Three Weeks Island Hopping in Greece (Video + Expenses)

 
Three Weeks Island Hopping in Greece | Society of Everywhere

All photos and video by Josh Meister Photo.

Greece is a dream destination. The white buildings and blue-green water. The fresh seafood drying in the sun. The gagillion islands to explore. It really is a magic-pony-unicorn type of place.

We had three weeks to island hop, and we started out our trip in Crete and headed on to several Cyclades islands. (Read about the logistics of planning a trip through the Greek islands here.)

Check out a quick video of our time exploring Greece below:

 

CRETE

Crete is the largest of the islands and one that people tend to overlook as it doesn't have the same romantic feel as Santorini or party vibe of Mykonos. But that's a huge mistake. In fact, as we traveled throughout the country and talked to many Greeks along the way about where we had visited, almost every single one lit up when we mentioned Crete, saying that was one of their favorite places. And it was one of ours as well!

 Seitan Limania, Crete

Seitan Limania, Crete

Many of the Greek islands are small enough to explore in their entirety in a day or two if you want. But Crete is much larger, and you could easily spend two or three weeks there and probably still not see all of it. We flew into Heraklion, or “Iraklio” depending on any random map. (Side note: Spelling, especially of location names, is completely arbitrary in Greece, which makes navigating a bit difficult. And overall, just seems kinda insane. But once you start looking at names on road signs and maps and ferry tickets with a leniency toward letter orientation or even the relevance of the first letter, you start to understand the fluidity of Greek spelling enough to get by.)

Heraklion is a larger city with a good size airport and a ferry port. Other than transportation, there's also a few things of note, mainly the Palace of Knossos, a Bronze Age archaeological site and the first Minoan palace. The ruins are actually quite extensive, but it's an extremely popular and crowded attraction, and not necessarily worth battling the selfie sticks for a visit in our opinion.

 Cafe just before Seitan Limania, Crete

Cafe just before Seitan Limania, Crete

After we explored it until we couldn't take the crowds anymore, we hopped in a rental car from Anna Cars (which we highly recommend as they were super great and easy to work with!), and headed about two hours to Chania (drop the “C” when pronouncing), where we stayed during our time on Crete. Our Airbnb was just on the outskirts of Old Town, which was a perfect location because we weren't surrounded by tourists and tourist shops, but only had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the harbor and all of that noise. There's plenty to explore in Old Town, from the Venetian harbor and old port to the winding shopping streets and several museums and churches.

 Balos Lagoon, Crete

Balos Lagoon, Crete

But the real charm of Crete, in our opinion, is its beaches. There's so many unique ones, and we quickly realized that the harder the beach is to get to, the better it often is! Seitan Limania is a hidden and breathtaking pocket of the sea, and getting to it involves driving through several very steep switchbacks and then hiking down a fairly treacherous path. We were blown away by this little spot, and can't recommend it enough. Another gem is Balos Lagoon. The white sand and amazingly turquoise water dotted with a few yachts in the distance is the very picture of paradise. Elafonisi is the pink sand beach, although it's not as pink as a lot of Pinterest images will lead you to believe. We also really wanted to check out Preveli beach, which has a crazy-looking palmgrove forest bordering a river lagoon that leads into the Libyan Sea, but we ran out of time. And then there's the entire east coast of Crete! VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you visit any of these spots, do it early. Crete, like the rest of Greece, relies heavily on tourism, and after noon-ish, buses and ferries descend, and the hordes invade.

 Seitan Limania, Crete

Seitan Limania, Crete

IOS

Our second island was Ios. This one is tiny and has an adorably picturesque and steep old town village that is topped by not one, but four, churches, all lined up the incline in a row. We spent several hours just getting lost on the village pathways and meandering our way up to the top to check out the churches. These temples and others throughout the island are small and almost seem to be built to be climbed on. Not sure that's copacetic with the parishioners, but no one seemed to pay any attention, so nonstop climbing and roof lounging ensued.

 Chora, Ios

Chora, Ios

Ios, like pretty much any Greek island, is beautiful, but that's not what it's known for. This island likes to party. There's a bunch of beaches throughout the island, but the one to know is Mylopotas, which has a bunch of accommodations and restaurants along it. If you want to go wild, check out Far Out - you'll be in your element. If not, there's tons of smaller and quieter places to stay. As we booked extremely last minute (cough cough, the day before 😳), we were lucky to snag a studio at Island House Mare, which was large, quiet, and maybe best of all, connected to Island House Hotel, with great, affordable food and a blessedly peaceful pool. The hotel and apartments are owned and run by the sweetest most adorable Greek family, and they helped make our Ios experience that much better.

 View of Chora, Ios

View of Chora, Ios

Mylopotas beach is an “organized” beach, which means there are chairs and umbrellas to rent, at varying prices along the sand. The prices for 2 chairs and an umbrella ranged from about €6 to €15. There's also “free” beach space, where you can throw a towel down and not pay anything. There' are tons of restaurants along this stretch, and our favorites were: Harmony, which is perched at one end above everything else, and has some decent Mexican food and live music every night; Great One, which has amazing breakfast, sandwiches, salads, and juices; and Almyra By The Sea, which was our one fancier dinner with the most amazing food, including risotto I dreamed about for a few nights after.

 Rocks by Mylopotas Beach, Ios

Rocks by Mylopotas Beach, Ios

At night, the party moves into Chora (again, drop the “C” when pronouncing), but not until about 11pm, and then it doesn't stop until roughly breakfast the next morning. There's tons of bars and clubs throughout the little winding streets, and it's not a good idea to book accommodations here if you don't own a really good set of earplugs. Our favorite spots were Lost Boys Bar, Circus, and Escobar. Almost all of the bars and clubs offer a “singlet challenge” which involves drinking 7 or 8 shots to get a sleeveless shirt, which (other than skimpy bathing suits) is the costume de rigueur in Ios.

 Hiking along the coast, Ios

Hiking along the coast, Ios

If you're into history or hiking, there's a little bit of that on Ios as well, and, since 97.2% of the travelers there are day drinking or sleeping during sunlight hours, you can actually be the only one exploring a certain place. We loved the short hike out to Paleokastro, a Byzantine castle on the Eastern side of the island, as well as a hike down from the church across the road from the Old Town to Kolitsani Beach, a pretty hidden (and clothing optional!) beach that was a choice discovery. And from there, we were able to meander our way on a not-very-well-used path back to Mylopotas Beach, with stunning views the whole way and almost no other humans until we were close to Party Town Central again. Other pretty much empty sights include: the tomb of Homer the poet; Skarkos Hill, a Bronze Age archaeological excavation site; and Odysseas Elytis, an open-air amphitheater on the hill above Chora where we got to see a Greek play (and it wasn't empty, but it was certainly free of tourists).

 Paleokastro, Ios

Paleokastro, Ios

PAROS

From Ios, we headed to Paros, a picture-perfect and much more calm island. There's still nightlife, but Paros is way more laid back and family-friendly. We spent 6 nights on this island, and basically just chilled out, maxing, relaxing all cool. The old town is absolutely adorable, with lots of great and not-too-expensive restaurants as well as tons of shops, which span from cheap souvenirs to boutique clothing to high-end clothing to artistic endeavors.

 Parikia, Paros

Parikia, Paros

We stayed in an Airbnb a bit north of all the action, not far from Livadia Beach. One day we splurged and spent €15 on lounge chairs at Cabana, a fancy beach club, spending an entire day alternating between lazing in the serene water and napping on the day beds. A few days later, we were more economical, choosing chairs in a more congested area that were free with any purchase, and a cheap beer qualifies!

 Ambelas, Paros

Ambelas, Paros

We also rented a moped for two days, and puttered all around the island, visiting: some of the marble caves, from where the stone for Venus de Milo came; Lefkes, a little village in the middle of the island; Naousa, an even more picturesque town with a much-photographed harbor; and Ampelas, known for its seafood, which we heavily partook in.

 Naousa Harbor

Naousa Harbor

We even headed over to Pounta and watched tons of kitesurfers do their thing as we drove onto the ferry that shepherded us across the Aegean Sea in just a few minutes to Antiparos, where we explored another (giant!) cave, ate even more seafood, searched for but failed to find Tom Hanks's home, and then ferried back to Paros during sunset. There's lots of opportunities for hiking and beach-going as well as archaeological explorations.

 Kids fishing on Antiparos

Kids fishing on Antiparos

MILOS

Our last island was Milos, and this one was a beauty! It's nicknamed the Island of 85 Beaches. We certainly didn't get to explore all of them, but made sure to hit up as many as possible. We stayed in the traditional village of Plaka, which is adorable, car-free, and steep as all get out. Our apartment was at the very top of the village, which was rewarding in its views, but not so much when you buy a case of beer and a whole watermelon at the grocery store at the bottom of the village. Just sayin.

 Kleftiko, Milos

Kleftiko, Milos

Plaka is over 700 feet above sea level, and we hiked down it the first day day to hit up a beautiful excavated Roman theater and nearby crypts, as well as the closest beach, Firopotamos. It was adorable and quaint, with one side lined in Syrmata, the iconic boat garages unique to this island. After floating in the serene water for a while, we explored the surrounding ruins and scenery, and then begged a ride up the hill off some other travels, who saved our asses, as I'm not sure we would have made it all the way back up on our own. After they dropped us off, we had fresh legs and decided to keep going higher to the church and castle to watch the sun set, which was spectacular and worth the sore thighs the next day.

 Milos

Milos

During our time on Milos, we maximized the 24 hours we had with a rental car by hitting up: Sarakiniko, the most famous Milos beach made of giant, smooth lunar-looking white rocks and truly feeling other-worldly; Papafragkas, which is hardly a beach at all but a stretch of torquoise water situation between two cliffs with a gap in one of the cliffs allowing you to swim through to open water and a giant cave; Tsigrado, which you reach by rope and ladder (!!!); and Firiplaka, almost next door to Tsigrado and long and easy with cliff walls that look painted red by fire. The next day, we took a bus to Pollonia with intentions to hang on the beach there all day and then impetuously hopped on a boat ferry we didn't know existed until we stumbled on it and headed to Kimolos Island. After the 30-minute ride, we hiked to Karas Beach and spent the day jumping off the rocks into the crystal clear water and laying about and then exploring the tiny village before taking the evening ferry back to Milos.

 Sarakiniko, Milos

Sarakiniko, Milos

Our last full day there (and one of the reasons we extra scrimped on meals), we splurged on a sailing trip. There's a gagilion companies on Milos that offer those, and we chose Polco Sailing due to their amazing reviews and the fact that they limit their trips to 10 passengers. The water was a bit rough in the morning, which made for a very adventurous couple of hours, and then we spent the rest of the day exploring different caves and spots along the south side of the island including Kleftiko, a giant and unique rock formation and maybe Milos's most well-known landmark. The cove used to be a haven for pirates, and it's a perfect area to swim and explore. Our captain took us into four or five different caves, each with their own unique features. It was the perfect way to wrap up our tour of the Greek islands.

 Sailing cruise, Milos

Sailing cruise, Milos

Athens

The next day we took the high-speed ferry to Athens, which was just as rough as the first few hours of our sailing trip and resulted in an approximately 50% barf rate for passengers on board. (Don't worry, we were in the glass-half-full and staying that way camp!)

 Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens

We had just a couple of days in Athens before our flight to Venice, and used it to sleep off three weeks of adventuring as well as to check out some of the historic sites. We visited the Acropolis and Parthenon, the highest point in Athens with amazing views over the city, and the first modern Olympic stadium.

 Athens

Athens

COSTS

• Bordeaux to Crete flight: $210 + 19,457 Citi ThankYou points
• Airbnbs/hotels (23 nights): $1841
• Transit (rental cars, scooter, gas, parking, ferries, buses): $1174
• Food/drinks/groceries: $1589, which comes out to $34.50pp per day
• Extras (museums, beaches, etc.): $427

TOTAL: $5,241

I'm giving us a big fat F for Fail with our budget in Greece. We spent $5,000 in 3.5 weeks, almost double our $1,000/week goal. We did terribly! And we know exactly why. First of all, we went there during the high season, so even though we found the cheapest accommodations we could, there was slim pickings as we were booking at the last minute, and all of it was expensive. Our flights into the country were cheap since we used points for those ($210 + 20k Citi Thank You points for two tickets), but the ferries were a bit pricey ($372 overall), and we rented two cars and a scooter during our time there and used public transportation a fair amount, which all adds up ($670). And then we majorly MAJORLY screwed up on food. Even though we try to book Airbnbs with kitchens, they often aren't very useful, either missing a lot of basics like cooking oil or any sort of pots or pans, or the hosts have weird rules, like it's okay to boil water and cook pasta, but you can't fry eggs because the oil gets everywhere. So we got a bit lazy because food actually was cheap in Greece, and we ate all our meals out for the first half of our time there. All of them! That's a major rule break for us as we almost always try to eat at minimum one meal a day from grocery items. Plus we both had sore throats, so we were ordering fresh juices every day as well, justifying that the healthy factor outweighed the expense. {Banging head on wall.}

Luckily, we stumbled on a blog post about a couple that's been traveling for a few years, mainly in South America, on a budget that's about one-fifth of ours. One of the ways they successfully stick to their money goals is by using a budgeting app. We had been religiously tracking every cent spent, but just in the Notes app on my phone, and then we'd add it all up at the end of our time in each destination. So we had no real-time information about how we were doing. I immediately downloaded Trail Wallet, which allows us to set daily or trip budgets, and now we can see exactly where we stand financially at all times. To try to remedy the damage done in the first half of our time in Greece, we ate all three meals at home about 3/4s of the rest of our time there.

Three Weeks Island Hopping in Greece | Society of Everywhere