The #1 advice I received before flying out to Greece was to spend the least amount of time in Athens and escape to the Greek Isles as soon as possible. Well…. I ended my trip in Greece in Athens but I couldn’t disagree with my friends more.
We arrived to Athens from Mykonos via the ferry. There is no speed ferry from Mykonos to Athens and it was a long and tiring travel. The six-hour trip was closer to eight hours because of all the stops along the way. Read about traveling around Greece further down on this page.
Athens is like any other cosmopolitan city in Europe. The history and sightseeing are a given but the cafes, restaurants, people watching, shopping…etc. should not be missed to take in this old city. Most of the sightseeing can be covered on foot and are very close to each other but the hop on hop off buses are available for those that prefer it. My friend took one of these buses on our last day to just ride around in it without hopping off (which by-the-way can be negotiated to a lower price) to make sure she saw all that there was to see. I opted to walk around and maybe see less of the out of the way famous buildings but to enjoy a walk in Athens and take in some of the street culture. Be prepared for the hot weather, a hat or umbrella will be useful and dress very very comfortable for the heat. It was almost unbearable and this was at the end of the summer.
I found Athens surprisingly clean and modern. Greece in general was a bit pricey given their economic conditions and struggles but Athens was more reasonable than the Islands.
One advise is to perhaps pay for the attractions as you get there. The option to buy a 12 ticket book to go to the Acropolis and nearby ruins and attractions and this may save you some time in some of the lines but if there is a strike, which happened to us, all these tourist attractions closed in the middle of the day and we had to basically throw away some of the tickets. They are not that costly but mind as well pay for them as you go… now we were there in end of August when tourist season is winding down, visiting in high season may require you to buy these fast track tickets – unless everyone else is buying them too. You can walk to all the attractions in one day and see it all, that is if there’s no sudden strike.
Our hotel, the Athens Gates, was centrally located and very close to all the attractions and the subway line. The hotel is in the Plaka area, which is where you should stay. That is the center of Athens and you can walk to most attractions from here. It was situated between the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis. Ancient of Agora is nearby as well.
Travel to the ferry by subway is very convenient and cheap (about 2 euros each way), subway to the airport takes about 1-1.5 hours but still convenient, although we didn’t take it to the airport. Airport taxi cost is about 35-45 euros, negotiate.
My friend suggested we take this day trip to Delphi. Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and became a major site for the worship of the god Apollo. Tour companies offered between 80-100 euros/person to take us there for the day. After research I discovered you can take the bus there for 15 euros/person round trip. Delphi is a small cute place with one street offering shopping and restaurants, which leads to one of the oldest ancient ruins. These ruins take about 1-2 hours to climb and see. There is a museum as well if you would like to visit. You could spend as little as 2 hours or longer in Delphi but the point is that it doesn’t need to be an all day trip. However the trip is 3 hours each way. I say that with a smile… as we boarded the wrong bus and managed to get lost somewhere in the middle of Greece before someone checked our ticket and told us we were on the wrong bus – 3 hours later. Getting back was an adventure. No one spoke English and there was no direct bus. The local shop owners and bus drivers with broken English and much hand signals helped us find our way to Delphi 8 hours later. We still managed to see the sights and get back to Athens by 10 pm. Making it a very long journey but we saw so much of Greece that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Granted we were exhausted and my friend did remind me that ‘this is why people take the private tours’, I still think it was an adventure.
Don’t forget to haggle in Greece, harder in some of the places like in the islands, but you should always try.
Like most people, I’m here to tell you that Santorini is amazing! Magnificent scenery. I’m not naming the hotel we stayed at because I don’t recommend it. Not much to do in Santorini, Fira (center of the island) than shop, mostly for high priced jewelry. But if you take the bus down to the beach, Kamari, you can enjoy the refreshing Mediterranean sea and all its beauty. Take a bus (buses are very cheap and convenient) to Oai and watch one of the most beautiful and unforgettable sunsets.
I didn’t take a donkey ride, but if you arrive on one of the tour ships, there are donkeys available as transportation up to the hill to Fira from the docking station (picture on the bottom). I think there are also lift stations but didn’t see many people opting for those.
Try the cactus drink but expect to pay about 10 euros for it. See picture below.
Oia is the more upscale area of the island and probably the more romantic, where Fira had more of a mix of travelers and tourists. It is packed in the evenings around sunset to see one of the most famous sunsets in the world. Lovers want to kiss in front of it, photographers try to capture its beauty, and others just want to say they saw it. It is amazing! But get there early. Masses will be arriving and trying to get as close to the wall as possible.
Our resort was a bit out of the way in Mykonos. So traveling to the center of the island was a bit tough but we were only there for a day. We stayed at the Santa Marina Resort and Villas. Loved the resort, the beach but it was not near the city center and not convenient to get around. The hotel offered a shuttle to the city center; however, the last shuttle coming back to the hotel is at 11 pm, not ideal if you want to enjoy the night life in Mykonos. Finding a cab at night is extremely difficult and very expensive. We had to go to a hotel and ask them to call a cab for us. We were told none available and to just sit and wait. 45 mins later, we were able to share a cab with another couple but there wasn’t much room for bargaining or a fair price that time of the night and without other options. Many tourists in Mykonos rent cars, mopeds, etc if they are renting houses or staying in the outskirts of the island. Choose wisely as driving those mopeds at night is dangerous.
I didn’t find much to brag about in Mykonos, but it was a pretty island with nice beaches. Nothing like the beauty of Santorini. I also didn’t participate in the night life but could see the island filled with lots of younger tourists and yes, a heavy concentration of a homosexual visitors that Mykonos is famous and known to have as where in Santorini, I saw more honeymooners and families.
Traveling between islands and to/from Athens
If going/coming from Athens to Santorini, fly. It’s a 45 min flight as opposed to six-hour ferry. Island hop with the ferry from Santorini. It takes about three hours to Mykonos with other islands along the way. Be sure to buy a ticket with an assigned seat on the ferries, this is not always obvious. It’s only about $7 more to get an assigned seat, especially if taking the ferry from Mykonos to Athens, which is about a 6-8 hour ferry ride and people rush in and occupy any general seating in the cafeteria, etc. and after the first two island stops, there will be no where to sit except on the floor. We found this the hard way but were able to upgrade our tickets on the ferry after a couple of stops before it became fully booked. You can buy tickets online or at the station. I actually don’t recall the specific site I used but here are a few suggestions. We took the ferry from Mykonos to Athens because the flight times were not that convenient for our tight schedule, but if you can avoid the long ferry ride to/from Athens do so. There is no speed ferry back to Athens because they make so many stops.
One of the countries I would and will go back to. Not much shopping in Greece but the food is great and omg the tomatoes are amazing. LOL. I had forgotten what tomatoes really taste like or rather should taste like. The good thing is that tomatoes are included in almost every meal there, even at the hotel breakfast buffets. :) I would certainly go back to Greece, especially to the islands but perhaps spend more time enjoying the beaches of Santorini and other islands that I didn’t get a chance to visit. If Greece is in your future plans, you will not be disappointed.
Here area a few more pix. Write me if you have any questions and I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading and happy travels!