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Trip Report Magical Greece. A 13 day jaunt across the Aegean

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I have just returned from a wonderful trip just short of two weeks from Greece. I am hoping to pen down my travels while my mind is still fresh from the vivid colours and smells of Greece while the body is physically back home in India.

Our trip was with my parents (65+ senior citizens but active), and with my brother and his family. We are a couple in the final year of our 30s with two kids aged 6, 4.

This was our route.
May 14 - Arrive Athens.
May 15 - Drive to Meteora. Overnight.
May 16 - Drive to Delphi. Overnight
May 17-19 Athens
May 20 - Ferry to Naxos. 3 nights.
May 23 - Flight to Athens - Drive to Nafplio 3 nights
May 26 - Depart back to India.

This trip was put together with the help of various contributors whose trip reports and posts I voraciously read in detail. I might miss some but a huge thanks to indiancouple, heimdall, artsnletters, mariha, stanbr, clausar (thanks for the Ktel bus link), travelerjan, PetrosB3, and other posters from whose reports I picked up names of restaurants, places to visit, etc.

Our trip itself started off on a poor note with visa delays at the greek embassy at Delhi. We were originally scheduled to leave on 13th and spent some money having to cancel our initial tickets which we got on a great promo fare and having to book this again for the 14th. Initial plan was for 2 nights in Meteora but had to crunch it down. So the days leading up to our travel was chaotic at best and it didn't help that it was an extremely busy time at work too. Our passports were returned back to us on the afternoon of the 13th. Can you believe it? Half a day before our flights. From the initial fare of $2500 for the family of 4, we had to pay an excess $1200 for the date change and fare increase. Couldn't be helped. We were finally going.

It was more relief than excitement when we finally boarded our Qatar Airways flight at 4am on May 14th. We had a 5 hour layover in Doha. A great airport to have a layover, especially when you're travelling with kids. We hardly felt the time go by. Kids tired themselves out in the play area, we checked our emails, took a nap and had a snack. We briefly contemplated checking into the airport hotel but realized they were full. If I had done some homework, we could have done that. They charged $220 for a day. Flight was uneventful and we touched down at Athens at 6pm local time.

Day 1 May 14: Athens
We took a cab into Athens and checked into Hotel Astor - all hotels were booked on and I loved all of them. This was in 16,Karageorgi Servias right by Syntagma and the Parliament. E160 for a family room. We quickly freshened up, got the kids ready and heading out by 8pm to grab a quick bite. I wanted to pick up a local sim at Athens airport but couldn't find a Cosmote or any other vendor issuing cards. The cab driver told us Syntagma was a better bet anyways. It was still bright out and we just stretched our legs a bit just walking about the square by the fountain. Our concierge had recommended the Old Ithaki restaurant (not 'Ithaki', he specifically told us) behind the old church on Mitropoleos Street. It was a 5-7 minute walk.

After the long day and the chaos prior, we needed a drink to settle down. A Mythos for me. Vodka for the missus. I had the pastitsio and DW had the greek salad. Kids had spaghetti. We found out about the portions when the food arrived. They were enormous. We were all tired and hungry (or so we thought) but none of us were able to finish our dishes. Kids probably did most justice to their spaghetti. The pastitsio was delicious. We also found out that it was one of the priciest restaurants in the area. The entire meal cost us about E50. We grabbed some gelato at Syntagma on the way back - our first of many wonderful ice creams on this trip, and headed back to the hotel by 1020pm. It was a long day but we were happy to finally be in Greece and the holiday mood was setting in.

Day 2... to come.

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    Thanks Heimdall and almostemptynester. I tend to ramble a bit and get into the details. It helps as I visualize this trip as it happened. You can skip through if it gets too tedious. But thanks for the motivation to keep me going...

    Day 2 May 15: Athens - Meteora
    Due to the last minute scheduling of this trip, I had to cancel and rebook some of our hotel bookings and car rentals to avoid any charges. I had planned to drive to Meteora on the morning of the 15th and my initial plan, on the recommendation of a lot of Fodorites was to use Budget Athens - a local car rental agency that was reputed. During my 5 hour layover in Doha, I used that time to scope out Swift Car Rental run by Elias - this was a link from Matt Barrett's I didn't have much hope as I don't really use tour guides but sometimes a gem or two pop out. Elias was one such. He promptly responded to my emails and also accommodated a change of car request at the last minute as my brother's family was going to come along with me on the ride back from Delphi to Athens so I wanted a bigger car than the sedan I had initially requested. Once I checked into the hotel, I called Elias and confirmed our discussion. He promised to have someone bring the car over to the Astor Hotel, drop me off at a convenient jump off point outside the main city center so it's easier to get onto the highway. This 3 day rental cost me E240 with full insurance and CDW.

    The car was to report to the hotel by 10am. Once we finished breakfast, I hopped over to the Vodafone store right around the corner from Astor and picked up a local sim card with voice and data on it. I needed this primarily to run google maps and for directions. This cost me E18.

    I have to mention that Astor has a lovely rooftop breakfast lounge and the views to the Acropolis are absolutely killer. Breakfast was the usual fare but everywhere I went I found the breads unbelievably soft, fresh, and wonderful. I love bread so these finds were exciting to me.

    At 10am sharp a brand new 2015 Nissan Evalia with less than 6000 km on it rolled into the Astor. Turns out the car was from Avance car rental - it was fine. He had all the paperwork and it was smooth and painless. By 10:45 we were on our way. It was a long drive - almost 5 hours. We were all excited with the looong tunnels once we got out of Athens. We reached Lamia by 1 and decided to pit for lunch. I don't recall the name of this place but it's right off the main Athens Lamia highway - Lunch comprised baked eggplant, souvlaki, and bread (!!!). Simple but lovely meal washed down with some cold lemon tea. No beer ( was driving!)

    Once we passed Lamia, the hills and the climbs commenced. The views also changed dramatically. All in all, a lovely drive and I didn't feel the strain of a long drive. By the time we pulled into the Guesthouse Lithos, it was 4:15pm. At the recommendation of Natalie who runs the place, we quickly dumped our bags in the room and drove straight to the Megalo Monastery or the first church of Transfiguration.

    This is the most popular and impressive structure. All the monasteries close by 6pm and they allow visitors only till 5:30pm. It was a quick 10 minute drive. It is built on the highest rock. There's a lot of climbing and descending on steep stone steps so bring your walking shoes. Oh, pants for the men and skirts for the ladies with a wrap covering your arms. They are quite strict about it. One of the visitors got turned away for her sleeveless top and shorts.

    The inner sanctum has a lovely dome with some lovely wall paintings and frescos depicting the treatment of Christians by the Romans. We spent 45 minutes walking around the lovely monastery and lit candles as well. we aren't Christians but it had a warm and sombre feel to it that makes you feel at ease. We sat down in the peace just soaking it in for about 10 minutes till the kids got into a loud chatter and we quickly exited.

    Natalie also told us the views near Agios Stefanos were incredible. So we decided to stop by there, clicked some pictures, but couldn't enter the monastery as it had closed early that day.

    On the recommendation from fodorites, I had planned 2 nights at Meteora, but due to our initial fracas, this became a rushed portion of this trip. Meteora truly deserves 2 nights. It was truly magical and serene.

    We went back to the room, unpacked, freshened up, and were ready for dinner by 7pm. We walked over to Paradisos right up the street - some local retsina wine, chicken, and saganaki - a grilled feta cheese concoction that each place we went to had a different twist to its preparation. Very nice.

    We chatted for a while, I made some notes, had whatsapp calls with my brother confirming his trip to Delphi the following day and we hit the bed by 10:30pm.

    Lithos is a lovely lovely place and one of my favourites hotels on this trip. A very simple guesthouse run by Natalie and her husband (who doesn't speak a lot of English). We again had a family room on the first floor - a large double bed and 2 singles for the girls. Quite spacious, and a large wraparound deck overlooking the street and the rocks of Meteora right above you. Cost us E80 with a brilliant breakfast of eggs, toast, waffles, and the most delicious cake I had on this trip - all cooked by Natalie singlehandedly.

    Day 3 May 16: Delphi - To come...

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    It is very interesting to see how someone used the ideas of this forum when his trip materialised. I enjoyed reading this and I can't wait to read your Delphi part of the trip Sunsind : )))

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    I never finish what I start!!!! This trip report is 6 months in the making and I have made 2 other trips since!

    Thank you for your comments.

    I will look to finish this up over the weekend for sure. Apologies.

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    Thanks traveller1959.

    Day 3 May 16: Delphi or Delfi
    One of the curious things we noticed through our drives was how the same city was spelt in multiple ways. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re trying to navigate through turn offs, exits, and also have to keep track of the city spellings! Weird.

    It was nice that we split the return journey back to Athens with this Delphi stop. We were to meet up with my brother and sis in law who had taken a bus up from Athens (Ktel). We were booked at the Fedriades Hotel. It was a gorgeous drive back and we got into Delphi in time for lunch. Found parking right outside the hotel and checked in. This was the smallest room of our trip but oh what a view! Breathtaking, right over the valley. We got a large double and a single instead of the usual double and 2 singles. I don’t think a second single would have fit in that room. Still it was nice, clean, and just right.

    We walked through town scoping out lunch options and we chanced upon Delfikon, a restaurant right on the cliffs with lovely views. Beer, pizzas, saganaki, and a tsouvlaki. Ten minutes into our meal and who walks right past us; my brother and sister in law! Hugs, hellos and stories were exchanged, and we walked back to the hotel after lunch to freshen up. Plan was to hit the Theatre and the museum after lunch.

    We entered the museum just as a large US college group study tour was entering. They were loud, obnoxious, and not mindful of the other tourists who wanted some peace and quiet inside the museum. Sad. Anyways, the exhibits were lovely and wonderfully portrayed through multiple halls.

    The climbing began. Wear your walking shoes. There’s tons of steps going up to the theatre, and some of them extremely slippery as it’s polished granite. We saw at least two tourists take a spill. The theatre was lovely and we spent a good 90 minutes there. We skipped the Temple of Apollo as the kids were starting to get cranky. We stopped by for overpriced ice cold refreshments at the museum café and headed back to the Fedriades.

    Delphi itself is a very small town. You walk 10 minutes and you’ve covered it. Yes, and it is completely overrun by the tour buses coming in from all over. The best time to visit the theatre would probably be just when it opens or right before it closes. You also get to see a fabulous sunset over the valley. At night the town streets are lit up and streets closed to traffic so people can just walk about. Very touristy, and a lot of souvenir shops eager to take some euros off you. We obliged!

    Delphi was good for a night and we felt we did sufficient justice.

    Next: Athina / Athens...

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    Day 4 May 17: Athens / Athina
    The family was converging to this wonderful of European capitals. Athens fascinated us. I’m not a history buff and cannot name all the famous monuments that the Greek dynasty is famous for but one can’t help but be fascinated by the sheer history in Athens everywhere we went. Whether it was an old church, or columns in the middle of a courtyard that used to be a palace, we discovered gems everywhere we went.

    I want to make a small mention of the car booking. I had miscalculated the return for the car and mentioned to the agency that I would return the car on 18th. I realized as I was driving into the city, they said no problem, came within 20 minutes to the hotel, quickly checked the car, and refunded me E80 from the overall rate. This was great service and I totally recommend Elias and Swift car rental.

    We booked rooms at the Attalos hotel. Smack in the middle of the Monastiraki area, less than 500 meters to the metro stop and right by a lot of the shops. A busy street but the rooms were nice and it has a lovely rooftop bar where we spent enjoyable evenings that has a great view up to the Acropolis. We had 2 adjoining rooms, one for us and one for the kids, for about E120 a night which was a steal. Athens busted a lot of myths about box like hotel rooms in European cities. The rooms were pretty large and comfortable wherever we went.

    We spent the day hitting the Roman Agora first. Some lovely ruins including the altar of the 12 gods, palace of giants, and the temple of Hephaestus were witnessed on this day. Lunch was in Monastiraki square at Savas restaurant. A very busy street with chairs and tables just stacked up right along the street. Just be wary of your belongings.

    We took a short siesta after lunch and walked over to Syntagma, the palace gates, and walked over to the botanical gardens. The elaborate changing of the guards ceremony happens on Sunday at 11am, but a shortened version happens daily on the hour, every hour. The gardens were beautiful and very child friendly with a playground and trails that we could walk along. Lovely. We spent a good 90 minutes here, spent more time in the square, walking past the small shops and ended up in Ithaki restaurant (not Old Ithaki that we had hit up on the first night). The prices were a lot lower but the food was as great.

    We compared our travel stories over dinner, and walked back to the hotel by 9. It was a good start to Athens.

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    Day 5, May 18: Athens

    Today was our mom’s birthday and we had decided to do a special dinner. Tripadvisor gave good reviews about the Altamira restaurant which serves fusion cuisine of Asian, Indian, Arabic, and Mexican; a break from our daily greek fare.

    The morning however, was spent in the Plaka area walking through the flea market and bargaining for little curios and other things we could find. By noon, we hitched a ride onto the little train that makes its way through the tourist hot spots so we thought it might be good to get a lay of the land. It works like a hop on hop off with your daily ticket. We stopped by Hadrian’s arch and library, the Panathenaic stadium, the presidential palace, and finally at the Acropolis museum but we didn’t go in.

    We went back to the hotel after a productive morning so the kids could rest (more us than kids!). One of the trips I wanted to make was to the top of Lycabettus. So we wanted to time it such that we get to the top to see the sunset. We took a metro from Monastiraki to the Evangelismos station, two stops away. All the warnings about the famed pickpockets on the Athens metro came true. Within that 6 minute ride across 2 metro stops, my dad had his mobile phone swiped from his pockets. He didn’t even realize until we got down at the station. So again, take precautions and watch your stuff.

    I wanted to walk to the funicular, so we split up, some took a cab and some of us took Ploutarhou street and commenced the steep ascent interspersed with steps that took us to the entrance to the Funicular that takes you all the way to the top. I believe there are steps that take you all the way up, but I wanted to experience the funicular ride. I have heard that it’s a bit of a rip off, and it’s probably true. We paid E6 each way I believe, but despite that there were long queues to get in. A short ride later, we emerged on the top of Lycabettus.

    There’s a nice café / bar at the top but we didn’t even bother to check the prices, it was going to be overpriced. The atmosphere was lovely at the top. It was crowded and a lot of youngsters were perched by the rail, their feet dangling over the side, waiting for the perfect sunset. There was a nice flag ceremony where the guards lower the Greek flag at the end of each day, fold it neatly and take it in. Lovely photo ops. And we got to see the most gorgeous sunset. Great pics with the little white houses at the bottom.

    We knew that Altamira Kolonaki was a short taxi ride from the Funicular, so we pulled it up on the map and showed it to the cabbie. They all seemed a little confused but dropped us off in the general area. It took us 10 minutes of walking around with google maps on our phones trying to locate this restaurant. When we did find it, it was a gem and we happened to have one of our best meals on this trip. We had the chili con carne, chicken fajitas, veg chimichangas, samosas, Indian naan breads, and kofta curry. Sensational meal and appealed to all of us. As per usual, we didn’t have to order dessert, and they brought out a really nice cake with candles for us to sing, and they joined along. Altamira is a lovely restaurant and housed in a beautiful neo classical building with faded red walls, and oak furniture. A winding staircase and a long chandelier made for a stunning entrance.

    A lovely way to end a special day for us. Next – the trip up Acropolis…

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    You walk past Apollo temple to get on the theater in Delphi so I am not sure how you may have skipped that. Maybe you mean the lower site where riuns of Athena Proaea temple and Gymnasium are to be found and you mix Tholos with Temple of Apollo. By the way, it is fun and sort of ironic that Tholos is sort of landmark of Delphi archeological site and a)People skip it b)People mix it as temple of Apollo or Athena or whatever while in reality no one has an idea what it was about. Archeologists try hard to figure this out but haven't come on a conclusion more than a century since they unearth it.

    Modern Delphi is a tiny village but I always find it a pity that people say one day is enough and there is nothing to do. Have you walk past the two main streets and see beyond the touristy part? Get to the Angelos and Eva Sikelianos museum or the school of fine arts? Visit the local cemetery where Eva and others are buried and views towards both the valley and the archeological site are breath taking? Do some hiking around? Visit some of the tiny churches with interesting history each? Walk to enjoy a sunset from the pavillion area? Join a pottery making course at Polytropon art? No, but of course everyone comes into conclusions without even knowing what exactly they have seen where they have visit.
    Sorry, no personal thing, just letting some stream off.

    Honestly, I am glad to see your trip report and that you had a good time : )

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    Hi Mariha yes I stand corrected. I meant the lower site.

    I completely understand how you feel. Part of the pleasures of a vacation or visiting new lands is to have an immersive experience. Most of our travels (if without kids includes such activities). Sadly this wasn't one of those trips. I don't mean by any measure that we covered all of Delphi, I'm sure there are gems hidden from the regular tourist traps. We didn't take the time to discover them.

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    @ Sunsind86 – Thanks for this very informative trip report! Congratulations for managing those last-minute visa difficulties so well, and my sympathies for your father's loss of his phone. Sounds like you managed to have a great trip despite the unexpected snags. Thanks for posting, and special thanks for the details about visiting Delphi. :-)

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    I really enjoy reading your trip report of Greece, Sunsind86. Thank you for coming back here after 6 months hiatus and continue the report - I was eagerly looking for the Delphi and Athens part ^^

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