You never quite recover from a trip to Greece. It’s partly the ouzo flashbacks; but mostly that it’s one of the most easy going and beautiful places on the planet.
4,000 years of history, old dudes drinking coffee outside tavernas, meze and Mythos beer – it’s a feta-fuelled fantasy of a beach hair, €5 wine and laid-back island life.
Roll on summer 2017.
1. There’s scenery like this… everywhere.
Greece has over 200 inhabited islands, with each more characterful, beautiful or geologically curious than the next. However, when it comes to island hopping and a 1-2 week itinerary, most backpackers tend to favour the Cyclades.
White clifftop churches, contrasting cerulean skies, tangled alleyways, peeling doorways and some of Europe’s best beaches, this group of compact islands is Greece on a freaking postcard.
Tip: Boutique Santorini and hedonistic Mykonos are both unbelievably idyllic, but can come with corresponding crowds and price tags. Head for Naxos and Paros for dazzling beaches, olive groves and cobbled old towns; and to the original hippy island of Ios for party-hard backpacker vibes.
3. €5 mystery wine
Local Greek wine is actually pretty good. And if you’re willing to forego any information as to its heritage (we were), then you can procure half a litre for as little as €5. All three colours readily available.
Tip: Just watch out for the skull crushing grapes of wrath hangover the next day.
4. The ferry from Italy to Greece
This ferry from Italy (Venice, Ancona or Bari) to Greece (Patras) is Europe’s best kept backpacker secret. And is included on both Interrail and Eurorail Greek Islands passes.
Tip: Remember to reserve ferries in advance, especially during high season (Jul-Sep).
5. Ferries (again)
They may be a touch tardy at times, but we love Greek ferries. Largely because they have a bar and a sun deck. Which basically equates to a free pleasure cruise, fantastic tanning opportunities and drinking Mythos while watching the islands go by. Much like this…
Tip: Greek ferries are notorious for being delayed or cancelled, so always check the arrival times and build in extra travel days where you can.
6. The food
Hello, I’m Saganaki. And I’m FRIED CHEESE.
Tip: Away from the more expensive islands, you can still get a Greek salad, main and half a litre of wine for under €18.
7. This guy
The dad from my Big Fat Greek Wedding? Everywhere. Greek society is all about family, and this warmth extends to visitors, especially on the islands where you’ll find two or more generations running the tavernas and hotels. The world may still be turning on an axis outside Greece, but island life is ridiculously laid-back. And you don’t get feta than that.
Tip: Ignore our puns, they’re always appalling.
8. The beer snacks
Crisps, nuts, the occasional bowl of popcorn… it’s unheard of to order a beer in Greece without getting free bar snacks. To the point where we thought it might be even illegal. We couldn’t find any supporting evidence of this, so it’s more likely that GREEK PEOPLE ARE JUST REALLY NICE AND CARE ABOUT YOUR FUTURE HANGOVER.
Tip: As long as you’re willing to live off a macrobiotic squirrel’s diet, you can easily opt out of all regular meals for the rest of your trip!
Kittens/cats/small furry Lucifers… they are EVERYWHERE in Greece.
Why? Well, cats know things don’t they. Like Greece is incredible, which is why they’re all there, duh. (Withering cat stare, shows you its bottom, stares at you while silently licking its cat ‘Keftedes’)
Tip: Even if you’re a dog person, tell us this isn’t cute
10. Gazi, Athens
All island hoppers will end up in Athens at some point. Not having the best reputation, travellers used to do something of a SAS mission – ‘in’ to see the Plaka and the Pantheon, and ‘out’ to Piraeus in search of a one-way ferry ticket and a cool flannel.
But somewhere between economic collapse and a heap of exposed brickwork, parts of Athens got hipster. And in a wholly unpretentious way.
Once down-on-their-luck areas like Gazi now give Brick Lane and Brooklyn a run for their money in the brunch and craft beer skater stakes. The streets have a fresh coat of graffiti, and vintage stalls, warehouse clubs and industrial-feel cocktail bars sit comfortably alongside the checked tablecloths of old school family restaurants.
Tip: Try Hoxton bar for a vintage décor, shabby chesterfield sofas and masterful martinis.
11. City Circus Hostel, Athens
We’re in serious danger of running away to join this circus, permanently.
You know that stylish New York loft that you’ll never have? Yes, unfortunate. However, City Circus do have it, and will let you stay for €20 a night. Quirky, completely unexpected and with a rooftop view of the Acropolis, this belter of a hostel is in Gazi (see above for glowing references) and has a free wine happy hour. Happier hour.
Tip: If the rooftop view isn’t enough (it shouldn’t be), get free entry into the Acropolis with an ISIC card.