Greece—the land where western civilization began, democracy was created, and where you can find some of the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted. This ancient country boasts more than 4,000 years of history scattered across its mainland and 6,000 islands. Here you will find the great minds of Plato and Aristotle’s school of thoughts mingling with the gods of Olympus. Walk through the ancient ruins, taste the olives fresh off the tree and sip Ouzo while overlooking the white washed homes with blue domes, like you are part of a postcard.
My journey in Greece began, like most do, in the historic city of Athens. You don’t have to go to the Acropolis to see ruins, the city itself is crumbling. The thousands of years of history are evident in every part of Greece’s capital. Walk through the Plaka to find tourist shops, delicious food and traditional Greek music. Many restaurants in this area of town offer delicious dining options, with classic Greek entertainment. Watch the music and dancing while you relax on your first night in the city that brought us Alexander the Great, Homer, Socrates and so many more.
My trip continued with 3 days onboard a Celestyal cruise ship, island hopping through some of the biggest and most exciting spots in Greece with day stop in Turkey. The first island was a great way to kick off the trip—Mykonos. Here you will stop 10 times before you reach the town just to get the most fantastic photos, realizing that every single photo you take on this island is better than the last. Mykonos has winding streets filled with shops, delicious street food and seaside restaurants. See the windmills, an iconic symbol of this fun filled city. Here I stopped for a bite to eat and had one of the best gyros, pronounce “ur-ahs” not “euros”, of my life. Most places offer just chicken and pork gyros, but you can find lamb in the larger tourist areas. Lamb is not traditionally served in gyro form in Greece because lamb is reserved for fancier occasions.
Back on the boat we headed for Turkey, waking up in the beachside town of Kusadasi. This small port offers an exciting Turkish bazaar and is the first stop on the route to the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus, once a hot spot for the rich and famous of the ancient world was the honeymoon destination for Cleopatra and Mark Antony. This once bustling metropolis is now a resting place for ruins and the now dozens of street cats that call it home. This site formerly held the temple of Artemis—one of the ancient 7 Wonders of the World. Enjoy the beauty and architecture of this former hot spot and be amazed by the sheer feats of engineering many of the temples and theatre constructions boast.
As the island hopping continued our journey took us to the islands of Patmos, Rhodes and Crete. On Rhodes we decided to take a vacation from our vacation and spend the day at the beach. We drove about 20 minutes from the port to the resort section of the island where restaurants along the ocean front offer beach chairs for 5 Euro a piece and servers that were available to bring drinks and lunch options while we lounged in front of the Mediterranean. Take a dip and make sure to continuously re-apply sunscreen as the sun is much hotter than we experience in the Midwest.
Our final island stop brought us to 3 days in Santorini. This was by far my favorite island, maybe because we had the most amount of time to explore it. But, Santorini really does offer something for every type of traveler. Whether you are looking for high end dining, active exploration or complete rest and relaxation you will find it all with the most stunning views on Santorini.
The first night spent in Santorini we had dinner overlooking the Caldera in Thira and ended the night bouncing around the different bars and clubs with the most picture-perfect views of the white sided homes and twinkling fishing boats below. The next day we were up early for a hike up the active volcano on the island that concluded with jumping off of a boat into the Aegean Sea and swimming to a world-famous hot spring known for its spa quality muds. I would highly recommend any excursions that include this type of activity, as it was one of the most fun things I have ever done while traveling. On the final day on the island we headed to the famous town of Oia, pronounced “ee-ya”. Oia is where you will find the famous homes with the blue domes, where celebrities like Angelina Jolie own homes and where you can find the most breathtaking views in all of Greece. This is a popular city on its own, but it gets even more exciting in the late afternoon as people prepare to watch the sunset on this tiny town. Make a reservation at a local restaurant so you aren’t fighting the crowds for the best views.
On the last day we headed back to Athens as our journey was coming to an end. We traveled from Santorini to Athens on a high-speed ferry that took about 5 hours to reach our final destination, with a few stops along the way. This was a very enjoyable way to travel as the seats are comfortable, there are food and drink options available and you can watch tv or hang out on the top deck. This would be an excellent way to get from island to island if you were not looking to add a cruise as part of your Greece trip.
Greece, like so many European cities, offers a look into the past with so much culture, history and tradition. This country truly sets itself apart from other travel I have done by offering amazement where ever you go. From the ripe tomato and cucumber salads, to the varying shades of blue that come from the sea, rooftops and clear skies, Greece does it better. Explore the past on the mainland or experience today on the islands, either way you can’t go wrong when you travel to the land of the gods.