Now that I've finally travelled to Greece, I can't believe it took me so long to get there. I knew that I would love the archaeological sites, the museums and the food. What I hadn't anticipated was how incredible driving through the diverse landscape would be, with huge mountain ranges, valleys dominated by lines of olive trees and gentle, blue coasts. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful everywhere we went, the whole country feeling laid-back and warm. With so much still to see, I hope to return one day. Here are my usual tips for visiting this spectacular place...
- Drop the diet and eat until you pop. I've already written a whole post about some of the food we ate regularly in Greece, so I won't go on too much again, but every meal we ate was fresh and absolutely delicious.
- Consider visiting outside of the high season. Careful timing is key - leave it too late, and many restaurants outside of Athens will have closed for the winter (a number of owners we spoke to told us they usually leave for their own holidays towards the middle/end of November), and the museums and archaeological sites work reduced hours. But by hitting a shoulder season, you can avoid the majority of the huge numbers of visitors to Greece each year, escape the relentless sun, and benefit from a sharp decrease in accommodation prices.
- Drive yourself around if you can. Many visitors base themselves in Athens and take day trips our to the most popular sites. This is a good plan if you prefer not to be sleeping somewhere new every night, but it limits which areas you can visit, and with the travelling time involved, chances are you'll hit the entrance at the same time as the large coach groups (and there are many of these in Greece). Hiring a car and setting your own schedule allows you to either visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and get a feel for a range of local towns and villages. Road conditions throughout the country are far better than we expected - there are a number of brand new toll roads that were virtually empty of other cars, and for a few euros they can save hours.
- Judge the atmosphere in Greece by the media. I haven't touched on the recent political and economic troubles the country has experienced in my posts, as it did not affect our travels in any way at all. But we did speak to a number of restaurant and guesthouse owners, as well as locals we met in bars and cafes, who were saddened by the impressions presented by the international media. One restaurant manager told us that only a week previously, he'd had a group arrive for dinner, who asked if he could set up some tables indoors (many restaurants in smaller towns offer predominantly outside seating) as they were afraid that they might get robbed/caught in in a riot. He was gobsmacked.
- Forget to check opening days and times when planning your itinerary. My only grumble during our whole trip was how early archaeological sites and museums closed in late October, despite the long days and continued good weather. During the summer season, attractions stay open until 8-9pm, but as soon as October hits, you'll be lucky to get in past 5pm, with a number of museums we visited closing at 3pm. If you are intending to explore the monasteries of Meteora and have a particular list in mind, then remember that each monastery has a day every week when it is closed to visitors.
- Be too rigid with your plans. Although some degree of forward thinking is required if you have a list of 'must-sees', leaving time to stop off for a walk, have lunch in a small town, or spy some smaller ruins to explore will make every day interesting. Some of our favourite moments were driving into a lay-by to take photos and sit admiring the incredible views, stopping off at an attractive looking restaurant for a snack and following a stream through autumnal woodland that we stumbled across by accident. Alongside our own list of 'must-sees', we also dropped by several fortresses and small archaeological sites that we'd never heard of before, many of which were well worth a short stop.
Want to catch up on our adventures in Greece? Here are the links...
On our way to... Greece!
This is Spartaaaaaa - exploring the ruins of Mycenae, Mystras and Sparta
The birthplace of the Olympic games
The Monasteries of Meteora
Battlefields, oracles and temples
Why I loved the palace of Knossos
Views of Athens: A photo-blog
The food of Greece
Our Greek archaeological extravaganza: A 10 day itinerary