Ever since middle school, when I started learning about Ancient Greek history and mythology and gained my first Greek friends, I’ve dreamed of a trip to Greece. I wanted to see the sights, enjoy the energy of traditional villages, and marvel at the blue water. Further inspired by Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and my friends that regularly visited, I couldn’t have been more excited by the prospect of visiting this year.
My best friend Angela and I travel a lot together, and we’ve had Greece high up on the list. Even before Remote Year was a thing, we considered going to Greece & Turkey this summer. When I found out I was to spend July in Istanbul, we started making plans, so even after our itinerary got moved to London, we had our hearts set on going. We booked our flights – Angela from New York, and me with a 26-hour, 2-layover journey from Cusco – and started planning.
There is so much to see and experience in Greece, so deciding on our itinerary was the hardest part. We went for the classic first-timers’ trifecta: Athens, Mykonos and Santorini.
Athens (2 Days, 2 Nights)
Angela and I met up in the airport and were immediately greeted by the friendliness of the Greeks: our cab driver, Giorgios, was friendly and chatty, and gave us recommendations on going out in the Gazi neighborhood that evening.
We almost immediately set out to the Acropolis, starting our Rick Steves audio tour of Athens (we’re obsessed with Rick, and on a first-name basis). Distracted by the first of many opportunities to eat Greek salad and drink cold wine, we sat down at a quaint restaurant. I immediately got pooped on by a bird, and after lunch we went in circles looking for the Acropolis. We ended up seeing some great views of Anafiotika, a neighborhood in the style of typical Greek islands, with white houses, blue roofs, and colorful flowers, but missed the last entry to the Acropolis by mere minutes.
Disappointed, we climbed up the slick marble steps of Mars Hill to take sunset pics overlooking Athens, and then continued the city tour, which took us through:
- Plaka neighborhood, full of cobblestone streets and millennia-old structures
- Arc of Hadrian and Temple of Olympian Zeus (we saw some really cute kittens jumping around here)
- Library of Hadrian, a Roman emperor who was a huge Grecophile and to whom we owe a lot of conservation of Greek culture
After wandering through Adrianou street, a cute pedestrian street with lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, and cute lights, we sat down for dinner at 10pm (because this is normal in Greece). We had Greek salad and chatted with some girls from NYC who were finishing up their time in Athens and gave us a couple of suggestions for Mykonos & Santorini.
That night, we went out in the Gazi neighborhood, which at first looked like nothing much — just a street of a couple of bars. Lo and behold, when we turned the corner, we saw what can only be described as a strip of bars and clubs with music thumping and people everywhere. We went to a couple of bars, observed the locals in their natural habitats, danced the night away, and got safely home at 5am, also normal for Greece. #help
The next day, we got up… at some point in the early afternoon, and headed out to have lunch and actually make it to the Acropolis. We fueled up on souvlaki on “Souvlaki Row,” or Mitropoleos street, and then bore the 95-degree heat (even at 5pm!) up to the Acropolis and through our Rick tour. We saw the Parthenon, Ladies’ temple (Erechtheion), and learned about some of the differences between Ionic, Dorian, and Corinthian columns.
There’s nothing quite like the Parthenon. The huge columns, thousands of years old, lit up in golden tones by the scorching sun, were nothing short of awesome. The sheer grandness of the structure is impressive, to say the least.
We then checked out the new Acropolis Museum, full of artifacts found in the Parthenon, and set atop a huge ruin of ancient Athens that was accidentally discovered and which you can see through the glass floors (this happens all the time in Greece when digging, apparently). We breezed through the museum because it was closing shortly, but the coolest part was seeing the ladies of the Erechtheion, which also doubled as columns.
That evening, we made our way down to the Psiri neighborhood (equivalent of East Village in NY – used to be artsy and underground, is now artsy and popular) to meet up with a girl Angela had met on the plane. (I started feeling really sick at this point and spent the rest of the night trying not to fall asleep.) We checked out the street art near Lauren’s hostel, saw the sunset from the hostel roof, and had dinner at a local tavern that was recommended by the friendly receptionist. We tried Raki and Ouzo, local Greek liquors that tasted too much like licorice for my taste. We then went home and got some much-needed rest before heading to Mykonos the next morning.
Mykonos (3 Days, 3 Nights)
A quick flight later, we got picked up in Mykonos by our Airbnb hostess, the memorable Liana. She was so positive and chatty and Greek. Our little studio was pretty basic, but so worth the setting in Mykonos town, with its cute white and blue houses, pink bougainvillea, and cobblestone stairs.
We checked out the town, which is essentially a tourist center catering towards the luxury and party crowd, walked down to the water, and got – what else – a Greek salad. After hanging out for a bit, we found the closest beach, just a patch of sand in the middle of the Old Port, and laid out for a few hours, catching up on sleep and getting trash whipped into our faces.
On our walk that evening, I learned exactly how windy Mykonos is when I lost my hat to the sea. I was able to recover it, but learned my lesson. We checked out Little Venice for sunset/happy hour, walking past an amazing crevice overlook and ending up at Galleraki, which served good drinks and an even better view. The windmills to our left and wooden houses looking like they’ll fall into the Aegean at any moment to our right, magic hour lived up to its name.
The next day, we took the bus out of Mykonos town and to Agios Ioannis, a small local beach. Relaxing on the beach all day was just what we needed. We swam, Angela tanned while I avoided the sun as much as possible, we read, and just chilled.
That evening, we had dinner in the main square in town, and headed out to meet up with Shawn, a Remote friend who was having his own Mykonos vacation this week. We met Shawn and his friends at Jackie O’s, a famous gay bar on the waterfront, had a couple of drinks and danced for a little bit. Later, we stopped at much-famed (or maybe infamous) Scandinavia Bar, which was crowded with aggressive Italians. We escaped to a more secluded area, danced for a bit, and headed home.
Our last day in Mykonos was spent on Platis Gialos beach, which was much busier and more developed. The water was nice, the weather was good, and the winds of Mykonos didn’t quite blow us away.
Shawn picked us up after we couldn’t get a taxi, and we headed to the boys’ villa nearby, which was unreal. It had a beautiful pool which we promptly jumped into, an incredible view of the sunset with all of Mykonos unfolding in front of us, and a great outdoor dining area. We had dinner that the adorable housekeeper cooked for us, drank wine, and enjoyed each other’s company.
We later went back to Mykonos town, parting ways from the boys eventually and bar-hopping. After we’d had our fill of dancing, we wandered towards home, stopping at Souvlaki Story on the way, and having a souvlaki so delicious that we promptly ordered another one.
The next morning, we had a last breakfast in Mykonos town before heading to the ferry to Santorini. Though our ferry was an hour delayed, we found shade and beers and were perfectly happy looking up recommendations for our next destination…
Santorini (5 Days, 5 Nights)
We decided to stay in Perivolos, on the black sand beach at the south of Santorini. Most people stay in Oia (known for beautiful sunsets) or Fira (known for being the main town, with restaurants and nightlife). We found a great deal at Hotel Smaragdi, where the staff were friendly, the room was good, the pool area was beautiful and we were just steps from the beach.
After a brief welcome meeting, we headed to Kouzina on the beach, recommended by our hotel for their “Santorini Experience,” featuring about 10 small plates with local favorites, including fava dip, Santorini salad with the famous Santorini cherry tomatoes, and more. We ate til we were absolutely stuffed, and then walked down the beach a bit towards Perissa. We passed by dozens of restaurants and bars, but surprisingly few people for “high season.”
The next day, we woke up fairly early, headed to the beach, and relaxed for a few hours, meeting a waitress named Angela who was awesome and took great care of us. We had lunch at Safran, a seafood restaurant on the beach, and headed back to our hotel to pick up the ATV we had rented! We had been talking about renting scooters or an ATV for a while, and decided to go for it to explore the otherwise hard-to-get-around island.
We hopped on the ATV, Angela in the driver’s seat, and headed north to Santo winery, a cooperative of many wineries on Santorini. We sampled six wines from Santorini, all while overlooking the caldera, the expanse of blue sea where the ancient volcano collapsed on itself.
We then went to Oia, the quaint and quintessentially-Greek town at the northern tip of the island. Famous for its sunsets, Oia was at the top of our list. Narrowly avoiding tipping over on the curvy cliff-side road, we arrived just at magic hour, scoped out a place to see the white-washed city turn gold, and picked up some goodies for a picnic. We hung out and watched the sun fade away with hundreds of other tourists, met a girl who we dubbed our fairy godmother (for encouraging us to do all the things we weren’t sure were allowed, like climbing on roofs for better views), and decided to meet up later in Fira, the more lively main city of the island.
Fira is busy, touristy, and almost as beautiful as Oia. We had dinner at Nikolas, a local taverna with one waiter, who we suspected was Nikolas. The best part was him telling me to put the guidebook away when our food arrived: “Now is time for eating. You read later.”
We then found our way to Murphy’s bar, on a strip of several bars with loud music, endless “happy hour” specials and bouncers that try to recruit you in rather than keeping you out. Magically, we found Liz, our fairy godmother from earlier, and spent a couple of hours hanging out with her and her boyfriend. We bar-hopped a little before deciding to call it a night and head back home.
The following day we explored some of the other notable locations around the island.
- Red Beach: required walking for a bit from the parking lot along a rocky path with “Danger: Landslide Zone” warnings that all the tourists ignored, was crowded, had a rocky entrance into the water and no shade.
- Vlyhada Beach: recommended to us by our waitress from the previous day, was also a bit rocky but less crowded and more low-key
- Akrotiri: home of the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, which is a site that was preserved in ash like Pompeii following the eruption of the volcano somewhere around 1650 BC. The ruins were huge and impressive, but the exhibit/museum didn’t do a great job painting a picture of what life was like for the people there, so we rushed through it and headed on our merry way.
- Faros: the southern tip of the island, with a lighthouse, great sunset views and a cliffside restaurant called Taverna Giorgaros where we ate fresh lobster with the sun setting in the background. How romantic!
The next couple of days were spent adventuring around Santorini. Highlights included:
- Walking down this steep staircase to get to Ammoudi Bay, sharing the road with donkeys.
- Cliff-jumping in Ammoudi Bay (after seeing many tourists do it, hesitating for a few minutes, struggling to climb up, etc.). It was scary and exhilarating, and we have video.
- Practicing cartwheels, yoga headstands and generally goofing around on our beach at sunset.
- Our day-long boat excursion around Santorini, including hiking the volcano (Nea Kameni), swimming in brown thermal springs near Palea Kemni, eating lunch at the island of Thirassia, where the most notable event was finding the song we’d been humming the entire trip whenever anything “super Greek” happened.
- Actually riding donkeys up the steps back to Oia, which was bumpy, kind of scary, and made me itchy for the rest of the evening.
- Walking from Imerovigli to Fira, enjoying beautiful views along the way.
- Our last Santorini dinner at Rastoni, which was recommended to us by a woman who owned a jewelry store when we asked her for directions, and turned out to be delicious.
- Having free tequila shots sent to us on our last day at the beach, only to pour them out because, ew.
It was then time to head back to Athens for a night. I kid you not when I tell you Santorini airport was maybe the worst travel experience I’ve ever had. We got in a line to check-in, a line to put our checked bags through security, a line to go through security ourselves (outside, in 95 degree heat!)… After all this, our flight was about 3 hours delayed. We made the most of it with beers on the terrace, but it was a pretty frustrating experience nonetheless.
Athens (1 Day, 1 Night)
After finally arriving back in Athens, had dinner outside as as two musicians played traditional Greek music in the background with a bouzouki, a traditional Greek stringed instrument, and headed to A is for Athens, a rooftop bar in Monastiraki square. Enjoying fantastic panoramic views of the city and the Acropolis, we recounted our great vacation and had Old Fashioneds. It was very New York, not in New York.
On our last day together in Athens, we finished our City Walk before parting ways, Angela heading to the airport and me heading to do some more exploring before my later flight. Some notable sights to close out the trip:
- The parliament building, where we happened to catch the hourly changing of the Evzone Guards (with their pom pom shoes slow-motion march).
- National Archeological Museum, including the Mask of Agamemnon, Grecian sculpture through the ages, from rough Egyptian-influenced to classic Greek, with perfected symmetry, motion, and anatomy (Fun fact: most sculptures we think are Greek are actually Roman remakes! Good thing those Romans were Grecophiles…), and the frescoes of Akrotiri that were found almost intact from the ash and are now in the museum.
- The Ancient Agora, which was the central marketplace throughout Ancient, Roman, Byzantine times. It was the center of life in Athens! Though most of the Ancient Agora is in ruins, the audio tour made it easy to imagine large buildings, theaters, bazaars, etc. bustling with Athenians centuries before our era. I sped through the audio tour, seeing:
- The South Stoa, the main building in the Agora, which has been restored to what it would have looked like. Socrates and Plato are said to have had many a conversation in this space (the word “stoic” comes from stoa, which means covered walkways)
- The Agora Museum, including:
- A kleroterion, an ancient system for choosing juries, similar to a Connect4 game, which would randomly select jurors to perform their civic duty
- Shards of pottery with names on them, an ancient voting system that we’ve adopted in the form of ballots
- Children’s toys and a little baby high-chair
- The Temple of Hephaestus, which was built in the 5th century BC and is one of the best-preserved temples from this time
- The Church of the Holy Apostles, which is one of the only remaining buildings in the Ancient Agora and is built in the Byzantine style
After this, it was time to go back to the hotel, pick up my bags and head to the airport. Sad as I was to leave Greece, it helps that I get to continue my adventure by re-joining Remote Year in London. So, while vacation was coming to a close, my time in Europe is just beginning…