Well, Well, Well! How do I begin? Greece wasn’t even on the list for this vacation and plan was totally different. I was supposed to do a Solo trip of Baltic countries while my family enjoy time with family in Iraq.
However, destiny wanted us to go driving around Greece in a week as a family while I postpone by Baltic journey to another time hopefully.
As you might have read, our journey started from Canada to Iraq where we spent 3 weeks with family initially. We then took the bus from Baghdad, Iraq to Istanbul, Turkey and spent 4 days in Istanbul before self-touring Turkey in our rental car south to north with children. This was one of my most exciting and fulfilling journeys with family so far.
After seeing almost all of Turkey, we decided to do another adventure. After researching the flights and bus routes for hours, the decision was to fly to Greece rather than taking the bus to Bulgaria.
Gladly, I already have a list of things to do for many countries in the world saved on my TripAdvisor profile which makes planning activities or places to see much easier.
In this post, I am going to show you how we toured Greece and drove about 2,000 Km to see this unique cultural full of historical sites country. Tag along for the best Greece itinerary with children.
Some Useful Travel Hack Tips
We always use Credit cards offering no foreign Exchange fees. I also use cards with no ATM Withdrawal fee to get cash from international ATMs when needed.
For booking accommodation, I always use Booking.com and occasionally Airbnb. If you use Booking.com, I highly recommend activating your Rakuten account and book by clicking the booking site link through Rakuten.
This way, you get 2% cashback from Rakuten on top of what you get from your credit card. Pretty awesome, right?
For more services that I recommend, head out to my Link Tree Directory.
The Drama of Booking a Round-Trip Flight Istanbul to Athens to Baghdad
This is usually the most difficult part of our trips. As a frugal family, we always try to find deals and fly for as cheap as possible. This meant, we need to find a cheap flight from Istanbul to Athens, Athens to Istanbul, and an easy same-day connection without leaving the airport from Istanbul to Baghdad.
I kept searching for hours with no luck. Everything I found was costing more than what I wanted to pay. However, randomly, instead of searching for Athens – Baghdad (With a transit through Istanbul), I just searched Athens – Istanbul and then Istanbul – Baghdad.
I did the same search inside the airline’s website and got the same results. I can never understand why the airline gives 2 different prices for the exact same flights and routes when booked on 1 ticket or 2 separate tickets.
Surprisingly, I got a price half of what the one-ticket Athens – Baghdad was showing. I do most of these searches via Google Flight but book directly on the airline’s web site.
My only concern was to get that with 2 tickets, we had to take our luggage, and do check-in and go through immigration and security checks again but gratefully Pegasus Airline agents helped us and made our luggage to go directly to Baghdad where we picked them up at the end of our journey.
To those who don’t know, Pegasus is a regional budget airline with super economical prices. However, they don’t offer anything for free. Passengers have to pay for seats selection, priority boarding, meals, baggage except 1 free carry-on, and even entertainment. This isn’t really an issue for short flights like Istanbul to Athens or Istanbul to Baghdad.
However, we paid extra for our 2 big suitcases which had our clothes plus our kids’ car seat and booster.
In total, we paid $568.89 CAD for Round-Trip Istanbul – Athens and $596.38 CAD for a One-way Istanbul – Baghdad ticket. We could have taken the bus and save $375 versus flying but no thanks after our miserable bus journey from Baghdad to Istanbul.
As our flight was at 9:25 AM, I returned our rental car on the night prior to our flight to reduce the stress. On our flight day, we took a taxi from our hotel to Sabiha Gokcen International Airport.
Gladly, Greece doesn’t require Covid-19 tests for fully vaccinated passengers and their below 12 children which saved us the headache of doing PCR tests in Turkey.
Arriving in Athens, Greece & Scammer Taxi Driver
You might know by now that this trip has been all without planning which means I only booked our first night of hotel in Athens just so we know where to go when we arrive.
Arrival procedures including immigration and customs were pretty straightforward in Athens International Airport. After collecting our luggage, we had multiple options to go to Athens but considering the luggage and children, I chose the most convenient option which is a taxi ride to Athens.
The official taxi fare from Athens international airport to central Athens is 38 Euros during the daylight which includes luggage, toll roads, and taxes so I wasn’t worried about overpaying or getting scammed by a taxi driver.
I gave the address to the driver, and we headed to our first hotel. Honestly, after staying in Turkey for couple weeks the prices in Athens were kind of shocking. Turkish Lira versus Euro so it wasn’t unexpected. We stayed in a triple room in Epidavros Hotel for 32.09 Euro or $46 per night.
We arrived at the hotel in about 50 minutes and our taxi driver pretending to be a nice person said to be careful of the area as it is full of illegal immigrants and criminals. He then asked me to pay 52 Euros. I was furious and told him the official rate is 38 Euros. He started saying that is for the central Athens area and this is not central plus there are tolls and taxes.
I told him, I do know that this is within the central Athens and that the official rate includes everything. He started getting aggressive holding to our luggage and yelling. We were tired honestly and not in the mood of starting a fight or waiting for police to arrive. I told him I can pay him 45 Euros, but I know he is scamming us. I then told him I only pay with Credit card. He nagged for couple minutes before taking his machine out and handed out, so I pay.
That’s the irony of how a local elderly taxi-driver warning us about an unsafe neighbourhood scammed us while we never had any issues (Except everyone starring at us especially my wife) in the neighbourhood during our 3 nights / 4 days stay.
After checking in the hotel, dropping our luggage, and a bit of rest, we headed out to check out the area, get familiar with Athens, and eat.
The room came with a huge balcony with some views of Athens and fully operational AC which made the stay more comfortable.
The area was a bit shady just because it was indeed full of non-European looking people, but we didn’t feel threatened or unsafe by any means. They were all hard-working young men trying to make a living in Athens. However, there was lots of graffiti and garbage all over the place and at nights we witnessed homeless and drunk Greek citizens all over the city.
However, the whole area was full of southern Asian restaurant which are much closer to our own traditional Middle Eastern food. We opted to one of these restaurants which had a 2nd floor for families with not a single soul upstairs. Its first floor and outside patio was full of young men who kept starring at us while entering.
We were worried a bit, but this restaurant ended up being our dinner place for the whole stay in Athens. If you noticed, when we find a good clean restaurant, we just stick to it as long as we are in the neighborhood. As a budget travelers, we prefer spending money on attractions and exploring more than buying food from touristy expensive restaurants. Check out the menu below and you’ll realize how cheap (and delicious) this restaurant is.
Two Days in Athens, Greece
You might wonder, only 2 days? Honestly, it was enough for us. Athens doesn’t have much to offer except the historical sites which started look repetitive after a bit. I now understand why tourists prefer to go to the best Greek islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Naxos, Corfu, Kefalonia, Hydra, and others.
With Covid-19 complications and the requirements for doing another PCR test before flying out to any of the islands plus we had enough of water fun in Turkey and the expensive flights due to no ferry, we didn’t plan to go to any of the islands and stick to Greece mainland for our short Greek adventure.
I initially booked Epidavros hotel for one night, but we extended by 2 nights after making sure it fits our needs. I mean, it was close to every attraction we wanted to go including Acropolis Museum which was 3 KM or about 30-40 min walk.
For breakfast, we bought cereal, cheese, milk, and pastry from the supermarket which we ate with the cup of tea we prepared in the hotel’s room before setting for our adventure.
So on our first day, we started walking towards Athens historical center. We walked through interesting neighbourhoods filled with market and Halloween decorations. Our first stop was Temple of Hephaestus which was constructed between 449-415 BC and served as the Greek Orthodox church from the 7th century till 1834.
This site includes the ancient Agora of Athens and other historical sites to explore, and we could easily see Acropolis from far while roaming around this site.
This whole region is full of history and everywhere we walked, there were historical Greek or Roman sites to explore or even see from outside gates without paying for entry. We kept walking till reaching the entrance of Acropolis site which was the most amazing historical site to visit in Athens if not Greece. This is a huge site which was built on top of the hill. Walking in the middle of the day under the heat of the sun wasn’t helping. We got tired pretty quickly but kept going.
The view from the top of Acropolis citadel is amazing which rises 150 meters above sea level. No wonder why ancient Greeks liked to build their building on top of hills. They had a good taste of nice views I suppose. We visited Parthenon, Erechtheum, and Phiopappos Hill sites as well. We then visited Acropolis Museum which was full of wonderful artifacts and felt it will never be going to finish.
We then headed to the National Archaeological Museum which was another fantastic place to visit. However, they didn’t allow our kids to enter due to not having the vaccine nor Covid test in the past 24 hours. This meant we had to take turns to visit the museum. Honestly, this ruins our day and made Greece feels unwelcoming and boring!
How can they let us in the country as tourists without a test then stop us from entering with our kids to a museum? The irony we entered other museums just on the same day. Go figure!
After spending the whole day walking around historic sites of Athens and museums, we walked back to our hotel but from a different path to see Zeus Temple and then Odeon of Herodes Atticus which is a theater looking like ancient Greek theatres.
After eating in the same restaurant, we headed back to the hotel.
Finding a Last Minute Rental Car in Athens
I am supposed to book a rental car today which proved to be a very challenging task. I gave up on finding an affordable last minute car from a reputable company and started looking anywhere around.
I finally found a car for 300 Euros for 7 days. I called them right away and they said the car isn’t available, but they have one Audi car which they are renting for 700 Euros but can give me for 500! I said I will call them back.
I also contacted other reputative car rentals like ACR and Cosmos Car rental with no luck. It felt like all Greek rental companies have already rented out all their cars.
I finally found a car company which had the worst review on both TripAdvisor and Google. But what can I do with no other choice? I put some faith and booked a rental car from ABBYCAR Rental in Athens Airport. The whole rental for an Automatic Intermediate car came up to $296.66 CAD or 197.03 Euros including all the fees and an additional 900 Euros as a security deposit on the credit card.
I was really nervous and scared of how if anything wrong happens. Based on all Google and TripAdvisor reviews of AbbyCar in Greece, I will have a challenging time and might end up through loopholes to get my money back.
I booked the car online and called them to confirm which was done. However, I wasn’t certain about this company or the availability of the car with the same price I booked till I actually picked it up in person.
Yes, to my surprise, they provided an excellent car with some normal wears and tears which I took photos of. I ended up writing a fantastic review for them on both Google and TripAdvisor hoping it helps them and others looking for an affordable car rental with good service in Athens, Greece.
Second & Final Full Day in Athens, Greece
We didn’t have any plans for today. I felt much better exploring after knowing we had our rental car booked. The main attractions on our list were done on our first day so we set to explore Athens randomly walking around with no destination.
Leaving Athens to Explore Greece, First Stop Delphi Site
We were excited to leave Athens today. It felt our short 2 days were more than enough to see and get a feel of Athens. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision to visit Greece after Turkey, but it is what it is, and we tried to make the best out of it.
Today, I took the bus to the airport to pick up the car. As mentioned above, everything went smoothly except the car had an almost empty tank, so I stopped by a gas station and experienced my first car filling in Greece! How exciting I know!
I left the hotel at 8 AM to make it back before the 12 PM checkout time. Gladly, I made it in time and picked up my family to leave Athens.
We had some plans to do in Greece but after seeing a lot of historical sites in Turkey and Athens, we decided to scrap some and take it slower. Therefore, we removed sites like Poseidon Temple and Olympia from the list due to the long drive.
Based on this updated plan, we headed toward Delphi which is an amazing ancient religious sanctuary city dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. This city was developed in the 8th century BC, the sanctuary was home to the Oracle of Delphi and the priestess Pythia, who was famed throughout the ancient world for divining the future and was consulted before all major undertakings.
Delphi is an amazing site which I recommend every visitor to Greece to visit. We had so much fun exploring this ancient city on top of the mountains.
After exploring the site all day, we kept driving till reaching our place for the night in the cute town of Arachova which is a small town in the middle of the mountain. I booked in a hotel Hani Zemenou for $119 CAD or 83 Euros. There was no breakfast, so we bought whatever we needed to prepare our own.
Exploring Arachova & the Mountains
As my wife and little one doesn’t like hiking, my oldest daughter and I decided to give them a rest day and go explore the area. We headed to see the mountain and a cave along exploring the village of Arachova. It was a beautiful daddy-daughter day. The cave and views were fascinating. I wish I had another adult with me to explore the cave deeper. I went inside a bit but got worried of leaving my daughter or getting lost so turned back.
And the views are out of the world and the photos don’t justify. You have trees, mountains, and the see!
The Most Beautiful Place in Greece, Great Meteoron
Finding an affordable accommodation in Meteoron wasn’t easy. For the first time through our Turkey and Greece trip, I gave up on Booking.com and headed to use Airbnb. Gratefully, I found an amazing apartment for $64.95 CAD. This must have been one of the best ever Airbnb places we stayed at.
The hospitality was amazing. It was sparkling clean and full of everything any traveler can dream of. I can’t recommend this place enough.
After settling we headed out to explore and visit the amazing monasteries in the region which were the main attractions to come here. These monasteries are honestly huge monsters built on top or massive mountain rocks. I have no idea how they were built but the whole site is massive.
There are multiple monasteries to visit which I do recommend to at least go and see them all from outside. They are mostly similar from inside so don’t bother if you don’t have time or budget as there is entry fees for all of them.
I highly recommend visiting the rocks during the sunset and sunrise as well. Sunset is so amazing that there was no place to walk on the rocks filled with people. Sunrise was more magical due to the silence.
I did the sunrise by myself, but I went too early, and it was too dark, cold, and windy. Had to wait inside the car for a good one hour before the sun rises a bit and starts shining its beautiful rays on the mountain rocks showing us its magical views.
Final Destination, Thessaloniki & PCR Test
After enjoying all the magnificent views of Meteoron, we headed out to our final destination, the 2nd biggest city in Greece, Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki has some nice history and architecture, but we were done with exploring and just wanted to wind down and relax before our very long 8 hours drive back to Athens. I booked a location in a small town of Νέα Μηχανιώνα for 2 nights. The total price was 72.90 Euros or $105 CAD.
This town is located by the seaside of Thermic Gulf with its unique port and beaches.
We first toured the city of Thessaloniki and visited some main places like the White Tower Square and Aristotelous Square. We had other places like the Museum of Byzantine Culture and Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki on our list, but we were tired and felt done with history so after visiting the main squares and walking a bit by the seaside, we headed to our accommodation.
After arrival, we had dinner and then headed out to explore this adorable town. There were people in all the bars and restaurants watching a soccer game. We enjoyed the port and the sunset along playing with lots of cats in the parking lot of the apartment.
On our 2nd day, we headed to the beach, swam, and enjoyed our day in a totally empty beach. We also headed to another beach to see a burned boat which wasn’t really impressive.
We also did our PCR tests in a local clinic for 50 Euros each. We received the result the same afternoon which worked perfectly fine in the airport for our return to Iraq.
Time to Drive Back to Athens & End Our Greece in a Week Journey
On our final day, we picked up our printed PCR tests and drove towards Athens. This was going to be a long and interesting drive. I didn’t go through the main highway to avoid the toll at some places and also experience local villages and cities including Avocado and Cotton farms.
We arrived in our accommodation, slept for the night. Left early morning, dropped the car peacefully and took our flight back to Baghdad, Iraq through Istanbul, Turkey.
And that is how we spent 9 days including flight days exploring Greece.
I hope you enjoyed our journey and photos. Let me know if you have any questions or tell me about your experience in Greece if you have been there.