Tucked between the Aegean and Ionian Seas, Greece – the cradle of Western civilization – offers more than what meets the eye. It is a nation steeped in art, culture and history, a product of myths and facts, an exquisite example of the aftermath of volcanic eruptions, a land battling economic crises, and the home of a proud and welcoming people.
A treasure-trove of history and artifacts, a culture that uplifts, a melting pot of indescribable local flavours, a vision of natural beauty that is both wild and tameable, a hotchpotch of idyllic and lively islands strewn across sapphire and turquoise waters, a land where memories live with you for a lifetime – Greece.
Our plan was simple – acquainting ourselves with Greek history and culture, sampling local cuisine, relaxing by the seaside, and indulging in aimless meandering – within a reasonable budget. The challenge was not the sticking to a tight budget; it was us needing to make peace with the fact that two weeks is nowhere near enough to truly experience Greece! In fact, we had to skip several I-really-want-to-go-there places because of our two-week cap.
We spent roughly three days in Athens, two in Delphi, three in Milos and Santorini each, and two days in Corfu.
The vibrant capital of Greece, Athens offers the best way to start a vacation. With quiet suburbs and parks, lively streets and bars, rich architecture, several museums, and excellent transport, Athens seems to have all the requisites for the perfect city.
Things To Do
• Start your evening with cocktails from one of the several bars and pubs in the heart of the city. We really enjoyed Drunk Sinatra, a bar specializing in original recipes, just off Kolokotroni Street. Everything we had ordered was perfection; in fact, we even ended our trip with a few drinks here!
• Walk early in the day to the Acropolis crossing the Plaka – a street with many steps, souvenir shops, cozy restaurants, and charming homes that make for some amazing Instagram-worthy pictures.
• Spend a good part of the day drinking in the remains of the Parthenon, the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, the Erechtheion, and other architectural marvels that stand lofty and proud as symbols of a civilization that was prosperous, intelligent, and worthy of being the subject of ageless tales.
• Explore Athenian street food by grabbing some yummy grub from vendors across the city – bite into warm and filling pita with gyros, tuck into falafels with tahini, savour tzatziki with pita bread, devour a hearty kontosouvli, and dig into delicious souvlaki. Sample local dark beers, and lose yourself in the music wafting from streets as people take to their instruments and talents.
Where To Stay
We stayed at Small Funny World, a hostel with free breakfast and Wi-Fi, for €15 per person per night. Located in Kalamiotou, it is a ten-minute walk from the central bus terminal and the Monastiraki Metro Station, and a fifteen-minute walk from the Acropolis!
A village in Central Greece surrounded by high-reaching mountains, lush cypress and fruit-laden olive trees, Delphi is ideal for escaping city views, and to lose oneself in the colourful past of the Greeks. The weather is crisp and cool, the food a delight for gastronomes, the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Athena Pronaia a testament to why Delphi was considered the navel of the ancient world, and the Delphi Museum a bang for every euro spent there.
Take the morning bus from the KTEL Bus Terminal at Athens, and enjoy the enroute scenery, appreciating the contrast between bold and flashy Athens, and picturesque and quiet Delphi.
Things To Do
• Spend a day walking to the ancient sites and the museum, and drink in the sights and sounds of a village so simple and beautiful it makes you sigh.
• Enjoy a warm cuppa at one of the many cafes that offer views of the looming mountains. Walk around the village that offers reminiscence of Christmas-y evenings, and shop for local bakes and trinkets.
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Orfeas, and it was one of the most pleasant stays we had experienced in Greece. A nine-minute walk from the bus terminal, a warm and friendly host, a clean and well-equipped room with a gorgeous view of the mountains – all for €32 for two.
Three enchanting days were spent in one of the most beautiful gems in the Aegean Sea – Milos. This Cycladic island is a quieter sibling to tourist-y Santorini and party-esque Mykonos.
Home to the volcanic mineral obsidian and the birthplace of the famous statue of Aphrodite (also known as Venus de Milo) Milos exudes as much natural charm as it conjures historic allure. The activities and sites here are endless, and three days on the island feel like they just aren’t enough.
The best and budget-friendly way to get to the island is via ferry, starting from Athens.
Things To Do
• Rent a bike and explore the island, from the port of Adamas to the fishing village of Pollonia. If weather permits, opt for a dive in the clear waters of the Papikinou beach. Head to the little fishing hamlet of Klima to observe the colourful houses and the syrmata.
• Experience the historical significance of Milos by visiting the Catacombs of early Christians and the Ancient Roman Theatre. Indulge in impressive Aegean cuisine – pitarakia made of local cheeses, sweet wines, and the traditional dessert Koufeto.
• Milos is home to over seventy beaches, each offering something spectacular. From the cliffs and pebbled shores of Papafragas, the quiet blues and sandy landscape of Pollonia, to the lunar facade of the pirate bay Sarakiniko, the topographical marvels of Milos are out of this world!
• While we had heard great things about the sunset views at Santorini, the ones at Milos are just as amazing. Walk to the Plaka – the commercial capital of the island – via the village of Trypiti, and lose yourself in cobbled pathways and alleys of whitewashed houses. Climb up to the Kastro, and watch the setting sun caress the Aegean Sea, transforming the waters from a bright blue to a captivating gold.
Where To Stay
It is ideal to stay close to the port of Adamas – not only is it well-connected to the ferries and commercial spots, it is also the best place to rent transport, and has several supermarkets and bakeries in the vicinity. We stayed at Giannis Hotel Apartments, and were pretty impressed with the facilities. The kitchenette, where we whipped up our breakfasts, helped us save some bucks.
We took a ferry to Santorini, where we spent the next three days. In all honesty, we weren’t too impressed with Santorini – possibly because of the number of tourists, the hype created by netizens, and the slightly rushed ambiance that the island exuded. However, Santorini is a breathtaking island – a caldera formed as a result of volcanic eruptions, and landscapes shaped by many earthquakes.
Unlike Milos, Santorini is well-connected by local buses. Travelling using local transport is a wonderful, sustainable, and budget-friendly way to explore the island.
Things To Do
• Visit the different beaches on the island, each with unique shores – Black Beach, Red Beach, White Beach, and others. While heading to the Red Beach, allot some time to visit the archeological site of Akrotiri, for a glimpse into the ancient Minoan civilization.
• Head to Fira for a walk around the bustling capital, and window-shop (or shop!) at the boutique and luxury stores. If you’re up for it, take a cable car-ride from Fira all the way down to the port of Santorini.
• Walk through Fira, upto the end of Firostefani and Imerovigli, and take the short hike up the Skaros Rock for unbelievable views of the entire island and the Aegean Sea.
While in the Athens Airport, I had come across an ad saying –
“Skip the must-do, go with your instinct.”
Looking back at our time in Santorini, I realize that we followed this quite often. Bummed out by the crowd, we skipped the must-do sunset view at Oia. Instead, we took a bus to the traditional village of Megalochori, walked a few hundred metres across a small vineyard, nearly froze in the whipping wind, and witnessed the setting sun lend the sky and sea a palette of glorious shades, with a stunning panoramic view of the caldera.
Where to stay
If you have room in your budget, Santorini is the place to splurge – Fira, Oia and Imerovigli are strewn with boutique hotels offering private pools and views of the caldera. We chose to stay at the budget-appropriate and extremely pleasant Onar Rooms, which is a two-minute walk from the Black Beach at Perissa, and the Perissa bus terminal. We spent our first night on the island at Zorbas Hotel in Pirgos, as this was closer to the port (we took the night ferry). The property is beautiful, and quite reasonably priced.
Corfu is nothing like its Cycladic counterparts. It offers views of the cyan Ionian Sea and pebbled beaches, lofty mountains and the countryside, Venetian cityscapes and historic monuments in equal measures. Looking back, we could have cut down our time in Santorini in lieu of Corfu, because believe me when I say that Corfu is as striking as it is idyllic!
We took a ferry from Santorininto Athens, and then boarded a night flight to Corfu.
While bikes and cars are available for hire, the budget-friendly way to explore the island is via the local bus.
Things To Do
• Visit the beach at Agios Gordios for scenic views of the horizon, with the sun streaming through the clouds to shine on the clear waters of the Ionian Sea.
• Take a bus to Corfu Town, and lose yourself in the many roads and alleys, at each turn marvelling at the different wares being sold – from Kumquat fruits and liquer, to handmade jewellery that promise luck.
• Visit the Old Fort and the New Fort, and if time permits, visit the Museum of Asian Art, which has an excellent curation of ancient and medieval art and culture pieces from the Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Nepalese, and Baloch regions. This museum was our favourite of all the ones that we had visited during our trip.
Where to stay
Our AirBnB property at Agios Gordios – Alexandros Apartments And Studios – was my favourite of all the places we stayed at in Greece. The property is bountiful with orchards and flowering plants, and our room was impressively equipped – we even had bar equipment! Most importantly, our hosts were extremely gracious and hospitable, which made it so much harder for us to say goodbye to Corfu.
We ended our two week trip at Athens. A final drink at Drunk Sinatra, some Latin American food, much lighter wallets, camera rolls and minds full of memories later, we bid adieu to our perfect Greek summer.
Greece is a masterpiece of seas, stories, and dreams. Its hospitable spirit is a testament to the resilience of its people who have endured so much – from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, to the occupation of the country by the then Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and the current economic crises that has led to this multifaceted land to throw open its arms to tourism. There are many undiscovered gems, unexplored trails, uncharted caverns, and unshared stories that define Greece – solidifying our belief that this country was indeed crafted by and for the gods.
“Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean sea.”