Greece is a beautiful country with unrivalled history, both factual and mythical. If you are thinking about travelling to Greece this Greece Travel Guide will give you a flavour of the country. It is designed to help you decide where to go and how to prepare for your time there.
Greece is often referred to as the birthplace of Western civilisation and has done much to shape modern society. Its contributions include democracy, philosophy, literature, scientific and mathematical principles and of course the Olympic Games. However, there is much more to Greece than just its history. There is also its islands, seas, landscapes, climate, architecture, traditional food and the warm welcoming people. For these reasons its easy to see why Greece has such a vibrant tourist industry.
Know Before You Go
Location of Greece
Greece is located in south eastern Europe. It is made up of a mainland and many islands scattered in the Aegean and Ionian seas, of which 227 are inhabited. These islands make up 7,500 km of the country’s total 16,000 km coastline. The country is divided into 13 adminstrative regions. You can highlight these by hovering over the map to the right.
Greece Travel Guide
The most popular clusters of islands visited by tourists are the Cyclades and Dodecanese situated in the Aegean Sea and the Ionian islands to the West of the mainland in the Ionian sea. By clicking on the map it will take you to a collection of articles and galleries on Greece.
The Greek Population
Greece has a resident population of around 11 million people. This has dropped in recent years due to a declining birth rate unmatched across Europe.
The capital city is Athens. It is one of the oldest cities in the world with a history going back over 3,400 years. Unsurprisingly, it is the most densely populated region of Greece with around 3 million people.
Language in Greece
Greek is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population. English is the main foreign language which is also taught in schools.
Politics and Governance
Greece is a Republic with a President who is Head of State, elected by Parliament every five years. The Prime Minister is head of the Government and is appointed by the President. The last elections took place 2015. Greece was one of the first 10 countries to join the European Union.
Greece has used the Euro since 2002 when the Greek drachma was withdrawn. Major debit and credit cards are widely accepted.
Greece is in the Eastern European Time Zone which is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus 2 hours. It operates daylight saving time changes during the year.
Electricity in Greece
In Greece the power plugs are 2 pin and sockets are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 230v and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
The weather in Greece will vary depending on where and when you go. On its coasts and islands the climate is mostly Mediterranean, with mild wet winters and hot dry summers. The mountains in northwest Greece and central parts of the Peloponnese have an Alpine climate which can include heavy snowfall. The inland parts of northern Greece have a temperate climate with cold damp winters and hot dry summers. Snow will fall every year in the mountains and northern areas. Also, brief snow is not uncommon as far south as Athens.
Personal Safety when travelling in Greece
Although the crime rate in Greece is fairly unremarkable and violent street crime is rare that doesn’t mean Greece is crime-free. To stay safe you should, as always, be careful and aware of your surroundings particularly in built up and busy areas where pickpockets might operate. If you are in a crowd wear your bag in front of you with your arms through the straps. Remember to keep all the pockets closed. Also, it helps if you try not to look too much like a tourist. Dress casually, leave your jewellery at home or out of sight and only carry enough money for each day.
Staying Healthy in Greece
When travelling in Greece it is best to avoid drinking tap water and drink bottled water instead. This doesn’t mean that the water from the tap is not drinkable in some areas, such as large cities. But the quality of the tap water does vary and so its safer to stick to bottled water. This is particularly so on the islands. Bottled water is readily available and inexpensive.
The public health service in Greece provides free or low cost care to residents who contribute to the social security system. If you carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) it will enable you to the same levels of service provided to locals. In the event of a medical emergency you can dial 166 or alternatively dial 112 which is the European emergency number.
Accommodation in Greece
There is a wide range of accommodation in Greece to suit all budgets and preferences. This ranges from bed and breakfast to 5 star hotels to farmhouses. So there is something to suit all tastes. Demand and supply will fluctuate throughout the year, as will prices.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Greece is cheaper than it is in the UK. Expect to pay 10 euros for a meal in an inexpensive restaurant and around 3.50 euros for a half litre of local beer.
Greeks love to eat and it is major part of their culture. The food is largely Mediterranean cuisine using vegetables, olive oil, fish, wine, chicken, lamb, bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Make sure you try some of the local dishes below when you are there.
♦ Moussaka is made from aubergine (eggplant) and minced meat (typically lamb) in a cassarole with a tomato base and a cream sauce. Local recipes vary so the dish can be quite different depending on where you are eating.
♦ Gyros is a dish you might well have eaten before but without realising it. The pita sandwich is typically handheld. It can be made with a variety of meats including beef, lamb, chicken and pork. The pita is often served with french fries and vegetables and tzatziki – made from yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil and herbs. It is Greek fast food at its best.
♦ Dolmades is rice and herbs rolled in vine (grape) leaves, usually served as an appetizer or part of a mezze platte
♦ Souvlaki is small pieces of meat, usually lamb, grilled on a skewer with vegetables. It’s often served with rice or pita and eaten along with a greek salad.
However, if none of that appeals there is always likely to be a range of interntional dishes readily available.
Visas when travelling to Greece
Greece is a part of the Schengen Agreement. This means that visitors from certain countries can enter Greece for up to 90 days without a visa either as a tourist or on business. You should check your own countries requirements prior to making travel arrangements. Also, for entry into Greece your passport should be valid for a further six months at your time of travel. If as proposed the UK leaves the European Union then arrangements for UK citizens wanting to enter Greece may change. You should check www.gov.uk for up to date information prior to travelling.
Transport in Greece
Greece has a sophisticated transport infrastructure with airlines, trains and buses serving major cities including Athens and Thessaloniki. However, unlike many other European cities buses rather than trains are preferred by most Greeks. The buses (KTEL) connect Athens to many towns on the mainland. Timetables are regular and tickets can be bought just before the trip as there is currently no online booking system. Most small islands, unless they have an airport, have to rely on interconnecting ferry services.
Cars are perhaps the best and most convenient way of getting around Greece. You’ll find car rental agencies in most towns as well as most of the islands. The main road networks in Greece are pretty good but the regional roads often need attention and can be narrow and winding.
Best time to visit Greece
The best time to visit will depend to a large extent on what you are looking for. If it is the weather you are after, then July and August are the hottest months. However, anytime between April and October should be warm.
What to avoid when travelling in Greece
♦ Taxi Drivers overcharging you. Locals will tell you to make sure you agree the fare before getting in a taxi or alternatively make sure the driver is using the meter.
♦ Putting paper down the toilet is discouraged in Greece. The pipes of the sewage system are very narrow and they get clogged up very easily. Its not some sort of gimmick and bins are placed next to each toilet to avoid this happening.
♦ Photographing military facilities. Taking photos in or around these facilities can easily get you arrested. Stay safe and keep your camera in your bag when you think you might be near any military facility.
♦ Not following rules in museums and archaeological sites. Greece is packed with museums both indoors and outdoors. Most of these have rules on display that must be followed such don’t touch or photograph the artifacts. We have seen someone being asked to leave because they were taking photographs when they shouldn’t so the locals take the rules seriously, not just the museum staff.
Despite its financial troubles in recent years in 2018 Greece started a major revamp and expansion of 14 of its airports. This is planned to run until around 2021. Their target is to radically enhance passenger experiences across the country. New airport terminals are being built at Thessaloniki, Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos and Mytilini with refurbishment at Aktion, Skiathos, Mykonos, Samos, Santorini, Rhodes and Chania in Ctrete. The intention is that construction work will interfere as little as possible with passengers but you should bear it in mind that work is going on.
Why Visit Greece
Even if you are not into history or mythology there are so many reasons to visit Greece. From its beautiful islands, outstanding landscapes, warm climate, magnificent architecture, UNESCO world heritage sites, delicious traditional food and drink and the warm welcoming people it surely has something for everyone. Greece is also affordable compared to many other European countries so you can make your money go further.
Be Sure to Experience ….
You may not be able to tick off everything you want to see in one visit as Greece has so much to offer. However, many people fall under its spell and it is a country that tempts visitors back time and time again. It is easy to fall in love with. Here’s why…..
Greece pretty much has it all when it comes to landscapes. Dramatic mountain ranges, which include Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece, blue flag beaches with clear waters, remote valleys, steep sided gorges, unspoilt lakes and evergreen forests. It is full of natural and diverse beauty.
The Greek Islands
The islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas are picture postcard stuff. Sun drenched pristine beaches and clear blue seas, often with a backdrop of hills dotted with traditional whitewashed houses and blue doors. There is more to most islands than lying on a beach however and if you are feeling energetic then there are many outdoor activities. These include hiking trails, diving, kite surfing and rock climbing.
Nightlife in Greece can be as diverse as its landscapes. The main cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki have a vibrant nightlife with plenty of restaurants, bars and clubs. The smaller islands can be more varied. If you are looking for a lively time then it is easy to find in the party towns on islands such as Mykonos and Zakynthos (Zante). Although you can still find quiet places if you want to. Other islands will have a less developed nightlife. However, all will celebrate the many fiestas throughout the year. If your Greek travels coincide with a fiesta make sure you dont miss it.
The beaches in Greece come in all shapes and sizes and there are hundreds with ‘blue flag’ status to mark their cleanliness. Whether you are looking for a busy organized beach with sunbeds, beach bars and tavernas or a quiet secluded beach you’ll find it. Greece is famous for its beaches so make sure to incoude them in part of your visit.
The Local People
The Greeks are known as warm and hospitable people, even to strangers. Make sure you soak up some of their culture, traditions and personality.
One of the main attractions of Greece is the simple rural lifestyle in many areas that has remained unchanged for generations. There are traditional villages, both on the mainland and the islands, where you can get away from it all and experience the local way of life. If you are staying in a main resort area then hiring a car might be best to explore a bit.
With thousands of years of history it is difficult to travel to Greece and avoid it. However, even if you are not a history buff make sure to take in some of its history. Throughout the country there are many well preserved ruins and historical landmarks that chart the Greek civilisation and culture. A number of these are considered so important they have been awarded UNESCO heritage site status.
Our top sights
The list is almost endless and there are so many it wold be impossible to list them in this article. But, if you have the opportunity to visit Greece make sure you try and see:
Athens, the capital city is bursting with history. Don’t miss the Acropolis along with its museum
Delphi, the archaeological site and its surrounding countryside
Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and its Byzantine monuments
Knossos, the Minoan palaces on the island of Crete
Meteora with its ancient monasteries set on top of cliffs.
Islands, of which there are many
Looking for More?
If you are looking for some further reading then below you’ll find more of our articles on Greece. For related reading check out the Tag links as well at the bottom of the page.
More Reading on Greece
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