Today’s post is a bit of a timely throwback. A throwback because I haven’t been to Greece since 2017. Timely because Greece is now open to tourists around the world and is one of the first countries to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, I was supposed to go back to Greece this summer on a cruise, but since the cruising industry is taking a bit of a hit right now, that has been canceled. I hope to go back ASAP and will add to this blog post when I do, but for now, I’m going to reminisce and share my tips for Santorini and Athens in this Greece travel guide!
Greece was the first country outside of Italy that I visited during my semester abroad in fall 2017. My friend Mairin and I booked a trip to Greece before our semester abroad even started and it was by far one of my favorite trips. We visited September 7-11, 2017 (3 nights in Santorini, 1 night in Athens) and flew from Florence to Santorini and then from Santorini to Athens and Athens back to Florence. We booked this trip completely on our own and I think we did a damn good job…
Santorini, Greece: Where to Stay
Santorini is extremely expensive. Especially the famous coastal town of Oia (pronounced with a silent “o”), where all the cliffside buildings are located. You know, the white one’s with the blue roofs in movies like Mamma Mia and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2? Most people stay in Fira when they visit because it’s cheaper, but we wanted to stay right in Oia and do it on a college student’s budget. This is probably the best tip in my Greece travel guide. Here’s how we did it…
We stayed at the Marcos Rooms. A 2-star hotel aka the cutest little homestay experience you’ll ever have. It was simple for sure and we had to share a double bed, but it was run by a Greek family who served us breakfast each morning and was located RIGHT in the center of Oia, with views of the Aegean Sea from every angle. I do recommend staying here! Of course if you are honeymooning or work full-time, definitely take advantage of a villa or stay in a famous cave hotel, but if you’re balling on a budget, this is a great option.
Santorini, Greece: Getting Around
Since we stayed right in Oia, the only transportation we had to book were taxis to and from the airport. We got one to our hotel just fine and our hotel graciously booked us a cab back when we left. I recommend staying in Oia for this reason, everything is walkable!
Santorini, Greece: What To Do
Santorini is heaven on earth because it is just so beautiful. Most tourists come here to just walk around Oia and take in the views, but there’s a lot to do on the island! Here’s a mini bucket list of can’t miss activties on Santorini:
Explore the local shops
I got so many goodies throughout our three days in Santorini, including some dishes, a hand-painted wallet, a canvas painting, and some clothes. The boutiques on this island are incredible.
Try traditional Baklava
Greek Baklava is a famous pastry dessert made from layers of filo dough filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup, frosting, or honey. It is seriously to die for. We got a slice to split and crawled onto a local rooftop to watch sunset. 12/10 recommend.
Treat yourself to a fish pedicure
Yup, a fish pedicure. Greece is known for this unique spa experience. We went to a place called Kissingfish Santorini. Basically you wash your feet when you enter and your cuts get taped up (so they don’t get infected… gross I know), and they you put your feet into a tank with fish who will eat the dead skin off your feet (also gross I know). I promise this doesn’t hurt- it just tickles and you’ll leave this place with baby soft feet!
Book a catamaran excursion
This was our most expensive activity by far, but we booked a catamaran tour that took us to several different beaches on the island, including red beach. We also ate a traditional lunch onboard, swam in natural hot springs, and my favorite part- took in the views of the Aegean. Greece is known for its deep blue, glass-like water, so before you leave, explore by boat!
If you’re feeling adventurous…. go cliff jumping
This is a bit of a local activity, but here’s how to find the rocks. Follow the steps in Oia down to Amoudi Bay, and once your down by the water take a left and walk in that direction, past a seafood restaurant with outdoor dining. Follow the path around the bend until you see a bunch of locals sunbathing on rocks and swim out to the jumping rock! There is a safe, accessible stairway located on the backside of the cliff so walk up and take the leap of faith!
Watch a sunset
This one should be pretty obvious since Santorini has some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Oia can be PACKED with tourists enjoying the evening show, so arrive early and grab a spot. I promise it will be one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see.
And DON’T Ride a Donkey!
These animals are treated horribly and run up and down steep stairs all day long transporting tourists and luggage. Don’t pay for it. Enjoy the scenery instead!
We didn’t do these things, but here are some more recommendations:
- Go ATVing! An ATV tour is a great way to get out of Oia and explore Santorini.
- Do a wine tour!
- Explore ancient island ruins
Santorini, Greece: When To Visit
Santorini is a tourist hot-spot, so summers can be brutally hot and busy. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I feel like we visited at the perfect time. I highly recommend visited during the spring (April-May) and fall (September-October) shoulder seasons.
Off to Athens…
Athens, Greece: Where To Stay
Mairin and I were only in Athens for one night, which is honestly all that you need. Since I budgeted more for Santorini, I booked a hostel for Athens. It was OK, but not great, so I’m not going to recommend it in my Greece travel guide. I will recommend, however, that you book accommodation within one mile of the Acropolis so that the sights are walkable, and that you only stay for a night or two.
Athens, Greece: Getting Around
Athens is a large international city. The historical and ancient part of the city is pretty far from the commercial area that surrounds the airport. We had to take a 40ish minute taxi from the airport to our hostel near the Acropolis. Once in downtown/historical Athens, we could walk everywhere, but just a heads up the taxi ride is a bit long!
Athens, Greece: What To Do
Athens is an incredible city. Not only is it the capital of Greece, it’s one of the oldest cities in the world. There’s a lot of history to explore here, but here are my recommendations:
Visit the Acropolis
A Greece travel guide MUST! The Acropolis is the most complete Greek monumental complex that exists and is essentially a semi-preserved, ancient city. It’s important to note that the Acropolis consists of several buildings, with the Parthenon being one of them. The Parthenon is probably the most famous site of the Acropolis, and is the ancient temple of Athena. The people of Athens consider Athena to be their patron saint- hence the name! I recommend booking an educational walking tour of the Acropolis.
Pro-tip: Even in September, it was HOT up here! The Acropolis sits on a hill, close to the blazing sun, so be sure to bring water with you.
Explore the Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological museum that displays findings from, you guessed it, the Acropolis. This museum was really interesting to walk around. I was shocked by the amount of artifacts archaeologists have been able to recover over the centuries. Check it out!
Pro-tip: Buy a ticket for a dual tour of the Acropolis site and museum. We spent 1/2 day total exploring these two iconic sites.
Walk Around Athens’ Plaka Neighborhood
Resting at the foot of the Acropolis is Athens’ charming Plaka neighborhood. With narrow cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and traditional restaurants, this area shouldn’t be left unexplored!
Athens, Greece: When To Visit
Similarly to Santorini, peak time for visitors in Athens is also during the summer months. Since Athens is located on mainland Greece, it is even hotter here than the islands, so I definitely recommend visiting during the shoulder seasons.
That’s all for my Greece travel guide! As I mentioned above, I hope to visit Greece again in the future and spend more time exploring the islands, especially Mkyonos. I plan on adding to this post then, but for now, I hope you find these tips helpful for Santorini and Athens!
Until next time!
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