GREECE CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for tourist stays less than 90 days + no necessary vaccinations
- Best Time to Travel: Directly before or after Peak Season, May or August/September. Peak season is Late May - August
- Currency: Euros
- Cost of Typical Meal - 12Euros and up for a no frills restaurant in Oia.
- CC friendly: Yes.
- Transportation: Cabs in Mykonos and Santorini. Trains in Athens are fast, easy and cheap.
- Airports: Athens International Airport (ATH)
- Language: Greek and English. Everyone speaks English.
ONGOING RUMOR: Greece's debt crisis makes it a terrible place to visit.
MY EXPERIENCE: While Greece is going through a crisis, most of the tourist areas are largely unaffected. The people are humble and helpful, and flights are actually cheaper because of the crisis. Just bring extra cash if you are nervous.
CITY OF THE GODS
Greece is one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever been to. Despite the economic turmoil they are going through, I could not have met a group of more warm and friendly people. As for the country itself? We're talking beautiful blue, blue waters, incredibly fresh, mouthwatering cuisine and the birthplace of the Greek Gods. How could you NOT spell badass with the letters G R E E C E?
START your day off with a FRAPPE and a light breakfast outside in Monastiraki Square. It won't be your typical Venti Soy Macchiato with a double shot of Espresso but instead a delicious medley of Nescafe, ice and cool, cool heaven on your parched tongue. There'll be plenty of outdoor restaurants here for you to sit and people watch.
Hike to Acropolis, which comes from "Akros" meaning highest or topmost and "cropolis" meaning city. There you'll see the famous Parthenon and have AMAZING 360 views of the city. Once you get to ground level, vendors selling jewelry, artwork and random knick knacks as well as an outdoor flea market and cinema.
Take a visit to the Mt. Lycabettus - the highest point in all of Greece. It's a quick little hike and once you reach the top, there is a church you can visit as well as a restaurant to grab drinks and food from. At night time, check out Plaka to grab some dinner and enjoy drinks outdoors in Monastiraki Square. The view of the Parthenon at nighttime is gorgeous from here. To start your island hopping adventure, you can reach the port by the train with a quick 20 minute ride.
WHERE BLUE AND WHITE WILL BECOME YOUR NEW FAVORITE COLORS
Mykonos is an ultimate party town, and depending on where you stay...i.e. Paradise Beach, Tropicana Resort, Super Paradise, (all beach party hostels) you'll soon come to find out there's not much relaxing. The partying starts from sunup as music blasts from the beach bars, and the alcohol flows more freely than the open bar at a Long Island wedding. Known for their beaches, you'll find the coast line of Mykonos to be absolutely gorgeous, and thriving with life. You might even be a little puzzled at the fact that you can see clearly through the water and that there are literally fish living in there! (Can you tell I'm from Brooklyn?) Buy a pair of snorkeling goggles and a stingray float. You'll thank me. The food in the resorts here is not much to speak of, gyros and fries, burgers, pizza etc...
We stayed in Paradise Beach, which was a hostel but more like a resort. Ranging from "cabins" you can rent to actual rooms, I found this to be a super cool and hip resort, ideally located next door to two other resorts. The music was pumping and the water was prime for snorkeling. You can also pay to take scuba diving or snorkeling lessons right down the beach.
In the town, be sure to check out Little Venice. People here are obsessed with the Windmills, but I am here to assure you...there's nothing too cool about them except for the fact that their old. But once you go into town, make sure to check out the town for food and drinks. Visit a Coffee shop for a frappe or a Greek Coffee. They're very strong but rumor has it that you can read your fortune with the remnants afterwards much like in Harry Potter! We stopped by Alley for coffee and people watching. The shop actually turn into a swanky cocktail bar at nighttime. -->
A nice hidden gem for lunch is Olla and for dinner be sure to check out Avra restaurant for a truly romantic, candle lit dinner. There's a lovely backyard garden and delicious food. If you want something a little more local, then try out To Maereio for some rustic, home cooked food.
Start off the night with some cocktails outside overlooking the water at Veranda. Or feel free to bar hop, these spots are all right next to each other. Once you make your way closer to town, venture down the super popular and famous Matoyianni Street, similar to the Soho of NY consisting of boutique shops selling 7 shirts with 4 digit price tags. There you'll find the oldest bar on the island, Scarpa and do as the locals do and shout "PAME SCARPA!". But really, the entire town of Mykonos is popping and you can just wander in the neighborhood and find packed bars. Be aware that the partying here goes on until day break and you may find yourself on the rooftop with some locals watching the sunrise.
BIRTHPLACE OF APOLLO
Delos, a small island off the coast of Mykonos is known as the birthplace of the Sun god, Apollo. According to legend, he was born out of wedlock from Zeus and Leto.
When Zeus's wife AND sister, Hera (THE SAME PERSON) found out about the pregnancy, she forbade all the land from allowing Leto to give birth. It was only in the barren and unwanted land of Delos was she was able to give birth to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. With that the island became revered for it's mythical beginnings and became one of the most culturally diverse trading hubs of Greek times. Today, the remnants are most definitely worth a visit.
For 18 Euros, you can get a round trip ticket from the Old Port to Delos via boat. They usually give you about 2 1/2 hours to explore. I recommend going later on during the day to escape the other tourists and getting to take in the views for yourself. Make sure you get a tour guide, they usually wait by the ticket desk. (Approx. 10 euros for an hour guided tour + 5 euros for entry)
You'll explore the massive grounds of a once majestic city, where you'll see remnants of archaic mansions, extremely modern underground aqueduct systems and shops. Once there you can also take a visit to the Museum included in your ticket or hike up to the top of Mount Kynthos to get the whole view of the island. There you'll see the Temple of Athena and some seriously large statues of Lions. There's even a former Amphitheatre with ruined hotels nearby.
Definitely a MUST SEE.
SANTORINI - THE LOVER'S RETREAT
GET YOUR DRIVING GLOVES OUT, CAUSE YOU'RE ABOUT TO THIRD WHEEL
Santorini is the island of romance, honeymoon and marriage. Don't find it surprising to see several stunning white gowns blowing in the breeze as couples gather to take their engagement photos or tie the knot. Unlike the party central of Mykonos, couples here weren't picked with a swipe to the right. ( well, maybe a few)
You can take either a 30 minute flight or 3 hour ferry from Mykonos to Santorini. There are many options - when I was there I used this website to figure out what worked best for me. Once you land in Santorini Port, you'll have to take a cab to your hotel or hostel. There's plenty of vendors here trying to sell you on a price, but take a look around and bargain. We were able to get to Oia for only 30Euros as opposed to the 40 everyone else was charging. There is also an option to take a bus, but takes over an hour and a half. Plenty of people also rent cars, ATVS, boats and scooters.
If, unlike me you passed EARTH SCIENCE in 6th grade, then you most likely know what a Caldera is. The entire island of Santorini was formerly a massive volcano that exploded, it's lava hardened into the half dome shape that you see today. The remaining crumbled volcano is underwater.
WATCHING THE SUNSET IN SANTORINI
BEST PLACE TO WATCH WITHOUT GETTING A SELFIE STICK IN YOUR FACE
Oia is one of the best known places to watch the sunset, and right around the time you'll see tons of tourists trekking through the streets like Moses through the desert in search of the diminishing glow of the sun. BUT, we like Moses + his persistence. We don't like all these crowded noisy people and their selfie sticks. When everyone finally stops to take pictures, walk past all the tourists, past a hay ridden lot until you finally reach a gorgeous outdoor restaurant called OCHRE WINE BAR. The food and service was sub par to be honest, but do yourself a favor and get a glass of wine and watch the sunset. If that's not your thing, you can also make your way just a 5 minute walk further down the street to Lioyerma Lounge Cafe Pool Bar where you can lounge on a pool or chair and watch the sunset. You can also watch the sunset with a delicious dinner at The Red Bicycle.
A SUNSET BOAT TRIP
A DRIVE BY OF THE RED, WHITE, AND BLACK BEACHES OF GREECE
We visited the Red Beach, Black Beach, White Beach, the Indian Rocks, as well as the Hot Springs. What seems like a drive through account of Greece's beaches was actually just enough time. The view of the beaches was breathtaking coming from along the water, at that moment I felt like I knew exactly what Leonardo DiCaprio felt like when he first saw the land in THE BEACH. Plus is there anything more badass than jumping off your yacht while all the other schlubs lay out on the rocky beach? Didn't think so. This was Real Wives of Greece status.
We went with Spiradakos Sailing just because it happened to be close to our hotel- a very quaint boutique hotel called Hotel Alexander. It also seemed to be the most "luxurious" of all the other tour agencies. There are other options with catamarans with 30-40 people, but this little yacht was heaven. Besides food and wine, they also had life vests, music, towels and snorkeling gear.
*SIDE NOTE: We paid about 130Euros for our tour. Apparently others in our group paid more, approx 225euros per person, from different agencies.
TOURING A Volcano BY BOAT
LUNCH AND A SWIM TO THE HOT SPRINGS. 25-30EUROS
The volcano is cool, but you are put on a massive catamaran with 30 other tourists, which are then put onto the volcano together with 6-8 other boats. The whole trek itself is pretty crowded and in my mind not totally worth it. Our guide was amazing and actually named Sophocles, so we did learn a lot, but if you're comparing the two..I'd go with the Sunset Boat Trip.
MORE LIKE LUKEWARM SPRINGS
Oy. This is one of those parties that your friends in HS were like, "It's gonna be the hottest party ever. My parents are gone and my cousin's gonna get us some alcohol!" And then you show up and there's 4 clowns playing Grand Theft Auto, and no one's willing to give up their controller. These waters are sulphuric and smell. The swim from the boat, is approx 40 meters and very, very deep. If you are not a strong swimmer, you will die a very miserable, lukewarm death. Personally, I am not a good swimmer, so even with a life jacket on, I was exhausted. Once you finally get to the waters, it is only slightly warmer than the glacier like water you originally jumped into. Not really missing anything if you ask me.
A DAY TO ADVENTURE
Fira, the capital of Santorini means it's a more "party friendly" version of Oia. You'll find the same amount of tourist shops hawking Greek olives, olive oil and random evil eye charms and pushy hosts trying to persuade you to eat at their restaurants.
Start off your day with a good ol hike from Oia to Fira. The hike itself takes anywhere from 1 1/2 - 3 hours and there's a path from the end of town that will lead you there. Look out for the signs as sometimes they can be a bit hard to see. Difficulty level..medium. There's a lot of good scenery there and it gets brutally hot, so make sure you wear a good pair of shoes. The views are unreal, and you can't help but imagine the Greek Gods ruling over this land.
Once you get to FIRA, explore around. There are so many shops and restaurants here with a view. Literally, every restaurant has a view. You can take a donkey ride up to the top of the mountain for 5euros. Your other options are either to walk up, or take the trolley up. Keep in mind - if you walk, you will be walking alongside the donkeys and all the shit they leave on the steps.
Next, take a cab, bus or visit a local tourist agency for a visit to Akrotiri. Right around 5pm is a good time because it's empty, but be wary because there may not be any tour guides. Then you'll just be looking at a bunch of rocks. If you have time you can also check out the Red Beach, which is about a 20 minute walk from here. There are plenty of beach side restaurants as well.
Try and catch the sunset on top of the mountains here, it is unbelievably beautiful on top of the mountain and you can see the sunset on both sides of the island. Finish off the sunset with dinner at Kali Kardia - The Good Heart, which is a bit of a drive away from the center of Fira or have a drink if you're getting a little homesick at, "Tropical Bar". Finally have dinner at Naoussa, which came highly recommended to us, a local family restaurant that's open all year round. Get the Moussaka, it's to die for. And if you are able to go out - scope out the scene then take a cab back home!
WHERE I STAYED:
Ratings are based on 1 -5 stars.
Athens - Fivos Hostel - ** Hostel was in a great location, right off the Monastiraki Square. Staff were incredibly helpful and kind. We had a basic double room and it had a bunk bed. Was kind of clean.
Mykonos - Paradise Beach Hostel - ***** Loved this hostel. It was more a resort than anything. We got a private double but the staff bumped us up to a private triple so we had a large room, with stone shower. Venue was very clean and staff was incredibly helpful. This place is HUGE and the beach was beautiful and impeccably clean. Throughout the day they have a DJ blasting music and drink specials.
Santorini - Alexander Hotel - **** Cave Hotel located in Oia. Very beautiful and clean. The view and outdoor breakfast is probably the best thing I have to say about this place. Well actually, the staff was incredibly amazing and became our friends while we were there.