TRIP COACH

Greek Island-Hopping and Mythology

A Maryland couple heads to Greece for a vacation that makes time for both sightseeing adventures and some R&R.

By , Tuesday, Nov 18, 2008, 11:00 PM

Susie and Matt were both struck by the sheer size of the Temple of Olympian Zeus

(Map by Newhouse Design)

Susie and Matt

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DEAR TRIP COACH...
My boyfriend, Matt, and I are going to Greece. I love to sightsee all day, but for Matt, vacations are all about getting R&R. We're hoping you can help us plan a trip that will reenergize us and also help us experience Greek history and culture.Susie Leibowitz, Chevy Chase, Md.

FIRE AWAY!

Matt is interested in Greek mythology, so we definitely want to see Athens. How much time should we allow?
Devote at least two days to the capital city—the first for the Acropolis and the second for other sights. The afternoon sun in Greece can be intense, so be sure to get an early start. The mythology buff in Matt will love the Parthenon, a temple built on the Acropolis in the 5th century B.C. to honor the goddess Athena. Around the temple are replicas of friezes depicting mythological stories (011-30/210-923-8724, odysseus.culture.gr, $17.25).

The Acropolis Museum, right next to the Acropolis metro station, doesn't officially open until March. Until then, the ground floor is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The building is as modern as the site is ancient. Glass-panel walls reflect the Parthenon and the bright-blue Greek sky while flooding the interior with light. One of the coolest features is the glass floor built over an excavation area dating back to 500 B.C. (newacropolismuseum.gr, free until March). From the Acropolis, walk down the mountain to Plaka, the old part of Athens, where you'll find great shops and cafés.

That'll keep us busy on day one. What's next?
Hold on to your ticket stub from the Acropolis; it's valid for three days and will get you access to several other archaeological sites in Athens. Since Matt is a fan of Greek mythology, he'll enjoy theTemple of Olympian Zeus, built to honor the king of the gods (Vasilissis Olgas Ave. 1, 011-30/210-922-6330). You can also gain entry to the ­Theater of Dionysus, where Greek dramatists once performed (Vasilissis Olgas Ave., on the south side of the Acropolis, 011-30/210-322-4625).

What are some restaurants with great atmosphere in Athens?
Filoistron serves classic dishes, such as kolokithokeftedes (zucchini balls), and it has a spectacular roof garden with a view of the Acropolis (23 Apostolo Pavlou, 011-30/210-342-2897, filoistron.gr, small plates from $11.50).Orizontes, a café and restaurant on Mount Lycabettus, is a nice place to watch the sunset and have a drink (Aristipou St. 1, 011-30/210-721-0701). A tram runs there from the Kolonaki neighborhood, but take the stairs at least one way for top-notch city views.

We hope to do some island-hopping. Where can we get ferry tickets?
Danae Travel Bureau (danae.gr), FerriesinGreece.com, and  Greekferries Club S.A. (greekferries.gr) sell tickets online, but you need to have the ticket mailed to you or pick it up at the ticket office or port. Also, some ferry lines charge service fees of $10 to $25 per ticket. Hellenic Seaways runs hydrofoils, which travel twice as fast as the ferries (www.hellenicseaways.gr). You might want to consider flying. It's more expensive than a ferry but far speedier—and smoother. For example, a flight from Athens to Mykonos takes about 40 minutes and starts at $90, and the ferry takes over five hours and costs $44 plus fees. Aegean Airlines (aegeanair.gr) and Olympic Airlines (olympicairlines.com) both offer daily flights from Athens to many Greek islands.

What's a fun, romantic spot on Santorini?
Watching the sunset is practically a religious experience here, and the town of Oia provides the perfect vantage point. Get a drink on the balcony of the Fanari Villas restaurant and enjoy the spectacle (011-30/228-607-1007, fanarivillas.com).

Where should we go in Mykonos?
Take a stroll around the alleys that wind through the Little Venice neighborhood and make your way over to Alefkandra, where you can order Greek specialties like moussaka, a casserole made with eggplant, ground meat, and tomato (011-30/228-902-2450, entrées from $8). Mykonos is perhaps most famous for its nightlife. At Paradise Club, well-known DJs like Erick Morillo spin techno and dance music well into the morning (Paradise Beach, 011-30/228-902-6051, paradiseclub-mykonos.com, from $29). During the day, it's worth taking a cab to Agios Sostis beach, on the north side of the island. This secluded cove lies at the bottom of a cliff with a church on top.

Anything we shouldn't miss on the island of Páros?
One essential stop is Naoussa, a small village built on a bay. The shoreline is peppered with tavernas where you can linger as long as you'd like while watching the fishermen. If you only visit one beach in Greece, make it Kolymbithres beach, near Naoussa. The water couldn't be clearer, and the little moon-rock-like alcoves along the tiny inlets make perfect nooks for private sunbathing.

What are some good day trips from the islands?
Dakoutros Bros. runs boat trips to two of the three uninhabited islets off Santorini, where you can swim in natural hot springs (santorini.com/sailing/dakoutros-boats, from $29). From Mykonos, any of the numerous boats waiting at the port will charge about $18 round trip to take you to the island of Delos, an archaeological site that is, according to Greek mythology, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. From Páros, you can catch a ferry to the sister island of Antiparos and kayak to the island's caves (House of Sea Kayaking, 011-30/697-340-3231, oliaros.gr/seakayak, from $14.50 per hour).

Unasked-for advice
Atlantis Books, owned by several expats, is a great place to get insider tips in Santorini (Oia, 011-30/228-607-2346, atlantisbooks.org).