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Athens, Santorini and...?

Old May 20th, 2018, 02:33 AM
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Athens, Santorini and...?

My sister, niece and I want to visit Greece in May 2019, we'll have about14 days, excluding flights. Athens and Santorini are on the agenda, am looking at a third base. Was initially considering Naxos or Paros, but I feel we'd like Crete better, even though 4-5 days would just about scratch the surface. We are interested in history, culture and exploring old sites;.we also like to hike and aren't really looking for a beach vacation. This is my tentative plan:

Day 1: arrive Athens and immediately take a flight to Santorini
Day 2 to 4: Santorini
Day 5: ferry to Crete (Heraklion?)
Day 6 to 10: Crete
Day 11: flight to Athens
Day 12-14: Athens
Day 15: flight back home

Does this make sense? Where do you suggest I stay in Crete, near Chania? I guess flights back to Athens would depart this city. When in Athens we would like to see Delphi, I suppose we can do this as a day trip, isn't it? We will most probably rent cars on both island, but not in Athens. One more question, would it be better to reverse the islands, flying to Crete first, then Santorini, is one more convenient than the other?

We're looking at travel from maybe May 1st week to be back by May 20, the shoulder season would hopefully mean it won't be too hot and crowded.

Please critique my itinerary, I will come back later on with more specific questions about hotels, etc, but for now I look forward to your suggestions and comments. Thanks in advance

Last edited by geetika; May 20th, 2018 at 02:35 AM.
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Old May 20th, 2018, 03:13 AM
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Hi, Geetika,
We did a 2 1/2 week to Greece a few years ago focusing on a few islands and ending in Athens. We flew immediately into Crete (6 nights), ferried to Santorini (3 nights), ferried to Naxos (4 nights) then flew to Athens (3 nights) for the remainder of our trip.

Rather than flying to Heraklion, we flew directly to Chania, where we spent 4 nights and rented a car to explore the region, making a stop in Matala and ending in Heraklion. Crete is more like a small country; 6 nights felt like the bare minimum to give. I would stay in Chania rather than Heraklion, but ending the trip there made sense and then taking the ferry further on.

We stayed in Oia, Santorini and really enjoyed it, though it does get very crowded with cruises arriving and during the day, it can be overwhelming. But it is stunning. I had hoped to see the ruins at Akrotiri but they were closed when we were there. We also didn't explore the rest of the island by car (planned to, but got too lazy!) but we did the caldera walk between Oia and Fira, returning by public bus, and loved it. Definitely a highlight!

Naxos is also a beautiful (but large) island, and we stayed there 4 nights because we had planned to do a day trip by ferry to Mykonos and Delos; unfortunately, the winds were high and the ferries were cancelled the days we were there. We really enjoyed Naxos, too, and stayed in a small hotel on the beach at Naxos (town), where we also rented a car for a few days to explore.

From there, we flew to Athens, where we stayed the last 3 nights. We had intended a trip to Delphi (staying over) but ended up canceling because we just wanted to stay put at the end of our trip. 3 nights in Athens allowed us to see the main sights and not feel too rushed, either.

My trip report from the fall of 2011:
My Greek Diary - September/October 2011
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Old May 20th, 2018, 07:06 AM
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If you fly to Crete first (I'd stay in Chania instead of Heraklion) then you can take the morning bus to Heraklion, spend that day visiting the archaeological museum and the Palace of Knossos. Then the next morning you can take the ferry to Santorini and get there early enough to have plenty of time to settle in and explore before sunset. Saving Athens and the mainland for the end is the smart way to do it.
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Old May 21st, 2018, 03:43 AM
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Thanks for the suggestions brotherleelove2004 and progol, as well as that detailed TR. I've heard so much about Naxos and Paros and would love to visit one of them I don't believe we have the time on this trip. IMO two islands and Athens would be ideal, especially since Crete is one of the islands.

I believe there's an overnight ferry from Heraklion to Piraeus, am considering this option as it will free up at least a half day's travel if we took the flight. But maybe this will mean six of one and half a dozen of the other since we'll be ferrying from Santorini to Heraklion and will have to immediately take a bus or car to Chania. What's your expert opinion?

Another question about when to visit. I have two options, one to leave May 1st week, the other May last week...the length of the trip will be the same, 14 days on the ground plus international flights. Would one be better than the other in any way, any holidays, etc which could impact our visit?

Thanks again, you guys are just great!
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Old May 21st, 2018, 05:57 AM
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I would suggest taking a night ferry from Piraeus to Chania (that's what I did, but it was a while back) and then the ferry from Heraklion to Santorini. I didn't go to Santorini on my trip to Greece (six weeks in 2006) but if I had I would have wanted to arrive by water.

If you want to hike, the Samaria Gorge is wonderful, but it is hard work. You might look for kja's TR on Greece - she picked a less strenuous gorge nearby.

May 1st is a holiday, and Orthodox Easter is the weekend before next year, so I would go later - earlier would be better, but sounds like it's not an option.
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Old May 21st, 2018, 06:58 AM
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Thanks thursdaysd. We will be flying straight to one of the islands immediately after arriving Athens, so the ferry would be between the islands and on the return to Athens. We've been to Santorini before on a cruise and agree that it's spectacular from the water. We also plan on doing a boat tour to Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni, so will in any case see the island and cliffs from the sea.

I know May 1 is a holiday in Europe, the southern countries at least; we would plan on being there from May 5/6 till around the 20th. We were in Santorini early June some 3-4 years back and it was hot...not sure if that was unusual. Which is why I'm thinking of going earlier in May. Your thoughts please...

I'm tossing around ideas and really appreciate your comments. Very often I get answers and suggestions about things I haven't really considered, the advantage of having so many brains to pick! Thanks a ton and please keep it coming
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Old May 21st, 2018, 07:16 AM
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My trip to Greece was April and early May. It was a bit chilly at night in northern Greece, but warm enough when I left. I would go earlier rather than later, but I don't like heat (get too much of it at home).

On Crete I stayed in Chania, Rethymon and Heraklion. I preferred Chania, but since I was using public transport Heraklion was more convenient for Knossos, where I spent most of a day.
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Old May 21st, 2018, 09:06 AM
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If you fell like you want to go to Crete more than Paros and Naxos, then go to Crete. My first trip to Greece was Crete, Santorini, Folegandros and Athens. We had even less nights than you, only 3 nights on Crete (1 in Chania and 2 in Heraklion). Our goals on Crete was to hike the gorge of Samaria (that I did not find particularly difficult) and visit the palace of Knossos (which exceeded our expectations). We took the overnight ferry from Piraeus to Heraklion.
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Old May 21st, 2018, 09:23 AM
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ToujourVoyager, the more I think of it the more I feel the Heraklion-Piraeus overnight ferry is what we should do, this will give us that full day to explore. I do want to spend 5-6 nights in Crete, so this time itíll have to be two islands. We also have a day trip to Delphi from Athens...

I need to research the Samaria gorge and see how tough or otherwise it is, my knee tends to play up at times and Iíll probably decide only much closer to our actual travel. We definitely want to do the Fira-Oia caldera walk on Santorini, though that one isnít particularly difficult. Also climb up to the volcano on the caldera island, canít remember which one it is.

I will definitely look up kjaís Greece TR thursdaysd, I took a lot of her tips when we visited Turkey a few years back, sheís just tops.

We arenít too fond of the heat either, so Iím leaning towards travel early May instead of later in the month.

Thanks again guys 😊
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Old May 21st, 2018, 09:40 AM
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The thing about the Samaria gorge trek is that it is mostly downhill - down (a lot of) virtual stairs at the start. And when it flattens out you are walking on river rocks, so it is uneven. I did it in 2006, when I was 59, and my knees complained a good part of the way. If I had had iffy knees I would not have wanted to try it. One option might be to hike in and out from the southern end to see the part where it narrows, but I'm not sure that would be worth it.
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Old May 22nd, 2018, 03:30 AM
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I most definitely need to take a close look at the Samaria gorge hike and figure out whether I want to do it - going downhill can be rather iffy on the knees and maybe I should give it a pass.

How far ahead do I need to book hotels, etc, would September be good? Right now DH can't say if he'll be able to get away, we should have a better idea by early fall. Has any of you rented apartments on Santorini or in Chania, we usually prefer these to hotel rooms, gives you more space to spread out. I suppose the ferries can be booked 2-3 months out, we'll book air direct to Santorini with the return from Athens.

This thread is more an exploratory venture to get a general idea of how to plan our itinerary, I will be discussing all of this with my sister this summer and narrow it down to specific dates, at which point I'll come back again with a whole lot of questions. So I'm not done yet...thanks in advance
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Old May 22nd, 2018, 06:40 AM
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Geetika, if your proposed trip is for 2019, you have plenty of time to background yourself, which will make your experience SO much more enjoyable. A guidebook really helps, beyond what you get from internet sites & forums like this. The reason: guidebooks have to give a balanced view, or word will get out & sales will drop. So they not only cover Highlights of a place, but also downsides or pitfalls ... unlike too many promotional websites giving puffery and "eye candy." Of the many Greece guides I prefer "Rough Guide" for comprehensive... and they have actual researchers IN the country (unlike other "famous" guide series). U can get a used copy cheap, online ... and doesn't have to be latest edition -- you would not be using it for hotels or restaurant prices .. but for the basics of culture and landmarks, & those don't change. RG is a Big Fat Vollume, but you wouldn't have to take it all witth you! Just carefully pull off from the backing the sections that are relevant (Crete - Athens - etc), use Duct tape to make a "spine" on each, and you have pocket guide-ettes. Ta-Da!

As for gorge hikes, I agree that Samaria can be a knee-killer, and besides, many times there's such a crowd that one spends 6-7 hours single-file looking at a stranger's back. One May a friend & I walked down the IMBROS gorge, and in 4 hours we saw exactly a dozen people! It has many of the same enjoyable features as Samaria (high high gorge walls, narrow-narrow spots near the end, a place u can almost touch both sides), but none of the crowds. In May the Thyme bushes are in blom and so redolent and fragrant we felt like legs of lamb baking! At the end of the gorge one walks to a taverna & hires a car or pick-up truck that takes you back up the rim-road to your car. I did the gorge in my 60s and kept up with my frisky 50s companion, BUT you do need a walking-stick (I got one on Amazon that folds in 3rds, love it) ... mainly for balance; you're walking on rocks the size of softballs (& volleyballs) and unless yo have a stick, you are expending unnoticed effort to constantly keep your balance, and that's what makes the knees ache.
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Old May 23rd, 2018, 02:10 AM
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Travelerjan, what you say makes perfect sense. As I mentioned we've only just started thinking of this trip and tossing around ideas, I wouldn't call it planning in any way. We're a year out with ample time to research and chalk out the details, but this will have to wait till mid-July at the earliest as we'll be in France for a month before that. I'll definitely get the Greece Rough Guide, we used the Turkey RG and found it to be excellent.

Thanks for the tip about the foldable walking stick...have seen people using this and it should be ideal to carry with you when you travel abroad. So two things to order on Amazon, lol!
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Old May 23rd, 2018, 07:32 AM
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Good to hear re RG, geetika, you won't regret. Seems odd to say this on Fodor's, want to say that ALL the guides provide useful insights ... Fodor's is reliable but sticks to the mainstream few side-roads, not in-depth. In my 12 trips since '99 I've accumulated a long shelf-full including RG Fodors Frommers, LonelyP, Blue Guide(s) RickS, the outdated but wonderful Cadogan Guides.. the list goes on. It's just that RG is the most comprehensive if u just have 1 choice. And back in the day before so much material was available online & one had to photocopy from books, RG had the best & most detailed maps of sites, & still does.

As re the stick, the one that's worked for me, I like because I"m not hugely tall, Earthtrek Gear folds to 12" (about the size of a man's loafer) expands to 53" ... they don't let you put it in carry-on (crazed retiree might attack fellow passengers as soon as she can unfold her weapon!) but in your checked bag it's no bigger than a pair of sandals.
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Old May 23rd, 2018, 10:42 AM
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Travelerjan, thanks for the details about the walking stick. Will look it up and order it soon.
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Old May 29th, 2018, 04:40 AM
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A rather better way of organising things is to fly/ferry directly Athens/Piraeus to Chania. Do the Samaria gorge or one of the others.
There are no crowds down the Samaria Gorge, that's misleading you. I have hiked the gorge 3 times over the years. The Imbros gorge is nowhere near as spectacular, much shorter. It is an easier choice for sure but that's all.

Then leave from Heraklion. All direct ferries to/from Crete are overnight. The ones up the central Cyclades from Heraklion goes around 08:00-09:00.

A better match to your interests would be going from Heraklion to Naxos and Amorgos. Then ferry back to Piraeus.
Early May is low season.

This island hopping takes time so this more or less eliminates anything on the mainland. Put in too many destinations and you will be travelling every other day.
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Old May 29th, 2018, 07:45 AM
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Retsina, thanks for taking the time to write. I think we will actually have 17 nights in Greece, excluding international travel. We want to fly out to the first island directly on arrival in Athens, this will most probably be Santorini. I know it's touristy and overrun with day trippers on cruise ships, but since we plan to be there May 1st week hopefully it won't be as crowded as later in the season, also the place should be relatively calmer in the evenings...

We want 4-5 nights in Athens at the end, so that leaves us 6-7 nights in Crete. No way enough to really "see" the island, but we'll get to sample some of the western part and we also hope to go back again. As for Samaria Gorge it isn't really the crowds but how my knee is behaving which will be the deciding factor. I know the Imbros Gorge would be a poor substitute, but maybe that's what I'd have to settle for.

I like the idea of taking the overnight ferry back to Piraeus from Heraklion as it frees up the half day we would take to get there by flight...will decide later this fall once we firm up our dates and I get an idea of flights and ferry timings.

Thanks again all of you, I really do appreciate and value your input and advice. And I'll be coming back for more...
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Old May 29th, 2018, 12:46 PM
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If you have any doubts about your knee, suggest you give Samaria Gorge a miss. Not sure what you could do if you get part way down and your knee starts acting up.
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Old May 29th, 2018, 01:09 PM
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I'll bet that after you try Imbros, you won't consider it "a poor substitute" -- it is not promoted as continually as Samaria, because there are no bus tours making money off it.
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Old May 30th, 2018, 05:46 AM
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Heindall and travelerjan, will probably take a call on Samaria Gorge when we actually get to Crete. I don’t have any specific issues with my knees but don’t want to hurt them either as at times they can play up a bit. And going downhill isn’t the best thing under the circumstances ��

Am more and more inclined to seriously consider Imbros, a shorter and easier hike might be the way to do it...
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