I’m traveling to Greece for the first time, and I’m so fortunate to be staying for about 9 weeks (peak season, unfortunately, I’m an educator and it’s summer!). I have ample time planned in Athens, and the Peloponnese (with rental car). Here’s where I need some help and suggestions. I have 5 weeks saved for the islands and I’m still trying to figure out how to spend them. I’m not sure if I’d like to cover just a few islands and soak them in a bit deeper with longer stays…or to travel at a quicker pace covering several islands in each main area (the Cyclades, Ionians, Crete-Rhodes Dodecanese, Eastern Islands) I’m an easy traveler and enjoy diversity. I crave spending time with locals and interacting with families – home stays at times, I enjoy the water and I’m an avid diver, I like hiking and exploring. Also, want to perhaps relax a bit – food/wine tasting welcomed). I’m excited about the trip and my ideas are racing all over. Do you have some ideas and suggestions to share? A rough sketch itinerary for Greece? Thanks so much!
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Yachts moor in the deep, sheltered harbour of Vathy, or Kioni, a miniature port where you’ll find Spavento, the perfect pier-side café-bar. Go any time of day or night for ice-cream sundaes, excellent cocktails, and a soundtrack to make your heart sing. Ideal for low-key family holidays or retreats, rugged little Ithaca is somewhere you can still disappear.
If you're wondering why this bountiful island (a two-hour ferry ride from Athens) isn't inundated with tourists, it's because the local ship-owners prefer to keep it quiet. They fraternise in country estates and neoclassical mansions in Hora. Floating on a slender peninsula, the stately capital is sprinkled with old-fashioned patisseries (Laskaris sells wonderful lemon-blossom preserves) and stylish boutiques (Waikiki Andros has gorgeous embroidered tunics and studded sandals). There's even a Museum of Contemporary Art, where the line-up might feature Man Ray or Miró.
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Where to stay in Santorini: Trendier pretenders come and go, but Perivolas is still the most stylish and peaceful place to stay. If you have cash to splash, and can’t stand the crowds, take over Perivolas Hideaway, a waterfront villa on Santorini’s undiscovered offshoot, Thirassia, or Erosantorini, a stunning clifftop estate with a tiered pool plunging 1000 feet to the sea.
Panama is an underrated destination in Central America, including the San Blas Islands. This is a popular spot for sailing and boat tours, though there are also some resorts in case you’re looking for a more luxurious stay. Generally, the islands are quite rustic and make for a great off-the-grid island getaway. There are tons of beautiful spots for good sailing, diving, and snorkeling.
Have just discovered your blog today and love it! I am a student from NZ and want to travel to somewhere fantastic next year for a few weeks to get away from the hussle and bussle of study and work. Originally thought Thailand would be fantastic, and I see you agree with me here so great! But I also did not realise Bali was also so cheap. For a first trip overseas for a poor student (apart from Aus), where would you recommend? Bali or Thailand?
Where to stay in Mykonos: Pale and interesting, Bill & Coo Coast on Agios Ioannis beach has dusky views across to Delos. Santa Marina resort tumbles down a private peninsula with a full-blown spa, a secret sandy beach, and a Riva to whisk you off to Nammos or Scorpios, if you can peel yourself off your canopied sunbed. If you prefer to be in the thick of it, The Belvedere is the gold standard in Chora, the glittering port capital.
Despite Zlarin’s small size and relative obscurity, it is certainly an island with dazzling beauty. It is known locally as the ‘Golden Island,’ because it’s really that eye-wateringly gorgeous! This small island is just off the mainland, separated by the Sibenik Channel and is mostly famous for its history of coral harvesting; there is even a Coral Museum where you can learn more about it.
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In 2016, Stiniva beach on the island of Vis was named the best beach in Europe. One of the top beaches in Croatia, Stiniva is well hidden from the sea and not the easiest beach to access. It’s either a hike down to the beach or access by small boat, but a spectacular view will reward you for your effort. Although Vis has never really had large tourists numbers, it has become a popular stop for those sailing the Croatian islands.
Those are 3 great islands. Corfu is much more green than Crete and Santorini and does have a different feel (more Italian but it’s no where near Turkey). The trouble with doing all 3 is that Corfu is on the opposite side of Greece from Crete and Santorini so you’d need to fly via Athens. It’s better for most people to visit another Cycladic island (Naxos, Paros, Milos, Folegandros) instead of splitting up their trip between the two sides of the country.
Another South Pacific island group (see a pattern here?), the Cook Islands are pretty far off the map. OK, not too far, but they are considerably less visited than some of their neighbors. These tiny islands are named after James Cook, the intrepid man who discovered them. With few amenities, this is the best place to find your inner castaway and escape modern life. The islands see similar weather to the rest of the area, with temperatures hot and humid all year round.
Folegandros – which means ‘iron hard’ in ancient Greek – is as barren as its name suggests. Fruit trees are protected from fierce winds by rings of stones. You won’t find sandy beaches lined with sunbeds; only limpid, pebbly coves, such as Katergo, Ambeli and Livadaki. Water taxis service some beaches in high season; otherwise you’ll have to scramble down rocky footpaths to cool off. On your way home, stop at Synantisi in Ano Meria for the island speciality of matsata (goat or rabbit stew with hand-made pasta).
Located just off the coast of Western Sahara in Africa, the Canary Islands are actually a Spanish archipelago and therefore owned by Spain. There are 7 main islands in the Canaries, with each offering something different for the intrepid traveler looking to kick back and enjoy island life. Tenerife is the largest of the islands and has a bit of everything, including one of the largest Carnival festivals in the world each February.
Hi Dave. Thank you for your amazing website! We (30’s / 40’s couple – no kids) used your recommendations last year in September and visited Santorini (7days), Milos (3days) and Crete (12days) before spending 3 days in Athens. The trip was amazing and Greece is calling us to go back again this year! We have a conundrum which we are hoping you can assist (well, many of them really!)
Where to stay in Cephalonia: Overlooking Fiskardo, Emelisse is a resort hotel with a great little Elemis spa. For mind-blowing views and ultra-chic interiors, check into Villa Althea, available through Beyond Spaces. . Blissfully isolated, Fiskardo Cottages are a pair of stone houses brimming with art and antiques. Footpaths through the woods lead to quiet bays. For fancier villas, try Five Star Greece.
Can you see all the major sights in Athens in one day? No. But you can see the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, and the top historical sites of the Plaka in one day. If you had an extra half-day then visit the Archaeological Museum in Exarcheia. That still leaves many great sights but you will have seen all of the iconic Athens attractions. Adding Naxos is always a good idea. You might even enjoy it more than Mykonos (but no nightlife like Mykonos).
Blaca Hermitage in the south of the island is a must-visit, as well as Vidova Gora Mountain, which is the highest peak on the island, offering you stunning views across the Adriatic and to neighboring islands on a clear day. Brač is also where you’ll find the famous Zlatni Rat Beach, one of the absolute best Croatia beaches (and even in all of Europe) and a wonderful place to spend a day. This all makes Brač one of the best islands near Split, a perfect day trip from Croatia’s second-largest city.
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Excellent choice of islands, though getting between them presents one or two challenges (they are not as conveniently connected like the Cycladic or Dodecanese islands so island hopping is not as popular in this island group). All three islands are served by airports with year-round connections to Athens and in the Summer with international charter flights from Europe. Let’s take the pros and cons of each island.
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Hi dave – very cool and informative site! We’re a family of 6 (all adults) traveling to Greece for the first time…and most likely the last time. We’d like to visit some historic sites, but more interested in experiencing Greek life in small towns. Beaches and nightlife are not important. I’m looking to put together a balanced itinerary covering 10 days (11 nights) and had the following in mind:
The Island of Hawaii (i.e., the Big Island) contains 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones — the only spot on the planet with so many condensed into one small region. Lush tropical terrain rules the green, wet, windward side of the island (see Akaka Falls and Waianuenue/Rainbow Falls), while more arid beauty is on display at Hapuna Beach Park. You can even enter an ice climate at the mystical summit of Mauna Kea volcano, as well as Lake Waiau, one of the highest lakes in the United States.
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Aside from coral, there is a lot of history in Zlarin, dating back to the 13th century. If however, you’re more about beaches and beauty, then Zlarin has it covered, and then some! The long sandy beach is ideal for families who want to run free and explore, and the green background gives you that ‘castaway’ feel. You won’t find a lot of hotels on the island, though. Instead, there is wonderful private accommodation, which helps you get that home-away-from-home vibe to your break.
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With its pastel villages, rolling olive groves and grand manor houses, the rest of the island recalls Tuscany - but with far better beaches. The smart set stay on Corfu's north-east coast (nicknamed Kensington-on-Sea) where the Rothschilds like to unwind. It's wall-to-wall Sloanes and speedboats at Agni, a tiny fishing village with three rival tavernas (Toula's is the best). From here, you can rent a boat and putter to your own cove: perhaps Nissaki, Agios Stefanos or Kerasia. These idyllic bays still resemble the 'delectable landscape' that Lawrence Durrell fell for in the 1930s — now back in vogue thanks to the ITV series, The Durrells. Or venture inland to Ambelonas, an enchanting winery, restaurant and cooking school that specialises in Corfiot dishes, such as squid with chickpea and turmeric mousse and rose petal jelly. Steer clear of the south, especially Kavos. Unless you happen to like wet T-shirt contests.
While you will need a respectable budget, if you give Bermuda a chance you’ll find an island home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of North America and the Caribbean. The locals are incredibly friendly people and you can find some world-class food here too. To keep you busy, there is tons of snorkeling, some caves to explore, lots of hiking, and tons more!
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You seem to have your heart set on Zakynthos but I have to say it’s not a good use of time for a sort-of overrated payoff. Your time is much better spent (in my opinion) seeing another Greek island in the cyclades (maybe taking a ferry to Naxos or Paros sitting outside on the deck drinking a bottle of wine) rather than taking a bus and connecting flights. Zakynthos and Santorini/Mykonos are on opposite sides of the country and the only way from one to the other is by flying (or some combination of bus and ferry). So, my recommendation is to consider spending those Zakynthos days in Naxos, Paros, Milos, or some other Cycladic island.
It’s best to visit Greek islands within the same group. For example, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Corfu and Santorini on the same trip as they’re on opposite sides of the country. Instead, visit islands in the same island group: the Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese, the Ionian, the Saronic, and the Northeastern Aegean. For one, they’re close to each other. And two, they have frequent ferry connections with each other. For first time visitors to Greece, the Cyclades make the most natural and convenient introduction.