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Greece Itinerary for First Timers


My husband and I are considering a somewhat last-minute trip to Greece (our first time there) in the fall, and I was hoping to run this preliminary itinerary past some seasoned travelers. We are most interested in ancient/Biblical history, but would also like to experience the islands. From what I can tell, the sites that might be most worthwhile for us to see would be:
- Athens (1 day for ruins, one day for museum plus walking around, then one day trip to Delphi)
- Corinth (seems to be the most central of the Biblical location, would probably do as a day trip from Nafplio)
- Olimpia (too far out?)
- Nafplio (we hadn't heard of this one, but everyone seems to recommend it) with potential day trips to Mycenae and Epidavros
- Islands: Seems like the most popular is Naxos on this forum. Santorini had always been on my bucket list, but it seems like people talk about it being expensive and touristy, so perhaps we'll do a day trip there from Naxos? And most of the pictures I've pinned seem to be from Mykonos, but I hear it is party central. Still a little conflicted though, as Santorini and Mykonos seem more picturesque than Naxos and Rick calls Mykonos "the quintessential Greek island"....want to make sure we are getting that breathtaking Greek island scenery that you always see photos of.

My first question would be: are we missing anything huge on this itinerary? Obviously you could travel to Greece 10 times and not see everything, but I'm wondering if this is a good overview for first time travelers (who may not have the opportunity to return)?

My second question would be: we will probably need to edit, as out trip (after air travel time) would be 13 days MAX. Is there anything here that isn't as high of a priority, or is it all a matter of personal preference?

Lastly, as transportation logistics seem much more complicated in Greece as compared to some other countries we've been to like Italy, are we pushing our luck to try to organize a trip with so many stops by the beginning of September? Are the cities themselves the main attraction, or do we need to worry a lot about the logistics of sorting through what to go and see at each stop?

Any advice that can be offered to these first-timers (and late planners) would be much appreciated!

Posted by
439 posts

We took the RS tour last year in Oct. Towards the end, we had a lot of rain but for the most part the weather was perfect.

We did go to Santorini, when the cruise ships were in, the tourists were unbearable. However, when the left, it was wonderful. Nafplio was also a nice town to visit, I think I liked Kardamyli a bit better. It was smaller, more laid back. There were more shops in Nafplio. My husband was to Mykonos in his younger days, it was a party seen then (1980s). Monevasium (sp?) was also cool to see.

I would figure out how you are getting around, how long you want to stay in each place & what exactly you want to visit in Athens. You can spend a week going to museums. Give yourself sometime when arriving to recover from jet lag. I have no patience for a museum or ruins when I am tired. I don't think train service is very good in Greece.


Posted by
3130 posts

Some contributors insist on making sweeping generalizations such as "expensive" and "touristy" when it comes to Santorini, but you need to know that in the fall Santorini is mellow and much less expensive than it can be in peak season. And if you stay in an area that does not have a view of the famous caldera there are plenty of bargain hotels, even in July and August. So don't let the nay-sayers keep you from staying on one of the most unique islands in the world. There is plenty to see and do there for several days.

Use the filter system at to see hotel pricing and availability.

For ferry schedules:

Posted by
1380 posts

For a first time visit you seem to have a pretty good plan. One tweak you might consider is seeing if there is a connecting flight to your first island the day you arrive. If you can manage it waking up on an island is the best cure for jet lag. The majority consensus is to leave Athens to the end of your trip so you are on the mainland before your return flight.
So this is what I would do. Fly to Santorini immediately on arrival in Athens. It has the most daily flights so you will have a chane at a seat. Spend three or 4 days there. I believe Santorini s a must see for a first timer. While the Caldera view is expensive this is the place to stretch your budget to get a hotel with that Caldera view.

Then take the ferry to Naxos. There are several each day. Naxos is lovely with an energetic main port town with back alleys leading up to the Venetian era Kastro. It has good beaches and some antiquities and lovely mountain villages.
Naxos has everything that Mykonos has but at half the price.
Naxos Town
Trip around Naxos
Fly back to Athens and rent a car and drive to Corinth. There you will be ablew to see the ancient Roman ruins plus Ancient Nemia a sister city to Olympia. Both sites will take no more than an hour. Then drive ot Nafplio which is a beautiful sea side town with an old town area. Take your day trips using nafplio as a base.
Nafplio and Peloponnese

Then go to Athens for the end of your trip
Olympia Delphi Meteora

Posted by
195 posts

Thank you very much, stanbr, I appreciate you taking the time to share your tips. Though I am wary of smaller planes, I had been considering flying to Santorini as you mentioned, since that seems to be a common suggestion on this forum. I'm not sure if you will be coming back to read this, but if so, might I trouble you with the following questions?

1) In booking a flight to Santorini immediately after landing from the US, what happens if your flight from the US is delayed and you miss your flight to Santorini? Or do most people just plan to book a flight to the island on the spot and hope that there is room/the tickets aren't too expensive?
2) If we skip Mykonos and go to Naxos/Santorini, will we still be getting the picture-perfect views (white houses, beautiful water, etc) that you always see in photos? I'm guessing so at Santorini at least. The reason I ask is because whenever I see a "wow" picture of Greece, it seems to often be Mykonos, but we are not at all interested in the party scene, so we'd be fine skipping it as long as we aren't missing out on the most beautiful views. I'll need to do some more research on the ferry, as I read one place that the ferry between Santorini and Naxos only runs twice per week, which could trip us up.
3) With the driving you mention, do we have reason to be worried? The fact that Greece has one of the highest accident rates in Europe and the fact that people talk about the "aggressive" drivers in Greece has us a bit scared. We've never driven to Europe and always rely on public transportation...this is our first country where it seems like driving might be necessary.

Thanks a million!

Posted by
3130 posts

For my money, Santorini has much more of a WOW factor than Mykonos.

Commila, the smallest Aegean Airlines plane to Santorini holds 138 passengers. It's not that small.

If you live outside the EU be sure to bring an International Driving Permit with you if you think you might rent a car. In No. America you get them at your local AAA/CAA office, not test or membership required. Bring 2 passport photos with you to save a few dollars. But whatever you do don't try to drive in Athens. It's crazy there and there's a mish-mash of one-way streets to contend with.

Posted by
3335 posts

Commilla, to clear up 3-4 of your misunderstandings (all of which could be clarified by a few minutes with a guidebook)

WHITE HOUSES -- This map - (click to enlarge) shows there are about 35 Cycladic islands, 30 of them are visitable ... and ALL of them have the iconic white dwellings with blue shutters and festooned with red roses. Every single one! ! The reason many people think it's only Mykonos, or only Santorini -- is that Cruise lines & Travel brochures only depict those 2! Why, you may ask. Because of Profit to be made! Only 5 harbors in the whole Aegean sea are deep enough for those monster cruise ships -- Mykonos - Santorini - Heraklion - Rhodes - Patmos. Therefore, cruises have to SELL these isles as the "must-sees", to draw business. They don't promote beautiful islands like Milos, Serifos, Sifnos, Naxos, Paros, Antiparos, Tinos etc ... because they cannot make money taking cruisers there. Also, Travel Agencies get the biggest commission bucks by booking people into super-deluxe hotels ... and Mykonos-Santorini has more of the top-shelf super-luxury hotels for the posh set. People can stay on those 2 isles in those hotels, and might as well be on Any island in a southern sea... not very Greek. I am sure Rick Steves promotes those 2 because they're most asked-about byAmericans .... who usually hear about them from friends who did cruises (see above). Sigh.

AIRPLANES -- If you fly to Santorini you do Not have to worry about small planes; it has an international-size airport; even take the Jumbo-Jet size for all those European holidaymakers! As lee says, smallest you'd get has 138 passgrs.

FERRIES -- Not quite clear who would tell you that ferries only run 2x per week between Naxos and Santorini??? In july it would be more like 2x in the morning 2x in afternoon 2x evening, 7 days a week. Even in Winter, it's 2 times daily on the biggest newest and BEST ferries, of the the Blue Star Line. Blue Star vessels hold from 1400-1800 passengers and 250-300 vehicles including huge trucks, they're like small seagoing ships ... wonderful open decks from which you can view the Santorini clliffs s ou depart, and the distinctive Naxos Port (a huge ancient arch on a causeway) as you approach naxos. If you want to check all the sailings available in either direction... or to ANY island in Greece, a few minutes with will be very enlightening. You not only find the schedules, but when you click on "more information" you see a little red moving line that shows the route, and you can clilck on the ferry name, and see an actual picture of it!! Some people spend fascinated hours doing this!

DRIVING -- Lee already told you about the driving permit ... and you should not let "scare statistics" make you anxious. First of all, in Santorini, you can do fine with local busses, augmented by taxi, if you are only staying a few days. Naxos has a splendid bus network for visiting beaches and just riding thru small villages. If you want to mosey around & rent a car, off-season there is almost no traffic. You may be held up by herds of goats blocking the road, but that's the big danger.

DAY TRIP -- You wondered about skipping an island & what you could do. Depending on when u are going in September, you may be able to "have your cake & eat it too." There are day-excursions from Naxos to Santorini 2x a week (but only 1x, on Tuesdays, on the boat I recommend, MV Alexander, because it's large & has smoother ride). Here's the website with information -- To find out if they'll be runnign the Tuesday excursion at the time you'll be in the islands, I recommend you e-mail directly to [email protected] She runs the office of the company and answers queries promptly & helpfully, I know from experience.

Posted by
1380 posts

It would seem that you have received your answers. If you look at my Naxos pictures you will see that it is a classic Cyclades island with white buildings and blue trim.
If you decide to fly to Santorini you need at least two hours to make the connection. If your transatlantic is delayed a bit that still gives you enough time to make the connection. Athens airport is well laid out and is small enough to make short connections.

If you fly Naxos to Athens then you are looking at smaller aircraft. Because the Naxos airport is small they use short take off Dash 8 turboprops that take 38 passengers. These are reliable aircraft with an excellent service record. If you have been watching the news lately two scientists in Antarctica were rescued by a twin Otter aircraft, a flight of 1600 kilometers, in the dark, at minus 60 degrees. The Dash 8 aircraft are essentially a larger version of the twin otter. If they can safely fly in those conditions then you will be safe flying 45 minutes in Greece.

As for driving in Greece you will be fine. Just a few rules to keep in mind. The driver has to concentrate on driving eyes on the road all the time. The passenger needs to be the navigator. Stay way over to the right. Fast cars expect you to get out of the way by staying right they have room to pass. Since the economic crisis and gas price increases there are not nearly as many cars on the road and driving is certainly less stressful.
The only area where you might want to avoid is the stretch on the national highway from Corinth to Patras which has a horrible reputation. So when you leave Nafplio go back to Athens and take a day trip excursion to Delphi or drive north on the 4 lane toll road which is modern and safe.

Posted by
195 posts

Thanks everyone for taking the time to share your experience. My apologies if it seemed like I was trying to take the easy route by asking on here rather than consulting a guidebook. I think I may not have been clear in my question, so my apologies for that. I do know from the guidebooks that there are several islands to visit with the typical white houses. I guess what I wanted to ensure - since the guides I have read highlight Mykonos as the quintessential Greek island, but the forum seems to disagree - was that by choosing a short time in Santorini and then going the rest of the time to Naxos (which the guidebooks don't highlight as strongly), we wouldn't be missing out on the best of the best. I was imagining there being a spectrum (like, for example, towns on the coast of Italy) where many places are nice, but then there are a few that are absolutely stunning and not to be missed. I'm sure we can't go wrong with any number of islands, but I wanted to make sure that we're not going to miss out on the best iconic/show-stopping views (and most beautiful beaches) by skipping the often-recommended Mykonos in favor of Naxos (which doesn't seem quite the same as Mykonos in pictures). It makes sense what Janet shared about the cruise liners.

I had read online about the ferry only being 2x per week, but again, that is on my list of things to research. Encouraging to hear that this might have been false information, as it would be complicated to try to make sure our trip schedule falls in line with a 2x per week ferry run!

The driving would mostly be on the mainland, but great to know that buses will probably be readily available on the islands. Thanks for sharing the rules of the road, Stanbr!

Posted by
3130 posts

Even when I made my first trip to Santorini in 1985 there was at least 2 ferries every day between Santorini and naxos.

Posted by
195 posts

Great, that will make life easier to us, assuming those are the two islands we choose after getting further into our research. Thanks!

May I also ask whether we will be making a mistake to miss Olympia? It sounds REALLY mind-blowing to see where the first Olympic games were, but it looks like it is quite a detour from the rest of our trip. Looks like Rick gives it two triangles, meaning it's not an absolute must, but good to see if you are at all able to. Wondering if others on this forum agree with his assessment. We would definitely go if it was nearby, but would want to make sure it was worth our while to make the long trek out rather than just going to Nemia, or perhaps just skipping both for the sake of more time elsewhere.

Posted by
6619 posts

Good info from all those above. I'll chime in about Olympia because I live here in its namesake. ;-) On your timetable I wouldn't take the time to go all the way out there. Focus on the islands, Corinth, and Delphi. Nafplio as a base for Mycenae and Epidavros if you want to see those places, plus for itself as a beautiful seaside town with imposing hilltop fortress. Olympia means driving out that highway toward Patros that another poster advised against (we did it but it wasn't fun), and just seems like too much for the time you have.

Come to this Olympia and the Pacific Northwest instead, when you travel on this continent! '-)

Posted by
195 posts

Thank you, good to know. Our budget is limited enough that we may never be able to return, so that always makes it difficult to cut things out, but we certainly don't want to stretch ourselves too thinly! I actually have been to Olympia, WA before, so that is a start!

Posted by
255 posts

I've done the following itinerary several times:

Land in Athens and take a rented car to Delphi. Overnight stay.
Drive to Olympia (quite a drive). Overnight stay.
Drive to Napflio (another long drive). At least two nights stay. See Mycenae and Epidaurus.
Drive to Athens, at least 3 days to see the basics. Maybe a boat trip to Aegina for a day.

I've done that trip in a week alone and in a week with 4 high-school seniors in a van! Each time I go I add another archeological site or temple to see. Bassae is great and Suonion is great at sunset.

Posted by
3335 posts

If you really do want to check Mykonos to see if its houses are whiter. shutters are bluer and flowers are redder, that excursion company has day trips there too, if they run as late as your trip (you don't give dates in this thread, it would be helpful) -- The MV Alexander (larger vessel) runs M-T-W-Th the T-Th go to Delos first for 2 hours, but the M-W go direct from Naxos Harbor to Mykonos arr 11 AM ...leave about 4:30. The Naxo Star, smaller boat, not recommended in fall, when wind can may the sea rougher. Again, to find out if these excursions run during your dates, use e-mail listed above.

Posted by
195 posts

Thanks for the idea, John, we'll definitely consider that when finalizing our itinerary. Sounds like you probably think the looooong drive to Olympia is worthwhile if you have done it multiple times. So fun that you've been able to visit over and over.

Thanks for the tip, Janet. I do think we will most likely be staying on Naxos based on the recommendations of yourself and others as I've been reading back through this forum, but it's good to know that if we really want to see Mykonos, there is that option as long as their schedule lines up with our trip.

Posted by
83 posts

I just returned and would comment on a couple of items for you.

Athens seems spot on. The major sites are worth the time, sweat and stairs. Go to Plaka for dinner one night...awesome place posted on the hotel / restaurant site.

Santorini was picturesque and worth the time regardless of the tourists. Try for a caldera view where ever you stay.

Mykonos. Don't worry about the "party" aspect. It is true but they will not drag you from your sleep and make you join them! That being said, I would not go back. You do feel the sting of higher tourist dollars and never feel like you are enjoying the real Greek culture. Go to Naxos! Take a day trip to Mykonos if you feel compelled. If you do, eat at Kiki's!

Posted by
11350 posts

We were staying just oitside of town on Mykonos and saw nothing of a party scene. This was in late September. Our hotel was filled mosrly with British and other Europeans, including Greeks. Yes, Santorini has beautiful views and the white and blue Cycladic houses but I will guess that your favorite island experience will be on Naxos.
Napflion is a beautiful small waterfront city surrounded by important and major archeological sites. It is also a favorite weekend getaway for Athenians. Make sure you include it in your itinerary.
Leave the Plaka area for your dinners. There are many interesting neighborhoods nearby with excellent dining choices.

Posted by
1 posts

Hi! Solo traveler here going to Greece finally. Unfortunately, I am not fit enough to do the organized Rick Steeves tours. However I have traveled very successfully and economically on my own.

I am actually spending 8 or 9 nights in Athens and doing day tours to Delphi, Olympia, Argolis, and the one-day Saronic cruise to 3 islands. I look for tours that pick me up and drop me off at my hotel. This removes a lot of stress for me and makes things easy. I love museums and am allowing two days for that to be relaxed. The one-day Olympia tour is expensive only because I am on my own. Niki is highly recommended by both Rick and trip advisor. I am also leaving time to enjoy cultural events I hope to find. I am also spending about six days in Crete to go horseback riding near Heraklion, but will also do a day tour to Santorini and a wonderful mountain adventure. My agent booked me through from Heraklion to LAX. Via Athens--I paid just $15 for the one-way ticket from Herakluin to Athens, and my luggage will go straight through to LAX. This option is very important to know about. By the way, I found an Acropolus balcony view room in the Pkaka for 89 euros and an ocean view balcony room in Crete for 50 euros. The horse pkace referred me to the hotel in Crete.

Posted by
195 posts

Thanks for your updates Sambon. If you happen to return to this page, would you mind telling me who you booked your Olympia day tour through? Thanks!