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Planning Athens and several surrounding islands trips - is car necessary?

Early planning stages.. not even sure what islands we are visiting. Only sure thing is we will be in Athens around September 2024, and I would need some planning..

1st Q: is car necessary for Athens or surrounding islands?? or is public transportation sufficient for complete travel.
2nd Q: What islands? - never been to Greece before, so anything is possible.. thinking of 10-12 day trip (out of that we need to be Athens for 4 nights)

appreciate any insight.. thank you...

Posted by
887 posts

A car is not always necessary, would depend on what you want to do/see, and you certainly would not want it in Athens. What are you looking for on the islands you visit? Are you interested in visiting Greek sites or lying on a beach or partying into the night? Do you want a small island or a larger one such as Crete or Corfu that offer a lot? Telling us that can make it easier for us to make suggestions. What is meant by surrounding islands…do you want to be near the mainland, or do you mean any of the many islands that constitute the Greek islands? Does the 10-12 days include travel days from, presumably, North America to Greece?

Posted by
15582 posts

As Lesley has said, different islands offer different experiences. If you want to spend 4 or more days on one island you may want to rent a car, depending on what you want to do. There are ferries between the islands and Athens but flights are only to/from Athens. You may have to book transportation in advance - September is a very busy month.

You should be able to book a connecting flight from home to one of the large islands and then visit other islands and end your trip in Athens. That's probably best because Athens is better when you aren't jetlagged.

Posted by
1809 posts

Is car necessary for Athens or surrounding islands?

In Athens absolutely not. Don't rent a car in Athens, the majority of places to visit are easily accessible on foot or by public transport.

In the islands it depends on the island and what you want to do there.
stay in "city" and go shopping or at the beach, hiking, going to isolated beaches, boating, diving, visiting villages...

A car will give you possibilities for travel and visits that you will not have with buses or the few taxis available. Some islands are almost impossible to visit without a car.

What islands?

Impossible to answer for you.
The best known and visited are Crete and 4 or 5 islands among 24 Cyclades islands, it will obviously be these 4 or 5 islands that will be recommended to you. But there are around 220 islands that can be visited in Greece, I have visited almost 20 of them in more than 35 years so I am not going to recommend them all and rather advise you to go to this official and non-commercial website:

With 12 days you could stay only in Crete (and you will not be able to see everything) or go to 2 or 3 islands maximum in the same group of islands. Each trip from one island to another takes almost the entire day.

So 12 days can only be a maximum of two 5 days stays (4 nights) on 2 different islands.

Also note that ferries do not go from just any island to just any other. There are some impossible or extremely long ferry journeys

Posted by
152 posts

Thank you for all your replies.
We are not a beach persons, and we are not interested in party atmosphere..
We travel for historical aspects of the place, the culture, the people, and of course the food.
We still have not decided on the islands yet.. but since we will be starting from Athens, is Santorni/Mykonos too far from Athens?? - Is Ferry better than flying??
What about Naxos or Paros or Crete??
Are those islands big, that I would require a rental car?? - Do they have any public transportation infrastructure?

Thanks to all for replying,

Posted by
15582 posts

Good information. I would rule out Santorini and Mykonos - both will be crowded and too touristy. I spent several relaxing days on Naxos in October at the very end of tourist season. It was very enjoyable and even though I'm not a beach person, I couldn't resist spending on day on a lounge chair on a pristine beach with cold drinks (at least one alcoholic) and a book. Again, it was the end of the season so even though it was one of the most popular beaches, there were relatively few people there.

I spent a week on Crete, 5 nights in Chania and 2 in Heraklion. I loved Chania, it has lots of history and interesting sights and some lovely alleyways to explore with interesting, not touristy, shops. There were dozens of choices for late afternoon drinks watching the sunset and later outdoor dining, some with live folk music. I also walked to a local produce market on the seafront and bought some local cheese and veg for a picnic lunch on the rooftop of my hotel with a view of the Venetian port. I was less enamored of Heraklion but it's a must for the archaeology museum and the ancient ruins of Knossos. You could easily cut it to 2.5-3 full days in Chania and 1 full day in Heraklion, though there enough historical sights, scenic seaside walks and more.
If you go, note that public transportation is slow and not a little disorganized. It's best to organize a private driver or take taxis (I have no idea how costly it is) between Chania and Heraklion. There may be flights between Athens and Chania, there are definitely flights to/from Heraklion.

I would try not to start in Athens if you are arriving straight from the US. It's somewhat confusing to get around and you won't absorb much on the first couple of days when you're jetlagged and sleep-deprived. Going straight to an island where the pace is slower and you can walk everywhere is preferable. The RS Guide has good self-guidedwalking tours.

I'd allow at least 3 full days in Athens, 5 isn't too many. There are many historical sights and many very good museums. Try to be in Athens on a Sunday morning for the very impressive changing of the guard in Syntagma square. Take into account that September is likely to be quite hot, and much of Athens has no shade!