My wife and I are taking the Rick Best of Bulgaria Tour in May 2022 and then will be taking the Best of Turkey tour 12 days later. We are thinking of going to one or more Greek Islands before flying to Istanbul. We have been to Mykonos, Santorini and Hydra before so would like to see a different island. Any recommendations? We are considering Crete.
If you have 10-12 days, that's IDEAL for getting a true Crete experience, and May is the perfect Month. You can fly in to Chana, and end up at Heraklion (u can pick up a car at on major city & drop off at the other). That avoids backtracking, gives u plenty of time to explore the NW area, then drive down to the Lybian sea -- maybe 2x! -- then head northeasterly to Heraklion area. You might investigate possiblity of flying direct from Heraklion to Istanbul... if not possible direct, then with a quick plane transfer at Athens airport. (I'm assuming you have done the highlights of Athens in a previous visit, thus OK with not staying there.... if you have NOT done Athens, u could devote a couple of days before Turkey TOUr).
Sounds like a fabulous journey. Crete would be perfect for 10 to 12 days. Great tip from Janet to fly from Heraklion to Istanbul. Probably less than 3.5 hours. Were you planning to arrive a day or two before the Turkey Tour? May sounds like an ideal time to travel there. Enjoy your planning!
Thank you for your thoughts and recommendations, particularly the flight recommendations.. We have been to Athens a couple of times so don't see the need to spend time there again. We plan to arrive in Istanbul 4 days before our Turkey tour to see more of Istanbul on our own. So we figure we will have 6 days or so to see one or more Greek Island. Is 6 days too much time to be on Crete, or should we consider another island also?
I have never spent less than 5 days in Crete more often 6 ... and I've been there 5 times I think .... and I still haven't made it farther east than the Palace of Malia. Don't think of Crete as "an island" --- it's really a country ... the largest island of all ... look at a map, it's 160 miles long (as compared to Santorini, 12 mi). Check this super online map (click & it gets huuuge & you use side-slides to navigate around) http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/Crete-eot.png I like this better than google maps for advance planning because u get the big picture, the TERRAIN as well as cities & roads.. and indicates which roads are highways, which are small, and which are really country lanes. It also shows clearly why you can only go north-south certain ways (around mountains!) and thru symbols, shows you where there are ancient sites (hundreds!).
If you enter this well-known massive website, https://www.explorecrete.com - you'll "fall down the rabbit-hole" of enthralling history, archeology, nature (gorges! mountains! waterfalls!), culture, food, holidays ... in fact, after reading how Cretans heroically fought for independence for centuries, you might even cancel your Turkey tour & stay in Crete! Certainly 6 days will be the first taste, that keeps you coming back, as so many of us do.
We spent two weeks in Chania and explored western Crete from thete. Six days is not too long for this historic and beautiful island. Do include an overnight on the southern coast. We went to Loutro, accessible by ferry from Chora Skafion,
Others are right. I spent 3 days and 2 nights in Crete, in October 2018. That wasn't enough to see Crete well. Crete has enough to occupy you for a week or more: Heraklion (underrated because it has a retaining wall at the shore instead of a beach and most of the original buildings were destroyed in the battle of Crete but it it a good town anyway), Knossos, the Archaeological museums, Chania, some Venetian fortresses, Rethymnon, hiking through gorges, the Minoan ruins (except that so little is left above ground), and so on. I suggest you buy "The Rough Guide to Crete". If you take an overnight ferry to and from Crete (I booked mine on Minoan lines in advance), book a cabin with a bed and you will take away your need for 2 nights in hotels.
Thank you all for your wonderful comments and recommendations. It appears that everyone seems to believe we should spend our time between Rick Steves tours in Crete and no where else. We had no idea about the size of this island. So we will start our planning to fly (maybe ferryboat) to Crete and will rent a car and travel through the island for 6 days or so. Does anyone know if the fast ferryboat travels to Crete from Athens? We took the fast boat from Athens to Mykonos and then to Santorini a few years ago but don't know if the ferry goes to Crete.
While I love Crete 6 days is just not enough time to do very much. As stated the island is huge and you are not going to see all of it even if you have a month. My recommendation would be to just stay in one place and concentrate on exploring that area.
However i think a much better plan would be to choose Naxos. It is often called mini Crete. It has a lovely main town complete with a Venetian era Kastro, mountain villages, great beaches, a smattering of antiquities and the locals are happy that you chose their island to visit. The bonus is it can be done nicely in 6 days.
There are direct flights from Athens to Naxos so its easy to get to.
Here is what you will find in Naxos.
Naxos town https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632094558042
Trip around Naxos https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157634605629689
Naxos sunsets https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157700728046481
Hi Doug! I'm surprised that you've been to Greece before (maybe several times?) and haven't yet figured out how to research ferries. There are several websites, but I usually turn to "Old Reliable" -- Greek Travel Pages, or GTP - http://www.gtp.gr/RoutesForm.asp Here's the drill:
Put in your 2 ports: PIRAEUS and CHANIA (or HERAKLION) -- you will need to choose. This will (as said before) depend on your journey forward ... whether u are able to (or even want to) fly direct from Crete to Istanbul. What you DO want is to arrive at one of these ports and depart from the other, to avoid backtracking. My preference is to arrive in Chania, because want to spend more time around there, and get to Heraklion after seeing Knossos, on final day seeing Heraklion Museum... you may choose differently. TIP: you will NOT see sailings yet for next Spring, even tho the major sailings remain, year after year -- tho High Season (late June - Mid-sept) may be a bit more frequent. In order to approximate a May schedule... you can put in a dummy date, such as "Sept 2021" in Month/Year, and leave "Date" as "any."
What u will see is that the "regular" (large conventional) ferries take about 9 hours -- dep in morning, or late evening for overnight. A lot of "old hands" book a room for the overnight trip, considering it a part of their Greece experience. Costs more than a reserved-seat ticket of course, but also consider, it's like a hotel for the night. And you can have dinner aboard, walk around deck under stars, etc. There is one "fast ferry" listed @ 4pm-10:30. Considerations (1) doesn't save all that much time (6.5 hrs vs 9), (2) will be probably 60-70% more than a reserved seat on a conventional ferry and (3) may trap u indoors, mainly in your seat, for 6.5 hours. Others who know more about this equipment may contradict #3.
As for the flight alternative, off-season it may be the same as a ferry reserved seat (or less), and take 50 minutes. Your choice.
BTW, I totally agree with stanbr that you cannot do better than Naxos ... May is the perfect time to visit this green & fertile island ... you will fall in love with it and want to return again & again -- he & I both love Crete, but if we had to choose, Naxos is our top choice every time (and we've both visited at least 20 other islands, for comparison).
I will add to stanbr’s/Janet’s suggestion to visit Naxos. We spent 6 nights and felt we got the most authentic Greek experience! As much as we wanted to visit Crete in 2017, we were also limited on time. Both Stanbr & Janet were our go to’s for our plans. I think stanbr’s description that Naxos is like a “mini-Crete” sounds spot on. It has been our hope of returning to the Greek Is. Crete is at the top of our list.
Thank you all, particularly stanbr and Janet for your suggestions. After all of this, we are still preferring Crete but will definitely keep Naxos for the next time. It has been almost 8 years since we were in Greece and I forgot the ferry lines we took in 2013. Thank you Janet for the GTP ferry site. This will be of great help when we book our trip next May.
Don't try to see Crete (or any region of any country) comprehensively. Such a thing is not possible. Instead, read a guidebook (I have the Rough Guide to Crete, the Lonely planes guide to Crete might be ok m too), write yourself an approximate itinerary based on what towns and sights and museums looks appealing to you guys, and acquiesce to the fact that it is fine to skip some villages and sights.
Doug, lucky you and yours! I have taken both the RS Bulgaria and Turkey tours, and they are both really WONDERFUL! You are certainly wise to spend extra time in Istanbul, as the tIme there during the RS tour is very limited and fast-paced. There’s a huge amount to see and do in Istanbul, and you’ll probably want a day or two to simply crash in the midst of all your traveling. I recommend a food tour on your first or second day, a great way to get to know the city and its typical foods. I took one called “Two continents” or something like that, that visited both the European and Asian parts of the city. At the end, participants were given a wonderful little book featuring about 50 special “locals” small restaurants in various parts of Istanbul, several of which I have visited and enjoyed in subsequent years. Hope they all survived the pandemic. I have stayed several times at the Regie Ottoman hotel about half way between the Sultanahmet old city and the Galata Bridge, and loved it. Very lovely building and rooms, and modestly priced. Just a few minutes taxi ride from what was the tour hotel, at least in 2018.
In Sofia, I loved the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Bulgarian Orthodox) at all times of day and night, when it is illuminated. I happened to pass by it mid-morning on Sunday, and was drawn inside by the scent of incense. Sunday mass was a very memorable experience, very different from most types of churches, mosques, etc. Also, there is a wonderful “icon museum” below the church, really excellent and unique. I loved Bulgaria, in part because there were so few tourists, compared to other parts of Europe.
Your question is about Greek islands. I have never been to Crete, so can’t comment, but I did love Naxos, which combines a real locals community with a modest number of visitors, in part because while it does have a ferry port, it does not have any cruise ship port, so no huge deluge of day trippers. Wonderful mix of history, scenery, cuisine, beaches, small-scale shopping, etc. I recommend one explore the interior of the island and its diverse sites and communities, whether by public bus, rental car, or with a guide, which I did and really enjoyed. I had a very nice apartment, in a quiet locals area, a short walk to both the center of town and a large beach.
Enjoy your wonderful trip!
Thank you Larry for your detailed message. We plan to spend a 4-5 days before our Best of Turkey tour in Istanbul. We appreciate your recommendations for taking a food tour on our first day in Istanbul. We have had this recommended by others so we will look into doing that early on during our pre-RS Turkey tour. Thanks also for your thoughts on Naxos. We still think we will go to Crete but will keep Naxos on a future bucket list.
Best food and tons to do.