Greece is a complex country — this is something that my husband and I did not know or consider when visiting for the first time, but should have. Every island, city, and end is known for different characteristics, ranging from views and excursions to price and food. This is a country where the experiences in different areas will have you feeling like you’re traveling between different countries. We hope this post will help you make your complexities simple and your experiences limitless.
My husband and I visited Greece for our honeymoon in June 2019. After hours of comparing between different travel companies, we chose to book our honeymoon through Skybooker.com as Skybooker offered us the best deal for us and personalized it according to our needs. Now, it’s important to note that May, June, and September are the perfect months to go because the weather is ideal and you’ll be avoiding the over-populated tourist months of July and August. We started off our honeymoon on the island of Santorini and stayed there for 8 nights before flying back to Athens for 3 nights. It is important to note that both areas are huge tourist spots with many attractions and significant historical backgrounds, but that is where the similarities end. Santorini is a gorgeous romantic island with it’s one purpose being you – essentially all locals in Santorini work in the tourism business and want to help you and cater to your stay.
Santorini, otherwise known as Thira to the locals, is the dream island you see when you close your eyes – from the white towns that hold on to the sea cliffs to the clear blue of the Mediterranean Sea. But, Santorini being perceived as a dream island for romance did not start recently with the beautiful views. The perception started during ancient times when King Thira discovered the island. During the King’s time on the island, he fell in love with a woman named Oia. King Thira and Oia had a daughter together and named her Thirasia – a combination of both names. The king then named the famous picturesque cliffside after his wife, Oia, and an island after his daughter, Thirassia, embedding love and romance into the volcanic pebbled land of the island centuries ago.
When my husband and I were in Santorini, we stayed in the towns of Kamari and Fira. This was the perfect blend of Santorini because we learned that it meant experiencing the two different sides of Santorini; the beachside on the east coast and the picturesque white mountainside view on the west.
Our advice is for proximity to beaches, it is best to stay in the towns of Kamari or Perissa. The stay here is also cheaper, and more family-friendly. When my husband and I visited Kamari and Perissa, we took advantage of the beachside water activities. This is where you want to get your fill of sun tanning, jet-skiing, parachuting, and surfing.
For the beautiful picturesque views, stay in Oia and Fira. The stay here is more expensive but you’ll be able to appreciate the view of the sunset on the water; a view that should not be missed while in Santorini.
It is important to note that because the stay on the west coast of the island is on a mountain, there is a lot of stairs and hiking, thus is not as accessible and not as family friendly as Perissa and Kamari. When my husband and I visited Oia and Fira we took advantage of the sunset views and other water activities such as cliff diving and scuba diving. Santorini catered to everything that we were looking for – even the things we didn’t think we wanted – and we quickly, easily, and completely fell in love with Santorini.
This is the island that will feel like home. This is the island you will not want to leave. This is the island that will follow you home. These are some tips we feel are worth sharing from our experience:
- Take a guided bus tour during the beginning of your stay. We took one on our second day on the island and this allowed us to get to know the island through a local with all the inside historical information and also sightsee the most beautiful areas in a safe manner. This includes Oia, the Prophet Elias Monastery, and the famous lighthouse. We recommend this for two reasons:
- To go to Prophet Elias Mountain, you’d have to head uphill on very sharp small curved roads on the cliff side. We were thankful we visited this mountain with a local because he was used to the roads and easily maneuvered up the mountain, and we were too scared to even look out the window as he drove on the cliff side. But once you get there, the view is amazing.
- The tour will let you decide what parts of the island you’d like to go back to and the activities you’d like to do.
- Rent a car in Santorini. After a couple days in Santorini, my husband and I finally calculated and realized that renting a car for a whole day was much cheaper than taking a taxi everywhere. A car can be rented for 30-35 euros (manual is cheaper), whereas one taxi trip from Kamari to Fira is about 30 euros.
- Do not convert money at airport or in Santorini, convert before travel. The regular conversion rate is about 1 USD to 0.89 EUR yet if you convert at the airport you will most likely get ripped off with a rate of about 1 USD to 0.70 EUR.
- Eat at Pergola; this was our favorite restaurant on Perissa’s beachside, Santorini.
This was the restaurant– during our 8 night stay, we ate there 2 of those days. This recommendation is about more than just great food, it’s about amazing service and friendship.
Two of our favorite dishes were their salmon and rice dish and their shrimp spaghetti dish. Both dishes were seasoned to perfection and had us coming back so much the waiters knew us by name. I am convinced I’m going to try to find recipes to recreate this salmon dish.
Also, this restaurant may or may not treat you on the house to authentic Greek desserts; like this Greek orange pie. A dessert so succulent it’ll have you begging for more.
- Travel to all parts of the island as every end has something beautiful to show you. When going to Oia, remember that it is heavily populated and parking may be difficult; go early or with a tour. Oia has beautiful sunset views. For less populated sunset views, go to the lighthouse.
- Santorini’s seafood, although delicious, tastes of sea water and does take a while to get used to.
- Santorini’s beaches are pebbled, not sand. This is something we were surprised with. Mykonos though, although not an island we visited, is a sand beach. This island is known for its nightlife and might not be as family friendly or romantic.
- The island is also home to many stray cats and dogs. When at beachside restaurants, do not be surprised if a stray animal comes to you for food and attention.
- Stay in a cave hotel at least once, their views of the sea are unimaginable. They are a little more pricey but worth it for the view
Every morning we walked out from our hotel room to this view thanks to Dana Villas Infinity Suite. The water, the sun, and tranquility, what more could we ask for?
Athens is also a huge tourist spot with many attractions and a beautiful historical background.
Athens history begins with Athens being named after the Goddess of Athena, protector of the city. My husband and I stayed in Athens for 3 nights, and would like to share some tips below on how to get the most of your stay in Athens:
- If you have the option to pick between the Greek islands or Athens, we would recommend staying longer on the islands. The city of Athens is a metropolitan city, and so for city folk like ourselves who are used to densely populated neighbourhoods and buildings, we did not enjoy our stay in Athens as much as we enjoyed our stay in Santorini. Although my husband and I stayed in Athens for three nights, we could have easily visited all the highlights in one.
- When my husband and I went sightseeing, we did the research on all the tourist sites and did not feel the need to book a tour. We started off with the famed Parthenon, which is on the Acropolis of Athens. We used the terms Acropolis and Parthenon interchangeably, but it is important to remember that the Parthenon is the famed building below whereas Acropolis is the hill that it is built on. Acropolis is also known for the views of the other tourist spots such as the Theatre of Dionysus, Hadrian’s Library, Ancient Agora of Athens, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. You also get the most incredible views of Athens from the Acropolis but be prepared to walk uphill in scorching heat when heading to Acropolis.
- Visit the beautifully historic Plaka neighborhood. It’s a short walk from the Acropolis and you get to explore dozens of cafes and shops. In Plaka is where we found Mykos, a rooftop restaurant that ended our day of exploration with an amazing view of Athens and an incredible meal.
This restaurants dolmadakia and moussaka were to die for. If you are in Greece, these are two dishes you have to eat.
- Another restaurant we recommend is Caponna. We changed it up on our last day in Athens and ate italian cuisine and we have zero regrets.
I ordered their pasta italiano, a vegetarian pasta, and was so happy that I did. This dish was presented in rustic pans and tasted of perfectly marinated pasta and authentic mozzarella balls and eggplant chunks.
- Before booking a hotel in Athens, look at the neighbourhood of the hotel. Since Greece hit hard economic times, some areas in Athens are known for their high number of anarchists, thieves and drug problems. Prostitution is also legal in Athens. This makes staying in the right neighbourhoods crucial. Areas to avoid are Omonia, Exarcheia, Vathi, and Kolokotroni Squares. These areas have high crime rates and some are not legally protected. During our stay in Athens, one taxi driver explained to us that in the area of Exarcheia, protests and demonstrations occur almost every day, yet, the police only patrolled the outskirts of the area. He continued to explain that the anarchists would often fire at the police if they were seen driving in Exarcheia, as it was considered their area.
- If you are a student, ensure you are taking advantage of the student rates at tourist spots and bringing your student card. A student card can make entry to Acropolis 10 euros instead of the regular 20 euros.
- A taxi from anywhere in Athens to to and from the airport is a fixed rate of 38 euros.
- Use Ubers in Athens – very convenient and cheap relative to Santorini. My husband and I calculated and decided it was cheaper to Uber everywhere than to rent a car. Note: Greece ubers are yellow taxis.
And there you have it — all of our Greece travel tips! We hope that we’ve made the complexities simple so that your experiences in Greece will be limitless, and cannot wait for our next adventure. Stay tuned!