slowness of the ferry.

To save money I plan to stay in basically the cheapest possible accomodations wherever I am. Thankfully the off season looks to result in extremely low rates based on some searching I have done. It seems like this means cheap hostels in Athens ($8/night on expedia), Rhodes ($18/night), and Crete ($13/night), and a mix of more expensive hostels and cheap hotels elsewhere, mostly in the $25-45/night range. I do wonder about the safety of hostels in Greece though, in terms of theft and other petty crime. (I'm male so I'm not worried too much)

My main questions are-
1) what destinations should I cut and what should I keep? Is there anything I haven't mentioned that's especially worth seeing? I'm interested in the ancient historical things, nature/outdoors/the countryside, cultural stuff, etc. Not so interested in partying or nightlife.
2) what's a reasonable budget? I figure with a $50 flight to Athens, ferry to Crete, $70 flights to and from Rhodes, and averaging $20-25/night on lodging, $120-140 for a car and another $100 or $200 for fuel, and $20 a day for food (is that reasonable?), leaving another few hundred for activities I should be able to spend in the $1500-1600 range. Is that reasonable or are there things I am overlooking? Are my estimates unrealistic? My parents are paying for my flights to and from Europe so the flight back home isn't a concern.

Also, are there any special considerations due to traveling in December?

Posted by
7485 posts

Hope your studies are going well, and you get a great celebratory Greece trip! It took years or traveling in Europe before finally going for 2 weeks in Greece last year at Easter, visiting Hydra, driving the Peloponnese and finishing in Athens, and in 6 weeks we’re leaving for 2 weeks on just Crete.

A few things about driving: we used Pop’s Car Rentals last Easter, and they have many locations throughout Greece. See if they offer any price advantage over Europcar, although we’ve used Europcar on many trips elsewhere. Pop’s wasn’t the best deal for Crete, so we’re not using them on our upcoming trip. Also, with diesel fuel economy, you might want to specify a diesel rental. Also, many Greek drivers seem to cut corners on turns, even on blind curves, so be on the lookout for a car coming at you on a curve, partly in your lane. They will hopefully move back onto their side of the road before they get up to you, but be alert. We landed late our first night in Athens, took a ferry to Hydra our first morning, then another ferry after our Hydra stay to Ermioni on the Peloponnese, where we picked up our rental car. We eventually turned it in at the Athens airport, then shuttled into Athens for the last 3 days of our trip.

So I haven’t researched the flight details or prices, but if you can fly directly to Rhodes from Rome, how about starting there, then getting to Crete, then working your way north? Rick Steves’ guidebook was our travel bible for Hydra and the Peloponnese, but for Crete, we’re using the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet for planning, among others. They list cheaper hostels, but we’re sticking with B&B and hotel accommodations.

Posted by
11249 posts

I suggest :
Athens at least three nights to give you two full days.
Crete is very large and needs a minimum of four days to make traveling there worthwhile. Base in Chania which has a large permanent population,
Not just a holiday town. Take a bus to Heraklion to visit Knossos.
Rhodes is farther away but since it is a larger island perhaps good for an off season stay. If you were traveling a few months earlier I would suggest Naxos or Paros.
On the Peloponeassean Peninsula stay in Napflion for some of your time. Add Byzantine Mystras.

Posted by
872 posts

We went to Nafplio by bus from Athens quite cheaply... If you want to cut costs find out what the main bus routes are and use them whenever possible. We rented a car for one day to go to Mycenae and Epiadavros. You will need one for some of your other stops on the Peloponnese, but local buses are part of the travel experience, if not very quick. Delphi on the other hand is in the opposite direction north of Athens so that would be a separate trip.

Have a great time.

Posted by
4473 posts

Given how much driving you wish to do per day, you may want to add time to the Peloponnese (you could basically spend all your time there and not see everything). Mycenae, Nemea, Epidaurus, Mystras, and Messini were all well worth seeing. The driving can be quick and painless on the highways and torturous on the curvy mountain roads.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for all the replies so far! I'll take a closer look when I'm at my computer later.

Just a quick note that I meant to say Rhodes has direct flights to Athens and Crete, not Rome and Crete.

Getting lots of good suggestions on the itinerary. Any feedback on the realistic-ness of my budget? Much thanks.

Posted by
7485 posts

Continuing: our first morning, after our first night, our hotel took us to the Piraeus ferry port just south of Athens, so we could catch the first ferry to Hydra. But rough seas cancelled that ferry, and also the second one, an hour later. So we split the cost of a taxi with another couple, and were driven to a different port many miles away, so we could get to Hydra on a shorter crossing with calmer seas. Not sure whether December offers better or worse sailing conditions, but your results may vary.

Also, many on this forum aren’t comfortable cutting it so close on your exit from the Schengen Visa schedule, in case something comes up (flight delays, missed ferry, whatever) that keeps you there past the end date. If that happens, you could face an unpleasant fine- hopefully nothing causes a delay.

So we made it from Ermioni to Napflio for a few nights, daytripping from there to ancient sights. Nemea has a stadium to rival (or surpass) the one at Archaea Olympia. If you don’t make it all the way west to Olympia, or even if you do, Nemea has a great, smallish museum on site, a temple, and other ruins. It’s not crowded even in summer, and you might have the place to yourself in December - check to make sure they’re open.

Napflio had a fantastic outdoor market. Hopefully it’s still operating in December. Epidavros has the most acoustically perfect ancient theater, and was a healing place that employed snakes - where the snakes on our modern doctors’ medical logos come from. Mycenae is not to be missed.

We made it down to Monemvasia and spent a night there. Dinner was outside, surrounded by an audience of cats. Again, December might be different.

We then headed for several nights in Areopolis, our base for exploring the remote Mani Peninsula, right at the Orthodox Easter, a week later than our Easter in the USA. Driving on the dramatic Mani was fabulous, but you may not have the time. From there, we worked our way north, through Kalamata, up to Archaea Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, then up to the mainland by toll bridge. The ancient site of Delphi was worthwhile, and a noisy outside party of loud kids (college age?) down the street from our hotel in Delphi town kept us up late.

We also had a night in the seaside town of Galaxidi, near Delphi, which was really a great visit. We plan to return to Galaxidi some time!

Posted by
7485 posts

Continuing further: prices may vary at different times, but on the whole, we’re finding Greece to be cheaper than Italy, France, Spain, Britain, etc.

In Athens, “splurge” on dinner at Mani Mani (as in the Mani Peninsula) for a truly fine meal at a very reasonable price.

For Crete, our plans are to fly in to Iraklio. Something to note, guidebooks are translating Greek names of towns into our alphabet, so there are a variety of spellings. Rough Guide uses Iraklio, rather than Heraklion, so your results may vary. And they use Hania (pronounce the”H” like you’re clearing your throat) rather than Chania.

No doubt you have the ancient Knossos sight on your Cretan agenda, just south of Iraklio. We’re renting a car from AutoRentals Crete for half what everyone else wants, plus they’re dropping off our car at our hotel in Iraklio and picking it up from us at our hotel in Hania, just €20 more than if we did it all from one city.

We plan to see as many ancient Minoan city sites as we can in our 2 weeks, so besides Knossos, we’re going to visit Malia and Phaistos, plus even more far-flung sites

Posted by
7485 posts

Continuing a bit more: appears some places in Crete shut down for the winter, so you may need to check if you go outside of a popular city. Sounds like many tavernas (a bar/restaurant) have a room or two upstairs for lodging, if they’re open. Again, having someone call ahead could be essential.

We also want to spend some time on the Lasithi Plateau, what sounds like a windmill-filled agricultural oasis on an otherwise mountainous, rocky island!that also has some beaches. Maybe a night in Tzermiado, and/or a couple nights in Kritsa.

And although many people apparently flock to Crete for beaches and water, on an island with over 50 gorges, it seems the quintessential thing to do is to hike a gorge. The popular Samaria Gorge is closed in December. We’re cutting it close going there in mid-October, as our reserved shuttle driver has told us that once the rainy season in October starts in earnest, they shut down Samaria due to flash-flood danger, until spring. And long gorges like Samaria require a shuttle at the end, unless you turn around and hike back up to the start. There are shorter gorges, like Imbros and Rouvas, and I don’t know about their status in December. If you’re up for a gorge hike, though, and there’s one open, you’ll have “done” Crete!

Posted by
7485 posts

P.S. : Back in December 2012, after a week in Rome, we spent Christmas Week on Sicily, with a similar climate in the Mediterranean. And Sicily was settled by ancient Greeks, with surviving Greek temples and other ruins, many in better shape now than what survives in Greece. We rented a car, from Europcar no less, and visited great villages, towns, a couple cities, and saw wonderful country and lots of Greek and old Roman sights: Segesta, Erice, Agrigento, Syracusa, Taormina for starters. Flights from Rome are easy and affordable, no ferries needed unless you venture farther.

Posted by
1 posts

I would suggest you spend the extra money on an automatic, especially if you are just learning to drive a stick. I've always rented a stick in Europe, but the last time I had an automatic. I found it to be so much easier because I didn't have to think about shifting, especially uphill! Being by yourself, you'll have one less thing to worry about. Good luck and have fun!

Posted by
1391 posts

how much you spend on food and drink is a pretty open ended question: it depends on what you want to do.

Given the current exchange rate twenty dollars is around eighteen euros. You can certainly manage on this if you eating mainly takeaways and not going into coffee shops or bars. You’d probably have a better time if you could add another five or ten a day.

For reference prices in moderately priced places are
A starter around 3 or 4 euros
A main course 8
Some wine with the meal 3.

You can get a decent sandwich for lunch for 3 or 4, and a beer or coffee in a cafe will also cost around 4. A take away coffee and croissant is around 3.

In rough terms that means eat a takeaway breakfast and sandwich for lunch and get a takeaway souvlaki for dinner and you can get by on 15. Sit in a cafe with a coffee or beer and go for an evening meal in a restaurant - which for me is one of the pleasures - and you need more like 25 -30.


Posted by
27236 posts

Check sooner rather than later to be sure you're not too young to rent a car in Greece. I have a vague recollection of a 25-year-old minimum somewhere--probably not in Greece, but best to be certain before you finalize your itinerary.

I believe Hydra has its attractions (I've never been there) but is generalky recommended as an island for people to visit if they don't have time for a real island trip. Since you do have enough time to get off the mainland, I'd use that day elsewhere.

Posted by
4 posts

Just got a chance to read through the replies. Lots of good advice here.

Here’s what I’m now thinking for my itinerary and budget. To play it safe with visa expiry without having to cut Greece short, I’ll spend a weekend in Croatia (non-Schengen) at some point during my Rome program.

Point taken on potentially using buses part of the time in Peloponnese instead of a car, but I strongly prefer the freedom of going when I want, where I want, to having to deal with fixed routes at fixed times and the associated extra hassle. I’ll call Europcar soon to confirm that I can actually rent at my age, but the website showed me several car classes that said “minimum age: 21” so I think I’m fine. If there’s really only $20 between the manual and automatic I’ll rent the automatic just to have one less thing to worry about.

It seems that there’s a night ferry even in winter from Athens to Heraklion. Is there one from Athens to Chania? That could be an option instead of flying and saves me one night of paying for lodging.

This is what I’m now thinking for my itinerary.

Dec 5: Take the morning Ryanair flight to Athens, arrive at 11:15am. Athens, day 1. (Sleep in Athens)
Dec 6: Athens, day 2. (Athens)
Dec 7: Athens, day 3. (Athens)
Dec 8: Sky Express morning flight to Chania or Heraklion, arrive at 8am. Crete, day 1. Need to do more research before deciding whether to use Chania or Heraklion as my base. Might rent a car for a day or two in Crete. (Chania or Heraklion)
Dec 9: Crete, day 2. (Chania or Heraklion or elsewhere)
Dec 10: Crete, day 3. (Chania or Heraklion or elsewhere)
Dec 11: Crete, day 4. Knossos. (Heraklion)
Dec 12: Sky Express morning flight to Rhodes, arrive at 8am. Rhodes, day 1. (Rhodes)
Dec 13: Rhodes, day 2. (Rhodes)
Dec 14: Aegean Olympic morning flight to Athens, arrive at 7:35am. Pick up a car and drive to Delphi. See the Delphi ruins and spend the evening in Galaxidi. (Galaxidi)
Dec 15: The big driving day. Drive to Olympia and see the ruins there. Drive to Mystras. (Mystras)
Dec 16: Morning in Mystria. Drive to Monemvasia. Evening in Monemvasia. (Monemvasia)
Dec 17: Full day in Monemvasia. (Monemvasia)
Dec 18: Drive to Nafplio in the morning. Nafplio. (Nafplio) (or stay in Monemvasia for part of the day if I really like it there)
Dec 19: Full day in Nafplio. (Nafplio)
Dec 20: Mycenae and Epidavros. Drive to Athens in the afternoon/evening and spend the night there. (Athens)
Dec 21: Fly home.

I'll post a revised budget later. I absolutely want to stay below $2000.

Posted by
4 posts

New budget:

Hotels: $400 (added everything up in Expedia incl. taxes/fees)
Food: $400 at $25/day (I won't be drinking, so no wine saves a few dollars a day)
Flights: $250
CIA->ATH: $42
ATH->HER or ATH->CHQ: $59
HER->RHO: $97
RHO->ATH: $45
Car: $150 (7 days Europcar with basic CDW)
Fuel: $100 (~1100km at 5l/100km and $1.80/l)
Other transportation: $150
Activities/admission fees: $150?

Total: $1600

Posted by
1164 posts

Did you try booking directly with an accommodations rather than a third party? December is way off season so prices will be much lower anywhere in Greece even on Big Name Islands. If an accommodations has a website try contacting them and see what they have. You'll usually get much lower prices and better customer service than through a third-party.

You are also using US $$ rather than Euros which can be deceiving on costs.

Are you aware of Sky Express's option for tickets? Make sure you know what you are getting for your ticket especially checked luggage and carry-on sizes/weights. You don't want to be shocked when you check in and find you'll be paying more than you thought.

I would stay in Chania on Crete. It's one of Greece's loveliest towns. If you want to go to Knossos there is a bus at a low cost.

Do you think it's worth flying to Rhodes for 2 days? Maybe add those days to your other destinations.

You are lucky your parents are paying for your flight back home. If it's the US your parents are really helping you out.

I normally stay 13 days in Greece with 2-3 in Athens and split the rest between 2 islands or even stay for the full time on one of the larger islands or the mainland. Beware that every time you go from Point A to Point B eats up time and time is valuable on holiday.

I rent a car for the majority of my time (outside of Athens anyway) and agree that it gives you the freedom you can't get from public transportation. Bear in mind the cost of fuel is high per liter and if you are from the US you'll be amazed (shocked) at the difference in price. Rent a small economy car to save on gas but it will still cost. However, if you want to see the more traditional Greece and out-of-the-way Greece, then it's worth the cost.

To save money go to local markets for food for breakfast and lunch. You can eat very well in a Greek Tavernas for less than 15 euros including 1/4 carafe of wine (under $17) with most meals in the 8-9 euro range (under $10.

A Gyro is around 2 euros ($2.25) which is great for a quick lunch.

You can have a great time in Greece for far less money than many other European destinations.

Posted by
1117 posts

With the end of your visa so near and weather possibly being a bit unpredictable, I'd put the Athens stay at the end of your trip. That way, you can be sure you are already near the airport (and near the embassy!) in case something unexpected comes up.