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The Perfect Trip to Greece

Aug 17, 2007
We've all come across the idyllic Greek image of the sun-drenched, blue-domed chapel overlooking an expansive Mediterranean ocean. Not only does Greece show that face, it also exceeds expectations on all fronts, whether scenery, food, or culture. Overall, Greece is an amazing destination that is easy to travel in and has countless memorable sights. For an easy, safe, and memorable vacation, Greece is hard to beat.

So, where to go? On your first trip (believe me, you'll want to go back), I suggest your itinerary consist of a few days in Athens, and then the remainder of your time indulging in the Greek Cyclades islands. Why, because this will give you a nice variety in food, wine and perfect picture opportunities.

Why Athens?

Why not Athens? Athens is fascinating. On first blush, Athens is hectic, a little dirty, a little confusing. But it is also packed full of history. You can't miss it - from almost anywhere you can look up at the Acropolis, or stumble across beautiful ruins scattered throughout the city. The city itself is an incredible museum of history, real, live, in-your-face two-thousand-year-old history. Not only that, but a walking tour of Athens reveals architecture from every era, modern and ancient, readily available. It's really quite beautiful, particularly given how pedestrian-friendly Athens is.

Some easy must-sees if you only have a few days in Athens? Well, first off, stay near Monastiraki square. It's easily accessible from the airport via Metro, and is walking distance to fantastic shopping, dining, and key tourist attractions like the Acropolis, the National Gardens, and of course, the Monastiraki flea market.

As for attractions, the Acropolis is simply amazing, and is definitely not to be missed. Accessing the Acropolis is relatively easy: simply wander up by yourself. There are promenades that lead up to the site, featuring charming cafes and restaurants. There is a fee to enter, but the view from the top is one you'll celebrate the rest of your life, not to mention the remarkable historical experience found at the Acropolis site.

Monastiraki square also features amazing restaurants, and anything-goes shopping, from flea-market to high end. Again, an experience no to be missed.

Athens is also a dining wonderland. Recommended dining: don't go with a plan, just walk. Food, good food, is everywhere. You'll find as you walk that often restaurateurs will stand outside, trying to guide you into their restaurants; it really makes for a charming stroll.

Onto the Islands

There are lots of options when considering the Greek islands: different destinations, different ways of getting to and from. I suggest taking a ferry, they are simply the best way to arrive at and see the islands up close.

And a suggestion: some of the islands are FAR away, as much as 11 hours away; a cost-effective and time saving idea is to book a private cabin, and travel overnight.

I suggest this for a couple of reasons: first, cabins are relatively inexpensive, and, if you go overnight, you won't be paying for the cost of a hotel room. Plus, you won't lose valuable time in transit; instead, do it while you're sleeping. Finally, and perhaps not a consideration for everybody: smoking is permitted inside ferries in Greece, and it is very heavy. Coming from North America, I found the shear volume of smoke entirely surprising. A private cabin gets you away from that discomfort, plus you'll enjoy your own private bed. It's a win on all sides.

Getting from Athens to the ferry terminal at Pireaus is very easy: simply hop on the metro from the stop closest to you to the very last stop. Don't bother with taxis, it's far to expensive and slow.

Ferry schedules are highly variable, so it's important to enquire in advance. You can purchase tickets from agents all over the city, or at the port itself, though in peak season, it is possible for sailings to sell out.

Which islands to visit? All of them, but if you have to choose, go to the Cyclades, and in particular, Mykonos and Santorini.

Mykonos is charming, exciting, beautiful. The ferry trip is approximately 5 hours from Pireaus. Mykonos features hotels of all quality levels, and a charming town centre (called Mykonos town).

Of all the Greek islands, Mykonos is by far the most popular. And for good reason: in the peak season, Mykonos is active and friendly. There are endless daytime and nighttime activities that will keep almost anyone entertained, with amazing dining and beautiful beaches in abundance.

Mykonos is small. As a result, it also is quite crowded and expensive when compared to other destinations. It's not unusual to see Paradise Beach filled end-to-end with sun worshippers.

And in spite of what you might have heard, Mykonos is the perfect destination for almost anyone: couples, families and individuals seeking a respite from the ordinary.

As for accommodation, stay in Mykonos town. You'll want to be there to enjoy the nightlife, and it's easy (and quick) to get there from the ferry port. In fact, you shouldn't have a problem finding the perfect get-away within a 5 minute walk of the ferry.

Mykonos town is a pedestrian-only wonder, with white-washed walls and beautiful blue shutters over every window. You'll find it easy to discover wonderful meals within your first few steps, and the shopping rivals that of Athens.

As you've likely heard, Paradise Beach is a must-see. It's not the largest beach on the island, but it is the most fun. With it's various restaurants, bars, and back-packers, Paradise Beach is the destination for fun in the sun and after the sun sets. Transportation is easy, with buses and taxis readily available. Unfortunately, it's too far to walk conveniently from Mykonos town (unless you have a lot of time).

From Mykonos, take another ferry to Santorini.

Santorini

Santorini is simply spectacular, and is not to be missed.

The ferry terminal is about 20 minutes by taxi from Thira, the main town on Santorini. Thira sits on the edge of the "caldera", a volcanic crater in the middle of the ocean. It's a view that is all at once breathtaking and inspiring. Find any hotel that's on the caldera, and you are guaranteed more beautiful sunsets then you could ever imagine. The shopping is varied, the coffee fantastic, and the sights unparalleled.

Santorini offers an entertaining nightlife, first-rate beaches, spectacular scenery and truly romantic sunsets, making it one of the world's top destinations. If you have a day, head to Oia (E-ahh) to enjoy lunch and watch the sunset with an unobstructed view of the Mediterranean.

I'd also suggest renting a car for one or two days. It's not essential, but it does make it easier to go the long distances between beach destinations.

All in all, Greece is a true wonder. It has a distinct and charming national character that is infused with history and culture. You'll never forget your first trip to Greece, and you'll never stop thinking of your next trip there.
About the Author
Michael Lee-Smith has been travelling for more than two decades. Learn how to plan the perfect trip to Greece at http://www.twoweeksingreece.com/ .
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