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Known famously for its plethora of ancient ruins, sunny beaches, whitewashed villages, friendly atmosphere and tasty cuisine, no wonder Greece ranks among Europe’s top travel destinations. Made up of a mountainous mainland and hundreds of islands, this is a spectacular land of beauty with an endless variety of landscapes. From turquoise waters to rugged snow-capped mountains and white sandy beaches, each one offers its own share of historic sites, cultural delights, and nightlife scenes. Greece is one place that can satisfy every traveler’s needs.
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Athens is often referred to as the “Cradle of Democracy” and history reigns supreme, ever-looming over contemporary life. The contemporary society meets ancient landmarks near the majestic Acropolis and reminds Greeks daily of their heritage and how their culture has transformed over the millennia. Art galleries have risen over the years promoting Athenian, greater Greek, and European artists. Political debates become lively discussions around the urban bustle of the historic streets inside one of Europe’s longest continuously inhabited city that dates back more than 3,000 years.
What began as a hilltop fortress eventually developed into a settlement surrounded by the Cephisian Plain towards the east to Mount Hymettus and west 12 miles to the Saronic Gulf. The ancient walled city encompassed approximately one mile east to west, and north to south with a commercial center established at 1,300 feet north of the Acropolis in view of the Temple of Athena. The Acropolis was inhabited in Neolithic times but became the center of the Mycenaean civilization by the 1,400s BC.
By the 8th century BC, Athens emerged as the center of the Greek world aided by the secure stronghold of the Acropolis and the city’s access to the sea. The free city-state reformed from kings to democracy by the 6th century BC, giving rise to Classical Athens, which fell to Alexander the Great 170 years later, Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, and the Roman empire by the 1st century BC.
Cafes, bars, and open-air restaurants provide the social scene with Athenians known to linger in the cool evening air for hours, sipping raki, an unsweetened anise-flavored alcohol, aged sweet wine, or rich coffee. The shores of the greater Athenian county maintain quality beaches and measures of antiquity embodied in the staggering Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, located atop soaring bluffs. The Parthenon crowns the central hill of the Acropolis alongside the Propylaia, Erechtheion, and Temple of the Athena Nike.
The Benaku Museum offers insight into the ancient lives of Athenians across three floors that showcase treasures from the Bronze Age to the Second World War, while the museum’s annex specializes in the contemporary art scene and musical performances. Images and insight into Christianity in the times of the Byzantine Empire fill the galleries of the Byzantine and Christian Museum. Nearby, the brilliance of architectural engineering during the 2nd century AD reflects in the bold amphitheater of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which continues to host performances during the Athens and Epidaurus Festival in summer, which draws in crowds of up to 5,000 people a night.
The Acropolis Museum dazzles visitors with artifacts from the neighboring summit and treasures remaining in Greek possession, and the Panathenaic Stadium held athletic games in the 4th century BC and the first of the modern Olympic games in the mid-1880s. Whether interested in the historical context of the beginnings of Western Civilization or intrigued by the artisan jewelry and antiques of the Monastiraki Flea Market on Sundays, Athens alone can provide a timeline on a grand scale of Greece’s evolution through the ages.
Santorini is what any dreams of a Greek island paradise are made of. Idyllic cliffs soar above the azure caldera filled with the shimmering waters of the Aegean Sea. The whitewashed walls of the iconic Cycladic architecture resemble snow drift along the rugged, mountainous edges of the island plateaus, which reach over 2,600 feet above sea level at the peak of Mount Profitis Ilias.
Blue domes mark the historical churches, and cobblestone lanes wind along the twisted, craggy slopes where donkeys continue to carry luggage from the small marinas. Cafes, restaurants, and bars provide elaborate views of the caldera while sailboats, yachts, and fishing boats populate the many marinas while adding to the ambiance. The Red Beach and the Black Beach offer unique perspectives on the colorful sands that are shaped by the island’s volcanic activity. Vineyards and farms utilized the rich minerals in the soil to create wines, fruits, and vegetables that are layered with strong flavors.
The quiet village of Oia provides a serene and romantic escape for unforgettable sunsets, while the island capital Fira stands at the top of nearly 600 steps and glistens with shops, jewelers, and charming architecture. Nearby, excavations began at the remarkable archeological site of Akrotiri in the 1960s to discover a city buried in rubble, pumice, and ash with a heritage that dates back more than 3.5 thousand years. The most popular excursions on Santorini are:
- Visiting the Wine Museum of Koutsogiannopoulos
- Hiking the trail between Fira and Oia
- Exploring the ruins at Akrotiri or Ancient Thera
- Taking a sunset cruise around the caldera, which includes a visit to the Red Sand and Black Sand beaches
- Trekking to the Akrotiri Lighthouse
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and feature over 620 miles of coastline. The dramatic mountains, deep gorges, and dazzling golden sand beaches accentuate the wealth of history hidden around the island. Crete has been one of Europe’s most southerly outposts for thousands of years, connecting the continent to traders and civilizations from Africa to Asia Minor. The Mediterranean climate promotes a sunny and welcoming atmosphere with an economy dominated by agriculture.
Harbor towns feature centuries-old architecture and glow with colorful facades, and usually with a stone lighthouse reminiscent of a storybook nearby. The Palace of Knossos embraces its mythology as the Bronze Age Minoan estate that housed the vast labyrinth in which the infamous Minotaur lived. The ancient treasures give way to traditional villages known for their spirit of generosity within the secluded mountains. Canyon walls open to the craggy coves and cliffs along the southern coast while the valleys support farms and traditional taverns. Orchards create elegant tapestries near the cave in which the Greek god Zeus was born.
The sand glows pink in the sunlight around the eastern coastline and history imbues a sense of wonder into the mazelike coastal towns and fortresses crafted by the colonial Venetians. Renaissance mansions stand beside historic Turkish bathhouses, while frescoes decorate churches and monasteries with Byzantine influence. The unique customs of the island have blended the heritage of conquering seafarers, reveling in the sounds of the lyra with traditional dances and sharing folktales in the comfort of kafeneia, coffee houses. Any visit to Crete would be incomplete without:
- Exploring the winding lanes, art galleries, and waterside restaurants of Chania
- Taking a tour of traditional Cretan villages
- Visiting the archeological museum at Heraklion paired with a private tour of the Palace of Knossos
- Enjoying a 4x4 tour through the mountains to view the Roman aqueduct, mythological caves, and edges of Samaria Gorge National Park
- Viewing the Venetian palaces both on the mainland and on the nearby secluded islands of Spinalonga, Ágios, and Nikólaos
Vertical rock formations tower over the plains of Thessaly, reaching nearly 1,000 feet above sea level. The weathered and eroded rocks have created bizarre and dramatic cliffs upon which devout monks built their monasteries. The promontories featured 24 religious sites at its peak with only six of the monasteries still in use. Ladders and winches guided the monks to the top of the precipices before the construction of modern roads and stairways, and the earliest religious site in the area was a hermitage erected in the late 10th century.
The largest of the monasteries was erected in the latter half of the 14th century and contains the tombs of saints Athanasios and Ioasaph inside a gallery adorned with frescoes. 140 steps lead to the secluded Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which was featured in the 1981 James Bond Movie, For Your Eyes Only. The panoramic views over the plain are breathtaking.
The nearby town of Kastraki offers authentic, unspoiled culture nestled into the hillside beneath the rocky pinnacles, also worthy of a visit. 19th-century cottages with terracotta tile roofs contrast the surrounding lush trees while wooden window shutters open and close with the daylight near traditional taverns. The nearby cave chapel of Agios Andonios reflects the hallowed grounds once used as cave hermitages where hanging ladders continue to rest against the gentle sound of cooing from nesting doves. The caves were occupied as recently as the early 20th century by solitary monks eager to remind locals and other religious figures of the original spirit of the region. While in Meteora, you should not miss these celebrated activities:
- Watching the sunset at Kalambaka
- Hiking to the Meteora caves
- Walking to follow in the footsteps of the monks who erected the monasteries on the precarious cliffs
Ancient Greeks considered Delphi the center of the earth due to the inspiring crags of Mount Parnassós, the colorful wildflowers that blanket the valley, and the divine presence felt around the rock chasms and the flowing waters of the Castalian Spring. Pilgrims to the ancient city had purified their bodies in the waters by washing their hair first with the most scandalous sinners taking the full plunge. The water continues to flow over the sloping cleft, and the marble quarry of Marmaria glints with protruding white stone. The museum contains rare and exquisite artifacts that represent the divine nature of the city between the Archaic to the Roman eras. The objects on display illustrate the traditions of art and scholarly pursuit inspired by the gods matched only by the discoveries found at the Acropolis in Athens. Pottery and bronze articles, along with elegant friezes from temple pediments adorn the galleries.
The contemporary village burrows into the cliff-side that leads to the remnants of the ancient city. In July, the ruins return to life during the Delphic Festival with performances that recreate the preserved elements of the ancient music and drama in the 4th century BC theater. The theater was dedicated to the goddess Dionysus, who ruled over the city in the winter when the oracle did not speak.
The Temple of Apollo contains six re-erected Doric columns to illustrate the dominant size of the sanctuary in comparison to the grand architecture of the surrounding city. The city’s prestige grew in the 6th century BC after a period of colonization, with word of the oracle spreading across the ancient world to benefactors in Egypt and King Croesus of Lydia, in what is modern-day western Turkey. A trip to Delphi would feel incomplete without partaking in at least one of the following activities:
- Taking the ancient path to Corician Cave and toward the village of Eptalofos on Mount Parnassós
- Listening for the lingering whispers of the Oracle of Delphi with a private guided tour through the city ruins
- Paragliding around the cliffs and over the valley around Delphi for an unforgettable aerial view of the ruins and landscape
Greece has gained a reputation as a summer getaway destination due to the islands and beaches scattered across the Mediterranean Sea. From late May to early October, little rain falls over the landscape, and the sea temperature warms to a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit around the islands. As tourism heavily influences Greece’s stressed economy, the islands open their doors to visitors mainly in summer, while the rest of Greece remains a year-round vacation destination with temperatures ranging from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the northern mountains to 100 degrees Fahrenheit along the shimmering southern beaches. While summer is considered “peak season,” the months between June and September also offer the most challenging crowds.
Greece’s ideal Mediterranean climate provides a sun-drenched dream for beachgoers and refreshing atmosphere in which history lovers can explore. During the peak summer season, the temperature of Athens averages 91 degrees Fahrenheit but can feel hotter due to the humidity and reflection of the sunlight off the ancient marble architecture. The sea breeze and cooler temperatures on the mountainous terrain can create a respite from the intense heat. Near the sea, the weather averages a consistent 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather on Crete, one of Greece’s most southerly islands, reaches an average temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit in August and 50 degrees Fahrenheit in February.
In winter, Athens averages 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the resorts, beaches, and restaurants around the Greek islands close in mid-October and reopen by May but popular cities and towns on mainland Greece, from Athens to Thessaloniki, continue to welcome visitors throughout the year. If you wish to enjoy the better-known islands without the crowds, the best time to visit is between late May and early June or late September and early October after the wave of peak season has dissipated, but the weather still maintains.
The European tradition keeps locals vacationing between July and August, reducing the sunny beaches and warm surf to crowds of tourists, gouging hotel prices or resort fees, and making reservations to museums, restaurants, and archeological sites mandatory. Timing during any vacation is everything. While summer draws huge crowds across Greece, especially to the famous islands of Mykonos and Santorini, the summer also supports huge cultural events, including “The Day of Panagia” on August 15th, when thousands of pilgrims trek to pay homage to an icon in the mountain village of Agiassos. The festivity consists of several days of food, wine, dancing, and music. Summer also sees the Hellenic Festival, which lasts from June to September and incorporates the traditions of ancient theater and music with modern dance, opera, and contemporary theater practices.
Celebrations reach a climax during the holy week of the Orthodox Easter. Candlelit processions wind down the street and midnight fireworks light up the sky. The scent of roasted lamb drifts through the air, and a different event takes place daily between the Saturday of Lazarus and Easter Sunday. During Easter week, hotel rooms outside of Athens fill quickly with city-dwellers hoping to escape the madness of the city and bask in the serene countryside during the most important holiday of the year. Most museums, archeological sites, and shops close on the weekend between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Carefully planning your Greece vacation to avoid the stress, rush, and craziness of vying for a place to stay or finding an activity to enjoy outside of celebrating Easter during the holiday weekend is critical. Carnival also provides a unique Greek perspective on the festival before Lent.
While any time of year is great to visit Greece, certain holiday seasons are best avoided when attempting to explore the different regions of the antique country. Nearly every day in Greece is associated with one or more patron saint, with one tiny chapel or large basilica celebrating the saint’s day with a church service followed by wining and dining.
The festivities known as Apokreas bring costumed parades, vibrant floats, elegant feasts, and traditional dancing to the streets of towns, cities, and villages. The Hellenic Festival moves away from the Orthodoxy of the Greek church to the ancient marvels of Greek theater. The Summer festival captivates audiences with international music, dance, and drama for a celebration of the arts inside the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens with the shimmering marble pillars of the Acropolis as a backdrop.
Winter is a great time to visit Greece if you are not searching for the perfect beaches covered in golden sand and hoping to snorkel in the hidden coves. While the summer months receive endless tourist traffic due to the nice weather and pristine shorelines of the different islands, winter provides a completely different Greece experience. A long-held belief for visitors to Greece claims the islands “close” after summer as if the government place a large bubble over the landscape to keep newcomers out. People live on the islands year-round, allowing life to continue as usual, albeit much quieter than in summer.
Large resorts and hotels, or even seaside restaurants in secluded parts of the islands may shutter their doors for the season, but what remains are the intimate luxury accommodations and friendly local restaurants. While you can expect the beauty of the islands to persist in tandem with a more welcoming ambiance of shoreline, uncrowded streets, and friendly faces, the islands and mainland Greece can get cold and rainy in winter, but it can also be sunny and warm. The winter months are better for trekking and exploring, as opposed to snorkeling and sand-combing, with weather averaging 50 degrees Fahrenheit on Gavdos, Greece’s southernmost island.
Greece provides a plethora of accommodations for tourists that range from boutique hotels to sophisticated eco-lodges, five-star luxury resorts to hidden gems with private panoramas. Visitors have options and may opt for global hotel brands known for elegance, or turn to family-run bed and breakfasts in view of hanging antique monasteries. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Greece has developed an industry of accommodations to match the demand with everything from modern accommodations to small-scale family operations that total more than 11,000 four- and five-star hotels as of 2016.
The most popular hotels on the islands provide beautiful views of the Aegean Sean and secluded plunge pools in which to enjoy the vistas. The whitewashed houses with blue rooftops bring the elegance of lavish living with the traditional architecture of the iconic Cyclades islands. The pristine white walls have become a symbol of the Greek isles’ beauty and charm, adding extravagance and comfort for visitors from around the world.
Historic hotels across the Peloponnese, Western Greece, Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Santorini have renovated manor houses and antique buildings to offer refined and classic style able to accommodate contemporary luxuries. These hotels have breathed new life into the traditional architectural style of Greece’s various regions, along with renewing the myths and legends that have inspired local families for over two and a half millennia. Resorts and hotels have also brought new depth and vigor to former secluded monasteries, so there is truly something for everyone.
Considerations before Traveling to Greece
Visiting Greece is the trip of a lifetime for most travelers aiming to take in the rich sense of history, the alluring beaches, the captivating mythology, or the secluded monasteries. The crystalline waters and preserved ancient sites propel Greece into the limelight and beyond your expectations. With an endless variety of distinctive islands and antiquities to act as a historical map of the development of Western Civilization, a visit to Greece may feel overwhelming and exciting throughout your journey. But whether you are in the mood for thrilling treks, smooth sailing, or luxurious views of ancient life, Greece will accommodate all your desires and turn your dream trip into a reality.
Getting to Greece is a relatively relaxed and hassle-free process. At the time of this writing, visitors from the United States and Canada, along with members of the EU or UK, Australia, and New Zealand can enter Greece for up to 90 days without a visa. As a member of the EU, you can enter Greece or visit one of its many islands by ferry or plane, car or train. Cruise ships often make port around Athens, Santorini, Crete, Patmos, Mykonos, and Rhodes.
If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you must submit a visa application at your local Greek consulate or embassy that will inquire about your reasons for an extended period of time, whether it be related to studies, work, or relocation. The easiest way to enter the country is by plane. However, ferries do reach Athens or the major islands departing from Cypress, Turkey, and Italy. You can arrange land transfers by train or car to cross the borders into Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, or Turkey. The airports into which it is most convenient to fly in and out of are:
- Athens International Airport
- Kazantzakis International Airport in Heraklion, Crete
- Thessaloniki International Airport
- Rhodes International Airport
Airfare is highest during the summer season, peaking between July and August. May, June, and September remain popular with travelers but provide a less crowded experience around the islands or in the historic northern cities. Fewer flights operate in winter making it less likely to encounter airfare deals.
Throughout your stay, you must be careful not to remove any artifacts from the countless archeological sites across Greece. It is illegal to remove and export antiquities, which accounts for objects over 100 years old, without an export permit. Even the smallest particles can carry a maximum penalty.
Travelers from North America will need power converters or adaptors to account for the change to 220 volts and 50 Hertz. The majority of the shops, restaurants, and accommodations in major tourist areas accept credit cards. ATM machines are prominent throughout the cities, but you can expect your bank to charge a foreign transaction fee on top of the fee for using a machine not associated with your bank. The best way to avoid these fees while in Greece is to use a credit card with no fees for foreign currency exchange or exchange cash at one of the many agencies located in the airports or in larger cities, or accessible through larger hotels.
The European Union no longer has duty-free restrictions, allowing visitors from outside of Greece and the UE to provide verbal declarations unless traveling with amounts of money or the equivalent of 10,000 euro. Custom agents continue to issue random searches to keep drug trafficking and money laundering at bay, and you should always carry your prescriptions with you when traveling through the European Union, including Greece, for the medicine your doctor prescribed you at home may be considered an illicit drug abroad due to the difference in medical regulation. Codeine is a perfect example; although medication with the ingredient is sold over the counter in the United States, the substance is considered illicit and illegal in Greece without a doctor’s note or prescription.
Do not attempt to steal, hide, or smuggle antiques out of Greece, which refers to any artifact over 100 years old, without an export permit. This rule also includes shards of pottery, plaster, or stone discovered while touring historic monuments. Not only does it negatively affect the historic sites, but the somewhat innocuous act is also, in fact, stealing from the cultural heritage of Greece and taking away from the public good by not allowing more people to view a piece or the whole of an artifact.
If every person visiting one of Greece’s historical sites took a shard of pottery, a piece of plaster or a semblance of an icon once used for religious, architectural, or artistic purposes, the country’s cultural archives would quickly run dry. It is also a serious offense to remove even the smallest article from an archeological site. If you choose to purchase and export an antique, you should do so from a professional dealer or collector and apply for an export permit from the Athens Archeological Service in the Antique Dealers and Private Collection section.
Most restaurants, hotels, and public areas in Greece have Western-style toilets, especially those connected to the tourism industry or in an area with heavy tourist traffic. Public toilets around Greece are rare, except in transport hubs such as airports, train stations, and bus stations. In a store or café, the staff will allow you to use the restroom in exchange for a purchase. Contemporary hotels and luxury resorts have fixed the issues with the old plumbing systems, some of which date back centuries. However, in many of the public areas, including cafes, shops, and some private homes, the antiquated pipes are too narrow to accommodate anything larger than a post-it note. In those instances, toilet paper and sanitary products should be disposed of in the small bin positioned beside the toilet.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
No matter where you go in the world, it is important to take preventative care and measures to ensure your health and safety while traveling. Greece is considered a safe destination associated with the luxuries of Western Europe. Tap water is potable and acceptable in larger cities but could be questionable in rural areas and villages on small islands.
Tourist police work in connection with Greek police in larger cities and popular tourist destinations. The tourist police have at least one, if not many, staff members who speak English. Local businesses and people that fall under the jurisdiction of the tourist police are:
- Local travel agencies
- Tourist shops
- Local guides
- Taxi Drivers
- Tourist bus drivers
If for any reason you need to report an illegal act, such as theft, to the regular police, you should first meet with the tourist police who will act as interpreters in case the police officers do not speak English.
Always remember to keep hydrated and apply sunblock continuously from May to October. The intense heat of the Mediterranean Sun can cause heat stroke, extreme fatigue, and third-degree burns. Bug repellant is also recommended as you move out of the city and into the countryside regions.
While in large crowds close to tourist destinations, such as at the base of the Acropolis in Athens or wandering the labyrinthine streets of Mykonos Town, you should be mindful of your valuables. The struggling economy has led to an increase in pickpockets in the more crowded touristy pockets of the cities and towns across the country, encouraging you to be vigilant while in a bus station, a crowded street market, or wandering through the throngs of locals in the streets. Keep your passport and cash in a secure location, such as a safe in your hotel or on a money belt hidden from view. As a precaution, you should bring copies of credit card information and your passport. You do not have to be paranoid while traveling to Greece, but you should be extremely aware of your surroundings and your belongings when in a crowd.
The unpredictability of travel can cause undue stress and anxiety about common misconceptions of countries you may visit while exploring Europe. However, Greece is a country known for its elaborate tourism industry, and you will experience a safe, comfortable, and healthy environment in which you can enjoy a unique expedition into history or a relaxing day on the beaches of the Mediterranean islands. Greece is a safe place to travel, with heat exhaustion amongst tourists more common than any sort of reported crime.
A number of tourists who enjoy the nightlight and take time to linger on the beaches have complained about bombes, adulterated drinks served in select bars and clubs around Athens and resort famous for their partying atmosphere. The drinks contain diluted drugs illegally imported that leave the consumer worse for wear the remainder of the night and the following day. Reports of resorts catering to large tour groups and young solo-travelers using the bombes are much more common than restaurants, upscale nightclubs or bars, and luxury accommodations. When visiting a crowded bar, nightclub, or beach resort, remember to keep a hand over the top of your glass. More often than not, the perpetrators are not locals of Greece but visiting foreigners.
The CDC recommends staying up to date on vaccines before leaving your country of residence. You should check with your doctor or speak with a travel clinic before departing for Greece to learn about recommended vaccinations or medicines if staying in the country for longer than 90 days or pursuing work with animals. You are at a low risk of contracting hepatitis while abroad but should always consider vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B before traveling.
Customs and Etiquette
Greeks are warm and friendly, welcoming and hospitable, and also proud of their culture and history with over 90 percent of traditional Greek descent. 98 percent of people identify as Greek Orthodox with less than two percent following Judeo-Christian or other religions. Whether on the mainland or visiting the islands, Greeks are known for their overflowing hospitality and a relaxed attitude that remains close to the perception of “western” values, manners, and etiquette. Locals shake hands firmly when first meeting and good friends give long embraces or kisses on both cheeks.
Punctuality is a guideline but not a rule unless working with guides and private transportation. Greek culture stresses family values and the community spirit, and grandparents and senior citizens are treated with respect and dignity. On the beaches, the dress code remains casual, and in some places, nonexistent. However, proper decorum on a nude beach remains necessary, which can mean no cameras or cell phones while on the sand. It is uncouth to sunbathe nude or topless when not on a designated beach or close to a family area or church.
When visiting a monastery or holy site, women are expected to cover their arms and legs past the knee. In restaurants, table manners remain casual. Discussions are social and friendly around the dinner table and refusing food is impolite. In smaller towns or less visited areas of the country, do not be surprised if a member of the family invites you to dinner. If dining at a private home, asking for a second helping will delight the host and hostess, as it will be seen as a compliment to their cooking skills. A traditional Greek meal consists of large portions and various side dishes placed on the table to accompany the main dish.
Bringing the host a small gift of flowers, wine, sweets, or pastries is considered good manners and food is a large part of the Greek culture, from olive oil to roasted lamb. For a unique experience, you could visit the town of Elassona, which hosts a biannual feta cheese festival. Thessaly in central Greece celebrates the myth and production of the cheese believed to be passed down from Greek gods. The artichoke festival in the Cyclades takes place in May when producers source more than 10,000 artichokes to create a variety of different dishes featuring the treasured earthy vegetable.
Try to avoid using hand gestures while in Greece as body language is an easy way to offend someone without intention when not realizing the cultural meaning of a simple gesture. Holding your hand up and palm out is considered rude, along with making the “OK” sign by forming a circle with your thumb and index finger. Greeks give a simple forward head nod when indicating yes, and a vigorous backward tilt when answering no, making the headshake and nod obsolete when speaking with locals.
When visiting a brick and mortar store, haggling is frowned upon. When scouring vendors along the streets near tourist destinations, bargaining is encouraged and expected. Tipping is not essential in Greece, but taxi drivers have learned to expect a tip from tourists. Restaurants provide a service charge already. If you enjoyed your meal and the service while dining out, rounding up the bill will tell your server you that you appreciated their professionalism and attention.
ATMs and Money Exchange
Greece uses the euro as its form of currency. As one of the original Eurozone members to start using the euro as legal tender in 2002, other currencies are not widely accepted. If a vendor or merchant is willing to take a form of currency, you will probably end up spending more money than if you had used euros, not including credit cards or debit cards. Euros are widely available across Greece with varying exchange rates depending on the accessibility of ATMs, banks, or the number of exchange stations.
Most Greek airports have exchange stations at which you can exchange for euros, but the rates are often less favorable than those at stations in the city center. This is also true for larger hotels. Despite the convenience, the unfavorable rates make searching for a currency exchange a better option. In larger cities across Greece, it is easy to find a currency exchange or an ATM. If traveling to more secluded or smaller areas of Greece, it is essential to have euros on you before arriving, as small town does not always have currency exchanges, working ATMs, or allow visitors to pay with credit cards.
Make sure to note the times that currency exchanges open and close as the closing times tend to vary based on the day, with many shutting their doors by 2:30 pm between Monday and Thursday, 2 pm on Friday, and remain closed all weekend. Larger cities and general tourist areas across Greece accept the major card providers, while more remote areas might only take certain card providers if any at all. Cash is the best form of payment to use when traveling around the country, especially when considering accessibility and breaking down the currency into tips.
Travelers from the United States are accustomed to tipping, but when traveling abroad, the subject becomes an uncomfortable point of uncertainty. The amount differs from person to person but retains a customary base of what to offer to each person in regards to showing your appreciation for their work. A bellboy or porter averages 1 euro per bag. A housekeeper averages 1 euro per day for every day you stay in a hotel. A concierge generally receives a tip of between 2 to 3 euro after providing excellent service.
Restaurants become a different tipping scenario entirely. Tipping is expected after receiving excellent service, especially for tourists, though some restaurants in Greece will round up the bill and offer the extra money to the waiter. Other restaurants include a service charge, in which case a small tip is appreciated but not mandatory. If the restaurant does not round up to the bill or include a service charge, Greeks customarily leave between 10 to 20 percent for a tip, depending on the service. Taxis in Greece do not expect a tip but are always happy to receive one.
This often comes in the form of rounding up the fare to the nearest euro or adding an extra 5 percent to the overall amount. Taxis do charge for handling bags, which is not considered a tip but a handling fee. The important thing to remember when visiting Greece is that tipping refers to good to excellent service and shows your appreciation for the service you received. However, after years of Americans visiting Greece and knowingly or unknowingly providing outlandish tips, larger tips have become expected of American tourists.
99 percent of the population in Greece speaks Greek, with many speaking one of the country’s non-official or minority languages. Unfortunately for fans of Homer, Plato, and Socrates, ancient Greek is no longer the most widely spoken form of the language and instead would sound like an English speaker attempting to converse using English older than Elizabethan. Over 11 million people speak modern Greek alongside their regional spoken dialects. With the exception of Tsakonian, a language deriving from Doric Greek and spoken in the Peloponnese region, the majority of Greek dialects descend from the common supra-regional language spoken in late antiquity.
Residents of Greece also speak Albanian, Armenian, Russian, Macedonian, Romany, and Turkish. However, many Greeks, especially those working in the tourism industry, speak English, German, French, and Italian, with English and French taught in elementary schools. Even though you can easily find English speakers in the more popular destinations of Greece, including the resort islands, famous monuments, or museums, it is polite to learn a few words of Greece to show your appreciation to the country, the people, and the culture.
Traveling through and around mainland Greece and its surrounding islands has become better organized over the decades through the growth of small flights, train connections, bus stops, ferries, and well-tended highways. The variety of options that connect greater Greece to Athens has increased with both domestic and international tourism and has allowed the cultural divide between the regions to narrow. While taxis are an easy way to travel around Athens and other cities across Greece, they are only recommended as means of transport between nearby destinations, such as the airport and your hotel or a local restaurant. The fares are cheap compared to other European countries; however, they can add up if the taxi remains your only means of transport.
Car rentals provide the most freedom when traveling through Greece, allowing you to plan and follow the map you create on the mainland or along the islands. The main, modern road networks that crisscross Greece connect the southern edges of the country to the extreme north. The main roads remain in great shape, but regional roads often need attention due to their narrow, winding nature. If renting a car in Greece, make sure to check the gas gauge upon pick up. Car rental companies in Greece like to deliver the car as close to empty as possible, that way when you return the car, they can make a profit off the amount of gas you have left in the tank, which often amounts to a full tank. You are only required to return the car with the same amount of gas with which it was given to you or just slightly above.
There is only one Metro in all of Greece, and it is located in Athens. The city has a large enough population with enough urban sprawl to necessitate the underground transportation. The 2004 Olympics brought a large and an expensive overhaul to the metro network, providing new and easy to navigate signs, along with an audio-system that recites the stops and highlights of those particular stops in different languages, including English. When visiting Greece, Greek student cards are only valid for Greek students when riding the metro.
Greek towns and cities have their own bus systems to provide transport to the local residents. Only a handful of cities, such as Athens, Patra, Kalamata, and Thessaloniki, are large enough to require the services of the bus system, with the majority of towns and villages small enough to walk through or ride in a taxi amounting to a low fare. The national roadway offers an easy way to travel between cities from south to north by bus when sightseeing or transferring to a new region of Greece.
Trains remain a popular way to travel through mainland Greece, with the most popular route taking passengers from Athens in the south to Thessaloniki in the northeast. The Greek railway organization OSE operates the network with the northern line offering the most substantial lines. Standard services run between Athens and Dikea near the Turkish and Bulgarian borders. A network around the Peloponnese runs as far as Klato with bus services carrying passengers to Plata to reach ferry connections. Prices and schedules vary due to the financial instability of the country, so one should always double-check prices on the OSE website or by calling 1440 when in need of information pertaining to departures from Athens or Thessaloniki.
There are two types of class services when traveling by train. The regular train provides a slow transit stopping at all stations between destinations. It represents Greece’s cheapest form of public transportation with second-class rates promising an economical way to travel for Greeks needing a reliable, if not elongated way to travel through the country. Even first-class tickets on the slow train can be cheaper than a bus ticket. The modern trains, known as intercity or IC, links most major cities across Greece. The faster trains provide excellent and fast service between major cities with comfortable seats and an onboard café. Depending on the class and train-type, passengers could have their meal delivered to their seats. Overnight services offer a choice between couchettes, two-bed, and single bed compartments.
Ferries have become an important and reliable way to travel between the islands and the mainland of Greece. Even with the addition of more flights going to many of the Greek islands, the ferries are well regarded as comfortable, easy, and quick. Ferries from Athens can depart from the main port at Piraeus or the smaller ports of Rafina and Lavrion. The modern amenities offer comfortable seats and onboard cafes accompanied by breathtaking scenery between the islands. Due to the distance between the mainland and various islands, a ferry ride could take up to 10 hours, in which case flying offers a better choice. Ferries also connect Greece with international destinations, such as Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, and Venice in Italy along with select Turkish islands.
Leisure offers a differs range of custom-tailored Greece tours. All tours are personalized to suit your preferences, requirements, desired destinations and activities to create your own perfect vacation to Greece. Travelers can experience the flexibility and convenience of self-planned, independent travel or a packaged group tour curated by a travel specialist. Both options will ensure a hassle-free experience with magnificent accommodations, authentic local guides, and unimaginable excursions.
Whether you wish to explore the Greek Islands or immerse yourself in the spirit of the ancient world, fill out a Trip Request to let us know about your dream Greece vacation. We will match you with two or three Greece specialists who will help you handcraft the best vacation experiences for you.
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