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First time in Greece and want to visit some islands - recommendations?

My husband and I are planning to go to Greece for the month of September (the entire month, 4 weeks total). It will be our first trip there. I love history and archeology, so we'll definitely see the requisite sites/museums in Athens for several days and probably rent a car (or get a guide) and drive to two or three other towns in the Peloponnese, such as Delphi, Mycenae, and Nafplio. But then we want to see some islands and combine historic sites on the islands with laid-back sightseeing.

We are in our late 50s, travel with CPAPs, and prefer to spend 3 or 4 nights in each place -- minimum 2 nights. (Unfortunately, we can't travel very light, so doing just an overnight in a place is a hassle for us). We'd rather see fewer places but get a good feel for each place we visit. We'd also like some beach time if possible. We were thinking of taking a small cruise but I'm not sure we'd be happy being confined to a ship and their itinerary -- it might be better for us to just take ferries between islands. What would you recommend? I'm overwhelmed and not sure where to start. Would we be satisfied just seeing the 3 islands that Rick Steves recommends: Hydra, Mykonos, and Santorini? I want the island part of this to be more laid-back, and not turn into an arduous slog with hordes of tourists everywhere (the way it is in Capri, for instance...uugh!).

Thank you!! :-)

Posted by
157 posts

We just came back from Paros and Santorini. Mykonos is known as a party island so that really wasn't our thing. We loved Paros. Stayed in the port city of Parikia very pretty, lots of shops and restaurants and fairly quiet. We rented a car and drove around the island visiting Lefkes, a beautiful village and several stunning beaches. Santorini was a bit more crowded but worth it for its beauty. I recommend taking a sunset cruise there- we took Sunset Oia which was well run, good food and drink and visited 3 beaches. September is a quieter month so massive crowds may not be a problem.
Since there was a ferry strike, we had to book on Aegean Air from Athens to Paros-only a 30 min flight compared to a 4 1/2 hour ferry ride for only $20 more a ticket. Took Blue Star ferry from Paros to Santorini.

Posted by
396 posts

Consider that you could make Crete one of your island hops. It's just a little farther than Santorini and well served by plane or ferry. The National Museum in Heraklio is full of Minoan treasure (some gold but mostly artifacts, which are just as exciting to me) and then you can see Knossos, which is an inexpensive and quick bus ride from the city center (cabs are inexpensive as well). That's a fantastic twofer to see an extensive Minoan site in detail and the best artifacts remaining from their civilization. From there it is a fairly easy drive a few hours southwest to the Minoan sites of Agia Triada and Phaistos. Phaistos in particular is in a beautiful setting on a promontory and it was fun to wander about the ruins. We stayed close by in the little town of Kamilari, which is very cute. Nearby is the Museum of Cretan Ethnology in Vori and Kommos beach. To the west of Heraklio, Chania is a beautiful, laid back city with vestiges of it's Venetian age. It has great little museums, fantastic restaurants, and a pretty setting on the old harbor. Chania is a nice place to slow down and relax for several days. You can drive/book a number of nice day trips from there, such as to Balos beach. I believe there is bus service from Heraklio to Chania if you prefer not to drive. You don't need or want a car in either Chania or Heraklio as both have very compact city centers where most of the sights are. We loved the people and food of Crete. It's a fantastic place to visit. I posted a trip report last week in the trip reports area of the forum if you want to know more about our trip to Crete.

Posted by
1782 posts

We just went to Santorini and Naxos. We flew to Santorini, on a separate flight, after flying from U.S. It was a great place to get over jet lag and we enjoyed it very much. We stayed three nights. Then we went by ferry to Naxos, which we loved even more. We were there four nights and would have liked at least one more. There are gorgeous beaches and mountain villages.

Mykonos is a party island and we had 20 something adult children with us. I had no interest in taking them there! Hydra looked interesting to me and I originally planned to go there but ditched it to go to Naxos instead. Hydra has stony beaches and we decided we wanted one place with sandy beaches that look like the postcards! Santorini has volcanic beaches. I picked Naxos because of proximity to Santorini and for the beaches. Ironically, we ended up on the beaches only for a few hours, as there were so many other things that kept us busy.


Posted by
3246 posts

Santorini was one of our favorite places we've been. We had a room with a view of the caldera-magical!

Posted by
2898 posts

Travel mom, since you posted on another person's query about cruises, I just answered those at length ... arguing for an independent travel experience rather than a cruise... and then I saw this thread!

I can assure you, that the kind of experience you want is NOT with the island R Steves "recommends" -- for Mykonos & Santorini he is just catering to the US fondness for these 2 "cliche" isles... and Hydra is because it's part of his tours, and is close enough for a daytour from Athens. I"d say Santorini for 24 - 36 hours for the Famous View, but after that -- there are at least a half-dozen isles within 2 hours ferry sail fo Santorini that will give you a much truer Greek experience.

And don't worry about CPaps. Lst year I planned a trip for a middle-aged neighbor and her brother -- who BOTH travel w cpaps -- for a sailing adventure in the Cyclades, with 3 others, on a sloop with a skipper. It was a dream come true and everything worked like a charm. And if you use ferries, not a sailboat, much easier. September is my other favorite travel time, next to may-june.

Posted by
1940 posts

After the obligatory Santorini, I'd strongly recommend the combination of Naxos and Amorgos. Naxos is a great island with lots to do and see, without massive crowds. And then take a ferry to Amorgos (there are two ports -- my favorite is Katapola, and hotel Porto Katapola with a huge balcony overlooking the port ... for around 50 euros a night two years ago). Amorgos is empty and pretty, and you can see the famous Hozoviotissa monastery.

Posted by
43 posts

You've all be very helpful, thank you so much!

I'm just beginning my research, but I'm thinking of something like this (skeleton itinerary):

3 to 4 days in Athens, possibly with one (extra?) day driving up to Delphi
2 to 3 days on the Peloponese, driving around to see Mycenae, Nafplio, etc.

And the balance of the trip on the islands. See Santorini (maybe just a day trip), spend time in Naxos, Paros, possibly Crete or another island.

I assume that it's easy to get ferries between islands???

Posted by
1782 posts

I was in Greece in May/June this year. One advice I got and think was spot on was to fly to furthest island first and then make your way back by ferry. We flew to Santorini, and then ferried to Naxos and flew back to Athens from there. Rented car at Athens airport and drove to Nafplio. Returned car to airport and then went into Athens. Going to Athens last I think is preferable. It is an hour to and from the airport and we really enjoyed Athens after having been in Greece for a week and a half.

You have a month (what a luxury). Some ideas.

Fly to Crete upon arrival. Spend 7 nights there. (I haven't been there but seems from forum lots to do. Others can help there, I am sure).

Ferry to Santorini. I know you are talking day trip but not really feasible. If you only want to look at caldera then could spend one night. If you want to see any of the rest of the island two nights at least. We were there three nights which gave us two full days which was about right. We hiked from Oia to Fira one day and explored island with a car the second day.

Ferry to Naxos. We loved Naxos! We spent 4 nights there and would have loved one more there. Certainly with a month I would stay five nights.

Ferry to Amorgos and/or Paros. You can fly back to Athens from Paros.
Rent car in Athens. Drive to Nafplio. We spent four nights in Nafplio and explored it and ruins nearby as well as visited a winery. It was hot (97 high) and so spent afternoons at beach. It was about the right length of time for us. We had three full days.
Drive car back to Athens airport and go into Athens. We spent 3 nights in Athens--we didn't arrive until 4 pm traveling from Nafplio. Would have liked another day in Athens. If we had even more time, would have gone to Delphi and/or Metorea.


Posted by
2898 posts

Hi again, TravelMom --
Lots of good destination choices, sequence not quite so good. First-timers seem always decide to do Athens first, before checking on experience of others. Vets usually suggest going first to your FARTHEST destinations then working y our way back, and save your Athens time for the final days. This is particularly important on shorter trips, where every hour is precious. That's because you need to be in Athens the night before your homebound flight anyway -- it's too chancy to fly in just hours before an international flight. A glitch could mean you miss that homebound flight, at Great cost. Thus you'd be going in to Athens & checking in/out of hotels TWICE - u could lose half a day. We advise if possible that you get a domestic flight if available about 2 hours after you arrive ... then you can recover from jet-lag on an Island, SO much more relaxing... and by the time you return to Athens, you're hip to all the ways Greece operates, and can cope efficiently with a big bustling World Capital crammed with stuff to see & do.

Of course if you arrive at 7pm totally exhausted f rom a 3-plane 24-hour ordeal from California, you could stay at a modest hotel or B & B near the airport (NOT the pricey Sofitel that's the only one IN the airport), and just collapse for the night, and zip back in the AM for a bargain morning flight. That also works.

This islands-first advice even makes sense for longer trips if - as in your case - you're going in September. Fact is, many islands start to close down a bit as the month advances. Not Santorini or Mykonos of course (due to those @$#!! cruise ships), but smaller ones with fewer year-round residents; when the Summer Rush subsides, some places start to close, Greeks are thinking about gettng on with their own lives. This is particularly noticeable in enchanting smaller isles like Milos, Folegandros, Amorgos. Also, ferry schedules get less convenient by mid-month. So why not reverse the Order? Look at a map, here's a good online one, click to enlarge - -- and think about a sequence like this.

CRETE - 5 Days -- For history/archeology buffs, the MotherLode!! And it's wonderful in September... Fly into CHANIA, spend 2 days around here, then rental car; head S toward Lybian Sea; Phaistos, drive N.E. thru wine country (whee!) then Knossos, Heraklion Museum, and Onwards! HEraklion has daily ferries to Santorini which is the handy connector-island

SANTORINI - 2 nights is enough for the Famous View, and for Akrotiri
AMORGOS - FOLEGANDROS? - 2 nights - pick one; small, charming delightful; I hve favorite places in eacvh

NAXOS - 5 DAYS Large year-round population, port town always vibrant; LOTS of ancient sites, etc etc Great landscapes too. Get there before it changes; I read an ugly rumor that airport's being enlarged.

ATHENS STOPOVER 1 nights -- Ferry or fly in, spend 1 night see a sight, arrange rental car, move on

DELPHI (1 night) -- Arrive afternoon, see Museum, do Ruins next AM before bus tours arrive, move on
NAFPLIO AREA -- 4 -- So many highlights! Nemea, Nafplio Old Town itself, Mycenae, Tiryns, Epidaurus, Asine ...

WEST?? -- 4-5 Mystra - Messine - Pylos (nearby is my secret Eden, Hotel Zoe in Gialova), Nestor's Palace, Olympia ... then a 5hour drive (modern road) around the left rim of Pelops on modern road, back to Athens

ATHENS - The wrap-up... 4-5 days: after 25 days immersed in Greek history & culture, Athens landmarks & museums will resonate SO much more for you, as a finale!

Posted by
43 posts

You guys are giving me some great advice!!! :-)

We had thought about going to the furthest island first and saving Athens for last, and you helped us to confirm that idea.

We land in Athens at 1 a.m., so we need to stay at an airport hotel in Athens that first night. Then the next morning, we would fly to Crete.

Stay in Crete for about a week -- seems that there's a lot to see and I've read so many great things about it! Rent a car there.

After Crete, take ferries and make our way north from island to island, staying in each place for several nights: Santorini, Naxos, Mykonos (mainly to see Delos), and finally Athens. I've heard that Mykonos has a lot of nightlife, which we don't really care about. So, is it worthwhile to even see/stay in Mykonos, or can you visit Delos easily from one of the other islands as a day trip? I've read that Paros and Antiparos are nice, so we would consider staying on one of those instead of Mykonos.

I'm thinking:
First night in Athens at airport hotel
5 to 7 nights in Crete
3 to 4 nights in Santorini
4 to 5 nights in Naxos
3 to 4 nights in Mykenos, Paros, or Antiparos
3 to 4 nights in Athens
Fly home

Also, it turns out that we might need to be home sooner than we thought. So, if we just saw the usual sites in Athens and came home, would it be a "tragedy" not to have seen Delphi and the Peloponese Peninsula on this trip? Going to those places would extend our trip by about a week, and I'm not sure we will be able to do that. I would rather not rush the islands. I want this to be trip with a relaxed pace.

I figure that if we can't see Delphi and the Peloponese Peninsula on this trip, we could see them on another trip, perhaps combining it with Turkey (another place we've never been).

Thank you again for your input!

Posted by
3246 posts

Mycenae would be a great accompaniment to a trip to Turkey, especially if you go to Troy!

Posted by
1940 posts

You can visit Mykonos & Delos as a day trip from either Naxos or Paros, so I would recommend doing that rather than staying on Mykonos...expensive and crowded with cruise ship visitors. After Crete, Santorini and Naxos, I think you’d love a tiny island like Antiparos or Amorgos. Both are easily accessible from Naxos.

And no, it’s not a tragedy to skip the Peloponnese on this trip. We have been to Greece seven times and we still haven’t been there! I keep putting it on our itinerary and then get seduced by more islands.

Posted by
2898 posts

Travel Mom, you have a definite arrival date because you say 1 am, but you do not share it ... if you'd give specifics like this, we could give you the Best Advice for your trip-start strategy. Without that date, we can't see what Chania flights are available -- and that would govern our recommends for where to do a quick sleep -- surely you don't to spend $250 for 4 hours sleep at the Sofitel!!

Also, DO consider the 1-day excursion to Delos/Mykonos -- there are TWO boats that do it, and MV Alexander, the larger one (going M-T-W-Th)has a much smoother ride; check weather forecasts the day before, then book. As for Santorini... the ferry from Crete arrives at noon, and really, you can see the Famous View and get to Oia & Akrotiri and enjoy 2 sunsets and scram in 48 hours. That would give you 5+ full days in Naxos. Consider what you want to see/experience in Paros; you could stay at a nice quiet right-in-town place in Parikia, like Casa di Roma with a garden setting, Explore Parikia, its ruins & museum, have a nice sunset & leave -- a relaxed mini-visit in 24 hours (i've done it many times). Then, if there's a bargain AM flight to ATH grab it.

Let's do the math: Crete 6 days, Santorini 2 days, Naxos 5 days, Paros 1 day -- and you're back on Mainland w. 7-9 days to spare. I say, forego Delphi & just get to Nafplio.... it's an Easy 2+ hr Drive from Airport on one modern divided highway, you don't even touch the brake pedal until after Corinth Canal. Or, to be super-relaxed, go to Kifissou bus station & take KTEL intercity BUS 2.5 hrs, goes hourly, to/from Nafplio, & just rent a car for a single day while there, to see Mycenae and/or Epidaurus .... you mention relaxing, and the Ultimate in that, for me, is a sunset at the seafront in Nafplio, sitting on cushioned loveseats in canopied cafes. Bliss. Fully revitalized you'll be ready for a final 3+ days in Athens... and after your experience, its famous landmarks will resonate for you so much more.

Posted by
43 posts

Our first night in Greece is landing in Athens on Sept. 4th at 1 a.m.

Our last night in Greece will be Sept. 26th, although we may be able to extend our trip by a few more days. We're really not sure yet.

Posted by
2898 posts

Travelmom -- there was no action on this thread, so I forgot to come back to you with a hotel recommend for the start of your trip. You said you were coming in at 1 AM ... that is puzzling to me, because almost all flights from N. America come in during the daytime, even those with multiple connections in Europe. Are you coming from another European country where u also will spend some time? In that case your Jet lag recovery will be in another land, not greece. Always good to share, when you want best advice.

Anyhoo ... you mention "airport hotels" ... dream on! In Athens there is only ONE, The SOFITEL, right across from the Airport Building (yes there is only one airport bldg). I wonder how much Sofitel paid under the table for that deal? Anyway, it's Quite expensive, rates about $250 per night, tho they DO have deals from time to time, gets down to about $150-175, but you have to hunt around. If you want to save $100, at the price of a 20 minute (FREE) shuttle, there's this place - - It has free shuttle both ways IF you ask for it in advance. First check on what flight to Crete you want, then book hotel & shuttle ... you usually can get several flights to Chania in AM... one early, another mid-morning.

In Chania, I like Hotel Palazzo on that wonderful no-cars lane on West side of Old City -- Theotokopoulu Street (that's El Greco's real name). Perfect location right at the seaward end of the lane, front balconies great view. Next door, Hotel Hera has several front-balcony rooms, across the street tiny Casa di Pietra, if u can get a room w a view (only 5 rooms); farther down the lane Pension Nora is loved by many I know... that whole street has old Venetian buildings converted into Pensions; many with kitchenette ells/niches so you can fix your own breakfast to have on balcony. You'll want to have several days to explore/enjoy Old Town... I hve been to Chania 5 times so far, and each time discover something new. After that get your car rental -- there are a number of "bargain" agencies, but I've always used Autoway with good results. They'll bring car to you (in lot just at end of Theotokopoulu) and you can return it in Heraklion, either leve by hotel or in ferry parking lot or airport, no extra charge. PM me if you want extra nfo about stops on your journey... too much to t ype in these little boxes.

Posted by
1126 posts

Another vote for Naxos. You may have to rent a car to see some of the sites (e.g., Temple of Demeter), but I recommend it so you can visit places that aren't on the coast. By the sea is very pleasant, though. We did a day trip on a sailboat from the main port that went around some smaller islands. Recommend that as well.

Posted by
122 posts

HI travel MOM I flew from Chicago to Munich to Athens in early May. I had reserved a basic room at APT TINA. It included free shuttle pick up from the airport and also back to the airport the next morning. It is in a quiet rural setting close to the airport but no cafes or mini market nearby! For 5 euro I ordered (at reception) a large Greek salad with crusty bread. For 10 euro I could have added pasta. The advertised breakfast is quite basic. =some coffee/tea and a packaged croissant. I believe the price on line was $70 for a double room and included the free transport. I am a senior solo traveler and I felt safe and well cared for there.
I spent 8 weeks island hopping. Hydra was my least favorite. Naxos was great! I enjoyed extended time in Crete. I skipped Mykonos ( had been there in 1988) since too $$$ . On Santorini I stayed in nearby Perissa the black sand beach ardea which was less $$ and crowded than FIRA. From Perissa i could take a local bus to Fira and spend the day.
Locals all say September is ideal time to visit...ENJOY!

Posted by
1 posts

my recommendation was Satorini.
If u have time visit crete island.Because,Crete is a magical tapestry with splendid beaches, ancient treasures and more.