I'd like to start by thanking Jonah for featuring me here on her blog. Actually, it's really an honor to be here—I'm so impressed by the wealth of interesting and useful information on this site, both regarding specific destinations and with tips for figuring out the logistics of traveling. And I was glad to see someone else advocating for taking a good, old-fashioned road trip! But without further ado:
As we gear up for the summer travel season, I bet many of you out there are thinking about where you're going to go for your summer holiday—and I bet many of you are thinking about Greece. As well you should be: beautiful beaches, tons of history, and prices that aren't quite so expensive as the rest of the places in the Eurozone. Greece is really everything you could want in your summer destination and more. But if you're thinking of taking a trip around the islands, you might be unsure where to start—Greece is made up of thousands of islands, and even if we just talk about inhabited islands, we're looking at a number well over one hundred! Here are some tips for planning your trip:
Although the weather is nice at the end of July and beginning of August, know that this is the most popular travel time for Greek locals (and actually lots of Europeans in general) who can afford to travel. This means two things: you might experience closures of various businesses and you'll find that travel to the islands gets busy. In fact, you may not be able to get tickets for certain ferries! It is entirely possible to travel at this time, but you might be better off going a couple weeks earlier or later if possible.
Of course, we all know that you're going to want to bring your swimsuit and beachwear with you to Greece—but one thing to remember is that it's in your best interest to pack light. If you're going to be doing any island-hopping, you're going to have to move your luggage around with you from place to place, which can be a hassle if you've packed more than you can easily carry. Also be sure to pack layers: when you've been sitting out on a sunny beach all day, a Mediterranean breeze can make for a bit of a chilly night!
Although it may seem backwards to start with your transportation rather than first choosing which islands you'll visit, there's a reason I recommend this: the amount of time you have is going to determine how much time you can spend in transit, and your transportation is going to determine which islands are a realistic possibility. Not only are some of the islands a bit more far-flung, but ferries and flights to the islands don't always operate every day—instead, some islands can only be reached on, say, Thursdays and Sundays. Or if you're easily seasick, you might want to look into flights and avoid ferries altogether. You have plenty of options whichever way you go, but finding accurate information about ferries prior to your arrival in Greece can be a bit of a treasure hunt in-and-of itself.
Honestly, you can't go wrong whichever island you pick. Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is a popular choice for its mixture of both dramatic landscapes (from mountains to vineyards and orchards to beaches and sea) and history (it was once the center of the Mycenaean civilization and has long been an important place for culture and trade). Santorini is another popular choice, especially with romantics, who delight in its gorgeous sunsets and luxurious beaches—but there's history and hiking to be found here as well. Or head to Rhodes for history and nightlife, or Ios for history and hiking, or Mykonos, or Hydra, or Paros, or, or, or… The list goes on and on.
Actually, Rick Steves offers some great insight into the best of the Greek islands—and better yet, you can see his exploration of some of the islands for free on Hulu so you can pick the islands that look best to you! (Getting an error message when you try to watch? Hulu videos are subject to certain geo-restrictions and to watch them from outside the US, you may have to set up a virtual private network. A VPN will use a different IP address to hide your true location and give you access to videos as though you were actually in your country of choice—a useful tool for travelers!)
I love Greek food, and the islands do it best. You'll find that the typical island meal is very healthy—in fact, there have been tons of studies done linking the Mediterranean diet to longevity. Expect a lot of seafood, soft cheeses, olives, and fresh veggies. Keep an eye out for traditional Greek dishes, but if you see something on the menu that you're not sure how to pronounce, go ahead and order it; you're sure to be delighted. Nothing is better than a delicious meal overlooking a stunning coastline after a day spent on the beach!
One of my main pieces of advice is, be realistic about your itinerary and don't stretch yourself too thin. There are two reasons for this. First, Greece is known for its frequent transportation strikes, and if you have a problem, you'll want your itinerary to be a little flexible. Second, each island that you choose to see could be a full vacation in itself. Spend one day in Santorini—are you mad? Skip over everything Athens has to offer? Don't even think of it. Rather, try to find some balance in your itinerary so you still get to see all that you can see without spending your whole trip in transit between islands.
A Greek island holiday is something everyone should do at least once in their life—from the scenery to the historical sites, to the food, there's no beating it. In fact, there are plenty of travelers who keep returning year after year to discover more of what the islands have to offer; you'll likely find that your first trip there is merely the start of a beautiful love affair. Make sure you have plenty of available space on your camera, a nice swimsuit, and a ready sense of adventure; you're in for the trip of a lifetime!
My name is Jess Signet. My parents were travelers since before I was born. Even in the womb, I was able to travel all over the place! Boy, did things NOT change as I grew older! Knowing there’s more to the world than the bubble I live in made me want to travel even further. Traveling is my drug and I’m addicted. (Please, no intervention!)