Ahhhhh… Greece, the beginning of western civilization. A place I’ve been obsessing over for so long now. I’d see pictures of the beautiful Greek islands, shimmering Mediterranean waters, and the maze-like whitewashed alleys, I’d then start imagining a trip to Greece, but to my dismay that trip got pushed out further and further. The desire to see Greece now became a longing, and that longing turned into an obsession that got way out of control. And this year I knew I had to make Greece happen while the country was somewhat peaceful and while time was on my side because life is unpredictable as we all know it.
Now although Greece’s economy was/is in a crisis, tourism appears to be booming on the Greek Islands, and contrary to what the media & travel agencies say, Mykonos & Santorini are far from reasonable. I was in for a real surprise with the cost of hotels and drinks. Ironically despite Greece’s tanking economy, they do have the world’s most beautiful island – Santorini, and as cliché as I may sound, Santorini is a dream. I have never seen a place so beautiful, so magnificent, so breathtaking in my entire living life.
My dream came true the day I saw Mykonos and then Santorini soon after. I’m finally at peace after visiting Santorini because now I truly feel that I’ve seen it all (somewhat), I just can’t imagine a place that can top Santorini. I’m so grateful I was able to experience Greece, it’s a dream come true! Since I have been researching Greece for the past few years, I consolidated all my knowledge in this post because this is exactly the kind of information I’d wanna know prior to visiting. Hope it helps!
The Greeks are extremely warm and friendly people to the point where I just wanted to give every single person I left behind a big hug. The hotel/restaurant owners truly go out of their way and make sure your every need is met. If you’re lost, people are more than willing to help.
I visited Greece in early September which is probably one of the best times to visit. The weather is perfect and sunny with lows in the 70s and highs in the low 80s. Mykonos had the perfect weather, Santorini was slightly cooler at night, sometimes extremely windy and humid which is probably due to its elevation.
Contrary to popular belief, the Greek Islands are not reasonable whatsoever. Although the country as a whole was/is going thru an economic crisis, from a tourists’ angle, it is very hard to tell what reality is since the Greek Islands are so beautiful, clean, developed, and well maintained. Tourism seems to be booming and there are no signs of business slowing down. Amongst the Greek Islands, Mykonos and Santorini are the most expensive where drinks will run you anywhere from 10 to 13 Euros ($13 to $17 USD), on the other hand entrees are a bit more reasonable typically starting at 8 Euros ($11 USD) and higher, again this depends on the type of restaurant. Anything with a view will be a little more pricy, but I’m not sure why alcohol is always so expensive on the islands.
Unfortunately, the Greek Islands operate on seasonal tourism. After speaking to quite a few locals, many of them spend 6 months on the islands during high season and then move to mainland Greece during the remaining 6 months of the year and work. The local hotel staff would start their shift from 6 am and work up until midnight – yes 18 hours! I saw the same hotel staff serving breakfast, lunch, and then dinner until midnight, and most of the time it was just 2 to 3 people doing most of the serving. Perhaps they got a break, but working 18 hours can be rather grueling. Although the locals are surrounded by so much beauty, life here can be extremely tough for those who heavily rely on tourism for income.
Tip in Europe is not “expected” as it is here in the United States, however it always generous to leave something. Many restaurants my husband and I went to gave us the bill and mentioned, “if you’d like to, you can leave tip,” hence it is optional, whereas folks at other restaurants would say, “it’s okay, not necessary” when a tip was handed to them. Based on what I’ve read though, it’s always advised to leave anywhere from a couple Euros to about 5% to 10% in tip… again this depends on the service, the meal, the restaurant, but it’s totally at your discretion.
Common food items in Greece include gyros, souvlaki, fries, Greek salad, moussaka, pasticcio, and more. Lamb and beef are commonly used meats, however you will find an abundance of chicken and fish too. After Greek, Italian and Mediterranean cuisines appear to be the most popular on the islands, and you’ll see some kind of pasta on almost every menu. Overall, the Greek and Mediterranean diets are fairly healthy in my opinion, there are plenty of vegetarian options here and they use a LOT of Extra Virgin Olive Oil = great skin!
Prior to most meals, a bread basket is typically served. Initially I assumed this was a complimentary appetizer, but turns out there is a 2 to 4 Euros charge for the basket. Unusual.
When in Greece, stick to bottled water. Although I was drinking bottled water throughout my trip, I did experience stomach issues (cramps) and I believe it may have been due to the Greek Yogurt. Once I stopped eating Greek Yogurt though, my stomach was back to normal. I could be completely wrong though!
Walking around the main towns, every other restaurant/shop in Greece is either ‘Nick’, ‘Nikos’, ‘Nikolas’, ‘Nik’, Niki’, well you get the hang of it. Nick is a very popular name.
On the Greek Islands, there is no concept of American luxury hotels, the next best thing is Greek luxury which is elegant, nice, and authentic. For anyone traveling to Europe, I personally think it is a good idea to stay in a higher class hotel since European standards are lower than American standards, but this is a personal choice. Again, Mykonos and Santorini are the two most expensive islands and any luxury 4 star or higher will cost you a little more than the norm. At this rate, MOST hotels on the Greek Islands will include breakfast, pickup/drop-off to the ferry port/airport, complimentary shuttle services around town, and more. Affordable accommodations include guest houses where you will get more value for your money, but definitely consider safety/cleanliness/location when choosing a guest house.
On the islands, all taxis are Mercedes Benz, ironically. Taxis going in and around the island of Mykonos Town and Fira are not that expensive, however going from one town to another town on the island will cost you anywhere from 15 to 30 Euros, one way. Bargaining typically does not work since the rates are fixed. For an affordable option, the bus only costs about 2 Euros, one way. The buses are also Mercedes Benz with nice interior. Additionally, renting a car/ATV is popular on the Greek Islands, but the bus and taxi drivers do drive like maniacs and the roads are extremely narrow when driving on the cliffs.
If you are island hopping, most transfers are done by means of ferries or air (only via Athens). Since I am terrified of rough seas, and Greek waters can get pretty rough, I opted to book the HighSpeed 5 ferry by Hellenic Seaways and the Blue Star Delos by Blue Star Ferries. Both ferries were great, the former is a big boat and a super fast ferry, the latter is a huge boat and a bit slower. Of course the bigger the boat, the less you feel, nonetheless both boats were comfortable for me. I booked all my ferry tickets via http://www.openseas.gr/openseas/index.html – excellent, user-friendly website! All air connections to/from Athens via Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air.
Recommended Islands to Visit in the Cyclades
Mykonos – party island, romantic, whitewashed alleys, beach access, shopping, amazing sunsets.
Santorini – romantic island, gorgeous island, spectacular sunsets, lots of Greek Taverns in Fira, shopping, donkey rides, beach access.
Paros – pretty island, quiet, whitewashed villages, a little shopping, beach access.
Naxos – greenest island in the Cyclades, traditional villages.
Ios – party island.
To Visit Athens or Not?
History is not my cup of tea, hence I skipped Athens all together, it’s a personal choice. If, however, you enjoy history, Athens is most definitely worth a visit – the Acropolis, Parthenon, Plaka district are just a few of the many places to visit. Otherwise consider staying in Athens a night prior to departure from Greece to avoid any issues, sometimes ferries/flights are cancelled from the islands due to weather/strikes (not so much these days though).
An unusual topic, but there are cats all over the Greek islands, although they don’t belong to anyone, they are taken care of by the town residents. At one particular tavern in Paros, there were like 10 cats just hanging out while people were eating their meals. These cats are harmless, but I do wonder why cats are so popular in Greece.
Mykonos is the party capital of the Mediterranean. If you visit Mykonos, it is a good idea to go clubbing if that is your scene. From Mykonos Town, you can hop on a bus that goes directly to Paradise Island and only costs 1.60 Euros, one way. There are buses to/from Mykonos Town that depart every half hour to Paradise Island. In Mykonos, Happy Hour is from midnight until 2 am, crazy! I suppose with a 7 hour time difference, Mykonos and New York City have Happy Hour at the exact same time. Furthermore, house music is widely popular at the clubs, hip-hop, reggae, r&b, not so much. In Santorini, Fira has a few places to party, perhaps party is the wrong word here, the bar scene is more popular in Fira and Happy Hour is generally from 9 pm to midnight! The Greeks certainly know how to live life, I wanna be Greek now!
I find Greek women pretty, but the men are like Greek Gods, there is a reason why that is a saying. The men here are gorgeous… tall, dark, handsome, well-built, they all just look so manly, rugged, and they all have stuble. There is eye candy for everyone, male or female, gay or straight. And look what I captured while taking pictures of the sunset, ain’t no fault of mine.
Sunsets are widely popular on the Greek Islands, especially in Little Venice, Mykonos and Oia, Santorini. I tried to capture the sunset almost every single day, but my husband was so bored after a couple days of sunset, I see his point, but it’s not like Greece is in my backyard. It’s little things like watching a sunset that we so often take for granted back home, but I’m not giving up the view in Greece!
Churches are all over the Greek Islands, especially in Santorini. There are over 500 churches in Santorini alone.
Greek is not an easy language to learn, there is a reason why they say, “it’s Greek to me,” because it really is! Prior to traveling to any foreign country, I always like to learn a few words/phrases in the local language. Usually when I greeted someone in Greek they would then proceed to ask me if I can speak Greek, and then of course I’d tell them I just know a few words. Regardless, they were so happy that I greeted them in Greek because I made an effort to communicate with them in their language. Additionally, almost everyone in Greece speaks perfect English.
Here are a few words/phrases to know prior to visiting…
|my name is…||mein lene||mein-le-ne|
|yes||ne (yes, it sounds like no)||neh|
For now, I just scratched the surface… more coming soon on Mykonos, Paros, & Santorini! Stay tuned!
TELL ME: Have you been to the Greek Islands? Share your tips!