Athens Santorini Crete are three of the most popular destinations in Greece for good reason. Their iconic landscapes and historic sites make them some of the most photographed places in the world.
This itinerary ensures you make the absolute most out of your visit to these two islands and one of the world’s great cities. It covers how to get around, where to stay, top things to see and do, and even where to eat and drink. Just adjust the number of days in each place to suit your needs and your time frame.
Your Athens Santorini Crete Itinerary
– how long in each?
There really is no right or wrong answer to this. The best answer, of course, is to stay as long as you can and hopefully, that’s a long time! But most of us have limited time and it needs to be spent wisely.
We have not bound this itinerary with specific numbers of days but rather our MINIMUM recommended. This articles also suggests things to do at your own pace as many may be weather dependant or you might want to be more spontaneous than having a rigid itineray.
Fly straight from Athens to Crete ( or direct to Crete) for 3 days, ferry to Santorini for 2 days, ferry OR fly to Athens for 2, fly home
Fly from Athens to Crete ( or direct to Crete) for 5 days, Santorini for 3, Athens for 2
Athens 2 days, overnight in Meteora, fly to Crete 7 days, ferry to Santorini 3 days, fly to Athens 1 day ( near airport – see paragraph at the end of this article)
PLANNING A TRIP TO GREECE?
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When to visit Greece
The best times to visit Greece are April-June and September-October. The weather is mild and most places have few crowds. High season is late June to early September, and prices will reflect that as will the crowds, the number of cruise ships and accommodation availability.
Summer is still great, especially for beach time and in some of the lesser-known spots. The water is warm, there are blue skies every day and a fun holiday atmosphere.
Easter is an especially wonderful time to visit Greece as it becomes very festive with parades, parties, and on many islands bonfires, fireworks and other activities and traditions. There are many festivals throughout the year that can vary from place to place and can be quite fascinating to witness.
Best beach and swimming weather: June to September
Best sightseeing weather: March to June and September/October
Athens 2 or 3 days
Athens is the capital of Greece and home to some of the most iconic and important historical sites and monuments in the world.
It’s one of the oldest cities in the world and considered one of the most fascinating. You could easily spend a month in Athens and only scratch the surface so be sure to allow at least a few days here, and always make sure your last night in Greece is back on the mainland before your flight home, even if its at an airport hotel or close by.
There are several ways to get to Athens which cover air, sea, rail, driving and even on foot!
Apart from the many things you can do in Athens including great shopping, incredible food, and all the ancient sites there is also great nightlife with a plethora of bars, tavernas, and clubs to choose from. There are a lot of new hotels and rooftop restaurants many with incredible Acropolis views.
How to get to Athens
Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos, commonly initialised as AIA, is the largest international airport in Greece. It is usually serviced by Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Qatar and Air China are the best choices for people flying from Asia, the Middle East or Oceania and budget airline Scoot also now fly into Athens. Aegean Airlines codeshares with Etihad.
From the US & Canada, choices include American, Delta, United, and Air Canada and most European carriers have several flights a day in summer including Turkish Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, and Ryan Air.
To get to the city centre you can catch the Metro, a Taxi or the bus or, our book a private transfers. Only 2Euro more than a cab!
You can also arrive by Ferry from some towns in Turkey, Albania, Italy and Croatia.
It’s also possible to now arrive by train. You can either catch the Eurostar to Bari in Europe and then a ferry across to Greece or travel down through Greece via Paris, Munich, Belgrade & Thessaloniki. More information is available here.
Arriving overland is also a fun and fascinating way to arrive. Albania, FYROM, Bulgaria and Turkey and it can be a lot of fun and incredibly interesting to arrive by car or bus and to continue to explore Greece by road.
For further reading check out our comprehensive article on Driving in Greece.
Where to stay in Athens
* We recommend hotels and apartments on Booking.com in Greece instead of Airbnb’s and Vrbos. Greek hotels are not like everywhere else – they all include amazing big breakfasts, many have kitchenettes and the Greek service and hospitality is legendary. This is all part of the full ‘Greek Experience’ that people miss out on if they self-cater. Plus, no cleaning or cooking! Most rooms are fully refundable, which in recent years has been very important. (please book via our links to help support this site)
For couples: Zillers Hotel has only 10 rooms and amazing Acropolis views from some rooms and the lovely rooftop bar and restaurant and it’s right on Mitropolous dining street, or The Foundry Suites in Psiri are uber-cool – once an industrial foundry and also with a lovely rooftop bar and garden with amazing views.
We also love Athenian Residences in Psyri ( our favourite neighbourhood) which have a very romantic vibe, and a swimming pool!
Solo: I love to stay at Ergon House when I’m on my own. It’s across from Zillers and part of the famous Ergon food emporiums. They have even let me use my room until my 6 pm International flight at no extra charge!
Where to eat in Athens
Breakfast: If you are staying in a hotel breakfast ( and usually a very delicious one) is likely to be included in your hotel tariff. Otherwise, the Brunch Factory does incredible meals for breakfast and lunch.
Lunch: Nikitas in Psiri for cheap and cheerful homecooked meals or Kostas for amazing Gyros. Cafe Melina is one of the prettiest spots in the Plaka or Gyros Pou Gyrevis for fantastic Gyros near the Acropolis Museum.
Dinner: Maiandros or Athinaikon in Monastiraki/Syntagma. We also love Yiasemi in Plaka ( the much-photographed steps) or Lithos Taverna in Psiri does my favourite Moussaka. And book yourself at least one night at an amazing Michelin Starred and/or Rooftop restaurant, for a truly unforgettable night!
Drinks: enjoy Sunset drinks at the Grand Bretagne Rooftop bar, 360 Cocktail Bar, A fo Athens Roof top bar ( be sure to book this as its small) MS Roof Garden or Thea Terrace. The Clumsies is one of Europes most famous bars as is Brettos. We also love to catch some jazz at The Speakeasy or a quite drink at Drunk Sinatra.
If it’s lively nightlife you are after the whole of Kolokotroni Street and Agias Irinis Square is where you find the best of Athens bar and club scene.
Further reading: 11 of the Best Rooftop Restaurants in Athens
Things to do in Athens
- wander down Ermou Pedestrian Street
- Visit Syntagma Square and see Parliament House and the Changing of the Greek Presidential Guard – the Evzones
- wander through Plaka and the many cafes, shops and galleries
- stop by the Monastiraki flea market
- walk into the Athens Central Food Market
- Visit the Acropolis either as early or as late as possible. Read our Full Guide on how to do this and the Acropolis Museum.
- Visit the Acropolis Museum
- Catch the Red Hop on Hop off bus to visit various ancient sites and points of interest
- Stroll through the National Gardens and see the Temple of Zeus
- have coffee or a drink in the Plaka
- Take in an open air concert at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
- Spend time before, during or instead of a concert in the lively area of Psiri including a visit to the colourful and very kooky Little Kook!
- If you are spending 3 or 4 days in Athens ( or longer) you could do one of the many amazing day trips that are possible. These include visiting ancient sites like Delphi and Cape Sounion, extraordinary marvels like Meteora, the fascinating Peloponnese peninsula – archaeology, mythology, wineries!, or even a trip out to the beautiful Saronic Islands. Read all about our suggested day trips.
Santorini – 2 to 4 days
Santorini is a bucket list destination for most people and for good reason.
Despite the cruise ships and the crowds, it remains one of those places that not only meets your expectations but probably exceeds it. The views truly are the stuff of legends and it is little wonder it is so popular with honeymooners.
It can get a bit crazy when the cruise ships come in each day so a room with a pool and terrace makes for a great escape for an afternoon siesta and sundowners. When you re-emerge for dinner most of the tourists will have floated away!
We love to stay in Oia which is considered the most picturesque village, although a lot of people also enjoyed Imerovigli which is about a 20 minute walk along the nice flat footpath that runs along the Caldera seam.
There are a surprising amount of things to do on Santorini with beaches, wineries, hot springs, great shopping and some of the worlds most iconic and photographed sunsets.
How to get to Santorini
You can travel from Athens to Santorini by ferry or by plane. Return to Athens from Meteora either on your overnight tour, by driving or by train.
There are also many ferries each day, year round.
Most service either the Western or Eastern Cyclades Islands and on to Athens whilst some come from Crete. Book ferry tickets HERE.
NEED TRANSport FOR Santorini?
Book Ferry tickets HERE
Book Hire Car HERE
Book Airport Shuttle Bus HERE
Book Private Airport Pickup HERE
Book helicopter transfers for Santorini HERE
Where to stay in Santorini :
For couples: Ducato Di Oia ( adults only) suites in Oia or Above Blue Suites in Imerovigli for more isolation and at a lower price point. Canaves Oia Epitome is one of the most iconic luxury hotels in Europe and is incredibly romantic. Aspa Villas are great value for money and most rooms have hot tubs.
In Oia we have had a great stay with our family at Armeni Village and Myst Boutique Hotel is also worth checking out. If you want to be right near a beach then Crystal Blue in Kamari is great or Damma Luxury Villas have a wonderful 4 bedroom beachfront villa that can sleep 8.
Solo: Kivotos in Imerovigli for a splurge or Abelonas Retreat on a tight budget. For something a bit different stay at Pyrgos 1870 winery or in the authentic medieval village of Pyrgos at Aroma Cavas Apartments or Skyfall Suites (adults only).
Where to eat in Santorini
Lunch: Lefkes Taverna in Oia is hard to beat for food or service. It often books out well in advance. Some of the Wineries such as Santos are great for lunch but be sure to book head there too. Other spots we love are Aeolos Taverna in Akrotiri or Akro Beach Bar at Black Beach.
Dinner: Santorini Mou in Oia or Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna in Ammoudi Bay are wonderful. For stunning clifftop views check out Lycabettus, Lauda and Strogoli for special occassions and Melitini, Thalami and Pelekanos for traditional meals.
You also MUST book a sunset dinner cruise on the Caldera for one of the nights.
Things to do in Santorini
- check into your hotel and explore your local area. If cruise ships are in you may want to rest up and explore at night when it is less crowded and cooler.
- explore the maze of streets in Oia including Panagia Platsani Church
- visit famous Atlantis Books for a unique bookshop experience
- check out the many upmarket boutiques and jewellery shops in Oia
- walk down to Oia Castle
- a half day tour of the island
- tour the world renowned wineries with a sommelier
- do wine tasting AND a cooking class
- swim at Black Beach, Red Beach and Kamari Beaches
- visit authentic Pyrgos village and see what Santorini is like for long time locals
- do a sunset fishing trip with dinner and drinks
- attend a ‘traditional’ Greek wedding!
- have a professional photographic session done – hard to beat the backdrop
- or do a ‘Flying Dress’ photography session – the hottest thing on Instagram!
Crete – 4-14 days
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands and the 5th largest in the Mediterranean – its bigger than many countries!
Not only is it big but it is also very diverse with a wide expanse of mountain ranges and gorges as well as a stunning coastline with some of the best beaches in Europe. Add to that a colourful and often tragic history with significant Ottoman and Venetian influences and you have a destination that is often a trip all on its own.
We recommend you visit for no less than 4 days and if that is all you have base yourself in either Chania or Rethymon. Ideally you would have at least 10 days which would see you able to cover most things in the northern half and several of the western beaches as well.
How to get to Crete
There is also a small domestic airport at Lassithi which is close to popular Sitia.
Many people also arrive by Ferry. The main terminal is in Heraklion but there is also a port in Chania and both have regular connections with Athens. In Summer there are also ferries from the Capital to Sitia and Rethymnon.
NEED TRANSPORT FOR CRETE?
Book Ferry tickets HERE
Book Hire Car HERE
Book Airport Shuttle Bus HERE
Book Private Airport or Port Pickup HERE
*TIP The public bus on Crete is quite good but it can take a long time to get from one place to the next, with many stops. This is one island where it really is vital to rent a car. The driving is quite easy with wide modern highways (and lots of narrow roads too but you can avoid them much of the time).
Where to stay in crete
If you are short on time then Chania or Rethymnon are the best places to stay. Heraklion too but the others are much prettier.
If you have at least 8 days its a good idea to divide it up between say Chania for the East and somewhere like Agios Nikoloas or Elounda for the East.
If you have even more time and/or really want to get away from it all then head to the south where some places are still only accessible by boat.
In Chania Monastery Estate Venetian Harbour is stunning and right near the old town and the beautiful Venetian Harbour. Amazing views and hot-tubs too!
Budget travellers check out Porto Chania which is amazing value for money.
In Rethymnon it’s hard to beat Dyo Suites which has suites with amazing sea views and indoor jacuzzis, or Vista Del Porto Luxury Suites are very similar. Rimondi Boutique Hotel is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World Group and is right in the heart of the Old Town near Pepi Boutique Hotel which is Adults Only and also incredible.
For families and groups:
Kores Boutique Houses in Chania have big 3 bedroom villas that can sleep up to 6 people or you could rent adjoining two-bedroom apartments at Centro Storico or Spring Apartments. Hotels like Epavli Boutique and SanSal are very experienced in looking after large groups and have fantastic swimming pools too.
Elois Suites in Rethymnon Old Town have 2 bedrooms apartments that sleep 4 or Made of Blue Luxury Suites have 3 bedrooms Villas. Calmare is a new and very chic property on the beachfront near the OId Town and have family rooms – worth a look!
There are not a lot of All-Inclusive resorts in Greece. Most people prefer to enjoy local tavernas at night and we try and support local owned business and not big foreign owned brands.
There are several in Crete though and they are scattered across the island. Our pick would be The Syntopia Hotel ( Adults Only) near Rethymnon or lavish Stella Island in Hersonissos ( west of Chania). If travelling with children then Fodele Beach Water Park and Creta Maris Beach Resort are very popular and have heaps of activities for the kids.
Solo travellers love Consolato Boutique and Scala de Faro in Chania – both small hotels with gorgeous rooms and right in the Old Town. Be sure to book a room with a terrace and views! Both are also great value especially given the sumptuous breakfast they include.
Where to eat and drink in CRETE
Cretan cuisines is unique and not like you will find on other Greek islands. A lot of it is similar of course but there is a distinct Ottoman and Pontian influence that has been handed down by generations.
The local produce and organic ingredients make Crete a very popular destinations with food fanatics and a farm, wine or cooking experience is usually on everyones agenda. As well as eating!
Breakfast is always included in hotel tariffs ( amazing ones too!). If you have chosen an Airbnb you will have to budget to self-cater or go out & many places will not open before 10am. Phyllo Breakfast and Brunch is a great places to go or Bizoudaki for great coffee.
Lunch by the beach is one of the many great things about visiting Crete. Places like Blue Restaurant and Kaiki in Chania have wonderful waterfront locations and great food.
When you are out visiting the western beaches be sure to stop in at Spilios above Falasarna Beach, Kalomirakis Tavern near Elafonisi and Limani Fish Tavern right on Kassamos Port ( if you have been on a Balos Beach boat trip).
In Rethymnon you must eat at Stella’s Kitchen, an institution in the Old Town as is Castelo, Othonas and Nyn & Aei. We also love Achinos on the Harbour and Barrio on the beach.
Cretan Wine is some of the best in Greece and the wine region behind Heraklion is particularly good.
It’s really worth driving up EO trakliou Faistou Highway to Douloufakis and Silva Daskalaki Wineries or further east are the excellent Lyrarakis, Domaine Paterianakis and Winery Stilianou as well as many other smaller producers. Joining a wine tour is actually the easiest way of doing this.
There are way too many places to mention for evening dining in Crete but here’s a handful that should not be missed.
In Chania the harbourfront restaurants of Salis and Palis are iconic and very good. In the backstreets Strata, To Koutourouki and Oinóa are all local institutions while the Well of the Turk has been serving authentic Cretan food to happy customers for decades.
In Rethmnon be sure to book Achinos Rethymnon early for a harbour view and La Boheme for a stunning garden setting.
If dining in Heraklion then Peskesi cannot be missed (possible the most iconic taverna on the island) or Amalia’s Kitchen for authentic home-cooked dishes. There is also a great chocolate café called Utopia.
Elsewhere on the island people go out of their way to dine at The Ferryman in Elounda and Gioma Meze in Agios Nikolaos.
There’s no shortage of bars on the Crete either with a number of nightclub strips as well as small bars and craft breweries.
Fagotto Jazz Bar in Chania is lots of fun as is Sinagogi Cocktail Bar which has a beautiful outdoor courtyard. If you want more of a pub atmosphere then the Avalon Rock Pub is right on the harbour and hard to miss.
In Rethymnon Fortezza Lighthouse Bar has a great vibe (can get pretty wild even)and views while the Livingroom Lounge is more subdued but popular and also waterfront. In the Old Town we love the charming Monitor Art Cafe and Nafpigio who have live music regularly.
Things to do in crete
There is a huge variety of activities on Crete for all different interests, ages and abilities.
- Hiking the Samaria Gorge (Chania)
- swimming at Seitan Limania (Chania)
- visiting beautiful Elafonisi Beach (Chania)
- see the amazing Kedrodasos cedar forest and Beach(Kissamos)
- a boat trip to Balos Lagoon (Chania)
- hang out at the Venetian Harbor of Chania (Chania) and perhaps a walking tour too
- Do an Olive Oil tour and tasting
- Do a day trip to Lefka Ori / White Mountains (Chania) – there is a great cooking class here!
- Arkadi Monastery (Rethymno)
- Ideon Andron cave / Psiloritis Mountain (Rethymno)
- Visit Knossos Palace – home of the Minataur (Heraklion)
- Archaeological Museum of Heraklion (Heraklion)
- Spend the day exploring the many wineries ( see dining above)
- Zeus Cave ( where he was born) (Heraklion)
- explore the Palm Forest of Vai (Agios Nikolaos)
- a boat trip to Spinalonga Island – a former leper colony (Agios Nikolaos)
Your last night in Greece
We always recommend spending your last night in Greece where your flight home departs from. So if that’s from Athens then spend the last night there. Either add one last night on and spend it in one of the airport hotels or surrounds ( there are a surprising number of choices here) or do all your Athens days together at the end, which is what we often do.
Every year ferries are cancelled and flights are delayed due to bad weather, especially the Meltemi wind, or industrial strikes. Don’t get caught out!
The Athenian Riviera
Don’t forget Travel Insurance!
It’s important to make sure you are covered for medical expenses ( some countries may include this in health insurance) but also for lost baggage, flight and ferry delays and cancellations, theft, and emergencies, including something that happens back home while you are away.
This can save you tens of thousands of dollars, or even more.