Last month, I had the pleasure of experiencing several locations in Greece via a cruise ship (Atlas Ocean Voyages, to be exact). I wanted to share with you my favorite parts of this bucket list trip originating in Egypt (where I had the pleasure of touring some of the most famous landmarks in the ancient world) with stops in Cyprus, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, ending in Athens.
Santorini and Mykonos are the best-known part of the archipelago known as the Cyclades, located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea.
Mykonos is a windy island famously known for its vibrant nightlife. Little Venice is a popular party destination, with parties typically lasting all night. The Windmills and Mykonos Town are trendy places for those iconic Instagram photos. Some famous beaches include Kalafati Beach and Elia Beach (beware of nudists on one side of the beach here).
When in Mykonos, if you want to see ancient ruins, take a tour of Ancient Delos. A 45-minute water taxi ride away from Mykonos Town harbor, you can enjoy a walk through history and discover the ancient city with its marketplaces, public squares, the Temple of Apollo, Sanctuary of Artemis, and the amphitheater.
Santorini is best known for its Caldera, and the picturesque (and often Instagrammed) town of Oia is a great place to take photos of the famous blue domes and the white-washed Cycladic buildings. Shopping is plentiful in Santorini, where clothing, pottery, and artwork are Wine tasting is also a fun thing to do here. Did you know that grapevines in Greece grow close to the ground (vs. being guided via traditional grapevine trainers)? This is due to the lack of rainfall in Greece. Santorini wines are more volcanic, and there are a few fabulous wineries to choose from to enjoy a delectable tasting experience under the guidance of experienced wine experts where you will learn all about the local grape varieties and viticulture of Santorini. A Sunset Cruise is a popular activity in Santorini. They often sail to the Red and White beach for swimming while the crew prepares for the barbeque and lunch on board. Ending the day, you’ll sail under the picturesque Oia for the spectacular sunset.
Our guide told us that every family has a chapel on Santorini. In Pyrgos village, there are 200 people, 80 churches, and only one priest (he’s exhausted, I understand).
Ancient Rhodes Town is like a movie set everywhere you turn. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy behind the walls and a museum. The Palace of the Grand Masters, one of Greece’s only examples of gothic architecture, functioned as a palace, military headquarters, and fort. It may be the same site where the ancient Colossus of Rhodes stood. Movie buffs might recognize Rhodes Town since The Guns of Navarone was filmed at Rhodes port.
On the way to Lindos, we stopped at a pottery studio where we were treated to a demonstration by the artist Giannis himself! His masterpieces include images of fresh herbs, pomegranates, and grapes in the Village and Rhodium styles.
One of Greece’s oldest and most famous archaeological sites (older than even the Acropolis of Athens) is the Acropolis of Lindos, a structure built into a rocky hillside nearly 300 feet high. The view from the top is breathtaking!
Lindos was important and prosperous in ancient times due to its central location. Lindos is a pedestrian-only site, so bring your walking shoes. Donkey tours are available for those who don’t think they can manage the walk, but the trip up the ancient path shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.
We enjoyed a birds-eye view of our ship from the Lindos Acropolis, the Atlas Ocean Voyages World Navigator.
Patmos is best known as the location where the Apostle John received the visions found in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament, and where the book was written in a cave.
The Saint John Monastery sits high atop a hill and serves as the most important religious and cultural center on the island. When we toured the cave, there was an actual baptism in progress.
One of the many highlights of my visit to Greece was the rich and varied cuisine. It was the perfect tour to get an authentic feel of Athens! Taking a local food tour is a great way to sample a variety of dishes. Better yet, you can sample them at the very best places in town, away from the tourist traps.
A food and wine tour of Athens leads you through the city’s most historic neighborhoods and allows you to sample a variety of classic local dishes, wines, and small plates. Wander through authentic corners of the city and visit several dedicated artisans that have perfected their recipes over the decades, specialized food stores sourcing the best products from all over Greece as well as the vibrant central food market.
The first stop on our walking food tour was for Koulouri from a street vendor. Greeks aren’t fans of breakfast, so they eat this sesame bread ring instead. This treat is incredibly crunchy on the outside with an amazingly soft and slightly chewy center.
Our next stop was a unique Greek food product store called Matsoukas (there is also one in Mykonos). You can find many Greek delicacies here, including spoon sweets (jarred sweet things to spoon onto your plate), fresh pistachios, a Turkish delight called loukoumi, and halvas, a treat made from the pulp of sesame seeds (they eat it during their fasting at Lent) which is nutritious, fatty, and satisfying. I could have spent all day here!
Further down a few blocks, we arrived at Aiolou, a street of food places that is one of the most historic and cool pedestrian streets in the city center. It starts near Omonoia Square and ends in the famous and oldest neighborhood of Plaka at the foot of the Acropolis.
We made a quick stop to a coffee shop to taste Loukoumades, a deep-fried dough that takes the flavor of the topping. Traditional toppings include cinnamon and honey. Paired with Turkish coffee, it’s a real treat! When your cup is empty, tradition says there is a fortune in the bottom of the cup, made from the swirled grounds left behind. What do you think mine says?
After walking through a local meat market (definitely NOT for the faint of heart), we ended the food tour with a wine tasting (and a shot of Ouzo) accompanied by Greek charcuterie. Opa!
Once you’re sufficiently well-fed, a visit to the ancient ruins is in order. We climbed the steep pathway to the top of the sacred rock of the Acropolis, passing by the Odeon amphitheater on our way to the Parthenon. Luckily, our food tour guide was also licensed as a guide for ancient ruins, and we learned all about the rich heritage of Athens and the cultural achievements of the Greek civilization. She was able to seamlessly weave a foodie tour into an educational tour of the Acropolis!
The souvenir shops are cheaper in Athens because the islands have plenty of tourists, but Athens does not. If you see something you like in Athens, get it there. You will not find it cheaper on Santorini or Mykonos.
During your time in Athens, be sure to have dinner at the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Grand Bretagne – not only do you get great views of the Acropolis at night, but you also get a birds-eye view of the changing of the guard at Parliament! It is such a cool, intricately choreographed show!
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