PLANNING A TRIP TO GREECE?
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Overtourism in Greece
Every summer in Greece seems to get bigger than the last. It’s hard to resist the crystal clear, azure water, the beautiful beaches and the laid-back summer vibe.
But some places get a lot more love and attention than others and with that comes many issues, some environmental, some social. Demand also means prices, of course, are higher in those places and in peak period it can be very hard to get things like hire cars and taxis, even accommodation sometimes.
So what can be done about it?
Despite there being over 227 inhabited islands many tourists generally visit just two or three of the most popular dozen. Santorini and Mykonos, in particular, get the lions share of first-time visitors, who often wonder why their experience wasn’t as ‘authentic’ as they had hoped.
If you are planning a vacation in Greece this coming summer, here are a few ideas to help you have a better experience and to ensure the islands are manageable and the visitors and the money is spread a little more evenly.
When to avoid crowds in Greece
Apart from the alternate suggestions for lesser-known islands and mainland locations, there is also another big tip around timing.
Peak season in Greece is from Mid-July to the end of August. European school holidays occur from the end of June until the end of August and many Greek themselves head to the Islands in August ( which can then mean it’s a good time to visit Athens, only very hot – get a pool).
Shoulder season is Easter until June and September to November. Many people say this is the very best time to visit Greece.
Off-season in Greece is November to Easter and, as it can get very cold, many things on the islands shut as operators head back to their home towns on the Mainland.
Lesser-known Greek Island alternatives
Instead of Santorini go to Milos or Folegandros
Milos easily rivals Santorini for extraordinary volcanic landscapes and geology yet the beaches are much better.
Folegandros has a charming Chora that is like a small version of Oia, without the crowds, the cruise ships or the price tags.
Mykonos in summer can be hard work. Heaving crowds, ridiculous prices and, if you ever hear about price-gouging or blatant scams, sadly this is where they generally occur.
They say Naoussa in Paros is like Mykonos 20 years ago, while Tinos is even quieter yet has similar topography.
Only 7 minutes by ferry it’s no wonder several Hollywood celebrities have made this small, charming island their summer home. While many people visit as a day trip from Paros it is also worth staying a few days, or more.
Instead of Naxos go to the Small Cyclades or Amorgos
Just below Naxos is the stunning archipelago of small islands including Koufonisia and Schinouusa that is called the ‘Small or Lesser Cyclades’. The azure waters and sea caves around here are stunning!
Further east is the island of Amorgos, home to the 2nd oldest Monastery in Greece and an extraordinary feat of building and engineering.
Only 1 kilometre from Milos you will find a smaller version of the island that is fast becoming the ‘next Santorini’. A popular day trip, it is also worth staying a few nights if you can.
Instead of Patmos go to wonderful Lipsi
Less than an hour from Patmos Lipsi is a smaller, much quieter alternative with wonderful beaches you may have all to yourself.
Just one hour from Rhodes and you are in Symi, a fantastic island with one of the most beautiful harbour towns in all of Europe. This is a stunning place to spend a few days or weeks with many of the old neo-classical mansions converted to super stylish boutique hotels and restaurants. This island has attracted a number of creative ex-pats in recent years from New York fashion designers to Lake Como millionaires. One of Greece’s best kept secrets.
Only 30 minutes from Rhodes Chalki is a lovely island that has also a very pretty harbour and is really a smaller version of Symi in many ways.
These islands are very different propositions to much of Rhodes and are great places to enjoy an Ouzo with the locals.
Zakynthos is great but sadly the images of Navaggio (Shipwreck) Beach has bought with it hordes of boats and day-trippers, especially in Summer.
Next door is the big island of Kefalonia which offers very similar things, including day trips to Shipwreck Beach.
Next to Kefalonia is the mythical island of Ithaca, home to Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War and star of Homers’ The Iliad and The Odyssey.
To the north of Kefalonia is Lefkada which is actually one of the only islands connected by road to the mainland.
These islands are very beautiful, have wonderful beaches and are an idyllic Greek dream vacation.
Hydra is the most popular island in the Saronic group of islands, close to Athens, and is an upmarket destination famous for its beautiful neo-classical harbour lined with converted Captain’s mansions, its car free edict and it’s history as home to famous creatives such as Leonard Cohen.
Aegina is even closer to Athens – only an hour by ferry, and is a year round destination offering an authentic experience at a very affordable price. Famous for its Pistachios and the incredible Temple of Aphaia this is an island that under promises and over delivers.
Located south of Corfu and without an airport, Paxos is a wonderful place to spend summer. Covered in verdant green trees but with some of the clearest water in Europe, holidays here are truly heaven sent. Day trips to Anti-Paxos reveal even more beauty!
With a small, but much videoed International Airport Skiathos has been a firm favourite for decades but has a tendency to get very busy in Summer.
Head next door to Skopelos and its beautiful heritage-protected Old town and Mama Mia church or even further to Alonissos and its wonderful marine park, the largest protected marine area in Europe.
Sarakaniko Beach, Milos
Alternative towns and villages in Greece
These small villages are where the locals live. They have some excellent accommodation options with great views and much lower prices.
Stay in Rethymnon instead of Chania.
Rethymnon has a very charming Old Town with cobblestoned alleys festooned with Bougainvillea, but also a nice beach but is less crowded than Chania in Summer.
Stay in Loutro instead of the North.
While many parts of the north remain quite charming there is a lot of development, a lot of tourists and many areas are now foreign owned, run and occupied. Loutro is a small, authentic village in the south which remains truly Cretan and is also close to the incredible Samaria Gorge.
These small villages only have a handful of hotels and tavernas and they are all excellent. Lovely calm beaches too.
Stay in Abram or Mousouna on Naxos
Far from the summer crowds and embracing complete peace and tranquillity these small coastal villages will give you a true Naxian experience.
Stay in Assos or Agia Effimia
These pretty villages in the North of Kefalonia are small enough to retain their charm and authenticity but big enough to accommodate small numbers of tourists. Undamaged in the big earthquake their architecture is still beautifully intact.
Stay in Panormos
Far from the maddening crowds on the other side of the island this tiny village is also close to one of the best tavernas on the island, Kiki’s Taverna.
These northern cities are heaving in history and are said to some of the best food in the country. The Ottoman influence is rich and quite beautiful.
Stay in the Athenian Riviera
Less than 40 minutes from central Athens are beaches that rival many of the islands and some lovely beachside resorts, shops and restaurants. (see Mainland destinations below)
Piso Livadi, Paros
The Mainland is actually an complete alternative to the islands. This is where you will find the ‘real’ Greece, not the summer-time holiday version you see on travel posters.
Here you will find amazing beaches, wonderful food, authentic towns and villages, incredible history and archaeology, rich culture and anthropology and all at very affordable prices.
You can also find extreme luxury and decadence too if that’s what you are after. The only Aman resort in Greece (the location for the movie Glass Onion, Knives Out) is in the Peloponnese and the only Four Seasons is on the Athenian Riviera. There are high-end resort areas on the Peloponnese found in the Porto Heli region and the Costa Navarino. Here you will find luxury brands such as The Romanos and The Westin.
Athens, of course, is a year-round destination and a great alternative to the islands at any time. If you’ve visited Athens many times ( it really could take years to explore properly) or are looking for a different city experience in Greece then check out Thessaloniki, the capital of Macedonia and considered the ‘gourmet’ capital of Greece.
The interior of the Mainland also offers incredible bangs for your bucks. With the second-highest number of Mountains in Europe after Austria, many people do not know that there are over 25 ski resorts and they offer a very affordable alternative to their western European neighbours.
Even outside winter, the interior can be a delight with vibrant Autumn leaves and beautiful Spring wildflowers everywhere. Towns like Ioannina and Arachova are a wonderful place to base yourself or Kalambaka or Trikala to explore extraordinary Meteora.