Greece is so small -- the size of the state of Alabama -- you might think it's easy to see most of the country in a short visit. There are two reasons why that's not true and they are the same two reasons that make travel here so beautiful: the mountains and the sea. Greece's mountainous terrain almost always makes mainland travel take much longer than you'd expected when you just figured out the distance on your map. As to island travel, often you can see your next island destination from the island you are on -- only to find out that getting there requires an infuriatingly time-consuming, roundabout sea journey with either nerve-wrackingly tight connections or unwanted -- sometimes totally unscheduled -- stopovers on other islands. Last year, I tried three times to get from the port of Rafina to Tinos. The first time, a ferry strike canceled all sailings for several days. The second time, heavy seas canceled my sailing. The third time I made it as far as the neighboring island of Andros where, thanks to heavy seas, I spent the next 2 days -- in sight of my destination, Tinos. Still, with advance planning, some good luck, and a willingness to be flexible, you can see what you set out to visit in Greece. And don't be surprised if your most lasting memories are of unexpected sights and unanticipated delights en route to your planned destinations.
If you'd like a little less of the unexpected on your Greek holiday, you might want to sign up for one of the standard cruises that stop at several of the major islands and often take in mainland highlights such as Delphi and Olympia. Another alternative is to sign up for a bus tour, from 3 to 7 days, that visits the major mainland sites.
The itineraries suggested below require from 8 to 16 days on the ground in Greece. Most make sure that you get to at least one of the Greek islands and see at least one of the big three ancient Greek sites: the Acropolis in Athens, Delphi, and Olympia. All of the itineraries end up in Athens, and in theory you'll have 24 hours of leeway to allow for any unanticipated travel delays. On most itineraries, you'll take a mixture of buses, trains, cars, ships, and planes. Keep in mind that strikes often make travel in Greece very tricky when airports close and buses and ferry boats stop running. When everything works, travel by bus and ferry is terrific -- and a great way to meet Greeks. Driving your own car is much more isolating -- but frees you from worry about most strikes (gas stations, after all, can go on strike!). If you choose to drive, you'll find out that most Greeks drive with hair-raising flair, passing on the right, using sidewalks as extra lanes, and almost never signaling before turning. And, yes, the traffic-accident rate in Greece is one of the highest in the world.
Because these itineraries include islands, they work best in the summer, May through September. Off season, the weather is not dependable, many hotels and restaurants close, and airline and ferry schedules to some of these places become extremely limited. Of course, in summer, you can travel more easily from island to island -- but you may find yourself sleeping rough unless you have a reservation. Off season, you can luxuriate in feeling the natural rhythm of uncrowded island villages -- but may find the best restaurants closed until next summer.
Speaking of seasonal schedules and closings, Greece often keeps to its own, frequently mysterious, schedule. On any given day, a museum or archaeological site may be closed without notice. Call in advance to make sure that a destination will be open while you're traveling, and double-check your reservations, especially during special occasions such as Greek Easter week and the August 15 Assumption of the Virgin. If you can, avoid the most crowded travel times. And now, as you set off for Greece, Kalo taxidi (Have a good trip)!
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.