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First Trip to Greece: Crete or Athens/Nafplio/Hydra?

First Trip to Greece: Crete or Athens/Nafplio/Hydra?

Jan 18th, 2019, 08:21 AM
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First Trip to Greece: Crete or Athens/Nafplio/Hydra?

I'm making plans to visit Greece with my husband and two boys (9 and 4) in May and am struggling with the itinerary. We'll be there for about 7 nights (possibly 8) and I'm torn between Athens/Hydra/Nafplio and Crete (Iraklio, Rethymno and Hania). We love archaeology and beautiful harbor towns, good food and being able to go for nice walks. We'll want to have one "activity" or destination to shape each day, but also to be able to enjoy our time just being in these places. We don't normally rent cars when we travel to Europe, enjoying the trains and buses as part of the travel experience (and much more pleasant with small children than a car), but in Greece it seems that life might be easier with one.

Crete sounds beautiful and the cities there charming, but I wonder if it's a mistake to miss Athens and the Acropolis on a first visit to the country? I would appreciate any and all thoughts, including alternate destinations to the ones I've mentioned given our interests. I'm not sure if it's relevant, but we love Sicily, Rome, Venice and Ville Franch Sur Mer. My older son is also very interested in Greek mythology, though I'm not sure special trips to see sights linked to the stories makes sense or not.

Thank you for your wisdom and assistance! This forum is wonderful.
greengiant is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 09:26 AM
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I am having the same conundrum! My husband and I fly in and out of Athens, so we'll see it at a minimum, but still agonizing over whether to drive the Peloponnese or fly to Crete. I hate flying in the middle of the trip, and we'd have to do it twice, but our trip is half a week longer. That is not remotely helpful, but I feel your pain!
If it does help, I never give a thought as to what to see on a first (or 10th) visit to a country, and if you can fly into Heraklion and out of Chania (or vice versa), that would make a great trip. I might hold off on Crete until I can do just that. I imagine kids would love Knossos.
Also, you can get to Nafplio by public transport and then rent a car there, but I am not finding alarm bells about driving in Greece.
Good luck!
yorkshire is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 10:40 AM
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What is the context of this trip as a part of all your trips? In my opinion, how you choose destinations for this trip differs if this is the only trip to Greece you would make vs. you plan to come back later.

Crete requires many days and it is very difficult to add on to your possible future trips. Nafplio, depending on the scope of what you want to do from there, and Hydra, can be added to your possible future trip to Meteora, Delphi, Cyclades, etc.

No one can anser this for you. For those who visit Greece every year would see the first time itinerary differently from a limited time visitor.

>>> We don't normally rent cars when we travel to Europe, enjoying the trains and buses as part of the travel experience (and much more pleasant with small children than a car), but in Greece it seems that life might be easier with one.

This depends on where you are heading. You can't drive in Hydra and you would have to be a determined driver to drive in Athens. Nafplio itself would not need a car, but to visit archaeological sites from there would benefit having a car.
Whether you feel comfortable driving in Greece depends on the type of driver. If you are strictly by the rule driver, you might get annoyed. Speed limits don't seem to exist. Neither are the double solid lines in the center. Cars would drive into your lane with gusto crossing the double solid lines around curves. The locals know when it is safe to do this in their mind expecting you to respond accordingly. You will see a number of memorials along mountain roads. You will not see the amount of traffic you might have seen in Italy once you leave large metropolitan areas in Greece.

>>> Crete sounds beautiful and the cities there charming, but I wonder if it's a mistake to miss Athens and the Acropolis on a first visit to the country?
I don't think this is either or. How are you getting home if you visit Crete? If coming home from Iraklio, for example, requires starting at an insane time in the morning you rather not to do before your flight home, wherever that is, you can fly back to Athens earlier at morre convenitent time and hit the top places in Athens before heading home.

Chania is a beuatiful medieval port city, pedestrians, only, has a decent beach on its own, but has many gorgeous beaches reachable from there. Chania to Iraklio is connected by frequent buses.
greg is online now  
Jan 18th, 2019, 10:56 AM
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Thank you so much for the input! It sounds like we might not go wrong either direction, which will just make the choice all the more difficult...

This will be our first visit to Greece, and I have no idea how many trips back we'll make. I hope to be bitten by the Greek bug and want to return over and over again : ) I do try to travel with the "you'll return" mindset and have found myself drawn to return to many of our favorites, and then need to remind myself there are so many other parts of the world to explore (hence only getting to Greece this year).

Re: driving, we are comfortable drivers and typically don't rent cars because public transit is so good in most of Europe that it makes the hassle of a car unnecessary. It's nice to be able to look around without worrying about a turn off or where to park the damn thing. We would definitely not pick one up to use within a city--more a question of whether one would make travel between locations more convenient ; )

We haven't booked flights yet -- we'll do that once we hone in on an iterinary so that we can fly as direct as possible. (Your tip on not returning to Chicago from Iraklio is a great tip.)

Thank you!
greengiant is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 10:57 AM
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This is a great perspective, than you! It sounds like we have some great options and need to decide which one sounds most appealing. And to remind ourselves we can do the other trip next time : )
greengiant is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 11:13 AM
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Athens deserves at least 3 days to do, see & experience what the city has to offer including the non-touristy areas. You could then spend the rest of your time in the lovely town of Nafplio. There are daily buses that take about 2 hours to get there. It's a perfect base to explore the surrounding area filled with world-class archeological and historic sites including right in Nafplio.

Nafplio is one of Greece's nicest town with something for everyone. There are buses that will take you to the historic sites or rent a car for a day or two to find even more out-of-the-way area of the Argolis Peninsula. Driving in Greece is not the horror story many people think except for Athens (Yikes!) Once you get away from towns traffic is greatly reduced . . . just watch out for goats!

Check out this great website for Nafplio:


Crete is Greece's largest island and deserves weeks to fully appreciate and you will have to fly there. Crete is beautiful but if you want to experience Athens then that won't leave much time for Crete.

Hydra has one of Greece's prettiest waterfronts and town but is more of a day trip destination with mostly people watching and walking the interior.

An alternative for Nafplio is the pretty and nearby island of Aegina with everything one goes to a Greek Island for: wonderful waterfront town, open air market in the waterfront, archeological/historic sites, ancient olive groves, seaside villages, walking, neo-classic architecture and lots more.

I would suggest 3 nights Athens and either 4 nights Nafplio or Aegina

Most people leave Athens for the end of their trip if possible. If not make sure you get back to Athens at least one day before your flight in case of strikes, delays, weather, etc.
crazyh is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 02:27 PM
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Are you flying into Athens? If so it is worth spending a few days there then I would definitely consider Nafplio.

I've been to Hydra and loved it. Our daughter and her family lived on Hydra for 3 months and found it a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. Plus there are no cars allowed - the island is about an hours ferry ride (+) from the port of Athens.

But as others have mentioned it might not have enough for your kids to do for more than a few days. If we do go back to Greece in the future I would definitely want to visit the islands of Crete and Santorini.
nanabee is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 04:14 PM
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I would spend three nights in Athens and four on Crete. I've been to both several times and while I think 7 nights is not nearly enough in Greece, this would be a good mix. Crete is easily drive-able and two nights in Chania and two in Heraklion would be good, and you can visit Knossos, which is worth the trip in and of itself. Just my opinion.
laurieco is online now  
Jan 18th, 2019, 04:32 PM
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This is great advice, thank you! I think we have lots of good options to weigh...
greengiant is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 04:32 PM
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Wow... living on Hydra! Very neat. This is great information, thank you!
greengiant is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 04:33 PM
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Ah! Aegina hadn't even been on my radar, thank you! So many good options to weigh.
greengiant is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 06:11 PM
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Personally, I would hate to try to spend anything less than a week on Crete. I think Nafplio and Athens could be combined in a week, although with a see-one-major-thing-a-day approach, you would have to be selective. Either choice could be a winner!

If you haven't already seen it, you might find some useful information in my trip report:
With Gratitude for a Glorious Solo Month in Greece
kja is offline  
Jan 18th, 2019, 11:36 PM
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If you choose Nafplio, you can get to Hydra from the nearby ferry ports of Ermioni or Porto Heli. Hydra is much closer to Nafplio than either Athens or Aegina, and the ferry ride is only 20 minutes.
Heimdall is offline  
Jan 19th, 2019, 03:51 AM
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Hydra was a late addition on one of my trips to Greece, and I loved it! It is car free like mentioned earlier; from the waterfront there is a path that follows the coast, dipping down occasionally to reveal a beach. I have been wanting to come back.
ToujoursVoyager is offline  
Jan 19th, 2019, 07:34 AM
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Your visit is very short and you have youngsters in tow, so it is reasonable to stick to the Athens area or to Crete. I liked Crete very much in late September. Although heavily visited by tourists, the island is big enough to have its own character. Plus there is plenty of air traffic and you might find alternatives to flying through Athens; I had a direct flight to Heraklion from Marseille and there are connections through other gateway European cities. I used big on-line agency sites to find the alternatives; www.skyscanner.com , matrix.itasoftware.com or plenty of others. Using the information, I booked my flights directly from the carrier.
Southam is offline  
Jan 19th, 2019, 09:03 AM
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When we were in Nafplio we did a day cruise to Hydra/Spetses through Pegasus Travel. You'll have to get to Tolo (nearby) for the cruise.

Another option for what to combine with Athens, is in fact, Ermioni which I've never been to but have done a lot of research and looks lovely with an Old Town area. Off the tourist map but appears to offer a nice waterfront town, ferry to Hydra among other places and another good place to base yourself to explore the Argolis Peninsula including the world class archeological sites. You can get a ferry from Piraeus.

Check out this website for Erminoi:

The more you research the more places you find you'd like to go so don't get overwhelmed . . . just enjoy the options.
crazyh is offline  
Jan 19th, 2019, 10:02 AM
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Fantastic -- thank you everyone for the ideas. Research is definitely half the fun of the trip for me and you've given me more ideas to explore. Thanks again!
greengiant is offline  
May 6th, 2019, 06:31 AM
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I wanted to thank everyone for their ideas and input on our trip! We got back last week from a wonderful trip. Literally everything exceeded my expectations. And I think Aegina was a huge part of that. This isn't a trip report, but in case others find this conversation when researching, I wanted to share a rave review of Aegina. We began our trip in Aegina (flew to Athens, bus to Piraeus, ferry to Aegina) then ended in Athens as recommended by the forum.

* We were there over Easter, and it was a fantastic time to be in Greece. We were in Aegina and loved being out on the street on Friday night when the congregations from four different churches in town processed down the street with candles, singing and big flower floats. Then fireworks at midnight on Saturday, and just being part of the experience of lambs roasting, easter egg smashing and tasty food on Easter itself was a lot of fun. Aegina was packed with Greek visitors, so many restaurants were open on Easter and we had no problem finding places to eat, and despite the number of visitors (our AirBnB host said it was more crowded than it ever gets in the summer) we had no issues getting tickets or seats on the ferries we wanted on the Thursday before Easter or Monday after Easter. We knew sights would be closed on Easter and it was a wonderful excuse to just take a nice walk and play at the beach.

* Aegina was perfect for us.The main town was definitely charming, great restaurants, the temple was really fun and there was plenty for our family to do. It felt bustling without feeling touristy. At least, not American touristy. I think we saw five other Americans the entire time were were there. It felt like the vast majority people were there Greek visitors having a great time, and it was fun to be part of that. I haven't been to Santorini or Mykanos and would believe that they are more post-card perfect, but not having been to those, we were thrilled with Aegina. And being a close ferry ride with frequent departures to Athens, as well as being very non-American touristy, were huge pluses. Not to mention the temple.

Thanks to everyone for their input. It helped make our trip so much better.
greengiant is offline  
May 6th, 2019, 06:47 AM
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Green Giant, I am THRILLED you had a great Aegina experience! As others know I'm a frequent Aegina-recommender, with a photo-album promo to boot, but this time others did the job so well. Yes, it's very Greek most of the time, you get an experience of immersing y ourself in their "getaway time." It's not "picture-perfect" like som of the "calendar-photo" isles, but it's authentic and enjoyable. I hope others will take note!
travelerjan is offline  
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