My wife and I have signed up for the Rick Steves tour of Greece. It appears we'll have two days to explore on our own prior to joining our tour. Any suggestions for travel for a day or two outside of Athens and heavily populated areas would be much appreciated. I've also considered flying to Paris spend a day or two there and then flying to Athens to join the tour, Ljubljana and rental car to Motovun was another consideration but too late of an arrival time in Athens appears to be an issue with flights. Thank you. John.
To start with, I have not taken the tour, though I have spent some time in Greece and have been many of the places the tour goes, and many it does not.
My first thought is...how much travel to Europe have you done? First time or old pro? How do you react to jet lag? Many people could spend 2 days just relaxing in the Plaka, maybe visiting the Market, see a few sights not on the itinerary, head to one of the nearby beaches, etc. mainly to just get back on your feet and be ready to go for a tour.
If Jet Lag is not an issue, then you might consider renting a car or taking the train to Kalambaka and visit the Monasteries in the Meteora, show up with a bunch of pictures from there and the rest of the tour group will be envious.
I would be less likely to consider a stop outside Greece unless it was a direct stop on the way, but time in Greece, getting in the touring mood would make more sense.
I do not think John has been to Europe before and certainly not to Greece. If he had, he would not come on a GReece forum and refer to "killing two days in Athens." With that attitude ... whew.
At any rate (altho he doesn't deserve this tip), an excellent way to spend 2 days -- especiallly if they fall during M-F -- would be to go to the nearby island of Aegina. i know I know R Steves promotes the island of Hydra nonstop, but it has NO beaches, NO transit so you must walk everywhere has a lovely port but that's about all. Aegina, by contrast, has an interesting port town, a STUNNING temple ruin mid-island, busses, taxis & car/scooter rental to go everywhere ... Here's a fine place right on a beach... a great cafe, and a few rooms right behind http://www.aeginagreece.com/aegina-island/directory/aegina-listing/aegina-island-spots/beaches/la-palma-marathonas I say weekdays because on weekends, Athenians flock to these nearer islands for day trips.
GEtting to Aegina is simple: you leave your biggie bag with your Athens Hotel (they are used to people checking bags in their storage areas before a tour), and take the GREEN LINE Metro from MOnastiraki station Piraeus... 30minutes and about 1.8 E per ticket .. just beware of pickpockets, but if you are Public Transit virgins & iffy about same, a taxi from Central Athens is about €25. Then at any ticket office (the port is lined with them) buy a ticket on the next available conventional ferry.
Compared to Hydra (which takes 2-3 hours) - Aegina is only ONE hour by conventional ferry (avoid the hydrofoils, as they have no deck & no view). with Conventional ferries -- at least 6 or 8 daily -- you sit on deck and enjoy a little "mini-cruise" in the Saronic Bay, seeing everything from huge cruise ships and cargo vessels, to ferries, speedboats and tiny sailboats ... plus scenery, gulls, even if you a lucky a dolphin. Here's a photo-album that shows step-by-step the highilights of a delightful day trip (only you'd add to it the fun of an overnight on a beach) https://www.flickr.com/photos/36264706@N03/sets/72157621604646139/detail/
Since the Steves tours are almost entirely mainland, this will give you a sample of a greek island ... and I believe the Steves tour does show you around the ancient highlights of Athens. I hope and trust after seeing these you will not again use an insulting expression as regarding Athens as a place for "killing time." Athens in fact -- with its awe-inspiring history, and the visible record of the culture handed down to us (and its record of survival during one of the cruelist Nazi occupations of the entire WW II) -- has overcome time, 2,000 years of it -- and can make Americans abashed at our own brief history, and at how lucky we have been, not to have faced such challenges.
There is a lot to see in Athens itself and the tour doesn't spend much time in the city. You'd have to spend 2 nights in another city (like Paris) just to have one day there. Is it worth it when you're likely to be jetlagged?
The tour goes to Hydra, so there's no point to talking about it as a pre-tour option.
I've been on the tour, and had plenty to do in Athens beforehand that the tour never touched:
Visit Syntagma Square during the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown.
Wander the Plaka and taste food at the cafes and bakeries.
Visit the ancient Agora and the ruins of Hadrian's Library.
Taste more food and bakery (and coffee, and wine).
We had lovely experiences while wandering Athens on our own. The shopkeepers, even in touristy Plaka, were warm and kind and honest. My son bought a bottle of water from a shop and paid only 50 cents. We later heard that (I think) there was a regulation requiring that shopkeepers charge no more than 50 cents for water. BUT we were tourists, and didnt know that. The shopkeeper probably knew that we didnt know it. He could have charged my son 2 euro without batting an eye. But he didn't. And this, in a country that is suffering under crushing austerity measures, where every euro could help.
I loved visiting Greece.
I spent two days in Athens prior to my RS tour. With tour time and my pre-tour days, there was still so much that I didn't have time to see. Save other cities for another time. Get to know Athens, it has so much to offer; not just its early history. Pick up a Lonely Planet guide book or such to see more than RS offers, so you can make an educated decision on what to see. And, enjoy the people!
Great advice from all the experienced Greece travelers.
We will be taking the RS tour of Greece in September and plan to arrive a few days early. Our plan is to visit areas in Athens that are not included in the tour.
Thanks to all who have shared their positive experiences. We can hardly wait!