Tips to Escape the Tourist Crowds in Greece
Greece is one of the most popular destinations in the world with millions of tourists visiting every year. Nicole Rivera Rivera from Puerto Rico recently travelled to Greece and was keen to escape the tourist crowds and get a more local experience.
In this article Nicole shares her top tips how to travel through Greece in peace, without drowning in a sea of selfie-stick tourists.
Timing is Key:
Many hotels, restaurants, museums and monuments close after October up until after March for their holiday vacations, Greeks travel and places get remodeled and updated. The high season for tourism lasts from May to September and so my top tip is to aim to travel to Greece in either April or October.
These are also good months as the prices for flights and accommodation are cheaper compared to summer. To get the best deals on flights we recommend Skyscanner which is one of the better flight comparison websites.
Where to Visit
There are so many incredible destinations in Greece which are worth visiting so you will need to work out where you would like to go, what your budget is and how much time you have.
There is the option to join groups tours of Greece but I decided to travel across the country independently visiting Athens, Aegina, Thessaloniki, Meteora and Santorini.
Check out my top tips for each destination below.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at the wonderful NJV Athens Plaza right on Syntagma Square where the Parliament is and that was a perfect location to get to Monastiraki Square, and walk to the Plaka, Psirri, Thissio and other districts.
- Go to the Ancient Agora first and buy the ticket that includes the Acropolis, and then do the Acropolis in the late afternoon so you’ll get the beginning of the sunset and avoid the tours groups which usually arrive early in the morning.
- Get to the Lycabettus Hill cable car first thing, because the space is not that big up there and some people stay forever.
Eat & Drink:
- Bairaktaris Tavern in Souvlaki Row
- Taverna Tou Psirri, full of locals
- Ammos at Mikrolimano port, they have an excellent feta cheese appetizer and an amazing chocolate soufflé
- A For Athens, has great views and atmosphere
- Brettos Bar, where they make their own brandy
- Rooftop Bar at the Grande Bretagne Hotel, views and poshness (ask for Beatriz)
Day Trips from Athens:
- If you want to do a quick day trip from Athens, Aegina island is a quick 40-minute Flying Dolphin ride form the Piraeus Port. You can eat at the I Agora and rent a quad or motorbike from Trust Rentals and explore the island through the coast.
Getting to Thessaloniki:
There are cheap flights almost every day from Athens to Thessaloniki which is the quickest and most hassle free way to get here. When we arrived we rented a car and drove to the Aristotelous Square where we stayed at the beautiful Electra Palace Hotel. It’s quite a drive so if you are taking a taxi keep in mind it won’t be cheap.
Places to Visit:
- You can walk towards the White Tower, the Rotunda, Hagios Demetrios and Ataturk’s museum/house. But, to go inside Ataturk’s house you need an appointment and your Passport, as it is heavily guarded.
- We took the car and drove up to Eptapirgio, the castle turned prison now museum and gallery. The views from here are amazing.
The Best Bar:
- The Hoppy Pub, where George offers a great selection of local and international artisanal beers, including the coveted Cantillon from Brussels.
Meteora is one of the most popular destinations in Greece and is known for its breathtaking rock formations where monks decided to build monasteries since 1336. There are two ways to get here, one goes across Larissa and the other goes across the mountains, go for the mountains, it is beautiful and faster, with fewer tolls.
Most of the seven monasteries still open start their day at 9am and close between 3:30pm to 6pm. They each have different schedules so make sure to check before going so you don’t find them closed. You can hike uphill to get to the monasteries which have between 100-300 stairs or go in a car, there are parking spaces and then just walk up the stairs. Only Stefano’s Monastery doesn’t have stairs.
To avoid the crowds don’t start at the Meteoron Monastery, since it’s the biggest one most groups start there, we started at the Varlaam at 9am sharp and it was perfect.
Where to Stay:
We stayed at the Divani Meteora Hotel, in a room with views of the rock formations. If you do the hotel breakfast make sure to check when the tour groups will be coming down so you don’t get swamped. Tour groups are all over Meteora so no hotel is safe.
Eat & Drink:
- Panellinion Restaurant gets full but the service is fantastic and the food too.
- Taverna Ouzeri Pappas, here it’s just locals, and you will have to give your Greek a try.
How to Get to Santorini & Transport:
We took a flight from Thessaloniki to Santorini, the airport in Santorini is quite small and the taxis are quite expensive. My recommendation is to rent a car, motorbike or quad since the island is big enough and you will hopefully want to explore the different areas.
Top Places to Visit in Santorini:
Santorini is divided in East and West when it comes to hotels because of the whole caldera sunset viewing spectacle. The sunsets at the west and sunrise at the east.
- Oia is located in the west corner of Santorini and is the most famous location on the island. Oia has the biggest concentration of hotels, restaurants and stores which is the mass of Cycladic architecture you see in most Santorini pictures. You stay here if you want to just lay here and walk around everywhere. Keep in mind it’s more expensive and you will have tourists walking all around your balcony, doors and windows all day long.
- For uninterrupted and peaceful caldera sunset views find the Glitzy Windmill and the owner will give you access to her balcony or terrace to watch the sunset with a little cup of Greek coffee or local wine when you buy one of her pieces of jewelry.
- The capital, you get some winding streets with hotels, stores and restaurants but it’s much easier to walk and get around. The port is here, where you can take boat tours. We took a 3-hour boat tour of the hot springs and Nea Kameni. To buy the tickets just head to the Dakoutros Travel office early in the morning and choose the 11am tour or the 2pm one. Then head to the port by cable car, unless you want to take a donkey or walk down the stairs which takes around 30 minutes.
- Right in the middle of Oia and Fira, to the west you have a smaller version of Oia with the mass of hotels and restaurants, not many stores and tourists walking around the narrow pathways. To the east you get peace, you can’t really walk anywhere else but you can disconnect when going to bed and wake up refreshed.
Where to Stay:
We stayed to the east, at the Amber Light Luxury Villas, and to be honest I could move to this hotel. The premises were so clean and beautiful, the room had a personal terrace and they greet you with drinks and the friendliest staff. The spa has great massage/ steam room/ Jacuzzi with drinks packages.
Eat & Drink:
- Carpos Restaurant at the Amber Light Luxury Villas, was the best food we had. Their soups are not common, and their desserts are tasty af. They have local beers and great local assyrtiko white wines.
- Meli & Thymari in the Kamari area, a more relaxed and beachy district, this female chef creates supreme fish and seafood dishes and decadent desserts.
- Venetsanos Winery has spectacular views and great service (ask for George). They have a caviar and greek cheese appetizer and my favorite wine from the tasting was the Nykteri.
I hope my guide and recommendations helps you to explore Greece in peace.
By Nicole Rivera Rivera