I’ve wanted to go to Greece for ten years. This summer I finally got my act together and booked a trip with one of my dearest friends, Jess. Against every written recommendation on earth, we went at the height of the “busy season” in August. However, not once did we wait in line or fight a crowd. It was amazing – the most spectacular place I’ve ever been. Can’t wait to go back!
I consulted a lot of friends before our trip and they all had the same two pieces of advice. First, Mykonos and Santorini are the only islands to visit. Second, if you can avoid Athens, do so. I took the first piece of advice, but regrettably, planned a few days in Athens. It was the hottest, dirtiest place I’ve ever been. If you’re obsessed with Greek architecture and sculpture, go for it. Stay at the Fresh Hotel and enjoy the pool and fabulous roof deck overlooking the Acropolis. Otherwise, spend your time soaking up the sun and history on the islands and skip the city altogether.
Santorini – over 3,000 years ago Santorini was destroyed by a volcano eruption that left behind a beautiful crescent-shaped island. The “cliff,” or Caldera, side of the island is the most picturesque. We stayed the largest town on the cliff, Fira, in a lovely little hotel called Nissos Thira. It only cost 85 euro a night, but was very clean and had a great little pool and air conditioning.
During our stay we had three lovely days. On the first day we wandered around the town of Fira, with amazing little shops and restaurants around every corner. We watched the sunset from an incredible little place called Franco’s, where they play classical music as the sun sets in the distance. For dinner we skipped the Caldera view and went to Mama’s House, one of the most recommended restaurants in Fira. Don’t let the English name fool you, this spot serves incredible Greek fare.
On the second day we booked a tour through Kamari, one (if not) the largest tour company on the island. For $30 euro we sailed from Fira to the Volcano in the middle of the Caldera, swam in the hot springs, sailed over to Thirrasia island where we enjoyed lunch, and then hiked the stairs to Oia where we watched the sunset.
Oia is the northern-most point of the island, best known for its spectacular sunset. After hiking more than 300 stairs in the heat, we were relieved to reach the village and desperate to jump in a pool. Lucky for us, we found an incredible place called Lioyerma. For the cost of one cocktail, they have lounge chairs, a pool and the most incredible view you’ve ever seen.
On our third (and sadly, last day) in Santorini we jumped on the public bus (very safe and air-conditioned) to the beach. We weren’t exactly sure where we were headed, but found what looked like paradise and jumped off! What we found was Perivolos, a black sand beach where you can rent two comfy beach chairs and an umbrella for 12 euros. Heaven!
If you’re up for an adventure, friends of mine also recommended Red Beach, but you cannot access it by bus. You either need to take a taxi, rent a moped or 4-wheeler. Personally, I was terrified by the drivers in Greece, so we skipped the rental. But like I said, if you’re up for an adventure, go for it!
Mykonos – For the first half of our trip I couldn’t figure out why pasta appeared on every single menu in the islands. Finally I read a little history and figured out that the Venetians controlled the islands for hundreds of years. That not only explained the pasta, but the “little Venice” section of Mykonos. Honestly, the central city on the island feels like Venice – imagine quaint narrow streets without the canals. Totally unexpected.
Mykonos is really known for two things: beautiful beaches and incredible parties. Even better – parties at the beach! My favorite was Psarou Beach. It’s easily accessible by public bus, yet considered the “celebrity beach.” There is a small public section with chair and umbrellas, as well as a great private club called Nammos where you can book a chair in advance and watch the craziness unfold throughout the day!
We also loved Paradise Beach, best known for its crazy afternoon party that starts at 5pm. Tropicana is the most famous club on the beach, and for 16 euro you can get two comfy chairs and an umbrella. Be sure to show up early, though! Prime chairs are hard to find if you arrive late and you cannot reserve a spot in advance.
After a long day at the beach we found a couple great spots in town to enjoy dinner – Niko’s Taverna and Aqua Taverna. Niko’s Taverna is a very famous restaurant just off the marina with classic Greek fare. However, our meal at Aqua was probably my favorite in all of Greece. Their linguini and clam dish was other-worldly and the view overlooking little Venice and the windmills is the best in town. Right next door was also our favorite bar, Caprice. I suggest stopping by after dinner for a couple drinks and some dancing (on the furniture!).
While we were on the island we stayed at Aeolos, a great little hotel just outside of town. It was very clean with a beautiful pool, but the hike up the hill from town was not worth the cost savings. Next time around I would stay at a hotel in the city or on the beach. Friends recommended the Belvedere Hotel or Cavo Tagoo – both look beautiful.
One last recommendation: splurge on travel expenses and avoid nasty ferry rides. The fast ferry between Santorini and Mykonos was very pleasant, but the boats between Athens and the islands were very long (and some are ridiculously crowded). If I had to do it again, I would fly directly from Athens to Santorini, ferry between the islands and then fly from Mykonos back to Athens.