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Island Decision - Crete Only?

We (mom/dad, daughter 14, son 12) arrive in Athens from Anchorage, Alaska at 17:20, after about a 14 hour journey on May 25 and an 11 hour time change. We have reserved a room at St Thomas B&B near the Athens airport for our first night, just to relax and adjust. We then have sketched out the following: Wake in the morning, go to the Acropolis for the day (the excitement of such a sight will keep us awake!). Catch a ferry to Crete at 9pm that night. Sleep on the boat (getting a cabin w/ showers), arrive in Crete at 7am. Not sure where to stay in Crete, but idea is to settle into a spot (prefer B&B where it's very authentic greek and not westernized) and do a day excursion each day to a historical site, followed by a trip to a beautiful beach. I'd like to spend 3-4 nights in Crete and then fly to the Peloponnese area (if possible) and rent a car where we would spend 2 nights in Kardymyli, and 2 nights in Nafplio, followed by 2 nights in Athens (1 in Plaka, and 1 near airport - same spot St Thomas BB for our 8am flight on June 7). The extra time in Athens gives us the space for any transportation problems so we don't miss our flight and if all goes well, extra time to wander around old Athens (Plaka).

Is it a mistake to not visit Santorini? I love the beautiful pictures, but it seems so touristy. It's reminds me of Venice (which we didn't care for because of the crowds and it felt dirty and non-authentic, but of course, glad we went to at least see it!). We want culture, beauty, and to FEEL the Greek experience. I love the idea of Hydros, for the lack of cars and the donkeys on the street. But is it tailored towards tourists? I want natural Greece, but hate to miss out on something that maybe I've overlooked. Son loves Greek mythology, daugher loves a good beach. Husband and I love the combination of culture, relaxing, and Greek cuisine. None of us like the crazy crowds. We enjoy things like an authentic cooking class, absorbing ourselves in with the locals, etc. Although, none of us want to go somewhere that is difficult to get a good meal or activity.

Is our time better spent sticking with a few stops on Santorini, Myklonos, Hydras etc and skipping the long haul to Crete?

Posted by
7710 posts

It is not a mistake by any means to skip Santorini and the more touristy islands. Crete is a great visit, a culture in it's own right. No specific recommendation on a base, but likely pick a spot near Heraklion to hit the museum, the minoan palace, maybe venture to the south coast. Chania is a long day trip but a city we enjoyed very much, much more manageable than Heraklion and a neat old town harbor. You could consider doing a night there.

Your flight back to the mainland will probably have to be to Athens, which is just as convienent, having a car makes your trip more manageable, you could do a quick stop to see the Corinth canal (you cross right over it), Mycenae is right on the way, then when in Nafplio, Epidaurus is nearby.

Posted by
1177 posts

Crete is a beautiful island filled with everything one wants to go to Greece for. We stayed in Chania's Old Town and it is lovely. Lots of options for accommodations but some of the best are on or just off Theotokopolou St. You can do day trips from there via bus or better rent a car for more options and places to go where buses don't. Three to four nights there is really not enough to experience Crete . . . I would recommend more. It has world class archeological sites, beautiful beaches, lovely towns, mountains, world-famous gorge to hike, great food, tremendous local wine and Raki.

Nafplio is one of Greece's nicest towns and a joy to be in.
Kardymyli is also lovely, smaller and filled with charm.
Athens is wild, crazy but exciting and has some of the best archeological sites in the world, fantastic museums, great food and fortunately what most people go to Athens for is in a relatively small area so is very walkable.

I'm not a fan of Santorini (never been to it) and even with it's spectacular scenery it's not the type of Greek Island I go to, but to each their own.

You asked whether it's worth skipping Crete. If you don't have more than 3-4 days there then I would say yes. If you can devote more then by all means go.

Some closer islands to go from Athens that may give you a more real Greek experience are Sifnos, Milos, Amorgos, Naxos (one of my favorites) and even Aegina which is just a short boat ride away from Piraeus. Lovely waterfront main town, one of Greece's best preserved temples, abandoned centuries old village in the hills, beaches, seaside villages, great food and is known as the Pistachio Capitol of Greece.

Lots of options depending on what you want for a Greek Experience, budget, needs and time.

Check out Matt's Greek Guide on the web for everything you want to know about Greece.

Having said all that I think you may be trying to cram to much into the time you have and you may want to spend more time in less places.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for the input. When I go through the guidebooks, I keep coming back to Crete, likely for it's natural "Greekness" and things to do. So it's good to read the other opinions of similar islands Sifnos, Milos, Amorgos, Naxos, Aegina that don't require the long journey. Traveling at night to Crete is a bonus in that we aren't using up vacation time, however, traveling back to the mainland will use up time. Getting to most islands requires the travel time, I suppose. I don't think we could give more than 4 days and 4 nights in Crete (not counting the night on the boat), possibly a 5th night if I can keep the mainland journey organized well in regards to time spent in the car and changing destinations.

Am I hitting the right spots on the mainland? Nafplio had some great day trip sights and Kardymyli just seemed so relaxing. As much as Athens might have to offer, I have a feeling we will not want to spend much time there (no more than 2 full days) because it may seem hectic and big city like.

Posted by
3133 posts

Crete is huge and it takes a minimum of a week with a rental car just to barely scratch the surface. Be sure to go to your local AAA office to pick up an International Driving Permit, no test or membership required. Bring 2 passport photos with you to save a few dollars.

Santorini is definitely worth a visit!! Don't let anyone tell you differently. If you have time, go there. If you were glad you went to Venice in spite of everything you'll be twice as glad you didn't skip Santorini. From Heraklion on Crete there's at least one daily ferry in May.

Posted by
1177 posts

Don't forget there are airports on Crete that you can fly to from Athens in just about 1 hour rather than a 9 hour "cruise". I'm not sure if you've ever slept in a cabin on a cruise ship but it will probably be an night of tossing and turning, cramped space and you'll end up a zombie the next day. Consider flying to Crete. In addition you can fly from Crete to a number of islands. The price will not be that much more and when traveling time is money.

As far as someone who states definately go to Santorini that's in the eye of the beholder. Yes, the scenary is spectacular but there are drawbacks to going to one of the most touristed Greek Islands.

I'm not saying do not go there but people have varied opinions about Santorini . . . you either love it or hate it.

Posted by
3362 posts

First of all, THANK YOU for giving FULL details to enable us to help better! You have a pretty good plan, with some tweaks from experience (Ive been to greece 12x, which includes crete6x, Pelops9x, santorini5x, not all by choice, and 20+ other islands) ... so it's not guesswork. Also CONGRATS on choosing absolute best time of year -- ideal weather, everything's open, nothing's crowded, looong days (sunset 8:45+). I also understand Santorini (god love him Brotherlee is a marvelous advocate, but if you don't visit Greece yearly, choices must be made). But maybe we can "tweak" just a taste: My thoughts:

DAY 2 ATHENS - yes! u can also do Agora, & Acrop Museum. Yr 6-part ticket has other stuff, u can use @end of trip -- supposed to be used in 4 days but nobody checks. O'nite Ferry: CHOOSE FERRY TO CHANIA! Avoids backtracking, best place to start! BEST online Crete Map!!! .. what u can do if willing to move around
DAY 3 - CHANIA - Old Town explore (great small B & Bs on West side Old Town, views of sea)
DAY 4 - DAY EXCURSION - Balos & Koufinissos beach for your "beautiful BEach: requirement
DAY 5 - SCENIC DRIVE S - thru Spili to MATALA ... kids climb to caves, swim on beach: Stay o'night (I rec Dimitris Villas)
DAY 6 - SCENIC DRIVE N - up thru Vineyard country to KNOSSOS (2pm on), in to Heraklion (I rec. Hotel Kronos, on seafront)
DAY 7 - 9:45 Fast-Ferry to SANTORINI (Yes! for just 18 hours?) Arrive noon, sightsee, stay night (I rec cute tiny Villa Fotini)
DAY 8 - Early (9? 10?) FLIGHT to ATH Airport - rent car... Drive to Pelopponese w 2 stops (1) get off at Isthmia; great 20 minute photo Op of Corinth Canal!), (2) 5 mi off big highwy, NEMEA (a great "standin" for Olympia!!). NAFPLIO by 5 pm, & 8:30 sunset!!
DAY 9 - Old Town Explore, beach (many options!)
DAY 10 -- Drive & Explore -- MYCENAE - TIRYNS - PALAMIDI (drive up back, some can walk DOWN 999 steps)
DAY 11 -- early start - EPIDAURUS THEATRE (skip rest of site), leisurely drive back to ATH. Drop car in town? Airport? (Discuss)
DAY 12 & 13 ATHENS Sightseeing ... to St. Thomas for night on 13th

--- You will note that I've left out Kardymyli, lovely spot but a looong drive just for nice village... you can find similar Villages, VERY greek, just across Argos bay from Nafplio, just drive-up to inquire places for night. Other comments: Hydra - port is main thing & TOTALLY oriented to day-trips. Cooking Classes - available in/near Chania.

Posted by
2145 posts

My only concern is how tired you will all be around 4 pm on that first day in Athens, when the adrenaline has worn off, and you still have 5 hours to wait until your ferry leaves. And also, have you thought about where you'll store your luggage while you sight-see? Are there lockers at the port?

I personally would skip all this hassle, and go right back to the airport early on the 26th and fly to Crete. Save your Athens explorations until the end of your trip.

I agree that you should visit Santorini, if only for a couple of nights. Actually, an alternate itinerary might be to skip Crete. Instead, fly from Athens to Santorini for 2 nights, then ferry to Naxos for 3-4 nights. Then, you can ferry back to Athens (avoiding another visit to the airport). Naxos is a lovely island with lots to see ... we're returning for our second visit in May.

By the way, my husband and I will also be at the St. Thomas B&B the evening of June 6. It will be interesting to meet you and hear about your trip!

Posted by
3362 posts

Pacific Travel has luggage storage near Syntagma Square at hourly rates. Also, if you have booked a hotel for the final 2 days in Central Athens, you could e-mail them, explain that you have reservations to stay at the end of your trip, and see if you could leave your bags there, behind reception, for a few hours during your sightseeing day. Usually hotels are good about this, if you ask politely (with a few words of praise for their wonderful establishment and how you look forward to staying there).

Posted by
9 posts

Really great information here. I'll be studying all these options over the next few days and start getting reservations made. And @ Charlene - you will hear first hand about all our adventures!

Posted by
3133 posts

Don't go anywhere you can't stay long enough to explore and enjoy while taking your time!