So year two of my Greece Experience project is underway. I leave for Greece in two weeks and I find myself unprepared for something I’ve prepared the last 10 months.
I titled this blog How to Visit Greece for just that reason. I leave in 2 weeks and will be staying for 2 months and I don’t have a clue what I want to do there yet.
I’ve visited 13 islands so far in my life, plus all the major mainland cities.
I prefer the lesser known gems over the populated touristy islands. I have not visited Mykonos since 2009 and have never ever been to Santorini. Except for the port, last summer in the middle of an overnight boat ride from Athens to Rhodes, we stopped in Santorini. It was pitch dark out but I could see the lights from the hotels and shops lighten up the rock from a distance. To be honest, if it was day time, I may have been tempted to get off the boat. Thats as close as I have gotten.
So you are probably wondering, I’ve gone to 13 islands and go every year and have not visited Mykonos in a decade and have never been to Santorini. Where the heck do I go?
Here’s the list: Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Paros, Naxos, Anti Paros, Crete, Milos, Evia, Patmos, Kalymnos (my home island), Rhodes, and Mykonos. I know Halkdiki is not an island but a peninsula but lets throw that in there too and make it 14. I went to Kos and Samos as a kid if that counts. So 16.
Here are the mainland cities and destinations: Athens, Kalamata (my home city), Nafplio, Meteora, Corinthos, Katerini and Thessaloniki.
So back to the title, How to Visit Greece?
I will be staying for 2 months, but since that might not be the norm for everyone, I will break down a good way to visit Greece in 3 weeks and get a good mix of everything, and not leaving you exhausted in need of another vacation.
The beginning – Athens
First things first, arrive in Athens and get yourself checked in to your hotel/AirBNB apartment. Get this part done quickly as saving your first evening is critical. I would recommend the first evening plus 1 or 2 more full day in Athens. Spend the first night exploring Monastiraki Square. Monastiraki is a flea market neighborhood in the heart of Athens with iconic landmarks and amazing views of the Acropolis. Go for a walk and get lost in the narrow streets. You will come across Ancient Agora, the ruins of Hadrian’s Libary and several shop owners heckling you from their shop entrance to get you to buy their product! You can even make your way up to the entrance area of the Acropolis, but you will find it closed as the hours of entry are 8am to 8pm. We will save that for Day 2! However you can take in an AMAZING view of all of Athens just below you will find a staircase to a rocky area where will find plenty of locals sitting and taking in the view.
At this point you have probably built up an appetite. While I would not lean towards advising you to eat at the tourist restaurants, unfortunately that is all you will find in Monastiraki Square. However you will find some unique restaurant views on your walk back down. You will find restaurants with tables setup on the stair ways down!
Repeat what you did the night before with daylight! Plus add the Acropolis! Take in the Acropolis and learn about all the temples history from The Parthenon to The Temple of Athena Nike and the rest in between! (Yes, that is the inspiration of the brand Nike. After you visit the Acropolis on your way down you will come across the Acropolis Museum another must do!!
Now you are probably ready for the beach!! About 20 minutes south of Athens you will come to Glyfada. Glyfada has several beach options and a town centre with a great shopping experience. Just below Gylfada about 5 more minutes by car you will come to Vouliagmeni.
Here you will find some amazing beaches that will make you feel like you are on an island!! There is Limanakia, Varkiza, and Vouliagmeni Lake!! All 3 are amazing options!!
Glyfada may intrigue you into staying on the mainland an extra day as it has a ton to offer, but I am sure by now you are thinking Greek Islands!!
There are tons of islands but for this blog post I will choose 3 or 4 that will give you a mix of everything!! We won’t push it past 4 so that we are not running around and not enjoying the experience.
Chania, Crete is where I would start things off. Chania Crete is known for its amazing Venetian Harbor Town and 2 world famous beaches (Elafonisi Beach and Balos Lagoon). You want to stay in the Harbor. Get a room anywhere in that harbor. The experience there is like no other. The entire harbor is picturesque, with restaurants from one end to the other. In between are narrow walk ways with no cars. No cars are permitted in the town. In these walkways you will find shops, bars, museums and more restaurants. Let’s plan on 4 days here. You can enjoy this Harbor town all 4 days but we want to plan day trips as well to experience what Chania has to offer, so here are 4 world-class beaches:
- Elafonisi Beach – A pink sand peninsula ranked best beach in Europe on multiple occasions on websites, magazines. It get’s packed and food options there are limited to low quality sandwiches and ice cream. Also, there are no servers, you have to go to the snack stands for the food.
- Balos Lagoon – Another pink sand paradise. This beach I would advise taking a boat tour to as driving there is very risky and most rental companies will not insure any incident at Balos. Plus the parking area is a good 30 minute walk away from the Lagoon. The boat tour also stops on a small island next to Balos called Gramvousa.
- Falasarna Beach – Another pink sand paradise, see the theme here?This west coast of Crete is covered in pink sand!! It’s something you have to see in person to understand. This beach is a traditional beach with sun beds and servers.
- Seitan Limania – This one is the adventure. This cove offers no food, no sunbeds, and no easy entry! You have to carefully climb down the mountain to the sand. Oh and you have to climb back up to leave! Depending if you get there on a wavy day or a calm day is two different experiences! If its wavy it becomes a wave pool, if not the beach is a crystal clear swimming area. The cove walls offer amazing diving experiences. While in the water, zip your bag that has your food as the beach attracts local goats and they will not stop at anything for your food!!
These 4 beaches can fill a good 4 days in Chania! However if you are up for a 5th day, I would say to try trekking the Samaria Gorge. The complete trek takes roughly 5 to 6 hours. Just go ahead and google it, its stunning!
Next, Paros Island.
Paros Island offers everything. From beaches, to night life and big towns.
Here are some key experiences in Paros:
- Naousa Town. One of the most picturesque areas in Greece. This bay offers amazing food, amazing views, friendly people and great night life. You will lose yourself walking through narrows with that white Greek Island stone and you will end up coming across Linardo’s. A stop many make for that great landmark photo!
- Kolymbithres Beach – Here you will find some awe inspiring scenery, with wind shaped rocks all around you.
- Silver Beach – A more lively beach bar for everyone.
- Blue Lagoon – On the south side of the island you will find a boat tour to the Blue Lagoon. When I say blue, I mean BLUE. These are colors that will make you think you are on the Ionian side of Greece!
- Paros Town. The main town by the main harbor.
- Anti Paros!! Anti Paros is a neighbor island that is separated by a 10 minute ferry. I highly recommend spending a day on Anti Paros for its amazing beaches and its small town. The small town offers great eats and great nightlife. If you like historic caves, there is an amazing cave called The Cave of Anti Paros. So we just banged out 2 islands in 1 right there! Now we are up to 3 and we’ve only spent 11 days so far!! Let’s continue…
Next up! Adventure or relaxation? Let’s keep the adventure going for a bit more, we can rest later!!
Milos island is one of the most amazing islands for adventure and jaw dropping scenery. The island is small, so I would recommend an ATV over a car. It’ll be a lot more fun plus you can go to a few more beaches by ATV than you can with a car.
Here are key Milos destinations:
- Beach: Sarakiniko. A world famous, white stone lunarscape oasis. Words do not describe this beach. It has a great swimming area and a great diving area and a place to take photos that you will never ever forget!
- Beach: Tsigrado. An adventure to get to, but worth the climb down! The only entrance here unless you go by boat is by climbing down a narrow opening between the mountain. You hold on to a rope for assistance down the slippery slope. At the end you come to a 20 meter drop, but don’t worry there is a ladder down the rest of the way!!
- Restaurant: Oh Xamos! Restaurant. Amazing eats just make sure to RSVP as it can take an hour to be seated!
- Adventure: Find a boat tour near the port to take you around the island! Half of the island is only accessible by boat, so this is a great way! They will take you to Sykia Cave and to Kleftiko!! Two amazing swim areas. The boat will also serve you lunch and dinner and provide snorkeling gear.
- Explore: ATV. Just get on that ATV and explore the island! This island is one big adventure. Go to the main town to spend your evening dinner and sunsets.
These 4 days take us to 15 days! We have 6 left but we want to make to Athens in time to catch our flight home!
It’s time to relax.
Let’s go to Santorini. Like I mentioned earlier, I have NEVER been. So let’s go together this year! Just tell me all about it when you get back!!
I am told there is an amazing hike trail to explore the island but at this point you may just want to kick back and enjoy the sunsets, which I understand.
Back to Athens. Come back with 2 days to go. Get your things in order and relive a few of the moments!
If you are craving more and decided to stay a bit longer or chose to stay a day shorter at each destination and have yourself 2-3 more days, here is one more amazing destination. While this is my personal favorite place I did not include it in the itinerary as it is not practical for travel purposes to get as much in with as little travel as possible. Catch a flight to Zakynthos. Immediately go see Navagio Shipwreck Beach. Once from the top and once by boat. The boat will dock you right on the shore. The top of the cove is reachable by car where you can take in the views of Navagio Beach with the famous Shipwreck. The island is loaded with incredible beaches, just stay away from Laganas! A few other notable beaches on Zakynthos: Porto Limnionas, a lagoon mixed with salt water and cold spring water spilling in from the mountain. If you swim in the right spot, you can feel the cold meeting the warm. Incredible. The Keri Caves are an amazing snorkeling experience! Also, take in a turtle watching boat tour!
So there you have it! How to visit Greece and get the most out of your time as efficiently as possible. We managed to cram in Athens, Crete, Paros, Anti Paros, Milos, Santorini and Zakynthos in a 3 week timeframe!
If you have any questions on any of these destinations please feel free to send me a message anytime!
You can follow my travels of Greece on Instagram @iamgreece.