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10 Day Greece Itinerary
Greece has long been on my bucket list. I never really had a specific place in mind, but I just knew that I had to get to Greece someday. Fortunately that day came when I was invited by Celestyal Cruises to join their seven day Idyllic Aegean itinerary.
I knew it would be beautiful and I fully expected to be fascinated by the history, but when it came to romance, this trip exceeded all expectations. The contrast of white buildings topped with blue domes set against the endless views of the Aegean sea were the perfect backdrop for lunches, dinners, and strolls down charming streets. Mixed in were walks along the beach and stunning sunsets.
I hope you find this 10 day Greece itinerary helpful when planning your trip with a loved one.
Travel Tips For Greece
Arriving In Greece
Traveling from the U.S., Athens is the most common arrival city for Greek travel. Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport is clean and modern, and pretty easy to navigate. Athens’ port, Piraeus Harbour, is a common departure point for many cruises of the Greek Islands.
Getting Around Athens
Uber is widely available in Athens, but don’t be surprised to see a taxi cab arrive as your ride. It appears that taxis have adopted the Uber system. We found these to be reasonably affordable and equally as reliable as any other major U.S. or European city.
While I’m told that the public transportation system is quite good in Athens, we did not personally use it. Between walking and Uber, we got everywhere we needed to go.
Currency and Affordability
Greek currency is the Euro. And while it’s always nice to have some cash available for tips, we found most shops and restaurants accepted credit cards.
At the time of this article, the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar and Euro is one to one. That’s rare, but it makes visiting Greece–and all of Europe–a good deal right now. Added to that is the fact that Greece is much more affordable than Western Europe. If you want to visit Europe in the near future, but are on a budget, this is definitely the place.
The city of Athens–by far the most populated stop on our itinerary–is considered to be safe, even at night. That was our personal experience and has been backed up by my research. The usual cautions apply; keep your valuables home or locked in the hotel safe, and always be aware of your surroundings.
All the other destinations on this itinerary are considered safe as well.
At the time of our trip, travel around the world was pretty chaotic; loads of cancelled flights, strikes by transportation workers, and always the looming possibility of COVID. To protect ourselves and our investment, we always purchase travel insurance when leaving the country and recommend you do the same. Currently our favorite company is AXA.
Day One–Arrive in Athens, The Capital of Greece
We arrived in Athens, quickly cleared customs and were met by our driver who took us to our hotel, the Athenaeum Grand Hotel. After a long day of travel we were seriously tired, so we started our time in Athens with a nap and shower. But then we were ready to do a little exploring and have our first meal in Greece.
Our hotel was not near any of the city’s major tourist sites, but we were eager for a walk. So we just wound our way through the streets of the neighborhood exploring the local market, shops, and restaurants.
Eventually we selected our dinner spot, Kalamakeri. What a lovely surprise. We sat outside at a small wooden table and ordered several items including feta cheese, lamb kabob, chicken souvlaki, and eggplant salad. It was all washed down with a carafe of white wine and raki (a Greek spirit that we liked much better than ouzo).
We watched as locals chatted with their neighbors and several cats strolled anywhere they wanted. The service was friendly and leisurely. Our meal cost us just $32.
I’ve heard Athens described as gritty, and I think that’s fair. Greece has had its fair share of economic challenges over the years which has certainly impacted its capital city. There is plenty of graffiti and the occasional abandoned building. And it is not one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. But if you accept the city on its own terms, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
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Day Two–Boarding Our Ship
At noon on our second day in Greece we were met by another driver and taken to the port to board our ship, Celestyal Crystal. The boarding process was quick and easy and left us plenty of time to explore the ship before departure.
Let me give a little background on Celestyal Cruises. It’s a Greek owned and operated company. Currently they have just two ships, but there are plans for expansion. We sailed on their Idyllic Aegean Itinerary with a total of seven ports in seven days. Destinations are the focus on this cruise line. We had no at-sea days, but instead sailed between ports overnight.
Our ship was 160 meters, so considered small. The primary benefit of a smaller ship is its ability to dock at smaller islands that are off limits to larger ships. Having been on much larger ships I also appreciated how easy it was to get around. Jason and I could easily take the stairs to move between our room and anywhere we wanted to go on the ship (this was also a great way to burn calories to balance out all the amazing Greek food we ate).
We unpacked, met our cabin stewards, and participated in the safety drill. Then we enjoyed a lovely dinner followed by a great show. It was the perfect first day aboard the ship.
Day Three–Second Largest City In Greece, Thessaloniki
Early in the morning we arrived in Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. We were eager to disembark and join our very first excursion, a four hour tour of the city.
Our guide, Panos, spent much of his life in this city, so he was happy to share all the historical information along with glimpses of local life. We started at the White Tower, the best known landmark of the city and a building originally connected to the fortified walls. Then we headed to Upper Town to enjoy great views of the city.
The final stop on the tour of Thessaloniki was at the Church of St. Demetrios, a historic site with a long and complicated history. Long before churches were built on this site, it was a Roman Bath. The first of many churches was built here in the 4 century A.D. Over the next several centuries there would be fires and multiple reconstructions.
During the Ottoman Empire it was converted to a mosque. When the Ottomans left it reverted to a church, but the Great Fire of 1917 brought significant destruction. It was this fire and the subsequent rebuilding that resulted in the discovery of the underground crypt–it had remained hidden for 500 years.
After a quick tour of the church, our group descended into the dark and cool crypt. Panos recounted the complex history of this crypt including who worshiped, died, and was imprisoned here. Today visitors can explore the underground rooms and see many of the archeological artifacts discovered.
Tour guests were given the option to return to the ship or be dropped off at Aristotle Square to continue their exploration. We opted for the latter. We explored the square, grabbed a snack and a drink at a local restaurant and eventually walked back to the ship along the ocean front hand in hand. With warm weather and the sun shining bright, I couldn’t imagine a lovelier day.
The ship departed around sunset. Like us, many passengers gathered on deck to watch the city fade into the distance while the sun slowly sank behind the mountains.
Day Four—Kusadasi, Turkey
On the afternoon of day four, we arrived in Kusadasi, a resort town on Turkey’s Aegean coast. We didn’t spend much time in the town, but instead headed out on our excursion to the ruins of Ephesus.
Odds are you’ve heard about Ephesus since it’s included in the bible; Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. As someone who’s read this chapter of the bible a few times, it was exciting to see the actual town in person.
We began at the upper end of Ephesus so that our entire walk was downhill, something I appreciated considering how hot it was on the day we visited. Our guide Can (pronounced John) guided us through the best known sights of the ruins; Temple of Hadrian, Celsus Library, and Odium. Along the way he recapped the history of the area.
Ephesus was built in 334 BCE and was occupied by a variety of empires over the centuries. At one time it was a port city, but sediment eventually filled the waterway making the town useless and it fell into ruin. Today only about 15% of the ruins have been excavated.
Our tour continued with a stop at a traditional Turkish rug manufacturer where we saw demonstrations of weaving. I didn’t realize that these rugs are all made by hand and depending on the complexity of the pattern can take years to complete.
At the end we were treated to a local lunch before returning to our ship.
Pro-tip: Prior to our excursion, a lecture was offered on board about the ruins of Ephesus. I highly recommend taking advantage of any educational opportunities like this while cruising. Our tour of Ephesus was excellent, but learning about it in advance made the experience even better.
Day Five–The Island of Rhodes
Rhodes was probably the biggest surprise of our trip. I had expected ancient Greco-Roman ruins throughout our time in Greece, but I was very surprised by the first stop on our excursion of Rhodes; a medieval fortified village called Rhodes Town or Old Town.
Our tour guide, Paul, walked us through this 700 year old town first thing in the morning before the crowds arrived. Protected by a triple moat and four kilometers of walls, this fortified village was well prepared to fight off intruders. 6,000 people live and work here making it more than just a tourist stop. With plenty of shops, restaurants, and museums, you could easily spend several hours in Old Town. After our tour, we returned here for some lunch and shopping.
Our next stop was the Acropolis of Lindos. I had assumed that there was only one acropolis in the world in Athens. But it turns out many ancient Greek cities had an acropolis; a place for the protection of local villagers as well as a destination for worship. After our uphill hike to the acropolis, Paul gave an overview of it’s history which dates back to the 6th century B.C. He also shared that the Apostle Paul preached here and subsequently the bay below was name the Bay of St. Paul.
While we were fascinated by the ruins in the Acropolis of Lindos and enjoyed learning about its history, it was also the most crowded place we visited during our ten days in Greece. The walk to the top was very slow due to the hundreds of people ahead of us. In hindsight, I might have stayed in Old Town Rhodes and visited some of its museums. However, if you do plan to see this acropolis, be sure to wear good walking shoes with an excellent tread. The path is steep and slick in places.
Day 6–The Island of Crete
After three days of guided excursions, Jason and I decided it was time to explore on our own. So after arriving early in the morning at the port of Heraklion on the island of Crete, we headed out to explore the town.
Our first stop was the Fortress of Koules perched on the edge of the harbor. Originally built by the Venetians in the 13th century, this stone fort was used for storing supplies and protecting the city. It has a long and fascinating history of attacks over hundreds of years, all which are spelled out in signage and displays throughout the museum. One room displayed cannons and cannonballs that were used to fight off intruders. While we were visiting, just four other people could be seen. I’m not sure why it wasn’t busier, but I would definitely recommend this when visiting Crete.
Next up we went shopping for souvenirs. We found the shopkeepers in Heraklion to be very friendly, informative, and helpful. We ended our time on this island with coffee and pastries at an outdoor cafe.
Pro-tip: While the excursions offered through our cruise line were all excellent, I do recommend taking days off to explore on your own. Each experience has its own benefits. We learned less about our destination on days we didn’t take an excursion, but we often enjoyed time in shops, restaurants, and museums with fewer people.
Day 6 Continued–The Island of Santorini
Our ship set sail for Santorini in the early afternoon and we arrived around 4:30 p.m. This was the first island where we would board tenders (small boats) in order to reach land. Once on land we realized there were three options to reach the clifftop town of Fira; a cable car, donkeys, or walk. The line for the cable car was very long, and I wasn’t eager to mount a donkey in my dress, so we decided to walk.
There are travel experiences that aren’t fun, but do make for great stories later. This was one of those. We quickly learned that the path to walk up to Fira was shared with the donkeys, so needless to say we had to dodge the large animals and their poop. It was also quite steep and mostly in the sun. After thirty minutes we arrived at the top, sweaty but relieved. We could reward ourselves with dinner and drinks.
Thanks to a recommendation from a crew member, we had dinner reservations at Ohh Boy Restaurant & Bar. It was everything I imagined Santorini to be–a terraced outdoor restaurant with views of the sea and surrounding town. To top it all off, we enjoyed watching the sunset while sipping wine. Floating in the distance was Celestyal Crystal.
The food was delicious. I ordered octopus and Jason had lamb. Both were excellent, but we agreed that the octopus was the most tender and flavorful we’d ever had. This was the priciest dinner of our trip at $150, but considering the view, it was worth every penny.
Our ship remained in Santorini until late in the evening since this is a popular destination for bars and clubs, but that isn’t really our style, so we hopped on the cable car, boarded another tender, and called it a night.
Day 7–The Island of Mykonos
Our ship arrived early in the morning in Mykonos. Once again, we opted to explore on our own. Our early arrival meant the town of Chora (also known as Mykonos Town) was quiet. Our first stop was the windmills, an iconic sight on the island. These four windmills were built by the Venetians in the 16th century to mill wheat. While there were once 25 windmills on the island, today just a handful remain. We took pictures and then ducked into a charming gift shop filled with locally made items. We chatted with the owners, made a few purchases, and then moved on.
We hadn’t planned to visit any museum in Mykonos, but when we saw several tour groups entering and departing from the Aegean Maritime Museum, we decided to check it out. Fortunately it was free, but even if it had an admission fee, it would be worth it. The museum covers thousands of years of maritime history throughout the Greek Islands. There are hundreds of ships models along with detailed signage about the types of vessels.
The streets of Mykonos Town are paved with large, flat stones while the buildings are painted white and trimmed in yellow, blue, and pink. Souvenir shops, high end boutiques, restaurants, bars, and bakeries flank each street. The length and width of each street vary and no two are exactly alike. Mixed in are churches and tiny chapels including a few open to the public. After browsing for a few hours we grabbed a late lunch and returned to the ship. Mykonos exceeded all our expectations.
Day 8–The Island of Milos
After a few days of exploring on our own, we were ready for another guided excursion. So after our ship docked, we quickly boarded a tender and then transferred to a bus for our half day tour.
Just 5,000 people live on Milos. Because of its small size, large cruise ships are not allowed to dock here. I was really grateful to be on a smaller ship so we could experience this lesser known destination.
Our tour took us all over the island. First to the museum of mining, then to Sarakiniko Beach, a quick stop to see where Venus de Milo was discovered, and finally to the capital city of Plaka. We learned along the way that this island has always had a strong economy thanks to the presence of minerals, receives very little rain so it’s become expert in dry farming, and has catacombs built by a community of early Christians during Roman rule.
A highlight of this tour was definitely the hour or so we spent in the small town of Plaka. While the streets looked similar to Mykonos, they are not flat, but instead steeply sloped, making for a good workout while exploring. Our guide shared with us that the local food specialty is karpouzopita or watermelon pie. During a break in the guided tour, we rushed to a local bakery to try it. It was delicious. Because of the dry farming on the island, very small and sweet watermelons are grown making for the perfect pie filling.
Our tour concluded in the port town of Adamas. We had a couple of hours before our ship departed, so we explored the shops and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. One of our great joys in visiting the Greek Islands were the endless waterfront restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining. Milos would be our final opportunity for this type of meal so we took the time to savor it.
Day 9–Exploring Athens
Leaving the Celestyal Crystal was a sad moment for us. The past seven days had been filled with great food, lovely crew members, fascinating tours, and endless views. The only reason we were eager to move on was to see more of Athens.
We checked in at our hotel, the Electra Palace Athens. This highly reviewed hotel is conveniently located in the Plaka district which is filled with boutique shops and restaurants and reasonably close to the Acropolis. Our room was clean, spacious, and overlooked a central courtyard. I would certainly stay here again.
Soon we left to meet up with our guide for our afternoon tour of the Acropolis. Both Jason and I had really been looking forward to this tour and it did not disappoint. We started below the famed temples and buildings and slowly wound our way uphill with frequent stops to listen to our guide and admire the views.
With a history spanning 6,000 years I can’t possibly cover everything we learned about the Acropolis. So I’ll share a few memorable moments. The concept of theater was born here and the first known actor was named Thespis which is why actors are sometimes referred to as Thespians. As far back as 2,500 years ago, medicine was fairly advanced and surgical tools have been discovered on site. The theater called the Odeon was built in 161 A.D. and is still used today for concerts.
Come prepared with good walking shoes for a tour of the Acropolis, and if it’s a hot day, bring water. There is an elevator on the premises, but it is reserved for visitors with disabilities.
Our final dinner in Greece was outside in the Plaka district. It wasn’t the most memorable meal of our trip, but it didn’t matter. We recounted our favorite experiences over the past several days and simply soaked in the ambiance of this ancient city.
Day 10–Breakfast with a view of the Acropolis
We had a final morning in Athens before departing for the airport. Our hotel, Electra Palace, included a buffet breakfast in their rooftop restaurant with excellent views of the Acropolis. Then we took one last walk through the neighborhood. We strolled through the National Garden, took a peak at random ruins discovered during a new construction project, and then finally grabbed a cab to catch our flight. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be back. In a year filled with amazing travel experiences, Greece was my favorite.
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