You’ve decided to travel to the Greek Islands for the first tine and are naturally quite excited about it. But you don’t know what to expect when you get there or really even how to plan your vacation.
Not to worry. I’ve been to the Greek Island so many times I consider myself an honorary Greek. Here are several important things first-time travelers to the Greek Islands need to know well before packing. In fact, youse these facts to help plan your trip.
Know Before Your Go Greek Islands Information
Don’t spend your valuable Greek Islands vacation time in Athens. Okay, go for a day, get a room – I recommend by the port of Pyreas rather than an overpriced chain hotel by near the Acropolis – and then get on a ship to the islands.
My recommended islands to visit are, in this order: Mykonos, Ios and Santorini. You’ll need at least two weeks to “do the Greek Islands right.” If you are not flying back to Athens from Santorini, then take the ferry back and stop off for a couple more days in Mykonos. I am not a fan of sleepy Paros nor Naxos, which are on the ferry route.
In Greece, there is no Santorini. You won’t see it on any signs or in any travel agencies. It’s Thira, the original name of the island.
Travel by ferry between the islands. And only use the “big boats” as they call them, not the faster (and miserable) high-speed dolphin boats. I highly recommend booking the ferry in advance only once, from Athens to your first destination. You can do this o go-ferry.com and Ferryhopper.
Except for your first night, you don’t need to book a room in advance. When you exit the ferry, each island has a line of locals holding up “Rooms For Let” signs. The places are clean so no need to worry there; just ask where it is located, emphasize you want to stay in the town center, and negotiate a price. Commit to staying two days; you can always extend it if you like the place and the island.
The word for cheers is yiamas and yassou means “to your health,” which can also be used as a hello or goodbye.
If you are going straight to your from the airport to a ferry, use the train put in for the Summer Olympics; it goes right there. If you are one to take a shared ride service or taxi be sure and say you want to go “to the ships” (Piraeus) rather than the port because, as I learned firsthand, you may wind up at the domestic airport terminal instead of the ferry dock. “Oh you mean the ships!,” my driver said to me.
Of critical importance is to learn your way through the towns on the island when you first arrive there. The towns are are built in a maze with streets running into other streets and no main street that goes from one side to the other. It’s easy to get lost and have no idea how to get back to your hotel.
Don’t drink ouzo. Not even the Greeks drink it. If you must try it, mix it 50/50 with water.
Where To Stay In Athens
While your instinct – and others in your group – will likely want to stay in the city of Athens and near the Acropolis, I suggest otherwise. Athens is hot and exhausting. It is filled with unattractive high-rises with a few ruins here and there. The area around the Acropolis, the Plaka, is all tourists who are trying to figure out which high-priced taverna to have dinner at while loud-speaking hosts try to lure you into their establishment.
I recommend staying instead around the port of Piraeus, which is where the cruse ships depart. A short 15-minute or so walk from there is a harbor, around which are nice restaurants and bars. This is a much more relaxed scene than at Plaka and around the Acropolis, which you can always visit in the daytime. There’s a beach on either side of the harbor, as well, Beach Fretida and Votsakia Beach. Hotels here are half the cost of what they are in the city and near the Acropolis.
My overall recommendation is to spend just one day in Athens at a time.
Stay in Mykonos Town, or Chora to the locals. It’s where all the action is located, as well as most of the restaurants and bars.
There’s are buses that go to all the beaches at the end of Mykonos Town, opposite where you came in on the ferry. Although celebrities and the rich go to Scorpios, Nammos and Psarou Beach, tho my favorite beach is Paradise Beach. It’s wild and casual partying, especially at the end of the day. It also has monthly full moon parties.
For nightlife, there is no better place than the famous Skandinavian Bar. It doesn’t ‘t get cranking until about 11 p.m., so warm up a bit at Caprice Bar in an area of town known as Venice. The bar is right over the water and looks out at the Mykonos windmills.
Ios is the big party island in the Greek Islands. That may seem hard believe after a few days on Mykonos but it’s even more intense on this island. At least on Mykonos there are a few distractions – like walking through the lively town hoping you won’t get lost and even riding a moped around the island – but there’s no such activities in Ios.
That leaves only one thing: party! It starts at the Far Out Cafe on the beach in the afternoon and takes place in the tiny town at night. You won’t have any trouble finding the action. Tip: If you want to keep moving then spend 2-3 days on Ios.
Visiting Santorini (Thira)
Stay in the town of Fira. This is the central point of activity and it’s beautiful, overlooking the caldera and volcano.
One of my biggest tips is to take in a sunset in Fira rather than Oia (pronounced E-ya). Every not-in-the-know tourists will tell you to go to Oia but trust me, you’re better off in Fira. PubClub.com’s favorite place is the Tropical Bar in Fira.
A really fun thing to do when is to rent a moped and cruise the island. It’s a big island. Kamari Beach is the most popular beach with its volcanic black sand. Perissa Beach is another black sand beach. A moped is also a perfect way to visit Oia. It’s a beautiful ride, tho be careful because the roads aren’t great, there are patches of loose gravel and it’s not unheard of for people to disappear over a cliff. So be careful, not reckless and you’ll be fine. I highly recommended the little harbor below Oia called Amoudi; it’s a great place to go for a cool swim and have lunch at one of its tiny tavernas.
You can also go visit the (still active) volcano and swim in its hot springs.
There is also shopping in Fira and a cool little town square on the other side of the town where you can grab a cold beer and walk around Fira or just hang out with other travelers.