Randomly pick out 10 travel bucket lists from people around you and chances are you will find Greece in almost all of them. A country with a mix of Mediterranean and European vibes, world famous for its historic sites on one end and one of kind islands and beaches on the other, no one says no to Greece!
So after the big YES LET’S GO, the next big question is where to start in Greece?! Brimming with so much to see, do, and feel, it might get a bit overwhelming and when this happens many first timers may settle for what I call the “what not to miss” trap (aka “must sees”, “top 10 things to do” and so forth). Lists of that sort can be great to start you off and give you an idea of a destination but never stop there, it will simply stunt your trip. As a first timer to Greece myself last spring with two of my travel buddies, here is how we managed to stick to this golden rule and in effect had one of most memorable trips so far:
Went to Athens and did more than just the “Acropolis”: Yes the Acropolis was one of the highlights of the trip but it wasn’t the only one. Speaking of archaeological sites, the ticket to the Acropolis gave access to six other ancient sites around Athens all within a walking distance. Crossing over and discovering one site after the other such as the enchanting Ancient Agora and the massive Temple of Olympian Zeus was like travelling back in time. Although we didn’t get the chance to visit it, a tour inside the Acropolis Museum would have perfectly completed that day. The beautifully lit architectural building cleverly displays artefacts and pieces from the ancient times.
Got a bird’s eye view of the city: Surrounded by various hills, checking out Athens from high above was another great way to enjoy the city. Mt Lycabettus, the highest point in Athens was a popular choice that we took. To get to the funicular that would get us up there, we strolled through the high end neighbourhood of Kolonaki, enjoying the inclined streets lined up with boutiques, designer shops and beautiful trees. On top of the hill, the view of white -washed Athens with its landmarks standing out was definitely worth the climb.
Went to popular Athenian spots and also discovered the side streets: Historical Plaka with its winding cobblestone streets, bohemian Monastiraki, and centric Syntagma Square were great spots to discover with their many cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and specialized workshops (linen, leather, and olive wood products really stood out here). The further we walked and the more side streets we got lost in the more special it became. They were the perfect places to just drop the map and walk around.
Visited a vintage music/film shop: Somehow listening to Greek music in Greece was not as common as we thought and instead English pop music was more frequently played in shops and restaurants. In the quest to find traditional Greek music we looked for and found a vintage shop selling traditional Greek music, films and posters giving us yet another cultural side of the country that we didn’t know about.
Took day trips to other parts of mainland Greece: As our main stay was in Athens, it was a great opportunity to discover other parts of mainland Greece that were accessible from the capital city. A day trip to mesmerizing Delphi an archaeological site and town perched on top of a small green mountain and a stop by cosy Arachova also a mountain town were another highlight to our trip.
Bonus tip: Other day trips that can also be made (and which I wish we had more time to do!): a visit to Gylfada, a coastal Athenian suburb nicknamed the “Beverly Hills of Greece”; and a half day excursion to Cape Sounion a site of the famous Temple of Poseidon settled on a cliff right by the sea.
Made the “Islands Tour” mistake (which you should not do!): With only a small number of days in Greece, a one day excursion to a number of islands near Athens seemed like a good idea… Not really. Yes we got to visit 3 islands (Hydra-Poros-Aegina) but with about an hour in each, it was impossible to spend enough good time in any of them. If I would do it again, I would choose one island (I’d go for Hydra) to spend the whole day in.
Bonus tip: if you are planning to stay over for several nights in one or more of the bigger Greek islands, keep in mind that there is an abundance of them, each with a distinctive character and nature. Some really interesting and attractive ones are easily missed by many who just go for the big well known ones without considering all options. (message is do your homework well before you go!)
Mingled with the great local people: In Greece people don’t just say hello and stop at that, they are willing to have a full fledged conversation with you, genuinely showing an interest in getting to know you and also telling you about themselves. One of the friendliest people we met was Vicky a passionate traveller /travel agent/tour guide. We spent some quality time in her welcoming boutique travel agency Topos Travel, chatting about different things to do and getting a lot of local insider tips. A great acquaintance to look forward to meeting again in my next time in Greece!
Got the ice cream surprise: none of the travel guides I came across told me this, but ice-cream lovers are in for a great surprise when they go to Greece as they’ll find ice cream shops tucked around every corner. Maybe something that rubbed off onto them from their Italian neighbours?
If you’re planning a trip any time soon and looking for more than just another ordinary trip (just like this one here !) , check out Sal’s Trip Planner to get a customized itinerary just for you!