Well why not combine several places in to one trip and do some . Decide what you want from your trip, is it purely sunshine and sand? If so, a mix of islands offering the best beaches. What about great restaurants, things to do and places to see as well? What about mixing in a bit of culture too – after all you are visiting the land of the Gods steeped in mythology and history!
You could start off with a few days on the mainland exploring Athens, then a few days on Santorini, one of the most striking islands the country has to offer, followed by a few days on Crete which is a much bigger island and offers stunning beaches, culture and history.
Start with a cultural city break in Athens…
The capital, Athens, the birthplace of western civilisation, is now a bustling modern city with a thriving contemporary arts scene, great nightlife and wonderful squares to enjoy the alfresco lifestyle. Head to the Syntagma and Monastiraki areas for chic bars after dark and the up and coming neighbourhood of Metaxourgiou is known for its art galleries and hip restaurants.
A must-do when in Athens is obviously to visit the Acropolis, home of the 5th Century BC Parthenon, then follow the new 2.5 mile Archaeological Promenade that links all the city’s major archaeological sites. Make sure you also see the Acropolis at night too when it is floodlit and at its most magnificent.
Nearby, the New Acropolis Museum is a stunning exhibition space that deserves a visit. Built into the hillside below the Acropolis is Plaka, the city’s oldest residential quarter and its cobbled streets lined with pastel coloured neo-classical mansions, tavernas and souvenir shops still manages to have a villagey atmosphere despite the tourists. The Museum of Traditional Greek Instruments and the Museum of Greek Folk Art are also worth visiting in Plaka.
Then on to the captivating island of Santorini…
Then, from the city’s port of Piraeus, catch a ferry to the nearby island of Santorini in the Cyclades. Famous for its traditional white-washed villages that cling to the high clifftops, the volcanic island is instantly recognisable from many postcards of the blue-domed churches backed by brilliant blue skies.
You’ll want three or four days here to make the most of it. Shaped by a devastating volcano in the 16th Century BC, Santorini has a rugged landscape and dramatic volcanic crater, known as a Caldera, peeking out of the sea. The main towns of Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia, are spread along the cliff overlooking the caldera and walking between the towns, or even part of it, makes a wonderful walk with the endless dramatic viewpoints and enchanting little lanes to amble along.
Famed for its magnificent sunsets, catch the best evening views from one of the cliff top tavernas in Oia. Take a boat tour of the volcano, exploring the caldera cliffs and enjoy a wonderful hot-spring swim. The island is also known for its wonderful wines so a visit to one of the charming family–run wineries inland makes for an ideal afternoon excursion. And, when you want to relax in the sunshine you’ll find excellent beaches with striking darker sand of a volcanic island easily accessible at Kamari and Perissa.
Finish on the relaxing shores of Crete…
Sailing onto Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands, you’ll find an island filled with historic forts, delicious Greek food and endless beautiful scenery. Being the birth place of Minoan civilisation, it is also home to ancient treasures, myths and legends. The Palace of Knossos is the biggest Bronze Age site on the island and referred to as Europe’s oldest city. When walking around the ruins and excavations look out for the Throne Room and stunning frescoes. After exploring the labyrinth of corridors and rooms of the Knossos, visit the nearby town of Heraklion for a walk around its historical centre with its bustling market and the recently renovated Archaeological Museum. The museum is the best show case of Minoan art and artefacts and covers a period of 5000 years!
One of the most fascinating things to do when in Crete is to visit the abandoned Island of Spinalonga, the inspiration for Victoria Hislop’s book ‘The Island’. Reached by boat from Elounda, the tiny island has had a hugely turbulent past including raids by the Arabs, being conquered by the Venetians and an Ottoman occupation but it is perhaps most famous for being a leper colony until 1957.
Another must-do day trip is a hike through the Samarian Gorge, the longest and most impressive of Europe’s limestone gorges – the ‘Gates’ of the gorge are the narrowest part of the gorge that is really incredible to see.
The largest city of the Greek islands is Hania (or Chania) which is well worth a visit, wander around the Venetian Harbour, the old port and lighthouse and the Agora marketplace where you can buy some divine freshly picked figs! The narrow shopping streets and waterfront restaurants are all lovely to explore.
If you are keen to see more of this fascinating island explore further into the centre or eastern side where there are plenty more Minoan sites to see. The Lassithi plateau offers a spectacular view over the green fields, almond trees and rural Crete and the nearby Dikteon Cave is where, so myth has it, Zeus was hidden as a baby. The Holy Trinity Monastery, not too far from Akrotiri is amazing to visit, do go inside the Monastery to see some of the best gilded interiors on the island.