On a recent visit to Greece, I had planned on visiting Santorini and Mykonos. I had heard those were the best and most beautiful islands to visit. But a local told me, upon arriving, that I should leave those crowded islands and instead go to "any island without an airport."
- Traveling to Greece during the peak summer months can be an expensive, busy, and crowded vacation, particularly if you frequent the two most popular islands in the country, Mykonos and Santorini.
- A Greek local told me, upon arriving in Mykonos, that if I wanted a more relaxing, cheaper, and more authentic experience, I should take a ferry to any island in Greece that doesn't have an airport.
- After a hectic and expensive two days in Mykonos, I got on a ferry to Tinos. Only 40 minutes away, the island was quieter, more romantic, just as beautiful, and less than half the price of Mykonos or Santorini.
Traveling to Greece during the peak summer months can feel both like a dream and a nightmare.
The islands are warm, sunbaked, and full of life and energy. Every beach calls you to swim in its azure waters or tan on its rocky cliffs and every whitewashed wall, blue window, and stuccoed roof is waiting to land on your Instagram feed.
But, there, lurking just outside the frame — in the real world — are the people. Hordes of cruise-shippers and family holiday-makers fill the once-cute cobblestone alleyways of Mykonos. Everyone and their mothers is at that one viewing point where the sunset hits the Santorini skyline just so. And that’s to say nothing of the celebrities, billionaires, and their entourages that crowd those two islands and turn every place into a re-staging of Snowpiercer: Greek Style.
On my first day in Mykonos, in fact in the first five minutes, the hotel driver who picked me up from the airport —there are only 30 taxis on the island, so good luck getting one — let me in on a secret: Leave Mykonos, as soon as possible.
Michael, a boyish fifty-year-old “financial refugee” from Athens who only comes to Mykonos to work the summer months, said that the secret to enjoying Greece is getting away from the crowded popular islands like Mykonos and Santorini.
"Mykonos is not really Greece. It's nothing," he said, as he took me to what was the cheapest accommodation available on the island, a 110 Euro a night pension (guesthouse) in Ornos.
“Look at a map, find the islands that don’t have airports, and go there. Any one will do. They’re all beautiful."
The following night I hung out in Mykonos Town, crowded with vacationers of every income level, as well as an overflowing variety of fine-dining restaurants, fun bars, swanky pretentious clubs, souvenir stores, Louis Vuitton shops, and art galleries. The prices are high enough to make even someone from New York (which ranks amongst the metro areas with the highest cost of living in the US) squirm.
I could care less about all that. If that’s your jam, enjoy.
The next day I took a 40-minute ferry to Tinos — no airport there. What I found was far closer to my Platonic ideal of Greece — a windswept, charming town, a two-lane road that curls along the coast waiting for a car or scooter to speed down it, and tavernas that look like locals, not Lindsay Lohan and Tiffany Trump, eat fish there.
Everything is half the price of Mykonos and Santorini or less.
If you need to find me, I’ll be hopping ferry to ferry, avoiding any island with an airport. If you’re traveling to Greece this summer, I suggest you do the same.