Greece is on almost everyone’s bucket list, but as a country that’s comprised of anywhere between 1400 and 10,000 islands depending on who you ask, how do you have any idea where to go or what to do?
Let me tell you what I wish I knew. You don’t need to spend more than 1-2 days in Athens, as it looks like any other European capital and unfortunately way less clean. Who knew there were so many cigarette butts at the Parthenon? It’s a World Wonder for crying out loud. The islands though, even more beautiful in person (and Turkey’s were equally as impressive). Here are some tips to help you plan the ultimate Greek escape that I wish I had.
You don’t need a tour group or a cruise ship to get around.
The islands are way easier to navigate between than you may expect. Their version of a ferry is a thousand person ship the size of a cruise liner so there are almost always seats (which are actually assigned and in linear rows like airlines). They cost only around 30 euros so there is absolutely no need to stress about making a set itinerary ahead of time for fear of not being able to get around. Pick 1-2 destinations you definitely want to hit and stay as long as the wind moves you (I highly recommend focusing on Santorini and Crete).
You don’t need a schedule.
Our Contiki tour spent four days on Mykonos, which was way too long for the “party” island. Essentially Ibiza’s long lost cousin, if I wanted to spend my vacation clubbing, I would have gone to Cancun. For the second half of our trip, we were at the mercy of the cruise schedule with just 4-hour stops between ports. Unlike Caribbean cruises which can take 1-2 days to get between destinations, the Greek Islands are usually just an hour or two apart, making cruises a great way to see a lot of places in a short amount of time. However, with so much crammed into a few days, we only had 4 hours to marvel at the Santorini sunset and 4 hours to power through Crete (docking at 7 am before anything was even open). If I could do it all over again, we’d spend more time on the islands we actually wanted to see like Rhodes without feeling so rushed.
Don’t assume it’ll all look like paradise.
The Greek islands are not dreamy, palm-tree lined, sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. Far from it. For the most part, they’re barren and desolate. Their charm is in the white washed buildings and picturesque towns. Each island has an entirely unique personality and you’ll only truly understand their heart once you get to know their vibe. Crete had a distinct Mediterranean flair not unlike Italy and produces plentiful wine, while Santorini boasts the brilliant blue rooftops you see in the postcards.
If I get a do-over, you can find me roaming Santorini’s back alleys a la Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants style. And definitely not via donkey.