Raise your hands travel tribes out there if you have restarted your travels during this pandemic period. If you remembered a few months ago, I wrote the article When Can We Travel Again? Now here we are! So sit back and relax while I take you to my very first trip abroad since 2020 lockdown….Cruising to the Greek Isles!
My very first time to cruise on a 7-day holiday. Amidst a few skepticisms of going on a cruise, e.g. seasickness…. but still, the mere fact that COVID is around….am I sure about this? Let’s not delay this trip which I have been waiting for indefinitely! Shall we?
Onboard Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, from the port of Limassol, Cyprus; which is a convenient factor for Cyprus residents. This itinerary goes to several ports of call in Greece – Piraeus and the islands of Mykonos, Santorini, Chania in Crete, and Rhodes Island. Athens and the Greek Islands, certainly an irresistible trip! This is my nth time in Greece and obviously one of my favorite countries in Europe!
In this article, I will take you through the ports of call and I’ll sum up this adventure.
First Stop – Port of Piraeus
The vessel departed 20:00 hours on a Saturday in Limassol and the whole day Sunday we are at sea. Don’t worry there is a gazillion of things to do and see while onboard. When cruising time becomes nonexistent. Agree?
At 07:00 Monday, we arrived in Piraeus, the major seaport of Athens. At 08:00 gangway is lowered for all those ready to explore the city and please note that by 19:00, all must be on board. You have 11 hours to explore the city, tick-tock!
How to get to Athens?
- By metro train from Piraeus. Please do note that a walk from the port (where the cruise liner is dock) to the metro station will be about 30 to 45 minutes. Just making sure if you’re up for it. You can take a taxi to the metro station and do your best to negotiate with the driver, with a smile. For your metro tickets, you can also get an unlimited daypass ticket for EUR 4.50.
- By Taxi. Right outside the port office is a taxi stand. Taxi fare is EUR 20, but ideally it must be around EUR 15.00 drop off at Acropolis (where the Parthenon is).
What to see and do in Athens in one Day?
- Acropolis, Athens – A Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Athens and one of the famous archaeological sites of the world. This is home of the kings and mythical gods and where democracy was born. Situated just above the city of Athens, thus Acropolis in Greek means “high city”. Approximate time to explore 1.5 to 2 hours bear in mind that this involves ascend and descent.
- Acropolis Museum – Explore ancient excavations, learn about the ancient customs and traditions and understand Parthenon’s architecture. Skip the queue and book tickets online for EUR 10.00 . Afterwards, sit at the cafe and indulge the view of the Parthenon from a distance. Museum time from 1.5 to 4 hours.
- The Greek Parliament – The Parliament is the supreme democratic institution that represents the citizens through an elected body of Members of Parliament. From Acropolis metro station, take the train to Syntagma Square, just one stop away! Once you exit, take the staircase up one level and across the street is the Parliament. Witness the changing of the Royal Guards. This can take about 30 mins, less than an hour.
- Syntagma Square – Situated in the center of Athens, Syntagma Square is not only located in the heart of Greece’s capital, it is also an important historical public area.
- Plaka – One of the oldest villages in central Athens with tavernas (restaurants), coffeeshops, and tourist shops. You will also find archaeolgical sites along the way such as Hadrian’s Library, Tower of the Winds, Monument to Lysikratous. Entrance to these sites usually have a fee. When in Plaka, sit in one of the tavernas and enjoy Greek dishes. Approximate time to spend in Plaka is about 1.5 hous or more.
- Monasteraki – From Plaka, your foot will lead you to Monasteraki flea market for a variety of items such as clothing, footwear, accessories and souvenirs. Many tourists visit this area for a good bargain.
- Ermou – For an upscale shopping where you can find international brands and Greek labels head to Ermou. Very accessible from Syntagma square, less than 10 minutes by foot. How much time do you need for shopping?
These are my suggestions when in Athens for a day. Finally time to head back to Piraeus, take the metro from Syntagma square about 15 minutes. You may want to take a taxi cab from the metro station to the port for EUR 5.00.
Second Stop – Mykonos Island
Mykonos Island needs no further introduction. The most popular island in the Cyclades group of islands, southeast of mainland Aegean sea. Indeed the party central flocked by celebrities and the affluent as they party in style. But don’t worry, everyone is welcome as you set your foot in this idyllic island.
At 07:00 hours on a Tuesday morning, the vessel is anchored a few meters away from the mainland of Mykonos. We have 11 hours to explore the island, so let’s get started!
How to go around Mykonos Island?
- By water taxi – Since Myknonos does not have a port to accommodate massive ships, a water taxi takes the passenger or an approximately 5-minute ride to town for a fare of EUR 2.00, one way. Better get a round-trip ticket to skip the queue at the ticketing office. Water taxis return to the vessel every half an hour.
- By Bus – once your are in town, the island has an efficient bus service that takes you to different areas, including the beaches. Check out here for bus timings and route. During summer, bus operate till 2 AM!
- Bike – yes bikes are becoming popular which you can rent it in several shops.
What to do and see in Mykonos in one day?
- Mykonos Town – Also called Hora by the locals and known as the St. Tropez of the Greek Islands! Such a picturesque village with its whitewashed streets, pretty and narrow alleyways, lined by well decorated shops, cafes or hotels. You wouldn’t mind getting lost along these streets as you find everything a sight to the eyes! For all of you love to shop, Mykonos have fantastic items (great finds) from international signature brands and Greek labels as well. Shopping can be incredibly grand so be prepared with lots of $$$$. The good thing during October is that most prices are slashed down.
- Little Venice – located at the southwest end of the port, are houses with wooden balconies facing the sea. These houses were built by sea captains or aristocrats before. These area are now converted to clubs, restaurants and cafes.
3. Mykonos Windmills – You can never miss the windmills on the hill just across the water of Little Venice. These windmills were used to power the island’s grain during the olden times. Mykonos is also known as the Island of the Winds.
Around the town there are museums, churches, local houses and establishments that grabs your attention. It would be nice to find a cafe to relax. Coffee usually cost at EUR 5.00 and approximate time to spend from 1.5 hours or more.
If the weather is favorable, head to these places:
4. Mykonos Beaches – Mykonos beaches have crystal clear waters and fine sand. There are buses available but for off-the-beaten paths, for a more laid-back beach consider renting a car.
5. Delos Island – A mythical island that is 10 km southwest of Mykonos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis; hence, a holy sanctuary. Private tours are booked for this excursion., weather permitting. A tour on this island will take about 2-4 hours.
Visiting Mykonos on October can be a bit chilly and windy. Thus for us we cancelled the beach trip and Delos excursion. Our day was well spent around the town!
Third Stop – Santorini Island
Undeniably the most stunning island on the southern part of Cyclades. Some experts say this might be the Lost Atlantis. All I know this is one of the destination of the lifetime and certainly on your bucketlist!
Still, the same arrival time at 07:00 hours on a Wednesday, anchored in the middle of the sea, facing the port of Fira. For smaller vessels, Santorini has a port that can accommodate them. We hop into a smaller boat or a tender boat that brings us to the island. Another 11 hours to spend on the island, let’s go!
How to go around Santorini?
- Teleferik or the cable car – the tender boats will take you to the old port of Fira and the only way is to go up towards the village. The cable car ride preludes to the stunning view of the blue Mediterranean sea, red cliffs and boats moored below. As you go all the way up, notice the contours of the cliffs caused by volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. And this is how Santorini began! Cable car ticket is at EUR 6, one way. Due to covid restriction, a maximum of four people per cable car instead of six.
2. Car rental – Highly recommended as this allows the flexibility and the opportunity to explore different areas of the island, which includes off-the-beaten tracks. Santorini is a very small island, you can actually round it up in one day. Prices vary according to car models, and yes prices can be negotiable. And one more thing, the smaller the car, the better!
3. Santorini Bus – a local bus service that connects all main towns. Check the time schedules and the routes for you to plan ahead!
What to do and see in Santorini in one day?
- Fira – the heart of Santorini, where you can lazily set your eyes to the breathtaking views all day long. Walking around Fira can be a little of cardio work out with its steep and narrow alleyways. Make sure to have a comfortable footwear. Catch your breath in one of the restaurants or cafes; coffee normally priced at EUR 4-5, similar to Mykonos. Of course a variety of shops from folk arts and crafts to designer labels! Relax and walk around in Fira for 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Oia – The second largest village and situates lower than Fira. This is a more picturesque part of the island with pavement made of marble slabs instead of cobblestones. Where do you get the best sunset on the island? Well, right here! A minimum of 1.5 to 2 hours will be good to hang out in Oia.
- Santorini Beaches – There are many beach locations in the island where you can relax with facilities. Highlighting these 2 beaches as recommendations: A) The Black Beach in Perissa– one of the popular beaches named as black due to its black sand. B) The Red Beach – surrounded by red cliffs and a short walk from Akrotiri archaelogical site.
- The Volcano – An excursion to the crater of the volcano. A boat anchors near the little island, and the surrounding waters is transluscent green due to the sulphur content. Visitors walk through a path to the rim of a crater for a minimum of 30 minutes. This usually a part of Santorini’s excursions which also includes hot springs and mud baths that last for about 4 hours.
5. Ammoudi Bay – I’m adding this as a personal choice as the best spot for incredibly good food. Located below Oia, on the seafront with the red slope cliffs surrounding. Words are not enough to describe this view, you just need to be there! However, the meal can cost $$$, but then again it matters where you are!
A worthwhile Santorini experience is about 3-5 days. I suggest renting a vehicle and go around the island. Then at your pace walk along Fira, Oia or Ammoudi Bay and just linger, take it all in the beauty of this island…
Fourth Stop – Chania, Crete
It seems our journey is closing to its end…. As they say, time flies so quickly when you are having the best days of your life! Indeed!
Moving further to the southern part of Greece is the island of Crete! The 5th largest island in the Mediterranean region. Historical records say that humans inhabited Crete during the Paleolithic age about 130,000 years ago. Minoans started the earliest and most advanced civilization from 2700 to 1420 BC.
Now you know what’s in store for you in Crete, but hey, this is just the tip of the iceberg!
In this article, we will only cover a portion of Crete which is the city of Chania or Hania on the western side of the island. Thursday morning at 7:00, we arrived at the port of Souda in Chania and being mindful that we have to be back on board by 1700 hours!
How to go to the town of Chania from Souda port?
- Bus – Going into town is easy as buses are available at a fare of Eur 1.00 for an approximately 10 minute ride. Instantly you can feel the city vibe of Chania which is laid back and with various influences.
- Taxi – Also readily available with a starting rate of EUR 1.30
What to do and see in Chania in one day?
Chania’s history dates back before the 12th century occupied by Arabs and Byzantines. Followed by Venetians towards the end of the 12th century then handed over to Turks in the later part of the 16th century. By the 1900s became under the administration of the Greek state. Chania used to be the capital of Crete but on 1971 its role was surrendered to Heraklion, the city on the eastern side…
Therefore one day is never enough to digest about this island!
- Venetian Harbour – the old town is distinguished by lovely harbour with tall Venetian houses, vibrant tavernas and shops inside alleyways. Fishing and excursion boats moor along the harbour. The architecture surrounding the harbour differentiates various periods such as medieval castle, turkish quarters, houses before world war two and the ruins. A minimum 2 hours you can spend at the harbour.
- Firka Fortress – In Turkish it means military division. From the west entrance of the harbour, across the narrow channel of the lighthouse is the old turkish prison and now the Nautical Museum of Crete. Exihibits the seafaring history of the island and you have the opportunity to walk along the ramparts for a great city view.
3. Eat and drink at the harbour – Coffee is priced at EUR 3.50 and meals are reasonably priced. Please don’t miss out on tasting Cretan dishes and wine.
4. Archaeological Museum of Chania – Just a two-minute walk from the harbour, housed in the former Venetian church of St. Francis, has artifacts from Wester Crete, evidence of the Minoans, ancient Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans.
5. Book for a hammam treatment – a relaxing and cleansing treatment that starts in a steam room, followed by scrubs and bathing. An age-old tradition that is of Arab origin. Package treatments usually start at EUR 50, minimum an hour to 3 hours.
Without realizing, this can be a very full day at the lovely town in Chania. The town’s infrastructure has been well preserved all these years. Such a pretty town to explore!
Fifth Stop – Rhodes Island
The last and final port of call, culminating this Greek Isle Cruise. However, just a bit unfortunate that we only have so little time, we have to be back on board by 1400!
Down to the southernmost part of mainland Greece is the Dodecanese group of twelve islands. On the eastern edge of the Aegean sea around the shores of Turkey and Asia Minor. Finally, here we are at Rhodes Island, known as the “Island of the Sun God Helios”!
How to go around the town of Rhodes Island?
How do you feel getting off the ship just where the Medieval gates are? Sounds like a Crusader’s entrance!
- Hop on and Hop off Bus Tour – Straightaway we hop on to the bus. Tickets at EUR 12.00 that goes around the town. Earphones are provided with an audio guide available in several language. Press 1 for Greek, 2 for English and so on. The bus goes to key multiple stops around the town. You can get off if you want to explore further and hop on to the next bus. Make sure you have the ticket with you at all times. The duration last for approximately one hour.
- Public buses – Central buses are in Rhodes town, connecting various destinations in the island.
- Vehicle Rentals – There are many car rental companies to choose from and the island has good and safe roads. This provides flexibility as you move around.
What to do and see in Rhodes Island in one day?
These are suggested itineraries for a day in Rhodes, especially when you have less than a day to explore.
- The Old Town of Rhodes – Well preserved Crusader’s past from 700 years ago. A walk to the cobblestone streets, popularly known as the knight’s street used to be their homes back in the days. You can see flags, and the knight’s symbols or insignas on their quarters.
- Grand Palace of the Grand Master of Knights. This is a UNESO World Heritage Site built around the 7th century. Entrance ticket at EUR 8.00 or EUR 10.00 depending on additional access such as gardens and museums. Approximately 2 hours to half a day to explore.
- Faliraki Beach – Just 14 km from the city center and one of the most popular beaches in Rhodes Island. A relaxing day at the beach for a few hours then you can head to the shopping district. Here is your beach guide in Rhodes Island.
- Shopping! – There are various shops such as crafts, folk arts and souvenirs inside the Medieval town. Cyprus Square, in the city center have several fashion brand labels, and other specialty shops.
Still, got time to explore more?
4. Valley of Butterflies – Thousands of butterflies swarm around the valley during August. Located between Paradisi and Theologos villages, 26 kilometers away from the city center. You can make arrangements for private tours or by bus.
5. Lindos – One of the fascinating archaeological sites on the island with 5,000 years of history. This village is 47km from the city center, about one hour drive. Public buses are also available. Many visitors are awed by the white flat houses that rise up a slope from a sandy beach. On top of the hill is the Acropolis of Lindos that has a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Lindia. An excursion to Lindos will take at least half a day, or if you have the whole day go for it!
Rhodes Island fascinates me in so many ways. As a traveler, there is so much in store from historical sights to a cosmopolitan vibe. This calls for another trip, just dedicated to this island! Are you in?
Traveling During the Pandemic
During port days, we hop on to taxis, metro trains, buses, cable cars, water taxis, and strolling around these islands together with tourists and locals. And I feel safe.!
Passengers onboard the cruise ship are all vaccinated, following the usual protocols of wearing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing. Entering shops, museums, restaurants, and other establishments in Greece, one is required to present vaccine certificates or EU digital passes. In some of the islands like Mykonos, as of this writing, the vaccination percentage is at 80%.
Yet it doesn’t mean we will never catch the virus, in spite of this, we can move with fewer restrictions in this part of the world. Though traveling nowadays requires more preparation and awareness of varying protocols in every country. Be in the know first before booking your travels.
Truly a memorable cruise to the Greek islands! The only drawback is that time is too short to be at port days. But then again you get a foretaste of every island.
Any of these islands you fancy visiting soon? Or tell us your favorite island in Greece!
Definitely, I will be back in Greece!