I’ve talked to many people while traveling who weren’t sure whether to hop down to Greece. Sure, it would be great but would it be worth the trouble of a plane or ferry? The answer is 100%, absolutely, positively yes!
Greece is incredible.
The food, the landscapes, the people. There’s a little bit of everything it seems; history that dates back further than you can believe, parties that go all night, beaches that leave you completely relaxed and reenergized. What’s not to fall in love with?
On this trip (I planning on returning!), I was fortunate enough to visit Athens and the islands of Crete and Santorini.
I’ve talked to a number of people who were less than thrilled with Athens. It’s true with the economy being what it is, poverty isn’t hard to find. Athens has a bit of a chaotic feel to it, I wouldn’t call it gritty necessarily, but it’s definitely got the soul of a very old city.
That being said, I liked Athens a lot when I came in from Rome. It’s a bit less crowded and easier to manage. And even at night, I’ve never had a night where I’ve been hesitant to go out in Greece, in Athens or the islands. Are there parts of the Athens you probably shouldn’t be at night? Sure, but that’s a city for you.
Athens to me has a sort of haphazardly disheveled personality. It’s new and keeping up with trends meets thousands of years old and well-preserved. It’s a mixed bag
After visiting the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum, and falling over ancient sites all day long, I think it’s hard to dismiss Athens. It’s amazing how much happened here. The beginning of democracy, for one thing, happened a few blocks away from my hostel. It’s just unbelievable. Buildings and artifacts that date back to the 5th century BC are just hangin’ out, waiting for you to come be astonished.
Athenians have also introduced espresso freddo into my life, for which I am forever grateful. It’s simply an iced espresso, but it’s the most perfect way to start a hot day of touring the city.
Oh, Crete. Beautiful landscapes and cheap food and drinks… I could spend a lifetime there. Alas, I only had a couple days. Crete is a big island with lots of corners to explore. I narrowed it down to a hike through the Samaria Gorge or a couple beaches.
I stayed in a cute hostel in the old town of Rethymno. When I first walked to my hostel, there were old men playing cards inside the shops along the way. For whatever reason, I took this as a good sign.
So Rethymno, apart from being cute, is also a pretty good base for exploring Crete. With only one full day without being on the move, I decided I had to choose one day trip: the gorge or the beaches.
Feeling a little more laid back, I picked the beaches. I stand behind that choice because the beaches were absolutely gorgeous.
Pink sands of Elafonisi Beach
I met a couple and we split a car rental and traveled to two very different beaches in one day. The first was Elafonisi, famed for its pink sands. The pink sand is due to a large quantity of coral mixed with the sand. It’s beautiful. Not just the sand, but the aqua blue water as well.
The weather was perfect and the water was cool, but not cold. I could’ve stayed there for days. But, making the most of our day, we packed up and headed to Balos Beach, which was a bit north of Elafonisi.
Balos is completely different; it’s more of a lagoon surrounded by mountains. There’s an island not too far out, which creates a strip of white sand that cuts right through the water. To get there, you drive through an incredibly bumpy dirt road. And then it’s a 2km hike down to the beach. It’s worth it though!
For anyone who loves goats like I do, it’s like goat heaven. The mountain goats are everywhere.
We got there a little while before sunset, which was nice for the little trek back and forth. The islands add to the beauty of the beach and make it stand out a bit. There are a few islands nearby that seem to have just dropped right in the middle of the landscape. It’s amazing.
Easily the most picturesque towns I’ve ever seen. The white buildings and blue domes is what made me – and tons of other people – want to check out Santorini. The two larger villages on the islands are Fira and Oia and that’s where you’ll find the picture you’ve got in your head.
The hostel I stayed in was in Perissa, known around the island for its black sand beaches due to the volcano that sits right next to Santorini. It is a really nice area, super laid back and beachy. The prices are significantly lower than Fira and Oia as well and there are plenty of great places to try.
I went on a boat tour, which I was hesitant to do after reading an article that dismissed them. But I actually had a really great day. For solo travelers, it presents an easy way to meet people as well. The tour cost 30₡ and started at Akrotiri, well-preserved ruins that date back thousands of years.
From there, we hiked the volcano off the coast of Santorini – it’s not what you’d expect, but you can see craters from each eruption in its history.
Next, we swam in a hot spring, the first one I’ve ever been in! The water was pretty warm, not hot necessarily, but it was also full of mud. Mud that everyone who visits scoops up and wipes all over their bodies. Of course I joined suit!
Sunset in Oia
So you can see why I fell head over heels for Greece. It has natural beauty, ancient history, beaches and quaint towns. The food is amazing as well, but that’s a whole other post! It’s absolutely worth a visit and I have every intention of going to explore more of it.