Off-season Greece: Crete and Athens?
October 22, 2008 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering a December trip to Greece: probably Athens and Crete. Any tips on the off-season in particular? How many days to spend in each place? Any other places I should be looking at?

Possible plan: Fly to Heraklion in Crete, check out the museums and the Palace of Minos at Knossos. Fly to Athens, look at Parthenon and the museums there.

My location: London. My interests: history, culture, architecture, ruins. Assumptions: Ferry schedules are too erratic to count on, Heraklion is big enough that there will be stuff open.
posted by TheophileEscargot to Travel & Transportation around Greece (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: While my wife and I were in Heraklion we spent most of our time laying on the beach, gawking at the masses of 8ft tall Dutch retirees with leathery, leathery skin. This writes off history and culture.

If you like being in water, the sea is brilliantly clear and warm and there are rad snorkeling expeditions.

Above anything else I'd recommend taking a cab or bus in the direction of Georgiuopolis (a 30 minute trip, max) and immediately finding your way to the restaurant Poseidon, which is unquestionably the best meal we had during our stay. The family who own the restaurant catch the fish every morning and it's all beyond description-delicious. The taramosalata is to die for.

Drink a lot of Mythos and stock up on cigarettes, since they're half of what you'll pay in London.
posted by timshel at 11:38 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd also like to mention that I'm originally from Los Angeles, where road life desensitizes one to threat of hypothetical vehicular accidents/whatever - never, ever has my heart dropped into my stomach like it did whilst taking a cab from Heraklion airport to Rethymnon. My driver was a loose-cannon mad man who drove way too fast up narrow mountain roads and created his own lanes when he felt it appropriate. It was awful. During a separate cab journey from Rethymnon to Georgiuopolis, the driver stopped on a side street street, had a 10 minute argument with his girlfriend (?) who was standing outside of some house and then took her daughter (??) to some other house, because it was on the way.

posted by timshel at 11:56 AM on October 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks! I'll check out Georgioupolis. Might be a bit chilly for the beach out of season though.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:27 PM on October 22, 2008

If you can get to Sounio Point, it's very pretty. Semi-restored Greek temple on a rocky sea-side point in the middle of nowhere.
posted by smackfu at 12:32 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife and I spent 4 days in Athens last September and my advice is to not try to plan too many things in a day because it's easy to get really lost. Our visit to the Archeological Museum was one of the highlights of my life. It was indescribably beautiful. The people are cool, a nice cafe downstairs and the sculptures blew my mind.

Rhodes was fun too.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:35 PM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: Sounio is a good idea for a short day trip, probably your best bet if you want to get out of the city but not spend too much time. Having a base in Athens is a good idea - there's lots of other places you can reach in a few hours of driving, like Nafplio or Epidavros.

As far as ferry schedules go, the Pireaus-Crete connection is one of the most reliable ones. Keep in mind though that it's not unheard of to be held up for a day due to high winds in the winter.

The beach isn't really an option in December, unless you are a winter swimmer.
posted by ghost of a past number at 1:42 PM on October 22, 2008

Don't miss this earlier Athens/Crete question (you can, of course, ignore the Prague material); I stand by my recommendation there of a trip to Khania unless Heraklion really thrills you so much you can't bear to leave it.
posted by languagehat at 2:48 PM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: Last time I went to Knossos they had opened up more areas to visitors, which was a pleasant surprise. Truth be said, I find Khania have twice the flavor compared to Heraklion, at least for a short stay. The latter is a bigger transport hub though.

Athens can accommodate all of your interests, but you can also make short trips. Cape Sounion and Vravrona are the closest and Delphi aren't too far away. You may notice that the map in the page about Delphi also shows Thermopylae, but don't bother going there -the place hasn't been taken care of. The aforementioned Nafplion is a pleasant city for a day trip. If you are interested in Macedonian stuff you should visit Vergina (swapping Thessaloniki for Heraklion?) and if you'd rather see more Mycynean architecture, you head to the Peloponnese. There are many Mycynean finds in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

I suppose any half-decent guide covers Athens. You can spend plenty of time at the museums here; don't forget the often overlooked Cycladic Art Museum. The Athens metro is the most efficient transportation system; the buses/trolleys work if you know which line goes where. Taxis are cheap -apart from airport rides-, especially compared to London. Driving through half the city at night (double charge) costs me 16 euros and you probably shouldn't ever see the meter showing such a sum.

Have a nice stay.
posted by ersatz at 4:29 PM on October 22, 2008

We did a day trip from Athens to Delphi with Chat Tours which we were quite happy with. Very nice if you don't want to deal with driving yourself.
posted by gudrun at 6:45 PM on October 22, 2008

Best answer: I was in Athens and Crete this summer, and had a great time.

Athens: Get to the Parthenon as soon as it opens, to avoid the throngs. Get up early and spend some time walking around the surrounding neighborhood of Plaka beforehand. It's the old center and it's beautiful, but you wouldn't know it during the day when the crowds and souvenir shops take over. Your ticket for the Acropolis will cover several other sites and can be over four days. Don't miss the Temple of Olympian Zeus--you'll spot it easily if you walk around the perimeter of the Acropolis; it's huge. I'm not sure when the new Acropolis Museum will be fully open, but you should be able to go in for a peek and walk across the glass floors above the excavated old city.

The Cycladic Art Museum is really nice. We also liked the Greek Museum of Folk Art. Look for the shadow puppets and the room of murals by the folk artist Theophilos. Our favorite restaurant in Athens was Cafe Abysinia (Kynetou 7, Platia Avysinnias, Monastraki). It's hard to find, tucked away in a quiet square next to the loud flea market. We also liked Skholiarhio (Tripodhon 14) in Plaka--we were the only foreigners on the night we went.

Heraklion: Knossos was impressive. I wish I had read up a little more ahead of time, or had the stamina for a guided tour on the day we went (it was too hot). I didn't get the full sense of the expansive scale of the palace from the ruins. If you're driving, avoid the rip-off parking lots with the official-looking signs on the way and see if there's a spot in the free lot right at the entrance.

Heraklion is nice but a little sleepy. Most museums will be closed in the afternoon, leaving little else to do but hang out at a cafe. There's a street full of uber-chic locals in uber-chic cafes, if that's your thing. The Archeological Museum is closed for renovation but there's a small exhibit of the highlights that you shouldn't miss. For lack of more exciting options, we checked out the Historical Museum and were pleasantly surprised. Crete has a fascinating history, with the Venetian and Turkish occupations, and a way of like that pretty much didn't change for centuries until the tourist trade started in earnest in the sixties. Learning about Heraklion's history will make you want to read Nikos Kazantzakis' Freedom and Death (Captain Michalis). The museum includes an exhibit devoted to his work and a recreation of his study.

I also liked Khania more than Heraklion. It seemed like a nicer place to spend a lazy day. The beautiful Venetian harbor certainly helps. Go the to leather market on Skridlof and find the shop with piles of 10 Euro sandals outside, and ask the proprietress for a custom fitting. At one end of Skridlof is the cathedral and Athinagora Square. On the north side look for L'Artigiano for the best homemade gelato you'll ever have. In the cathedral you'll see votive offerings hung from icons--stamped tin eyes, hearts, limbs, whatever someone hoped to have healed. In the small souvenir/antique shop on the south side of the square you can buy your own. To the east of the harbor, look for the exhibit on the recreation of the Minoan boat that was rowed from Khania to Athens at the start of the 2004 Olympics. For eating, we liked Karnayio (Platia Katehaki 8) near the harbour. Winter is supposed to be the best time for fish in Crete, so you're in luck.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:28 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Our favorite restaurant in Athens was Cafe Abysinia (Kynetou 7, Platia Avysinnias, Monastraki).

Great choice, everyone should come down here and we'll book the place for a meetup.
posted by ghost of a past number at 12:01 AM on October 23, 2008

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