My family and I recently spent 6 days, 5 nights in Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora and Nafplion. This was my third trip to Greece and this time I wanted to make sure we avoided the summer crowds. We planned our trip for December and based on our experience winter was the perfect time to visit mainland Greece!
Some quick tips I learned from this visit:
- Always get a tour guide when possible – for sites like Delphi, Olympia, etc. having a tour guide definitely enhances the experience (compared to my previous visits without guides)
- Check the price on wine bottles before ordering at a restaurant – unlike Spain, good wine doesn’t come cheap! We were shocked to see some house bottles for as much as €20!
- Eat everything – Greece is home to my favorite Mediterranean cuisine – I couldn’t get enough of the fresh cheese, veggies, fruits, dolmades, and pork gyros…they’re a gift from the gods!
- Personally, I would NEVER drive anywhere in Greece…I thought Italian drivers were the craziest, but they’ve got nothing on Greeks!
- Make sure to check the opening hours for the attractions you want to see – in winter many of them close before 3pm
Guided Tours through mainland Greece
Before this trip I did a bit of research on the best ways to get around mainland Greece – it seemed taking the bus or renting a car were the only options for traveling to the cities we wanted to visit (Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, Nafplion)…however I didn’t want us to waste extra hours traveling via public bus (since public buses are rarely direct) or die in a fiery car accident because Greek drivers are the craziest I’ve ever seen. I researched some different tour packages online and found one travel agency named Astoria, who organizes personal tours for small groups. I used the email ([email protected]) on the website to contact the company and quickly received a reply from Kosta, who runs the travel agency with his family. Kosta told me he would drive our group (6 people) to each destination, make our hotel reservations in each city, and reserve tour guides for each site.
We ended up paying under 300 euros each for the tour service – 4 cities, 4 hotels with breakfast + dinner, transportation + tolls, entrances to attractions in each city, two private tour guides for Delphi and Olympia, and airport drop-off on our last day. Kosta was a wonderful guide and delivered on everything he said he would – the tour was a great deal and my family was very content with our experience with Astoria. If you’re thinking of traveling around mainland Greece I would definitely recommend contacting Kosta.
Athens is must-see! We rented a great apartment in the center of the city that was within walking distance of all of Athen’s attractions. The first night we ate near the Ancient Agora which has great views of the acropolis – when trying to find a good “local” restaurant I tend to avoid ones that have pictures in their menu and English written on their signs outside. We only had one day in Athens before setting out on our tour of mainland Greece so we spent the day visiting the city’s most important attractions as well as making sure to get plenty of shopping and good meals in too!
Acropolis + Museum
No trip to Athens is complete without a visit to the ancient Acropolis! However before visiting this attraction I suggest you go to the new Acropolis Museum, which is conveniently located next door…I promise you’ll be glad you did! As soon as you enter the museum go directly to the top floor and watch the short film about the ancient Acropolis; after viewing the film you’ll have a much better understanding of the significance of all of the artifacts displayed within the museum as well as the structures still standing on the Acropolis. We went to the Acropolis first and then the museum – afterwards we realized the experience would have been even better had we gone to the museum first so make sure to learn from our experience and get the most out of your visit!
Seeing the Panathenaic Stadium was the perfect thing to do on a rainy day in Athens. We were the only people there, which allowed for some great photo opportunities! You get a free audio tour with your entrance ticket and you’re able to walk all over the track as well as enter the tunnels where athletes would go before and after events.
Olympia was home to Phidias’ statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Although only ruins remain at the site, the museum provides an mini-model of what Olympia was like in it’s hay day, as well as an impressive collection of sculptures, statues, jewelry, armor, etc. that were recovered from the site during excavation. Kosta provided a great tour guide for us at Olympia which made our visit so much more interesting – hearing stories of what Olympia was like in ancient times and learning about the amazing things that happened there really brought the ruins to life!
This was my second trip to Delphi and it was so much more memorable than the first! The pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi was once known as the “navel of the world” as well as the home of the oracle of Apollo. Delphi is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a popular destination for Greeks and tourists alike. Our tour guide Penny was great and she shared so much interesting information with us! The museum was full of fascinating artifacts and Penny made sure to explain their significance and purpose in the ancient world; my favorite item in the museum was the Greek sphinx. We had an amazing experience in Delphi and I would definitely recommend visiting the site if you’re able to!
Meteora was the main reason I wanted to make this trip to Greece. I had never even heard of Meteora until a friend told me about her trip there; I’m always looking for new destinations off-the-beaten-path so I jumped on the first opportunity I had to visit Meteora. After a long car ride from Delphi we finally arrived to Kalambaka and checked in to the Hotel Famissi. Early the next day we hiked up one of the mountains (about an hour hike) and made our way to St. Stephen’s Monastery. The views from cliffs are breathtaking; I’ve never seen anything quite like it! The nuns who work at the monasteries’ museums and gift shops were very friendly and the Greek orthodox churches were beautiful. We also visited the Holy Monastery of Grand Meteoron and Kosta took us down a hidden road where we were able to see some of the original cave-dwelling locations of the monks/hermits who lived there before the monasteries were built.
Thermoplyae (The Battle of 300)
Between Delphi and Meteora is the site of the Battle of Thermoplyae, or as many of us know it, the location of the battle of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans against King Xerxes and his Persian army. There is a monument dedicated to Leonidas and his men at the site, but to find the monument is not so easy! The monument is hidden off the highway and located next to Thermopylae’s hot sulfur springs. It’s an interesting stop and I think you can bathe in the hot springs too!
Nafplion is known as the “Venice of Greece” and is said to be one of Greece’s most romantic cities. There is no denying Nafplion’s beauty and the views of the sea could certainly make anyone fall in love. We stayed at a lovely hotel named Hotel Marianna, a mansion which has been renovated into a beautiful hotel. If you go to Nafplion stay at Marianna and make sure to eat breakfast on the roof!
There are lots of cute bars, restaurants, and shops located in the center of the city and Nafplion’s acropolis provides amazing views of both the city and sea. Right off Syntagma Square there is a great local restaurant you should check out! The food was amazing, prices were great, and they had live Greek music the night we went. We were the only tourists at the restaurant (so you know it’s a good spot!) and it was the perfect way to end our adventures in Greece.