Greece has fallen on tough times lately. Its economy was particularly hard hit by the global downturn, and the country is plagued by excessive national debt. But, that can mean financial breaks for the traveler.
Luxury travel options in Greece abound, especially at upscale island resorts. But, think about mom and pop, family owned establishments for food and lodging deals, especially those that include breakfast. Also, look out for internet rates when booking rooms.
Sightseeing doesn’t have to be expensive either. Some of Greece’s greatest sights are its centuries-old monuments and archaeological sights – many of which can be seen for free, or for not much more than $10. Even the paid monuments have their free days:
March 6, April 18, May 18, June 5, September 27, the last weekend in September, Sundays between November 1 and March 31, Greek national holidays, the first Sunday of every month except July, August and September.
The capital of the country is loaded with things to do and places to stay, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
A visit to the Acropolis, home of the Parthenon, is a must. For €12/$17 visitors have access to the Acropolis, ancient agora, archaeological museum of Kerameikos, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, north slope of the Acropolis, Olympieio, Roman agora, and the south slope of the Acropolis. For more museum fun, tickets to the National Archaeological Museum are €7/$10. Both sites have a number of free admission days.
After knocking out the important stuff, there are free activities about town as well. Those traveling with children (or even kids at heart) can check out the Hellenic Children’s Museum. At the Municipal Art Gallery, art enthusiasts can get a taste of Greek art with works by more than 3,000 artists or take a free guided tour of archaeological and cultural sites.
Stop by Parliament to watch the changing of the guard (yes, they’re wearing skirts). Afterwards, visit the local market and pick up food to eat in the national gardens.
Where to Stay: Located in the center of Athens, three star Plaka Hotel is just a short walk from many of the city’s major attractions. Rates, including full buffet breakfast, run from €90-232/$130-336. Its sister hotels are also a good value: Hermes Hotel (€75-232/$108-336) and Athens Center Square Hotel (€65-95/$94-138).
It may be in a less refined area of town, but Centrotel Hotel offers good rates as well. Verify rates online, but for three nights in October a small double room starts at €60/$88 per night.
Getting There: This one’s easy – fly into Athens International Airport and hop a cab, or the metro or city bus
Though it served as the backdrop for the movie Mamma Mia, Skopekos is still a somewhat uncharted island when it comes to tourist traffic. That’s likely why movie producers chose its Kastani Beach as the setting for the 2008 movie. That, and the typically Greek panorama of tile-roofed, whitewashed buildings set against the sea probably didn’t hurt either.
Besides relaxing on the beach, mountain biking is a way to experience Skopolos, which is more than half-covered with hilly terrain. Also pay a visit to Meteora to see the rock columns. Atop these geological oddities rests one of the largest complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece. Some of the structures at this UNESCO World Heritage site date back to the 16th century. The monasteries charge only a small fee for visitors, something in the neighborhood of €2/$3.
In Skopelos Town, the Folk Art Museum costs just a few Euro and offers a glimpse into an 18th century Greek mansion and other facets of Greek life.
Where to Stay: At Skopelos Town, and just steps from the sea, Hotel Prince Stafilos offers classic doubles (€80-130/$115-188), two connected rooms (€140-190/$203-275), triple attic rooms (€110-155/$159-225) and suites (€150-195/$217-283), all with an “American” buffet breakfast.
Or, rent a fully furnished apartment at Hovolo Apartments in Neo Klima Village. Rates vary, but a basic apartment for two to three adults in October can go for €42/$61 per night, and an apartment for four adults is €56/$82. The apartments have full kitchens, but a breakfast buffet is included.
Getting There: From the Athens International Airport take a bus or taxi to an agency like Alkyon Travel to get a hydrofoil or ferry from the Port of Piraeus to Skopelos.
Mykonos has a reputation as a pretty rowdy vacation scene, so it’s a good bet for those looking for more of a party vacation. At the beach, it’s all about parties on sandy stretches like Psarrou Beach and Paradise Beach. Paradise Club is just one party hub, with the action continuing into the early hours of the morning. Just be conscious of nighttime cover charges, which can get pricey.
There are a handful of museums on the island: the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos (€2/$3), the Aegean Maritime Museum and the Mykonos Folklore Museum (free). Be sure to pay a visit to the island’s iconic windmills – 16 of them built by Venetians in the 16th century.
The nearby island of Delos adds more attractions to the mix. It is heralded in mythology as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, though it was a sacred space long before. Check out the ancient ruins for only €5/$7.
Where to Stay: Located above the School of Fine Arts in Mykonos Town, eco-friendly Andriani’s Guesthouse is entirely solar powered and is only a five-minute walk to the town center. Rent a double room (€48-102/$70-148), double studio (€58-112/$84-163), triple room (€72-141/$105-205), triple studio (€78-150/$114-218) or an apartment (€92-190/$134-277).
Psarou Garden Hotel is located on a bay in the town of Psarou. Book a single room (€72-136/$105-198), double room (€90-170/$131-248), triple room (€108-205/$157-299) or an apartment (€130-246/$189-358) all with breakfast.
Getting There: Mykonos Island National Airport can be reached by Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air from Athens. Or, travel by water from Piraeus.
The second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki is located in the Central Macedonia in the northern part of the country. An economic, industrial, political and commercial hub, it has a rich history, once sitting on the main land route from Europe to Asia.
Thessaloniki takes pride in its churches, built during the Byzantine era. Visit places like Agia Sofia, Agios Dimitrios, the Church of Panagia Acheropoietos and more, all for free.
Aside from the requisite Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (€6/$9), the city is home to many art museums. For instance: Teloglion Foundation of Art at Aristotle University, the State Museum of Contemporary Art, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (€4/$6) and the Museum of Photography (€2/$3).
The White Tower of Thessaloniki is the symbol of the town, originally built buy the Ottomans to fortify the town harbor. It now houses an exhibit by the Museum of Byzantine Culture presenting aspects of Thessaloniki’s history. Admission to the museum is €4/$6.
Where to Stay: For unbelievably low rates, head for the Orestias Kastorias Hotel. Even with a killer location – a 10 minute or less walk to most major sights – single rooms run from €38-54/$55-79, double rooms from €49-64/$71-93, and triple rooms from €59-77/$86-112.
El Greco Thessaloniki Center Hotel also keeps it reasonable. Rates vary, but in October guests can expect to pay rates starting at €72/$105 for a standard double, €75-82/$109-119 for a standard triple, and €120/$175 for a family room.
Getting There: Fly a U.S. carrier to Athens and take a regional flight to Thessaloniki. Or, fly an international carrier and connect at its European hub for Thessaloniki.
The island of Samos is located just off the coast of Turkey in the northern Aegean, and ferry boats between them offer visitors two vacations for the price of one.
After hitting the beaches (of course) there are archaeological sites to be visited. Legend has it Samos is the birthplace of the goddess Hera (Zeus’ wife) and guests can visit the ruins of a sanctuary built in her honor, the Heraion. Along with the Pythagoreion, the ancient city, complete with archaeological museum, these ruins also made the UNESCO World Heritage list. Then there’s Eupalineio, a tunnel running through the mountains that was constructed to bring water to the city.
Samos is also a popular jumping-off point for day trips to Ephesus, in Turkey, via the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi – with a long list of its own things to do.
Where to Stay: Each of the 55 rooms at Samos Gagou Beach Hotel has a view of the Aegean Sea. Rates vary, but in October, stay in a double for one for €30/$44, a double for two €48/$70 or a triple for €58/$84. A 5 percent discount is also available for those who prepay.
In southwest Samos, Kerkis Bay hotel is set in a small fishing village. Stay in a
single (€31-40/$45-58), double (€37-58/$54-84), triple (€52-62/$76-90) or a suite (€58-88/$84-128).
Getting There: The best bet is to arrive via Athens to Samos International Airport.
Santorini is part of a group of islands that are the remnants of a volcanic caldera in the south Aegean Sea.
Of course the historic destinations are there: Ancient Thera is located at the peak of Mesa Vuono and was inhabited from the 9th century BC until the 8th century AD; the preserved ruins represent both the Roman and Hellenistic periods. Akrotiri is even older, dating back to the 4th millennium BC and was once one of the Aegean’s main urban centers. There’s also the Prehistoric Thera Musuem and the Thera Archaeological Museum. The museums have entry fees of €3/$4 and a ticket package at Akrotiri is €8/$12.
For just a few euros, wineries like those at Domaine Siglas, Boutari Winery or Antoniou Winery offer tours and/or tastings of island wines, made unique by the volcanic soil. Or, adventurous types can get a view of the Santorini volcano by hiking along its rims from the town of Fira to Oia.
Where to Stay: The Hotel Village Mathias offers a plethora of options for Santorini travelers. On the less expensive end of the spectrum are standard doubles (€65-99/$95-144), superior doubles (€75-120/$109-175) and triple rooms (€88-135/ $128-197). Packages are available that include breakfast, dinner, car rental and round trip ferry tickets starting at €260/$379 per person.
Reasonable rates are also available at SeaSide Beach Hotel: Single room (€50-90/$117-131), apartment double (€60-110/$87-160), maisonette (€70-120/$102-175) and suite (€80-140/$117-204).
Getting There: Hop a flight on Aegean Airlines or Olympic Airlines from Athens to Santorini National Airport. Or, take a metro, bus or taxi from the Athens Airport to the Port of Piraeus and take a ferry to the island.
For history buffs, the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes should be famous for the Colossus of Rhodes. This massive statue of the god Helios once watched over the city of Rhodes’ harbor as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world.
There is no charge to enter and explore the streets of Old Town, which is touted as the oldest continually inhabited medieval town in Europe. But, a mere €10/$14 will allow access to the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, the Collection of the Church of Panagia tou Kastrou, the Decorative Arts Collection and the Palace of the Grand Masters. Going further back in time, there’s also the Acropolis of Rhodes that’s always worth a look, at no charge at that.
For those looking to take it easy, visit the Municipal Baths or Yenni Hamam located on Arionos square in the old town. Though they inhabit a 7th Century Byzantine structure, they have been upgraded to fit our modern times. Pay only €2-3/$3-4 to sit under domed roofs, segregated by sex of course, and marinate in steam.
Where to Stay: Located in Rhodes’ new town, Hotel Anastasia is a small family hotel in a 1930s villa. Single rooms rage from €30-41.50/$44-60, double rooms from €35-55/$51-80, triple rooms from €40-60/$58-87, and quad rooms from €50-70/$73-102.
Likewise, the Spot Hotel is a good bargain on the island: singles from €45-50/$66-73, doubles from €50-90/$73-131, triples from €100-130/$146-189, and connecting triples from €120-150/$175-218.
Getting There: Fly from Athens on a regional carrier, or hop a ferry.