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1st time to Greece

Hi Everyone,

My family and I are planning a trip to Greece in July 2018 for the first time. Between all 5 if us we've saved up enough airline miles to cover that part of the trip. Our dilemma is what islands to see in our 10 day vacation and how to get them. We will fly into Athens and start there. We've talked about Santorini and Mykonos, but I also want to visit the island they filmed the movie Mama Mia on. What islands do you recommend for first timers?

Is it okay to book on Air BnB ourselves or is it better to go through a travel agency? This will be the first time any of us have traveled to a foreign country without going on a cruise, and I want to make sure we do it right. Since we don't have a clue about the area we want to be centrally located to everything if possible. None of us have ever driven in a foreign country, and the thought of renting a car scares us.

My other concern is getting to/from the places we stay at if they aren't major hotels. Are there taxis to take us to/from the airport or ferry boats?

Thanks so much for your help.
Cheryl

Posted by
5637 posts

AirBnB is OK but since it's your first trip to Greece,it would be verybhelpful to have a hotel front desk. They will give you local advice, make dinner reservations. If you want to use a travel agency, use a Greek one . FantasyTravel and Dolphin- Hellas, both in Athens are reliable ones.
Santorini and Mykonos are the most visited and touristic islands and are in the Cyclades group of islands,. Santorini does not have good beaches, Mykonos does. Mykonos has a big party scene. Both get mobs of visitors from the cruise ships. Naxos or Paros would give you a much more Greek experience, nice beaches too.
Mamma Mia was filmed on Skopelos in the Sporades group of islands, NE of Athens, not near the Cyclades.
Driving in Greece is not a problem at all but you can rent a car once you are in the islands to explore.
They will deliver them to your hotel and pick it up there as well. Do tou know hiw to drive a stick shift? If not, arrange fir an automatic car before you leave home.m
It will cost a lot more. There are buses and taxis too. Have your hotels arrange for a taxi to pick you up at ferry or get a taxi at airports.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you, Suki.

The reason we were looking at Airbnb is because we have 5 of us and wanted 3 bedrooms, if possible. I'll look on Expedia to see what hotels they have in Greece. Are there other websites you would recommend searching other than those two?

None of us drive stick. Plus, we've never driven in a foreign country before. I'm sure it's different than here in the U.S. We can always decide on that once we get there.

We love the idea of a true Greek experience. I will definitely check into the islands you mentioned. So much to see in 10 days that it's hard to decide.

Thank you,
Cheryl

Posted by
714 posts

Look at this website www.greektravel.com; it will give you all sorts of good information about Greece and the Islands. Get yourself a good guidebook for the Islands, there are many out there. Without knowing what your interests are hard to give specific advice and the guidebooks will help. Also the web, most islands have their own websites.

For accommodation I like to look at booking. com, get ideas for hotels, prices, reviews etc and then book direct with hotels. In Athens you need to be in the Plaka area, walking distance to everything - Acropolis, museums and transport

Suggestion often made is to fly into Athens and then fly straight to your island of choice and save Athens for your last few days before flying home.

Public Transportation in Greece is generally good but with only 10 days (is that 10 days in Greece? Or 10 days including travel to Greece), you should be looking at flying to and between Islands unless they are close. Greece will be very hot on July so be prepared for that.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you so much for your help. I've used Booking.com, so I'll check to see what hotels they list and go from there. We plan to be in Greece for 10 days. I hadn't thought about making Athens our last stop. That's a great idea. I'm going to get a couple books on Greece the next time I'm at Barnes and Noble.

We've been talking about this trip for years. Now that we have enough airline miles it's time to start seriously planning stuff.

Posted by
2860 posts

We spent most of the month of May in Greece, and I can offer you a few observations. A lot of the accommodations on the islands are set up for people who go for a beach holiday, so they have kitchens, etc. This was true of our hotel in Agios Nikolaus (Crete) and that in a town near Lindos Rhodes). They were essentially apartments.
We found driving easy. The road signs were written in Cyrillic, but also Latin letters. We used the gps in our smartphone and had very little difficulty.
We arranged with our hotels for pick up from airports or ferry ports several times. It was little if any more expensive than taxis and very convenient. For Athens, our hotel service was considerably more than a taxi, so we used a pre-arranged service whose name eludes me. I'll pm it to you. They were terrific.
Every interaction we had with Greek people was extremely positive. Warm, friendly, helpful. . . just amazing! You should have a great time.

Posted by
386 posts

The Rough Guide to Greece does a great job covering the entire country, including many islands, at a medium level of detail. It seems to be highly recommended by others on this forum. Rough Guide may be a great place to start in terms getting a basic feel for many of the most desirable islands. Although if you're planning to only visit islands (and Athens?) perhaps you want an even more specific guidebook on just the islands. This forum is a wealth of detail; when I'm planning a trip to a new country I generally read many pages of the forum and the trip reports. I think similar questions to some of yours have been discussed in the past year on what is doable in 10 days, transportation, etc. By reading some of the old posts you'll have the benefit of additional points of view.

Posted by
742 posts

10 days may seem like a lot but it can go by rather quickly.

Athens deserves at least 3 days to fully experience the city. That leaves 7 days . . . you could combine two islands but don't forget every time you move it eats up time and time is valuable on holiday.

Santorini & Mykonos are two of the most popular of the Greek Islands and July will be High Season so expect masses of tourists being spewed out by Cruise Ships. They are also two of the most expensive islands. How "Greek" they are depends on what you want for a Greek Island.

There are numerous islands that don't see the crowds but as stated High Season will find many of them full of tourists, some more or less but still busy.

The first time we went to Greece we used Aegean Thesaurus and were more than happy with them. They arranged accommodations, transfers, ferry tickets, etc. We booked our own flight and once we reached our destination we were on our own, but since we did a lot of research we know what we wanted to do.

Since the first time we went we have done our own bookings for everything and save money for more important things . . . Greek Food!

I've never used Air BnB so can't comment on it. You may get a better price but during High Season everything will be more expensive.

We use booking.com or trip advisor to search for accommodations and when we find something that meets our needs we go directly to the accommodations website (if they have one) and deal with them. You'll probably get a better deal and customer service.

Numerous islands have their own websites with lists of accommodations.

Or go to: http://www.gto.gr/index.htm. Click on an island group and you'll get lists of villages with accommodations.

The best website for Greece is Matt's Greek Guide: http://www.greecetravel.com/

Two very good guide books are The Blue Guide to the Aegean Islands and Greek Island Hopping with the Blue Guide the better of the two.

One advice I always give is "Do Your Research". Don't let a travel website or glossy magazines decide where you want to go. There are many Greek Islands and parts of the mainland that don't get the hype like the Big Name Islands. Maybe those less known areas would provide you with a more truer Greek Experience.

Posted by
743 posts

You have received very good advice here. All of the respondents clearly are well versed in visiting Greece.

Just to reinforce whats been said. Do take a connecting flight to your first island s soon as you arrive in Athens. Go to Aegean airlines web site and sign up for e mail alerts. You should expect to see seat salles in October or November 2017. Book ASAP because these sell out fast.

Just something to help you focus a bit during your research.
While Santorini is a spectacular Island and Mykonos is beautiful as well both are expensive and can be quite crowded. You might want to consider either Naxos or Paros. They are both essentially in the middle between Santorini and Mykonos. There are excursion boats that will take you to Delos/Mykonos and Santorini on day trips. That way you will get a true Greek experience on an island that are not cruise ship destinations (yea) and can visit the big expensive islands on inexpensive day trips.
Here is an idea.
Naxos Town http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632094558042/
Trip around Naxos http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/
Day trip Delos and Mykonos http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157637922138466/

Posted by
4498 posts

If you do think you might rent a car, all drivers in Greece are required by law to have an International Driver Permit in addition to your regular drivers license. IDPs for US citizens are issued by AAA. If you are just on the heavy tourist islands and Athens, you probably won't need a car.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you so much everyone. The advice you've given is wonderful. I will check out all the links you referred to as well as the books. I appreciate all of your time.

Cheryl

Posted by
2416 posts

Rough Guide is my top choice for a guide ... and you can get one for $7-8 used online at Amazon. Doesn't matter if its the VERY latest edition because you use it for the landmarks & the museums & cities, not for the latest Restaurant & hotel prices. A great feature that I use is --- I take it apart! Just take along the sections you'll find useful -- Athens, Cyclades Islands, History, Language & phrase book, Eating/drinking .Each section is one piece & you can carefull pull it off the backing, put 1 staple and then use duct tape as a Spine and PRESTO! 5-6 little "guide-ettes"... easy to slip in pockets, read on beach or ferry. Rough Guide has good maps, lots of background on famous sites, and bless them it's CANDID -- if an island is full of awful package-tour brawlers, it will say so, if a beach is all pebbles and grit, it will say so. If an island doesn't live up to the cruise-brochure hype, RG will tell you. V. helpful.

Posted by
22 posts

Janet,

Thank you so much. Lots of good info here. I'll definitely look for that book. Thanks for your help.

Cheryl

Posted by
2873 posts

As someone who visited a very remote, off-the-tourist trail part of Greece specifically because it was in "Mamma Mia!" I hear you. Skopelos and Skiathos are the main filming locations, and the little village of Damochari in the Pelion region in the mainland was the setting for the habor. (That's where I went. It was lovely. Probably not best for first timers though!)

With enough research you can plan a great Greek trip without a travel agency. For a first time, I'd recommend flying into Athens, staying there for a few nights to see the sights and get adjusted and then either pick two "nearby" (less than 3 hour ferry time) islands for the rest of your trip, or one "faraway" island. The last thing you want to do is spend most of your time in transit and 10 days isn't that much time on the ground.

As to what Island, it really depends on what your family's interests are, the ages of everyone, stuff like that. Some islands are known for their nightlife, some are better for outdoor activities, or culture, or just beach time.

There's no need to have a car if you do Athens plus an island or two. With a family your size, you can take a taxi from the airport to Athens (reserve in advance, online), and then the metro or a taxi to the ferry terminals at Piraeus. A taxi upon return back to the airport.

Posted by
2416 posts

Sarah is correct in that the "mama mia" locales are very scenic ... however with Cheryl's VERY limited time, getting to those isles & mainland area is rather time-consuming. Also, someone from Germany can afford the shorter trip/lower cost to go to Greece multiple times, whereas for Sarah's group, this may be the only trip for her, though family members may look decades ahead for more. In this circumstance, choices may be different.

The very limited time also affects sequence -- if Sarah's group stays in Athens FIRST, then it means they must be in Athens 2x --because it's not safe to return there on Departure Day; too much risk of missing homebound flight if weather or equipment glitch. With only 10 days (9?) it eats up precious hours to go in to Athens (1 + hour), check into hotel (30 mins), then re-pack, check out (1` hr) return to airport (1+hour).... and then do it all again at end of stay! They need to strategize and head for their main destination immediately on arrival day if at all possible, and save Athens for the last.

To get to/from airport to Central Athens (Plaka area+) is economical by day for a few people who can fit into a taxi, because the flat rate is €38. However, taxis only accommodate 4 people + driver ... and currently taxi fleets don't include vans (I know.. Greece is way behind the times!) .. and booking a special van would get costly. Perhaps if they do Athens last, 1 member of the party would have become confident enough to use public transit ... myself, I always use the (cheap = €6) X95 express bus that goes right from Syntagma Square 24/7... about every 20 minutes by day, 30 minutes at night. NO stress, almost no stops, no pickpocket worries, plenty of time on airport arrival to get off, you can relax enroute, even doze.

Posted by
22 posts

Wow, I never thought of all this stuff. I just ordered two travel books on Greece, so we will sit down and plan out everything we want to see. My two daughters (ages 23 and 21) are going as well as my oldest daughter's boyfriend (age 26) and his mom. I know we want to go to the beach, do some shopping even though we are not really big souviner people, and see the ruins in Athens. Other than that, I have no idea what we'll do. The kids keep saying they don't care what we do. They are just excited to be going. I'm sure we will want to bring back something to remember our trip by. Also, the hot springs looked very pretty and we've never done that before.

Posted by
2873 posts

Sorry, Janet I should have been clearer - I don't think they should try to go to Skiathos/Mamma Mia sites on this trip. Too difficult to get to. They could book larger cars from the airport, though - I'm not against the bus (I almost always take public transit when I travel) but to/from airport with a family that size it might be economical to book a transfer from the airport. Navigating a new city's public transit when first off a flight on your first European trip is a bit of a stress for many people!

Cheryl - I think you should keep things simple. If I were you I would look into the Saronic gulf Islands which are very close to Athens and really underrated (IMO) for tourists. You could fly into Athens, spend a couple days exploring and seeing the ruins, perhaps a dedicated bus tour to Delphi, then go to the port (Piraeus) and take a boat to Aegnia, which is a larger island with great beaches and an important ruin, but has plenty of infrastructure for shopping, beach bars, etc. If you get bored you can take a 10 minute water taxi to Agistri, which I adore, a fairly small, unspoiled island with pine forests and many different kinds of beaches. You can also from Aegnia (I think, would have to check on this) go to Hydra, which is a car-free traditional (although touristy) island where donkeys are used to haul luggage. Maybe Athens/Aegnia/Hydra would make a good trip? The benefit is they're all an easy reach from Athens so you're not spending your precious time in transit more than you need to.

Myknos and Santorni are famous, but also very crowded with tourists and a lot further from Athens. I haven't been but after being to Agistri I don't really see why I'd bother - it was perfect for me. It may not be for your group as we wanted a relaxed beach holiday and you may want to be more active. (But that's what the Athens part of the trip is for, IMO).

Most hotels in the Saronic gulf islands will either pick you up or give you good instructions on how to reach them. Our hotel in Agistri offered repeatedly to drive us to the dock, which was ridiculous, because it was a 5 minute walk away. Customer service in Greece is generally excellent.

Honestly though with Greece there's so many options and it's hard for me to imagine you not having a great time. I think it may be my favorite country in Europe and I'm afraid I'm a little addicted. It's entirely possible to plan this on your own without a travel agent and everything is cheap if you pick the right place (why I went for smaller Agistri over other islands to be honest). Keep us updated with your plans!

Posted by
2416 posts

Sarah I agree with you that the Saronic islands are often over looked esp. by US tourists who are caught up in the Santorini-Mykonos hype. There is one big proviso however --- since this group, for work reasons, is forced to go in HIGH season (July) .. and since Aegina & Angistri are SO close to Athens, on midsummer Weekends they are absolutely jampacked with Athenians, according to my Athens friends ... during mid-week, less crowded. Timing is everything!

Posted by
2873 posts

Janet - good point! most people we saw on holiday in Agistri were from Athens! I mean, it's high season everywhere at that time but no matter where they go, booking well in advance would be important.

Posted by
22 posts

We will definitely book in advance. I'm discovering that one trip to Greece probably won't be enough. We've seen pics of everything from the Acropolis to white rocks in Milos that we'd love to see in person and not enough time to see it all. Thank you everyone for all the information. I bought some travel books on Greece and will be passing them around our family so everyone can give their input as to what they want to see on this trip.

Thanks again,
Cheryl Petty

Posted by
3316 posts

Should you go to Mykonos, consider taking one of the local boat tours out to the island of Delos. Not to be missed -- but that's just my opinion. Yours may differ so google it and see what you think.