One week? That’s almost a sacrilege in this country where siga, siga (slowly, slowly) is a well-meaning mantra to enjoy life at a reasonable pace. So, even though you have only a week to explore one of the richest, most intriguing places on earth, do slow down a bit when you can and appreciate everything that’s unfolding around you. Ideally, everyone should have a whole summer for Greece. But let's face it, most people leave home on a Friday evening and then fly back to work the next Sunday. That's 8 full days on the ground. We've included 2 weekends, but any 8 days will work. Keep in mind that travel in Greece on summer weekends is always more difficult and hotels are almost always more expensive than during the week.
Day 1: Athens & the Acropolis
Arrive in Athens and get settled in your hotel. Yes, even though there’s so much to see, you deserve a nap, maybe a refreshing swim if you’re fortunate enough to be staying in a hotel with a pool. Relax a bit—you have time. Summer hours keep most monuments and museum open late, plus sights in the sprawling capital are fairly concentrated and you needn’t venture much beyond the Acropolis this first day. This ancient marvel is probably within walking distance of your hotel, maybe even within sight of it. The ascent through the Beule Gate and up a well-worn path is stirring, and what lies beyond is even more so: The ruins of the perfectly proportioned Parthenon and surrounding temples, summoning up the glory of classical Greece. Continue the spell with a walk through the Acropolis Museum, where the sculptures and statuary that once adorned the Acropolis temples are on display, including the magnificent Parthenon Frieze. Then stroll along the Grand Promenade, a cobblestone-and-marble, pedestrian-only boulevard that skirts the Acropolis Hill. You’ll get a glimpse of the Theater of Dionysus, where the newest dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides once delighted audiences. Plunge back into the present day, by following Adrianou (Hadrian) Street through the colorful Plaka neighborhood. End your day by strolling around the evocative ruins of the Ancient Agora, once the business and political hub of ancient Athens. Then it’s time for dinner, maybe beneath a shady plane tree at a long-time favorite, the Platanos Taverna.
Day 2: Athens & Santorini
No need to rush out of the hotel at the crack of dawn. You can probably get a mid- to late-afternoon boat to Santorini, your next stop, leaving time for a mid-morning visit to Athens’ National Archaeological Museum, with the world’s finest collection of Greek antiquities. (Depending on where you’re staying, you may want to walk at least part of the way there, best up Athinas Street for a stop at the lively, colorful Central Market). Essential galleries are the Mycenaean Collection, with gold death masks and many other magnificent treasures of the civilization whose king, Agamemnon, launched the Trojan War; the Cycladic Collection’s enigmatic marble figures; and the colorful and charming frescoes of the Thira Collection—from Santorini, where you’re heading next.
Now it’s time to take the Metro to Piraeus and board the Santorini-bound boat. You could also fly to Santorini, but boat is by far the best way to get to a Greek island. There’s nothing like appreciating the passing view while you talk or read a book. Although it takes longer to travel this way than by plane (the trip to Santorini is about 5 hours by fast ferry, as long as 9 hours by slow boat) it beats sitting in coach any day. You’ll want to be on deck as the boat sails into the Santorini’s caldera, one of the great Greek experiences. Cliffs rise glimmering even in the moonlight, while the lights of the white villages atop the rim twinkle high above you. In fact, some of the best hotels on Santorini are perched on the side of the cliffs—two of our favorites, ensured to make a stay on the island a special occasion, are Esperas in Ia and Astra Apartments in Imerovigli.
Day 3: Santorini
You probably won’t want to venture too far away from the caldera in the morning. If you aren’t lucky enough to be spending the morning on your private terrace overlooking the spectacle, walk at least a portion of the 10km (6-mile) path that follows the top of the cliff from Fira to Ia, affording a bird’s-eye view of the outrageously blue waters and clusters of white houses perched on top of the cliffs like a dusting of snow. From stops along the caldera you can catch the bus to the southern end of the island and Ancient Akrotiri, which is Greece’s version of Pompeii—a prosperous Minoan-era town that was buried in a volcanic eruption around 1500 B.C., leaving its houses and warehouses remarkably well-preserved. Adjoining the site is Paralia Kokkini (Red Beach), carpeted in red volcanic pebbles and perfect for an afternoon swim and nap. Come evening, take the bus back up the island to Ia, where watching the sunset is a celebratory event accompanied with a glass of wine. Then head down to Ammoudi, the little fishing port below Ia, for a seafood dinner at Katina’s or another waterside taverna.
Day 4: Iraklion
High-speed ferries make the crossing from Santorini to Crete in under 2 hours. But as you’ll discover in Greece, schedules don’t always cooperate with your plans. So if there’s not a morning boat, fly to Iraklion. (You should have a choice of several morning flights in high season.) Go early to visit the heavily—too heavily, many archaeologists say—restored palace of Knossos, the dramatic ruins that about 3 millennia ago made up the center of Minoan culture. Then it’s on to the center of town and late lunch at the Pantheon in the market (actually, it’s in an arcade known as Dirty Alley, but don’t let that put you off the excellent food). Spend the rest of the afternoon in Iraklion’s Archaeological Museum for a look at beautiful frescoes portraying Minoan life and other exuberant artifacts of this sophisticated culture. As a cooling breeze picks up in the evening, it’s time to get back into the swing of modern life, but gently so, by joining Irakliots for a stroll around the old city. A mandatory stop at some point in your ramblings is one of the cafes at Ta Liontaria (the Lions) square, overlooking the fountain adorned with four leonine symbols of the Venetian Republic.
Day 5: The Lasithi Plateau & Elounda
Since you have only two more days on this large, diverse, and fascinating island, rent a car to see as much of the beautiful landscapes as you can. That said, don’t overdo it—Crete’s pleasures are meant to be savored. On Day 5 make the short but scenic drive up to the Lasithi Plateau, a glorious slice of rural Crete where a tidy patchwork of orchards and fields spreads out to the encircling hills. Enjoy a long lunch up here at the Kronio restaurant, then drop back down to the coast for a late afternoon swim in the crystalline waters off the Elounda peninsula.
Begin Day 6 by heading south from Iraklion to the coast around Matala, a little over an hour away. This pleasant beach resort is famous for its cliffs riddled with caves that have housed everyone from Roman soldiers to 1960s hippies. The real draw here are the beaches—the best are Kommos, a long stretch of sand just north of Matala, and isolated Red Beach, reached by a 20-minute hike over a headland on the south side of town. By early afternoon, be on the road again for the hour drive back north to Rethymnon, an inviting and exotic maze of Venetian and Turkish houses and mosques, crowded onto a sea-girt peninsula with and a massive seaside fortress. Treat yourself to an early meal in the romantic garden of Avli, famous for its innovative preparations of Cretan cuisine. Allow time to get back to Iraklion (an hour’s drive east) for the 9pm sailing to Piraeus. Treat yourself to a cabin or berth so you can sleep through the overnight crossing.
Day 7: Delphi
You’ll arrive in Athens early, all too early, about 6 or 7am. But you should be well rested, and you have an entire day ahead of you—and still so much to see. A day trip to Delphi shows off the Temple of Apollo, Greece’s most mysterious and alluring ancient site, a memorable place to spend your last day in Greece. Even the bus trip is a thrill, through glorious mountain scenery with vistas off to the Gulf of Corinth. CHAT tours is one of several companies running day trips that leave Athens around 8:30 or so and have you back in the city by 7pm, time for one last dinner and glimpse of the floodlit Acropolis.
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.