Now on our final island destination, Crete – the largest of the Greek Islands – we had already made trips out to Chania and Rethymnom in the West and to Agios Nikolaus, Elounda and Spinalonga Island to the East of our base in the city of Heraklion. Today, we would be heading inland to Crete’s Lassithi Plateau.
Another escorted tour but this time with a difference – instead of boarding a huge coach, we would be travelling in a small group on a Jeep Safari with Crete’s Safari Club company.
Meeting our guide outside our city apartments, we were once again driven out to the resorts to the east of us stopping to pick up two couples staying in the pretty resort of Analipsi. We’d be just a small group of 6 as another couple had cancelled last minute and with room in the jeep already quite sparse, we were quite glad about this!
Our guide outlined the day explaining that we’d regularly swap seats between the front and back of the jeep throughout the day to make it fair before we began our adventure.
After stopping at a viewpoint overlooking Aposelimi Dam and watching huge vultures circling overhead, we began to make our ascent upwards.
Pulling over again, our guide pointed out the remnants of an ancient Roman aquaduct before we continued our climb to the traditional village of Kastamonitsa. Here, we learnt how laundry would have been done in ancient times before visiting a local cafe to sample olive oil and raki – a rather potent alcoholic beverage.
Despite it being way too early in the morning and despite not really being much of a drinker, I felt obliged to knock back the shot to accept the host’s hospitality but one was definitely enough!!
Back in the land rover and now sat up the back after a seat switch, we continued our climb driving up narrow roads with a sheer drop on the one side. This made for some spectacular views.
Our destination, at the top of the mountain, was an alpine goat farm and as we parked up and jumped out of the jeep, we were met by some friendly goats wanting to say hello! As well as greeting the goats, we learnt a bit about the farm and after seeing some of the home-made wheels of cheese produced on the farm, we got to sample some. We were even offered some more raki to wash it down with which, this time, I politely declined!
Leaving the farm, we continued along some of the ancient Minoan Trail and began our descent back down the mountain, stopping again to take in the views and get some photos.
Reaching the Lassithi Plateau, our next stop was at Vidiani Monastery where we had a bit of time to visit the 19th century church. Next up was our lunch stop and we were taken to a local restaurant where a buffet style lunch was served giving us time to chat with the rest of the group and swap stories of our time in Greece and on the island of Crete so far.
After lunch, we made our way to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Lassithi Plateau, the Cave of Diktaion Andron, also referred to as the Psychro Cave or Cave of Zeus as legend has it that this was the cave where Zeus, the king of the ancient Greek gods, was born.
After hearing the rather grisly story of his birth, we were dropped in the car park for the cave from where we had to climb a steep, uneven path to the cave’s entrance. After paying a small entrance fee, we headed down the steps into the dark cave, following a well lit path to look around before walking back downhill to our awaiting guide and land rover.
The day now almost at an end, we drove through the Lassithi Plateau past farms and fields and even some old Greek windmills before reaching our final stop of the day in the town of Krasi.
Here, as well as finding yet another ancient laundry, we saw the oldest Plain Tree on the island, thought to have stood there for almost 2500 years.
After taking photos with and of the tree, it was back into the land rover one last time as we were taken back to our various resorts.
The day had been really fun and it was interesting to see another side of Crete away from it’s resorts and Venetian port cities and towns.
Once back in Heraklion, we made our now daily trek into the main town finding a local restaurant to have dinner at followed by an ice cream and a wander down to the sea front as the sun started to set.
The following day, we would be flying out of Crete – and Greece – and returning to the UK but as our flights weren’t until late evening, we had the day free to explore more in the local area.
We began our day with a walk to the local bus station where we caught the bus out to the Palace of Knossos. After reading advice on line, we had pre-booked tickets into the site and after seeing the huge line at the entrance, were glad we had. The Palace of Knossos is famous for it’s links to Greek mythology as beneath it, is where the labyrinth containing the Minotaur is said to have been.
The site was discovered in the late 19th century and excavated in the early 20th century. Unlike other archaeological sites we’d seen while in Greece, parts of the palace had been restored to show what they could have looked like in ancient Minoan times. We actually felt this took away from the site a bit although at the same time, it was interesting to see how it would have been. We were surprised at how busy the site was and it reminded us of our visit to the Acropolis in Athens a week or so before.
Despite booking an early timeslot, we had to queue to see some of the indoor areas and often had long waits to get the front of a viewing platform to see some of the ruins which spoilt our visit a bit. A late afternoon or early evening visit might have been a quieter time to go if we had had the time to fit it in then.
We had booked a combo ticket for the Palace of Knossos which also included entrance to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum so after leaving the Palace of Knossos, we caught the bus back into Heraklion city. The museum contains many of the artefacts found during excavations of the Palace of Knossos and gives a bit more background to the site so it’s definitely worth visiting both.
There were also plenty of other relics from archaeological sites around Crete including some from the Cave of Zeus we had visited the previous day.
We still had some time left before needing to make our way to the airport that evening so following our visit to the museum, we spent some time walking through the streets of Heraklion city, stopping for some lunch at one of the many cafes tucked away down its backstreets, souvenir shopping at its markets and admiring its fountains and churches.
Our stay in Heraklion wouldn’t be complete without a walk to its Venetian Harbour so before making our way to the airport, we battled the howling wind to walk along the sea wall to Rocca a Mare Fortress and back.
Then, it was time to say goodbye to Heraklion, the island of Crete and Greece itself as our summer adventure came to an end. We had packed a lot into our 2-and-a-bit weeks in this amazing country but there is still so much to see and I hope to return one day.
With a few more nights left on our final destination, the largest of the Greek islands, Crete, we would today be heading to the east of the island on another organised excursion on which we would eventually get the chance to explore the former leper colony of Spinalonga Island.
Our island base in the city of Heraklion was the first pick up of the day for the trip meaning a rather early start followed by a long morning sat on board the coach as we picked up passengers from the many popular coastal resorts east of us – multiple stops at hotels in the resorts of Gouves, Analipsi, Heronissos and, of course, Malia.
Having never been to Crete before, this did at least give me chance to size up the different towns and resorts and see which I might consider should I return to Crete for a more relaxing break one day!
Pick ups done and our tour guide for the day on board the coach, we finally got on our way towards out first stop of the day, the picturesque town of Agios Nikolaus. Along the way our guide explained that the coastal town’s main attraction was its lake which is now joined to the sea via a canal and that the bridge spanning the canal is the most photographed place in town.
Having not had anything except a small bowl of cereal for breakfast hours and hours ago, we were rather hungry by the time we arrived so after being dropped by the small port, we spent the first part of our free time in the town looking for a cafe or bakery to grab a pastry or sweet snack from.
Mission accomplished, we made our way to the pretty lake where we sat eating our pastries before walking back towards the seafront.
After walking along the seafront, we returned to the port and taking photos with the canal bridge before wandering through the town eventually finding ourselves at a small but popular pebbly cove.
Then, taking photos with a couple of unusual sculptures which our tour guide had pointed out to us on the way in, we made our way back to the coach.
Next up was the town of Elounda from where we would later be taking the boat to Spinalonga Island. First though, some free time to get some lunch. We chose a small cafe overlooking the front offering reasonably priced sandwiches and toasties and opted to sit inside to take advantage of some aircon for a bit.
After lunch, we had a quick walk around town before meeting back up with our guide and the rest of the group in time to make our boat’s departure time.
It was a short trip across the sea to Spinalonga Island, our guide giving us some background information along the way and I was surprised to learn just how recently it had been an active leper colony – the last inhabitant not leaving the island until 1962.
After docking at the island, we joined the short queue to buy entrance tickets and, at the advice of our guide, made our way around in a clockwise direction. While there were some information boards along the way round, we felt there could have been more along with a suggested route as there were a few paths leading off the main one up to view points and other buildings along the way.
We chose to stay on the main path to ensure we’d complete the full loop in the hour time frame we had before needing to be back on the boat but as this turned out to be more than enough time, we then used our tickets to re-enter and take some of the paths to see other parts of the island.
It was definitely an interesting place to visit and a bit different from the ancient archaeological sites we’d mainly seen on our trip to Greece.
On our way back to Elounda, our boat docked out at sea for anyone who wanted to do a spot of open sea swimming. Luckily, I’d remembered my swim suit so took a quick dip to cool off.
Once back in Elounda, we were given a bit of time to get any refreshments we needed for the trip back then it was back on the coach to once again drive through the various resorts dropping off passengers until we finally reached Heraklion again.
We spent the evening again wandering up into town for dinner followed by a walk along the main shopping street looking for souvenirs and an ice cream from one of the many delicious-looking dessert stores in town.
Tomorrow would be our last full day of our holiday and we had yet another excursion planned, this time into the centre of the island on a jeep safari and then with late flights home meaning we’ had most of the following day to spend have most of the day to spare, we planned to spend the following day in Heraklion and the surrounding area exploring a bit more.
Arriving into the port of Heraklion quite a few hours later than planned due to ferry delays, we made the short walk to our city apartment block which would be our island base for the next 4 nights. With darkness already descending outside, we walked into the town centre to grab something to eat from a Greek fast food-style restaurant before returning for a quiet night in.
Wanting to see as much of Crete as possible, we had chosen Heraklion due to its central position on the north coast of Crete and had made plans to take excursions to different parts of the island from here over the next few days.
First up was a trip to West Crete. We were met by a company representative at a pick up point close to our accommodation the next morning and driven to a main road where we joined a coach load of people already on board.
Being the most westerly pick up point that day meant we were last on – the positive of that being we hadn’t had to get up too early and hadn’t spent hours sat on board making stop after stop picking up more passengers, the negative that it was a full coach and the last few seats were at opposite ends of the bus from each other.
Taking the last seat in the middle of the very back seat between two sets of strangers wasn’t ideal, especially as it seemed they’d been some of the first to board and had therefore been up since the early hours. Unable to keep there eyes open, I found my shoulders regularly becoming cushions for them to rest upon!
It was still a couple of hours drive from Heraklion to our first stop in the city of Chania. The journey was broken up with a convenience stop at a roadside cafe and our guide kept us entertained with an informative commentary as we travelled.
Once in Chania, we were given a decent amount of free time to explore although it was lunch time and when we factored in finding somewhere to eat, this did drain into our time to explore quite a bit.
From the coach park, we made our way through the pretty narrow streets at the back of the town and then out to the main square where a former Mosque (now used as an exhibition space) stood right on the water’s edge. We made our way around the sea wall out towards Chania lighthouse in the distance, from where there were impressive views of Chania’s beautiful Venetian harbour.
This turned out to be a longer walk than we’d anticipated forcing us to turn back just before reaching the lighthouse itself and make our way back to the seafront. Lined with shops an restaurants, the promenade was bustling with seas of tourists enjoying the sunshine and pretty views.
We chose one of the many restaurant cafes to sit out at and ordered some toasties and drinks and then it was time to walk back towards the Venetian fortress which was our maker for finding the coach again.
An hour later we reached the second stop of the day, Lake Kournas. For those who could hold out for food, our guide had recommended eating here at one of the restaurants with a rooftop patio overlooking the lake but apart from hunger, we had had another reason for wanting to eat in Chania – we wanted to hire a pedalo during our free time at the lake!!
This was a really pretty spot with the bright blue water of the lake surrounded by mountains.
Not wanting to hire the boats for the full hour being advertised, we took our guide’s advice to haggle with the vendors for a deal on a shorter amount of time and we soon found ourselves clambering into a pedal-powered boat and setting off for the middle of the lake.
As well as being a lot of fun, this was a great way to get some beautiful views of the lakeshore.
Once back on dry land, we wandered along the shore, looked in some of the souvenir stores and grabbed an ice cream from one of the cafes before it was time to board the coach again.
It was just half an hour to our final stop of the day, another town with a Venetian port, Rethymnom. Here, we again wandered through pretty back streets past shops, restaurants and cafes and out onto the seafront with its Venetian-style harbour.
Whether it was because it was early evening – and therefore quieter – or not, but I liked Rethymnom more than Chania as it felt less touristy. We spent the last few minutes enjoying the atmosphere around the pretty harbour before boarding the coach one last time.
As we were last pick up that day, we were first drop off at the end. Instead of being dropped back in Heraklion itself, we once again found ourselves at the side of a busy main road where we were met by a driver to take us back into town.
The day had finished slightly earlier than we’d expected giving us plenty of time to walk up to the main square in Heraklion where we found an Italian restaurant for a pizza dinner before returning to our apartment.
The ferry was much larger than the one we’d taken from Athens to Naxos and this time, there were no set seats, we could sit anywhere in the economy area. With a lot more options for food – multiple cafes and a fast food burger restaurant, we spent most of our time on board trying to decide what to get for a snack.
Once we’d arrived at the main ferry port in Santorini, we quickly found our pre-arranged transfer to our hotel which was just down a (rather steep) hill from the town of Fira. All checked in, we made our way into town having to stop multiple times to get our breath back as we climbed one hill after another in the blistering heat!
Not really knowing exactly where we were going, we wandered along the streets deciding to just see what we’d find. And what we found were people and plenty of them! The streets were crowded making it difficult to pass through many of the narrower streets or get near any of the stores – not that that really mattered as many of them were touristy souvenir stores all selling the same thing at slightly differing prices.
As one of the streets lead us out to a view point, we could see one of the reasons for the number of people around – three large cruise ships were docked near the island. After the peace and quiet of Naxos, it was a bit of a shock to the system to find ourselves fighting for space on Santorini and it didn’t endear me to the town of Fira at all.
Still, the views from the lookout points were pretty and we had plenty planned to see more of the island over the next few days so I was sure my opinion would change over time.
After a disappointing dinner – a pizza that tasted like the kind you buy frozen at a supermarket – we returned to our hotel to spend the last hour of sunshine cooling down in the pool followed by a relaxing night in ready for the next day.
We were up bright and early the next morning to ensure we had time to grab some breakfast in town before walking to the old port. Deciding McDonalds might be a safe bet, we were surprised to find it didn’t have any breakfast options instead selling burgers and fries even at 8am! Luckily, we came across a bakery nearby where we found plenty of bread and pastry options.
After gobbling these down, we began our descent down the clifftop town of Fira to the old port, navigating almost 600 steps and trying to avoid the hoards of poor donkeys and mules carrying tourists back up. It took a long time to make it all the way down and I was thankful that there was a cable car option to bring us back up to the town at the end of the day!
At the old port, we met our tour guide for the day and boarded our pirate-style boat which would be taking us out to the nearby ‘caldera’ – Santorini’s volcano on the island of Nea Kameni.
It didn’t take very long to sail there and once we were docked alongside the many other boats also taking trips there, we had some free time to make our way to the top of the island, enjoy the views, see some volcanic activity and make our way back down again.
The walk to the top of the island, which is made completely of black lava, was easier than we had expected and the views of the volcanic landscape, the crater at the top and out across the sea from the island really were beautiful.
On the way, we could see steam rising from the ground due to the volcanic activity still going on there.
Back on the boat, our guide gave us a bit more information about the island as we made our way to the second stop of the day, the island of Palea. We wouldn’t actually be stopping on the island itself, instead, the boat docked a short distance out from where we could see the waters change to a rusty orange colour where the islands’ hot springs were. We had the chance to swim out from the boat to the hot springs – an opportunity I jumped at although, not literally, as many people decided to jump into the sea from the side of the boat, I chose to climb down a ladder into the water! ‘Noodle’ float aids were supplied to anyone who wanted them.
It was an easy swim out to the hot springs and the water did feel noticeably warmer once I reached them. As I was one of the last off the boat, by the time I reached the hot springs, it was almost time to swim back again.
This was a lot more difficult as we were swimming again the current and I was relieved when I finally managed to grab the ladder off the side of the boat and begin my climb back aboard!
It didn’t take long to dry out in the warm sun and breeze as we set sail for our final stop of the day, the island of Thirassia. Here, we had more free time to spend. The main town was at the top of a cliff up a steep zig-zagging path similar to that in Fira on Santorini island but there were plenty of restaurants – both sit-down and fast food places – in the port area for anyone that didn’t want the trek up. Having found somewhere to purchase drinks and sat by the sea to eat the picnic lunch we had brought with us, we decided we didn’t have the time or inclination to walk up to town so after climbing the first section of stairs to take some photos of the view, we made our way back down to the port again grabbing an ice cream and walking along the coast a bit until it was time to board the boat again.
Although we had no more stops to make, the day was not over yet as we took the scenic route back to Santorini sailing up to the town on Oia at the north of the island and making our way down the east coast of the island back to Fira enjoying the views of the white-washed houses and blue-domed churches on the cliffs above.
Once back on dry land, we took the cable car back up to Fira town and had a much more enjoyable meal – chicken souvlaki – at another one of the restaurants in town before returning to our hotel for another late evening dip in the pool.
For our final full day in Santorini, we had a coastal walk from Fira to Oia planned.
Heading into town, we quickly picked up the coastal path and began the 10km-or-so walk. Despite the 30-something degree heat, the beautiful views, especially in the town of Imerovigli with its white-washed hotels and houses built into the cliffs, kept us going and made some of the more brutal hills worthwhile in the end!
When we reached Oia, almost 6 hours later, we were exhausted and decided to treat ourselves to a sweet treat of crepes covered in hazelnut sauce and with a dollop of ice cream from a local cafe.
Feet rested and fuelled up on sugar, we then spent some time exploring Oia.
With its mainly wider streets and white footpaths and buildings, first impressions of Oia were a lot more favourable than Fira. It was busy but didn’t feel quite as crowded. We found a viewpoint for its famous three blue-domes churches and grabbed photos, saw the castle from a distance and walked to some windmills too. We had originally planned to stay in Oia until sunset but had read that it got ridiculously busy around this time of day and could be extremely difficult to get a bus back to Fira at the end of the night. So instead, we decided to catch the bus back to Fira late afternoon, grab dinner there then watch the sunset from somewhere along the coast path near there.
The buses were already busy, even in the middle of the afternoon but we managed to get a seat on the second one that came along and were soon back in Fira. After dinner in Fira’s main square, we took a stroll to one of the many viewpoints over the coast to watch the sunset.
The next day we would be taking a ferry to our final island stop of Crete but as our ferry wasn’t scheduled until 4pm, we still had plenty of time that morning for some sightseeing. We had decided to use public transport to head to the south of the island and see the archaeological site at Akrotiri.
Having arrived back to chaotic scene at Fira bus station the night before, we should have been prepared for what would await us this morning. The bus station was more like a large car park with buses coming and going while people stood around here there and everywhere, walking out behind reversing buses and in front of buses about to pull away not knowing where they should be going. None of the bays were labelled and none of the buses or routes seemed to be numbered. Instead, whenever a bus pulled up and parked, the driver would just yell out its destination and there be a mad scramble to get on before all the seats went!
Despite the chaos and disorganisation surrounding us, we somehow managed to board the bus to Akrotiri. Once there we took the short walk to the archaeological site and spent some time exploring the ancient ruins.
While interesting to see, the museum didn’t take us very long to go round. It is possible to take taxi boats out from the small, pebbly beach at Akrotiri to visit Red Beach and White Beach, two popular Santorini attractions but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time if we were going to make our ferry to Crete.
After my initial reservations, the island of Santorini definitely grew on me. It’s certainly very beautiful but I feel tourism has spoilt it slightly and the complete contrast to the slower paced Naxos island we had just come from made the busy, crowded streets of Fira a shock to the system at first. If I was to return I think I’d consider choosing a different part of the island than Fira to stay in and would definitely choose a quieter time of the year than the middle of August to visit! But there was plenty to enjoy and I was glad to have finally ticked it off my list of places to go!
Stop number 3 on our 16-day vacation to Greece was the island of Naxos in the popular Cyclades island group. It was an island I hadn’t even heard of before starting to plan this trip but one I was looking forward to visiting after reading lots of positive things about it.
Having started our Greek adventure in the Sporades Islands, we were currently in Athens and after a long daytrip sailing to three of the Saronic Islands yesterday, we were now on our way to another marina, or rather, the city’s main ferry port, Piraeus to board the first of three passenger ferries we’d be taking this trip.
The journey to the ferry port was pretty straight forward, taking just one metro line from near our hotel all the way to the Piraeus stop. Arriving in plenty of time, we grabbed breakfast from a cafe near the station before setting off to find our ferry.
This was a little less straightforward, the information on our ticket not being enough to identify our boat from all of those docked nearby. Eventually, we found someone to ask who pointed us in the right direction and find that point forward, we boarded without problems, a staff member helping us to load our luggage in the correct compartment for our port of call.
Finding our seats – like on a plane, we’d all been allocated seat numbers! – we settled down ready for the journey only to find ourselves in the middle of chaotic scenes as other couples, groups of friends and even families with young children found they hadn’t been allocated seats together.
What ensued was like a game of musical chairs crossed with a jigsaw puzzle as we all tried to move around to accommodate those that had been separated. Realising it was a bit of an impossible task, we at were at least able to make sure that the young children were as close to their parents as possible.
The ferry ride was not what I had expected. I thought we’d be able to freely road the boat and that there’d be an outside deck we could maybe stand on if we wanted similar to when I’d used the ferries between the Scottish islands. Instead, we were encouraged to mainly stay in our seats – at one point told not to move around the boat at all as we hit rough seas – and while we could walk from one end of the boat to the other to visit the shop or cafes on board, many areas were out of bounds.
Naxos was the second stop after the island of Poros. The rough seas had delayed our arrival time by about an hour but upon arrival, we were still met by the owner of the guesthouse we’d be staying at who had offered us free transfers from the port.
We were actually staying within walking distance from the port but with it being on a slight uphill gradient to the guesthouse and as we were armed with our luggage, we appreciated being transported the short journey.
Once settled in and armed with the maps and information given to us by the guesthouse owners, we set out to start exploring. We followed the instructions given us to walk to the elevator which would take us up the hill to the old Venetian Castle at the top of Naxos old town.
The elevator actually led to the Archaeological Museum of Naxos – which was unfortunately closed during our visit – or to a rooftop cafe bar with pretty views over the island. Despite us not purchasing anything from the bar, no one seemed to mind us and other visitors stopping to take a few photos before we made our way out via the museum shop to the narrow paths old the old town.
Unsure exactly where we were, we wandered through the pretty, winding streets, up and down steps and along narrow alleyways passing churches, guesthouses and galleries along the way. Being high up, we could often see views of the sea or the port so just kept turning in that direction and going downhill until we eventually reached the main street running along the sea front.
After stopping for an ice cream from one of the many cafes and restaurants lining the front, we decided to walk away from the main port following the coast path and we eventually found ourselves at the busy Agios Georgios beach. Stopping to rest for a while, we then retraced our steps back into town and followed the road from the port around the hilly old town back to our guesthouse to cool down in the air con for a bit.
That evening, we walked back into town choosing one of the many restaurants along the front for dinner and both ordering a delicious chicken souvlaki meal. Then we took a walk up to the Temple of Apollo, ancient ruins stood on a hill along the coast and a popular spot for seeing the sunset. While it was already busy when we arrived, we managed to find a spot to sit just before more crowds of people made their way up there. It really was a beautiful sunset and a beautiful spot to watch it from!
The next day, we had booked a rather reasonable day tour of the highlights of Naxos island. Meeting our coach by the ferry port, we set off for our first stop, the Temple of Demeter where we had a bit of free time to see the ruins and explore the small museum.
Next stop was out in the countryside in the small town of Damalas where we visited a small pottery store to see a traditional Naxos ceramic wine decanter being made and then stopped by a small museum to see a traditional olive press as our guide explained the process that would have been used to make olive oil.
After stopping at the beautiful church of the Monastery Panagia Drossiani, we were taken to the pretty town of Chalkio where we visited a distillery and had the opportunity to try citron liquor.
A ‘coffee stop’ in the village of Apeiranthos was next. Apeiranthos is known as the ‘marble village’ as most of the buildings and roads here were built out of marble. We spent the free time we had here wandering through the narrow streets and stopping for ice cream to keep us going until lunch.
The final two stops of the day were in Apollon, a seaside resort on the North-East coast of the island. First we stopped in the town itself where we chose one of the seafront cafes to sit and have lunch before taking a stroll through the town and along the popular beach.
Then we stopped up the hill just outside the of the town to visit Apollonas Kouros, a huge, ancient statue which still lies flat on the ground having never been moved to where it may have been intended to end up!
Our tour ended with a drive along the scenic coast road back to Naxos town and after dinner at another of the seafront restaurants, we walked back to our guesthouse exhausted.
For our final full day on Naxos island, we had actually booked a trip to the nearby islands of Delos and Mykonos, Delos because it was home of another archaeological site we wanted to visit and Mykonos because while we felt we shouldn’t come to the Cyclades without visiting, an afternoon there would be more than long enough.
Making our way down to the pier where our boat would depart from, we were confused to see it about to depart 45 minutes before the time we had been told. Racing down the jetty, we spoke with the crew who told us the trip we had been booked on had been cancelled ‘weeks ago’.
As we had had confirmation from the tour company with instructions on how to find the boat within the last 24 hours, this seemed strange to us but the crew told us it was nothing to do with them and we’d need to speak to the operator to sort it out.
Googling the tour company’s name, we found it had a branch along the seafront in Naxos so walked the short distance there to explain to the assistant what had happened. It turned out the boat to Delos had been cancelled the day before and we just hadn’t been informed. The assistant looked into other options for us but it was impossible to get to Delos or Mykonos that day and back and still have enough time there.
Seeing we were at a bit of a loss with how to spend our day, instead, she suggested a boat trip out to the islands of Iraklia and Koufonissi.
While many of the day trips had already left for the day, this one was yet to depart and we’d still have time to make the boat. So, unsure where we were really going or what there was to do there but needing something to do, we exchanged our tickets and made our way back to the jetty to board our new boat!
With everyone on board the boat in their swimwear, we had a feeling there wouldn’t be a huge amount to do to keep us occupied at either island and we were completely unprepared for a beach day ourselves having expected to be exploring the ruins of Delos that morning.
Arriving onto the island of Iraklia, we decided to walk up a rather steep hill to a viewpoint that was marked on google maps then returned back into the small town and wandered towards a blue-domed church we had spotted before returning towards the sea front, stopping to buy a drink to cool us down. We spent the last half hour of our time there sat in the shade at the back of the pretty beach until it was time to make our way back to board the boat. Iraklia seemed a lovely quiet spot to spend a relaxing holiday away from it all or a few hours on the beach and we wished we’d been more prepared to enjoy it a bit more.
Pulling up at the larger island of Koufonissi, we could see the large sandy beach in front of us but were hopeful that there’d be more to do in the town here to occupy us, starting with finding a spot of lunch.
Heading inland, we soon settled on a pretty cafe-restaurant sat up on a hill with a patio offering beautiful views over the bay and ordered sandwiches and drinks before wandering through the quiet streets past shops, galleries and more pretty blue-domed churches.
Leaving the town behind, we then walked down to the beach and followed the coast path past some rocky coves where we sat paddling our feet before continuing on to another beach further along the coast. The walk offered some really pretty views.
Returning back to the town, we had another walk around and up to another viewpoint before it was time to return to board the boat back to Naxos. Koufonissi was another really beautiful island and another place you could spend a really relaxing holiday getting away from it all.
Arriving back in Naxos late evening, we again ate dinner at one of the restaurants along the front before returning to our accommodation ready to pack to leave the next day.
With our ferry being early afternoon, we had the morning to spend in Naxos town. The owners of the guesthouse we were staying in very generously offered to look after our luggage and to meet us down at the ferry port with it later meaning that we could stay in town all morning and walk straight to the port without having to return to our accommodation to pick anything up. We spent the morning again wandering through the old town, getting lost in its narrow alleyways knowing that eventually all roads lead back to either the old Venetian castle walls or the seafront. Then after lunch at a cafe overlooking the seafront, we made our way to the main port to pick up our luggage and board our ferry to Santorini.
I’d really loved Naxos Island with its relaxed vibe, friendly locals and authentic feel and would definitely like to return there one day in the future.
Having never visited Greece before, I was eager to see as much of it as possible. Beginning our (mainly) island-hopping adventure in the Sporades islands and finishing in the Cyclades, we were currently at the end of 4 days in the country’s capital city, Athens, and having spent the last few days fitting in as much sight-seeing and archaeological sites as possible, we decided to spend our final day based there on day trip out to some of the nearby Saronic Islands.
We had found an organised tour including hotel pick-up, transfers to the marina and lunch which would visit the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina all over the course of one day – a rather long day in which, being one of the first pick-ups, we had to be up at the crack of dawn to meet our coach transfer and were then not back til late evening.
Our coach was pretty much on time and having handed over our prepaid voucher, we settled in for the journey around Athens and its outskirts picking up more groups and individuals before dropping us at marina where we – and coach loads of other tourists – boarded a rather large boat!
By the time we were on board, space on the deck was running short but we freed a couple of chairs from a stack lying around and squeezed them in to a spot in the shade before settling sown ready to depart.
The excursion was one of the most expensive daytrips we had planned while in Greece but what we hadn’t expected were the attempts to constantly upsell us. First, was the option to upgrade for access to a ‘VIP area’ – a quieter outdoor area and a more luxurious interior area.
Then, not long after departing Athens, we were all called, by the language we spoke, to a meeting in a downstairs room where we were told the day would be outlined and we’d find out the lunch arrangements. This was actually just a brief part of the meeting and could have been explained over the tannoy system. The main point of the meeting was to try and sell us a variety of on shore excursions including an over priced walking tour on Hydra and multiple, similarly overpriced options for the island of Aegina.
Having read that there was little to do around the port of Aegina where we’d be docking, we reluctantly parted with 25 euros each for a ‘scenic’ coach tour of the island, the other options being a visit to an ancient temple (we felt we needed a rest from ancient ruins) or a boat trip out to another nearby island for some beach and swimming time (we didn’t have any swimwear with us).
Meeting over, we headed back to the top deck where luckily, our seats still sat unoccupied and spent the next hour or so relaxing and admiring the scenery en route to Hydra.
Docking at Hydra, we planned to spend our hour or so there just wandering around and seeing what we’d find. We began by walking to Kavos Castle, a fortress and viewpoint on the sea front, before retracing our steps and walking along the seafront towards its clock tower, grabbing an ice cream from one of the many cafes. We then turned up one of the narrow side streets and wandered up steep steps, through winding passageways and up hills exploring.
Hydra is a car free island and donkeys are used by the locals to transport good around the town. As we wandered, we passed donkeys carrying goods up to local stores as well as luggage belonging to tourists staying in town. We ended up at a viewpoint over the island and after admiring the scenery, made our way back down to the seafront and marina ready to board the boat in time to depart for Poros.
Before arriving at Poros, it was lunch time. As we boarded the boat in Hydra, we were all given coloured cards indicating where on the boat we needed to go for dinner. Finding the correct room, we managed to grab a couple of seats together at a table and jump in the queue for the buffet. There was bread and a choice of fish, chicken, pasta and rice available, all of which was served to you rather than you being able to help yourself to as much as you wanted. You could then collect a sticky pastry-type dessert on the way back to your tables. Drinks were at your own expense. While what we had was enough, we felt there could have been a bit more choice.
After lunch, we headed back to the top deck where we sat out in the sunshine as we sailed closer to the island of Poros. Poros was to be the shortest island stop of the day so there were no pricey excusrions on offer. We had been told there would be time to wither wander along the seafront or to head uphill to a viewpoint.
In desperate need of something to cool us down, we walked along the seafront buying an ice cream each by which time it was about time to be back on board the boat.
Our final island stop of the day was on Aegina where we had booked the scenic tour of the island. Disembarking the boat, we followed guides to a coach and we soon took off on a clockwise route around the island.
As we would our way along the coast, the driver started to narrate what we were looking at but not stopping and not always finding ourselves on the right side of the bus, it wasn’t always easy to see what we were supposed to be looking at and more often than not it wasn’t anything particularly interesting anyway – houses in residential areas are hardly must see tourist spots!
As we headed inland and uphill, the views did at least get prettier and the coach pulled over for a brief moment so we could take pictures from the car park the hill top. Shortly after, the coach pulled in at the car park for The Monastery of Agios Nektarios, a really beautiful church and religious monument of Aegina.
We were given time to go inside the church and look around before re-boarding the coach to complete our tour, driving back downhill towards the seafront and marina.
The coach dropped us in Aegina’s old town, a short walk from the marina where we were taken to a small, local restaurant to sample the seafood. From here, we made our own way back to the boat and with a bit of time to kill, we wandered a bit further through the pretty old town before returning to board the boat one last time.
The sun going down, it was another relaxing and slightly cooler trip back to Athens and we arrived just as the sun was about to set. Finding our coach in the marina car park, we had a long journey back to our hotel as we dropped off almost every other passenger before reaching our stop. It had been a long, but mainly enjoyable day and it had been nice to spend a bit of time in some of the Saronic Islands but the time in each place was often very rushed and I’m not sure the trip was completely worth the money.
If we were to plan it again, we’d maybe look into just doing a day trip out to Hydra ourselves using public transport to the marina and then the ferry there and back but at least doing it this way it was all completely organised for us and we got to see a few more places.
The following day we’d be leaving Athens some more island-hopping adventures, this time in the Cyclades where our first stop would be the island of Naxos!
After planning a summer island-hopping trip to Greece, we could see the only way of making our way between the Sporades islands we were starting at and the Cyclades islands where we would be spending most of our time in would involve passing through the country’s capital city, Athens. With it being a city neither of us had visited before and one that had long been on my ‘must-do’ list, it seemed silly not to extend our stay there to a few nights.
We both knew that temperature and crowds-wise, late July/early August was probably not the best time to visit this city but weren’t sure when else we’d get the opportunity so we planned in 4 nights there, staying in a budget hotel in the Omonia district – walkable from many of the main attractions and also near a metro line.
Taking a flight out of Skiathos to Athens at the break of dawn, we arrived in the city early and were surprised and extremely pleased to find that our room was ready for us to check in.
After freshening up and dropping our bags, we set straight out, walking towards the Plaka area stopping at a local cafe along the way for a pastry snack.
The narrow, bustling streets of the Plaka district were perfect for a spot of souvenir shopping and – with temperatures reaching their late 30s – grabbing an ice cream.
We eventually found ourselves in the shadow of Athen’s most famous attraction, the Acropolis where we had our first glimpse of the Parthenon perched on top of the hill. Opposite, was the Acropolis Museum, a long queue of tourists winding its way out of the museum grounds and onto the main thoroughfare.
Luckily, we had pre-booked timed entry tickets to the museum and were able to waltz past the hoards of people waiting and straight through the main doors into the lovely, cool air-conditioned building.
The museum houses artefacts found on the archaeological site of the Acropolis as well as providing background information on the site making it well worthwhile visiting before heading up the Acropolis hill itself.
After spending some time exploring, we exited the museum and walked down to the visit the ruins of a Roman village being excavated beneath the museum – something included in the museum ticket price.
That evening, we had a segway tour of the city booked which we hoped would help us to get our bearings and possibly give us some ideas on things to do and see in the city. Being unfamiliar with the city still and short on time before our tour, we opted to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe rather than hunt around for restaurants. Then we went to meet our segway tour guide.
Despite it being high season, we found ourselves to be the only people to have booked meaning we got a private tour. As it was just us, our guide asked us what we were interested in seeing, how long we’d spent in the city so far and tailored the tour to us rather than following the usual route.
Segways were a quick and easy way to get around the city and highlight of the extensive tour was riding uphill to a viewpoint over the Acropolis that we would never have found or thought of seeking out otherwise! Taking the tour in the evening meant we didn’t have the sun beating down on us although it was still uncomfortably hot at times.
Exhausted from a long day by the time the tour finished just after 10pm, we decided to head straight back to the hotel and continue our exploration of the city bright and early the next day.
Day 2 we ate breakfast at the hotel and caught the metro to the Monastiraki area of the city from where we would be spending most of the day visiting the city’s many archaeological sites. We had pre-purchased a combo-ticket giving us access to a variety of sites and we began with a visit to Kerameikos, the site of an ancient cemetery and well worth a visit if you have plenty of time in the city.
After spending some time exploring the ruins here, we walked the short distance to the Ancient Agora, one of the most important – and larger – archaeological sites in the city and a must see. The site includes a small – and thankfully air-conditioned – museum on its site and we spent a good few hours wandering through ruins of the old market area and up to the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best preserved temples in the city, still with its roof intact.
There was little shade from the midday sun at the Ancient Agora site so when we left, we decided it was time for an ice cream from one of the many cafes and stores lining the streets of the Monastiraki district.
Once we’d cooled down a bit, we walked to the third site on our combo ticket, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman ruins of a library created by Roman Emperor Hadrian. This was much smaller site than the Ancient Agora and didn’t take long to walk around. Close by was the site of the Roman Agora, another smaller but still interesting archaeological site.
Needing a break from exploring Greek and Roman ruins, we made our way back to the Plaka district where we came across the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, one of the oldest churches in Athens. From here, we found ourselves in a more modern area of Athens, Ermou Street, a typical high street lined with all the usual stores. After visiting a few stores – mainly for the aircon! – and grabbing a drink from McDonalds, we found ourselves at the other end of Ermou Street in Syntagma Square.
Passing the pretty square with its central fountain, we made our way towards the Old Royal Palace where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies. Traditionally-dressed palace guards constantly stand in front of the war memorial and on the hour, every hour, crowds gather as the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard takes place.
It was interesting to watch the solemn ceremony and as we wilted in our flimsy summer attire, I wondered how the soldiers coped stood in the summer heat in their heavy ceremonial garb.
After watching the Changing of the Guards ceremony, we wandered back through the Syntagma area towards Monastiraki stopping at SMAK cafe for a Peinirli or ‘pizza boat’ snack before heading back to our hotel for a few hours to rest our feet, cool down and freshen up.
That evening, we had booked a ‘Greek night’ – a dinner accompanied by traditional entertainment – in the Plaka district. Making our way back to Monastiraki, we wandered through the pretty, narrow streets of the Plaka and up a set of winding steps to the restaurant indicated on our dinner confirmation. Showing our confirmation to the host outside, there seemed to be some confusion after which we were eventually led up some stairs to a rooftop veranda where we were seated at a table with Acropolis views. It was not what we had expected – we had imagined the night to be some kind of group thing with everyone sat at group tables for the meal and entertainment – and when we were brought over our menus, we again showed our confirmation to check we were in the right place and to check what we could order.
We were told what drinks we could have as included in our package and that we would be brought a selection of traditional starters then asked to order a main off the menu, both going with the pork souvlaki. The starters were all delicious but as our mains arrived, we could see into another part of the restaurant below where cheers and singing made us notice some kind of entertainment already going on.
Confused, we finished our mains before attracting the attention of a waiter and again questioning that we were in the right place for the package we had bought and specifically pointing out the ‘show’ part of our itinerary. After going to speak to someone, we were asked to move and lead back down the stairs and into the room where the dinner show we should have been in attendance at was in full swing! There was an empty table in the corner where we were told to sit but as we’d already eaten and food was just being served here and with everyone else at communal tables where they’d already had time to chat and get to know each other, we felt a bit out of it. We stayed for a while as traditional Greek songs were played and various dances including Zorba’s dance were performed with some audience participation (the one moment we were glad to be seated in the corner at the back out of the way!) and when we enquired about the dessert we had not yet had, we were bought a couple of baklava-style pastries on a plate but after a while, decided to leave feeling a bit like gate-crashers of a party we hadn’t been invited to!
An earlier night than planned did at least mean we were up bright and early again the next day and after another adequate hotel breakfast, we were up and out ready for a final day of sightseeing in the city. With it being early, we decided to head straight to the Acropolis thinking we might beat the crowds. We thought wrong as it turns out 9am is when most of the tour groups from the cruises come in and it was absolute mayhem!
Our archaeological sites combo ticket did at least mean we got to skip the lines and walk straight through the main entrance at the base of the hill and the walk up to the top wasn’t too crowded either but we soon reached the spot where the crowds entering at the ‘groups’ entrance merged with the rest of the visitors and the last few metres up to the Parthenon involved just being swept along in a throng of people while being barked at by the staff to ‘keep moving’ in a variety of languages.
The main site itself was at least large enough for the crowds to disperse across the space available so it was still easy enough to access the information boards available, get close to the ruins and take photos although there was a bit of a wait to find spaces at the viewpoints over the city below.
We then had to queue to exit the area and make our way back down the hill. It wasn’t quite what I expected and if I was to visit again I think I’d either aim for the very moment the site opens in the morning or at the very end of the day.
We still had a few archaeological sites to visit on our combo ticket so from the Acropolis we walked to the Olympieion or the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Unfortunately, the remains of the main temple here were under renovation and heavily scaffolded with just a few lone columns standing freely.
Nearby was the Panathenaic Olympic Stadium, not included on our combo ticket but somewhere we had passed on our segway tour a few days earlier which looked interesting and worth a visit. The entrance fee to the stadium included an audio guide and rather than follow the instructions to look around the stadium as we listened, we instead found some shade to site in at the very back of the stadium and listened to the guide in one go enjoying the views over the impressive structure, site of an ancient Greek race course and host to the first modern Olympic games. The ticket also included entrance to a small on-site museum containing paraphernalia from the modern Olympics.
The final site on our combo ticket was the Lyceum of Aristoles, a site which although it has a lot of historic significance, did not have much to see! After a quick stroll around, we caught the metro back to the Monastiraki district and from here took the short walk to the neighbourhood of Psiri, where we wanted to visit another place that had caught our eye on our segway tour of the city, Little Kook cafe.
Tucked away up a back street, this cafe spread out over multiple buildings is covered in Alice in Wonderland decorations with staff dressed as either the Mad Hatter or Alice herself. It was not the kind of place we expected to come across in the historic centre of Athens but it looked a fun place for a sweet treat. With ice cream, waffles, crepes, American-style pancakes and various delicious looking cakes on offer, it took a while to decide what to order but eventually, I went for a crepe with hazelnut spread and strawberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. What came when the order was served was that and so much more, marshmallows and colourful wafer pieces scattered over the creation.
Full of sugar, we waddled away from the cafe and back to Monastiraki. We had one more ‘must do’ sight on our list, a trip to the top of Mount Lycabettus, the summit of which is the highest point in the city. We had seen the hill from afar from various viewpoints around the city and now we wanted to see the city from here.
Catching the metro to Evangelismos, the closest stop to Lycabettus, we then began our initial ascent uphill through a residential area of the city. We had no intention of hiking all the way to the top in the blistering heat but instead would be taking the funicular that ran at regular interval to the summit and back. Unfortunately, it was still quite a long, uphill walk to this point but we made it with plenty of rest stops along the way.
Once aboard the funicular railway, we were at the top in no time. It was relatively quiet at the summit and easy to find room to sit and admire the 360 degree views. Also at the top was a small church which we visited and a restaurant and bar for anyone that wanted to extend their stay.
Having taken all our photos of the city from above, we caught then funicular back down to the station and walked back downhill to the station, catching the metro back to our hotel for a well-deserved rest before heading back out for dinner in the Monastiriaki area.
The next day, although we would once again be staying in Athens, we would be taking an excursion out to the Saronic Islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina and the following day we had an early ferry out to our next stop, the island of Naxos so for now, our time in Athens had come to an end. Despite the often stifling heat, we had managed to cram a lot into our stay. I had really liked the city of Athens and would love to visit again some day.
Despite all the summer airport chaos, we arrived into Skiathos airport right on time on an early Sunday evening in late July. Clearing security and receiving our cases quickly from its small but efficient airport, we were met outside by someone from the guesthouse we were staying in – many of the small family-run guesthouses in Skiathos town offer free transfers the short distance from the airport to their properties.
After settling onto our modest but adequate room, we took a stroll downhill through the narrow back roads winding down to the main hub of Skiathos town. The sun was already going down and the seafront and harbour looked pretty in the red glow of dusk.
Our first priority was to find the old marina where the boat trip we had booked for the following morning would depart from. Easily locating that, next on our list was food. Although we’d eaten an all day breakfast at the airport before departing the UK that afternoon, that was now 6 hours ago and we needed some kind of snack to keep us going until morning.
We eventually settled on a seemingly popular Greek fast food-type place where we ordered chicken souvlaki – chunks of grilled chicken and salad along with a few chips in a pitta – opting to have the tzatziki sauce on the side in case we didn’t like it. It was dark by now and after a quick wander around some of the souvenir stores, we decided to call it a night and find our way back to our accommodation.
We were up early the next morning so we could wander into town to grab some breakfast before our cruise departed. We were again spoilt for choice with all the local bakeries and cafes on offer but sticking with the theme of the day (we’d booked a ‘Mamma Mia’ cruise) we chose to visit the reasonably priced Mamma Mia bakery.
While the tour had been marketed as a Mamma Mia tour, it actually had very little to do with the film other than a final stop at the church on a hill featured in the hit musical. From reviews we’d read online, we’d at least expected some Abba music to be piped into the boat – something that was obviously expected by other passengers too as one later asked a member of staff about this and offered to hook up his own iphone to the sound system. This lead to a full on party complete with drunken dancing from a group of fun-loving Italians on board once the cheesy pop classics started blaring out after our lunch stop.
Heading down to the old marina, we managed to locate the tour company we’d booked with from the many others all offering the same selection of island tours and Mamma Mia themed excursions and boarded our boat finding seats in the shade on the top deck.
Departing Skiathos old marina, the boat took us around the east coast of the island and up to Lalaria Beach on the north coast. Here, the boat docked at this well-known and extremely popular bay for about an hour. The beach had been separated in two overnight by a landslide and with the tide being in, this forced us to scramble over the fallen rocks to reach the far end of the beach and its pretty arched rock formation.
After a bit of sunbathing and paddling in the turquoise blue sea, it was back on board the boat where we found we were all stopped from sitting on the top deck – something which wouldn’t have been a problem except for the crew smoking indoors downstairs. Finding a seat by the window, we soon found out that the upstairs was out of bounds for safety reasons and due to rough, high seas the day’s itinerary would have to be changed.
While we would still be heading to the island of Skopelos, we would no longer be able to stop at Skopelos town and would instead be heading to a small bay on the island.
As Skopelos town was to be our lunch stop, we were reassured that there were cafes and restaurants where we were going.
Arriving at Panormos Beach, we found that it was pretty enough but there wasn’t a great deal to do. Avoiding being herded into the first restaurant we came to with the rest of the group, we walked the length of the bay eventually sitting at the furthest restaurant along and ordering some reasonably priced toasted sandwiches before returning to the boat via a small convenience store to grab ice poles to cool us down.
After our makeshift lunch stop, we passed the cave of Skiathos before docking at a port on the west of Skopelos Island. From here, we left the boat and boarded coaches which took us across the island to the stop we had all been waiting for – the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri, or the ‘Mamma Mia church’. Made famous in the Meryl Streep musical, the church sits on the top of a large rock, only accessible by walking up 110 steps. It was a pretty climb and the views gave us plenty of excuses to stop on the way up.
This was the last stop of the day so from here, it was back onto the coaches which returned us to the boat ready to sail back to Skiathos. Arriving late afternoon, we had a bit of time to explore the town some more before grabbing dinner and heading back to our guesthouse.
We had to be up at 4am the next morning to make a 7am flight to Athens so our time on Skiathos had come to an end. I’d liked what I’d seen of it and wished we had a bit more time to see more of the island.
My ‘big’ summer trip this year was supposed to be stateside to finally tick my final state of Hawaii off but it was something that needed to be planned and booked well in advance and when that point in time came, things were still very uncertain in the World as the pandemic continued to rumble on. Hawaii seemed a very big gamble when coming all the way from the UK – long haul flights, internal flights, car hire on multiple islands, hotels and condos all to book and while we could have gone through a specialist such as Trailfinders or Flight Centre to organise it all for us as a package giving us a bit more peace of mind should we have to cancel, we weren’t sure we’d get exactly what we wanted this way being so used to planning everything just how we liked it independently. It was a lot of money to lose should it all go wrong again.
So we begrudgingly made the decision to put off the trip another year and swapped Hawaiian island-hopping for Greek island-hopping. We knew we wanted to get out of the UK this summer as much as we’d enjoyed our UK National Park trips of the last two summers and Europe felt less of a risk than the US, somewhere we could easily return from mid-trip if needed, somewhere we didn’t need to test to enter even at our point of booking quite early into the year.
Wanting to island hop meant we still couldn’t book as a package trip. With flying in and out of different islands, we’d even need to book our main flights as separate bookings as the (mainly) package holiday carriers that flew there didn’t allow for open jaw bookings but we decided to go for it and hope for the best.
Having never been to Greece before, it was hard to know where to start. Who knew there were so many islands to choose from?! My friend who had been many years ago suggested Santorini and with this being an island in the Cyclades, we decided to concentrate on this area. After some googling, we saw lots of suggestions of mixing Santorini with a less ‘touristy’, more traditional island. Milos, Paros, Naxos and a few other islands I’d never heard of before all came up as recommended in various searches and we eventually settled on the much-praised Naxos island.
With those two islands only taking up a week of our 2-3 weeks available, my friends suggested looking into going to the ‘Mamma Mia’ island. She was a big fan of the film and wanted to visit some of the locations if we could. A bit more research lead us to find out this was filmed in Skopelos, one of the Sporades Islands and not really anywhere near the Cyclades! However, the neighbouring Sporades island of Skiathos was somewhere you could fly to directly from the UK and from here it was possible to do a ‘Mamma Mia’ boat trip to Skopelos. To get to the Cyclades from here, we’d have to fly via Athens and as neither of us had visited Greece’s capital city before, it seemed silly not to add a stop here into the mix!
Our trip was finally coming together – we’d fly to Skiathos for a few nights, fly to Athens and spend a few days there and then on to Naxos and Santorini by either plane or ferry – whichever worked out cheapest/least time-consuming.
With a few days still to fill, we looked at adding one more island. Wanting somewhere with plenty to do and some history behind it, I suggested the largest of the Greek islands, Crete. Being the most southerly of the Cyclades, it fitted perfectly into our into our itinerary as our last stop and with it being a popular package holiday destination from the UK, there was plenty of direct flights back to regional airports in the UK available, even one direct to Norwich, the closest airport to my friend!
Researching what we wanted to do at each of our stops, we carefully worked out how much time we’d need at each destination settling on a 2 night stop in Skiathos (just enough time to use our full day there on the Mamma Mia tour), 4 nights in Athens, 3 in Naxos, 3 in Santorini and 4 nights in Crete – a 16 night stay in total. After booking our main flights, we debated internal flights over ferries deciding by the time we added in time to get to the airport, checking in, collecting luggage after landing etc etc, a 4 hour ferry ride would be just as quick as a flight. For the most part, the ferries were cheaper too especially as we didn’t have to pay to take our luggage on board and it seemed like a more authentic option if we were island-hopping!
So, other than Skiathos-Athens where a flight was really the only viable option, we opted for ferries between the islands.
Accommodation-wise, we tried to stick with budget options, mainly using guesthouses or, with Athens, hotels in less touristy and therefore cheaper areas. Other than that, free cancellation was our non-negotiable and where possible, we tried to get some kind of breakfast included. Santorini was the main challenge here with many places being either already booked up for the summer or super expensive meaning we had to go above our £100 per night budget despite staying a 15 minute walk out of Fira town centre but we did at least have a hotel with a pool for that and we managed to save elsewhere.
Flights, ferries and accommodation sorted, we moved on to activities. With it being the height of summer, we knew Greece would be busy and wanted to save time by pre-booking tickets to museums and archaeological sites allowing us to skip the lines. We both decided that driving Greece would not be something we’d be confident with, especially with the language barrier, so instead we booked some organised tours on the various islands so we could still see as much of them as possible making sure, like we had with our hotel choices, that everything was cancellable until the last minute just in case.
In the run up to our trip, we began to wonder if we’d done the right thing booking such a short stay in Skiathos, mainly because of the airport disruption with airline delays and cancellations constantly in the news. Our flight already arrived relatively late into Skiathos, just after 7pm, and with just one full day there followed by a very early morning flight out to Athens the following day, any delays or worse, cancellations, would make our stay there pointless and possibly have a knock on effect on our transfer to Athens from there.
As it turned out, we were worrying over nothing. Flying out of the relatively small and quiet East Midlands Airport and with Jet2, possibly the least disrupted UK airlines this summer, was a good decision. Everything ran smoothly with our departure and before we knew it, we were arriving into Skiathos ready to begin our summer island-hopping adventure in Greece!