Our trip to Greece was fuelled and dominated by a love of ancient Greek history and archaeological sites, but ended up being a whole lot more. Hiring a car allowed us the opportunity to drive through some of the most diverse and spectacular landscape I've seen in Europe, and the food... well, I've already waxed lyrical about that element of our travels. The road conditions in Greece are generally excellent, with some newly built toll motorways that will shave hours off a journey for just a few euros and are worth going a little off-course to hit.
If you are interested in an self-driven, archaeological extravaganza of some of the major sites of mainland Greece and Crete, here's the route and itinerary we followed (I've excluded the short stops we made and only mentioned the 'bigger' sites we visited - we also detoured to find good viewpoints, stopped at some smaller fortresses and archaeological sites on the road, and also took breaks in towns and villages for snacks and a walk-around, all of which I highly recommend!)
Day 1 - Pick up car and depart Athens early in the morning. Drive to Mycenae via Corinth, then to Larissa Fortress and Ancient Sparta. Finish at Mystras.
Day 2 - Leave Mystras and drive over mountain passes towards the coast at Pylos. Take the coastal road north, stopping at Nestor's palace and finishing at Olympia.
Day 3 - A long day of driving, from the Peloponnese over the bridge into Central Greece and north to Meteora (approximately 6 hours total driving time). Arrive Meteora mid afternoon.
Day 4 - From Meteora, drive east to Larissa and then south, past Lamia, stopping at Thermopylae. From there, continue on to Delphi.
Day 5 - Leave Delphi and hop on the motorway down to Athens. Without entering the city (driving in the centre is not the best idea), follow the motorway to the south coast and Poseidon's temple. Return to Athens airport and return car. Fly to Crete.
Days 6 - 8 - Three full days on Crete. Explore Knossos and other Minoan sites if desired. Spend time in Heraklion. Fly back to Athens.
Days 9 and 10 - Athens.
Here's how our driving route looks on a map:
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The distances themselves are not huge - aside from the long drive from Olympia to Meteora we averaged out at around 3 hours per day, but I would recommend factoring in potential traffic hold-ups when journeying on non-toll roads or motorways or navigating within one-way cities.
Hiring a car was definitely the best decision we could have made - it helped us to make the most of our limited time and resulted in some unexpected adventures along the way.