If visions of Greece’s blue domes and white cave houses have sparked your desire for a jaunt near the Aegean Sea next spring or summer, now is the time to start planning your vacation. In 2019, right before the pandemic, Greece had its biggest tourist boom ever—with an influx in international tourists that reached approximately 34.2 million that year. The momentum obviously slowed in 2020, but the country rebounded pretty quickly. It was one of the first in Europe to reopen in the spring of 2021, and immediately proved popular with travelers. (United even launched a new nonstop service from Washington, D.C. to Athens to meet the summer demand.) That upward trend is continuing for 2022: Bookings for summer are already on the rise, many airlines have made deals to increase their flights to the country, and the Greek government is pushing for the tourism season to start as early as April. All of this boils down to one thing: With 2022 right around the corner and more travelers ready to get into the world again, now is the time to book a trip to Greece.
“We experienced a tremendous influx of bookings when the announcement of border openings was made [in 2021],” says Mina Agnos, founder and president of the Mediterranean-focused travel company Travelive. “Our May to July bookings were fantastic and exceeded 2019 numbers.” Tourism dipped in August of this past year due to the Delta variant, but not for long, she adds: “Our early bookings for 2022 remain very strong.”
The rebound brings with it some noticeable trends. Agnos has seen an increased demand for private, socially distanced villas and yachts, multigenerational post-COVID reunion travel, edutainment travel for families, and a shift toward more human connection and authentic experiences. She expects those trends to continue into 2022, but no matter what type of trip you take, expect all tourism to Greece to skyrocket come summer. So talk to your friends and family as you gather for the holidays and get a head start on airfare and hotel rates, as well as on-the-ground planning. These dreamy suggestions should help, including a night near the ancient ruins of Athens and a glass (or two) of local wine against a sherbert-colored sky in Santorini.
City vibes, views, and history in Athens
Base yourself at Perianth Hotel, located within walking distance to some of the city’s most popular landmarks, including the Acropolis. The hotel itself is situated in Agia Eirini—a lively square with outdoor cafés, bars, and restaurants. The 38-room hotel is neo-modern with touches like velvet sofas and jewel-toned cocktail chairs.
Right before sunset, take a 10-minute ride from Athens city center to the suburb of Kolanki to reach the highest point in the area, Mount Lycabettus. A cable car leads to a panoramic view of the city and the glittering lights of the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Panathenaic Stadium below.
For dinner, head back to Athens for an intimate and open-air meal at Nolan, which offers Asian-inspired Mediterranean dishes like soba noodles with smoked salmon in a tahini sauce, and donburi with minced lamb.
Water, wine, and that famous sunset on Santorini
Erossea Villa, located on the west coast of Santorini in the clifftop village of Imerovigli, is an ideal base for privacy and distance from the crowded hotels of more touristy Oia. Still, you’ll be just a 15-minute ride from some of the island’s best wineries and restaurants. The five-bedroom retreat has two connecting levels and can host up to 10 guests; each will be rewarded with the caldera views that people travel from all over the world to see. Yoga, in-villa massages, yacht sailings, and a Jacuzzi set against whitewashed walls and bougainvilla are a few more perks of this hillside paradise. An in-house chef is available for private poolside dinners and will turn out Greek specialties like traditional lamb kleftiko, vine leaf dolmades, and slow-cooked octopus with Santorini split pea soup. Near Erossea, Skaros Rock towers over the Aegean Sea and offers a hiking trail with incomparable caldera views.
In Santorini, it’s easy to have the best unobstructed ocean views via foot, but by boat is even better—a fact that many travelers are taking advantage of these days. “For family travel in 2022, the dream trip is the private yacht charter,” says Agnos, who’s seen tremendous interest from families, multigenerational groups, and groups of friends. “It’s a great way to explore the Greek islands, spend time together, and to do it in a way that feels safe and socially distant for those who have concerns about post-COVID travel.”
Explorer1 Yachting offers private day cruises aboard catamarans, with stops at Santorini’s remote Red Beach, the marina of Vlychada, and more. The day includes a traditional Greek lunch of stuffed grape leaves and grilled bream as you cruise past craggy coastlines and white-sand beaches.
Looking for more island-hopping inspiration? Agnos recommends, “Naxos for cultural immersion and food, Paros for a chic and authentic island experience, Santorini to check off the bucket list, and Crete for the local culture, historical sites, and immersive experiences.”
When back on land, families or large groups can find accommodations at Eden Villas by Canaves, a three-villa complex with seven bedrooms. Each villa has a view of the caldera, a kitchen, dining area, private pool, and terrace. There is also a kids’ playroom, and a main infinity pool spills over the seemingly never-ending sea below.
Make time for winetasting while on Santorini: The island’s volcanic, arid soil gives the local wines their natural acidity and minerality. Try a visit to Domaine Sigalas on the northern part of the island in Oia, which was named to Wine and Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2021 for its impressive bottles. (Don’t miss the citrusy Les Iles de Sigalas White made of Cycladic grapes.) Estate Argyros, also awarded one of the top 100 wineries, is a family-owned, three-generation estate that uses sustainable viticulture practices—like composting grape must as fertilizer—to produce its full-bodied Atlantis red and flinty, refreshing white.
Come happy hour, swap wine for cocktails at Marinera. Sip an “Aegean Breeze” (a blend of the Greek spirit tsipouro, melon, Framboise, and pineapple) and sample small bites (like artisan cheeses from a producer on Ithaka) on a small patio that feels like it’s jutting out over the sea—a perfect place to watch the Santorini sunset. But leave room for dinner: The Athenian House has earned a spot on several best-in-the-world lists, thanks to its elevated Greek specialties like shrimp saganaki cake and lamb chop moussaka.
Later on, when dancing vibes call, take a cab to the oceanside hotel and beach club Nikki Beach Santorini, where a party crowd moves in sync over the beats of a live DJ, leaving you no choice—especially after a champagne cocktail or two—but to join in and move too.