I haven’t blogged anything “lifestyle-ly” so here’s a quick post about my vacation on the Greek Islands: Mykonos and Santorini with a pit stop in Athens! Of course, I also put together a quick traveler’s guide and things I learned while I was there so this isn’t just a brag post about my “wonderful” life. There was an Emirates companion fare deal for $799 flying out of Newark airport to Athens, Greece so I just had to jump when I was figuring out what to do with my remaining vacation days. The Fiancé and I are just going to call it our Engagement Moon. The flight going to Greece was cheap but the hotels, island transfers and dining was NOT. I have some pre-booking tips and some while-you’re-there tips so you don’t get a rude awakening.
Things to Know Before Booking Greece
Know what type of vacation you and/or your partner wants. If you want to go party, club and drink then you should stay longer in Mykonos, known as the Ibiza of the Greek Islands. Resorts host electronic dance parties and it will get very loud and crowded if you’re going anytime between June through August. If you want relaxation and romance, go to the other Greek islands like Santorini, Paros or Naxos is a better bet. If you want white beaches, Santorini isn’t known for soft sand (or flat elevation). If you want to stay away from the typical tourist traps (like Oia and Fira in Santorini), then look into going to Crete where it’s much quieter and prices aren’t as inflated. If you want to see more history, Crete and Athens has a lot of historical sites. Each island has a very different vibe and it will be best that you do further research into what makes each island so special so that they meet your needs of a perfect vacation.
Oh, and be prepared to throw your used toilet paper into a separate, dry trash bin instead of flushing it down the bowl. Greek pipes are sensitive and their plumbing cannot handle wads of toilet paper.
I never knew Mykonos was known as the Las Vegas of the Cyclades. We stayed in the heart of Mykonos Town where the streets are lined with designer stores, high-end restaurants and vape bars. Celebrities will come to this island to party and it’s been made to accommodate those with expensive tastes but there’s enough to enjoy for those with moderate spending habits. Mykonos is a flat island so it’s easy to walk around Mykonos Town and to go to the beautiful white beaches. You can see the famous windmills that are right next to Little Venice, eat breakfast at Old Bay, see the sunsets right from the shore, and go beach hopping in the daytime. We went to Ornos Beach which was a quick 8 minute bus ride and restaurants had full food and table service (this was our favorite day). Next time, I would like to stay at Paradise Beach where the beach has more open sand. Ornos was small and was filled end to end with sun beds. Get there early if you are willing to pay about 25-30 Euros more for a front row sun bed for unobstructed views of the ocean.
Continental Breakfast is the most common option in Greece, don’t expect an entire menu dedicated to brunch like in NYC. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you must eat fresh eggs when in Europe! It’s orange colored and tastes like nothing I’ve ever tasted! Also get the Greek frappes – this beats a Starbucks frappe by a million kilometers. If you get hot Greek coffee, they don’t put milk in it and the locals will wag their finger at you. Part of your continental breakfast is also fresh squeezed orange juice! Ouzo is the local Greek liquor which has a black licorice flavor to it. I liked it in my cocktail but didn’t like it at all in their Greek candies called Loucoumi, bite-size pieces of jellied candy covered with powdered sugar. I bought those at duty-free just to throw it away at home. Baklava is also another dessert to try which is a pastry made of layers of filo dough filled with chopped nuts and held together with syrup or honey. I find Baklava too sweet for my liking and it sticks to my teeth however.
The most popular island of them all might be Santorini and it’s caldera views. Santorini had a huge volcano explosion that burned the middle of the island away, leaving behind large cliffs with fantastic views of the water and sunset. Oia has “world famous” sunsets however I though Oia was highly over-rated and too crowded with tourists. To get to Santorini’s famous views, you will have to climb up many stairs and walk through narrow walkways – wearing sneakers is highly recommended if not required to get you through the day. We stayed in Fira instead, Santorini’s capital and central to all the local buses. There’s a nice town square next to the bus station where you can get gyros for €3.80. If we stayed in Oia, we would have needed to take a bus into Fira and transfer to our final destination so staying in Fira saved a lot of time. Oia was also so overcrowded with tourists that anyone can actually walk right up to your “private” outdoor jacuzzi and have an Instagram field day since everyone is searching for the blue-domed churches. I accidentally walked onto hotel property without even knowing because there wasn’t a door blocking the walkway.
From Oia, you can walk to the Byzantine Castle Ruins for gorgeous pictures and the walk down to Ammoudi Bay nearby. Caution walking to Ammoudi Bay, it is quite stinky with donkey poop and there are about 250 steps downwards. This is why you really need to wear sneakers! The view of the bay is gorgeous and the reward was a charcoal grilled whole fish for lunch! Order a cold frappe or beer and enjoy lunch by the water. A whole fish is weighed and charged by the pound so a grouper was about 60 Euros for two people, very pricey but you’re paying for the views! After the rest, be prepared to walk back up the steps as there is no cable car! Buying a bottle of water just for this walk is advised!
We went to Kamari Beach as it seemed to be the most popular next to Perissa Beach. Kamari has small black pebbles as the beach and it was lined with nice restaurants and sunbeds. Look for restaurants that offer free sunbeds when you dine/drink with them but make sure you check the quality of the beds too (you don’t want to sit on ones that are about to break). There will be others that will charge just for the sun beds. Because the lava destroyed the original Santorini island, there is only a big slab of cooled down lava as your shore (once again, Santorini has no actual sand). This can be quite slippery so wearing water shoes is recommended. You might get tempted to pay for a half day catamaran tour that will take you to White Beach, Red Beach and Black Beach too but after reading Trip Advisor reviews, you cannot actually walk on or swim near White Beach – the white slab of rock is just for looks and devised from the tourism board as an attraction. Red Beach is also skippable. While visitors can swim and sun bathe in chairs, reviewers have said that the water seems to have a lot of sea kelp that will cling to your body. I find Black Beach laughable because all the other beaches are pretty much filled with black pebbles. Perissa is a black sand beach which is finer grain and resembles typical sand texture.
We stayed in Athens on the last night to make sure we wouldn’t miss our flight home and one night plus the next morning was more than enough to see the best that Athens had to offer! The biggest attraction is the Acropolis! Fare is €20 (and €10 in the winter) which includes the North and South Slopes. There is a free amazing lookout point for darn good Instagrammin’ before you go to the ticket booth. It’s €30 if you want to buy a package to see other archaeological sites. You cannot buy these two tickets in advance online if you’re thinking you can skip the lines so you must get there early when they open at 8AM! It’s highly, HIGHLY recommended that you get there at 8AM to avoid the bus load of tourists that will photo-bomb your selfies. The morning views and photos are also prettier in my opinion. The only ticket you can buy online is €34 which is admission into the Acropolis and a 30 minute welcome talk online, the unofficial site here is where I found useful information.
Everything worth visiting in Athens is super close and walking distance to each other. Great places to Airbnb is Plaka, Monastiraki Square, and Syntagma Square which are all walking distance to Acropolis. I stayed closer to Syntagma Square as I thought Monastiraki might have been too noisy to get a good night’s sleep and seeing how many al fresco dining options there were, I think I was right. Here’s my referal link for $40 credit towards your first stay booked through Airbnb!
I went Guy Fieri’s recommendation to go to Bairaktaris Taverna in Monastiraki Square (I know, I know, but I didn’t have any other place to start okay!). They serve souvlaki kebabs & hearty traditional Greek dishes and are in the heart of the bustling transportation hub. Menu has pictures of everything and there’s free dessert with fried filo dough, Greek yogurt and honey. Afterwards we went to a wine bar and turned in to wake up early for a 20 minute uphill walk to the Acropolis. There are two ticket lines, one uphill and another downhill but uphill was better so you get to go to the lookout point first before it’s filled with people. Then there’s shopping on Ermou Street. There are some stores that I don’t usually see in the USA like Bershka, Marks & Spencer, Accessorize, Massimo Dutti and the Hondos Center. There’s also the Greek Pharmacy but I hadn’t done any research on what exactly I should buy. Korres is a Greece based cosmetics brand but it’s widely available in the USA.
Greek Island Hopping – Time, Cost and Logistics
Time: Transferring via the ferry from Mykonos to Athens is a five hour ordeal (and even longer if you count in delays, mine took six hours because it was raining)! I later regret not paying to fly locally for all my island transfers even though it only would’ve cost around $50 extra per person (about $160 USD total for a ticket depending on what time and day) and would have only taken 40 mins to fly. Would you rather sacrifice 40 minutes or 6 hours of your vacation time? The reason why I didn’t buy local plane transfers for all my transfers is because there were three in total and it would’ve added up quickly. I only bought the plane transfer from Athens to Mykonos because the ferry schedule didn’t sync with our arrival time (see below in Logistics).
Look into olympicair.com to see all local flights to and from your desired island. I took the local flights to transfer from Athens to Mykonos and it was awesome to avoid trekking through Athens for 50 mins, find the ferry port just to sit still for another 5-6 hours to finally arrive at your hotel. I took a ferry from Mykonos to Santorini (five hours, also delayed an hour to arrive to port) and another ferry to go Santorini to Athens (six hours). Unfortunately island hopping is expensive so plan out your transfers so you actually have time to enjoy each island. Even with the extra time on ferries, I still had enough time to enjoy my stay.
Cost: Vacationing in Greece is not cheap! Cost and time are usually correlated where the more time you save, the more it will cost you. That being said, if you are short on time and trying to squeeze in as many island visits as possible, you’ll want to maximize your time laying on the beach and not spending it on a ferry. Staying on more expensive islands like Mykonos and Santorini will also drive up costs as meals and drinks are on par with New York City prices. If you want to still enjoy white beaches but spend less on dining, Paros or Naxos might be more up your alley.
Logistics: It’s best to lay out all your island stops, transfer times and commuting duration from end to end before you book your hotels since timing is important! For example, I didn’t know the ferries leaving for the islands from Athens only leave at around 7am! I went during shoulder season (September) so there may not have been as many operating ferries but it’s important to check and not assume. I had no other choice than to book the local flight through Olympic Air to Mykonos since we arrived in the late afternoon. Many tourists will stay a night in Athens either their first night in or the night prior to their departure going home because of the dependency on the ferry or local flight. It’s best to put in one buffer night in Athens in case the weather cancels your ferry ride (it happened to the person in front of me in line) so this safeguards you in missing your actual flight back home. Also, the transfer from my main flight to Athens meant I had to exit out of the gate area and re-check in through security since I booked the local flight from Athens to Mykonos separately.