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Help! Greece and Istanbul

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i am lucky enough to be able to plan a trip of my choice late August. Originally thinking about Spain but now are very interested in visiting santorini, Athens, Istanbul.

Questions to help me get started.... Only have two weeks not including travel time. I would like to have full two days in Athens. I am thinking it may be best to spend five nights on one of the islands but wonder if I should spend four nights on one and three on another then off to Istanbul and fly home from there giving us three or four nights in istanbul.

I read that santorini is the most beautiful island so I would like help from those familiar with all of the islands if this is the best one to visit on a first trip to leave a great impression or are there others that should not be missed?

I would really like a guidance of what can't be missed while in Greece and Istanbul so I can secure my flight and start the rest of the planning.

My husband and I have traveled a lot but never to these areas so I am just beginning planning process. We are active love culture, beautiful beaches/snorkeling, and exploring.

I will appreciate any help as fodors has helped me plan many fabulous trips. Thanks in advance.

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    I do not think you'll find any member familiar with "all of the islands", as there are 100s on inhabited ones ! Beauty is on the eye of the beholder so I do not think someone could reply that X island is the most beautiful. Someone else will have different opinion and all will be right.
    Santorini has a very unique landscape due to its volcanic nature and the famous caldera and of course it features the very advertised on US as typical-Greek "white sugar cube houses and blue church domes" architecture. It is definitely an impressive island on many people's list but it is a personal call if it will suit you or not. Personally I do not rate it so high simply because many people go there just because they "have to" without researching if it really suits their needs, because it is far too crowded(especially when cruise ships arrive), because it is far too expensive and because there is not too much to do for my taste. Note that one side of the island is cliffs, the beach side consists mostly on black volcanic gritty/rocky beaches, not to everyone's taste. And yes, I know there are some museums and wineries and definately some quiet corners on the island and I agree it is very beautiful, but I still believe it is over-hyped. Just my personal view and now I am sure other members will come up and disagree.
    Where to go? Honestly I suggest to look on a couple of guidebooks and websites and narrow down your list a bit on what might interest you.If you decide on Santorini, then you may want to have a look on Milos, or Naxos,or Paros and Antiparos for a second island. Personaly I think that sequence that makes sense is to arrive say on Athens airport, take a flight directly on the islands,ferry from island A to island B, ferry or flight back to Athens, spend a few days on Athens, then flight to Istanbul I've yet to go on Istanbul, but my understanding is that it is a beautiful place with lots to see and do. If I had to include it on my trip, I would allow at least 4 full days there.I think that someone who likes culture and exploring could easily spend 4 nights/3 full days on Athens too.

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    Thank you for your reply. I understand your comments. I find that talking to people is much more beneficial initially than looking at guide books although I do that once I have narrowed down places to visit. I look forward to all feedback. Agree with your thoughts on the itinerary - thanks

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    You are welcome sph. It is just that reading a guidebook you may suddenly read something or see a picture that catch your attention on a place you may have never heard about before. Sometimes such recommendations come on travel forums too, but most of the time is the very well-known spots that are recommended again and again, especially on this forum which is mostly frequented from Canadian and US travelers. I do not wish to stereotype, but for most Northern Americans Greece=Santorini+Mykonos and they would have never visit or hear about eg Nysirros,Skopelos,Lemnos,Chalki,Symi,Chios or other less advertised islands.
    One note: It is your call of course, but Greece is not only about the islands. You may want to have a look on mainland too, for example instead of a second island you might want to visit Nafplion that combines a charmy sea side location, plenty to see and do in town its self, a couple of decent beaches for a quick dip and various important ancient sites in the vinicity. Favored destination for Greeks too, so although busy, it has a more Greek feeling.
    Last but not least, late August is definitely better than start of the month in terms of heat, prices and crowds, but is there any chance you could move your trip on first week of September? Difference on those aspects will be significant and will make for a more reasonable and enjoyable trip.

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