We have heard that Greece was one of the most interesting countries to visit... Mykonos and Santorini were on top of our bucket list. After planning the trip for almost five months and just returning from it, we can definitely confirm that it is not only interesting but intriguing, full of beauty - people and sights, rich in history and with amazing food. And we only went to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini!!! There’s is so much more to this country, where civilization as we know it had its origins.
So how do we capture in a few words and photos the vacation of a lifetime? We simply don’t... But we will try.... We thought of ways to say everything - what we did, what we saw, what we ate, where we stayed, etc... but we will lose your attention by the middle, or even before the middle of the post.
So we decided to divided at least in four posts with as much interesting information and beautiful photos as possible.
The first one - this one you are reading - will be about basic details of the trip, things you need to know, things we discovered along the way, not by research but by experiencing them. The second, everything about Athens... Then Mykonos and finally Santorini.
You can do so much research and plan your vacation and as soon as you arrive to your destination, you might probably throw your plans away and just live moment to moment and get lost in what the destination has to offer. We did just that... Not saying that all the research was a waste of time, it definitely help, and actually, we should have done more and come even more prepared. Why? Because you are never prepared for a trip to a place like this.
If you are planning to go to Greece, here are some of the things that you need to know in order to have a better plan or to not have a plan at all.
- Get in shape! Or at least walk an hour three to four times per day and try adding some climbs to your exercise routine. Trust us, there’s a lot of steps, hills and just walking, not only in Athens but in the islands as well.
- Chose your destinations and explore them with plenty of time. Greece has over 3000 islands and only 130 have people living in them. Mykonos and Santorini are the most known of course and they need to be seen. Our post are going to be more about them since we only had the chance to visit them and Athens.
- Bring plenty of cash and exchange it at the airport of your trip’s origin. The airports in Greece - as well as the banks - usually won’t give you a good exchange rate. ATM’s are rare in Athens and in Mykonos but there are many in Santorini. They usually give you a good rate when taking the currency in Euros.
- Why bring so much cash? Isn’t dangerous? Not really. You need cash since lots of restaurants and shops in Athens and Mykonos don’t accept credit cards or money orders. Santorini is more advanced in that sense.
- There’s plenty to see in Athens, Mykonos and Santorini. So be realist and don’t plan to want to see everything. Chose the things you really want to see and if you have time left, go and see what was left. Even with three nights in each place, we weren’t able to see everything on the ‘must see and do lists’ that everyone recommends.
- If you arrive in Athens and then move to the islands, don’t take the ferries if there are flights. The ferries change schedules without previous notification, they are crowded and they just take a lot of time. A ferry from Athens to Mykonos can take 4 - 5 hours, when a plane ride is only 25 minutes. We took the Super Jet, an express ferry from Mykonos to Santorini, because it was only two hours but it actually arrived late and we departed 45 minutes later -with a non advised stop in another island (Naxos) - and the total trip was 2 1/2 hours, not counting the delayed time. You won’t miss any views since you will be able to see the sights around the islands so don’t arrive at the ports just because you want to have that experience. Flights are more expensive, but having more time in each island is worth the little extra money that you will spend.
- As we mentioned in our post about planning the trip a few weeks ago, try to book everything by a local travel agency. We booked a package that included all hotels (with breakfast), transfers from airport to hotel - hotel to airport and/or port - and the local flights and the ferry to Santorini. It was the best thing we could have done. Fantasy Travel, an agency based in Athens www.fantasytravelofgreece.com took care of everything and more. They are reliable and trustworthy. If that doesn’t convince you, if you arrive in Athens, your Fantasy Travel bus will have free wifi!!!
- The package also included a guided tour of the city of Athens... This you should do on your first or second day in the city so you can see the most important sites - some of them rushed - and then you can chose to go back and explore them on your own.
Car, taxis, mottos or 4WD?
- In Athens, you don’t need to rent a car or motto or a 4 wheel drive. You can easily see the city by just walking around or taking the metro or the bus. We don’t recommend taking a taxi since they tend to get more people in the car even though you don’t the other person or are going to the same destination. So be careful about that. But honestly, we didn’t have the need to take a taxi at all.
- In Mykonos and Santorini you definitely need to have transportation. If you are alone, a motto or a 4WD will be ok but if you are two or more than two, the best thing is to have a car. Mykonos specifically has a lot of hidden hills and paths that are a little too dangerous to be in a motto. In Santorini the roads are not that good and it will take longer to get to point a to point b if you are not in a car. But be mindful about parking. Both islands have lots of free public parking but they are always full and you will need to park in the ones that are far from where you want to go. If you park in a prohibited zone (they will be marked with a red X in a blue circle sign), the police can take the license plate and you - not the rental car place - will need to pay the expensive fee to retrieve it.
To party or not to party, that is the question...
- If you like to party and are fond of crowds, go to Greece in the summer months (June, July and August). Everyone will be there, clubs will be full, streets as well and you will rub elbows and shoulders with everyone. And they will be sweaty. Summer in Greece is extremely hot.
- If you want to enjoy the sites and sights with a more relaxed vibe, go in mid May and in mid September. You will find more adults, not that many drinkers and partygoers but you will still have fun and the weather will be better. However, check the weather and dress accordingly. During those months it can be chilly and even rainy.
- Don’t plan your trip for the months of October through beginning of April since most of the hotels, restaurants and even shops and sites are closed. Mid and end of April are good times to go too but that’s when the Greek Easter takes place so some things might be closed as well due to the important holiday.
- If you are expecting sandy beaches, Mykonos and Santorini are not the places for you. The sand is more rocky than sandy, it is not soft. So if you don’t like that feeling, wear water shoes to help you enjoy the beach and not even feel the ‘sand’.
- If you want to shop know that the stores in Athens - at least in May and it September - close early, around 8pm. In summer, they stay open a little later but it all depends on the crowds. If you see something that you like, buy at the moment since you risk the store not being open when you return.
- Also, if you have read that the souvenirs are more expensive in the islands, especially Santorini, don’t believe it. We bought a few things in Athens thinking that they were going to be cheaper and it was to the contrary... We found the same items - even better ones - way cheaper in Santorini, like 3 or 4 Euros less. So shop wisely.
- The airports - in Athens and on the islands - have good souvenir prices. However, even if you buy the wine and the olive oil in the duty free shops, they won’t let you get through Greece’s TSA equivalent. So, it is better that you buy anything that is liquid and over 100ml before going to the airports so you can store everything in your bag and not have it taken away by security. Why they even sell it if you can’t take it with you? We have no idea, but the ladies at the duty free store warned us and suggested not to buy anything. And we obliged.
- Wear lots of sunscreen or sunblock even when it is not sunny. The sun in Greece is tricky and it can easily burn even when you don’t see it.
- Wear comfortable shoes, again, lots of steps, climbs, walking...
- Eat!!! Don’t be shy and thing of diets when in Greece. The food is exceptional and it is fresh... besides, with all the walking, you won’t feel bad after eating two gyros for lunch :-)