Europe

Traveling in Greece – 10 Things I Learned in a Dream Destination

Greece had always been a dream destination for me, as I’m sure it is for many of you.   However, traveling in Greece has always seemed like a fairly big undertaking.  Greece has a lot to share with a traveler.  And I wanted to be sure I had the time to do Greece justice.  Now I do.  And so we went.  

Here’s 10 things I learned while traveling in Greece….

Island Hopping is Easy

Greece has 227 inhabited islands.  And undoubtedly, visiting some of these should be part of any itinerary for traveling in Greece.  While that sheer number of islands can be intimidating, especially to a thorough tripper like myself, I tried not to let it overwhelm me in my planning.  

I ultimately chose a few of the Cyclades Islands (see below), and happily discovered how easy it is to get from island to island using Greece’s outstanding ferry network.

The Blue Star Paros is a great way to island hop while traveling in Greece

Lots of different ferry companies service all the islands.  The ferries are large and comfortable with plenty of amenities.  It’s easy to fly into Athens, make your way to Athen’s main port called Piraeus, and hop a ferry to the islands.  

Then once on an island, it’s similarly easy to take a ferry to the next island….and the next. 

And despite the overwhelming number of islands, ferry companies, and ferry types, it’s very easy to navigate it all with the FerryHopper App.  It was one of my best friends while traveling in Greece.  

With FerryHopper, you simply plug in your departure port, your arrival port, and your travel days.  Within seconds, you see all your ferry options.  You can then buy your tickets directly on the app at no additional charge.  So easy!

I’ve written an entire blog post on my experience riding the Blue Star Ferry while traveling in Greece. 

The Aegean Sea from the back of a Ferry in Greece

Syros Is Underrated

Mykonos and Santorini are the two most-visited Cyclades Islands.  But we headed straight for the island of Syros, and spent the majority of our Greek Island time there.

The port city of Ermoupoli on the Greek Island of Syros

Why Syros?  We honestly choose Syros because of its WiFi speed. 

Greece supposedly has some of the worst WiFi speeds in Europe.  We need good WiFi when we travel since Mrs. TT works digitally.  In fact, we almost didn’t go traveling in Greece because of that reputation.  However, once we decided to risk it, I chose our primary Greek island based on WiFi speed. Syros is the governmental center of the Cyclades Islands, and so presumably has a better tech infrastructure

But we discovered that Syros is so much more than decent Internet.

Having drinks at Ciel in Ermoupoli Syros Greece

I found it to be an underrated charmer, and the favorite island of our travels. It boasts a harbor side port city made up of neoclassic buildings spilling down along a hillside.  A medieval hilltop town topped by a 12th century church.  Quaint fishing villages.  Streets paved with white marble.  And one backstreet restaurant after another covered by ceilings of beautiful bougainvillea.

The marble-paved streets of Ermoupoli Syros Greece

I’ve written an entire blog post dedicated to all the Best Things to do on Syros Greece. 

Mykonos Is Too Touristy For Me

Mykonos is Syros’ most famous neighbor – known for its popular beaches and nightlife.  We took a day trip from Syros to check it out.

Mykonos features a more classic Cycladic architecture compared to Syros – the white-washed square houses, colorful doors, and narrow streets.  But lots of those streets are lined by souvenir shops and many are filled with hoards of cruise ship tourists. This unquestionably detracts from the island’s beauty.  

Street in Mykonos Town lined with souvenir shops

Mykonos does have some cool sites though. Like its famed string of hilltop windmills that over look the main town.

Windmills presiding over Mykonos Greece

And you can find some quietly beautiful back streets if you wander away from some of the main thoroughfares….

One of the beautiful quiet streets of Mykonos Greece demonstrating classic Cycladic architecture

Even though Mykonos was too touristy for me, it may not be for you. We didn’t go to any of the Mykonos beaches. But based on its reputation, I’m sure that if you are looking for a Greek island beach vacation, Mykonos may be the ideal spot.

Same with nightlife. If you like to party, Mykonos may be your ideal island. But, our idea of a crazy night is watching a longer program on Netflix and staying up clear until 10:30pm.

Paros Convinced Me To Buy A Scooter

We spent 6 days on Paros – another island in the Cyclades.  We chose Paros partly due to the fact that we found a great Airbnb with this killer view.  Mountains, sea, farmland, and the island’s main town of Parikia – all from our patio. And we were surrounded by terraces of olive and fig trees. And a vineyard from which our hosts made their own wine and spirits.

The view of Parikia Paros Greece from a vacation rental

However the trade off for this view was some isolation.  The apartment was atop a fairly steep hill, a 25 minute walk from Parikia’s town center.  When booking it, I figured that we would probably rent a scooter to help us get around when we arrived.  Driving a scooter in Europe has always been a dream of Mrs. TT, and our plans to do that in Malta were foiled.  This would be another chance.

As our dates approached, I discovered that a motorcycle license is required to rent a scooter in Greece.  We don’t have motorcycle licenses.  And the more research I did, the more I convinced myself that our relative lack of scooter experience made it a bad idea anyway.

We tried walking and public transportation at first, but we ended up renting an ATV for the latter half of our Paros visit.  Alternatively, we could have rented a small car, but the ATV was cheaper, easier to park,  and worked just fine on the island roads.

Driving a rental ATV on the island of Paros Greece

Having the ATV opened a lot more of the island to us.  One day, we drove all the way to the edge of the island where we hung out for a day at Monastiri beach and hiked through the rugged Paros Park.

A cabana at the Monastiri beach club on the island of Paros Greece
The rugged coast while hiking in Paros Park on the island of Paros Greece

While the ATV was great, a scooter would have been fun too. So we have decided that we will be buying a scooter at home, getting our motorcycle licenses, and practicing our scooter driving skills.  One day, Mrs TTs dream of driving a scooter in Europe will be realized. 

You can read more about Paros, by checking out my post on the mountain town of Lefkes and our experience hiking its ancient Byzantine Road

We Loved Athens Even More Than The Islands

When scheduling our full month traveling in Greece, I decided to plan two weeks in the Islands and two weeks in Athens.  After the plans were made, and while awaiting the departure date, I questioned myself multiple times over whether two weeks in Athens was too much.  After all, I’d always heard that Athens had issues – bad air, bad traffic, bad infrastructure.

Ultimately, I kept the itinerary as initially planned.  And I’m so glad that I did.  We absolutely loved Athens.  In fact, two weeks was not enough! Next time, we want to go back and spend two months!

We found a vibrant modern European capital city juxtaposed with some of the world’s greatest ancient sites.  It features an eclectic collection of neighborhoods in the city center – each very different.  Cafes everywhere.  Great shopping….Mrs. TT’s favorite of our travels so far.  

Athen's Pysri Neighborhood
Athen’s Pysri Neighborhood

And in the center of it all  – the Acropolis. One of the most awe-inspiring city focal points I’ve ever seen, topped by the greatest Greek temple of all – The Parthenon. Pretty much wherever you are in central Athens, just look up and you’ll see an ever-changing Acropolis perspective.  

A view of the Acropolis in Athens from Aeropagus Hill
The Acropolis – from this side the Parthenon can’t be seen
The Parthenon in Athens
But here’s the Parthenon from on top

History Everywhere You Look

And more than anywhere that I have ever been, central Athens is a place where you can’t even walk a few steps sometimes without stumbling upon some of the world’s greatest history.  Rome is another such place with a high density of antiquities everywhere you look. But I believe Athens beats it.

Here’s what we discovered on just one afternoon, walking less than a mile, in only one direction, from our apartment in the Kolonaki district….

Aristotle's Lyceum in Athens
Aristotle’s Lyceum – the remains of a gymnasium that became Aristotle’s school in the 4th century BC
Looking out across the Panathanaic Stadium in Athens
The all-marble Pananthanaic Stadium – home to the first modern Olympic Games
The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens with most of it under scaffolding
The Temple of Olympian Zeus. The largest Greek temple ever built.
Hadrians Arch in Athens
Hadrians Arch – built to celebrate the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD
An ancient bath underneath an Athens city street
And a random ancient bath underneath a city street

Plus, Athens has two can’t-miss museums.

The Acropolis Museum displays treasures found on and around the Acropolis over the millennia. The top floor is an exact reproduction of the Parthenon’s rooftop sculptural elements. It uses all the original pieces in the museum’s collection, and plaster casts of the known missing ones (many of which are in the British Museum in London)

The top floor of the Acropolis Museum recreating the upper portions of the Parthenon

The National Archeologic Museum displays a vast collection of the world’s most important ancient treasures, some dating as far back as the 16th century BC.

The Jockey of Artemision in the Greece's National Archeologic Museum
The Jockey of Artemision – a bronze statue from 150 BC

Meteora Is A Must

I don’t know that many Americans are aware of Meteora.  I hadn’t heard of it until I started connecting with other travel bloggers.  John at Carpediemeire.com told me that it is one of the greatest places to visit in all of Europe.  And he is not wrong.  Anyone traveling in Greece should make visiting Meteora a priority.

But, even despite John’s recommendation, I almost didn’t go.  It’s a 4-4.5 train journey from Athens…one way.  Much longer than our typical side trips.  And while the Greek ferry system is awesome, the Greek train system lags behind a lot of Europe.  However, credit Mrs TT.  She continually made it known during the preceding weeks that she would be disappointed if I cancelled our weekend trip to Meteora.  I never want to disappoint Mrs. TT.

A train covered in graffiti parked at the Kalabaka Greece train station
The Kalabaka train platform near Meteora. The station is run down, the train is covered in graffiti, but it was comfortable inside

And I’m so very glad we went.  It’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.

Meteora is UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring a natural collection of black monolithic columns of rock, six of which are topped by still-functioning Greek Orthodox monasteries and nunneries, dating to the 13th & 14th centuries. 

Monastery of Varlaam sitting atop a rocky column in Meteora Greece
Monastery of Varlaam
Monastery of Rousanou dwarfed by the surrounding peaks in Meteora Greece
Monastery of Rousanou

We climbed to five of these during our thirty hours in Meteora. (We could have easily visited all six, but decided to explore some nearby caves instead).

And watching the sun set, from Sunset Rock, is the best place that I have ever watched the sun set. 

Sunset at Meteora Greece from Sunset Rock

You can click here to read my post all about our two days in magical Meteora

The Food Was Even Better Than Hoped

I knew that we would eat great food while traveling in Greece.  But it exceeded my expectations. Certainly those expectations were set somewhat by the Americanized version of Greek food.  And of course I expected better than that.  But wow!!

Here’s a look…..

Two chicken gyro platters in Athens Greece
Chicken Gyro Platters – the word Gyro refers to the shaved meat
Chicken and Pork Souvlaki platters with a plate of Tzatziki in Greece
Souvlaki – barbecued chunks of meat (chicken above, pork below). And Tzatziki (Yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil)
Greek Salad and Grilled Sardines in Ermoupoli Greece
Greek Salad and Grilled Sardines
Grilled Sea Bream and 3 different salads in Parikia Greece
Grilled Sea Bream with 3 different side salads
Yogurt and Honey in Athens Greece
Yogurt with Honey

I think that in all my travels so far, Andalucia Spain has provided my overall greatest food experience. But Greece is a very close second.

Greek Hospitality Is Alive And Well

The Greeks are known for their hospitality.  Taking great care of a guest is a Greek tradition that goes back to ancient Greece when taking care of strangers was considered a sacred responsibility. 

I will testify that this sacred responsibility is alive and well, as evidenced by the attention we received from every single one of our Airbnb hosts while traveling in Greece.  Anastasia in Syros, Nikos and Georgia in Paros, and Julia in Athens, were collectively the best Airbnb hosts we’ve ever had.

The front of an Airbnb vacation rental in Ermoupoli Syros Greece
Nastasia’s place in Syros

Anastasia drove us back and forth from the ferry pier, helped carry luggage down many flights of stairs, had a full kitchen table of local snacks waiting for us, and offered to come clean the apartment half way through our stay.

Even before I booked his apartment, Nikos made phone calls for me confirming that ferry schedules wouldn’t change prior to our arrival.  His wife Georgia transported us not only back and forth from the ferry pier, but to the grocery store as well.  And she baked us cookies.

The patio of an Airbnb vacation rental on the island of Paros Greece
The patio at Nikos and Georgia’s place in Paros

Julia provided us with so many welcome snacks that we couldn’t eat them all.  Stocked the fridge with multiple essentials. And, knowing Mrs. TT’s WiFi needs, made sure that there was two back up portable WiFi units in the apartment.  

Tsakalof Street in the Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens Greece
Our “home” street in the Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, just below Julia’s apartment, lined with restaurants and bars.

So Much More To Explore

Obviously we loved traveling in Greece.  And can’t wait to go back.  

We want to spend more time exploring Athens.  Even after two weeks there, I feel that we just barely scratched its surface.  

We want to explore more Greek islands – especially Crete and Corfu. And some day I may even decide to fight the crowds on Santorini.

We want to take additional day trips from Athens. To Delphi – once the religious center of ancient Greece. To the seaside Temple of Poseidon. And to Nafplio – considered one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in Greece.

We want to visit Thessaloniki – Greece’s second largest city. Eleanna at Flying Fork Tales told me in the comments below that I can find even better food there!

Even better food? Sign me up! Because I know that I won’t ever eat a decent gyro or souvlaki platter again…..unless I go back to Greece. 

6 Comments

    • thethoroughtripper

      I know. I’m really missing Greece today after finishing it. I’m quite confident though that both of us will visit again!

  • Eleanna | Flying Fork Tales

    Great article! As a Greeek and an Athenian, I totally agree with your findings! Syros is indeed underrated, Mykonos is too touristy and in my opinion not worth a visit (you can see the same scenery in almost all other Cycladic islands). Athens is worth more than just a base for island hoping and I wish more people could see that. Meteora is so unique, it’s also worth a day trip. Next time I suggest you also visit Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, for better food and a more relaxed atmosphere 😉

    • thethoroughtripper

      Thanks so much for the comments Eleanna. They mean extra coming from an Athenian. And Thessaloniki is now on the list – I’m on a constant quest for better food 🙂

  • Vanessa Colorado

    Great article, I really enjoyed it. We’ll for sure book with Julia when traveling to Athens! Thank you for the wonderful recommendations.
    PS Please tell Mrs. TT that I love her new hair color, she looks gorgeous!

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