10 Mistakes to Avoid on a Trip to the Greek Islands (Video)
Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.
Some 32 million foreigners traveled to Greece in 2018, up from about 15 million in 2010, according to the Greek National Tourism Organization. Many of those visitors flocked to the nation’s stunning islands dotting the Mediterranean Sea.
Need proof? Just look at Instagram. On the social media platform, you’ll find more than two million posts with the hashtag #GreekIslands. And if the thought of all those people heading to Greece and sharing their island journeys has you feeling a little envious, then it’s time to start planning your own Greek island vacation.
But, before you go, there are a few things to consider. It’s easy to get lost in the haze of Instagram posts, Pinterest guides, and the very idea of sipping ouzo on a white-sand beach, forgetting the planning process altogether. To help you on your travels, we’ve compiled 10 common mistakes to avoid on any trip to the Greek islands, whether it’s your first or fifth time visiting.
1. Picking the Wrong Island for Your Desired Vacation Vibe
Though you may already be familiar with places like Santorini and Mykonos, it’s important to think outside the box when planning a Greek island vacation. That’s because there are more than 6,000 islands that make up the Greek archipelago, and each one comes with its own distinct flavor.
If you’re looking for a super-relaxing getaway, it might be wise to stay on Milos. The island, located just a 45-minute flight from Athens, comes with just a few thousand residents and plenty of coastline for visitors to stretch out. For something in the middle, look to the island of Paros. Here, travelers can rent a car or ATV to find some quiet, remote areas, or enjoy lots of action in the town of Naousa. Meanwhile, those interested in a party scene may want to consider the island of Ios. Tucked between Naxos and Santorini, Ios is filled with plenty of nightlife, but it’s also just the right amount of rough around the edges to feel like a wholly unique vacation than those your friends took before you.
2. Mismanaging Your Transportation Between Islands
Planning a multi-island itinerary requires a bit of finesse. If you glance at a world map, the islands all appear much closer than they are in reality. For example, traveling from Athens to Mykonos can take about five hours on a ferry, but just 40 minutes by plane.
However, flying, too, can become a burden if you’re hoping to hop from one place to the next, as many flights require travelers to return to Athens before flying to another island.
So, while planning a trip, try to think about the transportation time between islands, whether it’s more efficient to travel by plane or ferry, and if you can create a smooth path from one island to the next. It may even be a good idea to stick to an island group, such as the Cyclades, Dodecanese, or Ionian Islands. Want a little help deciding which island group to visit? Check out our entire guide to Greek island hopping here.
3. Underestimating the Difficult Driving Conditions
The Greek islands have been inhabited for thousands of years. That means, humans built roadways long before the advent of cars. Before booking a car for each island you plan to visit, take a peek at Google Maps. This way, you’ll get a live view of what the roads may look like during your stay. If you’re feeling adventurous, book an ATV. The four-wheeler will allow you to get around most of the island, but is also rugged enough to traverse over the dirt roads and small enough to fit into Greece’s famed alleys. Just make sure to have the right insurance and always wear a helmet.
4. Flushing Toilet Paper
Do not — under any circumstances — flush toilet paper, feminine products, or anything beyond human waste down the toilet on any Greek island. This will wreak havoc on the very delicate plumbing system on the islands. As World Nomads explained, Greek sewage pipes are approximately two inches in diameter. That is about half the size of both American and British plumbing, meaning it’s very easy for the pipes to clog or even rupture. Instead, place all garbage and used toilet paper in the small bins beside every single toilet. This is exactly what it’s meant for, so there’s no need to be shy.
5. Bringing the Wrong Footwear
We get it, everyone wants to look their best while on vacation. However, the Greek islands are not the place to wear stilettos or break in a new pair of leather loafers. Most of the streets are dirt, cobblestone, or at best, lightly paved. Keep it comfortable and pack sneakers or sensible footwear. But make no mistake: Sensible doesn’t mean hideous. Here are 19 comfortable — and adorable — shoes that were made for traveling.
6. Packing Too Much
The Greek islands are stunning, thanks to their rugged landscapes, sweeping hillsides, and sparkling coastlines. However, given the terrain, coupled with the above dilemma of few modern roadways, travelers will likely have to walk to their hotels and lug their baggage with them. (In places like Santorini, that could also include walking up hundreds of steps.) With that in mind, it’s advisable to pack as lightly as possible. As a bonus, bringing a carry-on makes traveling between islands a breeze. Luckily, it rarely dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the islands, even in the midst of winter, so packing a heavy jacket is not required.
7. Overlooking the Smaller Islands
Santorini, Corfu, and Crete are all wildly popular tourist destinations — and for good reason. The history, food, nightlife, and beaches on these islands are second to none, and visiting at least one should be on your list. That said, when crafting an itinerary with multiple island stops, make sure to throw in a few lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path spots. Again, there is Milos or Paros, both of which regularly make appearances on Travel + Leisure’s best-of lists, but there are also places like Symi, a picturesque island home to fewer than 2,500 people. Here, visitors will find candy-colored homes dotting the craggy coastline. Beyond walking the streets and beaches, guests can also pay a visit to the 18th-century monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis. And if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, the monks even rent out a few rooms each night for those looking for ultra-quiet accommodations.
8. Skipping the Local Coffee Shops
If there’s one thing the Greeks do well, it’s iced coffee. However, this isn’t just any iced coffee, but rather, it’s known as a frappe, a drink made from instant coffee and sugar and blended with ice. That’s it. Though simple, it’s still delicious and utterly satisfying, especially on a hot island day.
However, the Freddo espresso is also gaining popularity in Greece. That drink, Athens Coast explains, is made with one shot of hot espresso poured into a metal canister, then blended with a few ice cubes and a little sugar if desired. It gives a nice foam topper to the espresso, along with a good contrast of temperatures.
In short, it’s worth visiting the local coffee shops when in town. To top it off, Greeks also know a thing or two about delicious pastries (hello, baklava, revani, and koulourakia cookies), making a trip to the islands all the more sweeter.
9. Never Leaving the Hotel for Food
Sure, many hotels in Greece serve delicious food. However, there’s more to a meal than just the dishes. Greece is a place that is made for experiential dining: The outdoor seating, the stunning sunsets, the flowing wine, and the boisterous patrons all set the scene. It's worth getting out into town to eat when visiting the Greek islands. You can pick your octopus right from the fisherman’s display, order as many drinks as you'd like, douse your bread in Greek olive oil, and make friends with folks you’ll talk or dance with all night long.
10. Treating Athens as Just a Layover
Yes, you will have to fly or ferry back and forth to Athens in between islands and on your entry and exit to the country. But don’t just visit the airport or ferry docks. Make sure to build in at least a day to explore one of the oldest cities in the world. Athens is brimming with history, cultural attractions, a divine food and art scene, and much more. It’s a place visitors will regret missing if they only skim the surface. Don’t fret if you’re not sure what to do in the city — just check out our guide to Athens in the midst of its cultural revolution.