Ah, Greece... Where to even begin when it comes to experiencing the "cradle" of the western world.
Thanks to diverse terrain of picturesque islands, ancient mystical philosophy and inspired cuisine, the Greek islands have been a top 20 tourist destination worldwide for decades. It is truly a place to come and enjoy all that this human life has to offer, and a destination that you must tick off in this lifetime.
Greek Culture 101
Greek people are full of passion, full of life, and full of love. They see beauty in the mundane and believe in doing whatever it takes to bring a smile to someone's face. The culture is extremely welcoming, and in every cafe, shop, or public area, you will be treated as if you are family.
While yoga has not quite made its way as a staple in Greek culture (we're talking awe=struck gawking when stretching or meditating at the beach, and explaining what it means to be vegan), we're here to tell you it is possible to embrace your yoga lifestyle in this part of the world.
Aside from the ideology that life is meant to be enjoyed and people are everything (can I get an amen?!), Greeks are also into the ancient mysticism and philosophy that their culture was built on. Strike up conversations and keep an open mind. Suspend your judgment and just learn how other people view things. It'll be refreshing. :)
Our most recent yoga retreat took us on a slew of adventures through the islands of Mykonos, Santorini and Crete, and we're sharing all of our favorite experiences in hopes to inspire your own epic & conscious travels.
Vegan Cuisine in Greece
You're definitely not in California anymore. There's not hip vegan restaurants on every corner, and most Greek chefs and restaurant staff will not know what it means to be vegan. That being said, the majority are absolutely intrigued by the concept and more than willing to work with you to make a dish that you will feel good eating.
Greek Salad - traditionally served with a massive block of feta, however very easy to ask for it without.
Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) - one of my favorites, and so very Greek! We had them stuffed with seasoned rices, red cabbage & nuts.
Pita bread & all the dips - we basically lived off of creamy hummus, eggplant (aubergine) salad dip, and fava bean dip. You can find these as appetizers in most restaurants.
Risotto - most places will offer a vegetable risotto on the menu, and unless there is some sneaky cheese added, it should be prepared completely free of animal products.
Grilled vegetables - we may have had enough grilled squash, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers to last a lifetime, but we were sure happy that most restaurants we went to had this on the menu.
Falafel - this is what I think of when I think of eating vegan in Greece. A dish made of chickpeas and seasonings, you'll find this as a starter in the majority of traditional restaurants.
Spanakopita - a savory baked pie filled with spinach. Insert droll emoji here.
Gemista (stuffed pepper - sometimes stuffed tomato) - make sure with the chef that they don't have minced meat in their recipe, but traditionally this dish is made with rice, herbs, and veggies.
The Best Greek Islands For Adventurers
There are approximately 6,000 Greek islands sprawling over the Mediterranean, Ionian and Aegean seas, and 227 of them are inhabited by humans.
That's 227 destinations you could mean when you say "The Greek islands are sooo on my bucket list!" and they are not created equal when it comes to getting your Dora the explorer on.
You cannot go wrong with a visit to Santorini. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Santorini is just as magical as you could imagine. The island itself is an active volcano, offering up both black and red sand beaches, and the caldera views and white washed architecture and charming villages simply won't quit.
Zakynthos gets many experts' votes for the best beaches in the Greek islands, so you know it's on our bucket list! This Ionian island is home to a Shipwreck beach, only accessible via boat, and a cool underwater Marine park. This place is all about water sports and dramatically high cliffs as their best vantage points. We're about it.
Kelly got the tip off from one of her good girlfriends to visit Milos, and it made for the perfect addition to the Mykonos, Santorini, Crete route. Check out our post for all of the best beaches and of course places to grab vegan grub.
By far the biggest of the Greek islands, Crete is a world all its own. Go here for beautiful untouched nature and authentic Greek experiences in food and wine and handmade crafts. The southeast part of the island even has a pink sand beach and tropical turquoise waters!
Okay so I'm actually dying to go to Kefalonia. A girl I met in my last teacher training runs her family's wellness retreat on Kefalonia, and it is absolutely stunning. Kefalonia seems to have it all- a laid back culture and wellness centers on the island, mountains and caves, lush green plant life and what's been voted as THE most beautiful beach in all of Greece - Myrtos Beach. This is my next choice when I visit the Greek islands again!.
Corfu has been voted as a great family island, and it also has a ton of rad fruit trees, flower plants, and unique species of birds, reptiles and mammals. Geographically it is the northwestern most point in Greece, so add this one to your bucket list if wildlife and plants are high up there on what you want to see during your holiday!
The island of Hydra looks cool because it is stuck in a time warp from 50 years ago. The entire island is pretty much free of motor vehicles and super eco friendly. It is listed as an architectural reserve, so the old charm of the buildings isn't going anywhere. Could this be the Cuba of the Greek islands? I'd be willing to go back and find out.
Andros is the popular vote as the best Greek island for hiking and cliff walks, so you know we have to include it on the Greek Island bucket list. It's a Cycladic island - think beautiful white and blue architecture like Santorini - and I've also read of Andros' many waterfalls, natural springs, and rock structures jutting out of the sea.
Skyros is remote and the entire island shares a common dedication to holistic holidays. You can find life coaching, painting, sketching, yoga, sailing, and likeminded travelers and locals embracing wellness. Spirituality is an open and embraced part of life on Skyros, and it's also a hot spot for diving and museums.
Any trip to the Greek islands is worth a stopover Mykonos. The island itself has desert terrain, and the main square is too adorable to be missed. Check it out for a day of beach hopping, shopping, and be ready to take out a bank loan on a day bed and a cocktail. Life is meant to be enjoyed, right?! Pro tip - stay at an B&B or private hostel room in town for a reasonable price. You won't get all the bells & whistles of a villa but you can be in town, saving money on transportation and accommodation!
Navigating the Greek Islands
Nearly everyone in Greece speaks English, but it is helpful to check out a quick Travel & Leisure article on Greek words and phrases. Also, be sure to carry plenty of Euros around or have access to cash as many shops and cafes across the islands are cash only.
Transportation between islands can be tricky as some flights and ferries only go on certain days of the week, are only accessible going through Athens, etc. Plan your route early to be as time and cost effective as possible.
We took both the SeaJet and Blue Star, and both ferries were relatively on time / minor delays were communicated accurately. Letsferry.com is a good site that pulls from the many different ferries available in the Greek islands. You also might consider flying (usually costs more, but travel time can be shorter. Be sure to plan your route early on so you don't have any excess boat or air time or any surprises.
We hope this is helpful if you are traveling to Greece this summer and we'd love to keep the conversation going! If you have more to add, leave a comment! What is your favorite Greek island and why?