A Guide to Greece: 15 Essential Tips
Though the beautiful islands of Greece draw the most tourists, the country as a whole is incredibly varied. Greece is home to more than just stunning beaches; the country is also filled with towering mountains, caves, salt marshes, and cloud forests. It has both hot summers and cold winters. Few countries, if any, can boast such a wide range of climates and topographical features. Also, it has a rich history, delicious cuisine, and a friendly, outgoing population that is typically Hellenic.
You can have any kind of amazing vacation in Greece; you just have to know what you want, where to look, and put some thought into your trip before you go. Keeping that in mind, we've compiled a list of our top 15 travel tips for Greece, covering everything from essential information to know before visiting to off-the-beaten-path suggestions for your vacation.
If you can avoid going in the middle of the summer (late July to the end of August), you will have a much more enjoyable time in Greece. Summer is peak season in Greece, meaning hotter temperatures, higher prices, and denser crowds than at any other time of year.
The February Carnival (Apokriátika) is a great way to add some color and culture to your winter. The final weekend of the three-week-long celebrations is the seventh before Easter. Patras Carnival is the third largest carnival in the world and one of the largest in the Mediterranean. Patras, the largest city in The Peloponnese, hosts a chariot parade and wild costume parties during carnival. More of our Greece winter travel advice is available here.
Metéora, a Greek Monastery, is a Must-See in the Spring Shutterstock
It should go without saying that summer is not the best time to attempt mountain ascents. Those of you who like to hike on the edge of your comfort zone should plan a trip for the month of May, when warmer weather is on the way but the temperature hasn't yet risen too high. This kind of hike through central Greece's Meteora is a great way to learn about the region's geological wonders and Eastern Orthodox monasteries, and so is a trip to Crete's famous Imbros Gorge.
Read our comprehensive guide on the best time to visit Greece to learn more about traveling there at any time of year.
2. Let works of fiction serve as a source of motivation
While planning your trip to Greece, why not read some fiction set there to get you in the mood? From retellings of ancient history and culture to cutting-edge page-turners, there is an abundance of excellent reading material available to deepen your familiarity with the country.
When the classics were performed at the ancient Epidaurus Theatre in the Peloponnese, Shutterstock was there to capture the magic.
You could start from the beginning by reading The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer. Wonderful examples of modern fiction based on classical myths include Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles and Circe and Mary Renault's The King Must Die, a magnificent account of Theseus in Minoan Crete. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and Margaret Atwood's ingenious The Penelopiad also come to mind.
Assos, a village on the Greek island of Kefalonia (also known as "Captain Corelli's" home turf) leoks/Shutter
Away from myths, Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek is a classic and is set on the island of Crete, while Captain Corelli's Mandolin is credited with putting the island of Kefalonia on the literary map.
My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell's memoir set in Corfu, is a must-read for anyone interested in real-life family drama and animal antics. For more Greek flavor and history, try Victoria Hislop's The Island and The Thread.
Many wonderful books have been written about Greece, and you may find your ideal vacation spot by reading one of them. Moreover, by the time you travel to Greece, you will be in the ideal frame of mind; there are no more motivating pre-trip tips for Greece than these.
Get familiar with the language
In the same vein as getting a taste of Greek culture by reading fiction set there, why not also learn (at least some of) the language before you go?
To start, it will add a deeper sense of realism to your vacation. Second, knowing even a few words of Greek is greatly appreciated by the Greek people. It's hard to find fault with trying to win over the hearts and minds of the natives.
You can order some delicious boukáli kras with just a few words added to your vocabulary. Image of Santorini island and wine courtesy of Shutterstock
Because of the widespread proficiency in English, learning Greek is unnecessary. However, that's beside the point. By making an effort, you will be promoted from "xenos," which can mean either "foreigner" or "guest," to an honored "tourist."
Take a look at the Rough Guides Greek Phrasebook if you need some advice on what to do and see in Greece before you go. If you follow this recommendation (one of our best travel tips for Greece), you'll never have to say, "it's all Greek to me again." "On that note, we also think you'll enjoy It's All Greek to Me, John Mole's hilarious autobiography.
Get into the spirit of island-hopping
The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday of Greek island hopping, but nowadays most visitors stick to a single island during their stay. However, there's no rule saying you can't go against the grain and arrange a tour of several islands at once. Visiting multiple islands during a trip to Greece can add some extra work, but it is possible. Additionally, it can lead to a varied and interesting experience.
Sarakiniko Beach, located on the Greek island of Milos, is absolutely breathtaking. Shutterstock
If you're looking for some ideas, have a look at our breakdown of the top five Greek islands. During the warmer months, ferries continue to run frequently and reliably, so you can pick any of the beautiful island groups in Greece, including the Ionians, the Dodecanese, and the Cyclades, for your vacation. This full-day sailing cruise around the Small Cyclades from Paros is just one example of the many island excursions available. You could also visit the beautiful Saronic Islands (Hydra, Poros, and Aegina) if you're flying into Athens. Here, some of our most seasoned travelers in Greece share their recommended itineraries.
Greek island of Paxos, the smallest of the Ionian Islands. Shutterstock/Heracles Kritikos
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If island-hopping is too much of a hassle, consider staying put on a smaller, less popular island for your entire trip. Those tourists who wish to go beyond the superficiality of resorts If you want one of our top recommendations for Greece, look no further.
Picture the picturesque island of Lesvos. Despite being the third-largest island in Greece (after Crete and Evvia), it receives comparatively few tourists. There are numerous stunning beaches along its shores, and the capital city of Mytilini features a picturesque waterfront, a massive fortress, and numerous dining and drinking establishments. Molyvos and Ayiassos are just two of the many charming villages dotted across the island. Further, the salt marshes in the expansive, low-lying Gulf of Kalloni are a avian watcher's paradise.
There's certainly nothing wrong with going the conventional route. Though it's not exactly off-the-beaten-path, Santorini's breathtaking sunsets, picture-perfect beaches, exciting nightlife, and natural wonders make it the ideal destination for a vacation that encompasses a wide range of Greek island experiences. Santorini's Oia is one of the most photographed places in all of Greece because of its picturesque blue-domed churches, white houses built into the cliffs, and breathtaking caldera views (not to mention the sunsets, which will literally take your breath away).
Oia, Santorini, is famous for its blue-domed churches. Shutterstock
While strolling charming Oia at your own pace is highly recommended, we also suggest booking a boat trip to catch the town's legendary sunset. In preparation for the main event, this sunset cruise will sail past Indian Head Mountain and the Venetian Lighthouse before entering the beautiful Caldera. It provides sights of Akrotiri, the ancient city, and stops at secluded bays for swimming and snorkeling. Read this, and you might learn about some of Santorini's best-kept secrets.
Planning a "stay-put-Paradise" is as involved as planning an island-hopping vacation, but it will be well worth it when you discover your Greek "El Dorado."
Put on your radiance - a (typical) beautiful Santorini sunset Shutterstock
Slowly travel across the continent, number six
Though we have extolled the pleasures of island hopping and staying put on your preferred island paradise, don't make the mistake (and this is one of the best Greece travel tips) of equating Greece with its islands. From the towering mountain ranges in the north to the nearly deserted golden beaches of the western Peloponnese, the mainland has a lot to offer as well. Cultural explorers interested in visiting ancient sites like Olympia and others in Greece will find the Peloponnese to be an ideal destination.
You should look into visiting the Pindus Mountains if outdoor activities and exploring nature are more your speed. This mountainous region, which stretches for 160 kilometers along Greece's northern and southern borders, is often referred to as the country's "spine." The hike to the Vikos Gorge, renowned for its stunning scenery and refreshingly clear waters, is one you won't soon forget. The gorge is also the deepest in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The extensive KTEL bus network connects the major cities, and local services branch out to the villages. However, if you're interested in the region's cultural and historical sites but are short on time, hiring a private guide and driver may be your best bet.
Look no further than our travel guide for Greece if you want to learn more about getting around the country. You should read this if you have any questions about planning a trip to Greece.
7 – Enjoy the sights of the state capital
Historic Athens is as multifaceted as an archaeological dig or a plate of flaky baklava, serving as a meeting place for myth and modernity. Seeing the Acropolis and the Parthenon is the literal and figurative pinnacle of any trip to this thriving city, which is one of our top recommendations in Greece for history buffs. The entrance fee to the Acropolis is included in the price of this walking tour, making it a convenient and economical way to see the city's top attractions.
Sunset over a glistening Acropolis Shutterstock
Places like Plaka in Athens are some of our favorites. From the Byzantine era until Greek independence, the neighborhood of Plaka, which straddles the ancient and modern city, was the heart of Athens. Now a day's it's a pleasure to get lost in its maze of twisting streets. It's the ideal place for a pre-dinner stroll, what with its sprinkling of neoclassical mansions, its scent of gardenias, and its abundance of street musicians. Indulge in a sumptuous dance-and-dinner experience while soaking up the unique atmosphere of Plaka and learning about Greek culture at the same time.
The picturesque Plaka of Athens, courtesy of Shutterstock
When it comes to Athens hotels with a view, Electra Metropolis is without peer. It is luxuriously furnished, centrally located, and offers breathtaking views of the Acropolis.
The Caryatids of the Acropolis, Athens Shutterstock
Eight, be careful around the nation's capital
There has been an increase in abandoned buildings and homeless people in Athens as a result of Greece's two crises in recent years (the financial and immigrant crises).
The ancient Athenian Kerameikos, courtesy of Shutterstock
While the metro is generally safe to use, it is still a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings, especially during rush hour. As with any trip, it's a good idea to research travel insurance options before setting out for Greece. I'd rather be safe than sorry.
While Greeks certainly have a passion for their food, dining out in Greece is a deliciously relaxed experience. And they don't just eat three square meals a day; they eat more frequently, which is great news for visitors hoping to sample the country's diverse cuisine. It goes without saying that when traveling, you should seek out establishments frequented by locals. Not only will the food there be superior, but you'll also save money.
Just to try some authentic Greek cuisine is worth the trip. Get ready for your trip to Greece by reading our guide to the food you absolutely must try while there.
Picture of a Greek-style outdoor meal taken at the Naoussa Old Port on the island of Paros, Greece courtesy of Shutterstock
Ordering local barrelled wine (cheaper than bottled) or trying a fiery spirit like ouzo or tsipouro is another way to fully immerse yourself in the local dining culture. You don't need to waste money on bottled water; the tap works just fine.
Take a tasting tour to learn more about Greek cuisine, such as this gourmet food walking tour of Athens or this Crete wine and food tasting tour. A similar experience can be had on any mainland or island.
Delicious Greek Moussaka Shutterstock
The Greek breakfast koulouri are soft bread rings covered in sesame seeds; the Greek lunch moussaka is delicious; and the Greek dessert spanakopita (phyllo pastry layered with feta cheese and spinach) is out of this world. Read our list of must-try dishes for more ideas.
Delicious feta and spinach spanakopita wrapped in phyllo dough Shutterstock
Ten. Recognize the Greek time
After you've gotten the hang of Greek cuisine and drink, you should be aware that punctuality isn't a highly valued trait there. The Greek word for "tomorrow," which is the Spanish word "maana," is "avrio," which reflects the healthy Mediterranean belief that most things can be put off until tomorrow and nothing needs to be done in a hurry.
As a result, you shouldn't count on fast responses from wait staff or punctual service from the public transportation system. Not getting worked up over minor inconveniences (like a delayed meal) is one of our best pieces of advice for your time in Greece. Put that effort into finding that hidden cove, exploring that ancient ruin, or climbing to the top of that mountain, instead.
11.1 Embrace Greek culture
You can get a lot more out of your visit if, in addition to eating like a local, you also check out things like festivals, feasts, and craft and food markets. Better yet, if you join in or hire a guide to show you the ropes. You won't be at a loss for things to do on Crete, with opportunities ranging from learning to weave in the traditional village of Arolithos to mastering the art of traditional breadmaking.
In Heraklion, Crete, the ruins of Knossos Palace offer a close encounter with history. Shutterstock
Of course, you shouldn't miss out on the opportunity to get up close and personal with Greece's storied past. When you get there, you'll probably find a slew of incredible ruins to investigate.
At Knossos Palace on the Greek island of Crete, there is a beautiful fresco. Shutterstock
12. Show some empathy
Greek youth generally see themselves as progressive, but older generations are more traditional. In addition, the influence of the Orthodox Church remains substantial. Off-beach nudity is frowned upon, and women should not wear revealing clothing to churches or monasteries.
As seen in "Mamma Mia!": the Church of Agios Ioannis on Skopelos, courtesy of Shutterstock
Aware of these two gestures that may lead to misunderstanding or offense may prove helpful. To start, there are hand signals. It is extremely impolite to show the palm of your hand to another person or to make the OK sign by forming a circle with your thumb and forefinger. Also prone to misunderstanding are the body language cues of nodding and shaking the head to indicate "yes" and "no," respectively. Greeks indicate agreement with a slight forward tilt of the head and disapproval with a stronger backward nod.
Check out this for our comprehensive overview of proper Greek behavior.
In general, Greeks are outgoing people who enjoy discussing diverse topics with others. Don't be shy about discussing your own values with others or asking them for theirs.
One thing you'll notice about people who take their kids on vacation is how much they love (and spoil) them. It's common knowledge that children are great icebreakers, and this is especially true in public places like restaurants, where the noise and activity of children is generally ignored.
The Athens changing of the guard is not a shy affair Shutterstock
While resort packages, especially those that include meals, can save you a lot of money, very little of it actually stays in Greece. To help the community even more, consider staying in a bed and breakfast or privately owned villa rather than a hotel. There are better deals to be had, and the experience you have is more likely to be the real deal. If you're looking for a great place to stay in Athens, the Home Sweet Hotel in Plaka is a great choice.
Even if you're set on staying in a resort for your vacation, you shouldn't feel confined to the resort's dining options. First of all, the daily buffet can get old after a while. Furthermore, as we've already established, there is no shortage of fantastic, reasonably priced dining options in the area.
Make a call 15
The old adage that you'll get five different directions if you ask five Greeks is, unfortunately, mostly true. So, you should take advice with a grain of salt. Get another opinion; just don't be shocked if it tells you to go in the opposite direction. Most importantly, don't stress; getting lost is half the fun.
When it comes to rules and regulations, such as having to wear seatbelts or crash helmets, or not smoking in public places, Greeks tend to have a similarly varying and flexible attitude. All of these are routinely disregarded, but you can decide whether or not to join the crowd. You can choose to follow the lead of those around you
Shipwreck Bay, Zakynthos Island, Greece Michail Makarov/Shutterstock
When it comes to researching new travel destinations or revising existing ones, Rough Guides has always been unafraid to give readers the straight dope. To that end, we'd like to let you know that, at no extra cost to you, we may receive a commission if you make a purchase after following a link to one of our affiliates' websites. That's why we're still able to bring you reliable travel tips and ideas like this! Moreover, you can have faith in the resources we recommend, as they have been hand-picked by our travel writing experts in order to provide you with useful information that may enhance your trips.
Pictured in the header is the picture-perfect church of Agios Stefanos on the Greek island of Corfu (Courtesy: Shutterstock).
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