Plan a trip to Greece with these travel tips and advice by a local. Includes when to visit Greece, travel costs, where to go in Greece and more, to help you plan the perfect Greek vacation itinerary.
How to plan a trip to Greece
Greece! The birthplace of western civilization, the land of the Acropolis and the famous Santorini, Mykonos, Ancient Mycenae and Ancient Delphi.
There are dozens of Greek islands, tons of UNESCO sites, hundreds of beaches, ancient history and natural wonders, all waiting to be discovered by you.
With so many choices of places to visit, deciding where to go in Greece can be overwhelming. Where on earth are you supposed to start? The short answer is, right here!
I’ve created this post to help you make the best Greece travel plan on your own, even if you have never been here before. Let’s start with a brief introduction to Greece.
Introduction to Greece and the Greek islands
However, mainland Greece has an extremely varied landscape with mountains, gorges, plains, lakes and rivers.
First-time visitors are usually overwhelmed by the abundance of places to see, in combination with the number of ancient sites. This article about the famous attractions in Greece is a good starting point to find out about Greece’s highlights.
Many areas in Greece are famous for their winding streets, hilly terrain and hundreds of steps. If you are travelling with children or people with limited mobility, you will need to take that into account.
Let’s follow a few simple steps to build your perfect Greece vacation itinerary.
Step 1: Decide what you want out of your Greek holiday
The first and most important step when planning a trip to Greece is to decide what you want out of your holiday.
As an example, you could ask yourself these questions:
- Am I interested in history and culture, or do I prefer to relax on the beautiful beaches?
- Do I want lots of nightlife and crowds, or am I after nature and quietness?
- Am I interested in visiting the bigger cities, like Athens, the capital city, and Thessaloniki, or is the idea of Greek island hopping more appealing?
- Do I want to see the popular destinations, like Santorini and Mykonos, or would I rather visit some quiet islands?
- If I go to any Greek islands, am I happy to take ferries or do I prefer to fly?
- Do I want to drive in Greece?
- Am I planning to travel around independently, or is it better to use one of the numerous Greece tours?
Most travellers will probably want a mix of the above. At the same time, some people might not be too interested in beach time, while others won’t care about our museums. Everyone is different, and there is no right or wrong preference.
Answering these questions, and any others you can think of, is crucial when you are planning a vacation to Greece. Your answers will determine how much of the country you can see during your trip, and where to go.
Step 2 – Study a map of Greece
If you want to plan your own Greece travel itinerary, the first thing to do is to study a map of Greece. Thankfully, with Google maps, this is very easy these days.
If you are flying from overseas, you may be arriving at the Athens airport first. Central Athens is a 40-60 minutes drive from the airport, and you can easily get there by metro, bus, taxi or pre-booked transfer.
You can reach any Greek island with an airport on a 40-50 minute flight from Athens. By contrast, islands without an airport can take several hours to get to on a ferry.
Your friends who have been to Greece will come up with different islands that they fell in love with. They may mention Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Kefalonia, Crete or Rhodes.
Check out all these places on the map, and you will find that they are all in different areas.
My best advice – Choose a combination of places in Greece that are relatively close to each other, or at least are not too far away. Then, check if direct connections exist between your dream destinations.
Step 3 – Do you really want to include Athens, Mykonos and Santorini in your Greece itinerary?
The combination Athens – Mykonos – Santorini is the most common route that first-time visitors to Greece think of, and a very popular itinerary.
In fact, if you are planning a trip to Greece through your local travel agency, you might not even be presented with an alternative choice. So what do I think to this combination?
Is Athens worth visiting?
I am an Athenian, and therefore biased, but I think you should really include the Greek capital in a first-time Greece itinerary.
Apart from the world-famous Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Acropolis museum, Athens has a lot more to offer in terms of history. Or if you don’t want to visit the ancient ruins, you can simply walk around them for free and enjoy the ambiance.
Of course, like most major cities in the world, Athens is not perfect. Many visitors find it too noisy, too messy and too dirty. They probably have a point – but I see it as part of its unique charm!
Are Mykonos and Santorini the best Greek islands to visit?
Most travellers will want to visit Santorini and Mykonos. Our two most popular islands, which are both in the Cyclades group, have almost mythological status in people’s minds, and are on everyone’s bucket list.
Let’s face it though – The original charm of these two islands is tainted somewhat by the high prices and huge numbers of other tourists, many of whom arrive on cruise ships.
There are many other islands that I personally like a lot more than Santorini and Mykonos, as they are quieter and more authentic. Here’s an introduction to the Cyclades islands, where I’m also listing my personal favourites.
However, if it’s your first time visiting Greece, you will probably want to include Santorini and / or Mykonos in your Greece itinerary. Here is some more information.
Should I visit Santorini?
The Greek island of Santorini is really a very unique and romantic place. The landscapes and views to the volcano are stunning, and the famous Oia sunset is worth seeing once in your life.
This 4-day Santorini itinerary will introduce you to the best things to do on the Cycladic island.
However, bear in mind that Santorini usually receives about 2 million visitors a year. If you can, try to visit Santorini in winter, or at least shoulder season, when it’s relatively quieter.
This is when I did the popular hike from Fira to Oia, on the west coast, and had an absolute blast.
If you visit in summer, be prepared for crowds, high prices, traffic and lack of parking space. Here’s a fun guide with things to avoid when visiting Santorini.
Is Mykonos worth the hype?
If I had to choose any of the Greek islands in summer, it wouldn’t be Mykonos. Quite a bold statement, isn’t it!
Now, don’t get me wrong. Mykonos is a pretty island, and it has some of the best sandy beaches in the Cyclades.
I was lucky to visit Mykonos without the crowds in June 2020, and couldn’t believe how fantastic the beaches were! I took a great kayak trip, and a day-trip to Ancient Delos, so I loved my time there.
However, on most years, Mykonos can get extremely crowded and insanely expensive. Many of the beaches are packed with loud bars, loungers, umbrellas and various water sports.
I have met dozens of foreign visitors who didn’t think much to Mykonos Town, the island’s capital, and thought it was overpriced and overrated.
At the same time, I know people who return to Mykonos every year to enjoy the famous party scene and busy beach clubs.
All in all, it’s your call. If you decide to visit Mykonos, I’d love to know your opinion, so feel free to leave a comment down below.
Step 4 – How long to spend in Greece
How much time you have is one of the most important factors when you are planning your vacation to Greece – or anywhere for that matter.
As an example, if you only have one week in Greece, it’s unrealistic to plan trips to seven different areas. You will end up seeing lots of airports, ports and highways, but you won’t see much of the country.
How long to spend in Greece is really up to you. There are thousands of people who came for a short visit and ended up living here permanently. In a way, no period of time is too long for Greece, and the longer you stay the more addicted you are likely to get.
That said, few people have more than two weeks in Greece. Many visitors only have a week, and they try to squeeze in as much as they can.
If this is your style of travel by all means do it, at the same time try to appreciate the “siga siga” Greek culture – slowly slowly.
Example itineraries for Greece
If you have a week in Greece, starting and ending in Athens, my suggestions are:
- Spend a couple of days in Athens, and visit one or two of the Greek islands.
- Allow for a couple of days in Athens, and hire a car to tour around the Peloponnese. Among others, you can visit Ancient Mycenae, Nafplion and Ancient Epidaurus.
- Spend a couple of days in Athens, visit Delphi and Meteora, and take a day trip to an island close to Athens.
If you have two weeks in Greece, you can visit multiple islands on an island hopping trip, or go for a longer road trip including Western or Northern Greece.
Here are a few more ideas for a 2-week Greece itinerary.
Step 5 – When to visit Greece
Greece enjoys the so-called Mediterranean climate. We have warm, dry summers, with blue skies and very low rainfall.
Due to the warm weather, Greece is predominantly thought of as a summer destination. The busiest months are July and August, followed by June and September.
However, some visitors avoid the peak months as the crowds are bigger and prices are higher.
If you have a flexible schedule, visiting Greece outside peak season might work in your favour. Hotels will be cheaper, you will meet fewer crowds, and the temperatures are actually more pleasant.
With the exception of Santorini, Crete and Rhodes, most islands will be fairly quiet outside the summer months. Swimming might be a bit of a challenge in spring, but will be fine in autumn.
In my opinion, if you want to take full advantage of the beaches in Greece, the best month to visit is September. The water temperature is warmer than during the summer months, and you will enjoy some quiet time.
As for spring and autumn, even though the weather can be variable, with a few rainy days, it will be pleasant for the most part. This is the best time to visit the archaeological sites in Greece, as you won’t get the scorching summer sun.
Here are some more tips on the best time of year to visit Greece. Note that our winters are much milder than other European countries, but they can still be be surprisingly cold and rainy.
If the only time you can travel to our country is summer, check out these tips for travelling to Greece in summer.
And finally, check out my ultimate guide with what to pack for Greece, for all four seasons.
Step 6 – Budget for your vacation in Greece
Another thing that is crucial when it comes to planning your Greece vacation is your budget.
Contrary to popular belief, your Greece trip cost doesn’t have to be sky-high. Let’s break down possible costs when travelling to Greece.
Cost of accommodation in Greece
Accommodation in Greece can be fairly inexpensive. Depending on where you go and what time of the year you travel, it is possible to find a budget room for a couple for around 30 euro.
Realistically, if your Greek trip is in summer, you might want to budget for at least 50-60 euro for a decent room, though you might be able to find something more wallet-friendly.
If you are on a tight budget, you will notice that hostels are not as popular as in other countries. However, there are a few in the bigger cities and the most popular islands.
On the other hand, if you want to splurge, you will find plenty of opportunity, especially in places like Santorini and Mykonos. Santorini hotels with a view to the caldera can easily climb up to over 1,000 euro a night – but you will remember that vacation forever!
Cost of road transportation in Greece
Transportation in Greece is not always wallet-friendly – certainly not for Greeks. In fact, if you decide to rent a car and drive around Greece, transportation might actually turn out to be your highest cost.
While much of the road network in Greece is brand new and fantastic, there are also many toll stations. The price of gas is rather high, compared to other countries in the European Union.
If you prefer not to drive, public buses and trains are pretty good. Prices vary a lot, so you will have to check the price for the trip you want to take.
As an example, a bus ticket from Athens to Delphi is about 17 euro, and the train from Athens to Kalambaka costs 30 euro (2021 – 2022 prices). Or you can take an organized tour, that will take the hassle away.
Cost of ferries and flights in Greece
Ferries and flights are popular ways to get around Greece and the Greek islands.
The cost of ferry tickets depends on the distance and the type of ferry you are using. As an example, one-way tickets from Piraeus to most of the Cyclades islands start from around 30-35 euro, but there are many more expensive options.
You can check ferry routes and book your tickets on Ferryscanner.
Domestic flights in Greece can be quite costly. Book any connecting flight as early as possible, as last minute prices can get really high.
Note that, with a couple of exceptions, there are no direct flights between the Greek islands, and you would have to connect in Athens. The best way to visit islands in the same island group is usually by ferry.
Cost of meals in Greece
Most visitors find that food in Greece is generally good value. Obviously it depends on where you are and what you are eating, but it’s easy to eat at a nice Greek taverna with 10-15 euro per person.
If you are interested in fresh fish or gourmet cuisine, you will need to budget a lot more for a meal in Greece. Similarly, if you are visiting places like Mykonos and Santorini, you could easily spend 100 – 200 euros per person for just one meal.
People who are on a budget can always stick to street food or fast food, like souvlaki, gyros and bakery goods. You can also do some shopping at street markets or supermarkets, and cook at the place you are staying.
Cost of sightseeing in Greece
The cost of sightseeing in Greece depends on the individual attraction. The most popular archaeological sites and museums are more expensive.
As an example, the combined ticket for the Acropolis and the other sites in Athens costs 30 euro. Prices for the individual sites decrease during the winter months.
If budget is not a concern, you should visit the sites and museums with a guide, who will help you understand more about our fascinating history and life in Ancient Greece.
If you are travelling with children, you could consider doing some sort of Greek Mythology travel itinerary. There are several tour companies specializing in guided tours and Greek mythology tours.
At the same time, there are usually some free activities in most destinations. Here are some free things to do in Athens.
Greece is not expensive
From all the above, you have probably seen that you can easily explore Greece, appreciate its natural beauty and enjoy some beach life on a budget.
My partner and I usually end up spending about 40-50 euro per person per day. Here is an article with our budget on a month-long island hopping trip around the Cyclades, including a couple of day trips to small islands. I’m sure you will agree that Greece isn’t expensive!
Step 7 – Prepare for the occasional strike
The strikes are often announced only a couple of days in advance, and there is no way to predict when a strike is going to happen. That said, the 1st of May is always a strike day for ferries and most means of transport in Athens.
The most valuable advise I can give you is the following. If you are arriving to and leaving from Athens, it’s best to spend the last few days of your trip in the capital. This way you won’t be stuck on an island if a last-minute ferry strike is announced.
You could also consider getting travel insurance, which will cover you in case of strikes.
Have a look at this list of ten things you should know about Greece.
Step 8 – Learn a few words in Greek
And now for something fun! While English is widely spoken in Greece, I would recommend trying to learn a few words and phrases in Greek.
You could also have a look at the Greek alphabet. Believe it or not, our alphabet has remained the same since the times of the Ancient Greeks. Then you may be able to read some of the inscriptions you will see in the museums and ancient sites.
Frequently asked questions about planning a trip to Greece
Here are some questions often asked by people planning to visit Greece:
How much does it cost to plan a trip to Greece?
The cost of a trip to Greece can vary significantly, and it depends on the places you visit as well as the time of year. While it’s possible to travel for about 40-50 euro per person per day, it’s advisable to budget for more than that. Expect to pay around 100-150 euro per person per day, especially if you are visiting the most expensive destinations.
How do you plan a trip to Greece?
If you want to plan a Greek vacation, begin by asking yourself what you want out of your holiday. Afterwards, study a map of Greece, read about the attractions and best places to go, and decide how many of these places you can visit in the time you have.
What is best time of year to go to Greece?
The best time of year to visit Greece is spring, the beginning and end of summer, and early autumn. If you can, avoid peak season (July and August) as it tends to get more crowded (and expensive).
What is the cheapest month to travel to Greece?
Two of the cheapest months to travel to Greece include November and February. While this is not the best time to go to Greece if you want to spend time on the beach, you will see a totally different side of the country.
What should I avoid in Greece?
The number one thing you should avoid in Greece, is throwing toilet paper in the toilet. The sewage system in many areas is a bit dated, and the last thing you want on your Greek holiday is a clogged toilet. Just use the bin, and everything will be fine!
Start planning your trip to Greece today
With all the above in mind, you will hopefully be a little closer to planning your dream Greek trip. So why don’t you start putting your notes together!
Hi, I’m Vanessa from Athens and I hope this guide has helped you think about your future trips to Greece! If you have any specific questions, please ask in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with personalized suggestions and advice! Feel free to follow my FB page for news and ideas about Greece.