By Alex Kallimanis: I’m a dual American and Greek citizen that’s made 8 trips to Greece as an adult. Visiting family has always been a great reason to return and experience more of a fascinating country. How to spend the perfect week in Greece is obviously subjective. If you want to lie on the beach by day and party at night, head to Ios or Myknonos in summer. But this article assumes you want a mix of everything that makes Greece such a popular destination: world-class history & architecture, delicious food, great beaches and vibrant hospitality. You can stay on the mainland and have an amazing time that ticks all these boxes. But most travelers visit Greece for the islands, particularly the mystical Cyclades. If this itinerary seems too fast-paced, just omit something. You’re going to have to make some tough choices because there’s far too much to experience in Greece in just one week.
2 Days in Athens
Athens is the oldest capital in Europe and has a wealth to offer visitors. While the city’s pace can be frenzied and chaotic at times, it’s a city packed with wonderful history, epic views of the Aegean Sea, delicious food and fun nightlife in the Plaka, Monastiraki and Pysri neighborhoods. Over the years I’ve shown quite a few people around Athens, including visiting for a travel blogging conference, and have heard many visitors say “This city is even cooler than I imagined.”
Where to stay in Athens?
Luxury: The Grand Bretagne is a historic luxury hotel in Athens with a history dating over a century. You can enjoy a great meal on their rooftop terrace with a stunning view of the Acropolis.
Mid Range: Athenaeum Grand Hotel has been open less than two years and offers a comfortable stay at a good price. All rooms even includes use of a smartphone that’s programmed with a guide to Athens, that you can use while touring the city. Beds are really comfortable and breakfast is delicious. We enjoyed our stay there.
Budget: Delphi Art Hotel is a nice budget choice. Some rooms even have balconies overlooking the lovely National Theatre of Greece. Budget travelers should also consider renting an Airbnb apartment with good reviews. If you’ve never used the service, sign up here to receive $40 off your first stay over $75!
Athens is one of the few capitals in Europe to have beaches. You can even catch the Athens coastal tram to the beaches from Syntagma Square (home of the Greek parliament) going towards the seaside town of Voula. If you want to stay on the beach in Athens, consider the Poseidon Hotel in nearby Faliro Beach or London Hotel in Glyfada Beach. It’s also not so far of an Uber or taxi ride to go into Athens to visit the Acropolis and other attractions from the beaches, especially from Faliro, which is closer to the center of Athens compared to Glyfada.
Optional Day Trip to Delphi, Meteora or Athens One Day Cruise
An excursion to rack up several islands on a day trip from Athens is Athens One Day Cruise, which you can read all about in my review of that cruise. Athens One Day Cruise travels to the beautiful carless island of Hydra, along with Poros and Aegina. This is a great idea if you want to see a lot of Greek islands, but are short on time. The cruise costs around €100 ($125 US) per person, leaving at 8 am and returning at 7:15 pm.
Atop Mount Parnassus, Delphi is the most visited archeological site in Greece outside the Acropolis. The important mountainside archaeological complex dates back to the 4th century BC and contains the remains of the temples of Apollo and Athena Pronaia, as well as an ancient theater and stadium. The views of the surrounding mountains from the ancient site are fantastic. You can take a Delphi day trip from Athens from $115 US per person.
The Byzantine monasteries of Meteora, whose names translate to “suspended in the air,” is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Atop tall monolith rock formations, six monasteries remain, with the monastery of the Holy Trinity dating back to 1475. Centuries ago the only way to reach the monasteries were via basket attached to a very long rope, deliberately hard to access to be protected from Ottoman occupiers. Unless you’re a huge buff of ancient Greek history, Meteora is probably even more worthwhile to visit than Delphi because it’s extremely unusual and beautiful.
You can also consider a 2 day trip to Meteora and Delphi from Athens, for $226 per person including accommodation in a 4 star hotel. It’s been quite a few years since I visited Delphi and Meteora, and when I did, I traveled there independently, combining train travel and taxis. You can also rent a car and drive to Delphi or Meteora, planning an overnight in Kalambaka, the town adjacent to Meteora.
Day 3 Ferry to Naxos or Fly to Crete
Naxos Day 3 and 4
Naxos is one of the best all-around islands in Greece, and it’s not so far from Athens, taking around 3 and 1/2 hours to reach on the high-speed ferry. The Cyclades islands are majestic, featuring some of the most stunning sunsets on the planet. Some Greek islands have predominantly given up agriculture in favor of tourism jobs, but not Naxos. This means much of what is served on the island is truly farm to table. Naxos’s pedestrian-only old town resembles that of Mykonos, but Naxos is more authentic and just as picturesque. You also get better bang for buck with money on Naxos over Mykonos, as accommodation and restaurants are cheaper and generally more hospitable. Naxos also has great beaches and authentic villages in the mountains. Rent a car and take a day trip to lovely mountainous villages like Chalkia, Filoti, Apeirenthos, and Appolonas on day 4. Or just lie on the beach in Naxos Chora or Aghia Ana.
We can personally recommend staying at Polis of Naxos. This stylish boutique hotel is great for a romantic getaway or a comfortable family trip. Read our article on Tips For Visiting Naxos, Greece for more on what to do in Naxos and the islands that are a short ferry ride away.
Or Crete for Days 3 and 4
Crete is also one of Greece’s best all-around islands, that even features Europe’s largest gorge. If you only have a week, it’s best to fly to either Heraklion or Chania. Chania is a former Venetian colony and one of the foodie capitals of Greece. It also has the most hospitable restaurant scene of any Greek town I’ve been to – it’s standard to receive a complimentary carafe of raki spirit (like grappa) and a small dessert after your meal.
Heraklion, which is the capital of Crete, is better for history lovers. The ancient ruins of Knossos are just outside town, which was referenced by Homer in The Odyssey. If you only have a week in Greece, it’s best to pick either Chania or Heraklion. You can stay on a nearby beach in either town.
Read our article on Reasons You Will Love Chania, Crete that goes much more in-depth into one of my favorite towns on the planet. And if you want to learn more about Knossos, check out our article on the Palace of Knossos: Europe’s Oldest Civilization.
Day 5 Ferry to Santorini from Naxos or Crete
You can catch a ferry to Santorini from either Naxos or Crete. Santorini is the most famous Greek island and gets especially packed in summer. A lot of cruise ships also dock in Santorini. This means those famous sunset photos you see on Instagram will be much harder to get in summer when there are massive groups of other tourists. If you want to avoid huge crowds, it’s best to avoid Santorini in summer and combine Naxos and Crete instead. These are some tips on Santorini for first timers.
Santorini is absolutely worthwhile, with unique black sand beaches and stunning views of a crescent shaped island surrounding a dormant volcano. There are also several wineries on Santorini, like Boutari, which is a great activity to unwind on day 6 before returning home.
Day 6 and 7: Return Home from Santorini or Crete
As for day 7, you may need to return to Athens to fly home (depending on where you’re coming from). But Santorini has an international airport that serves much of Europe. The airports of Heraklion and Chania in nearby Crete also have direct flights to many major European cities during the busier tourist season that runs from April-October.
It’s hard to go wrong visiting a Greek island, but depending on the time of year, and which island you choose, the experience can be vastly different. Read my article on 6 Fantastic Greek Islands to Visit in 2018 for a breakdown of several of the best Greek islands.
There’s so many great spots in Greece. If you’re interested in visiting Olympia, I’ve previously written on this important ancient site, along with tips on other things to do in the area in What Else Is There to Do Near Olympia, Greece?
Want to travel to Greece for Free?
Play the credit card points game and use bonus point sign ups for free plane tickets! The most popular card among travel hackers is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card also includes complimentary priority pass lounge access with free food, drinks and wifi. The annual fee seems steep at $450, but it includes $300 in travel credits. The 50,000 bonus point sign up is good for $750 in travel credit, sometimes enough for a free plane ticket to Athens from the United States! They’ll also compensate you $100 for free Global Entry and TSA pre-check to skip airport lines.
If you don’t travel very frequently, the Delta Skymiles American Express Gold Card is free the first year and just $95 each year after. They give a 40,000 point bonus after you charge just $1,000, so this is a great card. You’ll typically need around 70,000+ miles for a free flight to Athens from the US, but you can earn these extra miles with everyday purchases. There are other perks to having the Delta SkyMiles AMEX Gold Card, like free checked bags on Delta flights.
Looking for an authentic experience in Greece and need assistance? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 1-857-919-9327 and I can assist you in planning a great itinerary!
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