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2 weeks of islands with lots of Crete

My husband and I will be spending 2 weeks in Greece next year (May 15-30) celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary and plan to concentrate on islands (to save the mainland for an RS tour of Greece in the future). I am calling this a DIY cruise.
Roughly, I have plotted:
1 day/overnight in Piraeus (This is the day of our arrival in Greece from Canada)
2 nights Hydra (Rick's favourite)
Ferry Hydra-Piraeus-Crete
Here is where it gets tricky:
6 or 7 nights on Crete
-2 or 3 in Heraklion to see the Palace of Knossis/Museum, maybe wine country or just the city
Drive rental car to Hania and spend 3 or 4 nights there, including doing a hike of the Samaria Gorge
Then back to Heraklion
Ferry to Santorini
2 nights Santorini
Ferry to Naxos
2 nights Naxos
Naxos to Athens on Thursday May 28
Friday (Laundry and Archeological Museum)
Saturday we must leave for Rome in the morning.
Questions: Am I trying to jam too much in with both Santorini and Naxos? Should I dump one day on Crete?
I had hoped to visit the beach at Elafonisi but don't think that is realistic if we are going to spend a day at the gorge.
We have been in Athens before and again, plan to save more extensive visiting for the RS tour in the future.
TIA for any advice.

Posted by
949 posts

Re: Am I trying to jam too much in with both Santorini and Naxos?

Yes!

Bear in mind, every time you move from one island to another eats up time. Packing/unpacking, getting to the port, waiting for the ferry, the ferry ride, getting to your accommodations, unpacking, etc. Time is valuable on holiday . . . don't spend so much time on getting from Point A to Point B.

Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, almost a country unto itself. You could spend weeks there and not see it all.

Hydra which has one of Greece's nicest towns cascading down to a lovely waterfront is more of a day-trip experience. Not a whole lot to do other than eat, drink, hang out and people watch. No archeological sites, no beaches to speak of but lots of jet-setters if you like that type of company.

Santorini is one of Greece's most heavily touristed of the Greek Islands and also one of the most expensive.

Naxos is one of Greece's nicest islands and the largest of the Cyclades with something for everyone.

You can either drop Santorini or Naxos and spend the time on one of those islands. If it was me it would be Naxos.

Since you've been to Athens before I'm assuming you've been to most everything one goes to Athens for. However, there's more to Athens than just the usual tourist sites.

Posted by
58 posts

Thanks for this. I'm thinking of dumping 1 night in Hydra and adding it to Naxos now.

Posted by
2604 posts

Yeah I'd definitely merge Naxos and Santorini into one stay. Perhaps a visit or revisit to Hydra could wait until you return to for a mainland exploration since it is so close, allowing you to add time to Crete?

Posted by
1915 posts

I’d try to book a flight out to Crete shortly after arriving in Athens. Two hours between flights should give you plenty of time. Then you can dump the night in Piraeus and both nights on Hydra. Add two of these nights to Naxos and the other to Crete or Athens.

Posted by
58 posts

I would, too if I were 20 years younger! ;-) We're in our late 60s and want to recover a bit before hopping on another plane! But It is definitely an efficient idea. Thank you.

Posted by
7682 posts

On Crete, we visited Heraklion to see Knossos and the Archeological Museum as a day trip from Chania which is a nicer place to stay.
Hydra is really Rick Steves’ favorite island?

Posted by
58 posts

That's what he says in his book book "Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese". ;-)

Posted by
2856 posts

Frankly I would skip Hydra altogther unless you have some terrific deal with a private residence ... it's not an island for swims (no beaches really) and not so much for history either ... Yes it'a a favorite for Rick Steves, but that may well be for business reasons -- the Steves group tours are in the Peloponnese mainland, and often the Rickheads want to have an island experience. So he promotes Hydra because it's a feasible day trip to tack onto the beginning or end of a RS Tour. If you have an extended visit to greece NOT on a RS tour, and are able to spend time on Crete & Naxos, Hydra will not impress you. It mainly gets its praise from people who go there on a day excursion & walk around the pretty port area. Instead I would plan an itineary MUCH more efficient -- can cut at least a day off your transportation and avoid that backtracking in Crete.

My suggestion would involve a FLIGHT immediately upon arrival from Canada -- and yes I know you will be exhausted -- but this is the exact strategy advised AND followed by one of the Best-known Forum Contributors, "Stanbr" -- who comes to Greece annually from Vancouver Island, and always starts with Crete, and includes Naxos, often with a Santorini stop, in between.

DAY 1 May 15 -- Canada flights land around 10 AM; allow 2 hrs layover, then Fly AEGEAN to CHANIA CRETE
MAY 16-17-18 -- CHANIA & Western Crete (1st day for "recovery" & enjoying Chania Old Town. Only then rent car). Unless you want "bragging rights" for hiking Samaria, consider Imbros Gorge instead ... shorter hike (4 hrs), JUST as beautiful NO crowds whatever! AND after Imbros you don't need a "down day" to recover from aches & pains.
MAY 19 - 20 -- drive south? then North to Heraklion (to see Knossos), spend last evening in Heraklion
MAy 21 - 22 -- 9:45 Ferry to SANTORINI arrive noon 5/21 ... I say, stay rimside at Firostephani (walkable to FIra Town, but bypassed by bus tours & cruise mobs)... 5/22 - visit OIA early AM to avoid mobs; 36 - 48 hours is enough to "experience" Santorini
MAY 23 -- 10:45 ChampionJet Ferry (open back deck) to NAXOS arrive noon
MAY 23- 24 -25 -26 - NAXOS & ?? Now HERE is the time to experience a Cycladic island(s) ... miles of golden sand beaches, dramatic inland landscapes, fascinating port town, ancient ruins, hillside villages. A possible day tour or hop to ANTIPAROS for 1 night on May 27? (charming port and village, magical at night).
MAY 28 - Antiparos very near to PAROS airport: FLY to ATH & take x95 bus to central athens hotel ... a ferry will take 6+ hours from Naxos, 5+ from Paros & will "eat up" an entire day. IF Insist on ferry, take BLUE STAR @6pm Naxo, 7pmParos, arr midnight.
MAY 29- 30 -- as above

Posted by
2856 posts

And that business about you being in your 60s ... Stanbr & bride probably start farther West in Canada than even you and also are in their 60s (in fact celebrated 40th on Naxos) and they always advocate recovering from Jet lag on an Island, NOT in grimy traffic-choked Piraeus.

Posted by
58 posts

Wow, this is really making me re-think a lot! But you definitely sound like you know these places, Janet. Hmmm - so Hydra is a Greek island for people who really aren't going to be doing Greek islands is what you seem to be saying...And the Imbros Gorge sounds like an excellent option. I really appreciate your input. A few more flights than I want - we love being on the water - but your suggestions are very good. Thanks very much. I am going back to the drawing board.

Posted by
1722 posts

I agree with Janet and in fact did what she was suggesting. It frankly will be less trouble to take another flight the day you arrive than make your way to Piraeus. We flew to santorini but the principle is the same.

I also started out thinking we would go to Hydra until I realized the beaches were rocky. We went instead to Naxos where we spent 4 nights. We could have spent more. It has gorgeous beaches and mountains too.

I would add night you were going to spend in Piraeus to santorini and the two in Hydra to Naxos. And have your laundry done in Naxos. Our hotel offered that for a minimal price.

And fly back from Naxos which will save time too.

Posted by
58 posts

Thank you, BethFL and Janet. In fact, I had just turned on my computer to cancel our hotel reservations in Hydra and I guess Piraeus will get axed, too. And adding the time in Naxos and possible nearby islands was also the plan. Laundry in Naxos now sounds like a plan, too.
I really appreciate the input from you experienced travellers to Greece.
Now on to fine-tuning Crete!

Posted by
5617 posts

We visited Greece on our own at Eastertime last year (including Hydra, which was great - you’ll like it if you go there on a future RS tour), and are heading to Crete this year, early fall.

We’re planning to hike the Samaria Gorge (maybe Imbros or others, too), and have already hired a private driver to get us to the trailhead and pick us up after the ferry - no having to catch buses, just the ferry at the end. We were surprised to learn there are rain monitors throughout the gorge, and it was closed twice this summer due to rising water concerns. Also, they close it for the season when rain starts coming regularly, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t have been closed off for us in October. Sounds like May is not a concern, and you’ll have wildflowers then, too.

We hired excellent Nikki as a personal guide at the ancient Olympia site/museum last year, and she’s been featured in Rick’s Greece TV shows. You may encounter her on your future RS tour, but based on another recommendation in this Travel Forum, we’ve contacted her about a guided tour at Knossos. We’re getting a 2-hour guided tour for €150, and her colleague will be meeting us there. We plan on seeing other Minoan sites on our 2+ weeks on Crete, and guidebooks go into some detail about them, especially Knossos, but our experience at Archaea Olympia with Nikki tells us our time and money will be well spent with her Cretan Knossos guide. Her Website is http://www.olympictours.gr

Posted by
334 posts

I have done the flight to Crete, Chania, a few times having flown from Vancouver Island. Yes it is a long day but flying time into Crete is less than an hour. If you are flying Air Canada, Aegean Airlines/Olympic are Star Alliance partners so you can check your bags all the way through. Athens Airport is smallish and easy to navigate. If you have time there is a food court with all sorts of decent food (don’t do what I did and try to take a large great yogurt through security!). Upstairs There is an interesting small display relating to the archaeological work carried out when building the airport.

Recommend Rough Guides Crete guidebook for sites, hikes, history, etc.

Posted by
58 posts

Thanks, Landlubber! We're only flying from Ottawa via Montreal so I guess if YOU can do it from Vancouver Island, WE can do it! ;-)

Posted by
984 posts

I am late here but Janet has said what I would say.
From Vancouver island it is over 24 hours of total time change which is brutal however we always get that flight to Crete immediately on landing in Athens.
While Athens is a great destination it is not my favourite place to get over Jet lag. It is big, noisy, busy. dusty and hot. Fly to Crete you will not regret getting over jet lag there.

By dropping Piraeus and Hydra you are opening up days for your island hopping experience.

I would fly to Chania not Heraklion. Spend your time in Chania.
Chania http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632117917828/

Then rent the car and drive to Heraklion. Your plan calls for a return trip from Heraklion to Chania and back again. Best to use that extra time and only do a one way drive. The locally owned car rental companies will allow you to pick up in one city and drop off in another as long as you have a three day rental. doing Heraklion second means you are there for the ferry to Santorini.
Check out Autorentals Crete. We have used them several times and their service is outstanding.

I know I am biassed but if you add the three days you have saved and add them to Naxos, now you have transformed a flawed trip to a wonderful holiday.

Here is what you will see.
Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157655935354556
Knossos, Phastos and Gortyz https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157645085297380/
Naxos Town http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632094558042/
Trip around Naxos http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/
Naxos sunsets https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157700728046481

Posted by
58 posts

Thank you "Standbr." I think I am going to stay on Naxos forever...And indeed, Janet also recommended flying into Chania right from Athens. I had no idea you could even do that. I think that by freeing up these days, we'll be able to visit Rethimno and Elafonisi. Any thoughts about those places? Thanks again for your insights. (And your photos are gorgeous.)

Posted by
984 posts

You are going to have a great trip. For flights to Chania check Aegean Airlines and Sky Express. They both do this route. You will need 2 hours after your transatlantic flight lands to make the connection.

If you are interested in beaches there are two that i recommend. Elafonisi ( there is a daily bus from Chania that departs to Elafonisi in the morning and returns in the late afternoon.
There is another boat excursion from Kissamos harbour that take in a pirate fortress and two beaches including the famous Balos lagoon. You should not drive to Balos as the road is steep and poorly maintained. You invalidate your car insurance if you damage the car on that road. You can certainly drive to Kissamos and park there and take the boat excursion or you can just book the excursion with any travel agent in Chania. This includes bus pick up at or as close as a bus can get to your hotel. I actually like this excursion more than Elafonissi.
Gramovossa, Balos and Elafonissi https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157698932695812

Rethymnon is a good place for a visit. It too has a Venetina harbour and old town plus the Venetian era Fortezza.
Rethymnon https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157654700502270

Naxos is indeed our favourite island. We go there on every trip.

PS not sure if you know this but to rent a car in Greece you have to have an IDP International drivers Permit. they cost about $30 at CAA. No need to be a member and no test.

Posted by
58 posts

More great info, Standbr.
Do you think the water will be warm enough for swimming in late May? (Bearing in mind that my husband took swimming lessons in Lake Ontario in early July as a kid...however, I am more of a warm-water person) Elafonisi was definitely on my wish list and I was just thinking about Kissamos. The excursion sounds great.
I did not know about the International Driver's Permit requirement - thanks. We are CAA members. And we will not risk that steep road you mention!
Even doing carry-on only, do you think we'll need 2 hrs. between arriving Athens and departing for Chania?
Here is what my itinerary is looking like now:
Arrive Greece and go right to Chania. (Any hotel recommendation in Chania??)
About 6 nights on Crete (probably 4 in Chania, 1 in Rethymnon and then from there to Knossis en route to Heraklion.
2 nights in Heraklion and then to Santorini.
2 nights Santorini then off to Naxos. About 4 nights there and then 2 nights in Athens before flying off for our May 30 rendezvous in Rome.
Thank you again for your excellent advice.

Posted by
984 posts

Swimming will still be a bit cool in late May but the water will be warmer than Lake Ontario in August. Once you are in it takes a couple of minutes getting used to the temp. St George Beach at Naxos is very shallow so is much warmer than virtually any other place. The sun will certainly be warm in Late May.

Two hours is the recommended time for flight connections in Athens. It sounds like you might be doing the Transatlantic on AC Rouge. That flight gets in in the morning around 10:30. Unfortunately several jumbo flights arrive about the same time. That can make passport control a bit time consuming but if you have cabin baggage only that means you can get ahead of most of the other passengers..

One of the reasons for 2 hours is the domestic flights depart from the parking area on the tarmac. You are bused from the departure gate and that takes up time. Chances are you can make a shorter time frame. Personally I would prefer to wait at the gate than be running at the last second. Too old for heroics these days.
If you are flying Aegean you can check in 48 hours prior to flight time so you won't have to line up at a check in counter. After passport control you just go upstairs to departure level and go through security. The airport is very efficient.

We are budget travelers so try to find small studio rooms just around 60 Euros a night about $100 Cdn. We stay at Pension Nora at Natalies Rooms or right across the alley at Studios Jason. They are both well regarded. We have also stayed at Vranas studios. It is an old mansion that has been subdivided into studio rooms. While we quite liked that one, it is an alley behind the big church the bells are very loud.
Do make sure your hotel in in the old town harbour area. It is a fascinating place to wander around.

Posted by
88 posts

Some excellent advice on this thread and I wanted to jump in here with an outline of our trip my wife and I will be taking in Sept. We have been to Greece before, and hope to again (thus on this trip we are trying to focus on Peloponese penisula and Crete specifically (with hopes in future to come and see other parts of Greece and its islands). So here is our schedule (and would love any advice or recommendations from all the thoughtful folks who have weighed in on this thread)
Day 1--arrive Athens early, get car, drive to Mani Penisula (stop in Corinth along the way). Staying in Limeni villa
Day 2-Mani penisula drive south, aeriopoli, diros caves, vathia, githeo, monemvasia. Then head back to Limeni villa
Day 3-Go north to Kardymli and explore town, maybe Kastania along the way. Maybe some of the hikes in Kardymli area. Hang out in Limeni village area and beaches
Day 4-Visit ancient Messena area, on way to ancient Olympia area. On way back to Limeni maybe Temple of Apollo at Epikurious and Voidokoilia beach in Messinia
Day 5--Check out of hotel and head to Mystras. Then to Nafpoli AirBNB. Sightsee some of Nafpoli in evening
Day 6-walking tour of city and food tasting in morning. Then Palamidi Fortress, Archaelogical Museum, Tyrins Fortress.
Day 7-Ancient Nemea, then hit wineries in the area, then on way back Mycenae, then back to Nafplio
Day 8--Drive to Epidavros, then on to Metochi to catch boat to Hydra to sightsee during day. I see recommendations above to skip Hydra? I was thinking Hydra just because it would be relatively easy to get there for day, and seemed to have somewhat more to see than Spetses or other nearby islands? And we could just stay as long as we wanted and then catch a relatively quick boat back to Metochi, and then drive back to Nafplio.
Day 9-Check out of Nafplio and head to Athens airport. Flight Athens to Chania Crete. Arrive mid afternoon in old city Chania and sightsee.
Day 10-Chania sightsee, and then late afternoon food tour/cooking lessons/wine tasting
Day 11-Chania sightsee more. Maybe diving for me, spa day for my wife
Day 12-Check out of Chania, pick up car (we won't have car in Chania until checkout so not having to fool with it there) at airport, and while near airport explore historical sights/churches/beach areas on peninsula near airport. Then drive towards Rethymnon, and check in hotel. Sightsee there.
Day 13--I take car to Imros Gorge and do that hike (I came to same conclusion as thread above on Samaria vs Imros), and my wife can sightsee city more. I come back by around noon, and we head off towards Elounda
Day 14-Elounda beach area (with some rest/relaxation/beach time/spa/golf/etc)
Day 15-Explore Elounda island, then boat trip spinalonga from Plaka. Later drive to Aigos Nikolaos area for evening dinner/drinks/stroll. Then back to Elounda.
Day 16-Drive to Knossos and see site and museum. Then check into hotel (above Herkalion in winery stay).
Day 17--Drive to Herkalion and sightsee city
Day 18-Drive to Herkalion and sightsee more (or any areas surrounding), and then return car. Flight leaves out of Herkalion to Athens late afternoon. Stay hotel at Athens airport (that we can just walk to from airport).
Day 19-Walk from hotel back to airport for flight leaving Athens 9:30 am back to US.

Would love to hear anything I have missed (that I shouldn't!) in any of these areas or any advice/recommendations. We have tried to focus more on the "land" and not spend a lot of time jumping island to island on this trip, and trying to focus more time on specific places on this trip, to make best use of our time. And staying in old part of cities so easy access to sights there. I have for guidebooks Rick Steves, Brandt, and Rough Guides (all with useful info for their specific areas). Any advice is much appreciated!

Posted by
58 posts

Stanbr, thanks so much again - yep, A/C rouge arriving Athens 9:05 AM so we will aim to leave the 2 hour window you recommend.
48 hour advance check-in for Aegean sounds great, too - we always like to be checked in before getting to the airport.
Great advice!

Posted by
984 posts

Hi Craig. I respectfully suggest that you start your own thread. This thread has had a lot of feedback and often when that happens the regulars stop posting as they have said their piece. That reduces your chances for getting feedback on your plan. A fresh thread will likely get more responses.

My initial thoughts are you are trying to do a month long visit in two weeks. Transportation in Greece is way slower that we North Americans expect. Having said that a few years ago a poster had an itinerary like yours and we all urged him to slow down. On his return he posted he had completed the whole plan and enjoyed every second of it. So everyone has their own travel style and that is OK.

So assuming you really plan to do all this I am going to make comments on your logistics only.

Day 1. You fly transatlantic and rent a car. Experience teaches us that even in Business class one is totally jet lagged. Your plan is to rent a car then drive to Corinth then south to Limini. Thats 300 kilometers. After a transatlantic this plan is dangerous, it is possible that you will virtually jet lagged be impaired.

We did rent a car once because we landed in the morning like you are but we made our base in Nafplio about a 2 hour trip. Since we were driving right past Corinth we stopped for an hour at Ancient Nemia which is just a few kilometers out of your way before you turn south to Nafplio. Planning logistics work best when you stop at sights with logical connection on your route.
We spent the next two day hanging around Nafplio getting over jet lag and doing short trips to the nearby antiquities. Since Nafplio is in your plan anyway I would seriously suggest you switch your plan and do Nafplio first.

We headed south and stopped at Mystras. That site takes a good 4 hours, then headed further south and then east to Monemvassia. On that trip we averaged 23 kilometer an hour. Just too many things to see on that route. We spent the night in Monemvassia then headed over to the Mani. Because of all the interesting stuff on that trip we took all day to do that trip. The Mani is rugged and there are so many places to stop that it is going to take several days to explore. We choose to do this route so far in a circle configuration and finding hotels along the road as evening approached. You may find this area is really not the best place to have a home base and driving back each evening. Sometimes that just is not efficient.

Day 4 is a nightmare. "Visit ancient Messena area, on way to ancient Olympia area. On way back to Limeni maybe Temple of Apollo at Epikurious and Voidokoilia beach in Messinia. Even doing that trip on a one way drive is going to be a long day but to then return to Limini will be exhausting.

Now on to Crete. I am glad you are planning a relaxing couple of nights in Chania. It is lovely.

Day 13 though is going to be another exhausting experience and the logistics really don't work well. " Day 13--I take car to Imros Gorge and do that hike (I came to same conclusion as thread above on Samaria vs Imros), and my wife can sight see city more. I come back by around noon, and we head off towards Elounda"

Just being nit picky but it is Imbros gorge. Its about a 45 minute drive from Rethmnon. You have to decide if you want to start at the top and park your car there or drive to the bottom and park your car there. Either way you need to get to the taverna at the bottom and have them find a taxi/local driver to or from your car. The Gorge walk is probably about three hours and then there is a significant switchback road which is going to take you a lot longer than you think. It will be well into the afternoon before you get back to Rethymnon and then you still have a 3 hour drive to Elounda.

Greece is one of these places where going slower and seeing stuff in detail is the best approach. Less is more.

Posted by
7682 posts

Craig,
Yes, too much in hour itinerary. Day 16,17 and 18.. You have way too much time in Heraklion. See Knossos, stay overnight if you wish. Or see Knossos before your flight, same day. Heraklion is not a place we wanted to spend much time,whereas Chania is.