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I Just Traveled To Greece For The First Time, And Here Are The Things That Surprised, Confused, And Delighted Me

"When you go out to a Greek restaurant in the US, it's always served — so naturally I was expecting the same to be true in Greece. I was so wrong."

Last month, my husband and I got back from a vacation to Greece, a destination that had been at the very top of our travel bucket list. We stuck to a strict budget and hoarded vacation days in order to take two weeks off to travel to the Greek islands.

Greece definitely lived up to its expectations, but it was also full of surprises and things that I didn't expect. Here are some takeaways from my trip. Hopefully, you'll find them helpful — whether you're planning already your next getaway or just daydreaming. (Or just maybe I can convince you to put Greece at the top of your must-visit list!)

1. The weather is excellent well beyond July and August.

A beach in Greece.

2. Local restaurants don't really serve pita bread.

A plate of pita with gyro.

3. Every island has a very distinct feel.

Goats on a field

4. And the country is made up of thousands of them.

Chairs and an umbrella by the ocean.

5. Wine can actually be as cheap as water.

A Greek beverage menu.

6. But there's also a ton of variety and so many delicious Greek wines.

A man drinking a glass of wine.

7. The winds are really important, and they can even dictate where you travel.

Hannah Loewentheil

There's a word I heard often while I was traveling in Greece: Meltemi. The Meltemi is a strong, seasonal wind that blows across the Aegean sea. And it can seriously mess with your travel plans. At one point, I was advised to change my ferry from the late afternoon to the early morning because the island of Folegandros was expecting some severe wind, and boy am I glad I listened. 

I arrived in Folegandros just in time to enjoy the breezy weather and take advantage of some great hiking trails, but I heard horror stories of ferries getting canceled and others getting stuck in the open, extremely choppy water for hours. Plus, on all of the islands, locals suggest visiting specific beaches depending on the wind conditions so that you're sheltered from strong currents and breezes.

8. There's so much variety when it comes to Greek cuisine.

A plate of grilled calamari.

9. Some of the best beaches can only be reached by boat.

Blue water and people swimming surrounded by cliffs.

10. The beaches in Santorini are nothing to write home about.

Boats floating in the water.

11. And TBH, it's the only island I visited that I wouldn't return to.

White caves of Santorini.

12. When it comes to cheese, there's way more than just Feta.

A salad with soft cheese on top and other lunch items on a table.

13. The ferry system was surprisingly organized and extremely efficient.

A ferry boat in the ocean.

14. There's way more to Athens than the Acropolis.

The Acropolis lit up at night.

15. Speaking of Athens, there are amazing beaches right beyond the city.

A beach with a city in the backdrop.

16. Most of the food is really affordable.

A man holding a gyro.

17. In Greece, people eat dinner really late.

People dining outdoors at night.

18. Many islands have an extensive network of great hiking trails.

A man hiking by the ocean.

19. You'll probably want to rent a car.

A car on a dirt road by the sea.

20. Driving can be really difficult.

Windy road near the ocean.

21. The fresh seafood is what dreams are made of.

A whole filleted fish on a plate.

22. But there are also tons of options for people who prefer meat...or even a vegetarian diet.

A plate of Greek moussaka.

23. Not all the beaches are sandy.

A white rock beach and swimmers.

24. And they're often clothing-optional.

25. Greek tavernas give oceanfront dining a new meaning.

Have you been to Greece? What islands did you love the most? What tips would you give to others planning a trip?