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michael_cain_77398 Sep 18th, 2015 07:14 PM

Greek Mainland Itinerary
I'm in the early stages of planning a trip to Greece with friends for next fall (with my job I need to start planning early), and I want to ground-truth our initial itinerary. I'm not worried about specific details; I'm more interested in knowing how this route sounds in general - it's not one I've seen others take.

4 days - Athens
(rent car)
4 days - Nafplio (use as base to explore Corinth, Mycenae, and possibly Mystras)
1 day - Delphi
3 days - Meteora
(return car in Thessaloniki)
4 days - Thessaloniki

My travel pace is generally slow and steady. I don't like long days rushing site to site, or days of endless driving, but I do like to experience as much as I can. I'm far more interested in historic sites, beautiful scenery, good food, and experiencing the local culture, and not interested at all in resorts or beach days.

Based on google maps this doesn't appear to be a busy schedule - but I have been fooled by google maps before. My main question is: does this route look reasonable, or does it look like it's rushing through areas to fast? My secondary question: would this route allow us to experience Greek culture more than, say, a trip to Mykonos and Santorini would?

michael_cain_77398 Sep 18th, 2015 07:19 PM

edit: One reason that we want to set a rough itinerary early is that some of us will want to spend a week or more in Mykonos and Santorini. I spent a week in Mykonos once, I loved it, but I'd rather spend time in the mainland this round. We're looking for areas of overlap where we can meet up.

mariha2912 Sep 19th, 2015 01:50 AM

When on fall you plan to visit? I assume you will make good use of the car and explore surrounding areas of each town. I would add one day or two in Delphi area. I think it is a good plan.

traveller1959 Sep 19th, 2015 05:54 AM

I am just back from a 2-week-trip to Greece and I can honestly confirm that the best of Greece is on the mainland, not on the islands.

You will be overwhelmed by the beauty of the scenery and of the beaches and of the history you find virtually everywhere.

Nafplio is a small town with a charming old town, lots of restaurants, a small port and a fortress. However, I am not sure if I should recommend staying 4 days there.

Athens makes a good start. Corinth is just one hour from Athens. To be frank, it is a B category archeological site but you can see the terrace where Paul delivered his speech (there is a small altar) which makes it significant for everybody who is interested in theology. But the medieval fortress of Akrocorinth is one of the most impressive fortresses in Greece. In any case, drive up for a visit.

20 minutes south of Corinth is Mycenae. There is not too much left but it is historically very significant because it is much older than the archeology from the classic time. The best pieces from Mycenae are not in the museum there but in the National Archeological Museum in Athens.

So, you visit Corinth, Akrocorinth and Mycenae on the drive from Athens to Nafplio. From Nafplio, you should visit Mystras - it is A category for byzantine monasteries - and Epidauraus which has the best theatre at all. After Epidaurus, make sure to drive to one of the beautiful beaches in the area for a swim. This means, two full days in Nafplio are sufficient.

IMO, the very best attraction in all Greece is Delphi. Firstly, of all mythological places it is the most mythological one. Second, the scenery is breathtaking. Third, the ruins are impressive - another good theatre, a very good stadium, an almost completely preserved temple-like building, many columns left. Fourth, the museum has first-rank pieces.

Although there is so much in Delphi, it is very compact and you need not more than two to three hours to see everything (do not miss Athena's temple down from the road). In spite of this, I would recommend staying for two nights in nearby Arachova.

From Nafplio, I would suggest not to drive back via Athens to Arachova but to drive via Patra. It is a slightly longer drive (4 hours), but breathtakingly scenic. The bridge of Patra is most impressive and the coastal road north of the Corinthian Gulf is very scenic.

Before reaching Arachova, you may stop for a visit of Hosios Loukas, a Byzantine monastery from 945 A.D. which is very beautiful and UNESCO World Heritage. Many say, it is the most beautiful Byzantine monastery in Greece at all. Quick and easy to visit and just 30 minutes from Delphi.

Arachova is a charming yet touristy mountain village, very scenic. There are many hotels in Arachova, however my recommendation would be this one:

It is a little further up in a high valley, right under the summit of Mount Parnassos. After visiting Delphi in the morning you can use the remainder of the day to drive up to the Corycian Cave (in fact, you can hike from the hotel to the cave, but it is quite a climb and you have the possibility to drive the forest road up to the cave) and maybe have a look of the ski resorts nearby.

Sorry, can't say anything about Meteora and Thessaloniki.

Although my Garmin worked pretty well in Greece, it did not know all attractions and hotels, so you need good maps. I can recommend these two:

travelerjan Sep 19th, 2015 12:11 PM

Looks like a fun itinerary and it's good that you're starting your planning early, plenty of time to "tweak" things as you learn more. Comments:

• You mention that friends want to spend a week in the Islands, but don't say whether it's before or After. or in the middle. Be VERY careful on meet-up plans so you don't get hamstrung by others' contrary plans! If they're OK with doing the island thing before, then have them do the 1st week in Sept, then meet u back in Athens.

• On your Drive-plan, Athens - Nafplio, I suggest a substitution. Corinth yes, is "on the way," but as others have said unless you are a super-buff on Hellenic ruins (NOT well-signaged) or unless you have a "thing" for St Paul, then maybe you could pass Corinth by.

• I suggest you use a good map, and hop off the BIGGIE highway at "Isthmia," so you can see the Corinth Canal. So deep!! So narrow!! From the big highway it's virtually hidden, but if you jump off at Isthmia, you can go across the "Old BRidge" and stop & take some great pix, then hop right back on the Interstate.

• Just beyond the canal about 10-13 miles, take turnoff for 5-6 km and discover a little-promoted GEM, Ancient Nemea. It's the "runner-up" of Sacred Games Sites, after Olympia (which is hard to get to) .. Nemea has temple ruins, superb little museum, FAB stadium (where u can stand in the original runners blocks!!), all beautifully restored (U of Cal Berkeley is the funder!) ... 45 mnutes, a great ancient-games experience. Then back on highway & head south to Nafplio.

• Nafplio is worth at least a full day to explore, considered the most beautiful Old Town in Greece -- at sunsets at its seafront are the best in Greece, IMHO. SO much to see/do. For Palamidi, you can drive UP the backway if u don't want to do the 999 steps! Also, don't miss Tiryns, only bout 5 mile outside of town.... Huge block slike Mycenae but NO crowds.

• Epidaurus is a good day trip... theatre is the big thing, the rest of the site is acres & acres of ruins, hard to interpret. I agree that afternoon swim at a nearby beach is great... or you could head back toward Nafplio & stop at Tolo or Assine beach.

• Going from Nafplio to Delphi via Patra can be scenic, but I understand the modern intercity highway may be under repair... check this first. The parallel "old road" goes thru little villages & is v. nice, but would add considerably to travel times.

• For Delphi itself (the ruin & museum), in 2 visits, the approach I liked best was to travel up in afternoon, and go to Museum before sunset (it is open until 8 pm thru Oct, I think). Very well signaged, easy to understand if u also have done some homework/have a guidebook. At that time u can also drive downhill to the Athena Tholos (round) ruin, the one shown on all the websites. It's open 24/7. The main ruin opens at 8 AM & the light is wonderful... 3 hours plenty of time to appreciate everything before bus tours arrive. As for all that advice about monasteries, it will depend on your interest in such things.

I agree that its best not to rely totally on GPS, the spelling of Greek names throws it off, better to have a good map as well.

travelerjan Sep 19th, 2015 12:33 PM

Forgot to say... For car rental in ATH, with drop-off in Thessaloniki, you MUST shop around!!! Many (most?) Greece rental agencies do not have a big national network, thus they must send ANOTHER car w 2 drivers, to pick up your car on the other side of the country so they charge a huge fee! (200E +).

There are now 2 or 3 agencies that will do the drop-off thing at low fee ... can't say which, you'll just have to research, by googling "one-way car hire Athens Greece". There now is a "broker" agency - - which apparently has quotes from all eligible sources on drop-off in THessaloniki. -- that would include Budget-Athens, Sixt, europcar etc. The agency I've used with satisfaction (no one-ways tho), Budget-Athens, says in its online info "One way is available at a fee ranging from €90 to €400 depending on distance." So... be aware!

traveller1959 Sep 20th, 2015 04:12 AM

>>>Going from Nafplio to Delphi via Patra can be scenic, but I understand the modern intercity highway may be under repair... check this first. <<<

I have driven there two weeks ago. The construction is just a small section at the beginning of the road with good signage for the detour, no big deal. The coastal highway is in excellent condition, fast and scenic (lots of pullouts for photo stops along the way).

Driving in Greece is very easy. Without speeding, we were usually faster than the route planners suggested.

Otherwise, I totally agree with travelerjan.

stanbr Sep 20th, 2015 08:43 AM

You have had some excellent and detailed advice. If I were to tweak your plan her is what I would do.
Central Athens around the Acropolis is quite compact and can be well done in 3 days. I might consider dropping a day from Athens.
4 days in Nafplio is just about right. I certainly would want to check out Corinth either on the way to Nafplio or the way to Delphi. Ancient Corinth and particularly Ancient Nemia are worth an hour each for sure. We actually drove to the Gulf of Corinth side of the canal and found the sinking bridge. We lucked out and spent 20 minutes there watching the bridge sink and a boat pass over.

If you choose to delete a day from Athens then I would use that day and visit Mystras and perhaps slip down to Monemvassia. These are two outstanding sites. You can spend the night in a period room inside Monemvassias walled city. Remarkable

I agree with Jan arrive Delphi late afternoon find a nice hotel most likely at a good discount if you find it on a walk up basis. The views from the village are special. See the museum that evening so you are prepared for the site the next day. We arrived at opening and it was about 2 hours before the first tour buses started to arrive. By that time we were high up in the site and were essentially alone for three hours.

Then head to Meteora. We arrived in early evening and found the area virtually empty. We visited each of the Monasteries with no one around and got pictures without people and tour buses blocking the view. We stayed in the tiny village of Kastraki which is nestled at the foot of the monastery mountains.
We spent the full day visiting. We only got into one monastery that day so could have spent another day there but with up to 30 tour buses at the open monastery It just wasn't worth the effort.

I have to admit to having no experience at Thessaloniki but 4 days seems a bit much. If you really wanted to do Mystras and Monemvassia you might consider dropping a day at Thessaloniki and adding it to the Nafplio/ southern Peloponnese portion of the trip.
Here are some images to whet your appetite.
Nafplio and Peloponnese

Olympia Delfi Meteora

Have fun planning

michael_cain_77398 Sep 20th, 2015 11:18 AM

Great advice, thanks!

I don't know much about Thessaloniki, and added it because it sounded fun to end in a new place. I also would love to see the Royal Tombs at Aigai, and they are en route Meteora>Saloniki. I thought about doing the trip in reverse, but figured I'd have more energy for lots of day trips and exploring early on, so wanted to hit the Peloponesse first.

I'll carve any extra days for Delphi or Monemvasia out of the four days planned for Saloniki. Monemvasia looks fantastic; I'm concerned about having too many long driving days if I try to work it in. I plotted put an Athens>Nafplio>Monemvasia>Mystras>Delphi>Meteora>V ergine (Aigai) route, but it didn't look like a pace I'd enjoy.

As for planning with my friends ... they can be special flowers. They are fantastic travel companions (they let me do the planning, and are game for anything I suggest - the best!), but also tend to do things like wait until the last minute to buy their tickets & end up with awkward dates. They will also only have one week. So I'll plan a trip that I would enjoy doing solo, and it's bonus points if people can join me. My best guess is that we'll have a group in Athens and I'll be solo on the road.

Though if the dates work out I might drop Saloniki at the end for Santorini at the beginning. No desire to go there alone, but it would be fun if my buddies are there. And it'll be post-party season (early October), so I might be able to convince them to make their week Santorini/Athens or Athens/Nafplio.

I need to research the one way car fees. I did some price checks for this October on Autoeuropa and Kayak, and the final quotes didn't mention them. Maybe because it's off-season, or because I'm looking at a longer ten-day rental? Or is it a surprise fee that comes up after you commit?

Also: are car break-ins an issue if you stop at sites while on the road? I know in some places it's a concern (Sicily, and sadly my hometown), and others it's not. That will affect our planning.

travelerjan Sep 20th, 2015 02:19 PM

Hi again --
Glad you liked the thoughts from Stanbr and Me -- we play "tag team" on these forums.

About the drop-off fee -- I think they don't mention them because they are so high. You have to ask ask ask.

About Saloniki -- yes it's "interesting" and I too would like to see the Vergina tombs (being a Greek-history nerd) -- but it's a Big Big city, and really hard to get to easily/quickly. I've been to Greece 12 times, and it never has worked into my itineraries. Why not google Thessaloniki and look at a bunch of videos & blogs, and read about it in a DETAILED and CANDID travel guide, such as Rough Guide, which is forthright in opinions ... and decide whether it's a Must-do for your first Greek trip.

RE -- car break-ins. With my travel companions, we've stopped many times for a few hours, at an ancient site, or for dinner, leaving car parked on street or parking lot. We had the trunk (boot) locked and never gave it a thought, except the ONE time there were 5 of us in a hatchback & our luggage was packed to the ceiling... we were in a Crete town with a big tourist influx, so we suddenly felt "iffy." but all we did was park backwards in a lot, so the back of the car was almost hitting a wall.
In general, you are NOT going to encounter the kind of "pilfering" that alas is endemic in parts of Italy. The Athens subways have a pickpocketing issue (largely an illegal-Albanian "ring") ... and some beach towns in high season have slight problems (as the books tell us, usually the culprits are your fellow hoildaymakers, 18-23, whose moms didn't teach them not to steal). In 12 trips, staying in over 60 lodgings (largely small & family-run), I have NEVER had anything go missing. As a friend of mine, married to a Greek, said laughingly, "Janet, Petty theft is just not part of the Greek culture... maybe shipping magnates will steal a fleet from each other... but no Greek is going to rummage through your luggage."

traveller1959 Sep 20th, 2015 03:04 PM

>>> are car break-ins an issue if you stop at sites while on the road <<<

First, Greece is a very safe country. The Greeks are generally very relaxed and very friendly. The only place where we sensed the presence of petty crime are some neighbourhoods in Athens where doubious creatures gather, never on the countryside.

Second, most of the archeological sites are in the middle of nowhere. You drive highways for many kilometers through
farmland, olive plantations or wilderness areas until you reach a parking lot. There are no bad people living nearby.

The parking lots of the archeological or historical sites are usually well-populated, with tour buses, bus drivers hanging around on the parking lots, ticket booths, souvenir shops, snack bars and lots of traffic. We never saw any suspicious figure or any occurance and we never sensed any danger - and believe me, I am a very sensitive person.

In brief, we did never hesitate to park our loaded car in parking lots of archeological or historical sites or in the parking lot of the port of Nafplion. We always felt good and never had an incidence and never heard of any incidence (and we have a friend living in Greece).

However, in Athens, we felt unsafe several times, especially in the neighbourhoods right south of our hotel, the Radisson Blu Park Hotel. There we saw a lot of homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes, but never outside Athens. Our Greek friends said that there is not really poverty in the countryside, because in the villages, the family cares and everyone can find something to do and to live on, while poverty congregates in Athens.

mariha2912 Sep 21st, 2015 01:36 AM

You may want to google and check Galaxidi, Angelos and Eva Sikelianos museum of Delphic festivals, the hiking path Delphi to Kirra or Delphi to Corycean Cave, Argyriou winery on Souvala, vagonetto bauxite mines tour between Delphi and Meteora and Plastira lake about 2 hours side tracking before reaching Meteora among other things... and pick what you fancy depending on how long you end up been on each area.

stanbr Sep 21st, 2015 09:09 AM

I forgot to comment on traveller1959 great comment about the Garman GPS working well in Greece. Ours was very reliable as well but with one caveat.
As 1959 says you need a map in order to set the
co ordinates correctly. Who would have guessed that there are 7 different locations called Meteora in Greece. Who would have guessed that one Meteora is an outskirts of Thessaloniki? That was a very long day all because we didn't have a map for Northern Greece.

michael_cain_77398 Sep 21st, 2015 01:44 PM

Dropping Thessaloniki actually opens up my options a lot, though it does make it harder to visit the Royal Tombs.

My new working plan is:

3 nights Athens

3 nights Nafplio
3 nights Gytheio (or thereabouts)
2 nights Delphi (5-6 hour drive)
3 nights Meteora

2 nights Athens

Based on what I'm reading this will capture a good variety of natural beauty, Greek culture, and historic sites. I avoid single-night stops, and these seems to be nice places for down-time if I'm feeling lazy. I can decide if I'm in the mood for a long detour to the Aigai tombs when I'm in Delphi or Meteora.

travelerjan Sep 21st, 2015 08:40 PM

There are some very good videos of the Royal Tombs. Someday I may visit them, if I decide to visit a friend who lives outside THessaloniki in a little college town. Not unless.

traveller1959 Sep 23rd, 2015 09:10 AM

Why do you want to go to Gytheio? Is is for coast and scenery?

In this case I would rather recommend going to Pylos & Navarino Bay. It is absolutely spectacular and your way to Delphi is not that long as from Gytheio.

Maybe you want to go there:

travelerjan Sep 23rd, 2015 08:20 PM

Totally agree with trav1959 -- For coast, beach & scenery, I MUCH prefer Pylos area, espcially that secret Eden just 10 KM north of Pylos, Gialova. Wonderful little seaside stretch of about 4 blocks, a few restaurants, maybe 3 hotels. Hotel ZOE is Heaven on a Plate!! Right on the beach .... and you can walk for miles north on the beach and nobody's there!! ... You eat outdoors by the water, under low shady palm trees, hung with lanterns. You can drive in 15 minutes to Navarino, the wildlife refuge and stunning Voidokilla This enchanting area is not overrun yet ... go before it changes.

Pylos itself is a charming small town with a stylish open square fronting on the sea ... very chic (designed by the French), lovely place for sunset cocktails.

mariha2912 Sep 24th, 2015 01:58 AM

At the start of October sunset comes at 7 but at the end of the month comes as early as 5.30 and of course weather strarts to get more iffy. The earlier on October you plan to visit the more active summer resorts will be, but I am not sure if most mainland beach resorts will have much going on to be honest... at least not the ones that do not receive foreign visitors and rely to Greeks.
I would still go to areas with enough sightseen and scenery if this is what you want to do, but personaly I would stick with original itinerary making a few adjustments.

It is a pitty not many people explore Northern Greece above Meteora and even discourrage other people to do so without even ever been there! I wish I have the opportunity to travel north more often my self. It has been quite a few years since last time... There are many variations, but the distance from Meteora to Vergina can be less than 4 hours driving non-stop and one could overnight on the area. Following the route that gets you through Grevena area can be quite scenic while overnighting in Vergina area you can visit one of the most atmosperic and important sites of Greece on your own pace. It is then less than 90 minutes drive to Thessaloniki if you do not side track and Thessaloniki IS an amazing city. It has lots of sightseen and its own mentallity and ambiance and fantastic food and coffee culture and nightlife.

Decisions, decisions....

michael_cain_77398 Sep 24th, 2015 07:03 PM

"Why do you want to go to Gytheio? Is is for coast and scenery?"

Gytheio would be more of a base to explore the area. The second option would be Kardamyli, but can decide on my specific base later. I'm not worried about beach time, as long as the weather is temperate enough that we can be outside we'll be fine!

AutoEurope claims not to have any drop off fee, so that opens up Thessaloniki again! I've got two working plans: the rational one, and the "I want to see everything" one.


4 - Athens
3 - Nafplio (Arcocorinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus)
3 - Gytheio (Mystras, Caves of Diros)
2 - Delphi
3 - Kalampaka / Meteora
2 - Thessaloniki (Royal Tombs en route)


3 - Athens
3 - Nafplio (Arcocorinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus)
2 - Monemvasia (Mystras en route)
2 - Kardamyli (Caves of Diros)
2 - Dimetsana (Lousious Gorge)
2 - Delphi
2 - Kalampaka / Meteora
1 - Thessaloniki (Royal Tombs en route)

Strangely enough, I have the exact same number of non-driving days with the "fast route," which would alternate between walking and driving days. The first route would involve a lot more potential day trips, and so the actual time driving evens out.

I lose valuable (to me) city time in Athens and Saloniki with the faster pace, and I'll probably change my mind on the best option a lot between now and then.

mariha2912 Sep 24th, 2015 09:59 PM

You could always book first couple of days in Athens and maybe last one on Thessaloniki and then decide on the spot depending on how you feel.
I am not saying to arrive somewhere without a clue on the area and start looking for accommodation out of the blue... But you could research in advance some possibilities and decide where to go next while there and call a day or two in advance to book a room on next destination... or even have a top 5 of hotels on each location and seek them out on the spot.

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