Last updated 22 February 2021
Having seen only a few of the charms of mainland Greece, we head back to the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the famous islands which make up so much of Greece.
There is a ridiculous amount of hype around the Greek Islands – to the point where we almost don’t know what to expect before we get there. So, we put together an itinerary which includes a visit to the ancient site of Delos and allows us to end up in our next destination, Tukey.
The first stop is Naxos, which I choose because it was the largest of the Cyclades and I have memories of staying in smaller Pacific Islands in my mind. Regardless of my reasoning, it’s a great choice. Naxos is everything we want: calm, peaceful and beautiful, with a strong sense of culture.
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Naxos, is the doorway to nowhere… the portara or Great Doorway, is the remains of a marble doorway to an ancient temple of Apollo. The empty doorway sits on an islet which juts into the harbour, offering a dreamlike, somewhat surreal introduction to Naxos.
The old town is beautiful with narrow streets, flower boxes and a range of shops. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the island, and some beautiful marble statues have been found in the quarries. Naxos is also an agricultural hub for the region. The cheese and yoghurt here are especially delicious and there’s enough infrastructure to support a relatively substantial town.
To be honest though, we don’t end up seeing very much on Naxos. Instead we enjoy relaxing after our busy tour through mainland Greece. We stay in Agios Prokopios, at the Katerina Hotel, which is close to the beach, family run and incredibly clean. We spend most of our week on the island alternating between the pool and beach, getting very tanned in the process. The area is quiet in mid-September, but just busy enough to feel lively. There are some nice restaurants within walking distance of our hotel, and everything is reasonably priced. And, given the island’s strong agricultural industry, the Greek yoghurt and tzaziki there are amazing.
From Naxos, we can do a day trip to Mykonos and Delos. I have my heart set on going to Delos. It’s the island where Apollo and Artemis were born, and after hearing about it for so many years (I’ve studied Classics), I have to see it.
It’s worth it. Even with the sheer number of ruins we’ve seen in Greece, Delos is special, and it’s big. I love walking through ancient houses, seeing the mosaics peeking through crumbling doorways. Everything on Delos hasn’t been rebuilt and wandering through the sprawling ruin is very peaceful. Climbing up the hill in the centre is a rush given our timeframe, but the view at the top is breathtaking! We have three hours on the island and it goes ridiculously quickly and we leave feeling like we’ve barely seen anything.
As the boat gets close to Mykonos, we are rewarded with the postcard Greek Island view - the white houses set against the golden hills and deep blue Mediterranean. Renowned for its parties, designer shops and clear waters, Mykonos has a number of different sides to its personality.
Mykonos Town is white, pretty with cobblestones, nice restaurants and designer shops. Cats sleep in doorways and we enjoy a long lunch, a leisurely meander through the tourist sites and a few drinks with sea views. The old town is full of expensive shops and art galleries, while the nearby resorts are famous for their Hedonistic atmosphere.
Elsewhere on the island, you’ll find a quieter, more laidback vibe, where you can relax at the beach, only escaping to a nearby taverna for meals. It's a charming spot but I think we're more likely to visit some of the quieter islands in the future.
Of course, no trip to the Greek Islands is complete without going to Santorini.
The famous island with its stunning sunsets, Santorini lives up to the hype. With white houses, blue roofed churches and a spectacular clifftop walk, Santorini is worth visiting just for the views. We stay in Fira, and take long walks along the cliffs. The views from Oia are magnificent, and we also enjoy exploring the little town of Pyrgos. Unfortunately, all the volcanic attractions are a bit wasted on us (we do live in New Zealand, after all), but the setting is wonderful.
Next time, we’ll go with a larger budget and have a more luxurious experience; Santorini definitely lends itself to splurging. Stay somewhere with a caldera view (a surprisingly affordable option in the shoulder season) and watch the sunset from Oia at least once. With volcanic beaches and interesting white villages, you should have plenty to keep you busy during your stay.
As a bonus, Santorini also offers a direct ferry to Rhodes, which was is a vital stop on the way to Turkey.
After an overnight ferry, which os an interesting experience in itself (get a cabin; it’s worth it!) we arrive at Rhodes, our final island destination. We end up staying in Faliraki, because the nice resorts are so affordable there although it caters more to the mass-tourism market than where we usually stay. And while the resorts are still there, it becomes apparent that the mass tourism has dropped off. The town itself is ridiculously touristy, but also empty, developed for more people than have come.
We still enjoy our stay. We don’t find anywhere particularly exciting to eat, but the beach was lovely. Once again, we alternate between the hotel pool and the sea, depending on where the wind was coming from. We also make sure to see more of Rhodes than our dated, over-developed seaside town.
We head to Lindos one night for a World Tourism Day celebration. Being one of only two groups of tourists there, we have a fun night eating and drinking with the locals in the square and watching the traditional Greek dancing. We also spend some time in Rhodes Town. I’m enchanted by the old town and start to see some Turkish influences in the shops and the food.
We absolutely adore the Greek Islands. They live up to all expectations and we really appreciate the way that each island really had its own personality. There is definitely something for everyone, be it beaches, culture or stunning sunsets. The weather is good and people are friendly. Greece is one of my favourite places and I can’t wait to visit again.
We buy tickets when we get to Athens, a few days before we're due to sale. Information online is strangely vague but we find a ticket office in Plaka and buy our tickets there.
We catch the from the Port of Piraeus in Athens (not near the city centre, take the metro the day before and stay overnight to be safe)
Our first ferry is from Athens to the Cyclades. The boat stops at Paros and then Naxos, where we get off.
Our second ferry takes us from Naxos to Santorini.
We then take an overnight ferry from Santorini to Rhodes. Cabins are expensive, but definitely worth it if you don't want to spend your first day on Rhodes recovering from the journey.
From Rhodes, we get a relatively short ferry to Fethiye in Turkey