In days gone by, a summer vacation to Greece was within the reach of even the budget traveler. Back in the Drachmas era, the islands of the Aegean, Ionian and Thracian Seas were a welcome respite from the lofty prices of beach resorts in some Mediterranean European countries.
Six years later, with the U.S. dollar at a historical low against the powerful Euro and no relief in sight, can those with a tighter money belt still afford to travel to this ancient land? I would like to think the answer is yes. So can you really get a week in Greece this summer for under two grand? Yes, you can. Just.
For those who believe that a trip to Greece could never be complete without a stay on at least one of its islands, you may want to re-think which destination you choose. For example, if you steer clear of Mykonos, Santorini, Ios and Paros and concentrate on some of the smaller and less expensive islands, you will be able to save not only on accommodation, but also meals, transportation and various other travel-related costs. Try the Greek Islands located closer to Turkey in the Northern and Eastern Aegean (like Kos, Chios and Samos) or the Saronic Islands closer to Athens. Aegina is the closest island to Athens, located only an hour away by ferry and it is home to archaeological sites, charming fishing villages and fine sandy beaches. Other lesser known but easily accessible islands to consider include Lesvos, Hydra, Andros, Tinos, Ikaria and Zakyntos.
If time isn't an issue and you are happy to have a lay over each way in another European city then the cheapest current flight I could find to Athens in June was out of New York on Iberia via Madrid for $1,071 including taxes through Vayama (www.vayama.com). Alternatively Swiss Airlines International can get you there via Zurich for $1,143 or British Airways via London for $1,166, both through Airfare.com (www.airfare.com).
Another option is to fly to the U.K. and then use a low cost or charter European carrier to get you to Greece (most fly directly to islands like Corfu, Crete, Santorini etc), or purchase a flight and hotel package out of London. Easyjet (www.easyjet.com), Flyglobespan (www.flyglobespan.com), Fly Thomas Cook (www.flythomascook.com), Freedom Flights (www.freedomflights.com), Thomsonfly (www.thomsonfly.com) and XL Airways (www.xl.com) all fly to Greek destinations regularly during the summer months (and some fly from May to October, depending on the route) from various airports in the United Kingdom including the London area, Manchester, Birmingham and Scotland. Airfares vary by destination and dates but round-trip flights including all taxes and fees start from around $350 from London Gatwick to Santorini, Crete or Corfu during the month of July. Although a peak summer round-trip fare from New York to London is currently hovering around the $900 mark (including all taxes flying British Airways, www.ba.com), it is still a saving considering that you fly direct to an island rather than going through Athens and having to incur additional flight or ferry costs plus hotels.
Getting Around & Sleeping Around
Inter-island ferry travel can be fun but it can also be long and tiresome, with several routes requiring overnight trips, meaning the need to pay for a cabin. Websites like Greek Ferries (www.greekferries.gr) allow you to purchase tickets in advance, but beware of add-on costs like a $24 booking fee per booking (not per person) and strangely, a $16 fee for picking your ticket up at the port or at a Greek hotel. If you can wait and are flying into Athens, purchase your ferry tickets on arrival. Ticket prices can range from $15 (to Aegina) to over $200 in deluxe overnight cabins. You can also fly from Athens to several islands on the Greek national carrier Olympic Airlines (www.olympicairlines.com). Sample summer round-trip fares (including taxes) from Athens include:
- Heraklion (Crete) from $275
- Kalymnos Island from $240
- Mykonos from $275
- Rhodes from $275
If you are on a budget and want to hang out with like minded travelers, try London-based Adventure travel company Busabout (www.busabout.com). They offer a four island Flexi-Hopper travel option giving travelers transportation from Athen's Pireaus Harbor to the four best known islands of the Cyclades -- Santorini, Mykonos, Ios and Paros. A Busabout guide will escort each tour group around the Greek Islands, staying two nights on each island (or longer if you like). Accommodation is in Busabout recommended camping villages, small hotels and hostels that you can book separately through the Mybusabout section on their website. A minimum nine-day trip is priced at $359 per person for all ferry transportation from Athens to the islands and back, the services of a Busabout guide who will take you on orientation walks and nightly pub crawls plus local transfers to and from Mybusabout recommended accommodation venues. If you do want to stay longer on any or all of the islands, you can nominate your travel dates up to two weeks before your departure from Athens as ferries leave every two days starting in June. This price is valid for Athens departures from May 18 to September 25, 2008. Their recommended accommodation options include the following:
- Athens: Athens Easy Hostel priced from $24 per person per night or Hostel Aphrodite from $25
- Mykonos: Paradise Beach Resort Mykonos from $40 or $47 with ensuite
- Ios: Far Out Beach Club from $32 or Far Out Camping from $21
- Santorini: Hotel Antonia from $47
- Paros: Elisabeth Pension from $50
If you would like to travel independently and are looking for or low priced accommodation options, start your search on the Greeka website (www.greeka.com). It offers a large selection of hotels, rooms, studios or houses to rent, many starting at below $100 per night for a double during the peak summer months. A few examples include:
- On the island of Aegina: The three-star Hotel Katerina (www.katerinahotel.gr) -- a double room with sea views, private balcony and air conditioning is priced from just under $100 per night
- On the island of Lesvos: The three-star Aegean View Hotel -- a double room in this beachfront modern hotel with a pool from $120 per night
- On the island of Crete: The two-star Hotel Europa -- a room for four people located just off the beach in the small fishing village of Matala is priced from $90 including breakfast
- On the island of Zakynthos: The two-star Kalimera Koukla (www.kalimera-koukla.gr) -- a double studio a short walk from the beach from $90 per night
Another worthwhile accommodations website to check out is Holiday in Athens (tel. 800/276-8607;www.holiday-in-athens.com), which despite its name, offers up a variety of budget to mid-priced hotels on 35 different Greek Islands. There are many two-star options for around $60 per room per night but on average, prices range from the $100 to $200 per night range for three and four-star properties.
Searching for a reasonable package deal from the U.S.? Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) offers several short breaks to Greece that fit the budget, even in summer. The Athens at its Best package is priced from $1,499 plus taxes per person for travel between June 23 and September 4, 2008, out of New York (add $110 from Chicago, $30 from Boston and Philadelphia). The trip includes round-trip airfare, airline fuel surcharges, six-nights accommodations at the Ionis Hotel in Athens, continental breakfast daily, hotel taxes and service charges. Taxes of approximately $160 are additional but vary according to actual departure date and city chosen. Their Athens and Santorini six-night trip is also just under $2,000, coming in at $1,749 plus taxes for travel from June 23 to August 31, 2008, from New York. Add $70 from Portland ME, $80 from Miami and $170 from Green Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans. Get round-trip airfare, airline fuel surcharges, three-nights at the Ionis Hotel in Athens and another three the King Thiras Hotel in Santorini, round-trip hydrofoil to the island, continental breakfast daily, hotel taxes and service charges. Taxes are approximately $168.
Greek travel specialists Homeric Tours (tel. 800/223-5570; www.homerictours.com) has a few summer special discounts but only one that manage to sneak in a smidgeon over the $2,000 threshold. Their eight-day/six-night Athens and three-day Greek Island and Turkey cruise is priced at $1,825 plus approximately $220 in taxes and port fees. The tour visits Athens, Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Patmos, Heraklion (Crete) and Santorini It includes round-trip airfare to Athens from New York; airline and cruise fuel surcharges; three nights' accommodations in Athens at a centrally-located first class hotel; a three-day Greek Island and Turkey cruise with Monarch Cruises with all meals and entertainment; breakfast daily in Athens; airport and port transfers; hotel taxes and service charges; assistance at the airport by a Homeric Tours representative and Homeric Tours "Hospitality Hours" at your hotel.
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