Imagine waking up in a stone-built, vine-clad cottage in a quiet mountain village. Birds and cicadas sing outside the window, and in the square down the cobblestone street, waiters at the cafes fill pitchers with cool, clear water straight from the springs.
After breakfast you put your swimsuit on, throw your bag in the trunk of your car, and head to a paradise-like beach. In the evening, you go out for food and drinks in a buzzing, seaside city. Over dinner you unfold a map and plan your next move. Are you going to head along the coast, or deep into the mountains? Your car is your freedom, Greece is your playground. The open road beckons. Sound good?
We love road trips in Greece, and here is why:
Ferry rides can be great, but nothing beats the freedom of being able to stop any time to hike up a hill, or find a path down to an untouched beach. Greece has beautiful driving routes, both by the sea and up through the mountains. Passing through the many little towns and villages, taking breaks in places where outside visitors are few and far between, you’ll get a deep sense of having really, actually, seen the country.
Escape the worst heat in the mountains
If you rather not spend all day in 35-40 degree C heat, heading up the mountains is a great way to escape. You’ll find another kind of summer here. Beneath tall trees, on serpentine roads, with ice cold water still pouring from the fresh springs, you’ll chill out in every sense.
Many places in Greece have the advantage of mountainous terrain that reaches all the way to the sea, making summer vacations at high elevations more inviting. You really can have your breakfast in a stone-built mountain village, and then be swimming in the clear blue sea before lunch.
Get off the beaten track
The big focus on the islands means that summer paradises on the mainland are still relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists. Everyone has been to Mykonos, but you’ll be the first to tell your friends about the beautiful beaches of northern Evia. Discovering things you haven’t already seen a thousand times over in pictures is double the joy.
And rest assured, the lower numbers of foreign tourists does not mean your trip will be boring. Many places feature buzzing nightlife and lots to do, either thanks to a large number of year-round residents (particularly in the bigger towns or cities) or to domestic Greek tourism. Picturesque seaside villages are often full of summer homes, and the population grows significantly during the summer.
Take the car to the islands
Road tripping also doesn’t mean that you can’t visit an island. Many famous (think Zakynthos, Hydra, Kefalonia, and Corfu) and less famous (like Paxos, Skiros, and Elafonisos) island destinations have connections with small ports that you’ll pass on your way, and bringing your car over on the ferries means you never have to drag suitcases up and down the streets and on and off ships. And if the boats only take passengers, just park the car and cross over for a day, before continuing on the road.
Short ferry trips are usually not very expensive, even when you bring the car.
So rent a car and hit the road! To help you out, we put together two amazing routes that will make you fall in love with the varied landscapes and culture of Greece.
1. Tour the Peloponnese:
The Peloponnese is rich in seaside and mountain villages, and a number of nearby islands can be visited from its ports. You can experience gorgeous mountains with rivers and waterfalls, excellent wines, virgin beaches, buzzing cities and ancient and Byzantine sites, all in one trip.
This route is great for those who enjoy taking in the scenery en route, as it requires quite a lot of driving, but that’s half the point of a road trip anyway, right? No stop is boring on this trip, and we guarantee you’ll go home feeling as if you’ve been on five different vacations rather than just the one.
Day 1 – Driving time: approx. 2 h 40 min.
Start your journey from Athens, heading towards Corinth. Pass the Corinth Canal and head to Epidaurus, where you can visit the Sanctuary of Asklepios with its famous amphitheater (open 08.00-20.00 May-August).
Continue your journey south and cross either from Galata to Poros (a 5 minute car/passenger ferry ride), from Metochi to Hydra (20 minutes, passengers only), or from Porto Heli to Spetses (10 minutes, passengers only).
Day 2 – Driving time: approx. 1 h 10 min – 1 h 30 min.
Drive to Nafplio. This historic seaside city is chock-full of things to see, so dedicate at least one day checking out the sights, and taking it in. Find our best Nafplio tips here.
Day 3 – Driving time: approx. 4 h.
Head down the second “finger” of the peninsula, and make stops in Leonidio and/or Monemvasia. Cross over from Neapoli to the little island of Elafonisos, famous for the incredible Simos beach, via a 10 minute car/passenger ferry, or to Kythira with 1 hour 15 minute car/passenger ferry ride, for an overnight stay. Learn more about Kythira here.
Day 4 – Driving time: approx. 4 h.
Continue your trip through Kalamata to the westernmost “finger”, and spend some time discovering the nearly untouched beaches around villages like Koroni, Methoni, and Foinikounta. Spend the night in Koroni, below the charming castle which is still inhabited, and so pretty it seems taken out of a fairytale.
Option A Day 5-6 – Driving time: approx. 5 h.
Continue via Pyrgos to Ancient Olympia and visit the impressive archeological site, with the athletic premises used for the Olympic Games in ancient years (open 08.00-20.00 in the summer). Continue via road 74 with a stop in the picturesque mountain village of Vytina, and then take the 66 through Nemea, for overnight stay and a wine tasting.
Option A Day 7 – Driving time: approx. 1 h 30 min.
Return to Athens.
Option B Day 5-7 – Driving time: approx. 3h
Drive to Kyllini and cross over to Zakynthos via the 1 hour car/passenger ferry, or to Kefalonia with the 1 hour 15 minute car/passenger ferry. To make your choice, read more about Zakynthos here and Kefalonia here. Stay a couple of nights on your island of choice.
Option B Day 8 – Driving time: approx. 3 h 20 min.
Return to Athens via Patras.
2. Volos to Athens: visit Pilio & Evia
This road trip has it all in terms of landscape, and pairs everything you want on a summer vacation with cooler mountain stops. It requires fewer hours behind the wheel than the Peloponnese route, and you can adjust your driving time most days by visiting more or fewer spots.
The Pilio peninsula is a beautiful destination year round, and it’s perfect for those who prefer to avoid the hottest temperatures. Even at the height of summer, the water is refreshingly cool at the jaw-droppingly beautiful beaches, which are surrounded by steep cliffs and lush green, and the villages high above them are shaded by tall plane trees and blessed with cooling breezes. Scattered around the forested hills are orchards that produce the region’s famed apples.
Heading south to Evia, Greece’s second largest island which is located right near the mainland, you’ll experience other contrasts, as it’s forested northern part generally resembles the mainland, while the drier south looks more like the smaller islands of the Aegean.
Day 1 & 2 – Driving time: approx. 4 hours.
Take the E75 and the E92 to Volos, and head up the Pilio peninsula from there. Visit the some of the villages and hit the beaches. Find our favorite Pilio stops to choose from here. If you feel the urge to surround yourself with people, head down to the city of Volos for dinner one night at one of the traditional tsipouradika – restaurants that serve free meze with your drink.
Day 3 – Driving time: approx. 1 – 1 h 30 min.
Take road 30 and then E75, and get off at the exit for Glifa. From Glifa, take the 25 minute car/passenger ferry to Agiokampos, on Evia. This island is famous for its excellent campsites, several of which feature comfortable yurts and cabanas if you don’t want to set up your own tent. For your first two nights, choose one of the campsites at Pefki, Rovies, or Aghia Anna.
Explore the wide stretched beaches of northern Evia. Many of them are wild paradises, perfect for finding peace and for skinny dipping. The beaches near the campsites are livelier, with umbrellas and sun beds set up, beach clubs, and tavernas at walking distance. They’re just as pretty as the non-organized ones though. Choose the beach in Aghia Anna for the best people watching, and Rovies for the best sunsets.
Day 5 – Driving time: approx. 3 h – 3 h 30 min.
Take Road 77 to the capital of Evia, Chalkida, but don’t spend too much time here today. Instead, continue south on the national road to Kymi, and cross over from Kymi to the island of Skyros with a 1 hour and 50 minute car/passenger ferry. Stay a couple of nights, and discover the island’s forests, lakes, seaside villages, and animal life. Read more about Skyros here.
Day 7 – Driving time: approx. 2 h 30 min.
Return to Athens via Chalkida. Find our best tips for things to see in Chalkida here.