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island hopping ... Crete to Santorini to Naxos or would you reverse it ?

Hi all you veterans out there .... we are planning a trip (for 4 adults) for May /June to Greece.. all first-timers - basically would like to plan for ~1 week on the islands and ~1 week on the mainland (although my first sketch at this was 18 days.... )
Looking at possible itineraries.... plan to fly from US to Ath and then directly to an island - either Crete first , then Santorini then Naxos; or better to go the reverse (can you fly to Naxos?) N->S->C ??
Current thinking is 3 or 4 days Crete (split btwn Chania and Heraklion) ; 2 days (1 night) Santorini; 3 days Naxos then back to Athens and continue mainland trip from there ...

Thoughts pls?? Thanks in advance

EDIT : @MaryPat - thanks- good point, yes our flights are direct from US to ATH inbound

Posted by
4645 posts

It’s too much for one week. Either choose Santorini/Naxos/Paros or Crete.

Posted by
1767 posts

Is your flight from your first point of departure to Athens nonstop? If not consider flying into Chania or Santorini instead of Athens that requires only one connection from a number of cities in the US. I can’t pull up anything from the US to Naxos on Skyscanner though, however, I can pull up a flight from Naxos to New York. I would figure out the air logistics first.

Posted by
283 posts

We just did a similar trip in October 2021. We did 3 nights Santorini and 4 nights Naxos.. Taking advice from others here, Crete is it's own trip and nobody here is overly impressed with Mykonos. So flew right to Santorini which is beautiful, but just know that the beaches there are not great. Room with a caldera view was awesome. Hike from Oia to Fira was tough but great. Many people recommended Naxos and we loved it. We took a fast ferry and stayed near Plaka Beach and took 2 days to lay on the beach and 1 day exploring. Flew back (the airport is 5 minutes from Plaka Beach) to Athens for 10 days exploring the mainland. We felt that the number of nights allowed us to see what we wanted to see and also just relax..

Posted by
1644 posts

I agree with others. You are trying to do too much. You say you have a week and yet have most conservatively 8 days which is 9 nights. Traveling by ferry between islands will eat up 1/2 a day each time so even with 9 nights you will not have 8 days.

Fly to Santorini and spend three nights. By the time you get there, three nights will give you two days. That is what we did and were very happy with that. Or if you only want one day, spend two nights. Spend the rest of your island week on Naxos. We spent four nights there and there was so much to do that we only ended up at the beach for one afternoon. We would have loved another day. We flew back to Athens and rented a car at the airport.

Save Crete for a separate trip. We are going there this coming May for 11 days and you certainly could spend even more time there.

Posted by
2805 posts

Just chiming in to agree with the others who've done it ... save Crete for your next trip. That way y ou won't be rushed ... you can get the most out of both islands and mainland. Flying back from Naxos, you get car rental at Airport, do your mainland adventure (Nafplio? + other?) then back to Airport, drop car & taxi to central Athens lodgings, & have 3 full days to experience the famous landmarks and treasures of Athens.

Posted by
964 posts

I totally agree with the opinions presented here. Either spend your island time on Crete, or do the very handy Santorini Naxos pairing.

However I do want to address the question you asked which was what route is best Crete,Santorini Naxos or go to the reverse Naxos Santorini Crete.

By far the best way to do these hops is to start out in Crete. The reason is the Crete Santorini run is done in the morning. You will be in Santorini just past noon. The return trip from Santorini to Crete Heraklion gets you in about 7 in the evening. You essentially lose the full day in transportation.

For fun here are some images of Santorini and Naxos.

Naxos town

Trip around Naxos
Naxos sunsets

Posted by
124 posts

I suggest doing Santorini first, as visiting any other Greek island first will possibly ruin your Santorini experience, as it did for us. When we arrived at Santorini, it was way too touristic, like a Greek Disneyland. You can think of it as Greece Light. We visited the sites we were there to see and left a day early.

Posted by
14 posts

thank you all - very helpful advice -
Crete will be Greece2.0 .

So current plan will be
Day 0 - overnight flight US-ATH

Day 1 - arrive ATH AM and catch a flight same day to Santorini; (1,2) - stay Santorini two nights;
Day 3 - ferry midday to Naxos; (3,4,5,6) - stay Naxos 4 nights
Day 7 - flight back to Athens by midday and hit the road to Nafplio - stay Nafplio three nights

been following the other threads on where to stay, what to do and how to avoid the crowds ... so much good information! thx!

i'm sure i will be back w/ more questions on the mainland - but for now, a quick Q : if we are able to get to ATH by midday / early afternoon ; what would be your top 1-2 recommendations on things to do/ stops between ATH and Nafplio?

We plan to then stay in Nafplio and explore the surrounding areas for 3 nights before returning to ATH - so we will have time to do some day excursions away from Nafplio

thanks again.

ps @Stan - those photos are super! wow !

Posted by
964 posts

Thanks for the kind words on my photos.
You have to drive right by Corinth to get to Nafplio. Corinth has several great sites to visit on the way by.
When you get off the toll road instead of heading south to Nafplio you can go right a few kilometres and visit Ancient Nemia. It was a sister city to Olympia and its stadium is still there along with a partially restored temple. Its well worth an hour stop.
Before Nemia is the site of Ancient Corinth the Roman ruins from Biblical times. Right next door is the amazing fortress of Acrocorinth. It has a 360 degree view from the mountain top. It is well worth the time for a visit.

Here are images of Corinth. I also have images of Nafplio which include Ancient Nemia.
You are going to have a great trip.

Corinth Area.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks! We are definitely looking forward to it- so much to see !
we were thinking we would venture out to Sparta/Mystras and Epidavros while in Nafplio and then save Mycenae for on the way back into Athens ...

Posted by
2805 posts

Glad to hear you're saving Crete as a future treat ... it will enable you to get the most from the destinations you DO have. And Stanbr is very experienced on getting the most from your visit to the Peloponnese area. A few cautionary observations:

• You say 3 nights in Nafplio -- but from experience, that's not 3 days. Lets do the Math: even with 1st Naxos-ATH flight, u arr 11:30, won't be on road til 12;30 ( then there's lunch -- 30 mins minimum). Nonstop to Nafplio = 2.5+ hours = 4 pm by Hotel check-in... and that's with NO stops . On Day 3, you'll want to return car by noonish at Airport? This means TWO days in Nafplio/area, plus a smidge on either side. Some choices to make:

• Optional Outbound stops (1) Corinth Canal -- 30 mins (just hop off main highway @ Isthmus, see & photo, hop back on )... (2) Ancient Corinth/Acrocorinth -- at least 2+ hrs (3) Ancient Nemea - terrif Stadium! 1 hr ... if u do all four, your hotel check-in may be after 6pm and you'll be exhausted.

• Optional sights in/around Nafplio -- (1) Old Town = Acrocorinth tower/walls & high park, sealevel walk around point, town stairstep lanes & ancient bldgs, small but superb arch. museum, top-ranked costume/design museum, (2) Palamidi - huge "rock" fortress, aerial-height views (3) Mycenae - at least 3 hrs, incl drive (4) Tiryns (just outside town) (5) Epidaurus (drive & return) ... (6) a restorative swim, either at Town Beach/Arvanita, Tolo Beach or Assine/Kastraki ... Jampacked list, leaving little time to relax & enjoy seafront sunsets, relaxed walks thru flower-garlanded lanes. My thoughts based on successful trips with newcomers:

• AFTERNOON DAY 1 - Leave Airport by 1 pm... Choose Corinth OR Nemea ... (if Nemea, u can do the Corinth Canal quik-stop) - Nafplio hotel by 4 pm, late-day stroll Old Town, seafront sunset
• DAY 2 - AM: Old Town/Arch Museum/AcroNafplia... AFT: Palamidi (drive up back way, not climb 999 steps), then a beach?
• DAY 3 - Mycenae by 9 AM! to beat Bus crowds... Or? Design museum. AFT - If still in ruins mood, drive to Tiryns or Epidaurus... On way home stop for swim (I love tiny Assine cove w 1 taverna, NO crowds)
• AM Day 4 -- IF u didn't see Epidaurus or Canal before, get early start, drive EAST to ruins (mainly the theatre), then up COAST road to Isthmus, then hop off for Canal-view, then back on big highway to airport.

I know this sounds like an accountant's stop-watch agenda, not fun... but it's actually the opposite. We found that by planning ahead for realistic timing & choices, (we skipped Mycenae & Acrocorinth, but did all the rest) we allowed plenty of time for a lot of relaxed fun... including a stop at a wine-bottling place right on Main st. of Nemea VIllage near the ruins, several early june swims and 3 swell cafe sunsets. I hope the same for you!

Posted by
14 posts

Wow - Thanks @Janet . Very helpful - will do some more research on the routing you suggest -

everything looks so fascinating on websites/ books, hard to tell sometimes how to prioritize, so we really appreciate all the advice !

Posted by
7488 posts

And when you do visit Crete spend much more time in Chania than Heraklion.
We flew to Santorini after two weeks in Greece and we felt like we had left Greece. It looked Greek , nothing more. Our least favorite place in two trips to Greece, month long trips.

Posted by
2805 posts

Glad to help -- but forgot to add the Golden Key to Nafplio... a superb NONcommercial website .. I order u to click EVERY link -- what to see, where to stay, best eats, best Walks etc etc -- it's created & run by a Scandinavian expat who lives there 20 yrs & knows more about it than people born there, and she keeps discovering new things. Her advice is tops!