Long gold-streaked beaches, light summer breezes, dazzling sunbeams warming the skin and the sound of crashing waves echoing in the distance; this is what dreams are made of. Actually, this is what Greece is made of, which is precisely the reason why this astonishing country is one of the most favored holiday destinations around the world.
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Besides the obligatory holiday daydreaming, though, there is a number of practicalities that need to be handled before you embark on your dream trip to Greece. Yes, it’s quite unfortunate but even holidays require the laborious task of planning and organizing; it’s one of life’s hard truths we all have to deal with. And that’s exactly what we’re about to do, as below you’ll find solid advice on how to plan your trip to Greece to ensure your days are carefree and thoroughly thought-out!
Pick the best time to visit Greece
Parga in spring - credits: kostasgr/Shutterstock.com
Let’s get one thing out of the way: contrary to popular belief, Greece is superb all year round so choosing to visit it during winter is perfectly valid; don’t let anyone tell you any different. Of course, with it being a country surrounded by beautiful seas, it’s only natural that it is more popular for the magical summers that it offers its visitors with a free hand. And to be honest, If I were to choose a time to introduce Greece to first-time visitors, it would be during the warmer months, as I think that is when Greece is in full bloom -not just literally, but figuratively as well.
Now, depending on what type of vacations you’re after, you can figure out the best time to visit your favorite destination in Greece. As a quick rule of thumb, remember that if you’re a sociable extrovert and you’re down to mingle with the crowds and have a loud and proud, good old party time, then the thick of summer should be ideal for you. Especially if you’re not afraid of intense heat, as Greece is known to reach very high temperatures that challenge even the locals, and the large waves of tourism that dominate the country, visiting Greece between the months of late June and late August will make it possible for you to experience it the way most movies portray it. If on the other side you’re not particularly tolerant of extreme temperatures and you’d like your vacations to be laid-back and much quieter, visiting during spring or early autumn will provide you with the best of both worlds. You’ll get to enjoy the bright and cloudless Greek skies while enjoying a mild warm climate and avoiding the -sometimes overwhelming- crowds.
If against all odds you decide to book your trip during winter, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll have the unique opportunity to experience a very different aspect of Greece that is however just as beautiful. One thing to keep in mind when visiting Greece in winter though is that you should probably opt for its mainland and not its celebrated islands, as with them having very few permanent residents, they tend to get deserted following the summer months. Not to mention that their temperatures get really low and they typically get overwhelmingly windy! Good thing is, the Greek countryside is full of places that will startle you with their raw natural beauty. Whether it is a seaside town like Nafplio or a mountainous region like Meteora, you can rest safe in the knowledge that in the case of Greece, disappointment is out of the table no matter when and where you choose to visit!
How many days should you spend in Greece?
A young couple with their dog in Meteora - credits: NataliaD/Depositphotos.com
Everyone knows that the days you’ve been saving from your annual leave are more precious than gold. That’s why you should be careful to spend no more and no less than the amount you absolutely need in the interest of getting the most out of your Greek experience.
Needless to say, you can plan a visit to Greece just for a weekend getaway and still have a fabulous time, however, although it is a relatively small country, don’t expect to have the time to explore it to its fullest within just a couple of days. Most importantly: don’t try to squeeze in more than one destination if you don’t plan your stay to be longer than a fortnight. But even if you’re planning to stay for a couple of weeks, packing your days with a gazillion destinations will only result in spending more time on transportation rather than on the beach, while you’ll fail to get an authentic experience and explore each destination adequately, being always on the run. Two or even three destinations are fine, but any more than that will transform your vacations in a fruitless wandering around Greece’s regions, and that’s definitely not what you should aim for.
Indicatively, if you’re interested in exploring the striking Greek capital before hitting the beloved islands, three days should do the trick. Within 3 days you’ll have plenty of time to visit Athens’ most significant landmarks and archaeological sites, wander around its vibrant streets and picturesque neighborhoods, taste its delectable cuisine, and explore its diverse nightlife while mingling with the locals. For the Greek islands, there is no golden rule, as the number of days you should spend depends on which island you have your eyes on. If you want to visit one of Greece’s biggest islands, such as Crete, then the more days you book the merrier. Definitely don’t do less than three though cause you won’t get to see and experience everything you should. For smaller islands, a couple of days should do. But again, they’re comparatively tiny and there are significantly fewer attractions, there are a lot of beaches you will want to luxuriate in; better safe than sorry!
How far in advance should I book a flight to Greece?
Athens' International Airport signboard - credits: Paul Cowan/Shutterstock.com
The early bird catches the worm; you snooze, you lose; first come, first served; day late and a dollar short. There are so many ways to get the point across, so please don’t wait till the last minute to book your tickets! If you want to visit during the summer, in addition to running the risk of your desired flight being fully booked, which will complete your plans for a relaxing Greek holiday, even if you do find tickets, their prices will be sky-high. Contrarily, if you plan ahead and book your tickets early, not only will you cross off your list one less thing to do and you’ll be rid of unnecessary stress, but you might also be able to strike a bargain in regard to the prices of your tickets.
I’m sure you already know that there are a ton of booking sites on the internet you can use, still, I feel obliged to mention my favorite websites/apps that I have found work best and offer the best deals. Skyscanner and Airtickets are a couple of firm favorites when it comes to booking airplane tickets and renting a car. Ferry Hopper and Travelplanet24 are exclusively for maritime transport while they also include information about the best things to do on your desired destination. And lastly, Expedia, and Kayak, offer a more inclusive experience, giving you the opportunity to book airplane tickets, ferry tickets, hotels, rent a vehicle, as well as check out what’s best activities to engage in at your final destination. All of the sites above aim to compare the available pricing online and present you with the cheapest options.
Choose unique places to visit in Greece
I totally get you drooling over the idea of visiting as many Greek islands as humanly possible at once, however, I promise you that in real life, this is not the way to go; as I’ve already mentioned above, packing a ton of destinations in one trip will do more harm than good. As a result, you have to be wise about the locations you choose and take into consideration a number of factors, including the time of your visit, your traveling arrangements -are you traveling with your family? Solo? With your significant other?- and the vibe you’re after.
If you’re traveling with kids, then having a read of the best Greek islands for families, will give you the answer. Alternatively, you can read which is the right Greek island for you, which will help you make an educated decision regarding your Greek destinations by providing you with valuable local information.
One thing I should stress though is that no matter where you go, please do not -and I repeat: do not- skip Athens. Why would you? Despite the Greek islands getting all the hype for their striking beaches and their party ways, Athens can offer you just as much if not more! An abundance of archaeological sites, a plethora of art galleries and other cultural stimuli, incredible food, crystal-clear beaches a few minutes away from the city center and delicious flavors from all over Greece. Incorporate the Greek capital in your holiday itinerary in order to get a better taste of what it is to live in Greece like a local!
Get your accommodation sorted
Great Britain hotel Athens - credits: Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock.com
Unless you fancy staying at the ‘Stars’ hotel -a funny inside joke between Greeks that refers to sleeping on the beach with the starry night sky as your ceiling- along with your plane -or ferry- tickets, you should sort out your housing situation the earliest you can. If your destination of choice is Athens, with the Greek capital being a big city, the choices you have regarding your accommodations are plenty, but before booking a hotel you must decide on the neighborhood. Thankfully for you, you can find all the information about where to stay in Athens and how to choose the right neighborhood all in one place.
On the occasion, however, that you are planning to visit the Greek countryside or the Greek islands or both, your options are much more restricted as there are considerably fewer accommodations available whether you’re looking at conventional hotels or AirBnbs. As a result, my advise for that will mirror my advice for your tickets: please don’t let yourself and your company resort in last-minute bookings, as there is probably a high chance of not finding what suits your needs and stumbling upon exorbitant prices that would have been easily avoided a few months prior. If you go ahead and book your accommodation after having done your research in each destination you plan on visiting, you’ll cross off your list probably the most stress-inducing elements of your holidays, while you’ll also be able to budget yourself way better and more accurately, knowing the exact amount your stay will cost.
Before booking your room, just have a few things in mind: the absolute most important thing to aim for -sharing the first spot of the list along with cleanness- is close proximity to the heart of the region you reside in. And when I say close proximity, I mean that your accommodation of choice should ideally be within walking distance from the city/town/village center -or at the very least, the public transport station that will connect you with the rest of the region; trust me when I say that there is nothing better than being a short walk’s distance from your bed after a wild night out!
What should I pack for my trip to Greece?
Packing a suitcase - credits: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com
Packing once again depends on the time that you’ll be visiting, but there are some general guidelines that are foolproof and will keep you well-prepared and comfortable nonetheless.
If you’re visiting during winter, but you’re staying in Athens a heavy coat is all you need. If however, your winter endeavors will take you to the mountainous countryside make sure to bring snow boots and snow gloves and the warmest clothes you own. I got chilly just thinking about it.
If you’re visiting during summer, think about what you’d like to wear in a sauna and pack accordingly. You might be thinking I’m just joking, but the middle of summer in Greece is not far from a sauna as the temperatures often rise to a daunting 38-40 degrees celsius. As you understand, along with your swimsuits, pack incredible light, next-to-nothing clothing, including tank tops and shorts, a big heat to protect you from the blazing sun, good quality sunglasses and loads and loads of high SPF sunscreen - you want a golden tan, not bright red inflamed skin! An exception to this rule is during nighttime on the Greek islands when the temperature can drop significantly and require a light jacket. In regard to footwear, I’ if you’re visiting the Greek islands I’d suggest you leave all types of high heels behind as the cobbled alleyways of the picturesque islands are not made for dainty shoes; the amount of times I’ve seen visitors tripping on their feet is upsetting. In any case, if I were you, I’d opt for open-toe shoes with sports soles so as for your feet to be cool and comfortable at the same time. A lot of people choose trainers, but personally, I’d rather rub salt on an open wound that suspends my feet into a sock prison when it’s hot outside.
Keep in mind that all the packing advice comes from a born and bred Athenian that is extremely comfortable in flaming hot temperatures and despises cold weather. So when I -the person who considers 20 degrees celsius cold weather- say that it gets very hot, believe me: it gets very, very hot.
Plan your transportation in Greece ahead
Private transportation - credits: Corepics VOF/Shutterstock.com
Although figuring your way around Athens is relatively easy with the buses, railway, and underground system covering the vast majority of the city, transporting people with ease and efficiency, the Greek islands and countryside are a completely different story. While in Athens you can go wherever you like, whenever you like, public transportation at the Greek islands and countryside will take you only so far and on specific times in the day, while the taxi system is incredibly pricy outside the Greek capital and definitely no worth it; I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my money on souvlaki wraps, than on overpriced transportation.
From my point of view, your best bet is to plan ahead your transportation and be in the know from the get-go. Educate yourself on how to use public transport - especially if you visit Athens, learning how to use the Athens’ Metro system will save you a load of trouble- explore the different lines that accommodate your needs best and print out a map for your convenience before landing.
If the idea of driving yourself around is appealing, then you can rent a car in one of the many rental companies in the country. Rentalcars.com, Carflexi.com, and Economycarrentals.com are excellent trustworthy companies you can depend on if you wish to rent ahead, but there are plenty of other local businesses in the center of Athens or near Athens’ International Airport and the port of Pireaus waiting to help out the travelers.
Alternatively, you can choose to explore the regions of Greece by joining some of Greeking.me’s tours and trips that include private transfers and will make your life much easier and much more enjoyable; it’s all up to you!
Mind your step, you might fall into a tourist trap!
Candid image from Greeking.me's 'Athens for Foodies' tour
This one is the trickiest bit. With Greece being a massive tourist attraction - especially during the high-season summer months- there are tourist traps everywhere across the country and specifically in the most visited areas, such as around the most momentous archaeological sites and the most popular Greek islands such as Santorini and Mykonos. Now, unless you’re a local -in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog post- it is hard to recognize said traps and steer clear from them. What you can do, however, is ask those who know better -aka the locals. The Greeks haven’t gained the reputation of being admirably hospitable for nothing; therefore, put this attribute to good use by asking around wherever you go for the best places to see, eat, drink and shop. By the way, have you seen our Greek Island Hopping guide?
What’s more, in order to get the most authentic, off-the-beaten-path experience, you should try to incorporate as many local experiences, tours and adventures with the help of local companies that will show you the city from a local’s perspective, making sure you get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Greek and get to wake to this amazing country day in and day out. From a ‘Heraklion for Foodies’ culinary tour to a ‘Mykonos Sunset Sailing Cruise’, a ‘Mythical Music Presentation’ in Santorini, a ‘Delphi Day Trip from Athens’, and everything in between, you’ll get an inside scoop on the best parts of Greece without you having to move as much as a muscle; that’s a win-win situation if I’ve ever heard one!
You know, I almost get jealous of people who are about to experience Greece for the first time. That first salty scent once you reach the shore or you get off of the airplane. That first dive into the crystal clear waters. The first Greek summer sunset. They’re all such mesmerizing experiences you cannot duplicate in any other part of the world no matter how hard you try.
Follow my advice above, and you’re bound to be a winner! Make the best of memories you will cherish for the rest of your lives; stress-free and well-educated you have no reason to straddle the fence; book your tickets, pack your bags and come visit the homeland of the Olympian gods!