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Our island hopping trip begins in Greece's capital, Athens, before exploring the gleaming waterfront harbours, rocky coves and long sandy beaches of the Cyclades. Visit the islands of Syros, Paros, Santorini and Naxos by ferry.
Explore Tour Leader
10 nights comfortable hotel
3 nights simple hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Athens. The city is a heady mix of ancient and modern, having been the capital of Greece for less than 200 years, but with a history dating back over 3,000 years. Located on the Plain of Attica, an area of amazingly varied scenery, from high mountains covered by pine forests to a stunningly beautiful coastline.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7.30pm and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. Due to a number of flights arriving into Athens later in the evening, our welcome meeting will take place on the morning of day two. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Athens at any time. If you would like an airport transfer today, you will need to arrive into Athens International Airport (ATH), which is about one hours' drive, depending on traffic.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit one of the cafes in the colourful Psyrri district, which offer traditional Greek cuisine of scrumptious aubergines, tomatoes and cheese washed down with ouzo or raki. There are traditional rustic tavernas in the well-known Plaka area at the foot of the Acropolis.
Hotel Evripides (or similar)
After our Leader does an initial welcome meeting, we will head out on a tour of the Greek capital. We use the Athens metro to get to our first destination Syntagma Square, home to the grand Hellenic parliament building since 1934. On the hour, the mesmerising changing of the guard ceremony takes place adjacent to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
After the hustle and bustle of Syntagma Square, we take a walk through the tranquil National Gardens directly behind the Greek parliament. Covering 16 hectares, the gardens were planted between 1838 and 1840 and offer a respite from the busy streets of the city with tree-lined avenues and over 519 species of plants.
We exit the gardens at Hadrian's Arch and walk to the Plaka district, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Athens and the markets around Monastirak. The streets are full of atmospheric tavernas with their tables spilling out onto the narrow cobbled streets and small traders selling all kind of specialties. You will notice the contrast between the modern capital - the well-heeled inhabitants of Kolonaki on the one hand and the animated Plaka old quarter on the other. It's a very picturesque area, an ideal spot to break for lunch with a wide choice of eating spots offering traditional Greek fare including Tiropita, Kolokithopita or Spanakopita a delicious spinach and feta filled snack.
In the afternoon, we head for a guided tour of the Acropolis, deservedly one the wonders of the ancient world. Climbing up from Plaka to the Acropolis we pass through the Anafiotika district, where the architecture is more in keeping with Santorini than the Greek capital. We have a guided tour of the site including the Temple of Athena Nike, Pericles and the Parthenon tower and the monument most venerated by the ancient Athenians themselves - the Erechtheion.
Making our way back to our hotel late afternoon, the evening is free to further explore this great city; our tour leader can make recommendations for eating out tonight.
For those wishing to see more of Athens, it is well worth visiting the highly acclaimed Acropolis museum to see the layers of history painstakingly excavated right beneath your feet. It is now possible to see the ruins of the ancient Athenian neighbourhood that stood on this very site millennium ago, following a comprehensive refurbishment of the museum in 2019. The museum closes at 5pm on a Monday, we recommend pre booking a ticket online to avoid a long queue and as there is not much time today for a visit today consider going on day 1 before the tour starts.
This morning we drive from our hotel to Piraeus harbour where we board the ferry to Syros (which departs at around 7.30am and takes just under four hours). On the ferry we have reserved seating, so we are assured of a seat, but you're also free to take in the fresh airs and views from the deck. We disembark at Ermoupouli Harbour and drive to our hotel in Galissas. Syros is the capital of the Cyclades and covers an area of about 56 square kilometres.
This afternoon we will drive along the coast to Kini where we'll have the opportunity to purchase a picnic lunch or dine in a local tavernas. From here we'll take an easy coastal walk back to Galissas (covers approximately 4.7kms with 100m ascent and 100m descent and taking around two hours). This peaceful walk takes us through typical Mediterranean scenery with cypress and olive groves and great sea views. If you don't want to walk you can visit Kini then take the public bus back to the hotel.
If you don't wish to visit Kini then this afternoon is free for you to relax on the long beach near our hotel; with shallow waters it's an ideal spot for swimming. Alternatively you can explore the tranquil village of Galissas, which is set around a small harbour in a scenic agricultural area.
Hotel Francoise (or similar)
Today is free for you to relax in Galissas or to explore more of the island. This morning you may like to join a coastal walk with our tour Leader. Taking a public bus the short drive to Azolimnos where the walk begins. The walk takes around one and half hours to Vari (covering approximately 4kms). This walk gives you an excellent taste of the island's scenery. Once you arrive in Vari you can enjoy a swim, relax on the beach and have lunch in a nearby tavern before taking the public bus back to Galissas.
This afternoon you may choose to join a bus tour of the island to see more of the fantastic surroundings. The island produces loukoumi, the Greek sweet that is similar to Turkish Delight and you'll have the chance on this excursion to visit a small factory and to purchase this local speciality. As part of our tour we'll take a walk to Ano Syros, which oozes medieval charm. Its long history can be seen its many cultural landmarks including its old castle gates that lead into the old town area. The town is built onto a hill with its tiered white and sand coloured buildings rising up to the Capuchin Church at the very top.
Tonight there is the opportunity to join your Leader for dinner in the islands capital, Ermoupolis.
There is the opportunity to go on a further coastal walk this morning or to relax in Galissas. You may choose to walk to the small coastal village of Fonikas and visit the Church of Agios Panteleimonas or the lovely Kokkina beach located nearby . The walk is an easy 3.5 km walk taking about 45 minutes each way.
Later this afternoon we drive to Ermoupoli, where you can store your main luggage on the bus. You'll have free time to discover the island's capital and to have dinner before we board the ferry this evening to Paros. There is only one ferry between the islands that departs at around 9pm and the journey is approximately one and half hours, on the shorter ferry crossings there is no reserved seating. On arrival we'll transfer to our hotel in Drios and we'll arrive at our hotel at around midnight.
Paros is one of the most attractive of all the Cycladic Islands. Its capital is Paroikia, on the west coast. Dominating the interior is Mount Profitis Ilias (770 metres) on the slopes of which are the famous marble quarries.
Anezina Village Hotel (or similar)
Paros was the birthplace of the poet Archilochus, the inventor of Iambic verse. Among the many places of interest are the marble quarries, the picturesque fishing villages and a Venetian fortress. Especially interesting is the church, Ekatontapiliani Church of 100 Doors, about which a legend says that when the 100th door is discovered the Greeks will take back Constantinople (Istanbul).
Today, you may choose to take a walk along one of the well preserved Byzantine roads that cross the island. This is an easy walk that takes around two hours. We'll use the public bus to reach the trailhead at the traditional mountain village of Lefkes. This is a very popular walk and the path is lined with wild herbs such as thyme, sage and oregano, so it's a sweet scented experience too. We'll stop in Piso Livadi for lunch, in the side streets you'll usually find the locals playing a game chess or backgammon. From here you can either walk back to Drios or take the local bus.
Once back in Drios you can relax on the Golden Beach or you may like to join a cooking lesson of traditional Greek cuisine in the Hotel Anezina.
Today is free to further explore Drios at your own pace. There is the opportunity (weather permitting) to explore the islands coast from a different perspective by joining a half day boat trip aboard a traditional Greek caique. During the boat cruise there will be the opportunity to go swimming in the clear blue waters.
Perhaps you'd prefer to take a local bus to nearby Naoussa or Parikia. Naoussa is a coastal, white village that's buildings practically glimmer in the sunshine. The area is famous for its wine and jam made in the surrounding vineyards which you can try in the village cafes. The Old Port area is the perfect spot to sample the cuisine and a glass of wine in a traditional tavernas by the harbour.
It's in Parikia where you can visit the Church of 100 Doors and other historical places found here including the Byzantine site of Panagia Ekatontapyliani, an old Venetian fortress on the hilltop above the town, an 8th century BC waterfront cemetery and the Paros Archaeological Museum.
This morning we drive to Parikia to catch the ferry to the island of Naxos. Our ferry normally departs just after midday, so we'll have a little time to look around Parikia before we board the boat. The ferry crossing takes around one hour and there is no reserved seating on this short journey.
The island of Naxos is the largest and some would argue the most beautiful of the Cyclades. The god Dionysus is believed to have lived on the island and taught the inhabitants to cultivate wine, which still has an excellent reputation today.
At the entrance to the harbour sits the grand Portara stone that has greeted visitors for over 2500 years. The town itself is a mix of whitewashed houses and medieval Venetian mansions, with the fortified 'kastro' or castle occupying a prominent position overlooking the bay. Our luggage will be taken directly to our hotel, meanwhile our tour leader will make recommendations for lunch in town after which we will be shown around the network of alleyways and courtyards, as well as the kastro before returning to our hotel later in the afternoon.
Hotel Mare Naxia (or similar)
Today we have a full day trip to explore the islands' interior. Heading inland we leave the beaches of the west coast into the Tragea region, a vast highland valley dotted with olive trees, citrus plantations and dotted with sleepy villages.
We make a number of stops this morning including Bazeos tower, a Venetian monastery built in the 17th century and Halki (also known as Chalkio), which has a number of fine Byzantine era churches. Once the capital of Naxos, Halki has had somewhat of a renaissance with several new tavernas and shops opening to cater for the tourist trade and a delightful town square where we stop for a morning coffee.
Continuing further inland, we reach Moni. Just before the village, there is a sixth century monastery with some excellent frescoes. The village itself outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and a good choice of tavernas, there is an excellent viewpoint at Stavros Keramotis just outside of Moni where it is possible to admire 360 views accross the whole island. Depending on timings, we will break for lunch in Moni or Kinidaros, the starting point for our afternoon walk to Eggares.
After lunch we set off for an moderate walk of around three hours and covers approximately seven kilometres. This walk is different to many of the others we have taken whilst in the Cyclades as it takes us inland. Kinidaros is located close to the mountainous centre of the island and is nestled into the rocky hillside that is surrounded by olive, plane and oak tress and the island's marble is quarried nearby. Eggares is a small farming village surrounded by fields and fertile farmland. There a number of pretty churches and also two restored olive presses, and whilst in Eggares you can visit the Olive Press Museum to learn about the process.
For those who prefer not to walk there is the option to travel by bus to Eggares and catch up with the group after their walk. We return to Naxos late afternoon.
Over the years, Naxos Islands interior is home to fertile and well-watered valleys and there are many places of interest on the island. Besides wine, the island also exports olive oil, corn, fruits of many kinds and marble which is comparable in quality to that of Paros. The town has plenty of character and in the Kastro, just above the town centre, is an area of pretty houses from a bygone era that are Venetian in style and marked with coats of arms.
Today you may like to join a full day boat trip to Delos and Mykonos islands. We depart first to Delos, which takes approximately one and half hours. Delos is an entire island covered with ancient ruins and amongst the highlights are the Temple of Apollo, Terrace of Lions, 3rd century BC theatre, ancient town and Mount Kynthos (113 metres). Following time here to explore we take the boat on to Mykonos (takes around 30 minutes). This island is frequented by the rich and famous. Whilst here you can explore its winding streets with its boutique and exclusive shops and another highlight are of course the windmills, which are one of the most photographed places in the Cyclades. We then return to Naxos by boat (takes around one and a half hours).
This morning we'll transfer the short distance from our hotel to the port and board the ferry to the island of Santorini.
Santorini (or Thira, as the island is also known) is the most southerly of the Cycladic Islands. It's one of the most picturesque areas in the Aegean and the familiar images of whitewashed churches with blue-domed roofs adorn this beautiful landscape. It's also an area of particular interest to those keen on the Lost Atlantis legend. Formerly a huge volcano, its centre disappeared in an enormous explosion in around 1450 BC and this area now forms a lagoon where some believe that the city of Atlantis now resides having been destroyed by the eruption and swept into the waters. Record show that the eruption did overwhelmed the Minoan settlements at Akrotiri as well as those on Crete.
This evening you can choose to join a local wine tasting at the Avanti Estate in Messaria or another winery in the area. The island is best known for its delicious white wines. After the wine tasting you might like to go with your leader to Fira for dinner, before taking a local bus back to our hotel later this evening.
Hotel Nikolas (or similar)
Today is free for you to enjoy relaxing or exploring the island or you may like to join a cruise to an active volcano. During the boat trip to the volcano, for those who wish, there is the opportunity to take the dramatic path to the peak and to stand in the centre of the Caldera. The climb takes around one hour per way and the ascent is steep in places. There'll also be the chance to enjoy a swim in the sea to warm springs.
The last stop on the cruise is the tiny island of Thirassia. You'll have a couple of hours to relax in the bay here with views of the volcano out to sea. There is time for lunch here or to climb up through the hillside village and walk around the surrounding vineyards.
Alternatively, you may wish to take the local bus to the ancient site of Akrotiri, remains of a Bronze Age settlement. We recommend hiring a local guide at the site to help explain the remains, excavation and preservation process.
This morning you have the opportunity to go on a coastal walk from our hotel to Fira and on to Oia. This is a moderate walk takes approximately four hours and covers 16 kilometres. The path goes along the lip of a caldera and provides great views along the way out to sea and of the surrounding countryside. Halfway through the walk there's the option to stop at a coffee shop for refreshments. The village of Oia is built along a rocky stretch of coastline and is one of the most photogenic places on Santorini. It has a long seafaring culture and there are two types of houses here - cave houses that are dug into the volcanic rock in the cliff side and the captain houses above ground where the upper class ship owners once lived. Many of the churches here are also dedicated to sailors.
After exploring Oia you can take a local bus back to Fira and then walk the short distance to our hotel (around 20mins). Whilst in Fira this afternoon you may like to visit the Museum of Ancient Thira, which explains the islands ancient heritage, or the Pre-historic Museum of Thera.
From the halfway point of the walk it is possible to take a public bus back to Fira or to Oia to enjoy more free time in either place. Oia has a host of taverns and cafes; it is well worth spending time here after our walk and getting the bus back to hotel later in the day, it's also a great place to witness a magnificent Santorini sunset. In busy summer months this walk might be done in the reverse direction to avoid overcrowded busses, in this case sunset can be enjoyed from Fira.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Santorini.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Santorini at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Santorini Airport (JTR), which is about fifteen minutes drive, depending on traffic.
Greece has such a vast geographical difference between the mainland and the islands, and travel is possible at all times of year but the climate can vary depending on when you go.
During late spring or early autumn, in the months of April-May or September-October, temperatures are warm and pleasant, usually hovering around 25 degrees. Rainfall is low, but can be erratic during these months. Cooler evenings take the heat off the day. If you have booked a walking holiday, wild flowers bloom during the spring, adding colour to the hiking trails.
Summers are hot and dry, with plenty of sunshine and little rain. Temperatures can go north of 35 degrees in July and August. On the islands, restaurants and bars may be busy with cruise ship passengers. While this period definitely gives you a ‘summer holiday’ feeling, those wishing to explore Greece’s ancient sites may find the heat challenging.
When travelling in winter, from late November to early March, the villages will be very quiet. Temperatures in Athens at this time are around 10-15 degrees, while the nights will be colder. Hotels in northern Greece in particular are well adapted to deal with cold winters, having proper heating and warm fires to retreat to after a day of exploring. This makes it a good destination for travel between November-March.
2 Pin Round
A selection of optional activities are listed below to help you budget for your trip, please note that some of the walks and boat trips will be weather dependent, trips departing in the early season (in particular in April) are more likely to be effected. Athens: On day two you may choose to visit the Acropolis Museum entrance fee €15.00. We recommend buying an online ticket in advance to avoid the queues.\kerning2 Other visits you may choose to make on Day 2: National Archaeological Museum, entrance €12.00. Olympic Stadium, entrance €10.00. Trams and all public transport- 24 hour ticket costs €4.10. Galissas, Syros: Tour of the island, €25.00 (minimum of eight passengers). If there are fewer than 8 passengers then a minimum payment of €200.00 needs to be split between those people who wish to participate. Drios, Paros: Full day caique boat tour with included barbecue lunch, €65.00 plus an additional €12.00 for the return transfers to and from the hotel. Minimum participation of four passengers is required. Naxos Town, Naxos: Full day boat trip to Delos and Mykonos €60.00. Not included entrance fee to Delos archaeological site: € 8.00 Karterados, Santorini : Akrotiri ancient site, entrance fee €12.00 or €6.00 with photographic ID, if you're over the age of 65. Volcano boat trip including stops at the warm springs and Thirassia Island. Price including transfers, dinner and sunset on board), €85.00 plus €5.00 entrance fee to the volcano. This boat trip starts at 2.15pm and returns after sunset. Alternative a Volcano boat trip that starts at 11am and returns at 6pm (excludes meals and transfers) is €51.00 plus €5.00 entrance fee to the volcano. Food is available to purchase during the boat trip and transfers can be done by public transport (local bus or taxi). Local buses and taxis are used for the majority of the optional island walks and so you should allow €25.00 to €30.00 for this. only cash accepted
July and August are the hottest months though the islands are freshened by cooling sea breezes, and so lightweight cotton clothing is ideal. Earlier or later in the season it's best to be prepared for drops in temperature and the odd shower, so we recommend wearing layers and taking a lightweight raincoat and an umbrella. A warm sweater will also help to fend off the unexpected chilling wind that on occasion races across the open deck of the ferries between the islands. Women wearing trousers or shorts are not permitted to enter monasteries, so please bring a skirt and ensure your shoulders are covered should you wish to visit any.
Lightweight walking boots (especially for volcanoes as flip flops melt) or stout shoes with good ankle support for island walks and sandals or trainers for relaxing.
One main piece of luggage and a day pack. You will have to carry your own luggage on and off ferries. Not many of the hotels used have lifts, and porters are not always available so don't overload yourself.
We recommend taking a water bottle, sunhat, sunglasses, torch (in case of emergencies), sun cream and insect repellent with you. You may also find walking poles useful for our included and optional walks, as the terrain can be uneven underfoot. You should also bring swimwear and a towel. In Greece sink plugs aren't always provided in hotel rooms, so we would suggest bringing your own.
Bus, Ferry, Taxi
We choose our properties because of their location, cleanliness, traditional style or for their welcoming atmosphere, as we endeavour to provide an authentic Greek experience. However, some of the properties might have some outdated or simple furniture. Many of the older buildings have been built to protect from the summer heat, however, this can result in rooms being cold during the winter. Hotels will always provide more blankets but not all offer heating facilities so please bear this in mind when packing if travelling through the cooler months. Most hotels in Greece are only a few stories high and lifts can generally only be found in hotels in Athens. There is no porterage service at the hotels we use so don't overload yourself with excess baggage. The hotel Mare Naxia in Naxos is a lovey two-star hotel 400 metres from the centre of Naxos Town and even closer to Agios Georgios beach. The three-story hotel has a roof top breakfast terrace and small pool. Rooms are simply furnished with en-suite bathroom, dressing table, and wardrobe with a safe inside to use complementary during your stay. We have graded it simple due to the basic nature of the room furnishings, but rest assured this is a lovely property and will offer a comfortable stay.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
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Greece: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
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Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
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An ability to swim is essential for your safe enjoyment of the water based activities on this trip. If you wish to participate in these activities then we insist that you are able to swim.
Nothing compulsory but we recommend protection against tetanus and polio. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.