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10 day Itinerary for Greece - a mix of culture and relaxation

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We are planning to visit Greece with our two girls (12 and 14 year) in June.
Plan is to spend 4 days in Athens and 3 days each in Santorini and Mykonos islands.

Hoping to get suggestions on any day trips that we can take from any of these home base locations.
We are certainly going to do a day trip to delphi but any others from Athens ?

Heard Santorini and Mykonos are really crowed and touristy, any day trips we can take to soak in the sun in other laid back islands ?

Really can use some help as we plan the trips.

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    Greek islands are not set up for the kind of "home base" situation you envision. That works in Italy, because it's almost all mainland, with trains/busses, cars to go 40 miles for a day then come back. But these are ISLANDS. and ferries don't work that way. The regular ferries are scheduled to help the Greeks get from Athens to their islands and back, and are not scheduled so that you can leave an Island (such as Mykonos) early in the AM, spend 8 hours on another island, then get another ferry back by sunset. Just not.

    And Yes, they ARE crowded and touristy (on weekdays, up to 3 cruise ships with up to 8,000 passengers dock at each island, and the cruisers clog the streets for hours). They are the two most expensive islands in all of Greece. You can experience islands that are less touristy, but not as day trips.

    Curious: did you choose those 2 because you have information on their attractions that interest you... or just because those 2 are the only islands that US cruises and travel agencies continually promote? Have you looked at any guide books to get an idea of all the other isles that may suit you better? Do you have a guide book yet? Libraries have a wide selection, and I highly recommend some guide-browsing to get a better picture of other options. We can give you help in choosing between things you've researched, but can't provide Greece 101 on a forum.

    If you just have 10 days, our standard advice for such a brief visit is NOT to go to Athens first -- you'll have to be there anyway,before departure, and going in/out of central Athens 2x wastes precious time; for you , every hour counts. THe best strategy is to book flights that arrive if possible before Noon. Then ASAP (allow 2 hrs in between) jump on a domestic flight to your first island. After a couple of days, ferry to 2nd Island. THen fly or ferry back to Mainland and do your Athens Sightseeing last.

    What Islands to choose?? My thoughts:
    Island #1 -- SANTORINI -- a good first stop because it has the most daily flights, AND because of its famous view, and because all your friends back home who took a cruise will ask if you went there. However, IMHO, on a 10 day trip, I think 2 days is enough with 2 young girls ... See a couple of sunsets, look at the view, stop at the museum .. but the beaches are n.g. (Black volcanic grit) and girls are too young for post-midnight Nightlife.

    I would not suggest Mykonos because it's more of the same except with some sandy beaches -- same crowds, same cruise ships. Here are some other options:

    Island #2 --
    • NAXOS or PAROS are a couple hours away on Blue Star Ferry (huge, open decks, like a mini-cruise). Naxos has 12-15 miles of golden-sand beaches in a row, good local bus system so u don't need to rent a car all the time ... drmatic inland landscapes (marble mountains!) and ruins, great shopping & wandering in port town's mazey lane. Ferries back take 4+ hours, flights 45 minutes.

    • SIFNOS (catamarans sail almost daily, regular ferries 2x week) ... Great beachs. lovely hill towns, IMHO The MOST beautiful isle for white-cube Cycladic architecture; flagstone paths crisscroww islands. Best family beach w. most accomodaion: PLaty Gialos. Good bus system.

    NOTE: if u choose Naxos or Paros, these 2 isles are almost the ONLY ones that do offer Day trips, because they have dedicated excursion vessels 2x a week to Mykonos. 2x to Santorini ... and also a day trip to tiny all-beach islands nearby.

    NOTE #2: Day trip to delphi may be a disappointment & result in cranky daughters if you book a tour. Why? Tour bus picks up at yr hotel at 7:30 or so, but then spends an hour pickng up all others!!. THEN its a 3.5 hour drive ....On site: a SHORT time in the RUins, a RUSHED gallop thru the Museum, and then you are herded off for a mediocre lunch (you pay for) and a visit to rug shops (which you don't want), then 3.5 hours driving back. If u want to do Delphi enjoyably, rent a car, arrange for a licensed guide to meet u at the site. I'm just warning u beforehand.

    Finally, since it's already late for making arrangements I suggest doing some quickie research then contact a reliable Greece-based agency that can get you accommodations according to you stated budget limits & figure out what transport works for your short stay. 3 agencies that are v. used to working online with N. American clients are Dolphin-Hellas, Aegean THesaurus, and Fantasy Travel.

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    Spend time on Naxos or Paros with your girls for a much better experience. Cut Santorini back to two days maximum. Using a Greek travel agency as travlerjan suggests above is a a very good idea.

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    I agree with the posts above. Mykonos was/is my least favorite island during many visits to Greece. Our family was stuck in an almost conga-type line trying to get to dinner one night in town. We still talk about it. Not to say that can't happen on other islands in the summer months, but destinations like Naxos and Paros tend to be a little more laid back.

    From Athens, you could consider a day trip to Hydra ( boat leaves from Piraeus and takes about two hours), or Cape Sounion ( 1.5 hour drive). But with only four days, you'll have plenty to do in and around Athens, especially if it's a first visit.

    Whatever you decide, I agree that you need to get on it quickly. We are returning to Greece in June, and I made reservations in October. Flights fill up quickly to/from the islands, there's less of a problem with ferries.

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    You have received good advice. Just a couple of thoughts. After your couple of nights in Santorini ferry to Naxos which is where I would choose to go. There will be lots of kids at St George beach and Naxos town and it won't take long for your kids to find new friends. Here is why I would choose Naxos.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/

    Naxos has great beaches a lovely main town topped by a kastro and lovely mountain villages where you can experience how Greece used to be.

    When you return to Athens at the end of your trip you could consider a two day trip to Delphi. The least expensive way (around 15 euros for a one way ticket) would be to take the KTEL local bus to Delphi and wander the village perhaps visit the museum and take a hotel for the night. Next morning get up early and get to the site. You will have it virtually to yourselves until the first tour buses arrive around 10. By then you will be on the upper levels and it will take an hour before the first tour people get up that far. It is a marvelous site. Catch the bus back to Athens for the last day or two and visit the sites there before flying back home.

    Another alternative would be to do an escorted two day bus tour and do both Delphi and Meteora. It will be busy and a long day both days but Meteora is pretty special.
    Here are images.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157645469717811/
    Have a great trip

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    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you !!! You guys all rock. You have given me advise that many many hours with a guide book would not have given me. TravelJan, Appreciate your thoughtful and comprehensive feedback.

    I found a very decent travel deal that covered the flights and hotel to these 3 destinations. Hence the question. I will see how much flexibility there is in terms of moving the itinerary around.
    I will certainly try to include more days in some of the other islands you mentioned. We are certainly looking to have a few days at a great sandy beach for sure !

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    Litepacker, part of the reason I was able to give you that advice is, I HAVE spent many many hours not just with one guidebook, but a shelf-load. I always appreciate new travelers who do not try to get all their info from the internet. Like trying to drink from a fire-hose.
    I strongly suggest you go on Amazon, get a used copy of ROUGH GUIDE to GREECE (Older edition is fine) for 99c + postage ... and you will be MUCH better equipped for your Greece Experience. After all you are spending $$$$ on this trip, why not $5 on a book that is reliable and candid. It has a wonderful feature; you can easily pull out sections (ATHENS -CYCLADES - Language & Food etc) and bind the "spines" with a strip of duct tape and -- instant pocket Guidettes. Not intimidating, even your girls will read them .. .good maps, great background detail. Doesn't matter if info on hotels or restaurants is up to date.. that's not what you use RG for. It has detailed and CANDID info and advice ... which you cannot always find on the internet.

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    A couple of options which are more outside the box from your current plan--

    you could go to Crete instead of Mykonos. Allows you to see Knossos (reconstructed home of the mythical minotaur) and then perhaps stay in Chania, which is a beautiful beach town largely built by Venice.

    you could go to the Peloponnese peninsula. Could stay in Nafplio, another former Venetian holding, and visit with ancient sites such as the theater of Epidaurus or Mycenae. The Peloponnese is an easy drive from Athens (and a long day's drive to Delphi).

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    Are those 10 days on the ground excluding arrival and departure days in Greece or 8 days+2 part days? Or better but unlikely 10 days within the destinations not counting days connecting among destinations?
    When you mention on a latter post "I will certainly try to include more days in some of the other islands you mentioned" I hope you mean adding more days on the trip, not trying to squizze more destination on your existing time frame?
    Please clarify, those details are crucial to advice.

    Personaly I am not very fond of Santorini but I believe that even this tiny touristy island deserves at the very very least 4 nights/3 full days. Ditto Athens which is a diverse 6 million population metropolis with plenty of things to see and do to keep you busy for months. Covering the main archeological sites and a couple pf related museums alone would take 2 full days. So more or less your time might be up just visiting those two destinations, depending on specifics.
    I honestly can not see the point to come half way through the globe and then spend as limited time on each destination as possible just to fit more destinations in. This is faulse economy. Seen much does not equals seen many. Soaking up the local culture is not only about visiting say museums but about having a really long dinner in a local tavern, sample the food and take note on how people socialise around you. Pace of life is slower here, we Greeks may sit in a local cafe drinking out coffe for three hours and no one will bat an eyelid.
    Relaxation is self-explanatory I believe. Packing/unpacking, checking in/out of hotels, connecting to/from ports and airports every other day is not relaxing at all I believe, let alone as a family of four which may be even more time consuming.

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    Thank you Mariha2912 !! Yes, we are certainly trying to make it 10 days on the ground including the ferry time between destinations.
    During our travels, We try very hard to get the "feel" for living in that location like the locals do :)

    I would love to be gone for longer, but with work and kids activities 10-12 days is what we have. So planning 5 days in athens(perhaps a trip to Delphi), 2 in Santorini, 2 in Naxos or another island that has good beaches to just relax. The question now is should we even try getting a day or two in mykonos. Thoughts ?

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    If you want to have Athens as your base (which I don't think is necessary as you can pretty much see what you want in 2-3 days) then I would consider a side trip to Delphi, and a 2-3 day trip to Hydra. Hydra is a beautiful island which is about an hour or two ride from the port of Athens.


    https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/greece/hydra

    We never got to Santorini on our last trip, but I would definitely go next time. I've heard so many wonderful stories about how lovely it is.

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    I think the problems with Athens-or actually how people interpret Athens- are three.
    1) While most major cities in Europe promote even the lesser districts, museums, shops, activities, sites and so on, Athens marketing is very very poor and many interesting things remain undiscovered.

    2)Few people decide to built an itinerary around Athens or make Athens their only destination. Often people would make say Paris or London their main destination, while usually people focus on Greek Islands or countryside and use Athens as a transit point, thus sacrificing valuable Athens time to make itinerary work elsewhere. This influence the over-all Athens experience though.

    3)Most people visit on a rushed few hours or one-two days trip and think this is enough or get a wrong impression of the city and then pass the info on, so stereotypes circulate around again and again.

    I think one can easily fit 5 days or a week in Athens but each on their own.

    If you plan to visit Delphi, while it is doable as a day trip from Athens, I would consider an overnight, as per TJ's advice. Delphi has much more to offer than just the archeological museum and sites, but I understand that many hidden activities and attractions will remain hidden for majority of visitors.

    I would not try to fit Mykonos in this trip. I would chose Paros or Naxos as my "beach" island and if you have time and stamina check if one of the boat excursions to Mykonos town and Delos run while you are there.
    Delos is an important archeological site, sort of a twin site to Delphi... Apollo was born on Delos,then settled in Delphi, so if you decide to visit, make some homework to know what this is all about. And be aware it is a barren and hot islet with limited or no shade.
    I have never take said excursions but I believe they allow a couple of hours on Delos and a couple of hours on Mykonos Town, so you may get a glimpse of Mykonos too, Do note that it is a long day though, about 10 hours or more.

    I would try to spend at least 3 days on each island, especially an island like Naxos or Paros deserves much more than that...

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    PLEASE listen to Mariha ... she's Greek, a travel professional, knows what works. You continue to be over-optimistic about travel logistics. And please, I hope you can stop wavering, or some of your choices will be moot. I'm going in June, and made many of my arrangements months ago (especially if you want domestic flights). Flights cost more than ferries, yes, but it's a question of time vs. money, and you've explained why you cannot take more time away.

    Right NOW, please book your flight to Santorini for 2 nights (or 3 nites, 2.5 days) ... and DO try to devote at least 4 days to your 2nd Island (I still recommend Naxos). Also book NOW your domestic flight back to Athens. It's 45 minutes vs. 5 hr ferry ride 10-3pm (UNLESS you manage an extra afternoon at the beach by taking the 6PM ferry. Here's how: check out of hotel at noon, leave luggage at desk, enjoy swims or hikes until 4 pm, hotel will find a bathroom where u can change for the sunset sailing). Athens in June is wonderful ... SO much to explore within walking distance, for you AND kids. She & I both feel either do an overnight to Delphi, or leave it for another trip. The day-tour just doesn't work well, esp. with kids.

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