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Best Guidebook to get started

After having to unfortunately cancel our family trip to Japan this past April, I'm looking to start planning something new. Japan will unfortunately have to wait a few more years to fit into our schedule (my oldest starts high school next year, so we can't afford the necessary time away from school and don't want to be there close to the Olympics in the summer). But, I just don't feel whole unless I'm planning a vacation, so we're pivoting to something new and will save the Japan itinerary for the future.

After some discussion, we decided last night that we'd like to start planning a trip to Greece. Who knows when it will actually take place (the earliest we'd be able to do it is summer 2021, but it will also depend on global affairs at that time), but I can least return to my happy place of figuring out itineraries and dreaming of the places to see and things to do.

We've used Rick Steves' guidebooks for our two previous family vacations (Germany and Italy) and they haven't steered me wrong. I was looking at his Greek guidebooks and noticed that the main "Greece" book focuses on Athens, the Peloponnese, and a couple of islands (Santorini, Mykonos). I'm concerned because the other guidebooks we've had were a bit more encompassing of the whole country, so it seemed strange to me that this one would be so much more focused.

We're a family of four (ages mid-forties, 14 and 11) and are looking to be on vacation for ~2 weeks, including travel from Toronto, Canada. We're looking for a vacation that includes both history (my oldest is obsessed with ancient history and has a few sites she would like to see, like Delphi and Olympia, which seem to be covered by the guidebook) and relaxation (good food, good scenery).

Before I buy the Rick Steves book, I'm wondering if someone can confirm that most of what we would be wanting to do would be covered by the Rick Steves book, or if we should be looking at something more inclusive, like the Lonely Planet. I really like the Rick Steves layout and would prefer to use it if I can, but also don't want to miss out on something.

Fingers crossed that we can beat this virus and get out travelling again!

Thanks for any help or insight you can provide this or any other information that we can start from.

Posted by
318 posts

Maybe your public library has several? Then you can try before you buy.

Loved Greece! (We used the RS bk, but we were on an RS tour that time, so perfect fit.)

Posted by
17020 posts

For a 2-week family trip to Greece, I'd want both Rick's book (for the depth of detail on what he does cover) and a more comprehensive book so I could make my own decision about what places to see. Rick is particularly skimpy on islands; it's entirely possible that Santorini and/or Mykonos are not the best choices for you. They are acknowledged to be overcrowded and very expensive by Greek standards.

Not having been to Greece recently, I can't give a personal endorsement to any other guide book, but I suspect Rough might be a good choice. There have been quality issues recently with Lonely Planet (in general, not specifically the Greek book).

The suggestion to take a look at your library is a good one. You might also see what you can find in terms of non-current editions at online used-book sellers. Many of those sell via as well.

Posted by
2016 posts

Two of our favorite guidebooks prior to the RS Greece Tour were "The Rough Guide to Greece" and "RS Greece." Both were excellent references. Other tools that I use in planning comes from blogs, and helpful contributions from from this forum. My go to's here came from "Janet" and "Stanbr." I did my reasearch and then contacted them. They were spot on with what we were looking for. In addition to the RS Tour we spent 10 extra days between Naxos (our favorite) & Santorini (least favorite).

Edited to add: Another vote for Matt Barrett’s Guide. He recommended a great guide that we hired in Athens.

Posted by
4264 posts

Janet and Stanbr are both excellent sources on this forum. Using the library to find the right guidebook seems like a good idea if you can access your library (we can't). Library copies might be out of date but would help you choose which one to buy. I doubt if you could do better than RS for what he covers, but as you know he's not comprehensive, especially re islands. You could easily spend a great week in Crete, for example. Another good source on Greece travel is Matt Barrett's website.

You probably know that summers can be very hot in Greece. Our trip was in the fall so I can't speak from personal knowledge. Another frequent suggestion is to start your itinerary somewhere other than Athens, i.e. fly to Athens and go straight to an island or Nafplio or elsewhere, leaving Athens for last. This means your jet-lag and/or sleep=loss recovery will be in a more tranquil place, and also means you'll be close to the Athens airport the night before flying home (as opposed to depending on a connecting flight or ferry from an island on the same day as your big flight).

Posted by
1193 posts

My favourites when I'm starting to research a trip are the DK Eyewitness guides and the Insight guides. Plenty of photos and illustrations of the sites. I don't usually get to the RS guides until it's time to coordinate logistics.

Posted by
2006 posts

Full Disclosure - I haven't made it to Greece yet, but I have started planning a future trip.

I liked the RS guide to Greece for its practical information, but it leaves out a lot of the country. The Lonely Planet guide to Greece, on the other hand, had an overwhelming amount of information for me - I'm still trying to narrow my choices. I looked at Fodor's Essential Greece in the library, and liked it so much I ordered it from Amazon. This is the perfect guidebook for where I am now in my planning.

Posted by
756 posts

There are a number of very good guide books.

My favorites are the Blue Guide to the Aegean Islands and Lonely Planet.

Steve's book is good but but as you said feature Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, Hydra and parts of the Peloponnese. His section on Athens is very good especially the self-guided walk. Those islands are the over-the-top tourist's Greece.

However, there's far more to Greece than just those areas.

Do your research, avoid the glossy travel magazines and travel agent's version of Greece. Check out websites (numerous) and keep asking questions. Don't rely on one source for guidance.

You can check out these website for a very comprehensive guide on Greece.

There are several very good members on the forum that can make suggestions and give advice.

Posted by
1120 posts

We went to Greece with our young adult children two summers ago.
I think RS Greece is great for what it does. It is weak on the islands.
I also bought and used lonely planets Greek islands and the Rough Guide to the Greek Islands.
One thing I would offer is it is much easier for travel to stay within an island group.
I also agree that this board is fabulous for refining your itinerary. I wouldn’t have done anything different on our trip and that is thanks to people here. For example, we flew the first day to our furthest island (santorini) and then ferried to Naxos. We flew from Naxos to airport where we rented car to drive to Nafplio. We returned car at airport and then visited Athens at end. Logistically, this was perfect and much better than my initial plan which had us spending time in Athens twice!

Posted by
116 posts

My husband and I went to Greece in May, 2019. We checked out several books from the library and ended up buying the Rick Steves Pocket Athens book which has great detailed information, is a small size for packing, and has a foldout color map which was helpful.. Another guidebook that we bought was Fodor's Essential Greek Islands with the Best of Athens. This was a great all around book that describes the islands as well as Athens. For photos and ideas of where to go we bought The Greek Islands, DK Eyewitness Travel which was also fun to have. If you go to Santorini be sure to go to Akrotiri which is an amazing archaeological site. It was one of my husband's favorite sites. In Athens I would recommend taking a tour with Athens Walking Tours. We took the Acropolis of Athens Early Morning Tour which was outstanding. Our guide Kostas Kastellakis was excellent and has an archaeology background. He made it an amazing experience. You will love Greece! I hope you have fun planning!

Posted by
2902 posts

I agree with tommyk5 - the Blue Guides for Greece are very informative. I usually buy a used copy. We've been to Greece at least three times exploring different regions each time. First time, Rick's picks, another trip to spend time in Crete and then a third trip to travel around northern Greece. For each trip, we've used a combination of public transportation and rental car. It's all great - Thessaloniki is one of our favorite cities!

Posted by
523 posts

The RS Greece guide is great for what it covers. I recently planned a 2 week trip to Greece using the RS book - which I bought - and a couple of others (i.e. Lonely Planet) I checked out from the library. The main part of our trip was on the Peloponnese. If we were going north or visiting several islands other than RS's recommendations I would probably have purchased another guide (in addition to RS). Unfortunately, our trip (late May) was cancelled due to COVID but we did visit Greece in 2016 so we'll survive.

Posted by
756 posts

The best guidebook for the Peloponnese is the Cadogan Guide to the Peloponnese. The latest edition is from 2008 but is still the best. Not a whole lot changes in the Peloponnese other than a new road from Athens.

If you want details, info, out-of-the-way villages, archeological/historic sites, best places to stay, tavernas to check out and so much more and is a non-touristy guidebook for the Peloponnese then Cadogan's is your best guide.

Posted by
10302 posts

For decades Rick did not even have a Greece guidebook, for some reason, if my recollection is correct.
Don't know why.

Posted by
92 posts

Like Beth, we went to Greece 2 years ago. I used Lonely Planet's Greek Islands and Matt Barrets online site. I didn't find L.P. that helpful. It was not that in depth. But RS Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese guidebook was great for Athens and Santorini.

Posted by
2416 posts

Helpful contributions here ... I've been off the forum for a couple of months because I'm trying hard not to pine for Greece, since it's impossible this year for N. Americans (and maybe not again for me, who knows? while we live we hope!). The other inveterate contributor mentioned, "Stanbr," a friend of mine, is also trying to distract himself with other activities right now. However, if you click on either of our names in a previous Greece discussion (probably about Naxos), you can access stacks of previous comments & counsel

About guidebooks -- others have wisely suggested the STEVES guide for Athens & the Peloponnese, and ROUGH GUIDE for the Rest. Actually, look for used copies... and I like earlier ROUGH GUIDE editions, 2012 or 2015 rather than the most recent -- the newest one packs in a lot of logistics and restaurant/hotel recs, sacrificing much of the backgrounding, history and site descriptions which are the true RG treasures. These days u don't use guides for hotel or meal prices -- up-to-date info is so readily available online. It's the descriptions & exploring tips that books are best at... and these don't change much.

Rick's guide is excellent on Athens, especiallly for newcomers, with D-I-Y step-by-step steering for Acropolis AND unusually the Ancient Agora and "top 10 items" of the huge Arch. Museum -- plus, sends u to his FREE audio downloads of same. So good. He's also good on the Peloponnese, such as Nafplio & Olympia. As mentioned, he does nothing for the glorious Greek Isles -- perhaps the reason is that his guided tours don't go to islands ... altho I don't want to accuse him of monetary motives -- he may just not be interested in them. The main reason he mentions Hydra, I think, is that it gives people who do his mainland tours a chance to have a "taste" of an island close-by. Even his recent video which takes a cruise-ship angle, goes to isles already jampacked & drowning from over-tourism, Santorini & Mykonos. I've always thought he was much more in love with Turkey, although that may change, given its current problematic situation.

Of course over the years I've accumulated a long shelf of guides, but as my mom used to say "YOU own all the books in the Public Library." Take home an armload & browse, and see what appeals... photocopy a page or two if you like, home printers can do that. My quick (& opinionated) review of the lot: The "Eyewitness" 2 guides cover areas very briefly but have very perceptive drawing/ illustrations of complex ancient sites. The "Insight" guides have lovely photos but not text to match, and internet now has all the pix you need. Frommer's & Fodor's guides are very middle-of-road, nothing extra. Lonely Planet once upon a time was a real go-to, now...meh. The 2 "young & party-hearty" guides that were a past joy -- Greek Island-Hopping and Let's Go Greece -- are I believe now only delightful memories -- very good & candid about conditions at height of high season. The BLUE GUIDES to the Mainland & to Crete are focused on ancient & Byzantine sites, & excellent for that. As for Cadogan -- both the one for the Greek Isles and for Peloponnese/Athens are not updated in past dozen years .... but the prose is mainly by Dana Vaccaro, who writes like an angel, and is fab bedside reading just for enjoyment. That's it; feel free to disagree.

Posted by
756 posts

Nice to see Janet back. If you need advice she's one of the best.

As far as Americans not being able to fly to Greece this year due to the country's poor handling of the virus, there is still hope Greece will allow Americans into the country. They will be making an announcement on July 1 about letting more countries into Greece and under what conditions.

I'm booked for a Sept. 30 flight and keeping my fingers crossed. Even if we have to follow guidelines about face masks and social distancing I'm planning on going if allowed.

Posted by
1555 posts

I visited the Peloponnese in 2019 and the Bradt guide was superb.
I was hoping to return this year and had purchased the Bradt guide to northern Greece--alas, here we are, and I am really sick of my dining room office.
No matter where I am going, I purchase regional guides. One book for a country as varied as Italy or Greece seems of limited value.

I use Blue Guides for deep historical/cultural info, then I pick whatever is the most up-to-date for the rest.

Posted by
2442 posts

If your oldest is obsessed with ancient history, she will want to see Akrotiri on Santorini, if it's open, and definitely Mycenae.

Posted by
433 posts

I agree on the "Rough Guides". I read parts of the Rough Guides and Rick Steve's Guides before my trip in 2018. There are two books about Greece in the Rough Guides series: a "Rough Guide to Crete", and another "Rough Guide to Greece".

Rick Steve's book is fine for if you don't care much about Minoan ruins and you aren't interested in the out of the way sites in Northern Greece. It may help to read two or three guidebooks. Even if you spend $75 US dollars on guidebooks, the cost would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of your whole trip and probably well spent.

I went to parts of mainland Greece and Crete, but I wish I had just skipped Crete and seen more Classical Greek ruins and saved Crete for another time. I only spent two nights and three days in Crete. I missed seeing Olympia. I wish I had seen Olympia instead.

Edit: Rick Steves does a good job on describing self-guided walking tours that pass by monuments and important landmarks. My original reason for liking Rick Steve's books was his description of transportation, which I am finding that I can live without or find out from various websites and maps.

The Eyewitness series is almost appealing, if you don't mind that there are more pictures than necessary and the text size is tiny.

Rick Steve's does not try to be comprehensive. He just describes what he is interested in or what is likely to be of interest to most first-time travelers or the most popular sites.

Posted by
312 posts

I am very visual, so I love the DK Eye Witness Books.
I have the one on Greece- does everything.
You could probably check it out at the library.

They also have the Top Ten City guides. I own the Athens one and it’s great. Not only for Athens but day trips too.

Posted by
5860 posts

As mentioned above, look at Cadogan Guides; they are very detailed and give you information you won’t find elsewhere. Rick Steve’s guides basically go where his tours go and, although helpful, are not comprehensive nor are they intended to be.