Big Fat Greek Vacay: Exploring Greece During Off-Peak Season
If you’re looking for a quaint Greek village, where old men gather to play dominoes and yayas (grandmas) force feed you baklava, well, Mykonos is not for you. Famous for its beaches and nightlife, frequented by supermodels and Italian bachelor parties, the island is more “Ibiza” and less “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”. But if days spent in the Mediterranean sun followed by dancing the night away sounds like your cup of tea, read our guide, grab your bestie, and pack your swimsuit.
When to Go
We visited Mykonos and Santorini in early June, but tourist season doesn’t really get rolling until July and hits its peak in August. Here’s why that matters:
In early June, the weather is less predictable. For peak beach fun, go in late June-August.
Tourist season brings the island to life. While the streets were busy and a few night clubs were packed, we were assured that nothing compares to the height of tourist season. We found many of Mykonos’ world-renowned beaches empty and a number of the bigger nightclubs closed early.
Because we arrived before the crowds, we scored some amazing prices. Our hotel was gorgeous and perfectly affordable. We treated ourselves to lounge chairs and one (ok, two) massages on the beach. Our meals were reasonable. Nightclub covers were either inexpensive or nonexistent.
The moral of the story is, expect a little give and take. If you go during peak tourist season, you’ll find the beaches and nightclubs at their best, but be prepared to drop some serious cash. If you go outside of peak tourist season, prices will be more reasonable, but the island will be a bit sleepier. That being said, we still had a great time basking in the sun and stayed out late enough to watch the sunrise.
Mykonos has a small airport and depending on your origin/next destination, prices on and off the island can be comparable to flying into Athens, Greece’s largest hub. Because we were coming from different countries, we decided to meet in Athens and take a ferry to our first stop.
Buy your ferry ticket in advance online via SeaJets or just do some googling. The prices vary depending on how early you buy and what type of seat you get. Make sure to pick up your ferry tickets at the port office once you arrive. Uber from the airport to the port, or grab a taxi (if you Uber, expect to sign a “rental agreement”, this is how Uber gets around some local laws that restrict it). The ferry is about 4 hours.
If your hotel doesn’t have a transfer or you arrive after hours, arrange a taxi ahead of time, they don’t hang out at the port like you might expect them to. Your hotel should be able to help you with this.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Argo Hotel, in Platys Gialos. Our hotel was lovely, the staff was friendly and helpful, and it was located right next to what ended up being our favorite beach. Bonus, the breakfast was amazing. You do have to travel for night life.
Bye bye Uber. Getting around Mykonos can be challenging. There are 5 main areas of interest on the island: Mykonos town, Platys Gialos, Paranga, Paradise, and Super Paradise.
To visit the beaches, you can buy a day pass ($20) for beach hopping by boat. Boats come once an hour. This is definitely the easiest/most economical way to get from beach to beach. (Note: price and frequency likely goes up during tourist season).
Depending on where you stay, you can take public transportation to Mykonos town where there are restaurants, bars, shops and some of the famous tourist sites like the Windmills and Little Venice. The bus is definitely more reliable on the way there, catching it on the way back proved a bit harder. Ask your hotel about taking the bus. Service ends around 1 am. If you’re traveling after hours or between other parts of the island, you’ll have to take a taxi. Taxis on the island range from 15-30 dollars each way, so try to plan your nights out accordingly.
You can also rent a scooter, but don’t drink and drive.
What to Do
Beach all day
There are four main beaches on Mykonos: Platys Gialos, Paranga, Paradise, and Super Paradise. Our hotel was a block away from Platys Gialos beach, which was by far the best in terms of sand and sea. The sand was soft and the water was easy to access. The rest of the beaches were pebbly, which made them uncomfortable to walk on, but the water is pristine no matter where you go. Paradise and Super Paradise are known for beach parties, but don’t expect to find any ragers during off-season. These are suits optional, so bring your binoculars (just kidding, don’t do that). Paranga had great, affordable food; if you’re beach hopping, plan to eat lunch there. Cocktails on all four beaches are around $14 (during off season), so byob to save on drinks. Just a note that a beach blanket will do on Paranga, Paradise, and Super Paradise, but there is no room on Platys Gialos, which mean you’ll have to rent a beach chair ($20+ for 2 chairs and a shade, during off season). Treat yourself!
Party all night
Nightlife options on the island are nearly endless, so rinse the sand out of your hair and throw on a party dress. Bars and clubs fill up late, starting at 11. Here are a few of our favorite spots:
Caprice- A small bar with a dance floor, top 40 hits.
Scarpa- Cocktail bar, house beats.
Scorpio-This is a Mykonos must. A complex comprised of a restaurant, two bars, a dance floor, beach access, and a fire pit. Young crowd. Great DJs. The sunset party on Sundays is supposed to be amazing.
Cavo- THE Mykonos night club.
Paradise Club and Tropicana- We heard great things about these, but weren’t there at the right time to enjoy it.
We agree that our favorite thing about Mykonos’ tourist sites are that there aren’t any. You will inevitably run into the Windmills, Paraportiani Church, and Little Venice while in Mykonos Town (try to get a cocktail on the water near Little Venice at sunset!). Other than that, not much to see. Why is this a good thing you ask? You can focus on your tan FOMO-free! So go ahead, lay on the beach all day, recover from your night out, then do it again. That’s what Mykonos is all about.
Once you’re tired of sunbathing with celebrities (oh heyyy cast of OITNB), hop on a ferry and go explore another island. Check out Santorini if you’re interested in “the world’s best sunset” and photos that will make your Instagram look truly inspired. Also note that this is “lover’s island” and I was solo at this point, so taxis were more expensive, and the views were a little bit more depressing. The ferry ride is pricier than Athens-Mykonos, about $60 one way, and takes a little less than 3 hours on the fast ferry. I stayed on Perissa beach, which is nice if you want to enjoy the beach itself, but was on the opposite side of the island for seeing the famous sunset at Oia.
Plan ahead, instead of spending a fortune on taxis, which are hard to come by because there are so many tourists (even before peak tourist season), take a boat tour to see it all in one day! I only had one day on Santorini, so I went to the tourist office and booked a tour to see the volcano, hot springs (which aren’t actually hot), Thirasia (a smaller island off the island), and you can also see the red beach or the black beach if you have more time!
Despite our complaints (that’s honestly just who we are), we had a great time on the Greek Islands. We made friends along the way who welcomed us into their hearts and onto their private yachts. We ate, drank, danced, and sunbathed. If you want to experience the history of the birthplace of democracy, head to Athens. But if you want to swim in the Aegean Sea, rub elbows with the rich and famous, and dance your worries away, make Mykonos your first stop!
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