Many of you have seen photos of Greece on postcards and added it to your bucket list. I am here to tell you that it is just as stunning in person. It should get moved up to the top of your bucket list! Over the course of two different three month Greece stays I have managed to make my way to eight of the Greek islands. The boys have now been to three islands; Crete, Santorini and Evia. The thing about Greek islands is that they are all COMPLETELY different. In order to prioritize a vacation you need to know what kind of tourist you are.
is the postcard island. It is stunning, but it is expensive. You can achieve Santorini on a budget, but if you need constant entertainment it is not the island for you. If you LOVE museums and cannot sit still on a beach go to Crete or Rhodes!
Santorini is picturesque Greece. A must do on the Greece bucket list. If you choose to venture to Santorini you will benefit greatly from renting a car, or a four wheeler, if you are two or fewer people. It is cheaper to rent in the port area rather than once you’re on top of the island, but rentals are everywhere. In the off season October to May you can get a car for as low as 20 Euros per day. The island is very easy to drive on, but there are wonderful beaches; like the red beach, which is accessed only by car or on foot.
Must do’s on Santorini:
- Akrotiri (ancient ruins of the civilization destroyed by the volcano)
- Red beach (just down the road from Akrotiri)
- Perissa beach, also known as the black beach is a wonderful afternoon in the making. Lazy cafes and lingering yachts.
- Oia sunset. It is a crowded tourist heavy ordeal, but it is worth it.Walk the white washed streets, have a drink among the wealthy and enjoy.
- If you enjoy a hot sweaty hike, take a day cruise out to the volcano. It is a fast and rather rushed tour, but the views are spectacular and the eerie feeling of standing on an active volcano that brought an ancient civilization to dust is unimaginable.
Exploring Crete: Crete will get its own longer post, but when trying to decide what island to see it is a must. Mostly because the history and culture are so separated from the rest of Greece. The Minoan civilization flourished during pre-palatial Greece and the culture that the Mycenaen Greeks found on the island of Greece influenced everything we know of Greece today. The first language was created and discovered on Crete. Linear B, which would later become Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, English and all of the other romance languages. The social structures of the Minoan population would later become the democracy of Greece and the judicial system that our own country uses. To walk those paths is incredible. Crete also has a very different food palate. They use a lot of snail, seafood and pork. They have some famous Greek dishes like Mousaka, souvlaki, etc but not every restaurant is selling these things unlike the rest of Greece. You can access all of the must see locations by bus, but honestly I would rent a car over and over again. If you have time to take days off from site seeing to enjoy different cafes then do, but if not you can fit the most important must sees into a week of constantly going.
- The Palace of Knossos and the Archaeology Museum, which is located in Heraklion Old Town.
- Rocca la mare, the Venetian fort in Heraklion. Very inexpensive 2 euros. Pack a lunch and go explore.
- Lake Kournas, stunning green lake that neighbors the sea and the surrounding restaurants have wonderful food and views. Accessing by car is best.
- If you are a lover of unique beaches then head towards the western side of Crete where you will find the beach and archaeology site of Elafonisi. A MUST SEE.
- Balos is also another famous beach that is along the national highway between Heraklion and Chania.
- Old Town and Harbor of Rethymnon, beautiful and novel inspiring. Wander the streets and eat the gelato.
- Old Town and Harbor of Chania. Chania is unique in and of itself because there are many UK expats there. There is also a naval base so there is a lot of English spoken and it is a unique blend of tradition and modern expectations.
A beautiful island painted in postcard colors of blue and white. Home to many windmills and wonderful photo-ops. You can get lost here for days wandering through winding alleys and white washed streets, BUT you do not need to go here. I said it. It is beautiful, but it is lacking in culture and history. The whole island is a tourist hub. No museums, no ancient culture, the windmills are the last standing thing that indicates any culture at all and even those have been turned into rooms to rent for tourists at $400 per night. If you have to choose between Mykonos and Santorini for a post card destination choose Santorini. If you have loads of time and money do both, but Santorini is by far a better choice on the unique-ness scale with lava rock beaches and archaeology sites versus poor money making Mykonos.
I know, it’s beautiful right?? Well this is it. Worth seeing, yes of course, but you can see this by taking the ferry there as a connection to another destination. Spend an afternoon eating right here next to the windmills and call it good.
This island has my whole heart. I even named a child after it. Talk about living and walking amongst history. The entirety of old town Rhodes is surrounded by castle walls. The knights Hospitaler in the order of Saint John built the Castle. It’s primary purpose was to act as a hospital, but now it is littered with elegant shops, painters, cafes and museums. For history lovers, Rhodes the the place to go. Not exceptionally expensive for frugal travelers, but expensive to get there as Rhodes is Greece’s most Eastern island and only a 45 minute ferry ride from Turkey (Very easy way to access the country of Turkey if your plans take you there, which they should because Turkey is amazing as well).
Must sees in Rhodes:
- The Castle of the Grand Master: During the crusades the island was ruled by the knights of Saint John and they built all the fortifications that you can visibly see. Rhodes has had a tumultuous past being constantly under the rule of someone other than their own people. Between Romans, Turks, Crusaders; the history is vast and well documented, which helps the unknowing visitors tremendously.
- The Acropolis of Rhodes, lovely example of Classical Greek Engineering.
- The old harbor where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood. The Colossus was one of the original seven wonders of the ancient world. Enjoy the local architecture, heavily influenced by byzantine rule.
- Prasonisi, one of the more famous beaches of Rhodes. A hot spot for water sports enthusiasts .
If you are just wanting a quick day trip out of Athens, Evia island and the town of Chalkida are exactly what you need. A quick one hour train ride from Larissa station in Athens and you are dropped off in the heart of Chalkida harbor. Spend the day or the night enjoying the views and local food before hopping back on the train. The train leaves every two hours towards Athens.
Greek island hopping is a very simple thing to do via ferry from May onward. All of these locations, with the exception of Evia, have airports as well with inexpensive flights to and from the main land. If you are completely against driving in Greece you can still enjoy your stay and get around with buses and taxis, but you lose the option to stop for the best photo ops and views along the way. There are hundreds of Greek islands to explore, I also advise you to spend some time exploring the Peloponnese region of the mainland.
If you do in fact move forward with travel plans to this beautiful and rich country please let me know. The kids and I may be criss-crossing your path and we would love to show you around.