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Les Nov 22nd, 2009 08:50 PM

Need help with Greece/Turkey itinerary
We're in the process of planning a trip to Greece and Turkey in May, and I could use a little advice.
We've done some research, and have a preliminary itinerary. Well, actually just a list of the places (listed below) that we consider must-see (with the exception of those few that are marked with an asterisk).

Here is the list:

Mainland (probably driving rental car)
Volos – The Meteora
Kardamyli (small village on Peloponnese)
Vatheia (small village on Peloponnese)
Islands (prefer cruise or ferries, ability to stay overnight where we want to)
Corfu (maybe we can access this by ferry from mainland)

Demre (Myra) - Lycean Tombs
Fethiye – Lycean Tombs
Antioch (Anatakia)*
Goreme Valley
Kaymakli or Derinkuyu – (underground cities)

My question is not WHAT places to see (we've already decided that), but rather HOW to see these places in a cohesive itinerary.

We plan to spend the entire month of May on this trip, and longer if absolutely necessary (we have no real time constraints, but have found from experience that a month makes for an ideal trip, while 6 weeks gets a bit long).

We plan to fly into Athens, and spend 3 or 4 nights seeing the city. Then, we'll rent a car and drive around mainland Greece (including the Peloponnese), allowing approximately 7 days for this (including 2 nights in Corfu, via ferry), returning to Athens.

From Athens, we'll cruise the islands listed above (in whatever order makes the most sense), with stays in Santorini (3 nights), Mykonos (3 nights, including a day trip to Delos), and Rhodes (3 nights), and just stopping for the day in Patmos.

We would then like to cruise into Istanbul (definitely cruise, NOT fly), Where we'll spend 4 or 5 nights.
From Istanbul, we'll see the other sites in Turkey, in whatever order seems logical, returning to Istanbul for our flight home. We're planning on 2 nights at Ephesus and 2 nights at Cappadocia, with the amount of time for the others as required.

So, many questions present themselves.
1. Is this schedule too ambitious for 1 month?
2. Are the number of days that we've alloted for each site sufficient, or too long? I'd appreciate recommendations based on your experience.
3. It's obvious that we can't arrange a single cruise to do what we're proposing for seeing the islands and ending at Istanbul. I'm pretty sure that most cruises won't allow for the extended stays we'd like on some of the islands. So, what is the most reasonable way to accomplish what we want to do (regarding the oceanic part of our trip)?
4. What would be the best way to see the Turkish sites. We would entertain small tours (less than 10 or 12 people), or flying between cities and getting a car and driver, or maybe taking buses between the sites and getting a guide at each location. Whatever. We're totally ignorant of the best way to see Turkey, and would welcome suggestions.

Sorry about the long post, but I think we need to finalize our plans pretty soon for a May trip, and your input will be very helpful.

Thanks, all.

yiassas Nov 23rd, 2009 01:02 AM

I would say the answer to #1 is yes, too ambitious! You have approx the same number of places as you do days!
A couple of things to help you rearrange/adjust your list:
<<<<Then, we'll rent a car and drive around mainland Greece (including the Peloponnese), allowing approximately 7 days for this (including 2 nights in Corfu, via ferry), returning to Athens.>>>> That's impossible with the mainland/Peloponnese list you have, it's even too much without going to Corfu! For this part of the trip I would head north from Athens to Meteora, back down to Delphi, across the Rio bridge & on to Dimitsana area. From there head to the Mani to see Kardamyli & Vathi, then Monemvassia, finally Nafplion & back to Athens. Possible in 7 days, depends on whether you want to properly see these places or just pass through.
Regarding the islands Patmos is the one that doesn't fit so easily for such a short stop. Bear in mind that you can cross to Turkey from Rhodes & work your way up to Istanbul, absolutely pointless to aim for Instanbul, then return there to fly home.
Just a few pointers to start you off!

thursdaysd Nov 23rd, 2009 04:28 AM

I agree that this is too much for one month. It took me six weeks to cover Greece doing the mainland (north and Peloponnese) and three islands (Crete, Rhodes and Kos). If it helps with the itinerary, my TR is at

travelerjan Nov 23rd, 2009 05:20 AM

Agree TOTALLY with the above. And when you say "cruise" you mean taking ferries.... because a Cruise ship will not permit overnights.. on some islands you are lucky to get 4 hours. You are best off you take so-called "Regular" ferries, these are very large car-carrying Ships, with 1100-1800 passenger capacity, with decks for the view; fast-ferries are large catamarans (400+passengers) but no outside decks -- take them only if required by scheduling. When you get "reserved economy" tickets on regular ferries, you're guaranteed a comfortable upholstered numbered seat indoors, but may spend as much time as you like in chairs out on the deck or in several onboard cafes. It can be a nice "mini-cruise" experience in May, which is one of the calmest months in which to sail.

Your Island sequence might more logically be (1) MYKONOS, maybe just 2 days, (not a "must" island unless you are into high-end shopping and nightclubbing which from your list I am guessing not). .. u could see Mykonos Town on day 1, Delos on 2nd Day. (2) SANTORINI -- you may not get a direct ferry in May, at least not a direct open-deck ferry. In that case stay overnight in PAROS... IMHO, a more interesting isle than Myk, at least less touristic... (3) From santorini, time your trip to get the OVERNIGHT sailing (on a modern new Blue STar Ferry) to RHODES --- and on to Turkey.

HappyTrvlr Nov 23rd, 2009 07:07 AM

When we were planning our month in Greece we originally planned to include Turkey.In the end,we decided that both countries deserved their own trip and went to Greece. We can't wait to explore Turkey soon for another month.
One suggestion on your Greek itinerary is to spend time on Paros or Naxos for a better Greek island experience.

travelerjan Nov 24th, 2009 10:31 AM

Happy Traveler, yes, you've been there, now you know... a "better Greek island experience" results from going to less-touristed islands like Paros/Naxos/Sifnos/Milos ... but the constant Mykonos-Santorini over-promotion keeps first-timers flocking there for the bulk of their time. And perhaps they'll never return to Greece and experience the best of it. Sigh.

Les Nov 24th, 2009 01:53 PM

Thanks for all the replies.
We're in the process of re-planning as a result of your comments.

yiassas, let me clarify something. I realize that we have (had?) as many places to see as days, but keep in mind that we're not planning to overnight in all those places. We feel that the driving part of the trip will be similar to the many drives we've taken around Europe and the States; i.e. drive until we see something of particular interest, stop and look around, continue driving until we're ready to quit for the day. Of course, some places (such as Meteora) may require an overnight, but surely not all on our list.

travelerjan, I understand that Santorini and Mykonos (and perhaps others) are over-promoted, but there must be a good reason. Would you go to Paris on a first visit and not go to the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower? As first-time travelers to Greece, it's reasonable (even mandatory)to see the "famous" sights, as well as the less traveled ones. Because we're getting on in age, and my travel preferences tend toward Asia, it might be a long time (if ever) before we get back to see these sights. We chose Santorini for its unique setting (and our reading and conversations with others that have been there), and Mykonos because I particularly want to see Delos, which is accessible via ferry from there.
As for the "Greek island experience", which is my wife's preference, she feels that a couple of island stays will satisfy that need. My preferences, on the other hand, lean toward the archaeological and historical. We both love cities, so Athens and Istanbul are non-negotiable.

So, back to the re-plan.
On the table are such options as limiting our Turkey travels to Istanbul and Ephesus, cutting back on some of the sights in Greece, and extending the length of the trip. We're considering any or all of these options.
In that regard, how long would you consider adequate to do our original itinerary? This will give us some idea of what we're dealing with.

Again, thanks for your replies, and any you might add.

brotherleelove2004 Nov 24th, 2009 02:25 PM

Les, be advised that there are convenient daytrip excursions to Delos from both Naxos and Paros 3-4 times each week that also make a stop in Mykonos Town for a couple of hours. Naxos and Paros are easily reached from Santorini by ferry on a daily basis. There's a lot more to see and do on either of these islands as compared to Mykonos.

Les Nov 24th, 2009 06:10 PM

Great info! Nothing we've read mentioned this - it will definitely help us plan.
Thanks so much!

stanbr Nov 24th, 2009 08:57 PM

I see your wife is looking for a more authentic Greek Island to visit. I would second Naxos. It has a wonderful old town area, great beaches, mountain villages and a smattering of Antiquities. It has a lot to offer.
AS Brotherlee says, from Naxos there are two excursion boats MV Alexander and the Naxos Star. Both at about 80 feet in length and can carry up to Two hundred passengers. You get about 3 hours in Delos and an equal time on Mykonos. So you get a great historical visit plus a taste of Mykonos but you do not have to pay Mykonos prices, a real bonus in my mind.

Here are some Naxos pictures.

yiassas Nov 24th, 2009 10:58 PM

Another vote for Naxos & doing Delos/Mykonos as a day trip!
Les, back to the mainland/Peloponnese part, I live on the Peloponnese so I can be very realistic about that part of the itinerary! The suggested route I gave you would need at least a night in or near each of Meteora, Delphi, the Mani, Monemvassia & Nafplion. Depending on arrival times at each place you may need 2 nights, arrive in the evening, see everything the next day, then leave early the following morning. Considering the vast amount of sites & history following that route this will give you a chance to sample some of it, although you could easily spend a month or more without running out of places to see!
It does look on a map as if you can fit it all in easily, but apart from a few stretches of decent road when the miles can be covered quickly, much of the route will be on mountainous single lane roads with a lot of hairpin bends where the travelling time is longer than you may have allowed for. That does usually mean spectacular scenery though!!

Heimdall Nov 25th, 2009 02:28 AM

Let me be the Devil's advocate here - perhaps you <i>should</i> stay on Mykonos rather than Naxos or Paros. Since you are both city lovers, you may enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Mykonos. It takes only 30 minutes to get to Delos from Mykonos harbour, and the boats leave every day except Monday when the site is closed - you can walk around the island in the morning, and be back on Mykonos in time for lunch. On another day you could take a day trip from Mykonos to Tinos - a very different island, of special regious significance to Greeks, and a unique experience for you. :-)

I love Paros and Naxos, visiting the former twice a year. But the trip to Delos from Naxos or Paros leaves only on Tue, Thu, & Sun (weather permitting), and takes the entire day. You plan to spend only three days on one of those islands. If you were unlucky, and hit a bad-weather day, you could miss Delos completely. :-(

Heimdall Nov 25th, 2009 02:35 AM

BTW, I have been to Delos twice, both times from Mykonos. My first visit was in May several years ago. It took me three days to get to Delos - the first day the boats were cancelled due to high winds, and the second day was Monday, when the site was closed - third day lucky! :-)

travelerjan Nov 25th, 2009 05:41 AM

Les, please re-read my posts, I never recommended SKIPPING Santorini & Mykonos, I just don't feel you should spend the bulk of your limited time on these islands and thus miss all the others. Yes, in Paris one MUSt visit the Eiffel Tower but one doesn't set up a tent beneath it and spend 5 days there.

An ISLAND SCENARIO - I think you could start your Island-hopping by returning y our car to the airport of a morning, then getting a mid-day flight to Santorini (50 minutes).

SANTORINI -- Because you both don't strike me as the type to sit on your balcony for days on end, I would suggest that in May, you look for a place in Firostephani. This location is at the North edge of Fira Town, great Caldera Views, quiet at night, but you can easily walk to the town attractions (museum etc) -- AND you don't have to rent a car or pay a 25€ taxi fee to get to/from a hotel in Oia. You can explore the town in the afternoon, enjoy the famous Caldera View from your terrace, have a nice dinner. On day #2, take a bus early to Oia, and get those wonderful "postcard" photos before the cruise-ship throngs arrive at 10:30 or so ... then you can bus back to Fira Town, see the marvelous exhibits at Nokimos Conference Center (google it) with wall-size photos of the Akrotiri excavation (since the dig alas is still closed). And don't miss the wonderful Prehistoric Thira museum next to the cathedral-- only takes an hour, but presents the island story dramatically! For sunset, thre are dozens of cafes with great views, without the standing-room-only crowds in Oia. On day #3, there's a 3 p.m. Blue Star ferry sailing... open decks so you can stand and get that Famous View again, from below... and enjoy a "mini-cruise" for 2.5 hours to NAXOS.

NAXOS - In May, stay at St. George beach directly adjacent to Naxos Town; blissfully quiet in May (look around; you'll see ME there too!), yet a 5-10 minute stroll to town attractions: cafes, tavernas, winding agora "maze" to top of town, shops, ruins, towers, even concerts. If you rent a (cheap!) car one day, you can tootle around the entire island: mountain villages with shady squares for a snack or lunch; gorgeous mountain landscapes, ruins in orchards, a hilltop temple, marble quarries, amazing beaches. In Naxos if you go even 10 miles inland, you find authentic Greek farm life; once I spent half-an-hour in early may just watching a sheep shearing. Naxos will satisfy your historical/archeological thirsts, and your wife's interest in authentic island life -- it will steal your hearts

DELOS/MYKONOS - Those day excursions are VERY relialble in May... the month of the year with the calmest seas (Heimdall's trip must have been from July-Oct). The Alexander is the larger/preferable boat. The Delos visit is about 10 am - 1 pm, PLENTY of time there; wear a hat, take water, snacks, a good guide/map. You can lunch in Mykonos & enjoy the agora "maze" ... Naxos' mazey lanes are also picturesque. The Mykonos difference?? High-end "luxe" shops - DKNY, Hermes, Cartier, Calvin Klein, but wait! That's not very Greek! Right. The boat leaves around 5:30, you're back in Naxos for the sunset.

Since u are cutting back on your Turkey destinations, you will have time to relax on the Greek islands. 2 nights Santorini (the Eiffel Tower of Greece), at least 4 nights for Naxos & Excursion, then a ferry on to Samos (arrives 5:30 - 7 am). If you stay in Vathy I highly recommend Hotel Pythagoras, on the water, a short walk to the left of the pier, balcony on Gorgeous Vathy bay. You can get a DAY excursion to Ephesus (post a separate query for details), or just go to turkey and bus or plane to Istanbul for as long as you like.

How do I know this will work?? I have done this circuit more than once with newcomers, well-educated travel companions who all wanted scenery, authenticity, archeological high-lights AND great beaches -- and unanimously they expressed delight at the experience.

Heimdall Nov 25th, 2009 09:50 AM

Travellerjan, please re-read my post. ;-) I said it was in <b>May</b> when it took three days to get to Delos.

travelerjan Nov 25th, 2009 10:31 AM

Apologies, apologies, Heimdall! I always suggest that, the day BEFORE people take an excursion, they get a weather forecast ... I often stop in at the "Port Police" office because they have good info on marine conditions, (and those cute sailor uniforms).

Heimdall Nov 25th, 2009 11:44 AM

Some of the worst weather I have experienced in Greece has been in late May, although it is true that Meltemi winds peak in Jul-Aug. I remember one day in particular, when I chose to take the bus to Apollonas on Naxos. While driving over the mountains, the rain was pouring down, and lightning bolts cracking down around us. Looking out the window of the bus, at times all I could see was the sheer drop beyond the edge of the road. That was an experience I will never forget! :))

My main concern was with Les spending only three days on Mykonos, Paros, or Naxos. It's not clear from his posts whether those are three full days, or they include days of arrival/departure. Since excursion boats from Naxos and Paros to Delos/Mykonos go only three days/week, getting there would be a gamble. If Delos is a priority, then Mykonos would be the best base.

BTW, there is a lot of nonsense written about Mykonos. The island is very popular with affluent Greeks - that's why there are so many ferries to there from Rafina. In May there are are two or three weekends when Greek university students flock to the island. Don't worry, though - it is nothing like Schoolies in Australia or spring break in the U.S. Greek teenagers are usually very well behaved! :-)

billbarr Nov 25th, 2009 12:21 PM

Jan, the best boat to use for the trip between Mykonos and Delos is the Orca. It’s an ex-Greek navy boat and known to be much more stable than the others. It may well have not been in use when you last visited.

Les, click on my name and read some of my messages about Mykonos. I see and describe the island very differently to Jan and consider it to one of the most beautiful in the Cyclades, for many reasons. Possibly, in the same way Jan feels about Naxos, but perhaps even more so.

Heimdall is a very good devil’s advocate and I completely agree with his itinerary and suggestions. Tinos should never be missed and a little further on is Syros, a quite magnificent example of ‘real’ Greece.

It is terrific on a board like this that you can benefit from opinions, likes and dislikes about 'our' favourite islands against others.

This summer I should have been exploring Naxos, Paros and Antiparos but for health reasons I was unable to do so. Never mind, hopefully next year I can then give my opinion about them, compared to my perfect island. That will be fun.

Heimdall Nov 25th, 2009 12:32 PM

Hi Bill, it's nice to hear from you again! You are one of the true experts on Greece - one of us who can no longer remember how many times we have been there! :-)

Les Nov 25th, 2009 12:41 PM

Wow, all the information!

Heimdall, you say that the trip to Delos from Naxos or Paros takes the entire day. Is this for the round trip, including Mykonos? It's my understanding that there are no overnight accommodations on Delos, so we'd need several hours there, and travelerjan's suggestion of staying on Naxos and doing the day excursion to Mykonos and Delos sounds good to us.

travelerjan, thanks for the really good info. Do you know if it's possible to rent scooters on Naxos (as opposed to renting a car)? We own 4 scooters and are licensed for motorcycles, and ride through the mountains and canyons around Denver, so we'd feel comfortable riding scooters around the island, assuming traffic isn't chaotic.
We don't really plan to "relax" on the islands - we'll be spending much of our short stays there sightseeing, I imagine. "Beach time" in Greece is not important to us - if that was our goal, Greece would certainly not be our first choice (can you say "Hawaii" or "Phuket" or ...?).

As I said earlier, I will cut back on the Turkey part of our trip if that's what's necessary to trim the length of our itinerary. However, we're replanning the Greek part of the trip taking into account all of your suggestions, and we'll see what the timeline looks like. Since most of the comments here address the Greek part of our itinerary, I plan on posting our Turkey itinerary in the Turkey forum to see what can can be done there. Perhaps we can trim enough days between the two that we can still see what's most interesting within 4 or 5 weeks.

Regarding Istanbul, the reason we wanted to cruise into Istanbul is because friends of ours who have been there say that the approach from the water presents the most magnificent views of the city, as opposed to driving there from the airport. If at all possible, we'd still like to do that. Is it possible to hook up with a cruise from one of the islands?

OK, thanks to you all, we're back to the drawing board with some wonderful additional information. I'll post a revised itinerary for your comments, when it's ready.

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