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Athens & the Heart of Greece Pre-tour Island - Options and Opinions

My wife and I are signed up for the late September-early October Greece tour and plan to spend the prior week on an island. The front runner is Naxos, which seems to have a wide variety of activities, reasonable cost for accommodations and dining and good connectivity with the mainland and adjacent islands. We also considered Crete (in particular, Chania and/or the prefecture) but decided that we were less likely to need a rental car in Naxos due to the proximity of the Chora to the beaches and to the accommodations we liked best near Agia Anna and Plaka. We would still need a car for treks into the interior of the island (unless we can use the local bus service), but Crete is much larger and would appear to require a car for the duration of the stay. Having said that, I would be interested in opinions or comments from others that have preceded (or followed) their tour with an island stay, ie, which one, what you liked and disliked, single vs multiple islands, etc. Thanks in advance for any input you care to provide.

Posted by
388 posts

Naxos, Mykonos, and Santorini are the obvious choices for an island escape before the tour. Since you have a week you could either do two small islands or just Crete as it will have lots to keep you busy for a week. Another option would be to do both Meteora on the mainland and an island. With a week you would definitely have time to do both. Look for budget flights on www.skyscanner.com. I hope this helps some.

Posted by
1302 posts

We have not taken the tour but travelled on our own, but our experience might still be useful. We flew from Athens to Santorini, then took the ferry from Santorini to Naxos and from Naxos to Pireaus. We loved Naxos. We were also there in September and stayed for 5 days near Agios Georgios beach which was walking distance to Naxos town and the Chora. We did rent a car for one day to tour around the island. We also took a day trip to the archaeological island of Delos, which also included a 3 hour stop at Mykonos. I believe there are other boat tours you can take if you have the time and interest but we just spent the rest of the time enjoying the beach and Naxos sights. Naxos is quieter than some of the other islands

We also liked Santorini and spent 4 nights there. We also rented a car for a day there and toured the island visiting Ancient Thera and the ancient settlement of Akrotiri. There is an excellent archaeological museum in Fira. The scenery of Santorini is spectacular.

We understand your interest in Crete, which we hope to some day visit, but feel that it would take more than one week to do it justice.

Unless you like rushing around, it's probably a good idea to spend the week on one island, especially with the option of taking day trips. Travelling between islands can eat up time. If you fly to and from Naxos you will save time but we took the ferry and I think it was a 5 hour trip. You probably want to start your tour rested and relaxed and not stressed from too much rushing. Naxos seems to be a good choice.

Posted by
34 posts

Thanks for the replies. After much discussion, we decided to spend our week on Naxos and leave Crete for a future trip. We may visit Santorini as a day trip (at least two companies offer day excursions to Santorini from Naxos), but there is clearly more than enough to do and see on Naxos to keep us occupied for the full week. We are also staying near Agio Giorgio-the combination of beach and town access without the need for a car was very appealing, and we can rent a car for the day for explorations of the other parts of the island. Wish we were there now!

Posted by
31506 posts

During your time on Naxos, you could also sign up for day tours with local firms that will provide transportation around the island. One of the places visited on these tours may be the distillery where Kitron is produced, which is interesting. The atmosphere in the Naxos harbour area at night is very lively, with lots of restaurants.

Posted by
1302 posts

A day trip option from Naxos is a tour of Delos, the archaeological site. We took a boat tour which gave us 3 independent hours on Delos and then stopped at Mykonos for a couple of hours on the way back to Naxos. We really wanted to see Delos and this was the only way to do it. If you do this, be sure to buy your tickets one day in advance. We were told it was ok to buy them on the day of the trip but then we had to wait at the boat to be sure there was enough room before they would sell us the tickets. We did get on the boat but it would have been easier if we had just bought the tickets the previous day.

Posted by
34 posts

Ken, thanks for the tip. We were planning to do our own driving tour of the interior, but I will take a look at some of the bus tours offered to see if that might be a better option.

Carol, thank you again. We do plan to take the Delos-Mykonos excursion-we definitely want to see Delos, and Mykonos at the end is a nice bonus (as long as the port is not overrun with cruise ship passengers). We have discussed the Santorini excursion offered by the same operators vs spending an overnight on Santorini-any thoughts on that? Santorini's ports seem to be particularly challenging because of the need to ascend the 800 foot cliff along with thousands of others, which has apparently created a bottleneck between the ports and the clifftop towns, with long waits for buses (or the cable car, in the case of the port nearest Fira).

Posted by
20 posts

For what this is worth - haven't been to Greece yet....

We are signed up for (probably) the same RS tour in late Sept. -early October and are making plans for an island tour after the tour ends. I read guidebooks and this site extensively. My first thought had been Crete but finally concluded that one week would not do it justice. I was persuaded that Naxos would be ideal based on proximity to Athens, no necessity for a car, and very nice comments and suggestions from several posters. However, again based on many enthusiastic postings, we decided that we needed to spend a couple of nights on Santorini as well. Ultimately, we settled on a ferry to Naxos, then ferry to Santorini, and flight back to Athens. Look forward to seeing you on the RS tour and hearing about your pre-tour trip to the islands.

Posted by
34 posts

Eveleen, we would love to see Santorini, but at this point we like the prospect of settling into a hotel for the week so much that we will probably forgo an overnight and visit on an excursion instead. FWIW, my least favorite part of the RS tour is the short duration of the overnight accommodations (although that is probably the only realistic way to see the Peloponnese), so we decided to book a longer stay on an island somewhere before the tour began. Our alternate plan was to spend two nights there, giving us one full day; however, that is really not enough time to explore Santorini beyond one or two destinations (I have already discovered that there is a lot more to Santorini than the "celebrity" villages of Fira and Oia, which is all that many tourists see, especially those on cruise ship excursions), so we will either take the Naxos-Santorini day excursion to get a taste of the island or leave it for a future trip when we have more time. BTW, another couple we are flying with from the US will be spending their week in Chania before meeting up in Athens for the RS tour, so between us two couples we will have a lot of information to relate to you for your island stay.

Posted by
20 posts

Webdweeb, yes, too many islands and not enough time. We will look forward to hearing the reports from all four of you when we gather on Sept. 22. (We are from Creswell, south of Eugene, OR).

Posted by
31506 posts

Webdweeb,

I'd recommend spending at least one night on Santorini if possible. Wandering about in the evenings in Fira or Oia is great, and there are some nice restaurants there.

Getting from the ports into town may not be that difficult. The Cable Car up from the old port is very quick (provided there won't be a cruise ship there at the time). If you pre-arrange transfers from the new port up to town, the delay isn't that bad in my experience.

In order to make all the arrangements for your island visits, you might consider using one of the travel agencies on Matt Barrett's Greece Travel website. I used that method and was very pleased with the service they provided.

I don't have any suggestions, but I would love to hear of your experiences. I think my husband and I are on that same Greece tour, and while we don't have time for any extra travel outside the tour I would love to know for any future travel.

Posted by
2891 posts

Ken, webdweeb would only have to use the cable car to reach Fira town if he were arriving on a cruise ship or a private yacht -- all other vessels use the new port. Island busses meet the regular ferries there, and plenty of taxis, so no need to pre-arrange a transfer unless you enjoy paying extra. Excursion vessels provide their own land transport. It sounds as if Ken & spouse have been able to make their own arrangements (he mentioned where they've already booked on Naxos) so it does not appear he will need an agency's help. Of course it is nice to wander any island in the evening … but he's already talked about wanting to stay in one place, and getting a "taste" of Santorini towards a possible longer future visit. There are 2 co's doing the day-trips & if the schedules work out, the MVAlexandros is preferred by many as a larger vessel, smoothest ride.

Posted by
56 posts

Hi gang, my wife and I are also on the Sept/Oct. RS Greece tour! We are doing a week island hopping ahead of the tour as well. Our itinerary so far - flight to ATH arr. 9/12 then overnight ferry to Hania, Crete. Plan is to do 3-4 days in Crete, then island hop back to ATH for the tour. Definitly planning to stop at Santorini. We want to do Delos but I thought we would have to stay in Mykonos. Glad to see the options. Haven't decided yet to get a car in Crete, we may just do the bus. Looking forwards to meeting everyone. We are from Ohio.

Posted by
2788 posts

We just arrived home from taking RS 14 day Greece tour, our 12th RS tour. Great guide and group. Active tour with lots of walking and stairs. While we did not visit any other Greek islands, several tour members did. Those who visited Santorini reported that the place was full of cruise ship passengers. Visitors be advised.