We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Melissa, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Melissa is from The Netherlands, and submitted the following report about Athens and the Greek Islands. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 2 (1 is easiest, 4 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: Greek, English
Reasons to go: Greece is a great destination for solo travelers. It's safe in most areas, the people are laid-back (especially on the islands), street food is cheap and delicious (where else can you grab a souvlaki pita for €2.50?), and the sun shines far more than it does in Northern Europe, where I reside. Many airlines have direct flights from U.S. and European cities to Athens and Crete. Aegean and Olympic Air offer domestic flights from Athens to several islands.
Best of all, it's easy to island-hop via ferry, especially in the off-season, when there's no need for reservations. Traveling in mid-October, pensioners met me off the boat, eager to accommodate an independent traveler. They offered simple rooms with baths for €25–30―a fraction of July-August rates, when backpackers, sun-worshippers, and cruise travelers on port excursions flock to the islands.
After a day in Athens spent exploring the Acropolis and Monasteraki Flea Market, I hopped on a Metro to Piraeus, gateway to the Greek islands. In three weeks, I visited Ios, a tiny island (population 2,000) known for its wild nightlife and music scene (mostly shut-down in October); Santorini, where multicolored cliffs layered with whitewashed houses cascade into the azure Aegean; Crete, site of Knossos Palace, Venetian-style harbors, and The Mistral Hotel, popular with single Brits; Mykonos, known for its labyrinth of cubist-style homes, designer boutiques and world-renowned bars; and Syros, capital of the Cyclades and perhaps the most under-rated Greek island, where cruise ships don't go and the true culture of Greece emerges.
After learning about The Mistral on Solo Traveler, I signed up for the week-long photography course. Our instructor was as knowledgeable as he was affable, but of 15 students only three of us seemed more than mildly interested in photography. While the hotel's staff is gracious and the food outstanding and plentiful, I found myself with Brits who go back to The Mistral time and again (there are direct flights to Heraklion from the UK), hesitant to venture out of their comfort zone on holiday. Not really for me, but I enjoyed the Greek menus and photo excursions to Chania, Rethymno, and Samaria Gorge.
In the weeks before and after Crete, I traveled independently with no problem. Pensioners were happy to accommodate a solo traveler and eager to please with amenities like free WiFi and view terraces. On Syros, the least commercial island I visited, I rented a whole apartment with bedroom, living room, kitchen, bath, and terrace for €25.
Wherever you go in Greece, there are a few cultural differences you'll need to get used to. You can't drink water from the tap, but the bottled stuff is cheap and readily available. And you can't throw paper down the toilet―a custom that takes some getting used to for Westerners.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 2 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 2 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 2 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 2 (1 is easiest, 4 is most difficult)