Rugged peninsulas dotted with white-walled buildings and fascinating sites of antiquity, jutting out into sapphire-blue seas and fracturing into thousands – literally thousands – of islands; sweeping mountain vistas and a landscape steeped in history and mythology; the cradle of democracy, of drama, and of philosophy. This is Greece – nestled between Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia, and the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean seas. We have a feeling that you’re going to love it here.
A holiday in Greece truly provides something for everyone. For those who simply want to immerse themselves in the great outdoors, the Mediterranean nation provides beautiful scenery in abundance. For the more history-and-culture-oriented, Greece is home to some of the most ancient settlements in Europe, and its recent history is no less fascinating. For thrillseekers, there are more than enough exciting activities on offer to keep you entertained.
Getting the Most Out of Your Greek Holiday
The Greek culture spans millennia and, as you might expect, modern Greeks are immensely proud of their history and heritage. However, Greece sits a little apart from the rest of Europe, and visiting here may feel different to visiting, say, France, Germany or Italy. Here are a few things to bear in mind before you arrive…
- Smoking does not carry the social stigma that it does in other areas of Europe, and there is little legislation and regulation in place to prevent it. Smoke free restaurants and indoor facilities can be difficult to find, particularly outside of Athens.
- Avoid waving. A wave, in many cultures, is a warm and welcoming gesture. In Greece, it can be interpreted in a different way. An open-handed wave is called a ‘moutza’ and is a very rude signal which is likely to cause offence.
- The Greek culture is an extremely friendly one, sometimes excessively so if you are used to more reserved customs. Expect local people to take an interest in you, asking questions that may be classed as personal and even rude and intrusive back home.
Speak the Language
Yassou – Hello
Kalimera – Good morning
Kalispera – Good evening
Kalinihta – Goodnight
Nase Kala – Have a nice day!
Efkharisto – Thank you
Parakalo – You’re welcome
Ti kaniz? – How are you?
Greece: What You Need to Know
When is the best time to visit Greece?
Greece’s climate makes it perfect for a visit at any time of year. Winters are mild and summers are cooler than those of some of its Mediterranean neighbours. For visiting Greece’s extensive and breathtaking coastal regions, summer is ideal.
What kind of seasons does Greece have?
Greece has a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons – spring from March to May, summer from June to August, autumn from September to November, and winter from December to February. Temperatures do not usually drop below 10 Celsius in the winter or exceed 30 Celsius in summer.
How will I get around in Greece?
The nation is well-equipped for tourism, despite its huge system of islands, peninsulas and archipelagos. On the mainland and on larger islands, there are extensive long and short distance bus connections, and ferry services can assist you as you island hop. In Athens, the extremely heavy traffic makes it wise to catch the metro whenever possible.
What is the currency of Greece?
The currency of Greece is the Euro, which makes it convenient to visit Greece as part of a trip to another country in the Eurozone, or vice versa. Exchange rates vary but the Euro averages at about 0.66 per AUD$1.
Will I need any travel adapters to visit Greece?
You will. Greece has a mains current of 220 to 240v and utilises a Type C plug. It will be necessary to pick up an adapter before you arrive.
Will I need a visa to visit Greece?
Australian visitors will be able to visit Greece for tourism purposes for 90 days without a visa.
What else should I know?
Greece has a legal drinking age of 18 and its residents drive on the right hand side of the road. You will not be expected to tip in a restaurant or bar, but this is not frowned upon either and a 10% voluntary addition to your bill is always appreciated. The international dialling code for Greece is +30.
Arriving in Greece can be somewhat overwhelming. The sensory overload of sights, sounds, experiences and things to see, do and sample can be head-spinning, and it may take some time for you to get your bearings. To make the transition into this fascinating nation on the Mediterranean Sea that little bit easier, we’ve compiled a list of ten Greek experiences you need to check out.
1. Must See Greece
Greece’s cities are as varied and fascinating as they are numerous. Here are some of the best…
Athens – An obvious one, perhaps, but still, Athens cannot be overlooked. Democracy began here – philosophy and theatre can trace their roots back to the city – and the 3,000 year old metropolis is packed with cultural highlights both old and new.
Volos – The port of Volos, beneath the striking Mount Pelion, is what many people imagine when they think of Greece. Expect to find traditional Hellenic architecture, the national colour theme of pristine white and azure blue everywhere you look, and the sort of seafood that will make you never want to leave.
Heraklion – Far to the south of the mainland is the island of Crete – the largest of the Greek islands. Here you will find Heraklion; a city which harks back to a time when the island was the seat of the ancient Minoan empire.
Thessalonika – This is Greece’s second city, although the local residents would have you believe it is the first. The cultural hub of the country, Thessalonika offers a different perspective on life and art in modern Greece.
Halkidiki – If you came looking for the beach life, you found it right here. The Halkidiki peninsula is the site of some of Greece’s best beaches, which is extremely high praise indeed!
2. Look Back in Time at the Acropolis
Wherever you are in Athens, you can see it, looming high and large over the city. Of course, we are talking about the Acropolis; a 2,500 year old temple to the goddess of Athena. Just as the temple is inescapable on the Athens skyline, visitors to the city simply must pay homage to the endeavour and capability of the Ancient Greeks by making a pilgrimage up the hillside. There are many other curios and attractions to be found in the area, including the National Garden and its zoo.
3. Fall in Love with Santorini
The Greek islands are pretty special, and few more so than Santorini. The island itself is a vast volcano, the rim of which protrudes beyond the surface of the Aegean Sea. Orthodox churches, picture-postcard whitewashed houses, undulating and rugged topography, and seafood cuisine of almost unparalleled quality, combine to make Santorini a Greek highlight and a true ‘must visit’.
4. Enter the Cave of Nymphs
Greece is the land in which mythology comes alive. The myths, the legends, the stories, and the parables of those ancient times are still here, embedded in the very rock and soil and sea and sky of modern Greece. Melissani Cave on Kefalonia is one of those places still imbued with the stories of old. A beautiful cave system in its own right, and only accessible by boat, Melissani – or the Cave of Nymphs – takes on a whole other dimension once you learn about its mythological significance.
5. Hike from the Mountains to the Sea in Crete
Hiking is a great way to get to grips with the Greek landscape. One of the finest hikes found anywhere in the country is on the island of Crete, where visitors can cover the 16km from Mount Volakias and the head of the Samaria Gorge to where the valley opens onto the Libyan Sea. Give yourself between four and seven hours to do the walk justice, and enjoy!
6. Pay a Visit to the Gods
Mount Olympus, the home of the ancient gods. To visit this sacred, stunning and immensely rewarding peak, take a train or bus to Litochoro and select one of the trails winding up the slopes. Be aware, however, some of these trails require a decent level of physical fitness and should not be taken lightly.
7. Eat, Eat, and Eat Some More
Greek food is some of the finest on earth, and don’t leave the country before you have sampled all of these trademark Hellenic classics.
Dolmades –mince meat and local herbs and nuts wrapped up in a little grape leaf package.
Moussaka – The sumptuous eggplant and cheese dish which needs no introduction.
Seafood – Head to the coast and sample the seafood – particularly octopus dishes. You will not be disappointed.
Baklava – Filo pastry with honey and crushed or ground nuts. This Greek sweet treat is certainly one to savour.
8. Take Advantage of Some Prime Windsurfing Conditions
Windsurfing might not be the first activity that springs to mind when you think of Greece, but that could be about to change. Many of the Greek islands feature almost perfect windsurfing conditions, with backdrops to match. Check out Artemis, Paros, Naxos and Vasiliki for some of the best surfing spots.
9. Engage with a Long History
It is no secret that Greece has a long and varied history. In fact, much of the evidence of that history is still in existence. For a truly spellbinding journey into the past, visit Mytras, a 600 year old fortified city beside Mount Taygetos. Alternatively, head over to Rhodes and to the village of Lindos for a window on a chapter of Greek history long considered closed.
10. Take a Rest at the Beach
All that exploring takes it out of you. Fortunately, Greece is not exactly lacking in the beach department, so you are sure to find a place to relax and unwind by the sea. Myrtos beach and Ornos beach are among the most highly rated in the country, but take a look around your local area and you are sure to find your own little piece of paradise.
Safe Travelling in Greece
Most people you speak to who have visited Greece have nothing but praise for the country, its people, its society, its weather and its food. However, travelling is never without its dangers. Recent economic and political upheaval in Greece has made some areas of the country – particularly inner city areas – marginally more risky than before. That said, be aware of the risks, follow our advice, and have yourself a great time in a stunning, and generally safe, part of the world.
Crime is unfortunately on the increase in Greece, including in areas frequented by tourists. These usually involve pickpocketing and bag-snatching, so be on the lookout and always take out a comprehensive insurance policy before you travel. Violent crime is less common, but is still a serious risk in urbanised areas. Avoid poorly lit areas, particularly in the Athenian regions of Omonia, Larissa and Peloponissos. Illegal drugs of any kind should also be avoided, as Greece’s drug laws are incredibly strict. This means that the penalties are high and drug dealers will do whatever necessary to avoid getting caught.
The political situation in Greece at the moment is a confusing and a polarising one. This means that political demonstrations and displays of dissent are common, as are strikes and other industrial actions. Resist the temptation of going along to observe these events, or even joining in, as they do sometimes turn violent and the police will use tear gas and riot control methods to restore order. These strikes may also disrupt long and short distance transport, so be prepared.
Natural disasters are rare, but it is worth bearing in mind that Greece is an active seismic zone and so earthquakes and volcanic eruptions do occur. A more common form of disaster is wildfire, which can be a serious danger during dry summers. Contact +30 210 324 8098 to receive English-language updates on these fires.
Greece does have a national health service which provides limited free treatments to all visitors. Visitors from countries outside of the EU can receive basic emergency care for free, but other forms of treatment will have to be paid for. This makes comprehensive travel and medical insurance an absolute must. Travellers will find the highest levels of care at Greece’s numerous private hospitals, although this will be more expensive.
Food and Drink
Visitors to Greece should experience very few problems in relation to food hygiene. The country’s restaurants are held to high standards and food poisoning and other ailments are very rare. The tap water is also safe to drink.
Greek roads are a very real safety concern, particularly for visitors in hired cars who are perhaps not used to driving in the country. In 2012, there were 1,027 road deaths in Greece; far more than in most other European countries. Aggressive driving is the norm in Greece, but don’t try to follow suit; whether you are a driver, a cyclist or a pedestrian, keep your wits about you and exercise extreme caution.
During the summer, the heat can become excessive, particularly in inland areas. This makes sunscreen, appropriate clothing, and plenty of drinking water, vital for extended hiking trips in the sun.