Help me plan a perfect week in Greece!
March 9, 2022 6:31 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are planning a vacation in Greece this June. We're so excited! Looking for suggested island-hopping itineraries and any tips for places to stay, play, and eat.

We're flying in and out of Athens (from NY.) The most plausible flights have us arriving on Saturday morning and departing the following Sunday afternoon.

We definitely want to hit the big sites in Athens, and maybe do a day trip to one of the smaller islands (Hydra, Aegina?) Then we're thinking about spending the rest of our trip at another island or two. I'm in love with photos of Santorini but read it can be very crowded and touristy. Are there areas there with a little more breathing room? Also considering Naxos? Please offer suggestions for a well-paced itinerary for two!

Specific recommendations for places to stay, activities, or restaurants very welcome. We both love:
- beautiful scenery
- good food (I love seafood, him not so much)
- fun bars
- live music
- museums
- beaches
- hiking

I'm a big Greek mythology nerd and partner loves biking (it would be great to rent bikes and ride around one day.) We're early/mid-30s, not huge party people but like a little drinking and night life - and definitely romance.

All suggestions welcome!
posted by rabbitbookworm to Travel & Transportation around Greece (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
From my limited experience, I thought Paros was a nice place to explore and would probably be fun to bike around, but if I had to choose only one or two it would probably be Naxos or Santorini. The former seemed very much the way I imagined a small Greek Isle to be, great food, lovely town but probably quiet. The latter is just so original and beautiful though obviously can be overrun with tourists. I found places to go regardless!

I didn't really enjoy Crete (perhaps I didn't go to the right places) but the museum in the main town there was very good.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:20 PM on March 9, 2022

I loved Naxos. We stayed a few days in the capital, Chora, and there was plenty to see and do: nice beaches, good museums, delicious food. The Portara at the Temple of Apollo is really cool (it's the huge gate, all that's left of the temple). One day we also took a taxi a few kilometres out of Chora to the Olive Oil Press Museum in the tiny, pretty town of Eggares, which was well worth it. It has a very nice cafe and shop.

Paros is lovely too but smaller and quieter. If you do go there, take the little ferry over to the sister island of Antiparos.

Santorini is gorgeous, but yes, very touristy. We were only there for one day, and it was enough.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:26 PM on March 9, 2022

Hydra and Aegina are both great for a day trip - book your ferry/flying dolphin tickets early to get the good times of day, that stuff goes fast in the high season.

My all time favorite one hour away from Athens island is Kea - smaller and less crowded, but any island will be busy that time of year. The ruins in Karthaia are not to be missed - though not accessible by car, be advised it's a ~4km fairly steep uphill hike to get back to the road.
posted by each day we work at 9:29 PM on March 9, 2022

Best answer: In my opinion you really ought to consider adding Delphi to your plans before you head out to the islands. Not only is it a key location for many myths, with some pretty terrific ruins, but it's also in a setting of pretty considerable natural beauty.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:42 PM on March 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: All the advice above is great, I just popped into say that June is very early season, so you shouldn't worry too much about tourists.
posted by mumimor at 3:29 AM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

As far as mythology I love the minotaur maze in Crete at Knossos Palace (as featured in the classic point-and-click adventure game Indiana Jones and the Secret of Atlantis -- while I was there, it seemed so familiar and then I made the LucasArts connection). That and the Caves of Diros in Mani, where there are boat tours of a place we'd heard rumors was the entrance to Hades.
posted by johngoren at 4:45 AM on March 10, 2022

As a teen, a pal o' mine went to Delphi with his parents [borrrring]. Trudging up the dusty path after a coachload of Japanese tourists he kicked up a tetradrachm which had taken 2000+ years to re-surface. YMMV!!

As a teen, I read Wm Golding's The Hot Gates and had to go visit Thermopylae at the first opportunity . . . which was when I went to a conference on Spetsai [where a chunk of John Fowles The Magus is set] in the early 90s. There was a transport strike but I got on the last bus to Lamia and had the driver leave me off at Thermopylae. The signage was terrible but I eventually found the dusty hillock with a monument with the Go Tell the Spartans exhortation to The Future. It was hard not to weep, but I Spartaned up and took two bay Laurus nobilis leaves from a nearby bush. Magical.
posted by BobTheScientist at 6:12 AM on March 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I've only been to Santorini once, but it was the first week in June. It was NOT crowded at that point in the year. I think we were the only people at our hotel, even (though it was expensive, at the top (topographically), and it was 2014 so the effects of the recession were still being felt). Wonderful place!
posted by Snowishberlin at 8:01 AM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't been back in about ten years but have spent a ton of time in Greece and agree that Naxos is/was great and that Santorini is very beautiful but, for me, the touristy-ness meant I have no interest in going back after one visit. A place that people mention less often is Sifnos, which I love, specifically Kamares - really great little port town that had excellent restaurants. Again, this was all a while ago, but it looks like Sifnos is still known for their food scene and we had a pasta at a place in Kamares called Claudio's (looks like it's still open) that my friends and I still talk about to this day. Sifnos also is supposed to have cool mountain towns but I haven't personally explored them. I really like Matt Barrett's Greece Guide for good practical advice and for information about the general vibes and pros/cons of the various islands. I'm jealous, have an amazing time!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:19 PM on March 10, 2022

Something to consider when exploring mainland Greece outside of Athens: jump in a rental car, and you have a good chance of avoiding the tour buses. I was wonderfully surprised at how many sites I could visit by car and have a magic moment to myself, including the ancient stadium at Nemea, the whole site at Tiryns, the column commemorating the battle of Marathon.

One place that worked well for me as a "home base" for a few days was Nafplio. The pedestrianized old town on the peninsula is a bit touristy, but still very appealing, with tons of restaurants, cozy places to stay, flowering trees shading the pathways, it's all quite nice. It's also a great home base for seeing a ton of ancient sites, including Mycenae, Nemea, Corinth, Epidaurus -- and Tiryns is possibly a nice long bike ride from the edge of town. I drove all the way to Sparta/Mystras from there and made it comfortably back the same day. If you want to add an island getaway, boats to Hydra leave from there as well.
posted by gimonca at 2:42 PM on March 10, 2022

(And, if you're into the history and culture, you can get a thrill just by driving down the freeway and seeing the exit signs that say "Thiva", "Elevsina", "Korinthos"...yep, those are the real places!)
posted by gimonca at 2:49 PM on March 10, 2022

The Samarian Gorge, in Crete, is a wonderful walk through deep mountains to the Libyan sea. You can continue for another day or two along the coast, reaching towns accessible only by foot or boat, before returning to the north coast -- truly lovely wild walking, but comfortable trails and little inns along the way!
posted by SandCounty at 7:11 PM on March 10, 2022

I concur with gimonca's advice regarding Nafplio being a conveniently-located central base for exploring several significant historic locations in mainland Greece. We used it in the same way when I visited in 2010 or so and it was a good choice. It also has a nice Venetian fortress with great views.
(And, if you're into the history and culture, you can get a thrill just by driving down the freeway and seeing the exit signs that say "Thiva", "Elevsina", "Korinthos"...yep, those are the real places!)
Yeah.. having taught myself to read using Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" (I was a weird kid.. Hmm.. "was", yeah, that's the ticket..) that aspect of roaming around mainland Greece was a bit surreal.
posted by Nerd of the North at 8:30 PM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have been to some of these places and researched / asked people about others.

One thing to take into account is that, flying from NY to Athens you will be tired, and any trip (to islands, or for a flight to Crete) will add a lot of time. I would not go island hopping with only one week, because inevitably, you will just have time to sample the port towns of the islands, which are the most touristed and kind of similar. And Athens is hot, dirty and crowded, so it can be tiring just to do ordinary things (though, noy NYC!)

I think we like different things (I would avoid fun bars!). But I think you should think about what you want most, and pick one or two places.

So, some impressions that might help you:
Islands close to Athens: Hydra and Spetses are mroe upscale, the former has no cars, the latter no motorcycles or scooters too. I was in H. 20 years ago and it was lovely, peaceful. It seems more and more manicured. I think Spetses is a bit more fun and lively. Neither has great beaches that are within walking distance of the town. If you just want a couple of days on the beach, you can do worse than Angistri (a short ride form Aegina). Aegina is a bit more mixed.
Has a normal town, not all whitewashed, the island is more populated with Athenians summer homes.

In the Cyclades I like Naxos. It has a lot. A big port town, lots of beaches (esp. SW coast), lots of nature, inland villages (Chalki, Apeiranthos). You could easily spend a week there. Sifnos is quieter, laid back. Beautiful white hill towns. Yet quieter and more relaxing would be Serifos. Milos I don't know but it has very interesting beaches. I think of Paros as more touristy and less interesting than Naxos. More expensive shopping. Not for me.

I also think exploring the mainland would be really fun. You have a car, freedom. Worth seeing Delphi, Olympia, Ancient MEssene, Mystras. Towns to see are Monemvasia (out of the way), the countryside and villages of Mani (roughly from Kardamyli going east, places like Oitylo, Gerolimenas), some amazing rocky beaches there, Koroni is like an island port town, big beach w/in walking distance. Of course Nafplio, which has an ok beach, a better one is 10 min drive but when I was there there was a stench of trash. At Tolo a few minutes farther there is a warm beach.

Personally I would not go to Santorini unless it was like October.

So, I would say a couple of days in Athens, then either 1) road trip; 2) one of the following island/groups:
a) Naxos
b) Spetses, Hydra (can also go to Ermioni on the same boat).
c) Sifnos (+ Serifos/Kythnos(.
d) I forgot. One island that you might like most of all: SYROS! It's very interesting. Only beaches not right in town. But good bus system. Lots to do and see, and compact.

PM me if i can help with details.
posted by melamakarona at 11:08 PM on March 10, 2022

If you do go on a roadtrip:

- Nafplio is close to Athens, which means a lot more busy on the weekends. If you do go, make sure you include this place.
- Ancient Corinth is another cool close to Athens destination that's worth visiting. As a bonus this place is nearby - looks touristy but is actually one of the best tavernas I have eaten at.
- If you want to include some mountain hiking time, Ziria is close to Athens.
posted by each day we work at 12:48 AM on March 11, 2022

Best answer: I went to Greece in late June/Early June of 2017. I had about the same amount of time. I landed in Athens and immediately took a ferry to Naxos, where I spent four nights. Then a ferry to Santorini for two nights, from where I flew to Athens then took a bus to Delphi for one night, then spent two nights in Athens.

I loved the entire trip but Santorini was probably my least favorite part. It was very crowded and felt geared to tourists in a pretty over-the-top way. For instance, the village of Oia is iconic and beautiful, but most of those houses you see in the pictures are hotels. One interesting thing a taxi driver told me is that Santorini had been basically abandoned by Greeks in the 70s and 80s and most of the businesses are owned and run by Albanians. It IS very beautiful, but so is most of Greece. I guess I'm glad I've seen it but I wouldn't go back.

On the other hand, I ADORED Naxos. It was the beginning of the season so it wasn't too crowded, but all the businesses were open for the season - best of both worlds. I had so much good food and did a lot of swimming in crystal clear waters and rented a car two days to drive around the treacherous mountain roads and visit gorgeous villages. I'd go back in a heartbeat, though I do imagine most islands in the Cyclades offer similar attractions.

Delphi was the real surprise. It is probably the most beautifully situated ancient site I've seen and it just felt so tranquil and sacred there. The town is tiny but if you go it's worth staying overnight so you can go to the site late in the afternoon or first thing in the morning when it's very quiet.

And Athens was a surprisingly fun and buzzy city. It doesn't have the charm of Western or Central European cities but obviously there's so much to see and it just has a great energy. Amazing food too. I'd recommend staying in Psirri where there's a lot of great street life.
posted by lunasol at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2022

Meant to say I went late May/early June 2017.
posted by lunasol at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you all for the wonderful recommendations and advice! I'm happy to report that we had an incredible trip to Greece, totally fell in love with it, and my partner took advantage of this perfect occasion to propose :) We're getting married in May, so watch out for a honeymoon planning question.

Wanted to add a note here for posterity, with our itinerary after helpful suggestions from all of you:

Friday: Arrived in Athens, wandered around and had dinner at a Taverna near our Airbnb in Psirri

Saturday: Saw the Acropolis sites and checked out the museum, nice dinner at Electra Roof Garden

Sunday: Day trip to Aegina by ferry, rented bikes and bounced between beaches. Made it back to Athens in time for opera at the Odeon, a highlight of the trip.

Monday: Delphi! Far and away the best addition to our itinerary based on these comments, what an amazing place. We booked a driver for the trip through George's Taxi, which was a little splurge but felt really worth it

Tuesday: Took the ferry to Naxos and had a leisurely wander through the town. Naxos was probably our favorite stop of the trip (and the name of our new kitten!)

Wednesday: Hiked up Mt. Zas - a moderately challenging hike with incredible views from the summit. Cooled off at Plaka beach in the afternoon.

Thursday: Afternoon ferry to Santorini. We stayed in the Amoudi Bay area. To be honest, you all were right, it was crowded and touristy, not our favorite stop! Still worth the visit for some stunning vistas, but probably wouldn't return.

Friday: Walked between Fira and Oia. Highly recommend this if you keep Santorini in your itinerary. Much less crowded than the towns, a relatively easy walk, and postcard-worthy views every step. On Friday night my partner proposed while we watched the sunset from our hotel balcony :)

Saturday: Booked a catamaran tour around the island. We also felt like this was worth the expense to get out of the towns and have another perspective of the island.

Sunday: flew back to NY

It was a full and active trip but we didn't feel over-scheduled or rushed. Hope this is helpful for any future travelers planning their route. Have fun and eat everything!
posted by rabbitbookworm at 11:14 AM on November 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

That is so lovely to hear you enjoyed your trip and that it’s where you got engaged! Honestly your update is making me want to go back to Greece : ) Congratulations!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:19 PM on November 7, 2022

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