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So, you’re planning on traveling to Greece, but what places should you visit and what should you do? Greece is such a dreamy destination. It’s on so many bucket lists! And for good reason, so much of the landscape, people & cuisine is unforgettable. Through my travels, it’s one destination that I definitely want to return to sooner rather than later! With budgeting PTO (paid time off), and balancing a career my first time I visited Greece I hit the highlights. I really had to cut down the amount of places I wanted to see when planning this trip. Traveling to these destinations within Greece will definitely make for a great trip. The only thing I can’t promise is that you won’t want to return after visiting once.
Places to visit in Greece: Mainland
Athens is one of the more popular destinations on mainland Greece. There is so much history to see & there is a large international airport making it a logical first or last stop during your trip.
*One bit of advice, be weary of pick pocketing in Athens! My husband and I are very aware travelers and in Athens we almost got pick pocketed two times! The first time was on the train into Athens. It was a classic move where there were two people working together. We had all of our luggage and the woman tried to separate me from my husband so I wouldn’t realize what was happening. Well, the train jolted and he felt the man’s hand in his pocket. (Luckily, I had most of the important documents and cards on me!) We were both really glad we weren’t actually successfully pick pocketed. Honestly, we were more mad that we had let our guard down being jet lagged and so pumped to finally be in Greece!
During our time in Greece, we spent three days in Athens but we could have done everything we planned in less time. I’d recommend spending about two days there if you really want to see the highlights. You also could spend a day at the beginning and end of your trip if you’re flying in and out of Athens.
How to get to Athens
Athens has an International Airport with flights arriving daily from Europe and beyond. So, it makes sense to include Athens in your places to visit in Greece (either before or after hitting up some islands.) If you’ve never been to Greece, Athens is a city I would be sure to visit.
To get into Athens from the airport, we took the metro, but if you’re concerned about this happening, another option would be to book a private transfer.
Where to stay in Athens
There are many different neighborhoods to stay within Athens. It depends on what you plan to do while you’re there and what type of experience you want to have. Many hotels boast beautiful views of the Acropolis.
We stayed in Exarchia, which can be one of the more sketchy areas of Athens especially late at night. We were never really out late though and we never felt unsafe. Athens wasn’t a location during this trip that we splurged on our stay. It was comfortable and served us well during our time there.
Things to do in Athens
Archaeological sites: Acropolis, Parthenon, Ancient Angora, Hadrian’s Arch & Temple of Olympian Zeus
It took us a better part of a day to explore the Acropolis, Parthenon, Ancient Angora, Hadrian’s Arch & Temple of Olympian Zeus. In retrospect, having a tour lead by a historian/archaeologist wouldn’t have been a bad thing to get additional context on all of the historic sights, but we did have an audio tour. The audio tour gave us context but also allowed us to explore at our own pace. If you’re planning on visiting all of the archaeological sites, a skip the line combined ticket would be a great option for you! These are some of the best places to visit while you’re in Greece.
One thing I really wish we would have made the time for is the Acropolis museum. Personally, I really enjoy historic/artifact museums over art museums. The café and restaurant of the Acropolis Museum can actually be visited without a museum entry ticket. It is worth a stop as it has glass windows and a large area with a great view of the Acropolis. It is the perfect location for a photo op.
Walk the Grand Promenade (the pedestrian walkway around the Acropolis)
This walkway was built in 2004 prior to the Olympics being held in Athens. There are many cafes and restaurants in this area, some with amazing views of the Acropolis.
The second time we were almost pick pocketed was when we were walking the Grand Promenade. My husband was carrying a backpack and I noticed a man following him really close even though the crowds weren’t thick. After I realized this, I quietly signaled to him to switch sides with me and that I would stand behind him and block the backpack and poof! *magically* the pick pocketer was gone. Definitely keep your wits about you, be aware & keep your possessions close!
Lycabettus Hill (or Mount Lycabettus)
The highest spot in Athens. It sits 277 meters above sea level so it’s definitely worth climbing for an amazing view. It’s not overly difficult, but it is considerably steep! Depending on how fast you walk and your level of fitness it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to climb up. There is a funicular (railway) that you can also take to the top. However, it’s enclosed within a tunnel so if you choose to do this you won’t have any of the views on the way up or down so keep that in mind!
The path to walk up the hill starts at the end of Aristippou Street. The funicular leaves from the corner of Ploutarhiou and Aristippou Streets every 30 minutes. So plan accordingly! Once you reach the top, there is a church with a viewing platform. There you can find sprawling views out over Athens to the coastline. I feel like this is such an underrated thing to do while visiting Athens. It was one of the best places to visit in Greece to have a birds eye view.
Lycabettus Hill Restaurant
For a romantic evening, you could plan to go up by way of the funicular, see the sunset then make a dinner reservation at the fancy restaurant located at the top. You dine al fresco on the terrace while looking out at the beautiful view over Athens.
Olympic Stadium (Panatheniac Stadium)
This stadium has a lot of history and was really interesting as a quick visit. The Panatheniac Stadium has hosted many athletes in its time. Added bonus, it’s a walkable distance from the Acropolis and other sights.
Most of the street art we saw was located in Exarchia. A way to explore and get some history surrounding the street art would be through a street art tour. Most of the murals for us were completely random just based on wandering the streets.
Eat & drink
I’ll admit, at this time I wasn’t as planned out looking up restaurants in advance of trips. Our eating & drinking was a lot more off the cuff. I do remember really enjoying our first meal there consisted of amazing grilled meat skewers and some of the best tzatziki we had our entire trip.
Many restaurants, after your meal will give you a small glass of Mastika. I found that I really enjoyed this traditional liqueur more than ouzo. But, to be fair I think I would have enjoyed the ouzo a little more if I had watered it down a little or added ice. The more you know, right?
One beer I really enjoyed while in Athens was Fix dark (a dark lager.) I didn’t care for the regular Fix and not many places carried Fix dark. But I was able to get my fix (get it?!) while I was in Athens.
Places to visit in Greece: The Greek Islands
I remember when planning my trip, it was so hard to decide what islands to visit! I can easily say now that the best places to visit hands down were the islands of Greece. Most of the Greek islands are all over the eastern part of the Mediterranean, most of which are in the Aegean sea. I wanted to see them all! But, due to time I had available we decided to skip Crete. (It’s large & it’s one of the farthest islands to travel to from Athens.) You could spend a whole week just on Crete alone! We traveled to two of the most well known islands, Mykonos & Santorini as well as a smaller less popular island, Naxos.
The best way to travel between islands and from Athens to your first island is via ferry. But, depending on when you’re planning to visit the availability and frequency of ferry routes will be different. We visited at the end of May into the beginning of June and the weather was warm and perfect. When we visit again it will probably be in April to May or even September.
All of the Greek Islands we visited are considered the Cyclades and closer in proximity to Athens. (Which makes sense for a lot of people since we flew in and out of Athens to get to Greece and return home to the USA.)
How to get to Naxos
Naxos was the first island we visited after leaving Athens by way of the port of Piraeus. It was an early morning ferry ran by SeaJets and it took about 3 1/2 hours to get to Naxos. Because of how relaxing this island was, it is definitely a great place to visit in Greece.
Things to do in Naxos
Our main reason for visiting Naxos was to go diving otherwise it wouldn’t have been on my radar at all. We dove with Blue fin divers in Agios Prokopios which was relatively close to the ferry port. Because of this, we stayed in Agios Prokopios.
I wish we had stayed longer, but we were really only in Naxos a day and an overnight and I really regret not spending more time on this island. Our accommodation was so reasonable and there were considerably less people it was such a relaxing location. I would definitely stay there again!
Eat & drink
Our time on Naxos was limited, but we enjoyed some beers around the pool after diving while staying at Agios Prokopios hotel. By recommendation of the hotel owners, we ate at a nearby hotel Naxos Island Hotel that had a rooftop Taverna restaurant. We were there during sunset and it was such a great view. I just remember looking out over the ocean thinking this is what life is all about. (It was just one of those amazing moments in time that you wish you could just freeze and stay in forever.)
How to get to Mykonos
We visited Mykonos second, which actually wasn’t a super efficient use of time since Mykonos is actually closer to Athens than Naxos. But, I had booked our accommodations for Mykonos (with the private pool) and made a guess as to the days, which was a gamble. So, that’s what I get for not properly roughly mapping it out before just doing a hip shot and booking the random dates in the range of our trip. It just resulted in a little more ferry time, which was a really enjoyable experience so I wasn’t too upset about it. But, you definitely can plan better logistics than the order we visited the islands.
Mykonos was smack dab in the middle of our trip. During the day, we chilled a lot at our villa and it was absolutely perfect! We had one of the private pool rooms at Mykonos No5 and it was amazing there day or night. During the day we lounged getting some vitamin D and reading books drinking wine and having snacks. Then every night we’d get a ride into town and have dinner, walk around, buy some provisions for the next day. It was seriously such a nice relaxing pause in the middle of our trip. So many of our trips are so packed with things to do and see it was a great change of pace!
But honestly, it helped when the view was this gorgeous across the bay looking into Mykonos. During the night there were lit up ships and the downtown Mykonos lights glittering off the water. So really, whether you stay at a chill place outside of Mykonos town or really take advantage of Mykonos’ nightlife, its a beautiful place to visit in Greece.
Things to do on Mykonos
Mykonos is known for the destination in Greece for nightlife. Beach bars, beach parties & clubs are what you can expect in Mykonos. If you like to have an evening out but prefer a more chill vibe, the area of Little Venice within Mykonos town is where you should head!
The Windmills of Mykonos
You should definitely get up close and personal with the windmills for an iconic photo op. I would go in the evening. Then you can head to the Veranda Bar for a cocktail and have another view of the windmills, although at a farther distance.
Mykonos is well known for its gorgeous beaches. Ornos Beach has beach chairs for rent and bars nearby. The bay where the beach is located is approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) from Mykonos Town. If you do decide to drive or you have a car, there is free parking around the bay. Be sure to get there early in you want parking! You could walk to the bay from Mykonos Town, or use the regular bus service that runs to the beach. If you plan to use the bus, plan ahead so you know the timetable information.
Day trip from Mykonos
Take a day trip to the ruins on nearby island of Delos. Visiting Delos, there are options to book a half day tour with an archaeologist to guide your visit to the ruins. Another great option, is taking a day tour that’s a combination of visiting the ruins & spending time on the sun soaked Aegean waters aboard a yacht.
Eat & drink
Captains was definitely our favorite spot in Mykonos! We went there at the beginning of our time and then went back again because we enjoyed it so much. They had a great craft beer selection and we really enjoyed the sharable grilled meat platter. Plus, we could eat on the patio with the gorgeous view.
I honestly don’t even remember the other places we ate because we loved Captains so much! We also didn’t explore as much during our time on Mykonos, every night after dinner we would go to the store to stock up on pool snacks for the next day and bottles of wine. It really was a chill time in the middle of our trip to soak up some sun, lay by the pool, rest, read a book, and stare out over the Aegean and into the town of Mykonos.
The ultimate place to go in Greece is definitely the island of Santorini. When you think of Greece, you most likely picture the stunning dramatic cliffs of whitewashed domed houses with blue rooftops which is the island of Santorini. More specifically, this is the town of Oia (pronounced EE-uh). It is the most expensive place to stay on Santorini, but the views and sunsets are like none other! We stayed right in Oia, and while it was great that we had a balcony and private terrace it was also really busy & for the cost it was literally just a cave.
It was a unique experience but I would have gladly stayed elsewhere on the island, spent the same amount of money and had a private pool. So, it really depends whats the most important to you while visiting.
If you’re a more budget conscious traveler, staying in Thira/Fira is just a short bus ride away and much more cost effective. But really getting around on the island isn’t hard so no matter where you stay it will leave a lasting impression on you. Santorini is one of the top places to visit in Greece. Staying on the island vs. seeing it just on a cruise ship is two completely different experiences.
How to get to Santorini
Santorini has an airport, but if you’re planning on visiting other islands typically arriving by ferry is your best bet. You will arrive into Athinios Ferry Port which is south of Fira on the west side of the island. Depending on where you’re staying, check with them to see if they will offer transportation to your accommodation.
Much of Oia is cobblestone pedestrian streets so, it can be confusing if you’re trying to navigate and not familiar with the area. I remember being so confused as they dropped us off in what seemed like an alleyway, came back and got our bags and we had to walk a considerable distance to check in then again had to walk across cobblestone and steps to get to where we were actually staying. If you wanted a cue to pack lightly and only one rolling piece of luggage, it’s right here!
Things to do on Santorini
Hike Oia to Fira (or vice versa)
Make sure you set out early, put on a lot of sunscreen & bring a considerable amount of water. All of those practical things aside, it truly is one of the most beautiful hikes you will ever take. It’s just over 6 miles (10 km) long. The whitewashed villages and stunning views along the volcanic caldera make this a truly epic experience. Typically, depending on how fast you walk and how many stops you take for photo ops it will take between 3-4 hours to complete the hike.
The trail is relatively well marked, although I will admit that we got a little confused a few times. But, you could always go on an organized tour to guide you as well.
Once we made it to Thira, we treated ourselves with Gyros and some beers which were well deserved! After that, we hopped on the bus back to Oia.
Ammoudi Bay is easily accessible from the town of Oia by walking down the 278ish steps to reach the bottom where the bay is in 15-20 minutes. If you keep walking along the bay there is a trail (over some rocks) that leads to Ammoudi beach. The biggest draw in Ammoudi Bay is all of the fresh seafood restaurants. Literally, they catch it and bring it in to be prepared the same day at many of these places.
Boat trip to Thirassia
We decided literally the day before that we were going to take a day trip to Thirassia. It was so worth it! Swimming in the hot springs, getting to explore Thirassia and we went down a fun cable car to initially get to the boat in Fira.
Rent a four wheeler & drive around the island
This was another thing we randomly decided to do. We did a loop around and explored the black sand beach. Many different companies offer this, but we rented through Jimmy’s.
Eat & drink
One of my favorite experiences from our whole trip was a wine tour. It was a small tour with my husband and another couple. It was so personable and the tour operator drove us to three different wineries. There are other options for wine tours including this one.
We visited Vassaltis vineyards, which had a stunning modern space and we had a tour of how the wine grew, the aging process and then sampled this unique wine.
The second stop during the tour was Estate Argyros. The tasting room was somewhat small, but their Vinsanto wine was amazing! We purchased a bottle while there and opened it to enjoy on a special occassion.
The last stop was Venetsanos winery which had an amazing outdoor terrace area that has a stunning view out over the caldera. This would be an absolutely amazing place to be at sunset. While we were there, we looked out while we enjoyed our wine and charcueterie to see cruise ships in the serene water.
The best part of the tour was we passed the Santorini Brewing Company and made a comment about it so we ended up stopping quick for a beer during our wine tour. If you know me, typically all of my trips have a brewery, beer/or wine tasting element to them even if it’s just getting some amazing craft cocktails with a meal. Here are some other amazing beer experiences we’ve had during our travels in Europe.
I definitely want to return to Greece, it’s at number 1 to 2 on my “countries to return to” list. Even though I already have a list of the islands I’d like to explore next time, I could see myself returning to some of the above mentioned best places in Greece to visit.