My sister and I are planning to go to Greece for the first two weeks in October - actually we originally considered a week in Greece and then a week in Southern Italy, but that started to look too sticky. We aren't really "beach" folks - we want to see the history/culture/sights in Greece (and of course eat plenty of tasty food). I bought the RS book Greece: Athens and the Peloponnese and I've been looking at Matt Barrett's website, but I feel a little overwhelmed. I am thinking about just following RS's two week schedule of Athens, Hydra, driving to Delphi, Olympia, Kardamyli and the driving tour to Mani Peninsula, Monemvasia, Nafplio and back to Athens. But what about Santorini? What about Rhodes? (Rhodes really appeals to me). I could use some advice. Should I consider ditching some of that driving tour and maybe take in Rhodes or Santorini? Is that possible or even worthwhile? Once I started reading about the ferries and the time it takes to travel to and fro I started to become concerned about how best to spend time/money to make the most of my two weeks. Would love advice!!
Personally, I think Rick's drive routes, which seem to go as fast as his tours are too much and would not be enjoyable. It's one thing going that fast when someone else is planning and driving such as his tours. It is a totally different thing to do it yourself. I'd suggest at least 3 full days in Athens...I had four and still didn't see everything. I'd suggest an overnight in Delphi. I loved Hydra as non-beachy island with lovely walks and views, and easy to get to, also. That's one week already. Get Lonely Planet Greece's book, it has more options also. There are many other things you could do close to Athens as well. I wasn't a Napflio fan, it was fine, but nothing unusual. I really liked Monemvasia, which seemed to be Greece's version of France's MSM. One of my service people is Greek and thinks Nemea is the most spiritual place in Greece, so read about that. I loved my RS tour, but there is so much more in Greece that might be a little more convenient when traveling independently and with just two weeks. Just my thoughts. I'm sure you will hear different opinions with others. Or just the spend the second week in Corfu, Rhodes or Crete? You just need to pick. With Greece, I doubt you can make a bad choice. Great country to visit!
I've been to Rhodes briefly and the rest of the route a couple of times. I see no real benefit to trekking as far as Rhodes in the time that you have, nor does it seem like Santorini would be a critical stop for you. You'll see more history on the mainland, as well as some beautiful beaches available there without taking a ferry. Having no flight or ferry schedule to meet would also allow more flexibility. You don't really have to book hotels ahead in October.
I like Rick Steves' programs but have never taken one of his tours. We do our own "tours" by doing research and find you can get more bang for the buck by a do-it-yourself trip. It takes more effort on your part but with the internet, guide books and travel forums you'll find doing it on your own is not that difficult and in fact can be very enjoyable. You'll discover information about where you are going that tours will never tell you about. You'll also be on a tour's schedule and not your own. While they are very convenient and less stressful you'll be going to areas that tend to be touristy, expensive and just how "Greek" they are will be debatable.
With two weeks you'll have an opportunity to see a number of wonderful areas of Greece, mainland and islands. Most people leave Athens for the end of the trip and if possible that would be highly recommended. Even though I've been to Athens numerous times I still make sure of spending at least 2 days there, probably a lot more for a first-time visit. It's World-Class Archeological Sites and Museums make it a must . . . also the Plaka, Monistiraki & Sygtagma Squares, Anafiotika, Psiri District, the Central Markets and so much more.
As for where else to go . . . it's like throwing a dart at a Greek Map and see where it lands. Since you'll be there in October and off-season you'll find less tourists, lower costs and still nice weather.
I found Nafplio to be one of Greece's loveliest towns with a nice waterfront and beautiful Old Town . . . historic sites right in town and a wonderful place to base yourself for exploring some of the best archeological sites in the area including Epidavrous, Mycenea and Tyrns, not to mention many others. You can do a day cruise to Hydra/Spetses from a nearby town.
The Mani Peninsula is truly spectacular and not often visited by tourists. It's a different look of Greece that many people aren't aware of but is truly Greek.
Then we have the islands . . . the classic Cyclades are what most people think of for a Greek Island. Some are over-the-top touristy like Santorini & Mykonos but others like Sifnos, Milos, Naxos, Amorgos, Astypalea, Tinos, & Skyros can offer you a real nice Greek Experience.
Then there are islands like Ikaria, Fourni, Chios, Samos closer to Turkey but still very Greek. Don't overlook the Small Cyclades either which are reachable from Naxos.
If that's not enough you have the Northern Aegean Islands like Lemnos, Lesvos, Thassos to consider and over on the western side of the mainland are the Ionian Islands of Corfu, Paxos (wonderful), Zakynthos and others that are very nice.
I can't tell you where to go but I can tell you if you want a more Greek Experience then off season is perfect with islands that don't get the hype of the Big Name Islands.
Matt's Greek Guide is wonderful but can be over-whelming with choices.
It's up to you to do your research, ask questions on forums and decide what you are looking for in a Greek Holiday.
As stated by another poster . . . just about anywhere in Greece will give you a wonderful experience depending on your interests, budget, taste, and whether you want to spend more time with locals or other tourists.
If it was me I want more time with locals . . . you'll find them courteous, kind, helpful and willing to show you what Greeks and Greece are all about.
I really appreciate all the input I've been getting. I have never taken a "package tour" and don't intend to, but I've usually found that the RS guidebooks help give my planning a sort of "backbone" and then I add and subtract according to what appeals to me. So I've ordered the Lonely Planet book and I think I won't spend too much time looking at Matt's site because it IS overwhelming. I may just bag the idea of Rhodes or Santorini and extend time in Athens.
I took the RS tour this spring. The roads appeared to be in good condition and not very heavily trafficked, but it's mostly mountain driving and a lot of it. I liked Nafplio better than Monemvasia, but liked them both. My favorite place was Kardamyli. We were there for 2 nights/1.5 days and I would have enjoyed staying there longer. It's very small but absolutely charming and relaxing. Hydra is great, and there are beaches - either an hour's hike or a short inexpensive ferry ride, but you can't take a car, so you'd have to drive to a town where you can park the car for 2-3 days and get a ferry to Hydra. You'd then have the long drive back to Athens.
Note that virtually all the beaches are pebbly, so you need swimming shoes.
I would not extend the time in Athens. With two weeks you can easily follow RS' Heart of Greece itinerary on your own, except I would get rid of the Hydra portion and the day 4 stuff and use those two extra days to add a leg up to Meteora. Monastery of Hosios Loukas is a nice (UNESCO) monastery to go to on the way to Delphi, and Galaxidi is a nice town to stay in instead of Delphi, depending on your route.