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Athens and ???

I feel like I'm swimming in information, but can't pin anything down! I'm quite an experienced DIY traveler on multiple continents with ex-pat experience in Asia, but Greece has me stumped. I hope experienced posters will take pity and help me find a way to focus! (At this point, I have consulted 6 guidebooks and numerous websites!)

I'm researching a June 2024 trip. Definitely Athens will be on the itinerary for 3 - 5 nights depending on the day tours out of town that I find interesting.

I would like include at least one other stop for several nights, possibly two other locations. I would call this an exploratory "Taste of Greece" trip, so just an idea of another side of Greece in addition to Athens would be ideal. I think we would be more comfortable flying to a second location rather than ferries, unless it is a ferry day trip. We will not rent a car which I recognize limits the sightseeing easily available. A beach day is not a high priority.

Looking for votes, advice, comments, thoughts on the following:

1) Santorini. I see it is expensive and heavily touristed. We would be interested in the topography and can handle crowds. If this was the chosen option, I would probably book 2 - 3 nights.

2) Mykonos. My research says "party town". We aren't partiers. I've always been intrigued by the pictures, but would the reality be possibly underwhelming? The focus would be the Old Town, probably 2 nights with one full day. Is Mykonos a possible day trip from somewhere?

3) Crete. No car which would limit touring. The interest is Knossos Palace and Iraklio Archeological Museum, uncertain of other sight-seeing without a car. Please share experience if you have any!

4) Your suggestions! If you have a favorite island or site or town, please share! Naxos has popped up in my research, but seems that a car is necessary.

If it helps, our general interests are history, culture, art, museum lovers. Enjoy walking, reasonable hiking (dislike rock scrambling) and we do swim regularly in the ocean at home, so not necessarily looking for a Greek ocean experience.

Posted by
1464 posts

I visited Corfu a long time ago. I looked it up on Wikipedia and it has a very layered history of everthing that has happened in the Mediterranean for several thousand years. It has an UNESCO listing for the old town which has been used in several movies, etc.
It has several archeological sites such as Castles, etc. It also has a contemporary lifestyle that is not just for busloads of tourists. It does have some tourist packages available. It has access by highway and ferries. I'd go back, it's looks like it could be quite interesting and maybe not just bucket list sites with ants following each other up steep steps.

Posted by
904 posts

Thanks, Kathleen! Corfu was also "on my radar" I will continue to explore that option!

Posted by
11380 posts

ORDtraveler (Chicago) /// we do swim regularly in the ocean at home,

OK, I'll bite.... which ocean?

I think it would be helpful if you indicated how many nights you will have, to help folks provide suggestions, that fit your time frame.

Posted by
6814 posts

I was in Greece over 25 years ago so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I loved Crete. However, as you noted, it is very difficult to get around without a car. I also visited Delphi, because I love history. Of course, you can find history pretty much any place in Greece. If you say you are not really interested in beaches and parties, i would probably skip Santorini and Mykonos.

I would say Rhodes, which has beaches but also lots of history. However, after the fires, I read that all the tourists who were evacuated are invited to come back in 2024 for free. So it may get a tad crowded there.

If it were me, I would pick Corfu (or Delphi). I was on Corfu very briefly back then, and only because the ferry I was taking to Italy made a stop there. But I love the Shakespeare connection and have always wanted to go back and visit.

Posted by
904 posts

joe32F, the trip length will be very flexible until finalized! I generally plan trip lengths based on the must-sees. We are lucky to be in the enviable position of being able to spend one week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks or anything in between on this trip. No set departure or return dates (within June to early July, but I was hoping to beat the highest tour numbers that I assume will be July). I would guess something around 12 - 14 days.

The disconnect between a Chicago departure location and swimming in an ocean regularly hadn't occurred to me! In answer to the question - Atlantic.

Mardee, thanks for the heads up on Rhodes and the mention of Corfu. I will dig deeper there.

Posted by
262 posts

I just wanted to say I wouldn’t discount a Greek ocean experience. We took a Mediterranean cruise this past June and I spent our Mykonos day at the beach - the Aegean was the NICEST water I have ever swam in. Maybe it’s just me but it’s something I’ll never forget. June was nice, hot, but not as bad as what’s been happening since (hotter and some sight closures which we did not have to deal with in June). I also wanted to second a day trip to Delphi from Athens. We hired a private driver, Dimitris Roussos of drpremiumtaxi.com, to take us there and it was one of our favorite days in Greece.

Posted by
904 posts

Thanks, sboh! Delphi goes on my list - I appreciate the driver referral.

I love the beach, we will see how the itinerary works for us. I have swum in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Coral Sea, and from various Asian beaches, all great. This trip, I was prioritizing new experiences, but I won't write the beaches off totally - depends on where we visit!

Thanks for the report on June weather.

Posted by
1652 posts

Hi ORDtraveler,
We visited Greece in May 2022 and we had 16 nights on the ground. This was our itinerary:

Santorini - 3 nights - it doesn't have to be super expensive. We stayed at the Blue Dolphin apartments in Firastefani for about $230 per night. Found some reasonable restaurants, such as Aktaion. The caldera is stunning! We also rented a car for a day to explore the island. Perhaps you might be willing to rent a car for a day? Or you can take a public bus. Or hire a private driver.

Naxos - 4 nights - a very different experience from Santorini so it was nice to visit 2 islands that are different from each other. We took the Blue Star Ferry from Santorini to Naxos - very easy. We also rented a car for a day to explore the island. I know there is a bus. You could probably also hire a private driver. If you stay at a hotel in Naxos town, or near/on St. Georges Beach, you do not need a car, unless you want to explore the island.

Nafplio - 5 nights - this is on the mainland. We flew from Naxos to Athens Airport where we picked up our rental car and drove 2 hours to Nafplio. There is a bus from the airport to Nafplio, as well. Nafplio is beautiful and is a great base to visit ancient ruins, such as Mystras, Mycenae, Epidaurus, and more. I think you can take a bus to these places, and there is always the option to hire a private driver.

Athens - 4 nights - We drove back to Athens Airport where we returned our rental car and took a taxi to our hotel in Athens.

Posted by
904 posts

Thanks, kmkwoo. The itinerary is very helpful! I could drive, but I like the private driver idea.

Posted by
1172 posts

With 12-14 days you could do Athens and 2 other locations.

Athens deserves a minimum of 2 days with 3 better. There's more to Athens than just the tourist sites.

If you want to do day trips out of Athens that means driving long distances or long bus rides to Delphi, Meteora or even Nafplio. It would be better to spend the night rather than more time on the road than at the site.

A great day trip from Athens would be the island of Aegina which will take less than 1 hour on fast ferry or a little longer with regular ferry. It has everyone a Greek Island has to offer. Leave in the morning, spend several hours on the island, return late afternoon and you'll have plenty of time for a night out in Athens.

Hydra would be another good day trip even though it's a bit further by ferry. Very lovely waterfront with the village cascading down to the harbor. Less to do than Aegina but still really nice especially the part of no vehicles on the island.

If you want two other islands then you'll need to check which ones have airports.

If you are not renting a car then you'll be relying on public transportation which can limit where you go and what to see.

Santorini is always on everyone's list but there are so many other islands that can offer scenery, beaches, etc. without the crowds or high costs.

Naxos gets mentioned but apparently is becoming more popular for those who want an alternative to Santorini/Mykonos. When I was there way back in Oct. 2013 it was lovely, pleasantly busy but without the crowds. It may have changed since then. At the time bus service was very good.

I haven't been to Corfu but from what I've heard it's seems to be more British than Greek in most areas. It's certainly not what was depicted in the Durrells of Corfu which was set during the 1930s.

There are several islands reachable by ferry under 4 hours which isn't that bad.

Tinos is a gem of an island with some of the most beautiful villages I've been to but reachable only by ferry.

If you want islands you can fly to that still retain a lot of their Greekness then consider Lesvos, Chios or Kythira. You could spend your entire time there and still not run out of things to do.

However, many of the island's bus service could limit what you see and where to go.

I know it can be overwhelming deciding where to go and how to get there.

However, for me research is part of the fun figuring your itinerary.

Not only is it educational it's enjoyable.

Good luck on your trip.

Posted by
904 posts

Thank you!, Tommy Very helpful. I appreciate the tips from one who has been there! The guides and websites make everything look wonderful (as I'm sure it is). But with everything wonderful, I can't make decisions or prioritize for our needs and preferences!

Posted by
4981 posts

Santorini is beautiful!! Crowds are mainly from cruise ship day trippers and not at all crowded when no ships are in port.

Same with Mykonos. From Mykonos it is a short, easy ferry ride to Delos which is steeped in history and culture. Easy to avoid the "party town" areas.

Posted by
904 posts

Thanks, TC.

Oh dear! Everyone's comments are very, very helpful which is leaving me in quite a dilemma!!!! I want to see it all!

Posted by
993 posts

I went to Greece once so far. It was a solo trip that I also planed myself with the assistance of guidebooks.

Athens: I spent 5 nights in Athens. Most travelers to Greece probably at least spend one or more nights here.

Santorini: it looked appealing. I didn't make time for it.

Mykonos: I didn't consider it. I am not into partying either. Skip it.

Crete: Yes, I went to Crete. I saw the Knossos Palace and the Archaeology museum in Iraklio, and the smaller museums in Chania. I took the bus between the two cities. If I had had more time on Crete I would have gone to the Samariá Gorge and maybe Rethymno. There are other sites with Minoan ruins that I didn't go to. My impression is that at the other sites, the vast majority of the original buildings are missing and nothing has been reconstructed. Also, far less visited but still worth seeing are the Venetian fortresses and lighthouses. The archaeology in Chania had an good display of ancient coins. Because the coins were labeled and in a vertical acrylic display case that let you see them from both sides. You don't often see old coins in museums. When you see them, they often are not displayed well, like only one side may be visible or just a pile of coins so you can't see them individually. Also there is the less commonly visited but still worthwhile Numismatic museum in Athens- it has old coins.

How many nights do you have total?

Maybe consider 5 nights in Crete, 3 in Santorini, and 5 in Athens.

Edit: Crete has enough buses and taxis that you probably don't need to rent a car. Maybe the Samaria gorge looks hard to get to but even if you had a rental car, you would still need somebody to drive you back to your rental car when you get to the end of the gorge.

Posted by
904 posts

Mike, that is quite helpful. I tend to be a more in-depth traveler, spending multiple nights in one location to see the highlights and other smaller spots of personal interest. I like your suggestions! Thanks for the feedback on Crete. I'm glad to hear that the bus worked for you. Our total days will likely be something like you suggested.

Posted by
904 posts

Thanks to everyone! I think I am finding my way to an itinerary that we will enjoy. I will explore the private transfer companies suggested - that is helpful;pful. I now see that this first trip will be reasonably limited and to areas we can stay multiple nights and explore a bit more in depth, as is our preference. I'm making notes on future trips to different areas!

Posted by
1380 posts

You have received many good suggestions. I just saw this thread, not sure how I missed it. Any way here is how we have done Greece several times.
Timing of the visit. I am going to suggest you consider early May. The first week can be a bit cool with warm days but a light jacket for the evening. Dining is an outdoor experience thus the jacket. On our last trip we arrived May 2 but by May 7th it warmed up nicely. I suggest May because we have been in Greece in mid June and it was 95 degrees (even hotter this year)
Recently many more people are visiting Greece and there have been reports of heavy crowds. May is early season and will not be crowded. Of course you could also go in September early October. Crowds are reduced, the sea is warm.

Experienced travellers to Greece suggest that you get out to your first island the day you arrive in Athens. Getting over jet lag on an island is way easier than doing it in Athens.

Crete is a great recommendation. You can spend all of your trip in Crete. It is full of ancient sites. The bus service is inexpensive, air conditioned and frequent particularly in the North where the larger cities are. We have rented a car in Crete several times but we have also just used the buses.

You need 2 hours to make a connection to fly to Crete after your transatlantic flight. Both Sky Express and Aegean fly to Crete. Both allow you to print your boarding pass 48 hours before your flight so pick is pick up your bags, go through passport control, exit the arrivals area, go up to the second level, drop off your bags, pass security and go to your gate. If you are flying on a star alliance flight Aegean is a member so you can book both flights on one ticket. That means if you miss your flight they have to get you on the next available flight.

You can fly to either Heraklion or Chania. I am going to suggest you get a flight to Chania. It is a destination on its own. The old town and harbour was built by the Venetians. You will feel like you stepped back in time when you set foot in Chania old town. Do look for a hotel inside the city walls.
Some images
Chania 2022. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72177720299646015
There are ancient sites close to Chania. Ancient Aptera is 18 km east. 5,000 years of history on top of a mountain. You can take a taxi. Bring water there are no services.
Consider taking the boat excursion to Grasmvossa and Balos lagoon. You get two great beaches, a pirate fortress and a mangled ship wreck on this popular excursion.
Ancient Aptera near Chania and Meladoni Cave in Rethymnon area.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157672118379637
Gramvousa,Balos and Elafonissi https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157698932695812

There is also the famous Sameria Gorge. You can take the KTEL bus and do it yourself or just take an excursion which will include the bus trip up to the gorge do it yourself hike down plus a ferry ride to either Sougia or Chora Sfakion and the bus transfer back to Chania.

If you are not into 16 km hikes down the mountain I am going to suggest something that you will remember for the rest of your life. From Chania take the KTEL bus to Sougia first thing in the morning. It is an outstanding bus ride. Catch the 8am ferry to Agia Roumeli ( where the gorge terminates) . The trip along the south coast is amazing, steep mountains meeting the sea. Take the shuttle service to the bottom of the gorge and hike the flat section of the Gorge . You can get to the iron gates and a couple of kilometres you can get to Christos the last rest stop on the downward hike. It has a church, shade, water and a stream. Then walk back to Agia Roumelli. Perhaps hike up to the Turkish fort just outside the village, then spend a couple of hour on the beach before taking the ferry back to Sougia or Chora Sfakion. I am out of space will continue on another post.

Posted by
1380 posts

For a real treat you could stay in Sougia or Chora Sfakion for a few nights. If not then you could take the KTEL bus to Rethymnon. It too has a small Venetian era harbour and old town, plus a well preserved Venetian harbour and a big beach. Save Heraklion to the end.
Ferry trip Libyan Sea https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157653434073393
Samaria Gorge from the bottom https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157670610409530
Crete Libyan Sea villages https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157645487373222
Sougia https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157696633322660/with/45364786821/

Bus to Heraklion. You can visit Knossos by bus (get there first thing in the morning or just before closing in the evening to avoid the very hot sun) You can easily book an excursion to visit other ancient sites in the area. Of particular interest would be Phastos a Minoen site but no restoration like Knossos and if you can find one to Gortyz/Gorten you will have a great adventure. Gortyz was the Roman capital of Crete. There is a whole city buried in an olive grove. There is also a gated site there but the real adventure starts when you wander into the olive groves.
Archeological sites Phaistos, Gortyz and Knossos.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157645085297380

Heraklion is a noisy, hot city. Be sure to find a hotel close to the central area. We stay at Kronos Hotel. It has sea views and is an easy walk into the centre area. Be sure to join the locals in the evening to walk around the core area. You can easily walk to the ferry port from Kronos,
Castello Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157686964935102
Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157655935354556

You might want to spend 10 to 14 days in Crete.

There will be a number of ferries from Heraklion to Santorini. Santorini will be crowded and expensive but it really is Spectacular.
You can save some money if you get a hotel in Firostaphani . Its on the outskirts of the capital but is an easy 20 minute walk along the cliff side into Fira.
My wallet can only stand Santorini for 3 nights.
You can explore Santorini by KTEL bus or hire a private driver or taxi to get around. Do not miss the ancient site at Akrotiri.
Santorini https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632154800782

Take the ferry to Naxos. Santorini and Naxos are a great combination.Naxos needs a week to truly get to explore most of it. It has a lovely main town with a waterfront promenade, a 6th century artifact called the portera overlooking the town. The old town has a maze of back alleys leading to the Venetian era fortified Kastro. Naxos has great beaches, mountain villages to explore, hiking and a smattering of antiquities
There is a good KTEL bus system in Naxos. While a car gives you more flexibility the bus system will get you around the island. they also offer 2 or 3 different guided tours of the island. They are not expensive and are a good choice if you are not going to have a car.
Trip around Naxos https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157634605629689
Around Naxos town 2022 https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72177720299959098
Back to Naxos 2022 https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72177720299940917
Fly or ferry back to Athens. The ferry trip can cost pretty much the same as a flight. Get back to Athens which needs at least 3 days to see the best sites.
We are doing this exact plan in May 2024.
Have a great time.

Posted by
904 posts

Oh my, stanbr!! Thanks so much for the suggestions, details, and enthusiasm!! I would say I am going to bookmark this - but I lose my bookmarks, so I am going to print it out and physically file instead! Anything not relevant to the 2024 trip will be used later for trip number 2!!!!

Posted by
904 posts

Wow - 27 islands!!! Thanks, Concernedlocal! I really appreciate your perspective. I hadn't had Tinos come up in much of the research I have done.

I always expected this proposed trip would be the beginning of several trips. I have had to "set aside" more locations than I can visit - the Greece must-sees list is becoming longer and longer. I am making notes from your advice.

Posted by
3335 posts

ORD, you have received excellent advice so far ... Stanbr in particular, echoes my history; both of us, from N. America, had first trips just before 2000, became Greece Addicts and have returned many times ( in my case quite frugally due to budget, but finding wonderful bargains & not foregoing comforts). Based on our (longer-visit) experiences, we helped Karen Woo & family strategize a 16-day "starter trip" and are so happy they enjoyed it. If you can manage that length (2 wks + 3rd weekend), I think that itinerary can be a satisfying introduction. With 5-6 days more, a wonderful addition would be Crete, right at the start, before Santorini. I highly recommend early June... in fact, starting 3rd week May is really ideal. Greece (alas) has been "discovered" by mass tourism; every week past mid-June brings worse heat (climate change), more crowds, higher room rates.

For add-ons or day-trips within the 16-day framework - Naxos/Paros offer day-excursions to MYKONOS & DELOS.. so u can see high-end shopping (Mykonos) and world-famous ruins (Delos) without ruinous costs & crowding. During Athens time at the end, if you want a day at Delphi, here's the time to splurge w pvt transfer plus perhaps licensed guide; the day-bus tours are lamentable.

Concerned Local certainly paints an enchanting picture of Tinos and its authentic charms ... but remember, he's had many many trips to see the better-known places first. Also, he's fortunate being in ?UK?Ireland? where flights are MUCH shorter and cheaper than ours... (such lucky people sometimes visit twice a year!). My 25 islands and dozen mainland destinations.. have been during 13 trips during 2 decades. So, yes, "set aside" fascinating possibilities for the future ... and please include Sifnos and Serifos in the Cyclades...and places N Americans almost never go (the amazing N. Aegean isles). Onward!

Posted by
904 posts

Thanks, Janet. I appreciate your perspective.

I will be including highlights in my first trip such as Delphi and plenty of time for the Athens museums that are in my interest and background. Farther afield exploring will likely be in subsequent visits. I will have a companion on this trip, so must consider those interests as well as mine. Subsequent visits are likely to be solo so I can be selfish in my choices!

You are so right that I have received excellent advice here!! I wrote my initial question after several days of research when I was totally overwhelmed - spoiled for choice, indeed! The above posts have all added something to my overall picture and focused my research. I am so grateful for all that the above travelers have suggested and the experiences and itineraries they have shared. I finally think I know how to research and plan for this first trip! (and, of course, always open to new suggestions and discoveries for plan modification or a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th visit!)

Thank you everyone!! Without guidance, I would probably still be mired in websites and guide books!!

Posted by
895 posts

I third Stan and Janet’s comments about Crete. It met so many of my wants for a holiday - swimming, ruins and museums and let us not forget the food, the wine and the olive oil! On most visits I was lucky enough to be able to stay with friends who were living outside Chania. One was a retired archaeologist and so I had my own built in guide for visits to Phaestos, Gortys and Aptera. I had been to Knossos on a previous visit to Crete, as well as other sites on the north coast. The archaeological museum in Heraklion is a must see, the incredible Minoan gold work, the large pots decorated with octopuses, and the beautiful bulls head statues. And of course it covers other periods of Cretan history. One of my favourite sites was the Venetian fortress of Spinalonga near the resort area of Elouda. Fascinating history - Venetians, Ottomans and it ended up being one of the last European leper hospitals which closed in the mid-1950’s. A very evocative place and a beautiful setting.

Chania’s archaeological museum is now located away from the old city in a suburb. Have not visited it but from the photos it looks well designed and with good displays. Walking around the old city you will come across excavated ruins with good signage. Talking about museums, the harbour side Naval Museum is worth a visit with models of ships and demonstrating how the harbour developed. In this museum is a room devoted to the Battle of Crete in 1941 which was a disaster for the Allies. Some of the photos are quite grizzly but you get a feel for the fierce fighting that continued on the Island after the battle by local resistence fighters.

I really like the Rough Guide to Crete. It has good maps, site plans and even some hikes. It covers both modern and ancient Crete and has just enough history to whet your appetite.

Posted by
4289 posts

So many wonderful options. I might toss Thessaloniki in as a different second choice given that you prefer to fly over ferry. Waterfront, different vibe than Athens, still lots of history there and nearby. But you will have to decide whether you want islands or mainland. 🤣 Northern Greece is a different kind of gorgeous.

Posted by
904 posts

My list gets longer and longer! Thank you all for the wonderful ideas and detailed responses. This is so helpful both for trip 1 and those farther out, as I've noted. Getting a list of favorite definitions is fine, but the level of detail provided gives a much better picture and is truly appreciated. I look forward to the time I can relate memories of my first trip to Greece!

Posted by
4 posts

ORDtraveler
I have just started planning a trip to Greece for Oct 2024. I am experiencing all the same questions. I would greatly appreciate any help. If you have made any decisions re: destinations, length of stay, hotels, ferry, etc. There is so much to consider. We are also Chicago based. Thanks

Posted by
3335 posts

Sonia -- don't ask ORDTraveler to be your travel agency ... do some spadework of your own. At the very start she said she had consulted SIX guidebooks and many websites. Have you consulted any guidebooks? Have you carefully read the detailed and experience-proven itineraries on this thread?? I particularly refer to kmkwoo (who has only done ONE trip to Greece, and it was a great success, due to her thorough research & planning and Stanbr (who has been to greece perhaps 17 times since the late 90s, who is a Top contributor to all GReece forums & who has provided detailed itineraries to hundreds of people).

When you've read their suggestions, obtained some travel books to follow the destinations they mention, and consulted a good map, you have made a start. Next come logistiics -- how to get from one place to the next without eating up time & $$. A website called "Rome2Rio" is a good start - it lists all the options for getting from Point A to Point B -- by air, by ferry, if on mainland, if by rental car or intercity bus or pvt drvier -- how long it takes, how much it costs. On this thread helpful contributors already have given y ou clues as to the most efficient sequence... to avoid backtracking & time-wasting.

You will need to get your itinerary sequence decided, and dates thereof, before you can begin asking about hotels. People come to travel forums weeping 'I booked a nonrefundable hotel, and now I discover I can't get a flight/ferry to reach it on that date" -- if I had a $ for every time I read this, I'd be rich. You will have plenty of time to browse hotels - your trip is more than a year away.
You can enjoy learning & deciding... don't ask another first-timer for help, she has enough to do already.

Posted by
127 posts

Sonia - like you, we are planning a trip to Greece in 2024. And like you, we will be following this thread for the great advice that is provided. Welcome to the forum, and to the amazing travel tips you will learn. It is mostly a nice place.

Posted by
4 posts

Janet from Philadelphia, I have been consulting travel books. I have researched websites included Rick Steves. His book on Greece is one I own. I also have some friends who have traveled to Greece who have shared their information. I was only looking for another perspective. I am sorry to have burdened you and others on this thread with my question. Thanks for your reply. Don't worry I won't be on any future threads.