How To Experience Greece
Greece. Although this country is relatively small, it can be overwhelming to plan a trip which combines the rich culture and history with vibrant modern life. This Itinerary balances touring and relaxing into the Greek lifestyle, with recommendations for travels on the main land and the islands of Greece.
The best times to travel Greece is during the ‘shoulder seasons’, May, September, and October. During these months there are typically fewer people, hotels and ferries are less expensive, and weather is still nice without being too hot.
Day 1: Athens
From the airport, Athens is a 20 minute drive. In Athens I would recommend staying in the Plaka, the oldest district of Athens. With its narrow cobblestone streets and unchanging architecture, the Plaka encircles the city’s crown jewel, the Acropolis.
In Greece, travelling on a budget is fairly easy if you are okay with small, perfunctory, but clean rooms. Our hotel in Athens was not the fanciest, but it had a rooftop bar and restaurant with a view of the Parthenon. It was unbeatable.
When you first arrive, try to get on local time, for us this meant meeting up with our friends in Plaka and going out for our first Greek meal. If you can, try to get away from the touristy restaurants in Plaka.
Day 2: Athens
Get a good nights’ sleep and wake up early your second day to walk to the Acropolis. Stop at a café to get a frappe. It will be a long hot day.
It is best to visit the Parthenon in the morning before all the crowds flood in. With any luck, the lines will be relatively short, and it will be cool enough that you won’t be baking in the sun on top of the great hill. Spend the rest of the day inside at the Acropolis Museum (have lunch at their outdoor café) and the National Archeological Museum.
Keep in mind that many museums and archeological sites offer free or reduced admission to children and students.
Day 3: Day trip to Delphi from Athens
The Temple of Delphi, the Oracle of Apollo, is a two and a half hour drive from Athens. Driving in Athens can be daunting, so if you are not confident, buy a ticket for a tour bus. The Temple is worth it. Located on Mount Parnassus, the ancient scared city is still home to some of the most magnificent ruins in Greece. Wear good hiking shoes, if you want to make it to the top, it is an uphill trek. If you do have a car, stop in one of the little towns you will drive through for lunch.
Spend the evening in the Plaka, there are many things to do including visiting the ancient agora, and shopping. Take part in the night life. In Greece, people typically have dinner no earlier than 8pm, so the night does not truly get started until well past 10 or 11, and people stay out until dawn.
Day 4: Day trip to Aegina from Athens
Aegina is a beautiful little island a 40 minute ferry trip from the port of Piraeus. The island is a favorite for locals to escape from the bustle of Athens. Spend some time relaxing on the beach, eat at a taverna, and, if you feel up to it, check out their own claim to fame, the Temple of Aphaea. That night, walk around the Plaka more, be in Syntagma Square in time to see the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament building.
Day 5: Nafplio
Rent a car from Athens and drive two hours to the idyllic city of Nafplio. Located on the Peloponnese, it is a nice break from the craziness of Athens. Get a hotel on the bay for a picture perfect sunset and access to some chic restaurants.
That day, go to any of the beautiful sandy beaches (at least, more sandy than any others you will find in Greece). Or visit the Palamidi Castle, an ancient Venetian castle with a great view of the city below.
Day 6: Day trip to Epidaurus and Mycenae from Nafplio
Take a day trip to see the archeological sites of Epidaurus and Mycenae near Nafplio. Both are easy to tour by yourself or with a tour guide. As someone who loves history and ancient Greek civilization, these kinds of sites are the ones that both blow your mind and take your breath away.
That evening, wander the colorful streets of Nafplio and get some gelato as you walk along the harbor, you will not regret it. Walk to the point to the lighthouse at the end of the promenade and follow the walking path for a easy, breathtaking hike around the bend of the cliff along the coast.
Day 7: Monemvasia
As you begin to make your way around the Peloponnese, one place that cannot be left off your itinerary is the Byzantine fortress city of Monemvasia. Created as an island strong hold, this city is only accessible by foot. I would very highly recommend parking your car on the street leading up to the city and staying in a hotel in the center itself. The stone houses and pathways are almost indescribable. It really is like stepping back in time. That night, eat at one of the two restaurants in the town, family owned, complete with an ocean view.
Day 8: Monemvasia
The next day, walk up early to walk to the ancient fortress above the city. It is a long hike. However, once you make it to the top, the Agia Sophia Church ,overlooking the ocean and the city below, is a breathtaking sight.
Get brunch at on of the cafés lining the narrow streets and leave in the afternoon to make it to the next destination. Drive across to the next ‘finger’ of the Peleponnese, through Gytheio, and spend the night in Areopoli.
Day 9: Caves of Diros and Messene
Make time in your schedule to take a tour of the Caves of Diros, a labyrinth of natural underground ocean caves which are well worth the 10 euro tour fee. That day, drive up the Peloponnese, through Kalamata, including a stop in Ancient Messene. The ruins in Messene are relatively unknown to the mass public. This means that they are practically void of tourists, and the site has yet to put up ropes and barriers to keep people from getting too close to the ruins. You can still roam freely through the site.
Eat at the Ithomi Taverna! It offers a picture-perfect view of the ancient site from the terrace. And after days of Greek salad and souvlaki (which I love, don’t get me wrong), you can’t go wrong with their garden salad with figs, pecans, and delicious local cheese.
That night, drive to Olympia. You most likely will not get there before the site closes, but no worries, there will be plenty of time for that the next day.
Day 10: Olympia
In the morning, go to Olympia. The site is vast and there is little shade, plus you will want to make your way around before too many tour buses come in. The site and museum will take up the better part of a day. Afterward, wander around the modern town of Olympia, get lunch, some gelato, and shop.
That evening, drive to Corinth and stay the night. Don’t worry about sightseeing here, you will most likely be content to spend the evening in a taverna overlooking their ancient ruins, sipping on a cold drink.
Day 11: Mykonos
In the morning catch a ferry from Corinth to Mykonos, it takes about 4 hours. Mykonos is a must-see island, and personally it ranks above Santorini. When you are in Mykonos, stay in the old town, no matter how tempting prices might be on the other side of the island. Old town Mykonos is postcard perfect. The labyrinth of white washes walls, bright blues, and utter absence of cars is idyllic.
Your first day in Mykonos, just wander the town. At sunset, eat at Kastro’s. Get a table in the outside walkway, which will give you the perfect view of the sun setting over the ocean. Every restaurant you go to on the islands will seem overpriced compared to the low prices on the Peloponnese, but it is worth it for the food and the view.
Day 12: Day trip to Delos from Mykonos
Delos is an uninhabited island an hour ferry ride from Mykonos. The ruins on the island are expansive. It is one of the more important mythological and archeological sites in Greece, where the God Apollo was born. You can walk along the path of the agora, around the long-dried lake, and up to the magnificently preserved great houses on the hill.
The entire site, not including the museum, will take several hours to tour, but when you get back to Mykonos, relax at the small beach or pool and drink some cocktails. Have dinner on the port, wanted the streets, and enjoy the roaring nightlife of Mykonos.
Day 13: Mykonos
This is your day to get lost in Mykonos. Wander up to the famous wind mills overlooking Little Venice and browse the endless shops which line the streets of the district. Get some gelato, cocktails, and fall in love with the energy of Mykonos Town.
Day 14: Santorini
In the afternoon, catch a ferry from Mykonos to Santorini. This will take around three hours. In Santorini, forget about staying in Oia. While beautiful, it is far more noisy and expensive than anywhere else on the island. We stayed in Imerovigli, in the center of the Caldera. Our beautiful little hotel gave us a private patio with our own picture-perfect view of the famous Santorini sunset, as well as a pool overlooking the ocean.
Don’t attempt to drive on Santorini (unless you were comfortable with driving in Athens). Even during the low season, huge tour buses take passengers around the island from cruises. If you do not want to have to navigate around a tour bus on a road built for donkeys, just get a cab.
Day 15: Santorini
Spend the day drinking wine and lounging in the sun. During the hottest part of the day, the few hours when you will probably want a break from the sun, venture over to Akrotiri. This prehistoric city was buried in ash in the volcanic explosion which created the Caldera itself. It is rumored that the city which inspired Plato’s Atlantis. It is one of the most important finds on the Aegean. Plus, the entire site is covered, which will provide shelter from the midday sun.
That night drive or take a cab to Oia to watch the sunset. Simply follow the swarm of people as they make their way towards the point to watch a completely unobstructed view of the sunset. You may find, like we did, that you actually prefer your quiet personal sunset in Imerovigili. If you are in Oia, walk or dive down to the little bay and have dinner on the port after sunset.
Day 16: Santorini
Splurge on a Sunset Sailing tour. That is all I have to say. We did the five-hour tour on a catamaran and it was well worth it. We were served a meal cooked on the boat, spent the afternoon in the sun, swimming in the Aegean, and watching the sunset from the bay of Oia.
Day 17: Santorini
Spend the morning and afternoon relaxing. Hang out at the hotel pool, or drive to one of the local rocky beaches. We spent the hours before our flight from Santorini at a local winery. We ended up walking away with three bottles of wine in our suitcases.
To return home, take a small plane back to Athens and depart from there.
After nearly three weeks in Greece, you will have seen so much and met so many people. You will pick up on Greek sayings and mannerisms, and you will not be ready to leave.
But as a Greek once said to me;
“if there are no goodbyes, there are no happy reunions”.
This article was written by Eliza Mikunda, our 2018 Scholarship Winner, as part of her submission to the WandePig Scholarship.