I have traveled a good bit in my life and frequently get asked where my favorite place I’ve ever been There are so many spots I love... top contenders are South Africa, Thailand, Kauai, Cadaques - but I didn't have a favorite. Until now,
GREECE IS MY FAVORITE!!! My parents took us there way back in 1993 when I was in high school, but we didn't go to any of the islands. It has been top of my list for decades now and I finally made it happen - and every second was FABULOUS.
My daughter and I went for our annual mother/daughter trip over Mother’s Day and all my plans came together just as I had hoped. I can’t wait to go back someday. I adore the Greek people - adore them. Greece is the most family-friendly place I have EVER been - they LOVE children. Everywhere we went, Olivia (six years old) was doted on. Restaurants, shops, and hotels all welcomed her with open arms.
We scored $500 Delta tickets from Scott’s Cheap Flights (Sign up for their premium membership if you haven’t already. It's worth every penny. I hyperventilate when I get an email from them!)
May and September/early October are my favorite times to travel. The weather is right and its on the cusp of busy season. I don’t like hot weather, so May was the PERFECT for me to visit Greece. It was in the 70’s the whole time. Heaven!
Athens and Santorini were VERY busy and I can’t imagine going in peak summer!! I joined a Facebook group called “Matt Barrett’s Greece Travel Guides” and it was SO helpful in planning. Matt is also a travel agent specializing in Greece and can book everything for you.
I HAD to go to Santorini and stay in one of the cave hotels in Oia, but knew I wanted to spend minimal time there. One night was perfect and all I needed. When I travel, I try to avoid super touristy areas and know that both Santorini and Mykonos are swamped with cruise ships visitors.
I had 8 days total and wanted to find one island to really get to know and spend several days on - it was so hard to narrow down! Once I read about Naxos I knew it was the one. Naxos has very fertile soil and is known for its local cuisine AND its gorgeous beaches.
We had two days in Athens, 4 nights in Naxos, 1 night in Santorini, and another night in Athens on the way home.
When we arrived in Athens, I had arranged for George’s Famous Taxi to drive us to our Hotel Metropolis. I’ve never arranged for a taxi service before and am so glad I did. It was $55 euro (regular taxi is $38 euro set price from airport into the city) and was so worth it. My driver met us outside customs (Olivia was so excited he was holding our name!), spoke perfect English, and gave us awesome tips during the drive. The Mercedes was so nice and clean and I knew I could trust him completely based on feedback from Matt Barrett’s group. Use George’s Famous Taxi - trust me!
Our Hotel Metropolis in Athens was just what we needed - excellent location in the Plaka area, good price ($115/night), clean basic room. I didn’t want or need anything fancy and it scored great on Trip Advisor. The folks at the desk were so nice and helpful. Everything was within walking distance - we never needed a cab.
That first afternoon in Athens we ate a late lunch at a restaurant down the street that was really good, but I can’t remember the name. We both were fighting pretty bad jet lag and went back to the hotel and slept for an hour. Olivia was seriously grumpy and did NOT want to get up, but I knew it would be a disaster getting on the right time if I let her sleep more.
Then we walked over to Lukumades. I had heard rave reviews about their loukoumades (doughnut holes with honey and cinnamon) - SO SO GOOD!!! They have several other flavors, but I had to stick to the traditional honey and cinnamon. That combo (HELLO, Sweet’s Syrup!) can’t be beat!
We walked around the Plaka area, popped into a few shops, and Olivia had fun running around in front of the church, which was right across from our hotel. We ate dinner at Neoklassiko which was a gyro place next to the Hotel Astor recommended by our driver - was DELICIOUS. I had no idea that french fries go on a traditional gyro. It was my first of many! I’ll return there and to Lukumades for sure!
The next morning we headed up to the Acropolis early. It opens at 8 and we were there about 8:30ish. There weren't many people at that time, but by 9:30 it was PACKED. Go first thing in the morning!! I’m not a big history buff and I’ve seen all the ruins I care to see in my lifetime. Some people love it, but I just don’t. I'm still wishing I had my day at Pompeii back. Olivia and I walked around and I shared about 5 facts about the Acropolis. We had read a mythology book before our trip, so we talked about Athena. That was it for the history lesson and we spent a couple hours up there playing UNO. We had so much fun and I will always remember that part! The gorgeous view of the city, the Acropolis next to us, as we sat cross-legged playing UNO.
Walking down from the Acropolis, we stopped at The Loom and made friends with Vahan. After my experience rug shopping in Morocco, Vahan was a WONDERFUL change! He was such a great guy and I am absolutely crazy about the rug, runner, and pillow covers I bought. I had thought I was set on buying another Oushak from Turkey but fell in love with the style from Northern Greece for my runner for the kitchen. I love it so much! He shipped them all to me and they arrived about a month later. I was very happy with the price, but could have done better had Olivia not kept saying, “Mommy, you have that much!”
We also stopped by “Doctor Fish” just down from The Loom for a fish pedicure. Olivia wouldn’t put her feet in and I could have done without. Checked that off the list.
For lunch we went to Sabbas (also spelled Savvas) to the rooftop restaurant with awesome views of the Acropolis - highly recommend!!! We then walked around and went shopping on Ermou Street and Adrianou. This is the most difficult thing for me during my trips with Olivia. I love spending time checking out boutiques and shops and she has a short fuse for it, so there's a very limited time window. Then we headed back to Lukumades for more sweet treats, and also tried out a neighborhood gyro spot. Throughout the day there were many UNO games!
I arranged for George’s Famous taxi to pick us up EARLY and take us to the port for our Blue Star Ferry to Naxos. If I could have done it over I would have taken the high speed - 5 hours on the ferry was FOREVER. (We took the High Speed from Naxos to Santorini later on in the trip and it was fine. If you get seasick, it could be a problem, but we were both just fine, and it was so much faster.)
We FINALLY arrived in Naxos and took a taxi up to the Hotel Grotta - and instantly fell in love. I have stayed at some very fine hotels in my life and the customer service at Hotel Grotta exceeded them all. I have never experienced such genuine hospitality. Nikoletta and Marine are THE BEST - so kind, happy, helpful, thoughtful, THE BEST - I could go on and on about how much I love this hotel. The view, the food, the beautiful clean room, and the breakfast - OH MY LORD THE BREAKFAST.
They had a massive spread, all homemade - probably 6 different phyllo pies (the artichoke pie is INSANE), a whole entire table full of desserts - yes for breakfast! I had to try everything - the rice pudding, Greek yogurt with carrot marmalade, and artichoke pie were staples every morning and then I had to try everything else that I hadn’t had the day before. I ate so much and it was worth the 4 pounds I gained in a week.
Dinner was also incredible at The Hotel Grotta - we ate there the first two nights and I ordered the same thing because I loved it so much. Vegetable mille feuille, sea bass and Naxos potatoes. Homemade sorbet for dessert - get the lemon! And their house white wine was $2 a glass - TWO DOLLARS - and was SO GOOD!! Olivia went nuts for the indoor pool, which came in really handy on the day the weather didn't cooperate. Stay at The Hotel Grotta - if they are booked, change your travel dates. Do not miss this experience - and bring your children!!!
Naxos has everything I love - great food, charming whitewashed alleyways full of handcrafted local treasures, SO MANY GOOD SHOPS, beautiful beaches, and lovely surrounding towns to explore. The Hotel Grotta is in Chora, which is the main town by the port.
Marine at the Hotel Grotta arranged for a rental car for two days for us. It was delivered to the hotel and $35/day. SO CONVENIENT!! Driving around was a little tricky with the Greek language but I was able to manage, and seriously, if I can do it, anyone can. We spent a day driving around through the villages and stopped in Aprianthos and Halkia. I was really bummed The Rotunda was closed for repairs - the views are unbelievable - if it's open when you visit, go eat there!!
I loved Halkia the most. We met a weaver named Maria and I filled up my suitcase with goodies she made. I LOVE the blue and white placemats and pillows I bought from her!!
We then went to Beach Agios Georgios and had a great time. I rented a cabana and we spent the afternoon playing more UNO in the sand. The water was COLD.
The next day we went to Beach Agios Prokopios, which is a little further and a popular beach town. I wish we had more time to explore there. It was BEAUTIFUL (listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece) with lots of great beach shops and restaurants. The cabana we rented was about $8 and included wait staff for cocktails.
For dinner that night we ate in town (Chora) at Meze-Meze by the water which was amazing. I got a “traditional” Greek salad that had these soaked croutons, and I can’t even explain how good this salad was. The portions are HUGE here - you could definitely split. When it was time to go they brought out a little dessert of the Greek yogurt with the carrot marmalade. Olivia and I both love this so much I found a recipe and we’ve been making it at home!
The rest of our time in Naxos was spent at the Hotel Grotta chatting with new friends we made, swimming a little every day in the indoor pool, and playing UNO. I loved our time there so much. It was everything I had hoped for and MORE. I can’t say enough good things about Naxos and our time at Hotel Grotta!! I rarely like to return to the same place again, but MUST go back - I would love for my whole family to go sometime and enjoy this magical place!
After Naxos, we took the high speed ferry to Santorini. Heads up: make a reservation early on and print it out to bring with you. You also have to get a ticket printed out at the dock and they charge about $1 to print it off. The high speed took about two hours to get to Santorini. It definitely sways a lot and you have to hold onto something for balance if you want to walk around the boat. Still, it was so much better than the regular slow ferry.
When we arrived at Santorini it was CHAOS. People EVERYWHERE at the port. Lots of drivers soliciting business. Tons of humans in a small area. I didn’t have transportation plans, so I kept Olivia close and found an option to get us to the hotel. This was a van that dropped off at several locations, so the trip to Oia was about 40 minutes with all the stops. This did give us a chance to check out the rest of the island.
I’ve dreamed of staying in one of the cliffside whitewashed hotels on the caldera of Oia and knew it would be a splurge. Somehow we lucked out and got a room at Kaleidoscope Luxury Cave Houses for only $225 - the typical rate is around $700!! It was awesome and everything I had hoped for - incredible views and a hot tub, which Olivia thought was the coolest thing ever. We were located just off the main walking road of Oia so there were hundreds, probably thousands, of tourists walking by like 20 feet from where we were. Not private at all, but we didn’t mind - it was fun to people watch and there was always someone taking selfies in front of our private space. Olivia probably photo-bombed a wedding photo being taken by a couple from China.
The weather was perfect during our day in Santorini and we walked around among the mobs of tourists and did a little shopping. You can find some GORGEOUS jewelry there if you’re in the market!
We found an awesome gyro place right around the corner from our cave. Be sure to check out Pito Gyros and get a side of halloumi, SO GOOD!!! We actually ate there twice we loved it so much! Lots of fancy restaurants around us looked amazing, but that's not on the agenda when traveling with Olivia.
We spent most of the day hanging out at the hot tub, playing UNO, and enjoying the views. I really wanted to catch the sunset so we headed to the other end of Oia to see it - along with every other single person on the island. It was CRAZY. The crowd lined up to see the sunset was 15-20 people deep, all along the line. We wandered down a sidestreet and through an alleyway to finally find a great unobstructed view. If you can get a reservation for dinner somewhere that has a sunset view, that would be a much better option! Despite everything, the sunset was beautiful. We were lucky to have a full moon that night and the view from Kaleidoscope Cave was gorgeous.
We woke up early to see the sunrise and this was my favorite time on Santorini - before all the crowds arrived from the cruise ships. Between 6:30am and 8:00 it was empty, the light was beautiful, and we had a great time running around. Olivia loves to run, skip, hop - rarely does she ever walk.
I’m glad I saw Santorini and the gorgeous caldera view, but for me one day was plenty - honestly a half-day would have sufficed. The sheer volume of tourists is overwhelming and for me, that ruin the charm of the island - so I’m thankful for that time we had early morning. I honestly couldn’t imagine going there during the peak of the summer.
Our hotel car took us to the Santorini airport to catch our flight back to Athens. The flight was delayed a little bit, which we were told was pretty standard.
Our flight back home left at 11:00 AM, so I wanted to stay somewhere near the airport. There is a Sofitel that connects to the airport, but is about $250 night - not what I wanted to spend. The drive into Athens is about 45 minutes from the airport, so for a night we didn’t want to travel that far. I found the Hotel Avra which worked out perfectly. It's considered an airport hotel even though it is about 20 minutes away in Rafina, a port town. They offer free airport transportation, had good reviews, and was $130 which worked out great.
Next to the hotel is a restaurant called Agnanti and it was excellent. Try the calamari! Our trip to the airport and all the transfers went smoothly. Olivia watched 5 movies on the plane and stayed awake for the entire flight - meaning she was up for 24 hours straight. That really helped with jet lag on the return!
I am so in love with Greece and can’t wait to go back. I’m thinking for future trips I’ll go somewhere new, then Greece, then somewhere new, and then Greece again! I'm looking forward to checking out additional islands, although I think I’ll always have to go back to Naxos and stay at Hotel Grotta - oh I miss it! Paros is on my list and I’m getting lots of ideas for other islands from following Matt Barrett’s Facebook group.
If you’re planning a trip I encourage you to look beyond the popular islands of Mykonos and Santorini. Don’t get me wrong... they’re both beautiful. I've never been to Mykonos, but from what I have heard and read, it's stunning. But both have way, way too many tourists - and there are so many other gorgeous, charming islands where you can have an authentic Greek experience!