This past summer we finally got to do one of those bucket list things we’ve always dreamed of doing – probably one that every traveler heading to or moving within Europe dreams of at least once: a Greek Island Vacation. One of Joel’s best friends from California was on a work trip over in Israel and instead of hanging out in grey old London Town (which we’ve done together before), we decided to meet halfway in between London and Israel for a full week of summer in Greece.
Greece has something crazy like 2000 islands, a couple hundred of which are inhabited, so at first we had no idea what island to choose. All you ever hear about is Mykonos and Santorini, a previous diving instructor told us the diving is good in Ios, and every Greek person you ask say something completely different. In the end, we decided to spend 5 days on the island of Paros.
First of all, it’s one of the closer islands to Athens. Most of the Grecian islands are deceptively far from Athens if you’re going by boat. Santorini, for example, is about 9 hours by ferry. Paros is one of the closer islands – you can get there in about 4 hours with the gigantic Blue Star Ferries. (There are faster, smaller ferries, but these are more likely to make you sea sick). So that’s Reason Number 1, but besides travel time there are many other reasons to choose Paros:
2. It’s cheaper! Not a big surprise, but accommodation in Paros was quite a bit cheaper than in Mykonos (which was our other option, since it’s only 1 or 2 hours further by ferry).
3. It’s an all-rounder. Paros has something for everyone. It could be a romantic destination, a family vacation, a solo mission…it satisfies so many requirements.
4. It’s the perfect size for a short vacation. Big enough so that there’s some new corner to explore everyday, and small enough so that driving anywhere doesn’t really take longer than 30 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY?
Because of its perfect size, you don’t need to hop around accommodation-wise. We decided where to stay based on Airbnb options and we ended up staying in Parikia, which is the capital of Paros and the main port town. It’s a cute little, typically-Greek, Cycladic village with great food options. The village also faces west, so you can come home to a gorgeous sunset.
Another option would be Naoussa, on in the north, which is, I have to admit, just a little bit more adorable than Parikia.
But we just couldn’t pass on this 2-bedroom Airbnb, with its massive terrace and breathtaking views (shoot us a message if you’d like to stay here too):
HOW TO GET AROUND
You can easily rent cars, quad bikes, or scooters to get around. Rentals can be organised at the port, or through your accommodation. The car worked very well for 4 of us, as we could just throw all our beach stuff in the back, and head on out. Plus, sharing the cost of renting a car in Paros between four people is super cheap. We also kind of went just off-season (right before summer holidays for everyone else), so a car is great if your expecting some rain.
Alternatively there’s a public bus going around the island. Tickets are 2-3EUR and you can buy them on the bus.
SO…now that you have your home-base and your transportation, here’s your perfect 4-night, 5-day itinerary:
YOUR 5-DAY PAROS ITINERARY
DAY 1 – WEST
You’ve just arrived, probably late morning-ish, and if you’re staying at the same amazing Airbnb we stayed at, your host will pick you up from the port for your check in. Take this day to settle in, hire your car/scooter/quad bike, stock up your kitchen from the local supermarket, and explore your nearby surroundings, i.e. the adorable little village of Parikia with its churches, cobble-stoned streets, and blue-and-white painted shops and homes.
We immediately found the best gyro-place on the island for our first meal. Our Airbnb host suggested a place called Brizoladiko Steak House (basically, just look for the ‘Steak House’ sign). We were skeptical, because ‘Steak House’ sounds very touristy and not at all Greek. But dayummmmm….BEST GYROS ON PAROS. We returned multiple times. (They also do take-out and delivery).
YOUR FIRST SWIM: Take a sunset dip in the clear, lukewarm waters of Krios or Lavidia beach, the first beaches adjacent to the Parikia port, and take in the fact that you are actually on a GREEK ISLAND!!!
DAY 2 – SOUTH & EAST
This is Greece, so get yourself to the beach ASAP. The southern and eastern side of the island is lined with incredible beaches – you could probably spend 5 days just relaxing on all the different ones. We didn’t have a ton of time, so we asked the local guy who dropped off our rental car what his favourite beach is.
We headed to Faragas and spent a day working on our tan, splashing around the crystal clear Greek-blue Mediterranean, and snorkelling in the rocky bay nearby. There are some sun beds and umbrellas on the beach, which will cost you a couple of Euros to use. But the beach has soft yellow sand, so you don’t necessarily need these.
Spend all your time at one beach, or head up and down the coast. Whatever you do, we highly recommend you have lunch or dinner at a place called ‘Moypatio’ – right on the water in the southern fisherman’s village of Aliki – the seafood we had with our chilled wines and beers was just mouthwateringly delicious. And our meal came an incredible view of the bay AND free little after-lunch ice cream sticks. What more could you want??
DAY 3 – NORTH
Head to North to explore Naoussa
Naoussa is a scenic little fishing village in the North of Paros that is definitely worth exploring. It is beautiful and offers that perfect Grecian feel – narrow blue and white corridors snake through the village, accented with climbing green flora and bright pink bougainvilleas, and drying octopi hang outside windows and doorways like christmas decorations. Old men sit outside on steps with drinks and cigarettes in hand, with village cats and kittens lazing around or waiting around in the port for a scrap of stray fish from fishermen unloading their vessels.
Just take your time exploring the little passages, the fishing harbour, the old Venetian fort nearby, and then relax with a glass of white wine or a bottle of beer on the water.
We were taken to a place called Mediterraneo by a couple of locals and the food was fantastic. Definitely try the grilled octopus and the aubergine fries, with a side of tzatziki and pita, of course.
Coffee and Drinks:
We were then lead to a tiny trendy little place called Sommaripa, which has really great coffee and inspiring tea infusions, both of which you should try. This is a café/cocktail bar that sits on the first floor with views over the town and harbour.
Take it to the beaches!
Yes, of course you have to go to more beaches! Again, lots to choose from in and around Naoussa, but if you’re lucky like us, and you met up with some local friends, Stella and Thomas, they will take you to a secret, lesser-known beach in a quiet bay lined with wild flowers. This is Lageri beach, and it is right opposite the bay in which the popular and crowded Santa Maria beach is. Lageri beach is also where we saw a fully nude man slowly ascend out of the waters like a god on one end of the beach, and then walk all the way across the beach with nothing but his member to the other side. Where is he going? Where are his things? How is he getting home? Has he always been this naked? So many questions.
Make a good impression, and your local friends might even invite you to their home out in the ‘countryside’ (aka not in the village) to meet their cat and enjoy a cup of herbal tea. Perfection.
BEWARE! Naoussa is an old village, so the streets are cramped, windy, and/or one-way. If you arrive later in the day parking may be a bitch if you arrive by car (even if it’s a small one). We squeezed into a spot next to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin (the biggest church on the highest point), but it was a bit trickier to manoeuvre back out again!
Also, we experienced the town as quaint and sleepy, but we were there right before high-season kicked off, when it can apparently become packed with tourists.
DAY 4 – THE MIDDLE
Time for some adventure!
Fun fact: Marble from Paros is considered to be some of the finest marble in the history of the world. It is pure-white and ultra-translucent (up to 7cm), which is why it is found in up to 75% of Aegan sculptures, including the famous Venus de Milo. Which is why you should head out to the ancient marble quarries in the middle of the island, about 12 minutes’ drive from Parikia. There are two quarries, which were created from the 3rd to 7th century BC by over 150,000 slaves. Some signage will get you close to the quarries, but otherwise it’s sort of tucked in behind some fences. If you find the quarries, you can head deep, deep under the earth where it gets pitch black dark and icy cold to see where the famous Greek marble us to come from. (Read more about how to find these quarries and what to expect here)
Lefkes lies at the highest point of Paros, just 10 minutes’ drive from the quarries, making it a perfect post-adventure snack stop. It is a teeny tiny 500-strong village with the beautiful Agia Triada church right in the middle. If you park your car in the parking area (there’s only one small parking area which you can’t really miss – tourists are not allowed to drive into the village), you’ll see the church clearly down the hill. The village is so small that you can eyeball your way there. Gorgeous views to all sides of the village can be had from this church.
Stop for coffee and traditional Ravani orange cake at the little café right across the church, Kaféneio. It is run by the sweetest family who lives literally RIGHT next door. We were offered all kinds of treats and snacks on-the-house as we watched the sky turn pink and purple with the setting sun. Honestly, sitting there in that quiet little square, experiencing the best Greek hospitality, was one of the best moments of the week.
DAY 5 – GOODBYE
But before you leave, stop by the Byzantine ‘Church with One Hundred Doors’, aka Panagia Ekatontapiliani. It is a beautiful church dating back to the year 326 (how do you even comprehend), and was founded by the Constantine’s mum. So.
My absolute FAVOURITE part of this church, which you should not miss, is the monk’s room. It is a little corner of bare simplicity attached to this grand stone complex with all its golden paraphernalia. A little lantern with a flickering candle, a thin mattress with a stone for a pillow, and scribbled prayer notes or something tucked to the side. Just the lucid unpretentiousness put the biggest smile on my face.
And then, mid-morningish, the big old trusty Blue Star Ferry rolls into port and its time for you to head back to mainland. Back to the city of Athens, which also hold her own wonders. But you’ll remember these 5 days for a very, very long time.
The above itinerary allows for a lot of long lunches, late breakfasts, and just taking it easy. It is 100% possible to do Paros over a shorter period of time – a weekend even. Please, please, please don’t miss Paros just because you think you don’t have time. Paros is always a good idea.