Now is the time to go to Greece.
We were told by many locals that normally tour buses fill the streets, inundating the islands with tourists from cruise ships, but currently, it’s quiet, and the perfect time to fly to Greece and explore the islands. We were in the United States visiting family this summer, so we took the new direct route on United Airlines from Washington Dulles airport to Athens. It’s around ten hours of flying time and spares you the hassle of changing planes (and terminals) in a major European hub like London or Paris.
Athens is the perfect place to use as your jumping-off point to any of the islands. When we began planning our trip we were overwhelmed with the number of islands and learning about the differences between each. You’ll find islands that are known for their sandy beaches and parties (Mykonos), islands that are known for their sunsets (Santorini), and islands that are known for their ruggedness and cuisine (Crete). Since our trip was planned for the middle of July and relatively last minute, many of the hotels were completely full, so you’ll want to plan your trip far in advance or go in the early fall. Thankfully we had a reliable guide, our friend Lena from Lena’s Black Book, who helped us find some of the best hotels and restaurants the islands had to offer.
We started our journey with a night in Athens. We typically avoid all tourist attractions, but you can’t go to Athens and not see the Parthenon. Most people recommend going first thing in the morning, but we choose to go just before it closed, around 7:30 pm. The light was great and it had cooled off a bit. Plus it wasn’t as crowded since people didn’t have all day to wander the site. The magnificent columns were dotted with local cats guarding the historic landmark. Just down the road, you’ll find lots of restaurants and bars, but we choose to go back to our hotel, the Accademia, for cocktails on the rooftop while we watched the sun go down.
In Greece, you rarely eat dinner before 9 PM because it’s so hot during the daytime. We were surprised that Athens has a tremendous variety of cuisines in addition to traditional Greek tavernas. After sunset, we headed to Lena’s first recommendation, Le Pavillon, a lovely fine dining restaurant set in a renovated white-washed home. We sat in the garden and chef Jean Charles Métayer presented a menu that combined his French heritage and training with the cuisine of his new home in Greece.
The next day, we took a flight to Santorini. The actual flying time is around 25 minutes (40 minutes gate-to-gate), so we highly recommend this option over a multiple-hour ferry ride (we suggest avoiding Greek ferries whenever possible).
Santorini is an island known for its dramatic cliffs and sunsets. We recommend staying away from the famous town of Oia and choosing a hotel like the Vedema Resort or Aressana instead. You’ll have fewer tourists and better food and service. If you’re looking for seafood, order the fish of the day at a restaurant (confirm it’s fresh first) or head down to the specific seafood restaurants near the water. If you want to go where the locals go, make a reservation at To Psaraki. They have fresh fish but we recommend their small dishes like the baked anchovies.
For the best sunset view, head to Vezene Santorini at Cavo Tagoo and have cocktails while you watch the sunset and then order their sashimi and a bottle of wine from their spectacular wine list. If you want to feel like you’re at a private party, experience the amazing flavors from Chef Polychronis at his new restaurant in Saint Suites. Complete with a DJ and servers popping champagne corks over the side of the cliff, an evening here is a must.
In Mykonos, we headed to Kivotos Mykonos located on the famous emerald bay that’s dotted with mega-yachts and sailboats. We could spend days in their infinity pool with a cocktail watching the boats drift by, or on the beach below. Have a private dinner here at Nero Nero on the water or head to the old port of Mykonos for more traditional Greek food.
Note: United Airlines provided support for the reporting of this story.