I'm thinking of joining the RS tour to Greece in March or April next year, but would also like to get out to one (or two) of the islands (haven't decided where, yet). Since the tour starts and finishes in Athens I'm wondering what would be the best way to approach adding on a bit of island hopping. Would it be best to land in Athens, then grab a flight (or ferry) to one of the islands then come back and join the tour. Or would it make more sense to do the tour then add some time at the end then come back to Athens to fly home? Has anyone done this, and what worked or didn't work.
We just took this tour in May and it is awesome, you will spend two nights on the island of Hydra and it is truly wonderful! Several of our tour members went to Santorini after the tour and had a great time. For me, the time on Hydra took care of my island needs but my wife & I have considered doing a future trip of just the Greek islands. The food in Greece is amazing.
FIrst of all, I would suggest April-- (1) Better weather, many fewer rainshowers, and the spring flowers will be out in full glory (2)Greek Easter is SUnday April 8 (NOT Apr 1, as in our calendar), and that's when the GReek "shoulder season really starts, ... therefore, many more facilities & activities than in March. Of the 2 April trips (Apr 9- APr 22 vs Apr 23 - May 6), I would choose the latter ... again, the weather is even better AND -- if you tack your island expedition on at the end, (May 7 - 15), it can even be warm enough for you to take a dip in the Aegean!! Deep water can be brrrr, but even in early May, if you choose a shallow beach, the sun will warm the water enough for a short swim.
Another reason to do things afterward: you'll enjoy more, and know how to explore more, once you get "the lay of the land" -- knowing things about the Greek way of doing things (what to order in tavernas, what time to have dinner, where to find the bus timetables, what the tipping process is) .. If you start with the Group, you'll get all that learning out of the way first, so when you are on your own, you'll be a sorta "old hand" (or at least not a total newbie), and be able to get the most out of your adventure.
I just saw another responder's vote for going in May ... it would cost $100 more, but MUCH more chance to swim while with the RS folks, and the week after the 1st may trip (May 21 - 28) is in my mind the MOST perfect week of the year to be in the islands. Everythings open, nothing is crowded; weather is ideal 60s at night, low 80s in afternoon. When u choose, come back and give us specifics about the exact dates you'll have available for islands, and we'll help you choose. BTW, after traveling w. RS tour, you will be used to moving along smartly, so no need to spend more than 2 nights in Santorini... that will give you time to visit another island, maybe even 2 if you plan wisely. (After being w. the RS group, you'll know what's "authentic" greece and what's super-touristic).
I took the March 25-April 7 tour this year. I see you are from BC Canada... I took this tour to avoid the really hot weather. We had wonderful weather with barely any rain (and none during the day), and the spring flowers were lovely. However, in the middle of many days, it was hot for this New Englander. I don't recall ever needing my light jacket, and I was glad I had some short sleeve shirts. If cool enough, I wore my light vest. I say this because I'd hate to be in Greece much later in the season, in much warmer weather; or with crowds. And as you, too, live in a cooler climate than some, you might prefer not to be in too hot weather either, so check out the average temperatures and consider your favorite temperatures before you chose. For me 75 degrees while walking and in the sun most of the day is not the most comfortable, whereas, someone from Florida would think it was heaven. Just an FYI.
This was a wonderful tour. I'm sure you will enjoy it. Afterwards, six or so people from our tour traveled on to Santorini after the tour.
Wray, it all depends on whether Anita's dream trip to Greece includes swimming ... friends of mine from Vancouver (who also, like me, have been to Greece 12+times) share my enthusiasm for the Aegean Sea ... it really is like no other ... the water is Blue even while you are swimming in it, and so crystal clear it passes the "newspaper test" -- if you could somehow stand on a waterproof newspaper in the water, you could read it between your feet -- "Blue Flag" designations indicate Top rankings for water quality, and 90% of Greece's island beaches qualify. There's just nothing to compare.
I took this tour last October. Several of my tour mates visited some of the other islands after the tour. Those who did, returned to Athens with the group and on the last day of the tour they all had cheap flights to the other islands they were visiting. Everyone did the islands post tour.
Anita, I just returned from Greece and the RS Tour ten days ago. It is a terrific and very diverse tour of a wonderful, friendly country. As one who these days generally combines independent travel with an RS Tour, thus is what I did: (1) I spent a few days in the Athens area on my own, including an overnight trip to Meteora by train; (2) then I joined the RS Tour, starting in Athens; (3) the tour returned to Athens at the end, and I left much of my baggage at the hotel; (4) I flew to Santorini for three nights, then ferried to Naxos for three nights, then flew back to Athens for my final day and night, repacked, and then flew home the next morning. This routine worked for me, and I enjoyed all the stops and the islands i visited. My understanding is that there are many wonderful Greek islands worthy of a visit, each with unique features and reasons to visit.
Good advice from all, and it seems like it makes most sense to visit some other islands after the tour. As far as what time of year to go I have a set of videos on Greece/Turkey, and the lecturer actually recommends March because that is when the wild flowers are out, and it's not too hot, and the sights aren't as busy. I'm not after a swim in the ocean, I love ancient, historical sights, and love to take photos. I don't want to end up with a lot of rainy days, but I'm also trying to go at a time when it's not going to be too hot as this northern girl starts to melt when the temperatures get up around 80. Larry, thanks for the tips about what you did, and I think I would like to do something similar. I hear Santorini gets quite crowded, though. It may come down to which island is easiest/quickest to get to when my time may be limited.
I was on the April 24 tour this year. There were lots of wildflowers and pleasant temps. Toward the end of the tour, the weather heated up and the flowers kind of dried up. I spent 4 days in Athens pre-tour and had no trouble getting around on my own. The first 3-4 days of the tour are pretty intense, so it's definitely advisable to arrive a day or two in advance so you aren't starting with jetlag. One couple went to Santorini before the tour and had a great time. Two other couples spent a few days in Istanbul (Turkish Air had great fares).
Going to Greece on your own and on your own budget and time frame can be done and fairly easily. While I enjoy Steve's travel shows I find the areas he goes to a bit "touristy" and mainstream. Whether he has any "commission" for showcasing certain areas of a country is unknown, I would recommend doing a lot of research on your own. You'll find Greece easily explorable, inexpensive on your own and at your own time frame and much more of a "wow factor" as you take a non-touristy side street, or get lost in the mazes of a hill top village and end up somewhere totally Greek and non-touristy.
To each their own, but any time you go on a tour you'll be at the beck and call of the tour leader who may or may not be taking you to places where he can get a commission on anything sold.
Not saying Steve's tours are not worthwhile but there is so much info available in guidebooks, websites and else where that a tour of a country is do-able without the expense and wait-for-someone-else-to-catch-up of a tour group.
Check out Matt's Greek Guide for everything you need to know about anywhere in Greece, where to go and how to do it:
TommyK5: I have been toying with the idea of going by myself, but thought the price of renting a car to get around, and staying in hotels by myself would add up. I also don't have a great sense of direction so I'm not sure I could both drive and navigate on my own without it being quite frustrating. I've looked at Matt's site for Greece, and I think I found it a little overwhelming with so much information. I do have a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Greece, and I'm still slowly reading it. I have done one RS tour to Venice/Florence/Rome which I quite enjoyed. I have travelled on my own in the past, but only to English speaking countries where I could stay in B&Bs and find people to talk to. I'm still pondering it. I thought the tour would simplify a lot of things for me. All the sight entrances, accommodation, and transportation would be mostly taken care of for me.
I understand about doing a do-it-yourself trip for the first time in a foreign country. The first year we went to Greece we had a wonderful travel agency in Greece (Aegean Thesaurus) take care of all accommodations, transfers from the airport to Piraeus and pickups at islands. We did book our flight and the overall experience with Thesaurus was perfect.
However, once we realized how easy it was to get around in Greece, how to use public transportation and research we found Greece is a very easy country for a self-guided tour.
Maybe we are more adventurous and daring than some but in reality it's not that difficult.
If you feel more comfortable with a tour there are a number of good outfits in the country that would provide you a great trip.
Still, for those who are budget-minded, like to travel without being in groups and prefer non-touristy areas and/or more traditional parts of Greece a trip on your own can be very enjoyable and a lot easier than you think.
Matt's Guide is great but can be overwhelming with lots of info that may or may not be beneficial. If you've decided on an area of Greece then his guide for that area/island is one of the best.
If you can find the guide books Greek Island Hopping or the Blue Guide to the Aegean Islands they would be two of the best I've used with the Blue Guide the better of the two.
Whatever you decide, try to get as much info before hand to be prepared for where you are going, what you are experiencing and getting to know Greece and it's people.
Learn a few Greek words or phrases and you'll make instant friends!
The RS tour of Greece was fabulous! We went on the very last tour of the year (mid October) and the weather was wonderful. We enjoyed the luxury of someone else doing the driving and taking care of all those pesky details. And a whole lot of unexpected treats and surprises, too. Our guide was outstanding and could have been a native, he was so at home there. It's an amazing country filled with amazing sites/sights and amazing people. And then there's the food....oh, the food. Fantastic meals everywhere. We actually spent 3 days (4 nights) on our own on Santorini before the tour. It was an easy and short round trip. I was happy we had done it this way but can see why others enjoyed the other way around. When a tour is over, we usually spend a day or two winding down, re-packing and then feel ready to return home. That plan worked well for us.
Tommy -- please stop and think about it: it is very different for you to contemplate D-I-Y ... you are a couple. Anita is on her own. I am sure she's independent and very capable, but she wants some assurance of sociability. Do not make assumptions about what another person will be comfortable doing unless you have walked in that person's shoes ... unless you are a woman, and unless you are doing it solo.
I myself have done Greece solo, and I'm both of the above, but I've done it after many trips with others along... AND I have done it when I had made arrangements to meet up with friends at several points along the way. I believe Anita is making very sensible choices ... and if she does decide to take a week in the islands after the tour, she'll be readier to do it after time with others ... and if she chooses Santorini & Naxos as the 2 to visit, it is Very likely that some of the friends from the tour will be going to those islands as well.
Janet: I have traveled to Greece as a couple and as a solo traveler. Both offered me wonderful opportunities to experience Greece off-season and get to know the off-season Greece as opposed to the High Tourist Greece.
I would never tell anyone not to go somewhere, do something or what accommodations and/or budget to base a trip on.
As a somewhat regular to Greece (pales in comaprison to Jan and Stanbr) I have more experience than some and less than others.
I can only base my opinions on what I/we experienced and have found that doing a do-it-yourself trip to Greece is very do-able, inexpensive and rather a lot of fun researching during the winter, which in our part of the US is cold, snowy and reminds us of what a lovely country Greece is, offering history, culture, some of the best food in the world and weather that I would die for back in the northeast of the US.
Everyone should do as much reseach as they can, ask questions, check out the internet and do what's best for them.
Everyone has their own opinion of what a Greek Experience should be and after numerous trips to Greece feel that what I want may not be what others want.
Still, the most important advice I can give is: DO YOUR RESEARCH!
My husband and I took the RS tour March 27 of this year, and the temps and the wildflowers were Marvelous! For a first time visitor to Greece, I think being on a tour makes so much sense, esp. if you are alone. The areas visited on the tour itinerary were spot on, and varied between the busy-ness of Athens, (and crowds, yes), to a small Greek village up in the foothills where hardly anyone lived. Having a tour guide who has lived in Greece or is a native is beyond beneficial. They impart so much more information than you could get out of a tour book. RS local guides give even more specialized guidance.
We were not interested in swimming either, so late March made perfect sense. Lower temps, smaller crowds, nothing was closed that we had our hopes to see. Make sure you are as fit as possible, this is one VERY active tour.
Do we want to go back to Greece and see more islands than just Hydra? For sure, its a very beautiful country. Do the tour and then do some islands on your own if you have the time. Highly recommend Greece to anyone!