I possibly will get a chance to travel to Greece in a few weeks. As my schedule is not completely set I will be booking everything last minute. (totally not my style). I will be flying from Venice to Greece. I have 4-5 days to spend. Please give guidance for the best value and safest trip. From what I have read, the places to visit are of course, Athens. Then I would like to visit Mykonos and Santorini. I will need lodging. Please help, I will most likely be traveling alone.
4 or 5 days minus travel time doesn't give you enough time to visit Athens and 2 islands. Choose one island. Fly there from Athens instead of wasting precious time on a ferry. It's going to be VERY busy when you're there so affordable accomodations are going to be difficult to find. I suggest you use the filter system at www.booking.com to search for what's still available then at the price you can afford.
Good for you for venturing out solo! That can be some of the best and most rewarding travel!
My advice is to read ahead (and carry with you) either Rick's guidebook for that region or the Lonely Planet book on Greece. Traveling solo is no problem, and local people can also help, but having information in your hands is still the best strategy. Some details, such as ferry and bus schedules, should be re-confirmed as you go. See also two traveling solo articles at http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/trip-planning.
I use both hotels.com and booking.com for my hotels. I read all the reviews I can on every site I can find, including Trip Advisor, before making a decision. So far, so good. Traveling alone I prefer medium to small hotels as I feel safer with resources around me, rather than an apartment by myself. I use google maps to check out the hotel and neighborhood, also. I haven't been to Greece…It's on my short list. However, if the travel days are included in the 4-5 days, I would tend to just stay in Athens, but I'm an Art History person and not a beach person. And I like to get to know a place before I move on. But, there are so many wonderful ruins in Greece, I might change my mind on that once I read about it. You need to follow your own gut for how much you want to do in that number of days. Maybe, if you want more than Athens, it would be easier to just split your time between Athens and Delphi? Take a bus between these cities.
I'm also a solo traveler (male) and find it very rewarding because I don't have to ask a partner what they want to do, where to go, what to eat, etc. The only "awkward" time is going out to eat. But after a few glasses of wine and a shot of Ouzo the awkwardness disappears, plus you can always strike up a conversation with others if you are a little daring, or they may see you all alone ask if you would like to join them. Just use common sense wherever and whatever you do. I have been going to Greece every year (usually with my wife, but she sometimes has last-minute assignments, so our/my plans change) I have never had any issues with locals or anyone looking at me differently because I am solo. The Greek people are kind, considerate and polite and if you learn a few Greek words and phrases you'll be an instant friend! With the timeframe you have I would suggest staying in Athens and possibly do a day trip to Aegina, a nice island close by. It has one of the best preserved temples in Greece and other archeological sites, a lovely main waterfront town, seaside villages, abandoned Byzantine village in the hills and so much more. Mykonos & Santorini, unless you fly, will be a fairly long ferry ride depending on the type of boat. They are both two of the most heavily touristed islands in Greece even during the off season. You are better off with a small island like Aegina or even Hydra just a little longer ride than Aegina. As for lodging in Athens we stay at the Attalos Hotel on Athinas St., a very nice budget accommodation that is clean, safe and centrally located. It has one of the best rooftop bars in Athens. Just a short walk to everything one goes to Athens for.
Beth, your advisors are wise ... with only 4-5 days, you should not attempt much more than Athens (and it's not clear even whether some of those days will be arrival or departure days, which could make the time even less!!). And for that purpose, I second the motion of instantly obtaining a Rick Steves guide -- either ATHENS & the PELOPONNESE or Pocket ATHENS ... and you can have it in hand instantly from a bookstore, or in days from Amazon (used copies just fine!) The most recent editions in addition to the D-I-Y step-by-step guide to Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Nat. Museum, ALSO have step-by-step guide to the Acropolis Museum. If you have a smartphone or Mp3 player, you can download the audio step-by-step info also.
If it turns out that you have 5 days and within 4 days you somehow!! have covered all the wonders of Athens (unlikely!! I've been to Athens perhaps 20 times and still have discoveries), you can enjoy a 1-day trip to Aegina if the weather is fine. Metro to Pireaus, take the soonest-available REGULAR ferry (Not hydrofoil, they are enclosed, no view). Here's a wonderful photo album that shows what you can see in a day http://www.flickr.com/photos/36264706@N03/sets/72157621604646139/detail/
You say "I will need lodging" but you don't help us give the best advice because you don't give your desired budget range. Is it €80 - 100 €100 - 130? What?? I'm a solo traveler and a dedicated budgeteer, and I adore small, family owned Hotel Phaedra, with about 20 rooms, all w. balconies...view of a church OR the Parthenon... rooftop terrace... about 300 yards from Acrop. Museum. Look at booking.com or write them direct. In Sept, about €75 or so I think. Nearby, upscale, hotel Airotel Parthenon ... both are right on no-car walkways, quiet but totally convenient to sights.
As for managing mealtimes as a solo diner, I've always gravitated to a taverna in the nearby "restaurant Square" -- called Vyzantino (Byzantino). In a busy area, lots of tourists, but ALSO has big long tables of Greeks out for a special evening, so u know the food is good value. One area of their outdoor tables (under a tree, by a newspaper kiosk) has smaller tables, for 2 & 4. When I go there, I always encounter other independent travelers (often from US & UK) and it's easy to strike up conversations.
As for safety, of course always a good idea to be alert and prudent, but I lived for 30+ years in Manhattan, and have visited most big cities in US, and also the major capitals in Europe, and can say I feel safer in Athens than almost any other city I can remember.
Beth -- it depends on what you want to see and do. There's lots to see in Athens, but it IS a city, and if you really, really want to see a Greek island, there are some direct flights from Venice to Santorini. Spend 2 or 3 nights on Santorini, depending on how much time you have, and then fly to Athens and spend at least one full day there. You will see a lot.
With the time frame you have I would avoid Santorini or other "big name" islands and concentrate on Athens. There is so much to see, do and experience there that it would be a waste of time going to Santorini. Athens offers a huge amount of activities to explore and even the 4-5 days may not be enough to see it all. If you really want an island experience then go to Aegina or Hydra for a day trip. They are both a short ferry ride away and you can get back to Athens to enjoy the evening strolling around, eating, drinking and get up close and friendly with the locals. Time is money . . . don't waste it on a long ferry ride to a far-off island.