I keep a running list of places I’ve visited and places I hope to one day see. In fact, it seems every time I add a place on the “been there” list, I wind up adding two to three new places to the “hope to visit” list. Over the past decade, as my wanderlust has grown, one place has consistently remained at the top of my travel wish list — Greece. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to see the beautiful white and blue buildings, I wanted to swim in the Aegean Sea, I wanted to walk among ancient ruins, and I wanted to eat all the things.
Jordan and I celebrated 10 years of marriage this year, and after considering a few different destinations for an anniversary trip, he felt strongly that finally getting to Greece made the most sense. Who was I to argue with that?!
And so, as I’m known to do, I went to work — researching itineraries, islands, hotels, and things to do. Greece has so much to offer, so our 8-day trip definitely left us feeling like we had just scratched the surface. But we also had a phenomenal time and left hoping to one day return for much more.
Before I get into the specifics of where we went/what we did, let me start by saying that planning this trip was a really big task. That’s mainly because:
1) As I mentioned already, Greece has so much to offer. There’s obviously the history and culture of the capital city, Athens, but then there are also the diverse and beautiful islands (thousands across the region; dozens that are inhabited), and additional noteworthy regions on the mainland. And as a person who can get a little crazy when thinking about what I might be missing, particularly when I’ve traveled thousands of miles to a new region that I may or may not ever see again, one of the first steps in planning this trip was acknowledging our limits — we simply only had time to experience a few things, and that would be ok. A 12-14 day trip would be have better, but alas, being away from our kids that long wasn’t an option. And…
2) The Greek islands that most of us tourists are familiar with (Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Milos, etc) are mainly set up for tourism. Meaning that there aren’t very large populations of people living on the islands, and simultaneously, hotel accommodations are plentiful. And when I say plentiful, I mean kind of overwhelming, if you’re trying to figure out which one to pick for your visit. We were traveling during the high season (July/August), when hotels book up months in advance, which also complicated my search. Ultimately, my picks for islands and hotels were largely driven by mentions in travel blogs/mags, price point, availability, and proximity to things we wanted to check out.
Hopefully this helps frame things if you find yourself planning a trip to Greece! Now let’s get into it…
We flew direct from JFK to Athens, which was about 8.5 hours. From there, after a two-hour layover, we kept it pushing and took a 40-min flight to Paros, one of the Greek islands. Paros might be lesser known when compared to islands like Mykonos and Santorini, but for those who know it, they often gush about it being an island they love. It’s generally less crowded than Mykonos and Santorini but still has a little bit of everything to offer — energy, beautiful streets to get lost in, natural beaches, restaurants, wineries, and so on. In fact, the hotel driver who picked us up from the airport said he had visited all of the islands and ultimately chose Paros, because he believed it is the absolute best.
We checked in to Senia Hotel, located in the town of Naoussa, which my research said was a great place to stay when visiting Paros for the first time. The staff was very kind and hospitable, and arranged a dinner reservation for us that night at Sigi Ikthios.
The restaurant is right on the water, where they catch fresh fish daily. I’m not sure if it was the atmosphere, the flavors, our charming server, or the euphoria of realizing we had actually made it to Greece, but it was probably my favorite meal of the entire trip. It was also the meal where we discovered a most amazing side dish that is feta wrapped in phyllo dough, fried, and topped with sesame seeds and honey. Every subsequent restaurant we visited that had a version on the menu — we got it.
After dinner, we wandered through the maze of Naoussa streets, window shopping and people watching.
The breakfasts at Greek hotels are known for being epic, and after we thoroughly enjoyed the buffet and sea view at the hotel, we rented an ATV for the day, which along with scooters and buggies, is a common way of getting around the island.
Our first stop was Kolympethres Beach, which is set amidst rock formations with calm blue green water. There are beach chairs for rent, but many people just find a rock, drop their stuff, and jump in.
After swimming, we headed up into the hills to Lefkes for lunch. Lefkes is a small village with only around 500 residents. It has been intentionally preserved, so we were interested in exploring a traditional Greek village.
I had to include at least one cat photo, because they were all over the island!
Our time in Lefkes was a little short-lived — it was crazy hot (this was during the earth’s hottest July on record), so we headed down the mountain and opted for an indoor wine tasting at Moraitis Winery. All of the wines were produced with grapes grown in Paros and were varieties we hadn’t tried.
The heat was still at it’s worst, so we went back to the hotel to enjoy the pool, read, and nap.
Once the sun started setting, we headed back to Lefkes and got to wander the streets like we had hoped to. Mainly stopping to admire old churches and narrow walkways dotted with blue doors and bougainvillea flowers. While most tourists were eating dinner or getting ready for evening plans, we largely felt like we had the town to ourselves.
pleaded with convinced Jordan to wake up early with me so we could explore before everyone in town was up and about. We walked around the old port and fort of Naoussa, watching fishermen and restaurant owners preparing their spaces for the day.
After breakfast at our hotel, we checked out and caught a ferry to Santorini. There are various ferries, which travel at different speeds and make different stops. I chose the fastest option between Paros and Santorini, and the ride was 1 hour, 40 minutes. You can visit Ferryhopper to see and book all of the available options.
We arrived at our hotel in Imerovigli, which was called Remezzo. A quick note about staying in the town of Imerovigli when in Santorini — many people are familiar with Oia, which is at the northern end of the island. If you’ve seen photos of white buildings built into the mountainside, those photos were likely taken in Oia. It is beautiful and known as a place for watching the sunset. But because of its popularity, it’s also very crowded (particularly in high season) and more expensive. I opted to book accommodations in Imerovigli, because the views of the sunset are equally spectacular (or perhaps better), and it is less crowded. And after spending time in both towns, I had zero regrets.
I seriously could not get over this view, heading down to our room. I could have looked at it all day.
We took a taxi to Oia for dinner at Elinikon Restaurant and to watch the sunset. There were people everywhere doing the same, and it’s understandable why. It was beautiful to take in the sky, the ocean, the mountains, and the buildings as they all shifted in color.
On our second day in Santorini, we were up early for a catamaran cruise with Sunset Oia. I was happy that the cruise departed from Ammoudi Bay, because while I’d heard great things about the Bay and the amazing freshly-caught seafood meals you can have there, I didn’t think we’d have time to get there in our short visit.
This water was everything.
The first stop on the cruise was to a volcanic hot spring. Then for swimming near the Red Beach and White Beach. And they served us a BBQ lunch while on board.
Below is the face of a girl who was very, very happy to have finally swam in the Aegean Sea. I was also laughing because I truly became like my kids who know it’s time to leave or stop playing but try to squeeze the very last drop of fun out of the moment. Everyone from the tour group was on board, and it was time to go. :-)
We spent our afternoon relaxing at our hotel, and taking in more of the views. That really is thee thing to do in Santorini, if you ask me.
We made a dinner reservation at Aegean Restaurant for after sunset, so we could take our time making our way there and soak up even more sights.
Skaros Rock, pictured below, is a rock formation and collection of ruins that juts out of the sea.
Our final morning in Santorini began with a delicious breakfast at the hotel — once again, with incredible views.
We stored our bags so we could do the walk from Imerovigli to Fira, the capitol city of Santorini. We ate lunch at Argo, and then grabbed our bags so we could catch our evening flight to Athens. While the flight is only 50 minutes, we were delayed by two hours.
We were exhausted by the time we got to our hotel in the historic city center. But the view of the Acropolis from our balcony at Emporikon Hotel brought us right back to life. Jordan, a lover of history, was like a kid in a candy store.
The streets outside our hotel were buzzing with energy. We grabbed delicious pitas at a spot called Hoocut. I so wish we would have been in Greece longer for me to try multiple flavors.
The property manager at our hotel in Santorini was from Athens and suggested we visit The Clumsies while in town. It’s won lots of recognition as one of the best bars in the world, and while there, we became fast friends with another couple who was also celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary.
The next day was Sunday, and while we would have loved to have attended a traditional Greek Orthodox service, we knew we’d be lost, not knowing how to speak or read Greek. So we were happy to find First Greek Evangelical Church, which conducts its entire service in Greek but also provides English translation headsets. It was beautiful to worship in a new, and yet still familiar, way.
It was also nice to enjoy a post-church brunch without kids in tow — a rare treat for us. We ate a crazy good meal at The Makers, which is part clothing store, part cafe.
We did more exploring by foot, making our way to the Plaka neighborhood, and more specifically to the picturesque Anafiotika section, which is right at the foot of the Acropolis of Athens.
Then we wound our way over to Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Finally, we ended our day enjoying a five-course tasting menu at Hytra (one of several Michelin-starred restaurants in Athens).
On our last full day, we joined an early walking tour of the Acropolis of Athens. (I learned on the tour to add “of Athens,” because there are multiple acropolises across Greece.) The hope was to beat both the heat and the crowds. While our tour guide said the crowds were very light, it still took 35-45 minutes to get into the entrance for the Parthenon. We learned so much about the history, building methods, and culture of Greek people during the tour. And the structures were stunning to see up close.
After the walking tour ended, we went over to Areopagus or Mars Hill, where the apostle Paul addressed philosophers (in Acts 17).
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ – Acts 17:22-28
Our afternoon was spent purchasing gifts for family and friends back home — Greek linen, olive oil, soaps, chocolate.
One thing worth noting — there were several people who over the years had told me that “all you need is a day and a half in Athens.” I’m not sure if it’s because I have an affinity for cities, or if things have changed in more recent years (our walking tour guide alluded that the latter may be the case), but we really enjoyed Athens over our three-night visit. I think we could have happily stayed and explored for additional days too.
We were fortunate that the last night of our trip overlapped with the first night of a Greece trip for friends of ours. And so we spent our final Athens night eating with friends and fellow church planters, Derrick and Kaley, who live in Chicago.
And just like that, it was party done.
Shout out to Greece and its people for living up to every expectation and to Jordan’s sneaker serving as an impromptu tripod for this final shot…
Have you been to Greece? Any suggestions for a return visit? And questions for planning your own trip?