SOLO TRAVEL DESTINATION – GREEK ISLANDS
Greece as a solo travel destination is one of the best places to travel alone. I have been to Athens along with the Greek Islands, Santorini, Naxos and Koufonisia. The Greek Islands were and still are on my bucket list but did you know that there are thousands of Greek Islands to choose from?
Wikipedia says there are around 1,200 to 6,000 Greek Islands depending on the size of the islands that you include in this estimate. Sunshine and turquoise water. What more could you ask for? I’ve been to three Greek islands but I’ve planned dream itineraries that include many more. It would definitely take more than a lifetime to see even 10% of Greece’s Islands.
I chose the islands of Santorini, Naxos and Koufonisia for a variety reasons, they are all part of the Cyclades Islands so they are close together, they have beautiful beaches, and each island has different qualities and experiences available. The things I look for when I am travelling on my own are the ease of travel from the airport, accommodation that is good/clean and central to all the important sights, public transportation that is easy to use and I must feel safe. Athens and the Greek Islands have all of these attributes.
If you are staying for a night in Athens before travelling to the Greek Islands, I can suggest the Art
Gallery Hotel, check out their website at www.artgalleryhotel.gr for current prices and availability.
Breakfast was included and the seating area was on a nice balcony overlooking the neighbourhood.
This hotel is in a residential area south of the Acropolis and has easy walking distances to many of the Athens sights including the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, the pedestrian walkway to the Plaka area,
Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Wall.
ARRIVAL IN GREECE AND ONWARD TO THE GREEK ISLANDS
Arrival in Greece will be at the Athens airport or one of the ferry terminal in Athens. Visiting Athens is not included in this post (post coming) but I highly recommend at least two nights in Athens to discover all this incredible city has to offer. Athens can be added on to the beginning or the end of your Greek Island itinerary, either option will work depending on your scheduled time of arrival or departure in Greece.
My assumption for this post is that you are travelling immediately to the Greek Islands and will travel from Athens, then to Naxos, Koufonisia and finally to Santorini where you will fly back to Athens on your way home or to continue your journey.
The first option is to take the 40 minute flight and fly to Naxos from Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, there are several flights each day with Olympic Air, Aegean Airlines and Sky Express.
The second option is to take the ferry from one of the three ports in Athens, Piraeus Port (largest), Rafina or Lavrio (smallest). There are several ferry companies that service Naxos, Koufonisia and Santorini. The fast ferries will get you to Naxos in approx. 3.5 hours or 5.0 hours on a regular ferry. Check the schedules and the ferry route before booking your ticket.
I recommend taking the slow ferries for a couple of reasons, first there is nothing like being out on the ferry deck enjoying the sunshine and the sea air. The second reason, and here is a word of caution, if the weather is bad and the seas are rough, take the slower ferries because they are more stable and you will avoid being seasick and/or scared. My favourite ferry ride was from Naxos to Koufonisia on the Express Skopelitis from the Small Cyclades Line. The experience of the old fashioned ferry, sitting out on deck, taking in the views of the calm Aegean Sea and enjoying the warm sunshine was one of my top 10 highlights of my time in Greece.
THE GREEK ISLANDS – MOMENTS TO EXPERIENCE
The Greek islands are an experience. They have beauty, beaches, the sea and a wonderful warm spirit.
The islands that I have visited include Santorini, Naxos and Koufonisia and I love each island for its uniqueness.
I originally had no plans to go to Santorini because of all the tourists but I’m glad I went (twice), its beauty, history and walkability makes it a great solo travel destination. My days were filled with walking up and down every alley and staircase, hiking between Oia and Fira along the top of the caldera, eating great food and enjoying the magnificent views.
Naxos was recommended by a co-worker and this Greek island was extremely interesting. Naxos is a good sized island, diverse in landscape, historical and has beautiful beaches. I hired Stuart, a local Naxos guide with a car and took a day trip of the island and I was amazed by the ancient olive trees, the tiny churches on top of almost every hill, landscapes that seemed from another planet and the mysterious portal on the edge of town.
I also wanted to go to a Greek island where there was nothing except the sun and beach. I chose Koufonisia as that island, it had more people and facilities than I expected but it was the perfect choice. This is an island for working on your tan, swimming in the sea, exploring and taking a ride on a boat from one end to the other or even to the smaller island next door.
SOLO TRAVEL – 10 DAY ITINERARY FOR THE GREEK ISLANDS
I have had the opportunity to travel to Greece twice. This is a slow travel itinerary. It is easy to see an island in a day but I like to exercise slow travel in order to explore and learn about each place that I visit. I stayed 2-3 nights in each place in order to minimize time spent travelling from place to place and having to resettle each night.
Here is my suggested itinerary for 10 days visiting the Greek Islands:
Day 1 Arrive Athens, fly to Naxos
Day 2-3 Explore Naxos
Day 4 Ferry to Santorini
Day 5-6 Explore Santorini
Day 7 Ferry to Koufonisia
Day 8-9 Explore and relax in Koufonisia
Day 10 Ferry to Naxos, Fly to Athens
Add on 2-4 days to this itinerary to explore Athens and take 1-2 day trips to visit the best of Greece’s historical places and archaeological sites.
GREEK ISLAND – SANTORINI
Santorini was an amazing surprise. There are so many reasons to fall in love with Santorini, the beautiful cascade of blue and white buildings along the steep cliffs of the caldera, the picturesque hike along the caldera to/ from Oia and Fira, amazing shopping for art, unexpected exercise from exploring up and down the endless stairs and of course the soft light of the sunsets.
ACCOMMODATION – GREEK ISLAND SANTORINI
As with any popular tourist town, I will always recommend that you stay overnight, one night at a minimum but three is ideal. By staying overnight, the day-trippers have left the town and the evening and early morning hours have a special feel without the day trippers busily going from one spot to another to capture as many photos as possible.
I highly recommend that you stay in Oia, there is a peaceful ambience in this town especially in the evening and early morning. There are a many activities to keep you busy, explore the extensive network of stairs, hiking along the caldera from Oia to Fira and back again or take a bus/taxi on the return, take in the incredible views of the caldera, watch the sunset in Oia, enjoy a meal of the freshest fish and seafood or honestly, just enjoy the view of the caldera from your room.
I absolutely love the authentic Chelidonia Traditional Villas, check out their website at www.chelidonia.com . These villas are owned by the original family from Santorini and are beautifully set up with everything you could need including a kitchen and an incredible view of the caldera. Caldera view accommodation is expensive but I chose to treat myself to this magical indulgence.
THINGS TO DO – GREEK ISLAND – SANTORINI
Note: Santorini has a lot of tourists and traffic is an issue to/from and within the tourist areas.
Discover the history of Santorini
There is a lot of history to learn about Santorini. Santorini had a prosperous shipping industry, where the bounty of the island was exported until the late 1800’s. In 1956, Santorini was devastated by a massive 7.7 earthquake followed by a tsunami. Over half the buildings were destroyed and you can still see some of the ruins today. The island was abandoned after the earthquake and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the tourist industry breathed life back into Santorini.
Explore the narrow pathways in Oia
There is lots to discover in amongst the “caves” take your time, explore and get lost. There are many pathways and countless stairs and your exploration is a fantastic workout. You will find many shops and hotels and there are also a couple of pathways that take you down to the bottom of the cliff. Here you will find…
Visit the tiny and historic fishing villages of Armeni and Ammoudi.
There is very little to see in Armeni but it’s nice to take a look around. There is also one restaurant in Armeni next to the water which is perfect for a quiet dinner and watch the sunset.
Ammoudi is also small but here you will find several restaurants to enjoy drinks, a meal or stay longer for a beautiful view of the sunset. There is no beach at Ammoudi but you can follow the trail to the left of the village and find a place to sit on the rocks and you can swim too. There’s cliff jumping, and when you’re ready you can hike back up the stairs or take a donkey ride back up to Oia.
Hike to/from Oia to Fira along the crater’s edge.
The hiking trail from Oia to Fira is 8km (5 miles) and takes you along the knife edge of the caldera. On one side of the trail is the sloping landscape to the sea and the other side are the cliffs that drop into the caldera.
Go early in the day before the sun’s rays begin to heat up the trail. There is very little protection from the sun so be prepared, bring water, snacks, wear a hat and use sunscreen. There was a “food truck” along the way when I did this hike, if it’s still there take a bit of time and enjoy a slice of the daily cake special.
The end of the hike arrives at Fira, this is a town that is way bigger than Oia as it services the cruise ship traffic, lots of shops and restaurants and again so many pathways to explore. Depending on your energy, take your time and get “lost” in the new discoveries of Fira. You can hike back to Oia or take a bus/taxi back to your hotel in Oia.
Take a sailing trip or a cruise around the island or in the caldera.
Being on the water will give you the opportunity to see and photograph the magnificent view of Fira and Oia from the sea. Here you can visit the lava islet of Nea Kameni and walk to the top of the volcano to view into the active volcano. There is a second lava islet, Palea Kameni where you can swim in the hot springs, then continue onto the small island Thirassia and visit the village of Manolas. There are lots of options for tours.
Rent a car and explore more of Santorini.
I had reserved a rental car and two days before my arrival, Santorini Holiday Cars cancelled my reservation, so there are no real guarantees.
Visit Atlantis Books located on the main street in Oia.
This is a lovely bookstore filled with literary treasures and a great place to browse their selection of new and used books in several languages. I bought “OIA in Santorini, a journey in space and time” by Kadio Kolymva, this is a wonderful book about the history of Oia.
GREEK ISLAND – NAXOS
One of my favourite Greek Islands is Naxos, with its beautiful beaches, excellent spanakopita (spinach pie), ancient trees and warm temperatures. This is the largest island in the Cyclades with a population of 20K and Naxos town, “Chora” is the capital and the island’s main harbour. There is lots of activity in this harbour with the arrival and departures of ferries bringing travellers from one island to the next.
I’ve visited Naxos twice, the first time in the month of May which is early in the summer season and the second time in July at the peak of the tourist season. May is great for no crowds and less heat but the water is cold for swimming. In July, it was hot and so many more people visiting the island.
The Cyclades islands were ruled by the Venetians in the 13th century for approx. 300 years. In Naxos town you will see evidence left behind by the Venetians, there’s a fortified castle at the top of the Chora, some Venetian homes, a 13th century Catholic Church and an archaeological museum. The Venetians lived at the top in the walled city and the Greeks lived in the “Bourgos” below where you’ll find the maze of narrow winding alleyways.
Today the narrow alleyways are filled with restaurants, interesting shops of textiles, jewelry, handicrafts and souvenirs. Exploring the alleyways is so much fun because you never know what you will discover around each corner or through each tunnel.
Naxos Island has many interesting place to explore. This island is bigger than it looks on the map and if you want to explore more of the island, it is best to rent a car or moped or if driving in a foreign country is not your thing, take the recommended tour described below.
THINGS TO DO – GREEK ISLAND – NAXOS
Spend the day at one of so many beaches
The best beaches are found on the leeward (eastern) side of the island. The website www.Greeka.com describes 18 different beaches. I’ve been to Agios Georgios, closest to town, Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna.
Explore the alleyways in the old town of Naxos
Impossible to get lost and easy to discover something special and interesting.
Take a tour of Naxos Island
Either rent a car or hire a guide to learn about this beautiful island. See below for details of the island tour that I enjoyed on Naxos Island.
Visit Papyrus Bookstore
Take some time away from the heat of the sun and browse through the collection of used books to buy a new beach read. I can spend hours in a bookstore and Papyrus was a great place to browse. Here you can find thousands of books of all genres and in many languages. Papyrus has a specific section for books which take place in Greece. If you have a book that you’re finished reading, you can trade it in for a new story to read.
Visit the Portara
This is Portara or “huge door” was the giant 6th century gateway into a temple dedicated to Apollo. It is a short walk from the port to visit this eye catching gateway, walk towards the end of the town and continue across the causeway, be aware that if there are waves there is the possibility of getting wet as you cross the causeway.
Eat and drink some local delights
Coffee and spanakopita triangles for breakfast or for lunch/dinner choose the catch of the day. Don’t be surprised if you see octopi hanging as you wander beside the restaurants in the harbour area. Octopi are hung from lines in order to dry them out prior to cooking. An octopus straight from the sea is full of water and becomes very rubbery if it’s cooked without this drying process.
Island Tour with Stuart Thorpe, Author and Photographer
Stuart Thorpe is the author of “Discover Hidden Naxos” and is an expert on Naxos Island. He is happy to share his knowledge as he takes you on a tour to the hidden treasures of the island.
Stuart’s tours includes transportation from Naxos town, where you will head to the inland areas of the island. What will you see and experience? Imagine visiting ancient olive trees, walk through Venetian history on the island in the town Chalki, learn about Naxos’ history while visiting several Byzantine churches, visit the village of Filoti in the centre of the island, which has an impressive church and an atmosphere that remains truly Greek. And of course, enjoy the beautiful views offered in the mountains and find the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic of Greek food specialties.
All tours can be tailored to your interests. For more information on tours and current pricing, contact Stuart through his website www.hiddennaxos.wordpress.com
GREEK ISLAND – KOUFONISIA
I wanted to find an island that had few people, beaches, trails to walk and with good accommodation. My research led me to Pano Koufonisia, one of the small Cyclades islands and also one of the best places to travel alone.
I have dreamed for decades to find a quiet Greek island to experience the freedom of wandering the island as an explorer may have done so long ago. Finding an isolated beach where you are the only one is a freeing experience. Greece has thousands of islands and when you start researching, the research is endless and almost impossible to choose. Let’s just say that any island(s) that you choose to visit, your choice is perfect.
The modes of transportation are limited in Koufonisia. There are no cars to rent, so you can rent a bike, take a bus or a ferry from one end of the island to the other or you can walk.
Arrival is Koufonisia is by ferry from Naxos. It’s quite a scene when the ferry arrives, there are goods being delivered to the businesses on the island and tourists being picked up by the hotels to transport the tourist to their chosen island hotel.
ACCOMMODATION – GREEK ISLAND KOUFONISIA
I stayed at Villa Ostria on Koufonisia and it was fantastic, this room was on the second floor with a separate bedroom and kitchen/living room. It was a 5 minute walk from the main area of the village where there were restaurants, grocery stores and a wonderful bakery. The unit was bright, clean and had a balcony overlooking the village beach. For contact info check out their website www.ostriavilla.gr
THINGS TO DO – GREEK ISLAND – KOUFONISIA
I spent my time on the beach, wandering all over the island on foot and by bicycle, took the local ferry from one end of the island to the other, took another ferry over to the nearby island Lower Koufonisia and enjoyed some nice restaurants and a bit of shopping. That’s all there is and I loved it.
Do absolutely nothing
Find a shady or sunny spot to relax to read a book or nap.
Explore in and around the main village
There are many restaurants, a couple grocery stores, a bakery with the most delicious treats and a variety of accommodations. Koufonisia has benefited from the tourist industry but even so it has retained the lovely charm of Greece.
Take a morning walk or run
Take the trail from the main village towards Pori Beach at the other end of the island. Be warned, the landscape may distract you. There are beaches of all shapes and sizes, a sharp and rocky landscape and the sea has the most extraordinary shades of blue.
Visit Pori Beach
Pori Beach is at the other end of the island from the central town (the only town), maybe 2-3 km walking along a very scenic pathway. You can also take a ferry or bus. This island is the quintessential Greek island dream, nothing to do except enjoy the sun, beach and water. There are a few facilities at Pori Beach including a tavern which serves drinks and local beach food.
Rent a bike
Explore more of the island on a bike. It is a small island but a bike allows you to explore inland and see a different landscape.
Visit the tiny museum
There is a one room museum on the island of Koufonisia. This island has a small population and the people were thoughtful about their history and established this wonderful display of household goods and farming implements.
Take the ferry to Kato Koufonisia
The small island next to Pano Koufonisia. There is very little to see or do on this island. There is a restaurant, church and campground. It’s the perfect island to find your very own beach, bathing suit is optional.
Travel Tips – Solo Travel Destination – Greek Islands:
- In Oia, Santorini, spend the extra $ and book a room with a caldera view. The view is spectacular to enjoy with your morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening.
- There are many Greek islands to choose from but pick a small one like Koufonisia and relax. Explore the island from end to end and you will find all sorts of beautiful and peaceful spots to swim, enjoy the sun or have an afternoon picnic.
- Be sure that your accommodation has air-conditioning.
- Check out the direct website for your hotel/motel/hostel as there may be a discount or free breakfast if you book directly rather than booking through a 3rd party accommodation website like expedia.com or booking.com
SOLO TRAVEL SAFETY TIPS:
- Listen to the news. I’m not fond of listening to the news when I travel but it is important to know if anything is happening that will impact your travels. I was in Greece when the government limited access to cash. I wasn’t impacted too much because I tend to travel with cash anyway but it could have been a serious problem.
- Travel light. It is much easier to carry light weight luggage on/off ferries and to get to/from accommodation.
- Sunscreen and Hydration. Summertime is hot in Greece and the sunrays are strong. Always wear sunscreen, drink lots of water and bring a bottle of water wherever you are going.
- Watch for Sea Urchins: If you are swimming off the rocks or at a rocky beach wear water shoes, there are lots of sea urchins around and you definitely don’t want to step on them.
- Transportation to the Greek Islands. In order to save time, I recommend flying to Naxos from Athens and then taking a ferry to Santorini or Koufonisia.
- If it’s windy do not take a fast ferry. I’m not sure why but if the seas are rough the fast ferries move a lot back and forth and unfortunately, can result in a lot of seasickness. Take a slow ferry.
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