GREECE IN 3 WEEKS: THE HIGHLIGHTS ITINERARY
If you are visiting Greece for the first time, this itinerary is for you!
Greece is an amazing country, with so many islands and sites it would be impossible to see it all in one trip. In this itinerary, we have done our best to blend the highlights of Greece (even though there are many!) together. If you follow it, you can expect to see amazing archeological and mythical sites, beautiful landscapes, and iconic cities!
This itinerary blends travel by car rental, public transit, and by ferry and is possible with a fairly fast-paced 21 days in Greece. We had an extra day on each end of our trip for flights to ensure we had the full 21 days to see and explore the best of Greece. This worked perfectly for the September shoulder season, and we would highly recommend visiting in May or September to avoid the summer high season!
With that said, here is our itinerary for the highlights of Greece in 3 weeks!
Day 1 - Athens
Start your day with breakfast at the Acropolis Museum Restaurant, which offers a beautiful terrace looking across to the Acropolis. Right after breakfast, you can enter the Acropolis Museum from the ground floor and explore the archeological history of the Acropolis. Tickets (€10 per person) can be purchased online in advance here, or you can simply purchase your tickets at the counter.
Afterward, just a short walk away you can visit both Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Buy your ticket through the Greek Ministry of Culture e-ticketing System, choosing the Combined ticket in the Attica region (€30 per person). This ticket is valid for one admission per site to the the Acropolis and Slopes, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian's Library, Olympieion, Kerameikos, and Aristotle's School. The Combined ticket can be used for 5 days after the first entrance, which must have been used within 5 days from the selected date during purchase. If you plan on visiting even just two of the mentioned sites, the Combined ticket will offer the best value.
Have your walking shoes on as you will next make your way to the Panathenaic Stadium, built entirely of marble. It was originally built for the Panathenaic Games (which is what inspired the modern Olympic Games), and then re-built, reaching a capacity of 50,000 seats. Entrance costs €5 per person.
You are not done walking yet, make your way to Mount Lycabettus--the highest of Athens' seven hills--for a panoramic view of the city and its landmarks. Twice as high as the Acropolis, Lycabettus is an easy, but hot, hike with plenty of interesting cacti and plants along the way. For a different view, take Mount Lycabettus Funicular back down the hill (€5 per person).
Next up, visit the photogenic, cobblestone streets of Plaka. Stop for a coffee or a bite to eat at one of the cute cafes and restaurants that line the streets.
Wrap up your evening by visiting the Acropolis (admission included in Combined ticket) for sunset! Make sure to check the time of sunset before you go, and we recommend showing up an hour and a half prior to sunset to explore and take photos as they will start ushering people out of the site at closing time.
Day 2 - Athens
If you haven't tired of walking or seeing new Acropolis views, make your way to Filopappou Hill, the Hill of the Muses, followed by Aeropagus (Mars Hill).
Next, you will get a chance to visit the Ancient Agora--including the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best preserved temples of its type in Greece--followed by Hadrian’s Library (both included in Combined ticket).
Near Hadrian's Library, you can spend time exploring the Monastiraki flea market and square. This area is one of the principal shopping districts of the city, and has many Byzantine churches and ancient ruins in its vicinity. If you are looking for a quick and cheap lunch, Smak has delicious pizza boats for only €5.
Make sunset dinner reservations (approximately one week in advance during shoulder season) for the rooftop of A for Athens, which has arguably the best view in the city, overlooking Monastiraki Square, the Ancient Agora, and the Acropolis.
With a great atmosphere tucked away in the heart of Athens, Six Dogs is a lively spot to end your day with a few drinks in a great location. Even in the shoulder season there was a short wait. We opted to be seated at a shared table and ended up meeting and having drinks with a great couple!
Day 3 - Athens - Delphi (via rental car)
Pick up your rental car at the specified location (we chose to pickup from the Athens Airport to avoid driving downtown) and navigate to Delphi. You can expect the drive to take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, and to pass through frequent toll booths on the primary highway. You are able to choose public transit or a day tour instead, but if you are planning on visiting Meteora, Mt. Olympus, or both, a rental car is the best option.
After checking into your hotel, spend the day visiting Korykion / Corycean Cave, where the Nymphs and the goat-like god Pan were worshipped. In our rental car, we didn't feel comfortable driving the last portion of the way up to the cave, so we parked the car and walked the rest of the path up to the cave (about 3km). Alternatively, you could take a taxi to the cave and return by hiking back down to Delphi along the European E4 path. This hike takes approximately 4 hours and would offer beautiful views of the scenery of the Mount Parnassus area.
Next, make the short drive to Arachova to explore, making sure to visit the Arachova sign and grab a coffee in the picturesque mountain town!
Once back in Delphi, stop by Taverna Vlachos for excellent service, views, and food! It was full even in shoulder season, so you can reserve in advance or stop by to make your reservation earlier in the day. If you are unable to make a reservation, you can also just wait until a table becomes available!
Hermes Hotel Delphi (Hotel)
Day 4 - Delphi
Your full day in Delphi will be dedicated to exploring the ruins / archeological site of Delphi, including the Athenian Treasury, the Serpentine Column, the Omphalos, the Temple of Apollo (of course!), the Amphitheater, and the Stadium. The site is within walking distance of Delphi. Tickets can be bought at the entrance to the archeological site and will run you €12 per person. Pack a picnic to enjoy with a fantastic view at any of the archeological spots.
Following your walk along the Sacred Way, visit the Archaeological Museum of Delphi (entrance included in archeological site ticket) to learn more about the history and mythology of the ruins.
The Ruins of the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia are located less than a kilometer from the main archeological site of Delphi. As you make your way to this site, stop by the Castalian Spring, where all visitors to Delphi stopped to wash themselves and drink; the Pythia and the priests cleansed themselves here before the oracle-giving process as well. Mythologically, it was here that Apollo killed the monster, Python, who was guarding the spring.
Day 5 - Delphi - Thermopylae - Kalambaka / Kastraki (via rental car)
For those willing to add approximately 30 minutes to their 3 hour drive to the home of Meteora (Kalambaka and Kastraki both are located at Meteora), add a stop by Thermopylae to witness where the legendary Battle of Thermopylae occurred. You will find a a statue of King Leonidas himself, but only need a few minutes to take in the history.
Afterward, continue your travel to Kalambaka or Kastraki, home to the cliff-perched monasteries of Meteora. Bring your walking shoes for the many steps that lead to each of the monasteries! Additionally, you will need €3 per person for entrance to each of the monasteries.
Arriving in the early afternoon, you will want to visit whichever monastery may be closed the following day (as each monastery is closed on a different day of the week). You can find a schedule of the Meteora monasteries here.
For dinner, consider a delicious souvlaki at Taverna Gardenia!
Spartacus House Meteora (Hotel)
Day 6 - Meteora (via rental car)
On your full day exploring Meteora, you will want to visit the rest of the monasteries (skipping whichever you visited the previous day), stopping for incredible views along the way. If open, start by making your way to St Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery (the lowest lying monastery) followed by the Monastery of Great Meteoron, the oldest and largest of the Meteora monasteries.
Between Grand Meteora and your next stop, Varlaam Monastery, there will be a rocky cliff where you can stop and take a picture from far above, with the monasteries in the background. Afterward, continue to Varlaam Monastery (with its beautiful gazebo overlooking the valley).
Moving on to Roussanou Monastery, the active convent is visible from many viewpoints in Meteora. Across from the entrance to Roussanou there is a photo spot for pictures of St Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery.
Along the way to Monastery of the Holy Trinity, stop at Psaropetra Lookout and Meteora Observation Deck for beautiful viewpoints with panoramic views.
The Monastery of the Holy Trinity sits off on its own on an island of stone, and was used as a film location for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
The last of the monasteries, the Monastery of St Stephen is just across a valley from the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. This is the only monastery without stairs (although St Nicholas Anapausas Monastery is the only one with a lift). We didn't get a chance to view this one as they were under isolation due to a Covid-19 outbreak that had occurred.
Finishing your exploration of Meteora, you can complete the short hike to Adrachti Pillar, one of the skinniest rocks of Meteora. Surrounded by the hills of the region, it’s an atmospheric spot and easily reached if you walk east out of Kastraki past the Holy Tomb of the Assumption Church.
Day 7 - Meteora - Mount Olympus (via rental car)
If hiking to the home of the gods is on your itinerary (and it should be!), you will next make your way to Mount Olympus, bypassing Litochoro to stop at Prionia (elevation 1100 metres), the highest accessible point by car. After winding roads take you to Prionia, you will find a parking lot, restaurant, and bathroom before lacing up your hiking boots and ascending the approximately three hour climb to Refuge A (elevation 2100 metres) a.k.a. your stay for the evening. Refuge A offers dorm beds for €13.00 per person per night, charging another €7.00 if you would like to rent sheets. You are able to leave anything you do not wish to carry to the summit in a cubby, but you will need to carry out any trash you brought in (they will only take refuse from anything purchased at the Refuge).
Refuge A offers warm meals, coffee, and other snacks and food if you do not wish to bring only pre-packaged food for your hike. There is only running (and very cold!) water for certain hours of the day, and lights are shut off for the Refuge at 10:00 PM.
Refuge A (Hostel)
Day 8 - Mount Olympus - Litochoro (via rental car)
At approximately 6:00 AM - 6:15 AM, the lights will be turned on for the Refuge, and you will need to prepare for your journey to the summit of Mount Olympus. You can include a breakfast at Refuge A with your booking (€6.00 per person).
Following your breakfast, you will begin your ascent to Skala (2866 metres). The hike begins with a small and steady incline, which gradually becomes more difficult once you round to the backside and face the Skala, Skolio, and Mytikas peaks. As you get closer to Skala and move beyond the diminishing tree-line, the path will become significantly more shale-like and rocky, with less protection from the elements. After approximately three hours of hiking, you should reach the first of the peaks, Skala. Depending on the weather, it can be quite chilly and windy as clouds drift through the mountains.
From Skala, you can quickly cross the ridge to Skolio, the second highest peak on Mount Olympus (2911 metres), in approximately 20 minutes including the return to Skala. From Skala, the next option is to summit Mytikas, the highest peak (2918 metres). You will first be required to descend from Skala to a lower ridge before climbing back up to the peak of Mytikas. Mytikas is a more technical climb, with more handholds and caution required. Even the descent to the ridge was a bit harrowing for us as less experienced hikers.
After enjoying the success of climbing Mount Olympus, you will have a long journey back down to Prionia to collect your car and return to Litochoro for the evening. Make sure you explore Litochoro for some well-deserved drinks and a large, comforting meal (we really enjoyed Meze Meze)!
Papanikolaou Guest House (Hotel)
Day 9 - Litochoro - Athens (via rental car)
Your legs deserve some rest, so have breakfast and spend the day (approximately 4.5 hours) travelling back to Athens as your base for the evening.
If you missed anything in your first few days of Athens, this afternoon / evening is your time to explore new or re-visit your favorite Athens experiences. We visited the quirky Little Kook, which was a fun photo opportunity with themed and named speciality cocktails, but neither of us enjoyed our drink so go for the experience rather than the quality!
Day 10 - Athens - Hora (via ferry)
In the morning, you will experience the first of your Greek ferries. We used Ferryhopper to book ours, which offered the ability to book Island hopping (multi-leg) journeys on varying dates. In the summer you will have a larger variety of options for ferry times, but if you are travelling shoulder or off-season, make sure you are checking the timetables for up-to-date ferry information.
With your first ferry stopping on the island of Naxos in Hora (Chora), you will have a much more relaxed disembarking than on the busier stops (I see you Santorini). With lots of quiet beach options, beautiful city views from the Portara (Temple of Apollo), and a quaint Greek island town, Hora is a beautiful and less busy destination.
Grab some lunch at the affordable and tasty Scirocco before making your way to the Agios Georgios beach. This is the closest beach to Hora, which makes it the perfect place for an easy afternoon swim. With shallow water, fine sand, and numerous beachside amenities, this is a great, relaxing way to spend your first island afternoon.
Closer to sunset, get your camera ready and visit the Portara (Temple of Apollo) that perfectly frames Hora for iconic photos of the city.
For dinner, the highlight in Hora is Doukato. This is always a popular dinner spot, so we recommend either making reservations or stopping earlier in the day to check availability. As a sea-side town, make sure to try fresh seafood or famous Naxian cheese, gruyere.
Hotel Anixis (Hotel)
Day 11 - Hora
After a slow morning, Plaka Beach offers the opportunity to relax, enjoying drinks on your umbrella-covered beach chair, or to partake in some water sports such as windsurfing, tubing, or wakeboarding among other activities.
Enjoy a light lunch on the beach to save room for a dinner at Taverna Kastro, which has great food and beautiful views!
Day 12 - Hora - Mount Zeus (via bus)
Start your day early, hopping on a ~35 minute bus to Filoti. Visit the buses website here for routes and the timetable (appreciating that they are one of the best websites out of all the Greek bus websites!!).
After days of rest and beaches following your Mount Olympus hike, it is time to complete the Mount Zas (Mount Zeus)
hike. This offers the highest point of Naxos & the Cyclades at the summit, and a cave where Zeus was said to be born. Hiking, mythology, and views? This one has it all. Pack a picnic lunch for the top to take in the views and a pick-me-up for the climb down.
Round trip this hike takes between 2 - 4 hours along the Filoti / Aria Spring route. The Filoti route is 6 kilometers round-trip. It can be difficult to know exactly where to go on this trail at points, but keep an eye out for markers along the route to direct you, and consider using All Trails to additionally help you navigate. Full disclosure, we had a hell of a time descending and likely went completely off the route requiring us to hop through goat fields and hike alongside the extremely windy road--this also increased our time climbing down exponentially so try to stay on the trail!
From Filoti, consider visiting Chalki, the island’s former capital, if possible. With picturesque streets, a Byzantine church, and the Vallindras Distillery (visitors can take a tour and sample the Naxian kitron liqueur), this town is another great stop near Filoti, though we ran out of time and were unable to get here before needing to catch the return bus to Hora.
Day 13 - Hora - Thira - Oia (via ferry)
Your morning ferry will take you to the one, the only, the ultimate Greek icon: Santorini. We experienced a lulled travel by visiting during the shoulder season as well as during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the disembarking of the ferry was still pretty chaotic. After hopping off, we jumped on the first bus we could see to take us Thira (Fira). Taxis will cost you significantly more than the few Euros to hop on the bus, and as soon as the bus was full (within only a few minutes) it was on its way to drop us off.
From Thira, we immediately jumped on another bus to Oia, as it worked best for our Santorini plans to start in Oia, but we absolutely considered doing the four hour hike between Thira and Oia (changing our minds only because of the temperature and our rolling carry-ons).
Oia has some stand-out items (aside from the incredible view). You can briefly visit Atlantis Books for a beautiful Greek bookstore. It was closed when we were there, and that was probably the most disappointing thing to happen on our entire trip!
Spend time climbing down the steps to the iconic Ammoudi Bay, which was featured in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and is known for the rock where you are able to cliff jump. After descending down the steps in the heat of the day, you will definitely appreciate the ability to make your way around to the swimming area and hop in the refreshing, clear water. If you are brave, take the steps on the far side of the rock to jump off the ledge!
This quaint fishing town also has the Amoudi Bay Fish Tavern, known for the fresh seafood offerings. This is a very busy location with minimal seating, so you can either eat an early dinner when it is less busy, or potentially reserve a table (€10.00 per person for reservations).
Eating an earlier dinner will also allow you to make your long journey back up the steps to Oia to the Old Castle viewpoint to watch the sunset. It will be busy, but find a nook because this is a view you don't want to miss!
Day 14 - Oia - Thira (via bus)
In the morning, be ready for a day on a Volcanic Islands Cruise with a stop at thermal waters (not a hot spring! It is only about 4-5 degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding water). We had no issue using Get Your Guide for our tour booking. Your first stop at Nea Kameni allows you to climb up to the crater of an active volcano before heading to Palea Kameni to swim in the thermal waters. Returning to the boat for a short sail to the island of Thirassia, you’ll have free time to either get lunch along the water, swim, or climb the steps to the small village of Manalos to explore.
Upon return to Oia, you can take a taxi to Domaine Sigalas Winery, one of a number of boutique wineries on the island. Wine tasting and tour options start at €12 per person.
By either bus or taxi, you can make your way to the next Santorini highlight, Thira. Visit the iconic viewpoint, the Three Bells of Fira, famed for its three bells, blue dome, and picturesque views. Consider going to Franco's for a cocktail with a classic view of the city and Caldera (get there early as it is very popular, and eat elsewhere as it is expensive for food).
Porto Fira Suites ($$$)
Day 15 - Thira
From the main bus stop you will easily make your way to Perissa Beach, famous for its long stretch of black sand and one of the most famous beaches in Santorini.
Taking the bus back (along Perissa - Fira route), you will stop at two famous Greek wineries, Venetsanos Winery, and Santo Wines. When boarding the bus at Perissa, ask the driver to make a stop at Venetsanos. From the bus stop, it’s a quick 3-minute walk to the winery along the road. Venetsanos is carved into cliffside, and offers amazing views of the caldera and volcanic cliffs. Tours start at €6 per person (20 minutes), and tastings start at €15 per person.
Santo Wines also offers excellent views of the caldera and cliffs. Tell the bus driver when you get on that you want to get off at Santo Wines and they will drop you off just outside the winery.
Day 16 - Thira - Heraklion (via ferry)
The ferry to Heraklion will depart in the afternoon so spend the morning exploring the quaint streets of Thira and taking in the many views and shops.
Following your arrival in Crete, you will make your way to the city centre. Consider reserving dinner at Peskesi for a delicious farm to table meal and many local wines to try (also the local favorite, raka).
After dinner, wander down to the waterfront to walk along the Koules Venetian Fortress and Venetian Walls.
Day 17 - Heraklion - Chania (via bus)
In the morning, you will want to make your way by either bus or cab to the Palace of Knossos and Heraklion Archaeological Museum (€15-€16 per person), Crete’s most famous historical attraction. The ruins and recreations were once an immense palace, courtyards, private apartments, baths, lively frescoes and more. It is said to be the source of the Greek mythology on the labyrinth and the Minotaur (half man, half bull), and that it was made to house and lock away the mythical creature before the Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus.
After returning from the Palace of Knossos, make your way to Bus Station A to purchase tickets to Chania. Buses to Chania depart roughly every hour, and the ride will take 2.5 hours. Single fare to Chania is around €13 per person.
Cocoon City Hostel (Hostel)
Day 18 - Chania
Hop on a tour (you can book the tour directly with your hostel, though most groups are placed together so choose the best deal) to transport you to Elafonissi Beach where you will find soft pink sand and beautiful rock formations in shallow, clear waters. You will find many beach chairs with umbrellas (at a cost, and generally with no fun freebies included that you may have seen on previous beaches, such as a drink included), as well as small huts selling drinks, snacks, and fun floaties for those who are willing (us, for one!).
With only a set amount of time to spend at the beach during the tour, it will pass in the blink of an eye!
Stop by Funky's pizza place for a busy and delicious to-go pizza!
Day 19 - Chania
Between days of relaxation, there needs to be some adventure. On another tour (again, we booked directly through our hostel the day prior), visit Samaria Gorge to hike the 16km-long canyon.
The Gorge is unique as a hike in that you start out at an elevation of approximately 1,230 metres before descending down into the narrow passageways surrounded by rocky cliffs.
After a long hike, make sure you have reserved a table at Tamam Restaurant for a popular local Greek restaurant.
Day 20 - Chania
Your last day in Chania is dedicated to two of the most famous beaches on the island of Crete, Balos and Gramvousa (which can be booked directly through your hotel or hostel).
You will start by being transported to a large boat that will take you your first stop on Balos Beach. The water has every shade of blue and turquoise imaginable, with water on both sides of a sandbar. You will be able to hike up to a beautiful photo spot to take in a view of the beach from above.
Returning to the boat, you will make your way to Gramvousa, where you can choose to swim, hike up to a former Venetian castle, or make your way to a shipwreck along the beach. The Venetian castle will offer amazing views of the beach and waters below.
For a delicious variety of pastas, visit Laganon Fresh Pasta. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu, and you have a partial-service setting!
Day 21: Chania - Athens (via ferry)
There are limited ferries between Chania and Athens, but even in the shoulder season there were overnight ferries running. We opted not to book a room to save cost, which meant sleeping on our bags and long couches. There are no pre-determined seats on the overnight ferries, you will leave your large luggage in the lower stories of the boat, and the one we were on had large, open windows and entrances, so ensure you can make yourself comfortable and bring any sleeping items you need with you.
Sadly, your last day has arrived! As we were travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic, we spent the day ensuring we had our travel requirements met, such as PCR tests, before exploring more of Athens and saying goodbye with rooftop views of the Acropolis.
Total Days: 21+
Total Cities: 9+
Click the map to view the itinerary in Google Maps!
Thanks for reading!
Is there something we missed that you are dying to recommend? Comment below!