Greece is the Word: Exploring (and Eating) in Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini
As a Kensington Tours Destination Expert, I took it upon myself to plan my very own itinerary and trip to Greece. My self-guided tour visited the ancient capital and some of the most popular islands. I learned not only about the fascinating country itself, but some of the best ways to see the sights.
I also learned that Greek cuisine is one of my favorites – freshness and quality are extremely important to the Greeks, so eating well comes easy. I may have indulged on an excessive amount of wine and cheese on my trip, but I would not change a thing. The fruits and vegetables were fresh and delicious everywhere we went, and the flavors abundant in each meal. (My do-not-miss suggestions are saganaki, grilled feta, halloumi, the traditional Greek salad, Assyrtiko wine, and of course gyros!)
Athens is a city that surprised me. It’s a busy place, abundant in history, and the nightlife was different from everywhere I’ve ever been.
There are so many different ways to sightsee in Athens, whether it’s by hiring a private guide and driver, taking public transit, or of course a hop-on-hop-off bus. I would recommend hiring a private guide and driver for a city tour, which allows for quick and easy access to popular sites around the city. Having the convenience of a driver when it is scorching out and the streets are packed with tourists makes for a much better experience. Many of the famous historical sites are not necessarily within walking distance – for example, the new Acropolis Museum, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Parthenon are quite far apart. It’s also a treat to have someone knowledgeable who will be able to guide you.
The dining in Athens was one of the highlights – fantastic cuisine made every meal a pleasure, whether it was a grab-and-go meal or fancy sit-down dinner.
One of our drivers recommended a lesser-known restaurant to called Anafiotika, which ended up being the pinnacle of my time in Athens. It is a rooftop restaurant with stunning panoramic views of the city, and the food was the best we had during our stay. A definite top recommendation on for a sunset dinner. I would also recommend City Zen and A for Athens if you’re looking for rooftop restaurants/lounges with a laid-back atmosphere, a delightful cocktail, and lively crowd.
Mykonos is my favorite (so far) of the Greek Islands. Mykonos Town boasts the striking blue-and-white alleyways, paths and winding streets that you would expect of Greece, right next to a lovely beach. Spend a morning, afternoon or even a full day getting lost in the town and exploring shops, restaurants, and cafés that are as alluring as the city itself.
A very special note about Mykonos: the taxis are few and far between. Word is that are about 30 taxis in total on the island, which makes it very difficult to get around. When we did not have a pre-booked transfer, we had to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for a cab and had a very unwelcome experience when we missed a bus stop and made our way almost halfway across the island before turning back. Hiring pre-booked transfers and private tours will make for a much better experience.
A dinner recommendation in Mykonos is a lovely restaurant called Remezzo. Saving this for the last night in Mykonos was quite the send-off. The food was cooked to perfection, the atmosphere was abuzz with people standing up to dance around their tables during dinner, the tall hookahs filled with flavored shisha were aglow, and the restaurant was a second-floor dwelling with a balcony overlooking the ocean.
Alegro was another one of my favorite spots in Mykonos. Lunch on the patio overlooking the beautiful sun-bathed ocean will not disappoint.
There is a reason Santorini is the most popular tourist island in Greece. The lights from the cliffs overlooking the stunning blue ocean on a summer’s eve are nothing short of breathtaking.
When we arrived at Santorini’s bustling port, we managed to find our pre-arranged driver and escaped the busy crowd as quickly as we could. On our way to our hotel, the long and twisty cliffside roads en route to Fira were enough to make our hearts race, let alone the beauty that surrounded us.
I am happy we chose to stay in Fira. Though it was about a half-hour’s drive away from Oia, the central town, I found it to be much more of a pleasure to walk around and spend our time. Since Oia is where the cruise ships port, it is often filled with tourists during the day and the crowded alleyways were hectic to navigate in the summer heat. I would suggest allotting half day or so at least to explore Oia or perhaps to have a meal at night if you’re not staying in the town itself.
One of the highlights of my time in Santorini was a sunset wine tour which brought us to three different wineries where we learned about the island’s extensive wine culture and the primary grape, Assyrtiko. We sampled varieties of local wine and cheese pairings throughout the night, and ended on the caldera with a glass of wine, gazing out over the cliff at yet another beautiful Greek sunset.
If you’re looking to soak up the sun in Santorini, finding a beautiful hotel with an oceanside pool is the way to go. We spent a comfortable day at Canaves Oia. This boutique hotel is opulent and clean, with picturesque white buildings that you’d expect to see on a postcard, and features all the amenities a guest would need with unparalleled service. I cannot speak more highly of this hotel.
Even with access to the luxurious pool, we still wanted to do some exploring on the island. We decided to rent a car and drive from one end to the other – not a journey for the faint of heart! Driving on Santorini is not the easiest task, especially when reaching some of the destinations we explored. With our car, we were able to drive from Oia to the Black Beach, Red Beach and the Akrotiri Lighthouse in less than a couple of hours. We did have some driving scares along the way, however. This is an island where I would suggest hiring a guide and driver to take you to the main sights by car. Another option take a catamaran tour, which would take you to the different beaches around the island without the stress of navigating and driving on your own.
My favorite place to eat in Santorini was a restaurant in Fira called Naoussa. The food was to die for, and so was the view overlooking the island and ocean, whether in daylight or at sunset. We ate dinner here on our first night on the recommendation of one of our drivers and ended up having another lunch there on our last day. There is one catch – the service tended to be a little on the slow side. However, while sitting there with a pitcher of white wine and a sunny panorama of the island, the slower service let us sit back and take in everything around us for just a little bit longer.
There is nothing more I could have asked for out of my two-week trip to Greece, except to have stayed longer, and I can’t wait to return to explore more islands in the future.