While Greece is the 20th most popular tourist destination for Americans (and thanks to the picturesque island of Santorini, one of the top honeymoon spots), there are still deals to be found and [almost] desolate beaches to explore. I accidentally spent about a month in Greece last September. While I had planned to stay for one week and then leave via Athens, I took a sailing trip which sent me even farther away from Athens. So after I was done sailing I started the slow process of making my way back to Athens, one island a time. Here are 10 things that I fell in love with along the way.
- Photography: Greece is just one big photo op. It’s seriously hard to take a bad picture in Greece. The Mediterranean and whitewashed buildings with blue doors, combined with sunlight and sunsets, make the Cyclades islands a prime photography destination.
- Beaches: With 6,000 islands in Greece (only 227 inhabited) you’re sure to find at least one to your liking: red sand, black sand, white sand, crowded, desolate, nude… The only type of beach that Greece doesn’t have is one that requires wearing a top. Beware ladies, old American & Canadian men with telephoto lenses abound on Santorini (they’re on Mykonos too, but who am I kidding, they wouldn’t be taking our photos).
- Ferries: Transportation between the islands in Greece is fantastic. With the addition of high speed ferries several years ago, there always seems to be a ferry arriving or departing. While some people bemoan the slow standard ferries, they are the perfect slow travel option when you have no where to be, sunning on the open top deck.
- Sailing: Sailing the Med sounds like the ultimate luxury fantasy, but there are many budget sailing options if you don’t happen to have your own yacht. ;) I took a budget sailing trip – 8 people to a 50′ yacht. It was close quarters, but still a fun experience. Highlights were swimming out in the middle of the Mediterranean (right off the boat!) and pulling up alongside Russian mega yachts in-port. Ahh, the sailing life.
- Windsurfing & biking: Several islands in Greece are world renowned kitesurfing and windsurfing locations. Since I was on a budget, I didn’t want to take the $230 6-hour windsurfing class in Naxos. I asked if they had any deals or intro classes and ended up getting a 2-hour lesson for $13! Add in my bike rental of 3 euros a day and I was sporting it up at a bargain.
- Wine: Ouzo is most often associated with all things Greek, but Greece is also a booming wine region, (very little of which is exported to the US or Canada). Santorini has countless wineries and tours and is best known for their white wines. When in Greece, order the house white wine, it’s bound to be delicious and local. Opa!
- Small town friendliness: On some of the less touristy islands in the Cyclades, you feel like you could rent a room and accidentally stay for a few years. Naxos and Paros are generally skipped by the cruises and party crowd, so there’s a different sense of friendliness from the locals. A local in Santorini asked, “Why are you going to Naxos? It’s very quiet there, nothing to do. At night, not busy, no people out!” Excellent, I like quiet.
- Athens: Athens often gets a bad rap for being dull in a “if you have 5 hours, that’s enough to see all the sights in Athens” sort of way. It’s a very walkable city though and – when they’re not rioting – a fun place to spend about 2 days. See the Acropolis and museums and enjoy being immersed in ancient history.
- Food, food, food: Fact: The Greeks know food – amazing fish, gyros, Greek salad, feta cheese, kalamata olives, bread, olive oil, meze, sadziki, saganaki, spanakopita, mousaka, dolmades, souvlaki, free ouzo with dinner, Greek yogurt and honey, gelato, nutella crepes… I ate really well in Greece. I was quite happy being a pescatarian in Greece and not a strict vegetarian.
- Affordability: Greece is incredibly affordable, especially if you travel in the shoulder seasons (spring or fall). Greece gets the stereotype of being “European” expensive, but I spent less money per day than I did in Australia, Turkey, or Hawaii. As long as you stay clear of Mykonos, you’ll find budget options all through the Cyclades islands. I paid 20 Euros/night for a single room with a balcony and A/C in Naxos, add in your 3 Euro bike rental, 2 Euro gyro, 2 Euro gelato… and you’re on a budget path to luxury living!
Now you have 10 new reasons to visit Greece. Dust off that passport and start searching for flights! I found fares leaving in September for ATH from $571 (from NYC, LAX, CHI, HOU & PDX).