greece, travel
February 14, 2007 8:57 AM   Subscribe

It's official, we're taking a trip to Greece this June. Specifically to the Greek Islands. Help me plan an itinerary!

So it's official. Arriving in Greece on June 23rd through July 3rd. Going with my girlfriend to rest, relax, and see some new things. We're specifically interested in visiting the Greek Islands. But holy crap, there are there so many of them. From my research, it seems that this time of the year things start to get busy as it's moving into the peak season. I'd love some specific suggestions on an itinerary of several islands & hotels to visit that won't be mega-crowded, while of course, gorgeous.

How many islands can one handle in 10 days? I don't want to be stressed out by having to constantly travel between islands, so I'd like to find that perfect balance. Ease in travel between islands seems important. I'm assuming that our trip will begin and end in Athens, and tour the Cyclades by ferry/small plane. From my initial research, here's what I'm kicking around:

(1 night) Athens
(2 nights) Mykonos
(3 nights) Naxos
(4 nights) Santorini (maybe a stop at Folbandros or Serfios on the way back, but that ferry ride sounds long, versus just flying to Athens)

Everyone says that Santorini is the most spectacular; is it worth spending the most time there? Is there a better itinerary that might only be traveling by plane, but opens the trip up to other island groups -- such as Crete, etc?

Lastly, can one pull this trip off in the short amount of time until June? How easy or difficult is transport between islands? We're budgeting approx. $350 per night for hotel. Focus is on R&R, food, romance, etc; we're not into the party scene.

Thanks for the island & itinerary suggestions!
posted by donguanella to Travel & Transportation around Greece (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Mykonos is wildly touristy. Having said this, I've been to (and prefer) many of the smaller islands, and loved them, like Lesbos, Serifos, Paxos. Rhodes has a beautiful history (and is physically bigger, but farther away from Athens), and of course there is Crete, which I have never been to, but a place that, everybody whom I've spoken to that has gone, has said it was unbelievable. it is, of course, totally out of the way (relative to the other islands).

By the way, June is an absolutely fantastic time to go. Its before the onslaught of foreign tourists, before Greeks take their own break a few months later, and really before the onset of hot weather that can sometimes offset well-intentioned tourists.

Transport between the islands is regularly done by boat, here's a site to good you an idea of companies and schedules, but don't worry, there is plenty of space available on these boats, and the frequency is so high you do not have to plan ahead (prices remain affordable when you buy them at the port).

If you have ten days, I would suggest three or four different islands, including a one-two day stop at Athens for flight transportation out of the country. Keep in mind that for many of these smaller islands, the port will be located on one side of the island (along with many commercials businesses, hotels, restaurants), and there is often another side of the island that is less visited, and often, it has been made intentionally hard to get to (the example that comes to mind i believe is the west side of serifos, which i almost drove off a cliff trying to get to). but once i got there, five days of total serenity - with a truck that came once a week to bring bread, milk and newspapers from town. the rest of the days full of swimming, snorkeling for ancient vessels, and hanging out with my family. i am sure that however you decide to approach this, you will not be disappointed.
posted by phaedon at 9:22 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes to Santorini. See if you can get a hotel on the caldera (cliffs above the ocean, on the lip of the former volcanic crater). There's a pretty cool walk you can take down to the township with some great restarants to visit along the way, all of which will have you sitting looking out at the ocean. And rent a car if you can and visit Oia.

Mykonos is pretty cool too, its town is such a maze of twisting alleys that you can get pleasantly lost for hours. Little Venice is quaint. More waterfront eating and drinking. Haven't been to Naxos, but Crete has got some great old architecture and ruins to see. Get there if you can.

When planning your itinerary, remember that some islands don't warrant more than a day. Mykonos is a good example. I think you're right to spend just a night in Athens - I found it large and dirty and not very interesting. Even the Acropolis was over populated. I guess we just didn't spend long enough there to really appreciate it. My wife uses much stronger words when remembering it. Others like Crete demand more time, if you like history and ruins, or Santorini if you want to spend more time relaxing while you enjoy the 'classic' greek vacation experience one always sees in travel books. HTH.
posted by BorgLove at 9:25 AM on February 14, 2007

There are good reasons to go to Santorini, but it's as overdone and touristy as Mykonos. I recommend Santorini, but I'd cut down my time there and cut out Mykonos altogether.

Naxos is a good call and definitely spend some time in Paros. It's a beautiful island. The Greeks vacation there but the Americans not so much. I'd also suggest Tinos.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 9:26 AM on February 14, 2007

I want to defend Athens on the one point mentioned above, because I hear it constantly - constantly - from people who visit. I guess that on some superficial level, yes, Athens is an absolute mess, Pireaus even more so, but at the same time I have spent met some incredibly cool people down there, seen some great shows, and I generally am much more optimistic about the town than say, I was in my youth. I would love to move there for a summer.
posted by phaedon at 9:32 AM on February 14, 2007

I actually love Athens and believe it warrants a trip of its own, but if you want to do the islands, by all means, do the islands.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2007

Having never been the one to plan the trip, I don't have many tips on that, but a general tip is that you shouldn't expect travel to work like it would in the US or even necessarily other parts of Europe. It will probably take you a lot longer than you think, and something will go wrong. Its just the nature of Greece, if you can, relax and go with it. We've had our tickets canceled, our rental car given away, and our rental house attacked by flesh-eating flies. BUT, its always been fixed one way or another, things just move more slowly. You'll have a ton of fun, but I hope you're not the regimented type ;)

Also, I recommend more time in Athens if you can swing it, I love that city. We've always stayed in the Royal Olypic Hotel, one of the two in the city with a pool I believe, its always been great, and god damn will you appreciate that pool after walking around the hot city for hours.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:54 AM on February 14, 2007

I'm also going to share a major-time secret here, since you mentioned romance. There is a place that is not really an island (well it is, but its much closer to sparta than anywhere else) that is quite simply, the most romantic place i've ever been to in my life.

That place is Monemvasia, loosely translated as: "that place which can only be reached one way." It is unfortunately, very very small, and again unfortunately, most of the people that live there act like they wish you never showed up. But at night time, the island becomes surrounded by a blanket of darkness, the moon's large reflection reverberating over a quiet, endless sea.

Hands down the best place to pop the question - if you can temporarily forget the fact that somebody intentionally poisoned the local dog population, thereby killing many domesticated pets along with the wild ones, something that upset local owners, but was by and large ignored by the police and public.
posted by phaedon at 10:03 AM on February 14, 2007

I agree, Athens is a mess, but a good mess. I was there in late May early June of '04, and found Athens much hotter than the islands, if that makes a difference to you. We were in Santorini only, and it was great - the east coast not as spectacular, but quieter, with great beaches. In Athens, dining at an open air taverna in the Plaka, below the lit up Parthenon, with live bouzouki music was a definite highlight.

Greece is one of the most beautiful, stimulating, absorbing, loads-of-other-adjectives countries in the world, imo, and I'd be jealous if we weren't going back this May.

posted by Bearman at 10:09 AM on February 14, 2007

Response by poster: I definitely think at least two days in Athens will be part of the itinerary.

For the folks that have stayed on Santorini -- and any of the other islands mentioned, can you offer up any hotel suggestions?
posted by donguanella at 10:26 AM on February 14, 2007

Loved Santorini, and we stayed in Oia, specifically because I wanted sunsets, which were gorgeous. We loved Crete, and did a lot of walking, including the Gorge of Samaria. I wouldn't rush. Greece is slow-paced.
posted by theora55 at 10:46 AM on February 14, 2007

My previous question and the two threads I link to in it might be of some help to you.

Our trip was fabulous, but we went in November, and we had a friend of the family in Athens who's a native Greek, but has lived a good part of his life in California, and was able to show us around Athens on the insider tip (best restaurants, shopping districts, coffee shops, times to see the sights, etc.). He's not a licensed tour guide, but if you'd like to get in touch with someone who can spend a day showing you around, I could get you in touch (email in profile). He also helped us find low-cost hotels in not-too-shady parts of town, etc..

I loved Mykonos, but again, we were there in November - in June/July its supposed to be crawling. Word is its the celebrity scene at night and the beaches are a gay destination (the town is cute and quaint and clean like NYC's West Village, so I buy the word on the street).

We went to Rhodes for a day, which has a very cool dichotomy between old fortress city and new modern city, built all around. The Acropolis at Rhodes is a beautiful area, and from there you can see the vast expanses of shoreline up the island. My advice is to rent some motorbikes and head up the coast - my brother and I did and the beaches there are beautiful, but have a *very* local feel - wouldn't expect to see many tourists there even in the summer. You might even look to spend a night back in Rhodes to get an extra day back on the beaches there, if you're looking to avoid the tourist scene.

We didn't fit Santorini into our schedule, which I regret, definitely try to do that. I hear Crete is good, too. Another local place that might be more of a sleeper on the tourist radar is Samos. I think when I go back on my next trip I'll be basing myself there and making day / 2-day trips to the other places from there.

Athens is a rad city, once you get the hang of it - they have a great Metro, the bus system is pretty good, and taxis are always available. There's a million cool little places to eat, but it helps if you know which one to pick. Consider at least one extra day there.

Oh and seconding the pace thing. Take it nice and easy. Any good restaurant owner should act offended if you ask for the check before he's treated you to a free desert. Learn a few basic Greek terms and show them you're interested in learning about the culture, and they'll treat you great. Have a Mythos for me.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:54 AM on February 14, 2007

We did three weeks in Greece in July of '03, and it was a fabulous trip. We were nervous about Athens, but really loved it, and wished we'd had more than 4 days there. We both love to just wander around, and the city lends itself to that well. I found the Lonley Planet's Thorn tree forums to be very helpful.

We did the Dodecannese Islands, and I'd absolutely recommend going there if you'd like to get off the beaten path. A couple of the islands we sailed to were almost uninhabited-some had just a few families and a few tavernas. Patmos was fantastic-amazing historical site and very friendly people. Marathi, Leros, and Agathonissi were also good. Samos, mentioned previously, was probably my least favorite island, as it was by far the most crowded with tourists. I'm not sure if you're American or not, but if so, they really do seem to like Americans in that part of Greece (probably due to WWII) and there are very few American tourists-a definite plus in my book.

And $350 anight would be way more than you'd need in that part of the world.
posted by purenitrous at 1:14 PM on February 14, 2007

I definitely second Monvemvasia. It's incredibly beautiful. If you make it there, definitely make the climb to the top...the view is more than worth it.

It's on the mainland, but Tolo is a beautiful little town and has its own ruins, which no one ever visits, Asine.
Go to the Taverna Romvi and tell Tony that the Valparaiso trip group says hi. (Last summer I spent about two weeks in Tolo traveling around the Peloponess with my school--it was amazing, as is most/all of Greece.)
posted by tragedy_and_comedy at 1:18 PM on February 14, 2007

Not quite on topic but someone on Reddit just linked to this amazing picture of the caldera on Santorini. (Warning: 5.7 MB JPEG)
posted by nicwolff at 2:24 PM on February 14, 2007

Santorini's totally worth it. I stayed here and couldn't recommend it more. It's walking distance to Fira, with this view. Well, minus my feet & legs. That view... sigh. Can I go with you?

In Athens I stayed at Hotel Plaka which was just fine. Modern, not overpriced, and in a good area.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:05 PM on February 14, 2007

we're not into the party scene.

Much as I loved Mykonos -- my old buddy the Bearman upthread and I wandered there at random backpacking back in '89, and I ended up staying and managing a hotel (and working under the table (Club Mykonos out at Ornos Bay if you get there)) for about 10 months -- it is kind of about the relentless FUN FACTOR (and of course The Gay, something I didn't realize until the high season kicked in in July, but did add an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance (at least amongst the tourists) which was really cool.)

Mykonos when it's busy is insane, though, I must say. End of June is probably OK, but once July kicks in until late September, the village itself is far from peaceful. Mobbed is the better word (or it was way back when, and I can only assume it's as bad or worse these days).

Still, a great, great place -- one of my favorites in the world, after having wandered around the globe since the '80s.

And $350 anight would be way more than you'd need in that part of the world.

Sure, but you can get some spectacular accommodation at that price range, or charter a sailboat (personally the way I'd go if I wanted to spend that kind of cash).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:09 PM on February 14, 2007

Skip Mykonos, stay on Paros instead, in Naousa, from which you can see the lights of Mykonos, and that's plenty, IMO. Naousa is beautiful! We stayed at the "Sea House". Smallish, pleasant, a short walk from town proper.

Santorini is awesome. You do NOT need a car to go to Oia for sunset. There are buses. Terrifying ride, but hey, it's Greece. For real adventure, go swimming in the caldera. We did. Be wary of unexpected waves when entering and leaving the water (it isn't a beach, it's a warf, with rocks to climb).

Crete is beautiful, but it requires planning and investigation to avoid tourist traps. I can't emphasize this enough! We failed to plan properly for 1 night, and became desperate. Crete will require a car. The further west you go, the fewer tourists.
posted by Goofyy at 3:33 AM on February 15, 2007

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