Of all the trips our family has taken, I’ve probably been asked most about our vacation in Greece this past summer. Both people I know IRL and others who saw my photos on Instagram had questions about where we went and what we did, and some even requested a post with details (here ya go…finally 🙂).
I completely understand the interest in this particular trip — because we had so many questions about visiting Greece when we were considering going there. With dozens of islands, plus destinations on the mainland, how would we decide which to include? We started by asking friends who had been, and there seemed to be a repeated sentiment: Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong.
I agree with that for the most part. Greece checks off a lot of quintessential vacation criteria — ample opportunities for relaxation and active recreation; gorgeous beaches, both serene and lively; sights that showcase a long rich and intriguing history; cities and towns that are fun and interesting to explore; great weather; delicious cuisine; and an easy-breezy vibe that really makes you feel like you’re away.
Along with asking friends about Greece, we also read articles, consulted Santorini Dave, but mostly we watched a lot of YouTube videos (or vlogs) about it. Levi and I always do this when we’re planning vacations or even thinking about possible places to go. We find them to be the most insightful — the good ones, anyway — because you can better see what a destination is like, as opposed to a photo or Reel that might be composed just so to portray only idyllic scenes. When a vlogger is, say, walking through Santorini for several minutes, it’s difficult to crop out the crushing crowds on a narrow path or a noisy construction site next to a breathtaking view (two real reasons that factored into our decision not to go to the very popular island).
WHERE WE WENT…AND WHY
So, let’s get to the actual vacation. We decided to go to Athens, Naxos, and Paros, then back to Athens before flying home. How did we decide? Well, Athens was obvious; since we had to fly in there, we stayed a couple of days to explore the city. We immediately excluded Santorini and Mykonos from our options because we heard over and over again how crowded they get during that time — we were there in late July and early August. Paros was recommended to us by three different people, it’s an easy ferry ride from Athens, and everything we saw and read about it seemed wonderful. And Naxos… well, in our research, we just kept coming back to it. Only a 30-minute ferry ride from Paros, the two Cyclades islands are often visited together, with different features making each one special.
We considered many other islands — Corfu, Crete, Milos, Hydra, and Rhodes to name a few — but they would have required longer ferry rides or flights, which would have added some extra logistics to get the timing right. In the end, we decided to keep it simple and as stress-free as possible. It had been a difficult summer (and year, for that matter, which maybe I’ll share more about another time), and we really just wanted to decompress in a beautiful place and enjoy a happy time together.
Accommodations: As mentioned, we flew into Athens and stayed for two nights (and one more before we flew home). After a long flight, we wanted to start the trip off very comfortably, so we booked a two bedroom suite at The Stanley hotel. (With two teens, we rarely share one basic hotel room anymore, usually opting for a suite or two rooms.) We wanted something nice in a central location that had a pool because we knew it would be hot. The Stanley was fantastic with plenty of space in the modern suite, comfortable beds, a swanky rooftop with a great restaurant/bar and pool area right next to it, and incredible 360 vistas of the city. We could see the impressive Acropolis less than a mile away, the whole sprawling city, and the mountainous landscape flanking it. On our last night before flying home we stayed in th Grand Hyatt, which was really nice and comfortable, though we we weren’t there long enough to enjoy it all (but we did have an excellent breakfast before we left).
Activities: With less than two full days in Athens and feeling jet lagged, we enjoyed an easy mix of sightseeing and hanging out. Visiting The Acropolis was a priority, and it is a magnificent, can’t-miss attraction, even though the crowds there were massive. We strolled around Plaka, a lively neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops, and enjoyed a few great meals and browsing in the area. The nearby Monastiraki Flea Market was also fun to walk through and shop — it’s particularly great for finding inexpensive island wear, sandals, jewelry and accessories, souvenirs, and snacks. We also enjoyed relaxing on the hotel rooftop. I highly recommend booking lodging with a pool in the summer — it’s a perfect way to chill out after a day in the Athens sun.
Transportation: We mostly walked to get around Athens. It’s a walkable city, and generally we find that getting around on foot lets us discover things we might not have otherwise and allows for more spontaneity. We took taxis to and from the airport and to the ferry and after a late dinner, but otherwise we used shoe leather express.
Mix Tips: 1) Book tickets to The Acropolis in advance to minimize any wait to go in. And be prepared for some uphill walking to access the entrance. 2) We didn’t go, but we heard the Acropolis Museum is very interesting. 3) Little KooK, an over-the-top fairytale themed desert spot, is a must do for both the sweet treats and wild spectacle of fanciful decor.
An easy four-hour ferry ride from Athens, Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands and so beautiful. Picturesque beaches stretch along the Aegean coast, the towns are charming with winding pathways and bougainvillea draping over whitewashed walls, ancient sites make for arresting scenes and fascinating exploration, and the mountainous interior is a striking contrast to its surrounding lowlands. While there were plenty of tourists, it wasn’t overly crowded at all. The vibe was lively but relaxed, and we easily immersed right into it. We spent three nights in Naxos and wish it had been much more.
Accommodations: We stayed at a wonderful Airbnb that I highly recommend. The location right in Naxos Town (aka Chora), the island’s main port town, was perfect — an easy stroll to the vibrant waterfront, but far enough away that we weren’t in the thick of the hubbub. It also had a rooftop with great views of the town and gorgeous sunsets over the sea. Plus, our hosts were the best — they gave us excellent tips for exploring the town and island and also invited us for a drink at at the lovely hotel they own in a nearby town.
Activities: Naxos offers a fantastic mix of things to do. Of course, we relaxed and swam at a couple of beaches — Agios Georgios, an easy walk from town, and Plaka Beach, about a 20-minute drive away. Walking Chora’s maze of paths, popping in shops, and taking in the sights was a fun way to get to know the town. Right over a long stone path from Chora is the impressive Portara, the Temple of Apollo, a large unfinished gate constructed of marble said to be from 530 BCE. It’s easy to explore and kind of mind-blowing that it’s right there. One afternoon, we drove to the lovely mountain town of Chalkio, strolled around, sampled honey and other Grecian treats, and had a fantastic dinner at Giannis Taverna. And on our last day in Naxos, we went back to the mountains and hiked to Apano Kastro, ruins consisting of walls dating back as early as 8 BCE and structures built by the Venetians during the 13th century. Not to go unmentioned, we enjoyed many delicious, leisurely meals (more about the food below).
Transportation: We rented a small car in Naxos, which I recommend. There are busses to get to beaches and villages, but having a car let us stay on our own timetable and drive around and explore on our own. After getting off the ferry, we walked a short distance to the rental car office to pick up our little Fiat (which required some Tetris-style loading to fit our luggage and us). With GPS, it was very easy to navigate the island; nothing tricky about it.
Mix Tips:1) Naxos is known as a top kite and windsurfing destination, and a great beach to see it in action is Mikri Vigla. Lessons are also offered by many outfitters. If we had more time on the island, we probably would have given it a try. 2) There are more great hikes in the Naxos mountains — find details for them here. 3) Wear a swimsuit to visit Portara — you can jump right into the sea for a swim from the path leading to it!
Paros, the third leg of our Greece trip, is known for its gorgeous beaches and, as we learned when we were there, its happening nightlife. In fact, we heard it was right behind Santorini and Mykonos in that regard, though that was much more so in the village of Naoussa, not where we stayed in Parikia, the main port town. Paros is a smaller island than Naxos, but the towns are larger, with many more restaurants and shops as well as more organized beaches along the coast. The vibe is still very relaxed, but slightly more posh.
Accommodations: We stayed at another great Airbnb on the edge of Parikia. It was a very scenic five-minute walk to the promenade along the town and literally right up a short hill from the sea. The sunsets from our balcony and small enclave of our house were spectacular! A grocery store, plus several coffee shops and bakeries, were also within walking distance, so we could easily get everything we needed. We originally tried to get a place in Naoussa, as a friend had recommended it as a beautiful, mellow village and were disappointed when we couldn’t find anything there. That ended up being quite serendipitous, because Naoussa apparently has changed since my friend visited, and it was far from mellow. We went there for dinner one evening and had a difficult time parking and could barely walk through some of the narrow pathways in town because of the dense throngs of people. Parikia, it tuned out, was far more low key and much more our speed.
Activities: On an island known for its beaches, we of course had to take advantage. One day we went to the very chill Agia Irini, where Taverna Livadaka provided tables and chairs as well as lounge chairs to use for free. We also enjoyed a meal in the very casual outdoor dining area. Another day we went to the much swankier Aspro in Ampelos, which was more like a club with a restaurant, beach bar, and posh seating areas. There are umbrellas with lounge chairs, hut-style cabanas with bean bags, and more comfortable areas to relax and enjoy the family-friendly party vibe. We also spent time exploring the town of Parikia and, as mentioned, an evening in Naoussa. Our last full day there was the highlight when we went on a sailing excursion around Paros, Antiparos, and Despotiko that we booked through Airbnb. We swam in hidden caves and coves, saw ancient ruins, learned a lot about the history and culture of the Cyclades from our fantastic guide/captain, and soaked in the gorgeous Aegean scenery.
Transportation: We also rented a car in Paros, which actually was easier than bringing the car from Naxos on the ferry and returning it in Paros. Again, we walked right to the rental agency from the ferry to pick it up, easy-peasy. It was very convenient to have our own wheels to be on our own schedule (not the bus schedule) , explore the island, and switch up plans when we tried to go to Kolymbithres Beach near Naoussa and found it way too crowded.
Mix Tips: 1) Santorini Dave has the best guide to beaches in Paros. 2) The waterfront area has a lot of restaurants that offer scenic views, but some of the better places to eat are within the town, so don’t forget about them. 3) There are some great boutiques in Parikia if you want to do some shopping. Nice, Greek-style sandals are a steal at many places ( I got a great pair there).
MORE INSIGHT & TIPS
1) I think one of the best decisions we made for this trip was not going to Santorini and Mykonos, two of the most popular Greek islands. We heard they both get insanely crowded during the summer and, as mentioned above, got a glimpse of that on YouTube vlogs. I also a received a text from a friend while she was there a couple of months before us in June that said DO NOT COME TO SANTORINI (yes, in all caps) . It sounded like the island was a draw more for its Instagrammy photo ops of the white-washed-with-blue-accent towns built into the landscape overlooking the Aegean than its recreational offerings. And Mykonos is known for its party scene, which can be fun, but wasn’t what we were seeking on our family vacation. On one of our ferry rides, we actually overheard people who had just been to those islands saying that it was shoulder-to-shoulder walking through some parts and not very pleasant.
2) The food! We didn’t have one bad meal in Greece. The cuisine is much like Greek food here, but better, tastier. It’s simple, but so fresh. We’d get a big Greek salad for the table with most of our lunches and dinners. Main courses were usually meat — chicken, lamb, and beef — kabobs and gyros or grilled fish. Moussaka is a heavier yummy dish. Pasta is on most menus, too, and it was always good. And I would often stop at a bakery and pick up spanakopita and other pastries for breakfast.
3) Beaches in Greece are categorized as organized and unorganized. The former means chairs and umbrellas are available for a reasonable fee, and there are tavernas and restaurants for food and drinks. There is a nice range of organized beaches, from swanky scenes to very chill and peaceful areas. Unorganized means amenities are not available, so BYO seating/towel to sit on and snacks.
4) The Cyclades Islands are known for their strong Meltemi winds in July and August. But before you think you’ll be holding onto your hat and wiping sand from your eyes, rest assured that is not necessarily the case. In fact, we barely noticed the winds, rather just a constant nice breeze. Even better, they kept the island temps down for the most pleasant weather, while much of southern Europe was experiencing a heatwave.
5) There are cats everywhere. And they all seem well fed and cute, not feral. We loved seeing them hanging out near our digs, right on the beach, along the walkways in town, and even in the shops and restaurants.
MORE SCENES FROM GREECE
Have you been to Greece? Do you have any good tips and insight? Feel free to share in the comments!