Greece is such a special place. The food, the culture, the people, the scenery, the sea it's truly the most perfect place for a dreamy, stress free vacation. To share my love of Greece I decided to create an off the beaten path Greece itinerary for you to answer all the questions I received during my trip and more!
As always when I travel I always try to plan everything on my own (or with the help of whoever I am traveling with). Growing up my mom planned all of our family trips without the help of a travel agent so I'm lucky enough that planning trips has just become second nature to me. We've always tried to travel as inexpensively as we can, without sacrificing comfort or experiences! So similar to my 10 days on a budget in Iceland itinerary I am going to share all of our tips and tricks for doing Greece on a budget!
How to start planning a Greek island hopping itinerary:
The first step of planning a trip to the Greek islands is decided what islands you want to go to! As both me and my mom had been to Greece before we wanted to try to go to islands we hadn't been before.
The last time we traveled to Greece we chose to go to Santorini, Milos, Paros, Naxos and Folegandros. I wish I could provide some recommendations for those islands as I know they are quite popular but sadly we went so long ago (2013!) that I am sure the islands are so different now.
One of the main things to think about when deciding what islands to go to is how are you going to get to and from each island? Are you going to take ferries or fly? Not all Greek islands have airports, and the ferry schedules to some of the smaller islands can be tricky to work your dates around so this is a HUGE thing I would encourage you to think about while planning your route.
For this trip we booked our flights during an Air Canada seat sale so our dates were set in stone well before we started planning. I'd recommend picking a few key islands close together or one main island that is a non negotiable for you and planning your trip around that! My mom has a personal goal of traveling to all of the Blue Zones so she knew she wanted to make it to Ikaria this trip if it was possible. So we used used Go Ferry to look at which islands have ferry's that go to Ikaria. Since it is a lesser known island the ferry schedule was very infrequent so this was a huge challenge when planning (spoiler alert: we made it work!).
As most international flights fly into Athens, to maximize our time on each island we decided going to fly to the first island and then fly back to Athens from the last island before heading home. This also made it easier to plan our route because we knew the islands at the beginning and end of the trip needed to have an airport. PS. You can just use Google trip planner to find the cheapest flight routes!
Our Greece trip
Artemis (beach town close to airport)- 1 night
*Fly Athens -> Syros
Syros- 4 nights
*Ferry Syros ->Tinos : 30 minutes
Tinos- 3 nights
*Ferry Tinos -> Mykonos: 25 minutes
Mykonos- 3 nights
*Ferry Mykonos -> Ikaria: 2.5 hours
Ikaria- 4 nights
*Fly Ikaria -> Athens
Syros is an island filled with history, culture, beautiful architecture, amazing food and beautiful crystal clear turquoise water. I found it so different than any of the other Greek islands I have ever been to. It still has the typical whitewashed houses and beautiful vibrant flowers you think of when you think of Greece, however they are mixed in with colourful mansions and beautiful churches. Syros is actually one of the most populated Cyclades islands and is referred to as the economic capital of the Cylcades. Ermopouli, the main city (and port) is a busy town, filled with shops, restaurants and churches. As Syros is typically one of the main vacation destinations for people from the mainland of Greece, it was mainly composed of locals and Greeks which was amazing.
Stay: Esperance rooms - We stayed here for all four of our nights in Syros and loved it! The view was beautiful, the location was perfect- right next to the bus station and right across from the port, the breakfast was amazing and the staff were incredibly friendly.
Transportation: Out of all of the islands we went to this trip, the buses were the best in Syros! The schedules are a little confusing to understand if you google them, but ask at your hotel and they will definitely help you out! We traveled basically everywhere we wanted to on the island by bus and it was very inexpensive (about 3 Euros total for two). The buses ran fairly consistently however if you want to stay at one of the beaches past sunset you will likely have to take a taxi back to Ermopoli.
Beaches: You'll see by the end of this post that beach hopping is one of my favourite activities so I take my beaches very seriously.
- Galissas beach - I think this was my favourite beach of the entire trip. It was easily accessible by bus, was populated but not too busy, there were about 3 little tavernas as well as beach chairs you could rent for 5-10 Euros each for the entire day. The sand was beautiful white sand, the water was SO clear and you could walk out so far it was amazing. I'd also recommend hiking (only 10 minutes) to the church to the left of the beach for an amazing view.
- Kini beach - Another beautiful beach popular among tourists and locals but I didn't love it as much as Galissas. I found it busier and a bit smaller so people were very close to you. We rented the beach chars from the taverna on the farthest left and they were free all day as long as we each bought a coffee or drink!
- Vaporia beach - Not quite a beach but a swimming spot right in Ermoupolis town if you don't feel like venturing out. It is basically a cement slab, right next to the crystal clear water, which also boasts one of the best views of the city. It was super busy when we tried to go so we just walked down and took pictures
- Spend an evening with Hermoupolis Heritage touring an old textile factory, eating a traditional workers meal with new friends and diving into the history of Syros
- Hermoupolis Heritage Boat tour- we were lucky enough to be able to experience this amazing boat tour and it is by far one of my favourite things we did while in Greece. If you are going to do one thing while in Syros make sure it is this! We spent the afternoon and evening touring the coast of Syros by boat, jumping into crystal clear water and enjoying fresh sea urchins, fruit and ouzo!
- Get lost in Ano Syros- Ano Syros literally meaning "old" Syros is found way up on the hill overlooking the new city. It's comprised of tiny whitewashed houses, narrow pedestrian streets and amazing views of the harbor below. The walk up took us about 2 hours (BUT we got lost and started walking to the other hill). As the sun gets very hot around midday I'd recommend starting in the morning or evening (you can also take a taxi up if you prefer!). Sadly as we were a little too early in the season most of the shops were only opened on weekends so nothing was opened when we arrived but we spent an hour wandering around, getting lost and looking in the monastery at the top of the hill!
- Spend some time shopping! Of all the islands we were on Syros has the most shops selling things other than just souvenirs. If you are looking to shop head down to the main squares and walk around the surrounding streets to find a mix of local stores and chain stores!
- Walk out to the pier- for the best view of Ermopoulis and both hills!
- Plakostrato- Sadly this ones a little hard to reach by public transportation (we had to hire a taxi) but it's WORTH IT. This was one of my favourite sunset views throughout our entire time in Greece. It's definitely a tourist spot which would normally turn me off but it was still so authentic, the servers were incredibly friendly, the food was so good, and I found the value for money amazing!
- Chill box (they can be found all over Greece)- every time me and my mom are in Greece we HAVE to stop at Chill box. It's a Greek chain serving frozen Greek yogurt. We first tried the coconut flavour back on our first trip to Greece and I still dream about it.
- ALLOU YIALOU in Kini beach- this one was highly recommended on Google. It was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset but it was very overpriced in my opinion. It was beautiful and the food was amazing but the portion sizes were fairly small. This was our most expensive dinner we had while in Greece and although it was good I don't know if I'd go back.
The island of tiny villages. Tinos is typically characterized as a religious island, being known for the island's church Panagia Megalochari- one of the most visited religious pilgrimages in Greece. It is a very chill, relaxing island and not one you'd seek out if you are looking for crazy nightclubs. It's another island where I would say majority of the tourists were from various areas throughout Greece. The island's biggest hidden gems are it's villages. Scattered all throughout the mountains and along the coast the tiny villages help keep the tradition alive on the island.
Transportation: Tinos was one of the islands where it is essential to have some method of transportation arranged if you want to travel anywhere other than the Chora (the main town an port). As the island is quite large and not a main tourist stop, there are very few buses. If you want to visit the many small villages you will need to rent a car (something we weren't aware of). We rented a car once we arrived in Tinos and realized there was no other option- since we were traveling in lower season we were lucky and there was still an automatic car available for the dates we were there. There were TONS of rental car companies but we decided to go with Vidalis and I'd highly recommend them! For our one day automatic rental car (in May) the rate was 45 Euros which was fairly standard. We weren't required to have an international drivers license but some companies do ask so I'd recommend searching ahead of time.
Stay: We stayed at Vincenzo's family rooms and suites and it was great! The room was clean, it was close to town and the breakfast was HUGE (so huge that we asked for tinfoil everyday to wrap up leftovers for lunch!)
- Spend a day visiting the villages (we stopped in Kolympithra, Messi, Pyrgos, Falatados, Volax, Panormos) and it took us about 6 hours), we also did it without a GPS and found it fairly simple to navigate
- Walk around the main town by the port
- Pay a visit to Panagia Megalochari
Beaches: Tinos isn't an island known for its beaches but we obviously had to stop at a few to judge for ourselves!
- Agios Fokas- A small beach super close to Tinos town! We walked here on our first day, grabbed a chair at the beach bar and spent the day. I wouldn't say it was anything special but it was clean and the view was pretty.
- Agios Sostis- Accessible by bus. We decided to spend the day here after we gave the car rental back and I would definitely say it was my favourite beach on Tinos island. It's bigger than Agios Fokas, has multiple beach bars, golden sand and a beautiful view of both Mykonos and the edge of Tinos town.
- Kolympithra beach- a golden sand beach on the north side of the island. You definitely need a car to get here. I'm not sure if we were just too early in the season but there weren't any umbrellas or chairs set up. There was one little VW van converted into a spot selling drinks too!
An island known for it's luxurious hotels, award-winning restaurants, windmills, and crazy party scene. Mykonos is the spot to hit if you are dreaming of the typical whitewashed houses, tiny alleys and windy cobblestone streets. If I'm being honest, Mykonos was never at the top of my "need to go" Greek island list. However in order to make our route work and to get to Ikaria we had to make a stop and I definitely don't regret it! As it is one of the more known Greek islands and a popular cruise ship stop it was quite touristy but for good reason! The beaches were great, the water was clear, the streets were stunning and the sunsets were top notch. Be prepared it's trait of being one of the most expensive Greek islands is true- but there are ways to do it inexpensively as well!
Transportation: Mykonos is fairly small. Many people choose to rent ATVs or cars when they get to Mykonos- I personally don't think it's necessary and since it's so busy it can also be dangerous if you aren't prepared (and it's $$). We chose to walk or bus where we needed and it worked great (for the most part lol). Our hotel was a little on the outskirts of town but still very easily within walking distance to Mykonos town. The buses to all the main buses run very frequently and are super simple to use! Our trip to the winery was the only time we struggled with transportation and needed to get our hotel shuttle to pick us up since the buses don't run as frequently on the north of the island.
note: taxis are VERY expensive in Mykonos, there's only 30 taxis on the entire island so they can pretty much charge whatever they want so if possible avoid them if you are on a budget!
Stay: Casa Anna Mykonos definitely a splurge for us (but a relatively good deal for Mykonos). We had a beautiful pool, a great breakfast and an amazing room with a large terrace. The only catch was it was on a hill about a 15 minute walk to town which wasn't a huge deal to us (we definitely got our exercise in coming back at night thought lol).
- Vioma winery - A beautiful winery among the hills with GREAT food (try the dolmades). They offer a free winery tour and 4 glasses of wine for 15 Euros which was a great deal. I would recommend pre-booking the tour with them as they get quite busy and the tour is only offered twice per day. I'd also recommend having a car. We took the bus to Ano Mera. and then walked about 45 minutes, it was a great walk but since we wanted to make it back to Mykonos town for sunset we decided to call our hotel shuttle to take us home (which was 60 euros- and VERY expensive in my opinion).
- Mykonos coastal walk a great free activity if you're looking for something to do! We wanted to spend the day beach hopping so we took the bus to Psarrou beach where we relaxed for 45 minutes, then continued walking on the path along the coast to Platis Gialos, Hidden Beach, Agia Anna, Paraga, and finally Paradise beach. We people watched and had a few drinks on Paradise beach and then took the bus back to Mykonos town! *note if you do this walk along Paraga beach until you reach a path, follow the path past the bus stop and then there will be another path on the right side of the road that leads you directly to Paradise beach!
- Get lost and people watch in Mykonos town. Honestly it's invertible you WILL get lost but that's half the fun of Mykonos!
- Watch the sunset in little Venice (I wouldn't recommend sitting at a table here if you are on a budget. Many tables with good views of the sunset require a minimum spend (usually quite a high one). We just walked up to the windmills or stood next to Nice N'Easy and had a great view!
Food: Honestly to save money our dinners mainly consisted of gyros, souvlaki or Charcuterie on our hotel terrace so I don't have too many recommendations
- Souvlaki Story - There are 4 locations throughout Mykonos so they aren't too hard to find. You get SO much food for a decent price! We got one of the two person platters and had leftovers for lunch the next day!
- Attica Bakery- right by the main entrance to Mykonos town. A great view of the water, great salads, coffee and gelato and inexpensive!
Ikaria was never at the top of my Greek island bucket list. To be honest we only really decided to go because my mom was drawn to the fact it's one of the blue zones and is on quest to find the secret to longevity. HOWEVER Ikaria is now one of my absolute favourite Greek islands I've been to. Especially after arriving from Mykonos, Ikaria was truly such a magical place. It offered peace, tranquility, culture, beautiful views and some of the friendliest people I have ever met. The slow pace and authenticity of the island drew me in the second we arrived. Sadly with the way the ferry schedule worked out we were only able to stay for 4 days but I already know I will be coming back very soon.
Transportation: As Ikaria is a large island with a small tourist population, the taxis are very limited (you must book them one day in advance) and when we asked about a local bus the locals thought we were so funny. So I would recommend renting a car if you are planning on doing sightseeing. HOWEVER that being said the roads were very narrow, windy and had many cliffs so be prepared. We opted not to rent a car and instead our hotel organized a taxi to pick us up from the ferry and then to bring us to our next hotel. One night when we wanted to go to the next town for dinner the hotel staff told us to hitchhike as it's very safe and how many of the locals get around. Being two females from Canada we were a bit apprehensive but we started walking and the nicest couple actually stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride (so I guess "do as the locals do" can be true- but I would still recommend ensuring you feel safe before you decide to do this!)
Stay: We stayed at Cavos Bay in Armenistís for 3 nights and LOVED it. The room was updated and had a gorgeous sea view and the breakfast buffet was great!
Before flying back to Athens we decided to stay in Therma on the south side of the island for one night and we stayed at Marina hotel. he hotel was very basic but had everything we need, had a gorgeous view, the staff was very friendly and they even packed us a little breakfast before our early morning flight.
- Nas beach- We didn't actually spend much time here as we were only in Nas for dinner and to watch the sunset but from above it looked beautiful. It's a beach in a beautiful little cove. Just a note there are no chairs or umbrellas for rent so come prepared!
- Seychelles beach- So we didn't actually get a chance to walk down to this famous beach. We were told it's about a 45 minute walk, and the path gets a little confusing at places so we opted to save time and continue sightseeing. From above it looked much smaller than the pictures on Google show. It's a beautiful whit pebble beach with crystal clear blue water so it's great to see but I don't know if I'd want to spend all day there in the summer months.
- Livadi beach - Within walking distance to our hotel in Armenistís! This was my personal favourite beach we went to. It had a little taverna with chairs you could rent but it felt so secluded, with blue water, waves to play in and golden sand, nestled amongst the cliffs it was everything I want in a beach and more!
- Messakti beach - Right around the corner from Livadi beach (also walking distance from the hotel) this beach is bigger, with a few more tavernas and places to rent chairs but it's just as beautiful! It's also a great place to try surfing.
Activities: We didn't have too much time in Ikaria sadly but this is what I'd recommend!
- Check out a village Panagiri if you are lucky enough to be on the island during one (August 15th is the biggest on the island)! We got so luck the Armenistís Panagiri was happening the Saturday night we were there and it was incredible. We spent the night eating, dancing and drinking with the locals and I was so happy.
- Spend time enjoying the silence at Theoktistis Monastery
- Wander around Christos Rahes, stop in the Women's Co-op store and grab a coffee
- Have a snack an watch the boats in Maganitis
- Spend some time in the natural hot springs in Therma
- Watch the sunset in Nas
- Try to plan your trip for mid/late May-June or September as rates are typically cheaper, the islands are less busy and the weather is still warm!
- If you are traveling to islands with airports check out the flight prices and the ferry prices, often the flights can be cheaper and much faster.
- Make sure if you are a student you take advantage of the 50% off student discounts on ferries in Greece ( it was a huge money saver for me!)
- Whenever we travel we always try to book places with free breakfasts or kitchens so we can make our own breakfasts. This is an amazing way to save money and often you'll have enough food for lunches as well!
- Stop at a local grocery store to stock up on necessities when you arrive (it's also fun to just wander the aisles). We always pick up cold meat, cheese, some fruit, pita/ crackers and wine to keep in the fridge!
- Bring Euros if you can! Although on the more popular island majority of places take Visa many store owners still prefer you use cash if you can as they get charged a pretty large amount to use visa machines! 9/10 times if you ask they will also typically give you a slight discount for using cash.
- This is a tip for if you are traveling anywhere and not paying for a phone plan to have access to data- download the Google maps for the locations you are going when you have WiFi (ie. in your hotel room before heading out). This way even when you don't have access to WiFi or cellular data the maps will be preloaded and it still updates your location! It is SO helpful especially in the tiny Greek alleys when you get lost!
- COVID-19: We were traveling in May/June 2022 and were only required to show our proof of vaccination before getting on our Air Canada flight (which I believe has since been dropped). Other than that there were no COVID-19 requirements and the mask mandate was also dropped in Greece as of June 1st. Being a tourist I did always try to see if the store owner was wearing a mask and following suit to ensure I made them feel comfortable!
What are my favorite Greek islands?
I get asked this SO often and honestly it's so hard to answer. Every island offers something so special and unique and there are so many islands and regions of Greece that I haven't even been to. Up until now I have only been to the cycladian islands but have loved every island I've been to. The food is amazing, the sunsets are beautiful, the weather is I have truly never met more friendly, hospitable people and have had so many unique experience there I couldn't never have anywhere else.
When planing your Greece trip I'd recommend planning to visit a mix of smaller/ lesser known Greek islands as well as the more touristy islands. The touristy ones are touristy for a reason and they are stunning, but it's always nice to unwind in a chiller, less populated environment after- plus it gives you more of a chance to interact with locals and get a true Greece experience.
Budgeting for an off the beaten path Greece itinerary
- Flights: $1400 (we got great non stop flight deals at the beginning of the year with Air Canada)
- Ferries + flights between islands: $450
- Transport while on the islands: $250 (ie. car rental, hotel transfers, taxis, buses)
- Hotels: $1900
- Food/ daily spending: $980 (approx 70 CAD/day) *most days after receiving a full free breakfast in the morning and taking extras for lunch we only paid for dinners which usually came to less than 40 euros total)
- Total: ~ $5000 CAD *prices are all in CAD per two people (some prices ie. daily spending are approximations)