Greece is a country on every traveler’s radar- and for good reason. The photos don’t lie. The country really is THAT beautiful. The food is delicious, the history is amazing, and the sunsets are spectacular.
Once you’ve made the decision to go, trying to fit it all in on a budget can be tricky. While many people go to Greece on an organized tour or with a cruise, we chose to do it solo. There are of course pros and cons to each style, but this independent trip let us tailor the itinerary to exactly how we wanted it to be.
Here is a detailed daily breakdown of the 10 day trip my friends and I took:
1. Athens, Greece
We flew into Athens, and fighting jet-lag, began our vacation! It was a 45 minute cab ride from the airport into the city, so after finally checking into the hotel we were eager to see the city. First, we did a self-guided walking tour based on an itinerary in the Lonely Planet Guidebook, and were able to see:
- The Roman monument of Agia Ekaterini
- Hadrian’s Arch & The Temple of Zeus
- Gardens and the Lysikrates Monument
- Panathenaic Olympic Games Stadium
We then spent about 3 hours at the Acropolis Museum. This essentially houses most of the detailed pieces and stonework from the original Parthenon and ancient Agora, and is crucial to visit if you want to understand how the monument used to look, feel, and function in its prime. Check out organized sight-seeing tours in Athens with Viator.
After the museum, we headed towards Syntagma Square– the political center of Athens. We saw the Presidential Palace, and found a place with some amazing Greek salad. We ended the night at our hotel, which has an EPIC view of the Acropolis and Parthenon!
2. Athens ⇒ Delphi
On our second day, we set out on a day tour to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Our tour was booked via Viator.com using local operator Chat Tours. We had a medium-sized group, and our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and archaeological site.
The temple complex was built in the 4th Century BC, and dedicated to the god Apollo. People would travel there from all over the country to visit the famous oracles, and learn their futures. One of the most fascinating things there is the thousand year old carvings etched by slaves detailing their life stories.
Another highlight was the view of the theater from above, surrounded by the hills leading to Mount Parnassus. We had some free time to explore, and the tour ended with a guided visit to the on-site Archaeological Museum of Delphi. We had lunch, then made a quick stop in the ski town of Arachova.
After the 3 hour ride back (6 hours in transit total), we decided to walk and explore the Athenian shopping district of the Plaka. We did some jewelry shopping, attempted bartering, and found our new obsession for ice-cream: Ambrosia.
Lodging: Astor Hotel
3. Athens ⇒ Cape Sounion
We booked a morning day tour out of Athens (Via viator.com) and up the coast to the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, built in 440BC. We got there early, beat the crowds, and enjoyed amazing views! We spent 2 hours there, which was the perfect amount of time.
This temple is worth the 1.5 hour drive from Athens, as its position on the top of a hill surrounded by the Aegean makes for an unforgettable view!
Back in Athens, we explored “The Plaka”, then packed up and took a cab to Piraeus Port (about a 30 minute drive). Once there we boarded our ferry, “The Blue Horizon”. We left Athens headed towards Heraklion at 7pm. We had booked a 4 bed room cabin, and it was actually pretty comfortable. The ferry was almost like a mini cruise ship!
Lodging: Overnight on the “Blue Horizon” ferry.
4. Heraklion, Crete
Our ferry arrived on the island of Crete at 6am. After dropping our luggage at our hotel, we took the 3 euro public bus to the restored archaeological site of the Minoan civilization: The Palace of Knossos. Arriving there around 8am was a good idea, as we had no lines or crowds. Later that day, the tour groups rolled in, and the line was about an hour long!
The island of Crete, the southernmost place in Europe, is famous for the palace of Knossos. This is where the fabled Minotaur lived in the labyrinth- according to Greek mythology. The palace complex was discovered by a British archaeologist in 1900, and he slowly excavated and restored many of the buildings over time. Seeing the ruins and restored “re-creations” of what it would have looked like many centuries ago was a neat experience. However, it was not our favorite historical site on the trip. Either way, seeing pottery, frescoes, and structures from 1,900 BC is a humbling experience!
We then visited the Crete Archaeological Museum. Here, we were able to see the original items that were found at the site of Knossos. I have been to many amazing museums in my lifetime, and this one stands out as being the most impressive and interesting of all. The pieces in the music are ancient beyond comprehension, and the condition they are in is extraordinary!
We then walked to the beautiful city waterfront where we saw its Venetian-era walls and fortress, as well as nearby volcano. We bought art from local painters, and had dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant with the perfect view!
Lodging: Lato Boutique Hotel: A very nice hotel at a surprisingly affordable price! The staff here went above and beyond, the facilities were gorgeous, and the rooftop restaurant was great. This was our favorite hotel of the trip!
5. Heraklion, Crete
For our second day in Crete, we split a taxi to Amnissos Beach, a place popular with locals. There we rented beach chairs and umbrellas for 10 euros, and spent a day enjoying the sun, sand, and calm ocean. The surrounding arid, desert-like landscape of Crete was gorgeous, and we got a great view of the region while swimming in the Aegean.
We ate lunch by the beach, which like most Grecian restaurants can be a time-consuming process. Back at our hotel, we got ready and headed into downtown Heraklion (Iraklio in Greek). We explored the city center, visiting The Church of Saint Titus, Saint Minas Cathedral, and the Morosini fountain. With stray cats galore, I was also happy to feed my new friends while we shopped the many boutiques in the area.
We had tried to do a vineyard visit and wine tasting with local producer Lyrarakis, but made a travel hiccup as we tried to do this on a Sunday. We ended up buying a few of their bottles from a grocery store, and did our own personal sampling at the hotel! 🙂 We had made dinner reservations for our hotel restaurant again, and had a nice meal with great service, and a stunning view!
Lodging: Lato Boutique Hotel
6. Heraklion, Crete ⇒ Fira, Santorini
We left our hotel to board the “Highspeed 7” ferry with Hellenic Seaways, and were on our way to the island of Santorini! When we arrived at port in Fira, we took a shuttle up the mountain and into town. We checked in to our hotel, and immediately explored the area. With every corner looking life a postcard, and with all its cliff-side panoramas and stunning views, how could we not?
Our first stop was the Karavolades stairs that lead from Fira town to the water. There were donkeys everywhere, and avoiding the poop while trying not get run over by rogue donkeys was actually pretty challenging. It was also incredibly hot, but we made it to the bottom! We walked around, then took the cable car back up the hill. We explored the busy cobbled streets of Fira, and back at our hotel we checked out the pool. We later found a nearby park with a spectacular vista, and then began the ever-struggled hunt for a decent place to eat dinner. We got lucky, and found a great spot with perfect view for our first legendary Santorini Sunset.
Lodging: Loizos Stylish Residence – An affordable place in Fira. The pool was always in the shade, and was too cold to swim in, but the facilities and location were great!
7. Fira ⇒ Oia, Santorini
For our second day on the island of Santorini, we decided to leave Fira and check out the famous town of Oia (pronounced ee-ahh). We took an 8am local bus (30 minutes), and arrived to surprisingly empty streets! We took advantage of this, and headed straight down the long stairs (about 300 steps) towards Amoudi Bay.
Upon reaching the bottom, we took a left, and walked along the rocks and cliff edges. We followed a little trail to an area where we could set up our towels, change, and go swimming near a tiny rock island known as Agios Nickolaus. There we swam, snorkeled, and enjoyed one of the most spectacular views of my life! Some people were swimming out to the island to jump off the rock, but I had a hard time getting up there as the rocks were so slick, and I didn’t feel it was safe. After enjoying the beautiful day, we paid an old man 5 euros for a donkey ride back up the mountain. It wasn’t quite as glamorous as I’d always envisioned, but still fun.
Back in Oia, we began the hunt for the iconic blue-domed churches. We used a blog post to help us find it- and got some great photos! We then took the public bus back to Thira, and had another great sunset!
Lodging: Loizos Stylish Residence
8. Oia, Santorini
We left our hotel in Thira, and took the local bus to Oia again. We walked along the “Golden Road” enjoying the clifftop views until we arrived at our new hotel. We didn’t know what to do with our day, so luckily the hotel owner recommended a sunset cruise to us! Since we had time to spare, we spent about 2 hours swimming and relaxing at the hotel pool. We hung out in our Santorini “cave-style” room, and got ready for our 5 hour “Oia Sunset Tour” with the Santorini Yachting Club.
This was easily my favorite day of the trip, and I think you can see why! We were picked up by staff, and drove down to Amoudi Bay. We boarded the yacht, which offered unlimited wine and soda and great music. They also let my friends and I try some ouzo! The yacht had about 30 people on it, and did not feel overly crowded. We stopped at:
- Nea Kameni Volcanic Hot Springs
- Red Sand Beach
- White Sand Beach
In between stops, we laid out on the rope bedding over the water, and the crew cooked up a delicious dinner. I had the chance to do some snorkeling, and the evening ended with an unforgettable view of the sunset from the water in Amoudi Bay. It really was the perfect experience for a girl’s trip to Greece.
Lodging: Anemomilos Hotel– Affordable, family run place with a great restaurant and beautiful pool. Our room was a private cave-style house with personal balcony- we loved it here!
9. Oia, Santorini ⇒ Parikia, Paros
We said a sad farewell to beautiful Santorini, and took our hotel’s shuttle down to the port at Thira. We took the two hour highspeed ferry to the small island of Paros. We were able to walk to our hotel from the port, and got lunch at a waterfront family restaurant. Next, we headed to Livadia Beach. We went swimming and snorkeling, but there were a lot of sea urchins!
We then visited the city center to shop at the many adorable boutiques. We also went in to the ancient Byzantine church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani, founded in 326AD- and we marveled at the artwork inside from the 4th century! On the walk back to our hotel we stopped by a 3rd century cemetery, and saw the iconic whitewashed windmill of Paros. We then got dressed up, and went out for a night on the town!
Lodging: Alexandra’s Rooms: A budget hotel with a good location, but nothing too impressive.
10. Parikia, Paros ⇒ Athens
We took an 11am ferry to Athens, and arrived almost 4.5 hours later. The ferry terminals in Greece are often places of mass disorganization, people, heat, and overall confusion- and this time was no different. Once on the ferry, it wasn’t much better, because this time we failed to buy assigned seats and had to scramble to find a spot in the common area. Who said travel was always glamorous? 🙂
Our Athens hotel arranged a port pickup for us, and we headed into the city. We visited the Plaka again for some last minute shopping, then made our way over to the Monastiraki Flea Market area. We then went back to our hotel and tried to get some sleep!
Lodging: Hotel Adonis: A budget stay in Athens, good location but with sub-par rooms and strange hotel policies.
11. Athens, Greece
Our last day in Athens was my most memorable one. We got up extra early and walked 15 minutes to the famed Acropolis. The ticket line was a bit chaotic and disorganized (lacking signage and clear communication) but we eventually figured it out, and had our tickets to see the Parthenon! We also realized there were no restrooms or water, so be sure to use the facilities ahead of time and bring plenty of hydration! Admission to the site also does not include any informational brochures or maps, so be sure to come prepared with materials as well.
Once we walked in to the Acropolis complex, we saw the National Army of Greece perform a “changing of the guards ceremony”. We then saw the ancient Theatre of Dionysus. After, we climbed the stone steps up the hill and arrived at the top- where all the magnificent temples are. We spent about an hour exploring the various ruins, and soaking up the history. Bucket-list goal, check!
After leaving the Parthenon, we headed over to the Agora. This would have been the commercial and social center in ancient times, and many fallen columns and statues are still there. We ended our visit at the Temple of Hephaestus , which I maybe liked more than the Parthenon due to its condition and lack of crowds!
We got lunch in the nearby Monastiraki neighborhood, and then I had to say my goodbyes to Greece 🙁 . My friends stayed the night in Athens, but I took a cab to the airport as I was off to meet my husband in Iceland! 🙂
Lodging: Hotel Adonis
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