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Order to visit Santorini and Mykonos

Quick update to my itinerary. Realized I left out Nafplio.
Logistically, Which Island Should We Stay at First?
We are visiting Greece this June and want to know how best to organize our island hopping. Here is our planned itinerary:
1. Arrive in Athens, Stay for 2 nights.
2. Rent car from airport to drive to Nafplio for 2 nights. Side trip Mycenae and Epidavrus.
3. Return car to airport and Fly to either Mykonos or Santorini (spend 2 nights on each)
3. Ferry between the islands
4. Then either fly or ferry back to Athens
Which island should we visit first? Thanks

Posted by
2812 posts

Why are you picking those 2 islands ... because they are the ones most promoted to Americans who haven't researched? Because they're on all the calendars & postcards and posters? Or because those are the 2 most promoted by travel agents, because of the large commissions they get from super-costly hotels?

I'm not saying this because I'm against them... ive been to both, several times, Santorini more than 5 x (mainly because my travel companions are mainly newcomers like you and Santorini is a "must-see" that u can view and scram after 48 hours) ... and because it's a "Switchboard Island" with the best connections to a dozen islands less crowded & expensive, and more rewarding for "settling-in" stays & beach enjoyment. However, if you must do ONE of the 2 costliest, most ballyhooed isles... need you do 2? there are other islands closer that would offer somewhat more authentic Greek ambience for next 2 days -- and, UNlike Santorini & Mykonos -- are NOT invaded by 3-5 Monster cruise ships, and huge busfulls of package-tourists daily. Have you checked into Ios, Naxos, Paros, Antiparos? They're all within 1- 3 hours of Santorini, & several offer flights back to Mainland vs. 4-5 hr ferry rides.

Finally, if you've read any Greece travel forums, you'll read repeatedly that "greece vets" all recommend -- at least for short-trippers like you - that you immediately upon landing switch to a domestic flight to your island... and do Athens at the last. Why? Here are the main reasons: (1) you'll be too tired from o'night flying & too disoriented to cope with big-city sightseeing... it will all be a blur! It's MUCh more relaxing to get over jet lag on an island; so lovely to wake up to a view of beach or sea, or village (2) you'd need to be in the Athens area on the night before your AM homebound flight, and doing the 1-hour into Athens. checking in/out hotel etc TWICE is a waste of precious hours you do not have (3) after even a few days getting used to Greek ways, you'll be much more savvy about getting around a busy capital city efficiently and (just as importantly) (4) when you've been exposed to Greek history and culture for even 4-5 days, the world-famous Athens landmarks will resonate for you SO much more & be more rewarding.

Lastly, unless you just want to hit the Parthenon & run, you will need at least 2 FULL days in Athens for the basics -- Acropolis & Parthenon, Ancient AGora, Acropolis Museum, Nat. Archeological Museum (NOTE -- this R Steves website Athens page offers FREE downloadable audio guides to Acropolis Agora and Nat. Museum, step-by-step, very rewarding!), the Natl Gardens, Plaka's wnding lanes, Temple of Zeus ... the list goes on! Not to mention some great food, and buzzy nightlife in Psirri etc. For a first-timer with such a short stay, I dont know what 1-day tour would be as rewarding as just researching to explore Athens.

My suggested itinerary sequence:
DAY #1 - Arrive from US by 10 or 11 AM latest. Catch 1 or 1:30 Aegean or Sky Express 50-min Flight to Santorini - check in hotel by 3 pm (I sugest staying in Firostephani, in cliffside hotel). Admire view, wall down caldera-rim walk to FIRA, find suitable bar/restaurant for sunset drinks/dining, early check-in
DAY #2 - Early bus or taxi to OIA by 8:30 to avoid crowds (cruise & package-tour mobs arrive by 10) ... rest of day elsewhere on island, wine-tasting museum etc
DAY #3 - by mid-day, ferry to #2 Island
NIGHT of #3 and #4 -- enjoy exploring port town and beach time (Naxos or Antiparos my picks)
DAY 5 - mid-day fly back to ATH airport, flat-rate taxi to Plaka area Athens... up on Acropolis 5 pm (NO crowds & it's open til 7:30).

DAY 6 & 7 - the rest of Athens
DAY 8 - Fly out (TIP: don't book departure before 9: U must be in line 2 hrs before take-off & its 1 hr to airport AND taxi day rates don't begin until 6 AM. Also, if you must rise at 4 am to check out etc, it ruins a wonderful last-night celebration.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you so much. I keep reading about doing Athens last the more I hear about it. We were also planning to make a two day trip to Nafplio (drive from Athens) based on a friends suggestion to stay at a hotel of choice there. A few others have also mentioned these other islands. We do want to make Santorini a part of the trip as first timers to Greece, and are open to recommendations of other islands for the real Greece experience.

Posted by
1645 posts

I just want to reiterate what Janet said about going first to an island. Based on the advice here, we did that in 2018 and have the same plan in place in 2022. It is just much more efficient. We went to Santorini and Naxos in 2018 and were very happy with our choices.

We ended up seeing the acropolis in the late afternoon and I would strongly recommend. The light is wonderful and the crowds are sparser.

Posted by
2812 posts

Ram54 I highly approve of Nafplio as a destination (and recommend Hotel Agamemmnon IF you could snag one of their balcony rooms -- it is the ONLY seafront hotel with views not obscured). I hope it is the choice recommended by your friends. Many people recommend Pension Marianna because they stayed there on the Rick Steves tour; however, they overlook that they always went as a group, in their bus. It is very high up in the Old Town which is built against a cliff with steep "stairstep" lanes leading up. Independent travelers will find it gets wearisome to climb up/down/up every time they want to go for a drink or a meal. If u stay on the level, near the beautiful marble-paved square, you can go "up top" for sightseeing but otherwise stay on the level.

That being said -- WHERE in your schedule can you "wedge in" Nafplio???? I think only on return from the islands, and before your final Athens sightseeing. You could then rent a car upon landing, & return it to airport (NO driving within busy Athens). This would mean adding 2 days to your stay -- which I applaud. Do NOT take it from Athens, & be left with only time for Acropolis.

Posted by
135 posts

If you decide to stick with Mykonos and Santorini I would visit them in that order. We found Mykonos charming but Santorini mesmerizing. We had a room with patio overlooking the caldera and spent a lot of our 3 days there because it's so beautiful and unique. I think it might be a slight let-down to go there first and Mykonos after. Where you stay will make a difference too.
That being said, we visited Mykonos, Naxos and Santorini in that order and if I return I'll go back to Naxos and Santorini. More diverse experiences on those two as others have pointed out.
Another I idea would be Aegina (about an hour ferry ride from Athens (Piraeus harbor)) and Santorini. You could then add a night to Athens and another to Santorini.
Have a great time!

Posted by
7495 posts

You have received a lot of good advice here. If you must see Santorini stay two nights and then get out to a more traditional Greek island like Naxos. We couldn’t wait to leave Santorini but loved the rest of Greece.