Last summer, I turned 30, and my friends, a pair of twins, had their 30th birthday two weeks after me. To celebrate we visited the Greek Isles. Many of us have heard of Mykonos and Santorini (which were the two islands I visited), but there are so many others. We split up our time in Greece with 3.5 days in Mykonos, 3 days in Santorini, and 3.5 days on mainland Greece. I hope to someday return and visit some of the quieter and lesser known islands, as well as Crete!
We started our adventures in Mykonos. We left Toronto in the afternoon, and didn’t arrive at our Airbnb in Mykonos until evening. We did some groceries from the nearby town of Ornos, cooked ourselves dinner and settled in.
The first full day in Mykonos was spent discovering a private beach near our Airbnb, Ornos town, and Ornos beach. Across the road from the property we were staying in was a path that lead to a private beach. All the properties in the area had access to the beach, but no one was there as the water was quite rough and it was a sand-less beach (lots of boulders and rocks).
After exploring we walked to Ornos beach, which was just over 2km away from our place — roughly 30 min walk one way. After taking a dip and spending the day at the beach, we went into town for lunch. We did some groceries and walked back home to another dinner on our little patio.
Day two was my birthday; we dressed in red and hit up Mykonos town! We started with the famous windmills, an area that was incredibly windy (and extremely difficult to photograph in). Something I didn’t consider at all was how windy all of Greece was, due to elevations.
We had a lovely lunch at Kastro’s, bought some pretty mati (evil eye) bracelets and walked around the town. I tried moussaka for the first time at Amadas and later we had dinner Casa di Giorgio. I wanted to end the night off with oysters, which I did, but I have to say, it was the worst oysters I ever had — extremely disappointing. My friends had pizzas, and they liked their meal. The moral of that story is don’t go to an Italian place and ask for oysters.
The last day on Mykonos was spent at Super Paradise Beach. We packed snacks and picked up more provisions in Ornos town, before getting on a bus that costs 9E for a roundtrip to Super Paradise. Speaking of buses, the other bus routes cost between 1-2E and are single ride tickets. Super Paradise is a beach club, and DJs play music all day. The beach lounging area closes around 6 or 7pm, but the real party begins well past midnight. Although Mykonos is known as “the party island,” we didn’t actually party anywhere. Perhaps another time in the future, but we were all okay with our fresh meals and reconnecting with ourselves and each other in such a wonderful and friendly city.
The next morning, we went down to the port and took a speed ferry to Santorini. I’ve never been in such a large or fast ferry before. The seats were far more plush than ones on airplanes, but I actually felt a little sick at the beginning and end of the ride.
Less than 2 hours later we arrived in the port of Santorini — which is extremely busy. We thought we would take a bus to our Airbnb, but the buses were so infrequent. Moreover, we were staying in a little historic town called Megalochori, and the buses were actually going the other way to Fira (Thira) and beyond. Instead, we got a ride, right into town, from a car rental company that was located at the port.
After walking around and eating some sandwiches, we got into our beautiful, cave home Airbnb. This was our priciest stay, but it was the most unique. I don’t know if I’d stay in a cave home again, but I would definitely stay in Megalochori again. That evening we had dinner at Petrino’s and then relaxed at the Airbnb.
The next day we walked over to the bus stop to catch a local bus to Fira. We waited for ages, but no buses stopped. Finally two men pulled up to the local bakery, which was next to us. They saw us waiting and offered to drop us in Fira. Normally, I would tell women, travelling alone or not, regardless of whether they speak the language, DO NOT TO GET IN A VEHICLE WITH STRANGE MEN. This time, I did not heed my own advice. Something about these two, one old enough to be my grandparent, and the other probably younger than myself, seemed safe. And perhaps I was tired of waiting for so long. My friends initially didn’t want to accept, but I did without hesitation. Obviously, everything was fine — they were incredibly sweet and we communicated as best we could despite the language barrier. I will say that the people we met on Mykonos and Santorini were kind and extremely helpful and we appreciated it so much. But don’t do what we did — it’s incredibly unsafe. Definitely look into local bus times prior to travel so you can better plan your trip.
Once in Fira, we booked tickets for a catamaran tour and then explored Fira town. Santorini is 1,200 ft above sea level. To give you an idea of Greek elevations: Mykonos is 1,119 ft above sea level at the highest point, and in Athens the highest point is Lykavittos Hill, at 1,109 ft above sea level, nearly 910 ft above the rest of the city. The Acropolis is only 500 ft above sea level in comparison.
Fira is a bustling town, full of shops and restaurants. We tried to see as much of it as we could before our catamaran tour, but honestly, you could spend two days there if you wanted to see all the shops and discover all the paths. We got a nice taste and checked out the beautiful views, then headed to our tour.
Let me preface this by saying this tour is not worth it. I don’t recall how much it cost per person now, but it was definitely too much. The tour had four stops of interest: the natural hot springs near the volcano, the volcano itself, Thirasia and lastly, a sunset. This seems like a lot, but here’s why it was not worthwhile. First, when they stop near the hot springs, you’re told that you have some time to swim to the springs and back. But they only give you 5 mins. And the hot springs are not actually right where they stop — you have to swim a fair bit to get to them. You would never be able to do that and return within 5 minutes. Not unless you’re a professional swimmer. Although there would be no point, as you wouldn’t get to enjoy the hot springs.
Second, remember how I said it was windy in Mykonos? The wind we experienced near the famous windmills of Mykonos, was similar to what we experienced on the active volcano. It’s a difficult and steep walk up, and again, you are not given enough time to hike all the way up and back down again before they move on the Thirasia.
Thirasia was once a part of Santorini, until the volcano split it off. You’re told that you can swim there while the boat is docked, if you wish. You cannot really swim there, due to how the dock area is set up and all the rocks in the water. In fact, the only reason to dock there is so that the restaurants get some income. There’s nothing to see, no history told. If you’re keeping track, we are now at the final “highlight” of tour: the sunset. The way it’s sold to you, you will see the sunset from Oia. This is the big selling point, because Oia has become incredibly touristy and a huge honeymoon destination. Catching the sunset from Oia is not easy when it’s packed in the summer.
But we were not in Oia for the sunset. We were not even near Oia. Instead, we were in the water, heading back to Santorini’s port. I’ve seen many beautiful sunsets, from all over the world. This sunset was lovely, it simply wasn’t what we were promised. Now if you consider yourself to be wealthy in terms of disposable income, I’m sure you can find a great tour or hire your own private catamaran and enjoy the waters near Santorini. However, if you’re short on time, like us, I’m sure you can utilize your precious time a little better and more economically.
After a long day of travelling, we returned to Megalochori and had dinner at Ravi. As an aside, all the establishments we frequented in Megalochori were fantastic.
On our last day in Santorini we explored Oia. We had to get a bus to Fira, then change to another bus for Oia. Now, as I said before, Oia is quite the tourist spot. After visiting, I know I would not recommend it to honeymooners — not unless they were extremely wealthy. I say this because if you stay in the hotels right off the main path, or just below, people can see you from the main path, while you’re relaxing, drinking wine, and sunbathing. Not very romantic. The more expensive hotels are further down and more secluded.
The main shopping area of Oia is not nearly as sprawling as Fira, but it’s known for all those white washed buildings and the pretty blue domes. We did a lot of walking, and attempted to make our way to Ammoudi Bay, but we were carrying our bags and the way was too slippery and steep with our loads. Instead, we returned to enjoying the shops and restaurants. We had dinner at Feredini, which was delicious and a perfect spot to view the sunset, away from the crowds.
After dinner we took a bus to the airport and then a night time flight to Athens and the last leg of our birthday trip. When we arrived in Athens, we had to stay overnight in the airport until the subway opened up. Thirty is definitely too old to be staying in airports overnight, ha! In the morning, we took the subway into the city and met our tour group in Hotel Amalia.
The next two days were spent out of Athens. The first day we visited Delphi, 1,942 ft above sea level. It was a long bus ride out to Delphi, and we learned a lot about the Temple of Apollo. We stayed overnight at an Amalia hotel that night.
The next day we moved on to Meteora, and the monasteries high in the sky. Only 6 of the original 24 monasteries still exist, and of those, we visited 2: Santa Barbara and St. Stephens.
I’m still in awe of the terrain there, let alone how these monasteries were built on these rock towers. While the average elevation of the area is 984 ft, the maximum altitude is actually 3280 ft above sea level. I’m not sure how high we ever got, but I absolutely loved this tour and highly recommend it if you have the time, or are looking for something different.
Now let me explain why I have been telling you what the altitudes of each stop has been. After sitting on a bus, climbing higher and higher, my body could not take it anymore. It withstood Mykonos, and Santorini, but Delphi was too much. My ankles got swollen, and they didn’t return to their normal size until a few weeks after I had returned home. The rest of the trip was hard on my feet. So, not only am I telling you that you need to contend with the wind, but you also need to keep in mind that your body is not used to these heights and it will most likely betray you in some way. Remember to stay hydrated!
After our two day tour, we returned to Athens, checked into our last Airbnb near Keramikos subway station. We checked out the neighbourhood and settled in for the night. Our only full day in Athens was spent on the Acropolis circuit. We checked out Monastiraki flea market and then headed back to our Airbnb. We closed the trip out with dinner at Cartone. The next day we checked out, took the subway to the airport and made our ways back to our homes.
I have to say, the absolute worst part about our time in Greece was the amount of smoking. People smoking while in the restaurants, while you’re eating and drinking — it’s absolutely filthy and disgusting. Before I went to Paris, people would complain about smoking in Paris. However, a law was passed in 2006 and by 2018 smokers were extremely considerate (as they generally are here in Toronto). But Greece is nowhere near that consideration for their fellow neighbours’ health and well-being.
The best parts: the beaches and waters of Mykonos, the charm of Megalochori and the food in Santorini, and the sheer magnitude of the terrain and architecture on mainland Greece. I hope to return, and that the smoking culture will have changed in Greece by then.
There are so many places to see in this world, I only hope I get the opportunity to see more. Clearly a global pandemic means that won’t be happening this year, but until I can, I’ll keep reminiscing past travels! If you want to see more of my travels, be sure to check out my Instagram highlights!