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Tour and then where?

About three years ago I was planning a trip to Greece that got derailed due to medical reasons. I'm now ready to try again. I'm thinking of doing the Rick Steves tour in mid March and then tacking on some time to get out to an island or two. The problem I'm having is figuring out where to go if I can only add on a week. I'm interested in Crete, but I'm not sure if it is the best choice given the time I have. I would also like to see Santorini and maybe one or two others, but I realize if I only have another week that I wouldn't be able to do all of them. I'm really interested in photography, history and ancient ruins. So, given that I would be doing this in late March or early April what would be the better option; spend it all on Crete, or combine Santorini with one or two other islands, or just go to Santorini?

Posted by
16748 posts

I liked Crete a great deal. There's a lot of variety there, including mountains. Unless you want to run around like crazy person, a week probably means sticking to one island group. I just think there's more variety on Crete than you'd get from two or three of the Cyclades. But I haven't spent a huge amount of time in Greece (and none of it was recent), so take this advice with a large grain of salt.

Posted by
3975 posts

My vote would go to Crete, which has plenty to keep you occupied for a week without losing time in transit. Santorini has far, far less to occupy you for a week, particularly as the weather can be variable at that time of year.

Posted by
115 posts

A third and resounding yes for Crete. I would recommend basing yourself in or near Chania. It’s an attractive town with a beautiful Venetian harbour. Good bus service, tour companies, or car rentals to get you to Knossos/Heraklion. Also recommend you visit Phaestos another Great Palace site without the heavy reconstruction of Knossos. Get hold of a copy of the Blue Guide to Crete for information on what to see and do in Crete

Posted by
13930 posts

Take into account the Easter holidays. Catholic Easter Sunday is April 12. In Greece that is Palm Sunday.

I'm going to the islands for the first time next month - flying into Heraklion (Chania also has an airport for local/regional flights), spending time in Chania about 2=2.5 hours by bus, then overnight in Heraklion to visit the archaeology museum and Knossos (I've been told that;s about all there is worth seeing in Heraklion), then 2-hour ferry to Santorini, then 1.5 hour ferry Naxos, then flying to Athens. If you rent a car, there's more to explore on Crete. I'm planning a relaxing, very slow-paced visit, but you could surely visit Crete and Santorini and maybe Naxos in a week. Or you could spend a week just on Crete, with a car.

There's a lot more to see in Athens than the tour covers. Plan to arrive a couple nights before the tour to get over jetlag and enjoy the other sights.

I loved the RS tour and I've seen a number of multiple RS tour veterans here who've said it was their favorite.

Posted by
3200 posts

Glad the medical situation has improved, and hope your travels go well, wherever you go. We visited Athens/the Peloponnese in April 2018, arriving the evening before “our” Easter, and experiencing “their” solemn Good Friday in Areopoli and the observant Greek Orthodox Easter at midnight in Kalamata.

We didn’t go on a Rick Steves tour, but used his guidebook extensively, going to many places and sights his tour includes. Now, coming up in 3 weeks, we’ll be visiting just Crete, with a little more than a week. Since Rick Steve doesn’t have a Crete chapter, we’re relying on other guidebooks and Internet research. We’re renting a car, but buses or hiring a private taxi are other options. AutoRentals Crete has the best deal - about half what other companies charge, and we're confident their car and drop-off/pick-up service will make things easy. We’ll be driving clockwise from Iraklio, finishing in Hania. We plan to see several historic sights, including 3,500 to 4,000 year-old Minoan sites, twice as old as many sites of Classic Ancient Greece on the mainland.

Knossos has been partially restored, Kato Zakros was the most recently discovered, Malia and Phaestos are additional significant sites, and there are even more. And Gortys is from the Ancient Roman Empire. There’s also old Venetian history galore, and bits from the Turkish and Nazi Resistance eras.

It’s an island, a large one, so seaside views and beaches abound. The Lasithi Plateau promises an agricultural oasis among mountains, full of windmills from the past. Looks like photographic opportunities will be everywhere you look.

Other islands may offer things to see and do, but you’ll have to get to the first one, and then to another, and so on, and sticking to Crete would save you that extra transportation time and logistics. We’re connecting by air from London to Iraklio, Crete and flying out of Hania, Crete back to a London connection. So arrival and departure are relatively easy.

Posted by
263 posts

Lots of great info here. Anita, type in "Crete" in the Search space at the top of this page, there's much accumulated Forum wisdom. We stayed in Chania for a week after doing the RS Greece tour, rented a car for two days for Knossos & the south, but Chania itself was excellent. The whole trip was one of my favorites ever.

Posted by
552 posts

Lots of good advice. I am definitely leaning towards Crete. Since I'll be on my own I'm not sure I'll be renting a car as that might get a little expensive, and I would want a navigator because I get lost so easily. I'm thinking Chania will be the best location for things to do, and availability of day tours, but I need to find a web site that can tell me what tours are running in early April as that will determine where I stay, and for how long. One thing I would like to do is hike the Samaria Gorge, but I don't know if it will be open at the beginning of April if the water is still too high. The other place that would be a must see is Knossos. So I suppose to avoid backtracking I should fly into Chania and out of Heraklion, or maybe take a ferry from Heraklion to Santorini for a couple nights at the end then return to Athens from there. I don't want to be running around like crazy, but I would like to see Santorini if I can.

Posted by
13930 posts

I'm going next month and discovering that a lot of boat tours close for the season at the end of October. One company told me they may run tours into October, depending on the volume of tourists and the weather conditions toward the end of this month.

There are several ferries a day from Heraklion to Santorini, the fast ones take about 2 hours. Here's the site for schedules and prices.

Posted by
552 posts

Well, I've booked the tour for March, one that starts on a Monday, and I'm wondering if I should arrive one or two days in advance. The flights from here look like a bit of a marathon. I'm also wondering if anyone has any hotel suggestions for Crete (Chania, Heraklion). I'm a solo traveler and I'm not sure yet if I will rent a car so would like to be within walking distance of main attractions. Also, is there one airline that's better for flights from Athens to Crete? I usually manage to travel with just carry-on, but it seems these days airlines have more and more restrictions and fees.

Posted by
2416 posts

Two hotels for Chania & Heraklion that I can recommend are both very convenient, with good views and moderate.
• CHANIA, Hotel Palazzo (not a palace, but in a modernized Venetian Mansion) is right on Theotokopoulu street, a fab pedestrianized lane that comes straight up from a seafront park... the hotel is about 100 yards from start of lane, and front balconies have great views (and there's also a roof terrace. https://www.eliahotels.com/en/796086/elia-palazzo-hotel1 If this doesn't work for you, I can give 4-5 suggestions of small pensions within 100 yardds of this on or just off THeo. St. This is just 1 "street" off the harbor crescent, on west side of it... walkable to everything. This Map - http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/chania-old.jpg - enlarges, & show all attractions.
• HERAKLION - Hotel Kronos http://www.kronoshotel.gr/ is right on the seafront - you'd take the Bus from Chania to Heraklion in order to get the ferry... Kronos can be seen from Bus station but because a bluff & lots of roads involved, do a taxi. Front rooms have sea view balconies. On this map http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/iraklion-city-map.gif It's where the word "Venizelou" is. Last time i was in Heraklion, we enjoyed a pre-dinner "volta" (stroll) on the Causeway out to the Massive Venetian FOrtress (it withstood the Turks for 23 years!!). Then right where the causeway juts out, there are several good choices for dinner -- Ippocampus, Meze cafe right on the seafront ... and on that traffic circle, a glass-fronted "ouzerie" I think it's called Ligo Krasi ... lots of little dishes, Crete is considered the birthplace of mezedes yum yum.

Posted by
2416 posts

About the start of trip, whether to go early -- You say you 've booked a trip that starts on a Monday... I think those typically start with a 6 pm dinner at the tour group's hotel. Those flights from BC Canada are indeed gruelling... you 'll fly from the West in the AM to catch the Athens Nonstop at ?Toronto? or Montreal? at 5pm or so... flight o'night (7 hr clock change from Montreal), land around 10 AM Athens.

I say, 38€ flat-rate taxi to your hotel and CRASH. 5 hr lie-down should be restorative enough to enable group dinner, and everyone then retires early. You don't need to go early unless you want to do more Athens than that 1st & last day of R Steves tour... actually if u decide on a 3rd full day in Athens, it should go at the end of your trip, since you should be back in Athens area the day/evening before departure day anyway. And any extra landmarks/sights would be more meaningful after immersion in Greek history ... for instance, Crete may make you fascinated with the Minoan/Cycladic pre-history -- and the Cycladic museum in that case.

Posted by
13930 posts

I would definitely plan to arrive in Athens at least 1 night before the tour begins, preferably 2. You need to get over jetlag and catch up on sleep. You don't want to be in a haze at the beginning of the tour. Unless it's changed recently, the two hotels RS uses are the Hera and Acropolis Select. They are about 2 blocks apart on the same street. It will be easiest for you if you stay at one of them. My tour used the Acropolis Select but they were booked up for pre-tour nights so I stayed at the Hera and liked it much more than the Acropolis.

I'm flying Olympic from Naxos to Athens. The price was about the same as the ferry and a checked bag is included. I understand it's operated by Aegean.

Knossos is a day trip from Heraklion. Check the sights in Chania before you decide to stay there. You may just want 1-2 nights in Heraklion for the museum and Knossos, then ferry to Santorini. It's nearly a 3-hour bus ride between Chania and Heraklion to get to interisland ferries. I haven't found any ferries from Chania except to Athens.

Posted by
552 posts

Thanks so much for the hotel suggestions, I will definitely take a look. I’ve booked two nights prior to the tour because I think it will take that long to recover from the jet lag. Most of the flights I have been seeing seem to go through Frankfurt and have long layovers, as much as 4 1/2 hours. KLM might be the best choice as they go through Amsterdam and seem to have shorter layovers, 2-2.5 hours. I’m also trying to figure out if it would be feasible to fly home from Crete or Santorini and avoid staying another night in Athens. The more I read about Crete the more I wish I had about two weeks to spend exploring it.

Posted by
552 posts

Okay, so my research is starting to indicate that it may be best for me to rent a car for a few days to get to places I want to see as day tours may not be up and running in early April. But, I don't want to get caught up in trying to see too much and looking at a map the things that interest me seem to be quite a distance apart, so I'm not sure what is do-able in the time I have. What is currently on my list is Hania (would two whole days be enough?), Elafonisi, Lasithi Plateau (windmills), Spinalonga Island, and Knossos/Heraklion. This is a very pared down list, but Minoan history/archaeology and taking photos would be my main goal. I've realized that the Samaria Gorge will likely not be open in early April so I've removed that from my list, but I'm wondering if I could still make a stop for some photos? I would also need a GPS unit to keep me from getting lost, can those be rented or would some cars come with one?

Posted by
2416 posts

Hi Anita ... I see your plans are progressing -- BTW, if you still want suggestions, not just approval, you really really need to give us some dates; "early April" is vague if we're thinking about holidays, ferry skeds etc. And you seem to know the date you'll go to Crete, and the date you need to be back i n Athens area (this must be night before your homebound flight unless you like nail-biters).

Your best sequence would be to fly into Chania, give yourself 2 days to enjoy that area, THEN rent a car. You can drop it off at the pier in Heraklion (no extra charge) if you're taking an (overnight) ferry back to Mainland (Piraeus), or at the Airport if you're flying back. I may be wrong, but I think it's too early for good ferry service from Crete to Santorini Last year in April the only ferry listed was the 1x per week "lifeline run" (a govt-subsidized conventional ferry that trudges around a long loop of islands; it's vital for goods/passengers for isles w. no airport, but takes forever; it used to run Sunday 6pm Heraklion , 6 hrs to Santorini vs. only 2 hrs via higher-speed daily ferries later in year).

As for your Crete list, I think you still need to go back to your research (is it in a Standard Guide like Rough Guide, or are you trying to do it via google or your phone?) Reason I ask is, if you are interested in history or ruins, you need to skip Lassithi and Spinalonga. Those get a lot of attention mainly from people (a lot of UK travelers) who go to "resort" areas in Eastern Crete on package holidays.... and they provide somewhere scenic to go. I hear the drive itself to Lassithi is scenic but the whole windmill story is apparently now legend (Disney?) not reality; the only windmills left are for tourist photos, not function. Spinalonga is an isle where Greeks with leprosy lived out their lives more than a century ago, and somone wrote a famous novel about it, apparently its a nice island iwth deserted buildings, a popular day trip from a resort like Elounda. Those 2 a long drive from Western Greece or Heraklion. And NOT places to find Minoan ruins or history.

BTW, this is a wonderful online map http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/Crete-eot.png (click & it gets huuuge); shows all roads PLUS terrain, you'll get an idea where the mountains are, and the valleys (where the roads are) -- and symbols indicate where ancient ruins are.

If you want Minoan stuff, u can drive S. From Chania to Phaistos .... Want scenery? Continue on to Matala Beach and its famous cave-filled bluff. Or else, keep on that curvy road from Phaistos maybe spend a night somewhere in Central Crete -- maybe like this Zaros gem - https://www.studiokeramos-zaros.gr/index.php/en/ - in the foothills of Mighty Mt Psiloritis, in a village whose springs produce Greece's best-known water. You could drive N. E. From there thru Crete's wine country... lots of vineyards to visit enroute to Heraklion (see suggestions above).

Posted by
552 posts

Thanks Janet, the tour I'm on ends on Sunday April 5th so that would be the day I would fly to Crete. I've googled day tours and get lots of results, but it's unclear if they will be operating in early April. Also, looking at the price of some of them it might actually be cheaper to rent a car. I've been looking at the Lonely Planet site for ideas as it seems to cover a lot more places than a lot of sites that seem to only cover the popular beaches. I have no interest in sitting on a beach, or going swimming. I don't need to go to Santorini if it's going to be difficult, I just thought if I could do it I would. I thought Spinalonga might be interesting from an historical perspective, or for photography, but if not then I'll give it a miss. I'm not much of a wine drinker so I could skip the vineyards unless they are photogenic. I like to find interesting places that all the tours don't go, but at the same time I don't want to be stressed out by the driving or getting lost (I will get lost). I did manage to drive Scotland on my own for ten days (including the drive out to Applecross) so I can probably manage a few days in Crete. I haven't nailed down an exact date I need to fly out, but can probably stay 7-8 days. I appreciate all of your suggestions as I only recently thought of going to Crete so I'm kind of uninformed still.

Posted by
2416 posts

Anita, I can suggest MANY places that have photographic appeal, but again I do think that looking at an in-depth guide will lead you to places of historical AND visual interest -- more than a guide that focusses mainly on where to stay, what to eat.ROUGH GUIDE and BLUE GUIDE to Crete will steer you to Minoan sites ... and some will just "pop up" as u are driving somewhere.

One dedicated Crete-goer who shares his wisdom on this forum (and others) is "stanbr" -- He & his wife & I are all cretaholics, and he's lucky enough to go every year. He's such a fine photographer that I don't even bother to post my own photos on the internet, I just link to his. Here are some Crete Albums of his, he seems to capture the moment, and thew view SO well:

CHANIA - https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632117917828
THEOTOKOPOULI St Hotels - https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632118491316/with/28210046220/
-- this is THE place u should stay; photo album shows it goes right to seafront & there is parking there for rental cars.
WESTERN CRETE (incl. CHANIA) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632115757899/
ANCIENT APTERA and MELIDONI CAVE - https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157672118379637
GRAMVOUSA BALOS & ELAFONISI - https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157698932695812
DRIVE to MATALA - https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157662118235468 (including Gortys)
- If Matala interests, I have a hotel recommend: Villa DImitri.. back from beach lovely setting family-run
CASTELLO HERAKLION - https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157686964935102
-- this is on a causeway, low-rise, massive (it held off the turks for 23 Years!!)

Posted by
552 posts

Thanks again, Janet, the photos are awesome! I'm sure my plan will change often in the next little while. I'm trying to keep it simple, but there are so many interesting places on Crete. I had no idea! I googled blue guide Crete and got several different books with that title, but different authors so I'm wondering if there is one in particular that is recommended. Maybe there is a version that I could load onto my iPad?

Posted by
2416 posts

Regarding Blue Guide to Crete, it's the same series, different names just mean different head editor/author, the latest (8th Edition- 2010( has Paoli Pugsley as Author. THe promo says "completely redone" from previous editions. https://www.blueguides.com/show/?display=book&key=93 I do have this one, and it's excellent. Don't worry that it will be 10 yrs old -- the only thing that will have changed is the restaurant/hotel info, and these days you use the internet for that.

Posted by
552 posts

Well, I've downloaded the digital version of the Blue Guide, and it's definitely changing my ideas of where I should go. Phaistos, Gournia, the Amari Valley, Moni Arkadiou, possibly a stop in Rethymno are now on my list. Looking at the road map it appears there are very few straight roads on Crete, so I'm guessing it takes a lot longer to get somewhere than one might think just looking at how many kilometres it is. I see the opening hours of some places may be shorter in April so it may be a challenge to plan a road trip to ensure I can actually get into a site once I get there?