Greece is a Mediterranean country and part of the European Union. The country has 6,000 islands and islets scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and only 227 of these are inhabited! Crete is the largest island, though Santorini often takes the spotlight for its breathtaking views and unique architecture. With its myriad ancient historical sites, rich culture, incredible food and so much more, Greece is atop many travelers’ bucket lists. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your own visit!
Greek is the official language of Greece, though many speak English, particularly in tourist-heavy areas like Athens and most of the more popular islands. English is also prevalent in the Greek business community and it’s taught as part of the core curriculum in schools. It’s possible you may run into a scenario or two with a language barrier, but most likely you’ll do just fine speaking English in the tourist areas (though it’s polite to ask first!) and having something like Google Translate at your disposal, just in case.
Here are some basic Greek phrases:
- Hello or Goodbye: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
- Please / You’re welcome: Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LOE) – In Greek, the word for “please” and “you’re welcome” is the same
- Thank you: Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STOE)
- Excuse me / Sorry: Συγνώμη (See-GHNO-mee)
- Yes: Ναί (neh)
- No: όχι (OH-hee)
Time Zones & Jet Lag
Greece sits in the Eastern European Standard Time Zone, putting it 7 hours ahead of the US Eastern Time Zone (i.e. New York) and 10 hours ahead of the Pacific Time Zone (i.e. California). If you’re traveling from North America, expect to feel a bit of jet lag, particularly in the mornings. Your best bet is to push through on arrival day and try to go to bed at a normal hour in Greece. Then, the first few days, you might consider an afternoon coffee as a pick-me-up. You may also consider taking an over-the-counter sleep aid such as melatonin to help you sleep through the first few nights as you adjust (though you should always ask your doctor first before using a supplement, even if it’s “natural”).
Greece is considered to be generally safe for travel and does not have a high incidence of violent crime. However, ANY time you travel you should be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to guard your valuables. Pickpocketing is a known petty crime in many European countries with high rates of tourism, including Greece. Whether you realize it or not, you will stand out as a tourist, particularly to those with trained eyes. So, ensure your wallet is somewhere safely tucked away and keep copies of your passport, just in case. Then, simply use the same common sense you would in any city in your own country.
Vaccinations & Health
Currently, there are no specific requirements for entry to Greece. This may change at any time though, so your best bet is to discuss your travel plans with a doctor or visit your country’s public health site. Here are a few you may want to check out :
- World Health Organization
- US Centers for Disease Control
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Australian Department of Health
Water on the islands
Drink bottled water on the Greek islands to avoid upset stomach from unfamiliar bacteria and heavy mineral content. In Athens the water is considered safe to drink.
The official currency here is the Euro. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and larger restaurants, but not all shops and restaurants accept credit cards, so have some cash (Euros) on you as well.
Check with your credit card companies to see if you’ll be charged foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad. There are many great options for cards that do not charge this type of fee – don’t waste your money on fees if you don’t have to!
And, give your bank a heads’ up that you’ll be out of the country. Otherwise, they may flag your charges as fraudulent and shut down spending, which could be very inconvenient.
Tipping isn’t mandatory in Greece but it’s certainly a nice gesture, and in some heavy tourist areas, it is mostly expected. In restaurants, 5-10% is a good guideline to follow. Try to leave the tip in cash, even if you’re paying the bill with a card, and hand it directly to your waiter, because they may not get it otherwise. Just be sure to double check your bill first – a tip may already be included.
Taking a taxi? Rounding up to the next euro should suffice, unless your driver is more of a guide. In that case, 5-10% is a good tip. For hotel and cleaning staff, it’s nice to leave a few euros if they’ve helped you out or done an exceptional job.
Greece uses a two pronged plug – it’s labeled as “Southern Europe” or “So. Europe.” An important note is that it’s a thinner prong than those used for “Northern Europe.”
Depending on where you’re traveling from, you may not only need to adapt the plug head to work in the outlet, but also to convert the voltage for items that consume a decent amount of power, like a hair appliance (especially if you’re traveling from the US or Canada, for instance). An adaptor should suffice for a laptop or cell phone charger. But hair dryers, flat irons and other similar devices are notorious for requiring a transformer – otherwise you could very easily fry your appliance, and potentially start a fire. North America runs on 110 volts, while Europe runs on 220 volts. People fry their hair appliances all the time. If you have a travel appliance that allows you to switch the voltage, this usually is OK.
Overwhelmed? The easiest thing is to get a multi-use, universal adaptor like this one and plan to use the hair dryer in your hotel room, purchase a specific dual-voltage travel appliance or simply air dry. Or, if you’re really committed, purchase appliances at a local store when you get there. Kotsovolos, a chain store for electrical appliances, is a good option in Athens. You can find it in the Monastiraki neighborhood.
Cell Phone & Internet
Every cell phone carrier is different, so we recommend contacting your cell service provider. If you don’t get free data roaming through your provider, you may want to purchase an international plan for your travel dates. Then, while you’re in Greece, try to limit data consumption on your phone by using local Wi-Fi where you can. Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi with your stay, and many restaurants will share their Wi-Fi password if you ask them. Just use caution on open networks that don’t require a password – don’t send sensitive data in those situations.
Food & Drink
Ah, Greek food! Delicious and nutritious! Get ready for a real treat! Here, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a breakfast that doesn’t include a helping of energy-packing Greek yogurt or a lunch or dinner that doesn’t begin with a fresh, authentic Greek salad. Truly the home of the Mediterranean diet, you’ll find lots of olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, olive oil, fish, chicken, lamb, potatoes, pasta, lemons, honey, yogurt, nuts, cheese and eggs.
Prices for meals range and tend to be a little pricier when you’re on the islands. Like anywhere though, if you move off the main tourist route, you can usually find slightly better prices.
One particularly helpful thing to know is that Greeks eat dinner late, usually 9-10pm. So, if you like a lively local scene, you may want to eat later than you might be used to at home, whereas earlier dinners are likely more the tourist crowd. Plan accordingly.
And for a nightcap, Ouzo is the popular national drink of Greece. It’s an aperitif with an anise flavor (similar to black licorice). Need a coffee? You can certainly come by this easily enough, but here you may also want to give the frappe a try. It’s a sweet, icy coffee drink (with caffeine) – great for those sunny days in the islands when you need a pick-me-up.
Cocktails can be quite expensive – a great alternative is local wine and beer. Greece has been producing wine for many centuries, and Greek wines are quite good, though you don’t hear about them as much as those from France, Italy or California. If you like wine, Greek wine is definitely a must-try! Rather have a pint? Give Greek beer a try and order a Mythos (MEETH ohs).
Weather during the popular touring months of May and June is very pleasant, with highs around 75F (24C) and lots of sun. Because the sun can be pretty strong, it may often feel much warmer than that in the mid-day though. Bring sunscreen to protect your skin. At night, temperatures may dip into the 60s Farenheit (15-20 C). The dry season ranges from May to September, so it’s possible to see summer rain, but not super likely.
Greece is the perfect destination for breezy fabrics, light layers (for night) and comfortable sandals. Don’t bother with heels in Greece, particularly on the islands. With the frequent stairs, uneven pavement, cobblestones and slippery marble walkways, they’re simply not practical here. Greek people do like to freshen up and dress nicely for dinner, so the same rules apply in the evening – breezy attire, easy layers and flat or low-heeled shoes. You’ll see a lot of linen and Euro styles among the locals.
Some islands, most notably Santorini, are built up on steep cliffs so there are a LOT of stairs. It’s just part of the deal, so be prepared for it and just think of all the built-in workouts you’ll get while you’re enjoying those insane ocean views.
In the tropics you often hear the term “island time” and you’ll find this can apply in Greece as well. Things tend to move at a slower pace here than what you may be used to at home, and the inter-island ferries often run late. Don’t sweat it. Always get there on time, in case it’s running on schedule, but if it’s not, grab a drink and relax. Eventually, you’ll get to where you’re going. It’s best to adopt a relaxed attitude and learn to go with the flow while you’re in Greece.
Along with ancient wonders comes ancient plumbing. Toilet paper was not invented until the 1900s, long after the wonders of ancient Greece were built. The country, and especially its islands, simply lacks the modern plumbing we’re accustomed to in many other countries. In most places, and particularly on the islands, you’ll need to deposit your used paper in the bin next to the toilet, not in the toilet. It takes some getting used to if you haven’t yet encountered this, but you’ll find it in many other countries and island destinations around the world.
Top Attractions in Athens
Your gateway to the islands will likely be Athens, Greece. And, because of the rich history of this famed city, we recommend spending at least a day touring the most important and interesting sites there. To name a few:
- Acropolis Museum
- The Epidaurus Theater
- Hephaestus Temple
- Ancient Agora
- The National Gardens
- Museum of Cycladic Art
- Monastiraki Neighborhood
- Plaka Neighborhood
Like to read? Make your next book one set in your destination before you get there! Tale Away rounded up a great list of books set in Greece to get you started.
More of a movie gal? Check out Mama Mia – most of the movie was shot on location on the tiny island Skopelos, so it’s a great way to have a look at the mountainous landscapes set against the turquoise waters before you go. And for a look at beautiful Santorini, check out The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Not into rom-coms? We get it, so here are a few others: Bourne Identity (with some scenes shot in Mykonos), Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (featuring many locations, including Santorini), Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (shot in Cephalonia) and the 1964 classic, Zorba the Greek, shot in Crete.
Bon voyage, girl! Greece is calling and you’re going to love every minute of it!
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