In the summer of 2012, I traveled with 3 of my best girlfriends to the amazing country of Greece! When planning our vacation to Greece, it seemed like a monumental task. There are over 6,000 islands and 227 of them are inhabited! Should we rent a car? Should we book a cruise? Which islands should we go to? We had a lot to figure out. After some extensive research, we decided to enlist the help of ATB Holidays to assist us in planning the trip of a lifetime! Side note: Our representative, Lucy K., from ATB was awesome to work with. We hit a few bumps along the road with missing planes and ferries and the company was easy to communicate with and very helpful with rebooking travel plans.
PRO TIP: It’s helpful to use a travel agent to book your hotel and ferry tickets as the agent will be legally obliged to get you to your destination!
When people refer to island hopping in Greece, everyone is talking about The Cyclades (famous group of islands). The island group lies to the southeast of mainland Greece and Athens. Santorini and Mykonos are probably the most well-known of the islands. Santorini is often know as a honeymoon destination due to it’s laid-back culture, romantic sunsets, and beautiful houses. Mykonos, on the other hand, is associated with its vibrant nightlife and party culture!
Getting to the Cyclades
The Cyclades Islands can be reached by several ferry companies that will take you from Piraeus or Rafina to the islands and between islands. The ferry schedule changes frequently depending on the season, so be sure to check the schedule in advance. I recommend using DANAE ferry tickets online for the most up to date information. I also recommend taking a high-speed boat from Piraeus to the larger islands to save time – more on that later.
If you’d rather look into flying to the islands, there are airports in Naxos, Mykonos, and Santorini which have charter flights from Europe. There are smaller airports found in Paros, Milos, and Syros.
After working with our agent from ATB Holidays, we decided on an 8 day itinerary for Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos. Athens was not included in our package since we decided to book our accommodations on our own. However, the transfers to the ferry ports in Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos, as well accommodations and hotel transfers in Santorini and Mykonos were booked in advance with ATB Holidays.
We booked flights on Aegean Airlines and had a 2 1/2 hour layover in Munich before arriving in Athens in the afternoon. We had a transfer booked in advance to get us from the airport to our hotel/hostel: Athens Style Hotel & Hostel.
Side note: Caroline was supposed to meet us in Athens, but her flights were cancelled due to weather. With the help of ATB Holidays, she was able to make the trip, but about 24 hours later. She met us Day 3 in Santorini! If you ever experience a missed flight, be sure to contact your tour company or head to the nearest customer service agent for your airline as soon as possible to get on the next flight out!
We highly recommend Athens Style Hotel & Hostel located in the heart of historic Athens. They offer a variety of room options, we got a private flat with a balcony. And, they have amazing views from the rooftop!
The Acropolis is open year-round and tickets are available at the entrance, but be prepared to wait. We recommend visiting either early in the morning or after 5pm to avoid the crowds and the heat!
After getting settled in our hostel, we set out on foot to explore historic Athens on our own and stopped for some authentic gyros!
PRO TIP: Did you know the Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world? Located on a limestone hill high above Athens, Greece, the Acropolis has been inhabited since prehistoric times (from).
After staying 1 night in Athens, we headed to the islands. Upon returning to Athens by ferry, we caught a cab to our hostel: Athens Backpackers. We booked this hostel on our own as it was not part of our ATB Holiday booking.
We were STARVING after our 4ish hour ferry ride from Mykonos to Athens (and for not eating on the ferry due our hangovers). So, once we settled in at our hostel, we found a great spot for lunch at Gods Restaurant and ordered basically every Greek dish we could.
The next day, we got a fresh start to the day and joined in the on the FREE walking tour of Athens hosted by our hostel! This was awesome! We got to see all the sites with a great, knowledgeable guide. If you aren’t staying in a hostel, but want a city of Athens tour, check this one out: Athens half-day tour.
PRO TIP: Don’t shy away from checking out hostels. We stay in our own private rooms with private bathrooms (if possible). Hostels often have cheap eats, free tours, happy hours, nightly entertainment, etc! Plus, you can learn so much by interacting with all the travelers that pass through.
Our tour started at The Arch of Hadrian, built in 131 CE for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Today, the archway is located in the center of Athens standing between the Acropolis of Athens and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It marks the line between the ancient city and the modern one.
Here we have the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I really can’t describe how MASSIVE these columns are, you just have to experience it first hand
Next we stopped at The Zappeion, a building in the National Gardens of Athens used for both official and private meetings and ceremonies. It’s right in the heart of the historic district of Athens!
Then, we stopped at Syntagma Square, the central square of Athens. It is located in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace, housing the Greek Parliament.
PRO TIP: I got pick-pocketed in pure daylight in this square! I was taking a picture and when I turned back to my side-body purse I noticed it was unzipped and my wallet was missing. These cons are professionals, so I would advise you to keep your belongings under your clothes in a travel money belt. The locals saw the guy do it, but no one stopped him, probably because it happens all the time and they don’t want to put their life in danger.
We stopped to admire the ruins of Hadrian’s Library created by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 132.
The Hephaestus Temple is the best preserved ancient temple in Greece! It was dedicated to Hephaestus, the ancient god of fire and Athena, goddess of pottery and crafts.
Next, we had a great overlook to Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens. You can climb the hill by foot or take the funicular up. Most guides recommend that you take the funicular up and walk down. Once you reach the top, there is a restaurant for you to relax!
We then came upon the Stoa of Attalos , which was mainly used for by the public and markets.
We stopped at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone Roman theater located on the southwest part of the Acropolis of Athens.
Today we sadly left Athens for Philadelphia on Aegean Airlines. We had a 2 hour layover in Rome.