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Feedback on Santorini-Sifnos-Naxos-Athens itinerary?

Hi all,

First, I have learned so much through combing through the archives -- thank you all for the advice you've provided, it's been very helpful as I've planned my trip! My husband and I will be arriving in Greece on May 31st and will stay through June 15th. We will be staying 5 nights in Santorini (this part of our trip is fixed), and are planning 4 nights in Sifnos, 4 nights in Naxos, and our final 2 nights in Athens. Sifnos is something I decided upon only after reading all the threads on this forum that mention how beautiful the island is! We had also considered Mykonos but decided against it after reading more about it through this forum and guidebooks (we're not the party type and don't want something too crazy).

I was wondering if 4 nights on Sifnos is considered too much and if 3 would be better? If we shifted it to 3 nights instead, we would add one night in Athens, making it 3 nights in Athens instead of 2. For context, this will be our first trip to Greece. My husband and I are in our early 30s, and are looking to have a relaxed vacation exploring the islands. On vacation, we enjoy a relaxed pace of life, good food, sightseeing, beaches, some shopping, and also visiting historical sites. For context in case it's helpful, our favorite vacations in Europe have been to Italy, Spain, and Croatia -- we love the mediterranean lifestyle!

Thanks very much!

Posted by
2902 posts

NO, I would NOT shorten the stay in Sifnos ... I've been to more than 25 islands, many of them multiple times, and Sifnos is one of the most beautiful Cycladic island of all. Inearly June, you can enjoy staying at a beach -- VATHY is good, or Platy Gialis --- ;or staying up in a hillside town like Artemonas, Apollonia or Ano Petali (really all one town strung out), and taking the excellent bus network to the beaches. (Or u can rent a car for 1-2 days). Here's a fine website http://sifnos.e-sifnos.com/index.php to complement guidebooks (which I'm glad to read, you have; too many people today want to do all their research on i-phones only). I have suggestions for places, AND Aegean-Thesaurus is excellent agency to ask; they started on Sifnos & have an office there, and have MANY lovely small mom & pop pensions that rent only thru them.

What I Would recommend is - gasp -- trim a day from Santorini. After all, Santorini is so small -- only 12 miles ong -- and so Atypical of Greece by now, other than the white-cube housing; I find 3 days to be ample, then leave the crowds & cruise ships behind for your list of "relaxed pace etc." I frankly do not find Santorini relaxed, when up to 9,000 cruisers arrive on many weekdays, pllus all the other package bus tours... the shopping walkways crammmed elbow to elbow all day long. I enjoy the justly-famous Caldera view, find a restaurant terrace for sunsets (Not the jampacked rimside path in Oia), maybe go to Akrotiri & the small but good museum ... that's it. Of course one can escape the throngs by staying at a fenced-off superluxe resort with spa, massage etc, but that could be anywhere in the World of Money ... why not move on ... 4 days in both Sifnos & Naxos and 3 nights in Athens? Here's a wonderful list of Athens highlights (with hours, entry fees if any) http://www.athensinfoguide.com/open.htm you could take 10 nights and not be bored. If u want a bonanza of colorful folk dances, the Dora Stratou theatre will delight at night.

Posted by
14 posts

Hi Janet! Thank you so much for your helpful advice! I have found your posts so helpful on this forum. Very happy to hear that Sifnos is one of the most beautiful Cycladic islands. I have a good feeling that I'll fall in love with it, having seen so many beautiful photos of it. We will definitely stay 4 nights. One of the things that I'm most excited about Sifnos is taking the many walking paths to explore the island. For that, based on online research, it seems that Apollonia/Artemonas/Ano Petali is the best "hub" to stay in order to take the buses and/or take the walking paths. Are you familiar with the Poulati area? I am tempted to splurge and stay at the Verina Astra which is in Poulati -- the hotel has said it's a 10-15 minute walk to Artemonas. The place looks beautiful but I also don't want to stay in an isolated area, either. I'm also looking at an Airbnb property in Apollonia.

Thank you also for your very helpful links of both the Sifnos and Athens websites. As for Santorini, unfortunately we're already locked in for 5 nights there. I'm trying to justify the longer stay (given that we're locked in) with the fact that we'll be arriving late Tuesday night from the US, so will only spend probably half a day on Wed. and a full day on Thursday with the cruise shippers in town, and will have all day Friday and Saturday before leaving for Sifnos on Sunday. Would you say that the cruise shippers tend to leave around 4pm or so, so well before dinner time? That certainly makes it more palatable.

Thank you again Janet!

Posted by
2902 posts

When people say "locked in" what does this mean??? Did you give them ALL the money up front, nonrefundable? Why do that on a first trip before u ask "old hands"?? Oh dear dear. But wait: Have you even tried to "tweak" the reservation a tiny bit??? in 12 trips I have only ONCE paid anything in advance and it was the first-night only of a stay. And MANY times, i've moved the reservation around adding a day, dropping a day. . The only places that get away with that "locked-in" nonsense are the top high end deluxe "spa" places that can bully Bridezillas. I'll bet my boots you could knock a day off it, if you wrote a personal e-mail letter to the hotel, and said you are facing a problem with ferry logistics. PLease promise me that yo uwill at least TRY.

As for Sifnos, I have no idea What the heck the ploulaia area is, but I think its outside Artemona, not near ANYTHING. Last year I did the walk from Artemona to Chora, and strayed off the path... waaaay out somewhere, I ran into a swanky looking place with people sitting around a pool looking bored. Why would you want to be way out there? If you want something posh in the hilltowns that is convenient just go to Hotel Petali ... I happen to stay right across the pathway from Petali, at Geronti Pension, downhill from Petali, so has a better view. I sit on my patio in the morning, looking down over vally & sea, and just below the brink of the hill, people are watering their vegetable gardens before going to work. Sometimes my landlady brings me fresh-laid eggs for my hotplate. If you want to stay in Artemonas, Hotel Artemonas right on the square a good traditional choice.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks Janet! I had booked the Santorini place on Airbnb and for that property it has what they call a "strict" cancellation policy. I will contact the host to see if I can drop one night. Still, though, given that we will be arriving late from the US on a Tuesday night, I am thinking Wed. morning/early afternoon will be a wash since we'll be exhausted from the travel. That would give us just Wed. late afternoon/evening and then departing on a Sunday to head to Sifnos. Given this, it seemed more palatable to stay in Santorini and only be affected by cruise shippers for part of Wednesday and then Thursday (and have the rest of the stay hopefully cruise shippers-free). Is this faulty thinking?

Also, thank you for your feedback on the Verina Astra property -- makes a lot of sense. Agreed that it's not really ideally located. I've sent a booking request to Hotel Petali to see if they have something available.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you marginata! Yes, I was very concerned about the Sifnos - Naxos ferry connection. I had originally planned to take the very same ferry you mentioned and it didn't seem very promising with the 6-hour ride on the bumpy SeaJet. A very kind Airbnb host in Naxos suggested that I instead take a morning ferry from Sifnos to Ios, have lunch at Ios, then take an afternoon Ios to Naxos ferry. On the ferries pages, it seems that would work well for a Thursday, June 9th departure. Please let me know if you have any feedback on this route! Thanks again!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you marginata. Is June 9th still considered low season in the Greek Islands? I know it's not "high" season such as July/August, but I thought that most ferries should still be running then.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you marginata. That is very unfortunate as looking at the calendar, seems like the first Friday and Saturday of June have cruise ships in town (vs. the other Fridays/Saturdays that month that hardly have any at all!). Marginata, do you also feel that I should cut the number of nights in Santorini from 5 to 4? In case it's helpful, I chose an acommodation in Oia. Thanks!

Posted by
975 posts

I would forget Santorini and stick with "real" Greek islands like Sifnos, Milos, Naxos, Amorgos, Astypalea. Lemnos, Ikaria, Fourni, and a number of others that are not over-the-top touristy like Santorini. Other than the scenary it's not what "Greek" is all about.

If you want nightlife, partying, high prices and mobs of people then you'll love Santorini . . . if you want culture, history, great food, good prices, a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere and friendly locals then the smaller, less touristed islands are for you. Sifnos is one of our favorite islands, but Amorgos may be our favorite of the many we have been to. We go during off-season so there are less tourists, lower prices and still nice weather.

It depends on what you want for a Greek Island experience!

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks Tommy. We are considering dropping one night in Santorini (to stay 4 nights instead of 5) and adding one night to Sifnos (for 5 instead of 4 nights), and doing a day trip from Sifnos to a nearby island such as Folegandros. What are everyone's thoughts on what island close to Sifnos would be a great island to do a day trip in? Folegandros has piqued my interest from a few friends' recommendations and it also seems doable in one day. For Milos, based on what I've read, it seems that it's best to have a car to explore the island. For a day trip, we'd rather not need to rent a car. Many thanks!

Posted by
975 posts

Carolina:

As far as I know the only island you can connect to other than Milos is Serifos, which is comparable with Folengandros. Not sure of the ferry schedule and whether you can do a day trip and return the same day. Maybe so on the dates you'll be there but you'll have to research it. However Serifos is a lovely island, vary stark but with one of the best Chora in the Aegean.

You can check out Sifnos and Seriphos below:

Sifnos:
http://www.greektravel.com/suggestions/greek-islands-athens2.htm

Serifos:
http://www.greektravel.com/greekislands/serifos/

We were on Milos in mid-October and the bus service was very limited, it may be better during the time you are there. We were able to go to the lovely village of Tripiti and surrounding area which includes the beautifully colorful fishing village of Klima, the Catacombs, an ancient ampitheater, the spot where the Venus di Milo was found. We took the bus to Plaka, but other than that a car may be necessary to really see more of the island.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you very much Tommy! Do you think Serifos is worth a day trip, or should I spend all 5 nights in Sifnos? I checked out Matt Barrett's page on Serifos and couldn't tell just how much he'd recommend it vs. other Cycladic islands for example. Thanks again!

Posted by
2902 posts

Caroline, when counseling on the West Cyclades it really is impossible to give specific advice without specific DATES. Why is this? Because the ferry service is limited in Early June, and I really don't know whether there are ferries running on the days you want to move. There ARE daily ferries that run up and down the 4 island chain (Serifos - Sifnos - Kythnos - Milos) but not always in both directions. Also, in at least your original plan you said your next stop after Sifnos was Naxos .... and altho I've been hopping these islands in may-June since 1999, I've never found a Sifnos-Naxos link. I hope you've found one this year.

If you will give the specific dates for all your planned stops, then I can look at the ferry schedules and see how do-able they are. I do love serifos, but I find it better as a island to go TO, spend a night and then move on (or back). Coming in at 12 noon, and leaving at 6 pm would not be satisfying or -- in light of schedules -- possible.

Please share more info! We want to help.

Posted by
2902 posts

Excuse me oops. I finally scrolled back 6 postings, and found about your plan to get from Sifnos to Naxos on June 9 via IOS. So I'm guessing you'd want to do the day trip before then. I have wonderful place for you to stay o'night in Serifos, but I myself would not find Serifos that rewarding as a day-trip. Or Folegandros either. The magic of Folegandros is its postcard-perfect high village (Chora) where everyone stays ... but in mid-day, it's kinda sleepy, people are at the beach. And that's when you'd be there. And did you find a ferry there/ferry back??? You know, Day trips really only work on islands that have dedicated excursion vessels. From Milos I belive there's a day-excursion to Kythnos. Or a little ferry that goes back & forth constantly.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you very much Janet for your help and advice! I've now made a substantial change to the itinerary and am nearly certain that we will replace our stay in Naxos with Folegandros (pending hotel availability -- waiting to hear back from hotels). I feel conflicted as both islands sound wonderful, but there's something about Folegandros that has lured me in more than Naxos. It seems even more peaceful, relaxing, romantic, more accessible by foot (vs. car), and I love that it has many hiking paths. I am hoping that we will be able to return to Greece in the near future and visit Naxos then! In any case, here is our new itinerary with the idea of replacing our stop in Naxos with Folegandros:

Santorini: 5/31 (arriving at night)-6/4
Folegandros: 6/4-6/8
Sifnos: 6/8-6/13
Athens: 6/13-6/15

I had gone to directferries.com and found that there will indeed be ferries going from Santorini to Folegandros on 6/4 and a ferry from Folegandros to Sifnos on 6/8. I do hope that site is accurate though.

I must admit that I've had a much harder time planning this trip to Greece than our previous trips to other European countries. I think it's because there's so much choice with all the various Greek islands, and I keep on changing my mind! I haven't found myself this indecisive in a very long time :). In any case, I hope I am making the right choice by replacing Naxos with Folegandros for this trip. At the very least, it seems the ferry connections will be much easier from Santorini - Folegandros - Sifnos.

Many thanks again, Janet, and to everyone who has offered their kind advice here!

Posted by
2902 posts

Hope u enjoy your visit, Carolina. As a nondriver, the island on your list I have found easiest to navigate is Naxos.. I am sorry that you have crossed it off. On Folegandros, there is a very limited bus route... from Chora to beach... at the time of your trip. But Chora is indeed lovely, and if uwant the 5 mile hike, Foley does offer that. I have had many many hike in Naxos, and the beauty part is, when you've had enough, u can usually flag down a bus. Take along a phone so u can call a taxi if you need to! Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you Janet! Do you think I'm making a mistake by choosing Folegandros over Naxos on this trip? Would love your opinion.

Posted by
2902 posts

Yes Caroline, frankly I do believe that it's a mistake to choose Folegandros in the idea that it will be easier to expllore without a car, rather than Naxos, and that it has more options for hiking. Naxos is considered one of the TOP islands for hiking AND strollling AND just nice walks ... Here's the rating sheet http://www.cycladen.be/Choice%20island.htm of the best-known hiker's guide to the Cyclades. When I was in Foley, i stayed 3 days in early june & it was plenty, although lovely... and I had a gorgeous hotel Anemousa?? and I was hosted by 2 wonderful friends ... they drove me all over, I never would have seen anything outside of Chora without them. There was about 1=2 busses per day to the best beach (which at least in early june had NO facilities, not even a portapotty let alone a taverna) ... and the port town has i tiny pier and 2 tiny tavernas. It's all about Chora, which is lovely to walk around in, but then what ????

On the other hand, have been to Naxos 13 x and STILL make discoveries ... buses go everywhere ... if y ou stay in St. George (Ag Giorgios beach) directly adjacent to port town u have best of both worlds. walk everywhere, the buzz of town cafes shops nightlife but quiet nights out on the beach. Nothing beats sitting on the sands, 6 feet from the waterline, watching stars come out. And Rick steves has a character-count limit so I cannot describe all the walks and adventures I've had all over the island in all my May-June visits ... watching a farmer shear sheep... finding marble squares (they are my coasters!) in a marble-finishing yard ... sitting sketching all morning in a hillside olive grove. Picking mulberries in a monastery garden overlooking the port & sea ... swimming impromptu in Appollonia during a tour-bus lunchtime. Finding a 3,500 year old Minoan "dig" up on Grotta hill, fenced only with Chicken wire. Here are a few photo albums by my friend "Stanbr" who's also a Naxo-phile:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157645113682278/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632110674306/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632094558042/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632113170279/

But hey, it's your choice. and you can always come back.

Posted by
14 posts

Janet, thank you so much for your reply. I thought it over, looked at many online resources re: Naxos and Folegandros, and have decided to go with Naxos! Your reply triggered me to rethink my choice of Folegandros. After having done a lot of research on Naxos now, I'm very excited (and will save Folegandros for another trip). Thank you again.

I was hoping to see if I could get your advice in terms of what order I should visit the islands in. Santorini is my first stop (not changeable), and from there I was originally thinking to go to Sifnos, then Naxos, and finally Athens. I only made the Santorini to Sifnos decision based on seeing that the SeaJets ferry would arrive in Sifnos in the afternoon (vs. if I switched the order and went to Naxos after Santorini, the original ferry I had planned to take from Naxos to Sifnos would arrive at night). I would love your advice on if I should switch the order of the islands by having Naxos second and Sifnos third (which seems to make more geographical sense).

Switching the order seems possible and logical if I make a stop in Ios rather than take a direct ferry between Naxos and Sifnos. (This is based off a recommendation from a kind Airbnb host, who recommended a brief Ios stopover vs. taking a long, direct ferry from Sifnos to Naxos or vice versa.) Would I be able to ask you a favor please to look at the following ferry schedules I found and see which order of the islands you'd recommend? Apologies in advance if this ask is super confusing; to be honest, planning this trip has been much less straightforward than I'm normally accustomed to when planning European vacations and I've found myself confused many times during this planning process. Thank you again for all your help!

If going from Naxos to Sifnos via Ios:
Depart Naxos: Wed Jun 08 @ 11:20
Arrive Ios: Wed Jun 08 @ 12:10
Hellenic Seaways Highspeed 4

Depart Ios: Wed Jun 08 @ 14:00
Arrive Sifnos: Wed Jun 08 @ 16:40
SeaJets Seajet2


If going from Sifnos to Naxos via Ios
Depart Sifnos: Thu Jun 09 @ 09:20
Arrive Ios: Thu Jun 09 @ 11:45
SeaJets Seajet2

Depart Ios: Thu Jun 09 @ 14:25
Arrive Naxos: Thu Jun 09 @ 15:15
Hellenic Seaways Highspeed 4

Posted by
2902 posts

Caroline, no wonder you are confused!!! Trying to find ferries on individual company sites! Did your eye skip over marginata saying "You need to keep an eye on gtp.gr and Openseas" -- http://www.gtp.gr/RoutesForm.asp http://www.openseas.gr/en/index.html These are the 2 MUST-USE ferry sites -- gtp can show you ALL sailings in a given month (just leave "Day" at "any"), and Openseas has a calendar you can roll BACK to June 2015 to find typical service on given day, i.e., 2nd monday, whatever.

Oh my, I begin to suspect u may be trying to plan entire trip without peeking in a single guidebook, relying on just what can be projected on 3" x 3" cellphone window and quickly scanned while waiting for traffic light to change. Dear traveler, when u are about to spend THOUSANDS, why not pop for an additional $4.74 (75¢ for used paperback on Amazon, $3.99 shipping). Guides DO matter; they help you sift out the ballyhoo, they're CANDID about things promoters won't tell you (like the mob scene on Santorini), and they help show which sequences work best. Look for ROUGH GUIDE to GREECE, GREEK ISLAND HOPPING (o.op but used copies available), even LET'S GO GREECE. Don't choose on basis of photos. RG is particularly good on detail that seem to matter to you -- history, culture, walking. U can carefully pull out sections (bind "spine" w duct tape). Good to have in your pocket for ferry reading and for when WI-FI doesn't work, Also, reading is good practice: you might have a child one day who will ask to be read to.

OK, Granny-rant over. now for opinion on which ferries when. I agree on avoiding that 5-hour runaround, too long at sea in a small vessel! I lilke the Ios change-over better. And I say first NAXOS, then SIFNOS Last. SEveral reasons:
(1) SANTORINI VIEW- taking 3:30 BLUE STAR from Santo you can stay on deck, snap pix as u leave caldera
(2) Arrrival: reach NAXOS 5:30, perfect timing to check in your (I hope) Ag.Giorgios Hotel (ask me) ... then stroll portside promenade, walk causeway to photo arch @sunset, then have 1st seafront dinner in Naxos town or a table on sand at Ag G beach..
(3) NAX - IO sailing is late morning, no rush over breakfast, nice short IOS stopover still gives time for portside lunch, and the sea "leg" on the smallish seajet is much shorter then that "runaround"
(4) SIFNOS LAST to PIREAUS, u have MOST choices of both Ships & Sailings -- most days you can choose CONVENTIONAL ferries, cheaper but Slow (5 hr 15 min, 3 stops) or Car-carrying CAT (2 stops; 3hr15), plain CAT (1 stop,2hr20). I like Speedrunner (CC).

BTW, no need to book way ahead; june is off-season. A day or so is plenty. If you buy way ahead & have to change to another ferry co, it's a hassle to get your money back.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks Janet as always for your advice! I actually did get the Rough Guides guidebook after seeing your recommendation on these forums for it. I don't find it as comprehensive vs. other guidebooks typically but it was helpful to get a high-level overview. If you had to choose between the two, would you personally recommend 5 nights in either Naxos or Sifnos? It seems Naxos may have more "to do" but Sifnos seems extremely charming based on everything I've read about it. I originally was thinking 4 nights in Naxos and 5 nights in Sifnos but am very open to feedback. I know that you are a fan of both islands. Or, I'd do 4 nights in both Naxos and Sifnos and add on an additional night in Athens to make it 3 nights rather than 2 nights. Thanks!

Posted by
2902 posts

I would do the 5 nights in Naxos, just because there is more going on ... Of course, there's renting a car for a day to swoop all over the island (SO many things! mountains, marble factories, ruins! villages, beaches, etc)... And then there's nightlife ... which in Sifnos is verrry low key of a June evening ... most nightlife, at least clubs, and music, is along one pathway in Appollonia - Ano petali area. Down on beaches, just the restaurants.

In Naxos, at least 1 night per week, there is a musical event up in the Venetian Castle courtyard, up in the Kastro heights of Naxos Town. Sometimes jazz, sometimes a classical trio, sometimes traditional dance w. a dance group of teens from the villages, etc. There will be signs on poles... and ask your hotelier. There are 3-4 lively clubs in Naxos town. There is a store right on the portside promenade (new these past 3 years) specializing in Naxos products, and the hip young girls who work there often know about food-related events.. such as a cooking class, or a wine thing. Above a bank on the promenade is Flamingo Restaurant (what a 1950s Miami Beach name!!!) where friends tell me there is sometimes Greek-y type music & dance after 11 (you don't have to eat, just stop by & look, & have a drink).

Besides that, there are day-excursions... besides the main ones (to Santorini, and to Mykonos/Delos), there many other daytrips by motor vessel or sailing ship -- to Antiparos, or to small nearby "beach islands" etc http://visit-cyclades.com/day-cruises/naxos-cruises Beyond that, you can "D-I-Y" a daytrip to PAROS -- 9:30 Blue-Star Arr Paros 10:15 ... and after sunset, the 8:45 (20:45) Bllue Star from Paros arrives back at 21:15 (9:15). Plenty of time to explore town of Parikia, take a bus to Naoussa OR Lefka ... if you decide to rent an ATV, Paros is a lot more gently hilly rather than mountains, safer for such.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you Janet! Really appreciate all the helpful advice you've given. 5 nights in Naxos it is!