I'm planning to travel for two weeks with my fifteen year old daughter to Athens, Crete, Thessaloniki, and the Cyclades. I am an artist and my daughter (and me) love ruins, museums, evenings out with people out and about, beaches, and old cities. We are definitely on a budget and so far have couchsurfing arrangements in Athens but no itinerary figured out after our three days there. I want to spend a big chunk of time in Crete, see Thessaloniki, and also not miss staying on a small island and maybe visiting another island in the Cyclades as a day trip. I know that nailing down some flights between the long distances in advance would be smart. Other than that, I'm okay with a bit of spontaneity. If I don't want for us to be rushing around all the time -- is this too much? I want to be relaxed too. Are itinerary suggestions? Any natural hot springs to recommend near our travel path?
You don't say when... that will have a huge impact. Crete can still be visited on a budget, but less so in the height of the July-August season. You can bus from Athens to Thessaloniki, then book a direct flight with Aegean airlines to Heraklion. Domestic flights need to be booked well in advance for the cheapest fares. At the end of your time on Crete, you can take the ferry to Santorini from Heraklion, or back to Athens. Also check the ferry services from Souda (next to Chania) or Sitia (i.e. check Anek Lines' website). For Crete, I would recommend no more than an overnight for Iraklion, to visit the Archeological Museum and Knossos. Then head either towards Chania, or Eastern Crete - my vote would be for Chania. There is good bus service on the island.
Thank you Diana! This is exactly what help I needed. We're going the middle of May. And your plan sounds great.
ilona, congrats, you're going at what I consider the BEST time of year… everything's open, nothings crowded, the weather is balmy, (tho I admit the water is "brisk"), the greenery is lush after spring rains but showers are over, and days are loooong. You have good advice already -- since Thessaloniki is SO far (u must be Greek-American to be so interested in that area; roots??), you DO need to fly there. She's right -- you then can fly direct to Heraklion, & yes, stay 1 day just for Knossos & Museum, then flee west on bus to Chania. If heading back all way to Pireaus, check the ANEK sailings (listed under Chania, tho from Souda).
After that, if you want to squeeze in 1-2 cycladic islands, you can't be entirely spontaneous, because you have to work with available ferries… and in May, they can be spotty. Example; you want Naxos. You will have to bus back to Heraklion & take on of the AM fast-ferries to Santorini, and then switch. If you take the Megajet (M-W-F-Su at 8:20, arr at 10:25), you could catch the 11:50 fast-ferry to Naxos & be there by 1:30 pm. If you take 9:45 Flying Cat (smaller, bumpier ride!), arrives at 11:50, no can do… BUT you can catch the 15:30 (3:30pm) nice big Blue Star, to Naxos by 5:30 -- the layover will provide just enough time to catch a bus to top of Santorini, grab a gyro, photograph the view & head down. You could enjoy a GREAT time on the beach at Naxos (stay at St. George Beach in May) explore town … even rent a car for a day & swoop around island. Here's a great photo-view of Naxos' beauties -- https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/ It'a "one-stop shop" for all the Cycladic stuff u'd want -- beaches, landscapes, ruins, cafes, people -- perfect. The day before your flight home take the Blue Star ferry @ 9:45 - arrive 3 pm, or -- if you're ok w. late arrival, you can steal an extra afternoon at the beach (stash your bags at hotel desk) and catch the 6 pm Blue star, in Piraeus about 11:30.
It would be easier if you'd shared exact DATES but if I make a guess at arrival Saturday May 17, your time allocation might be: May 17-19,ATH; May 20-21-22 Thess -- May 23, fly to Herak AM; May 24-25-26, Chania; May 27 TRAVEL (Crete-Naxos) May 28-29-30-31 .. Flight Home??? June 1 or June 2?? When u named all those places, did you ever put them down on a calendar and figure out the do-ability? As you can clearly see … it MAY be too much. You might have to drop a cycladic island… and spend more time in Crete then go straight back to Mainland. The alternative -- Is Thessaloniki a family-related Must-do?? If not, I strongly advise you could save it for another time, your problems would be over.
In any case since u are leaving in less than 2 weeks you don't have time to learn what you need from the internet!! Rick Steves is good on Athens but doesn't cover islands. Don't walk, RUN, to nearest bookstore and get ROUGH GUIDE to GREECE (or amazon over nite -- u can get used copy of 2008 ed). It's a Fat book but u don't have to take it all… carefully pull out sections on Athens, Crete, Cyclades, Language, History etc (as u wish, bind the spines w. duct tape& voila!! Pocket-size guide-ettes! I've made 11 extensive trips to Greece, and it's my go-to guide … you need to learn a lot, fast, and Rough Guide is your best hope. Good luck, and please, get busy!! YOu have the potential for a great trip!
I have visited each of the areas with a Lonely Planet guidebook, and that worked well for me. It's good to be a bit flexible and spontaneous in Greece, since ferry schedules may not always go as planned, but you could go ahead and make a firmer plan for your big city hotels and any flights.
Thanks Janet for such a thoughtful response. I just read another reply you made for a May island 'hopper' and you really know your stuff. My plans are sort of shaping up. We arrive in Athens on Thursday morning at 9:00 am, from California. That's 5/15/14. I thought we'd leave on Saturday, 5/17/14, though I think we could enjoy Athens more -- especially since I do 'street photography' and this is going to be the place for it. I'm thinking we take a ferry to Crete then (because it might not be nice to go back so soon to an airport) but I forget how long a fast ferry it would be. Then, I'd like to move West to Chania after we go to the museum and all. I want this to be very relaxed. At this point, I thought we could either backtrack by bus to eastern Crete and take a ferry from there to Naxos (I think you recommended that island) and then do the day trip to Santorini. From there to Thessaloniki because I know we'll love it. No, I'm not Greek-American but Jewish-American and just heard a talk from a Greek Jew about how that city used to be 1/2 Jewish before the war. Besides that history, it'll have great urban photography opportunities. Our outgoing flight to SF via Philly is on Tues May 27th at 11:15 am. So my issue is: it seems to be easiest to fly into the airport that morning from Crete or Thessaloniki and less convenient (and more risky) from a Cycladean island. So that's why we'd go Naxos to Thessa but that's where I want to ditch Naxos and be more luxurious with our time in Crete.
Since you mention you are on a budget, in Thessaloniki I would stay at Little Big House hostel up in the old city part of town (Ano Poli). I stayed there in 2011 and it was the nicest hostel I've been in - very clean and friendly. Free iced coffee all the time, breakfast for 2€ - there were these little feta filled pastries I would put jam on, oh I miss it! You have some ruins and beautiful old city walls up there, I thought it was a great area. And I believe they do have 2 person rooms if you wanted to be more private. It was around 17€ at that time, it seemed like a fair price. Also from Ano Poli it is a beautiful view over the city, especially at sunset.
While you are in Thessa, eat at Igglis (tavern type restaurant) very close to Little Big House. It was some of the most amazing food I've had. Local, Greek cuisine. Menus are all in Greek but they'll describe to you what they have (what he "beef with bread" was like a Greek sloppy joe, then there was "chicken with tomatoes" that came with rice - excellent). I dream of going back there, haha. Very reasonable prices - I paid more for less tasty meals down in the main part of the city.
Down near the White Tower there is a reggae boat that will take you on a little half hour cruise onto the bay (I know how weird that sounds, you'll see it if it's still there - very colorful). It is free to enter, they just expect you to buy a drink or coffee while you are on it. We timed it so that we were on it right around sunset, it was really nice.
Yes you need to skip Naxos -- and change a lot else besides. If u want to take a ferry to Crete, you should take the O'nite ferry to save time; maybe Sat night 5/17 … and take it to Chania, NOT Heraklion. this will give you your classic "Greek ferry" experience, sunset on deck etc. YOu can book a 2-bd cabin or take 2 bunks in an all-F 4-bunk cabin if you're budgeting. Do Chania first (it is heaven for urban photog), then bus east to Heraklion. You could time it, so you'd arrive Heraklion noonish, stash your bags in a bus locker, then take local bus to Knossos, come back & see Museum (or do museum THEN knossos). Spend night in Heraklion at hotel convenient to ferry pier (Hotel Ilion? is OK or Hotel Kronos). next AM get daily 9:45 fast ferry to Santorini arr 11:45. Get a hotel in Fira since it will be a short stay, 1 night if that. However, from there on, your trip will be a nightmare, logistically… have you even looked at what's involved (unless you have a magic carpet or can walk on water)??
FLYING -- If your transfer date is anywhere between Wed 5/21 and Sunday 5/15,...To get from An island to Thessaloniki will take you all day, and can cost as much as $350 each. Flight from Santo to ATH, connect to THess Flight. FERRY OPTIONS: If you skipped Santorini, you could get an all-night ferry (again) from Heraklion to Pireaus, arriving about 6 a.m. There is also a wee-hours Blue Star ferry from Santorini 1:25 AM Thursday May 22, arriving 7:45 am Piraeus (tho u wd be lucky to be able to book cabin space at this late date). Then u face a looong journey across the mainland to Thess. Either by bus or train taking up most of the day. AND you cannot plan on a flight back on the morning of your homebound flight!! You will need to be in ATH area the night before.
ALTERNATIVE. Have u really thought it thru, the idea of going way across greece on basis of a talk about pre-war Thess?? It has TOTALLY changed. Have u checked what's to see? My books say there's a newish museum; all cemeteries gone, only 1 synagogue, former jewish neighborhood now the Central Market. Thess has great food … but it's a big modern city, I think you may be disappointed. The Jewish Museum in ATH is tremendously evocative … right in Plaka district, in old house. Have u considered an island alternative w. important Jewish history? Rhodes -- where Jews fled from mainland Greece & almost escaped, until Nazis caught up in 1994. Historic synagogue there, a jewish district, a memorial. You can get an ol'night Blue Star ferry about 12:30 AM Friday may 23, arrive Rodes Old town 7 am. Rhodes Old Town (and Lindos etc) again, a phtog's dream --- fab hi walls from 1500. U can get a room in Old Town for €50-70 through booking.com. and u can fly back to ATH airport Monday 5/26 at about 3:30 pm for about €50-60. Think about it.
I guess what I'm saying is that your itinerary has too much wishful thinking, not enough research. consider more realistic options, is all ...
WHen I mentioned O'nite ferry to Rhodes, that was from Santorini. U could arrive Santorini noonish, stash your luggage in Fira town (Pelican travel), do a day of pix-taking, then leave for Rhodes.
Yes Janet, I understand what you're saying and I appreciate your experience. I really have heard good things about Thessaloniki and as you can see in the thread there is a reasonably priced place to stay in the old city which sounds good. What about a bus or train trip to Thessa on Saturday (I must admit I don't know long the trip is but I wouldn't want to go back to the airport so soon) and we stay there 3 days or so and then fly to Heraklion. And then make our way after a day to Chania like you suggest. We could then bus our way all the way east and ferry to Naxos? Question: how much time is minimum for Crete to really be laid back there? I like all your ideas about the overnight ferry trips too. Must look into that. Another question: even though I'm not anxious to drive in Greece, should I still get the International Driver's LI just in case? It'll cost me $25 with the photos and all and if I know I don't want to drive...Rhodes looks so far away but I'll look into it. Another reason for Thessa is that I may have contacts to speak with there ... and there seems to be a small photography museum there as well. Thanks for the other photography suggestions. I just confirmed my show today at our local library!
Ilona of course Thessaloniki is interesting and has modest-priced lodging --- but it's just so darn inconvenient! for a 12 day trip (and face it, you have 12 days, not 2 weeks). It's as if someone said I'm visiting the US for 12 days and I want to see New York and Washington and oh yes, Louisville KY. …. A train or bus from ATH (by the time u check out of hotel, get to station, travel, and at other end, get from station to hotel) will take almost a full day.. Ilona, your wish list is just not possible as it stands. I don't have time to work out further options for you, since I'm right now packing to go out of town for 3 weeks. Since your ambitions continue to be immense, and your research and prep not enough to cope with the logistics involved, I can only extend my best wishes, and sincerely hope you have lots and lots of good luck! -- Kalo Taxidi! (that's "Good trip" in Greek) -- janet