As I sit here on the balcony of our villa in Mykonos, I have been thinking about what words of advice or suggestions/tips/ideas I would give first time visitors (like myself and my travel mates on this trip.)
Below is a somewhat random and in no particular order series of tips/ideas that we share with any interested travelers:
Rent a car: I am sure there are plenty of folks that figure out the public transportation system on the islands (as it doesn’t seem super challenging) but the flexibility of having your own car is amazing. If you are flying in, they are easily available to book in advance at any of the airports using a site such as travelocity. If arriving by ferry, they appear to be readily available at each of the ferry ports. We did not make arrangements in advance and chose to have our villa owners assist us. In one case, the car was brought to our house, in the other it was brought to the ferry port. For us, it was probably the best €35-€37 euro we spent each day!
Consider luggage and passengers when booking a car: Like most of Europe, cars are small in Greece. In fact, here on the islands they have to be small due to the curving tight roads. Depending on how much luggage you are traveling with, it may be necessary to make a few trips from the car pick up point to your villa/hotel (which isn’t a huge deal as nothing is more than 30 minutes away on the islands). The other options is to take a cab to the place you are staying and then getting a car delivered. Trust me, the luggage situation shouldn’t be forgotten! I know from experience.
Seasonality of the island: We were traveling September 14-24 and have discovered we are here at the end of the season. Some beach clubs are already closed or closing, restaurants are letting us know that today is their last day of operation, etc. The same restaurants have also shared that in July and August you can barely get a table without a reservation (we have had no problems at all). So I suggest keeping that in mind… if you want the crowds and hopping beach clubs and “scene”, then come in the height of summer. This time was perfect for us.
Be patient with yourself: There are moments in the trip that will be stressful. (I guess that’s true on any vacation!) Taxis, getting on and off the ferry, driving through the islands for the first time, learning the patterns in which drivers and pedestrians move. All of these things combine to cause stress upon arrival. But trust me- be patient, don’t stress and before you know it, it will all be second hand. The first time we drove to our very remote villa on Mykonos down a crazy, narrow, rocky road I thought it may be the end of our friendships as we knew them! But within a day, it was second nature and we all laughed about the stress it caused us the day before.
Be ready to spend some cash: While there are reasonable options for lodging, car rental and some dining, in general the islands are a bit on the pricey side. Paying to use beach chairs at one of the beach clubs, expensive beers being served, groceries designed for tourists- it starts to add up. So just be prepared, so some research, balance your spending (we always had breakfast at the villa and usually enjoyed wine, cheese and olives at home before going out to dinner) and you will have a great time. A frugal traveler suggestion: there are bakeries located all over the island with cheap sandwiches, pastries, savory and sweet Greek pies… we enjoyed several meals at the bakeries and bought a meal to take for a beach lunch that was a highlight of the trip. And the prices are great!
Buy a beach towel! It sounds silly but we wish we had done it! You will get just one or two towels per person at your hotel/villa, and you don’t want to get them sandy and all full of salt water. You will also be spending lots of time at the beach and on the water! So make the towel one of your souvenirs But it day one, use it the whole trip, rinse it out if you need to, and keep going! It will be €10-15 well spent!
Do lots of reading in advance: Blogs, travel guides, books, online travel sites, friends recommendations Read it all, take it all in, bookmark a few key pages for reference…
And then stop reading and just enjoy: once you start your time on the islands, just enjoy. You will be amazed how much of what you read will come back to you- names of beaches, process for getting a chair, where to watch sunset. We found if we stayed obsessed with everything we read and all the recommendations we had been given, we ended up disappointed that we missed something. At the same time, we were glad to remember that the beaches Kalafati, Elia, and Lia were all right next to each other so it would be easy to beach hop!
Make a basic plan: We had nine days. Six of them had something booked, such as a day long sailing charter, a visit to Akrotiri with a guide, a trip to the hot springs and volcano. And then the other days were left open. For us, this was the perfect approach- we had things we knew we wanted to do for sure and then we…
Let the island wash over you and just take it in! You want more beach time. Do it. Shopping? Sure! Another sailing trip? Why not! Give yourself enough structure that you don’t have to worry about those things that need reservations and planning, and then let the rest just happen. If you’re like us, you’ll end up with an unplanned trip to the lighthouse on Mykonos for sunset and have one of the most magical evenings of the whole trip.