What’s new in the Eastern Mediterranean

By Rick Steves
This item appears on page 53 of the April 2016 issue.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece, Croatia and Turkey remain popular with tourists and present some important transportation and sightseeing changes for 2016.

GREECE is one of Europe’s great destinations, but concern about its financial crisis and the thousands of Syrian refugees entering the country is impacting travelers’ vacation plans. While the country is digging out of a massive economic hole (and I wouldn’t want to be a Greek worker counting on a comfortable retirement), its fiscal woes should hardly be noticed by visitors. 

And although Greece happens to be on Europe’s receiving end of refugees from the east end of the Mediterranean, it’s my experience (from recent personal travel and from the many tours my company guided there in the past year) that the tourists’ world and the refugees’ plight rarely intersect. When they do, it can be a valuable firsthand peek at the realities of our world.

Tourists traveling to Greece will experience higher prices next year as the Greek government tries to pay down its debt. Specific increases include ticket price hikes to the great archaeological sites and museums plus new hotel taxes that will be passed on to visitors. 

Some good news in Athens — the wonderful new Acropolis Museum was previously closed on Mondays but is now open seven days a week.

On the island of Mykonos, a cheap shuttle boat, the SeaBus water taxi (phone +30 69788 30355), now runs between the New Port and Mykonos town, giving people arriving by ferry from Athens or Santorini an easy way to reach the Old Town. The cost is 2 (near $2.20).

Near Mykonos, the archaeological site of Delos, reachable only by boat, is more accessible than ever to sightseers. Previously closed on Mondays, it’s now open every day. Also, in peak season, travelers may be able to tour the site later in the day, when the sun is more forgiving, thanks to a late-afternoon ferry that returns in the early evening.

North of Greece, in CROATIA, transportation upgrades are making a big difference for travelers. A new express bus from the remote Plitvice Lakes National Park runs frequently in summer, connecting to Zagreb in the north and to the city of Split in the south. It’s operated by Prijevoz Kneževic´ (www.getbybus.com); look for buses with “PKN.”

Visitors can now connect several coastal destinations by seaplane with European Coastal Airlines (www.ec-air.eu/en)

Traveling by boat in Croatia is easier now that you can buy tickets online for national ferry operator Jadrolinija’s catamarans (www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia) and smaller Krilo catamarans (www.krilo.hr/en). This eliminates the need to get up early and wait in line at a ticket office. (Tickets can sell out quickly, though, so book well ahead in busy times.) 

Boat service has been revamped in Dalmatia, and Dubrovnik is now better connected by fast catamarans.

At the far-eastern end of the Continent, Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia. Though not the capital of TURKEY, it is the country’s largest and most touristed city, and several upgrades are making things easier for sightseers.

A 5-day Museum Pass Istanbul (www.muzekart.com/en/museum-pass) costs TRY115 (near $40) and covers 11 of the city’s top sights. Sometime in 2016, a 3-day pass (TRY85, or $30) will be added, covering six of the sights. 

Sold at ticket offices and vending machines at participating sights, the passes can save substantial money as well as time, allowing you to bypass ticket lines. Buy the pass at a less-crowded sight, and validate it when you’re ready to tackle the sights on consecutive days. If not buying a pass, purchase tickets online in advance for the top sights, especially Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace, to avoid long ticket lines.

At the Topkapı Palace, the Imperial Treasury may be closed for renovation throughout 2016, but the stark interior of Hagia Irene, an early Christian church on the palace grounds, has reopened. 

Much of the Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum has reopened after extensive renovation.

A third bridge over the Bosphorus strait — the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge — is under construction and should open sometime this year. 

Due to renovation of the Karaköy Limani cruise ship port (until the end of 2017), cruise ships are docking at Salıpazarı Limani, located in the New District.

From the Eastern Mediterranean to France to the United States, countries throughout the world are being rattled by economic challenges, an influx of migrant workers, and perceived threats from terrorists. As a result, right-wing and nationalist political forces are emboldened. 

With the political direction of these countries in flux, a fascinating part of traveling these days is talking to people to see how they are dealing with fear, fear-mongering, security interests and anxiety, all of which are threatening long-treasured societal norms.

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows. Reach him at Rick Steves’ Europe, Inc., 130 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds, WA 98020-3114; phone 425/771-8303, www.ricksteves.com.