I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t have Greece on their bucket list. However, many people have preconceived notions about Greece that are not true or are less than accurate. Knowing the truth will help you plan better and help you enjoy your time in Greece even more. Here are all the things to know before you travel to Greece.
Athens is More Than the Acropolis
Most people think of Athens, and they think of the Acropolis that sits on a hill in the center of the city. Many people believe they can visit the Acropolis and be done with Athens. Some people only spend one day in Athens! You still don’t need a week in Athens, but you do need about three days to see more than the Acropolis. One of the best things to do is to visit the Acropolis Museum. It is stunning and is not very large. There is an archeological dig exposed under the building as well.
There are many more museums to explore in Athens as well, including the Benaki Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art. The Benaki Museum has a wonderful cafe with an outdoor terrace to view the city. There is also all the great food to eat as well. There is good food all over Greece, but Athens has a city feel and more upscale options if that suits you. Many places have excellent views of the Acropolis. I suggest going right before sunset to eat so you can enjoy your Greek food with a stunning sunset.
Athens has many other ancient sites to visit including Hadrian’s Library and the Ancient Agora. These sites can be seen with an additional cost added on to your ticket to the Acropolis. You can easily walk to them after finishing the Acropolis. A short tram ride away are some beaches if you want to make a day trip to the beach while in Athens.
Greece is On its Own Time
Unlike much of Europe, Greece has a much more laid back attitude and it is actually one of the things I love about spending time there. Ferries might be late or may be canceled. You may have to ask for your bill a few times before it arrives. There is no rushing in Greece unless you are driving. Then watch out!
This may be hard for some people to deal with but if you know about it in advance you know what to expect. The only thing I will say is that it usually all works out in the end. Greeks, for the most part, are pretty trustworthy and do not like to let the tourists down.
Every summer there are ferry strikes. These seem to only happen during tourist seasons as well. I assume this is because it gives the workers more leverage. They are usually announced in advance so you won’t be standing at the ferry terminal waiting in the heat wondering if the ferry is going to come. However, by the time they are announced, you will probably not be able to change your hotel and everyone will be either buying new tickets or plane tickets. That is if you are on an island with an airport. My advice is to get travel insurance to make sure you are covered for any out of pocket costs you may have to incur. Also, do not book your flight and ferry on the same day! This is a good time to see more of Athens.
Tipping in Greece
I belong to several groups on Facebook about Greece and at least once a week I see questions about tipping in Greece. Like most of Europe, no one in Greece will complain if you don’t tip but most people tip about 10%. This is for restaurants mostly. Even in a cafe or coffee shop, I like to leave something if I have been waited on at a table. For larger groups, everyone should leave 10% as you are most likely taking up several tables during that time. If you feel like the waiter or waitress did an outstanding job, then more than 10% should be given. Another rule of thumb some people use is to round up. For example, if your bill was €18 then you could leave €2 as a tip. Keep in mind Greece is still suffering from economic issues so every bit helps the locals. Another thing to remember is that if paying with a credit card, you may not be able to add a tip after it has gone through the machine. Either ask them to add it to the total or have enough euros to tip in cash.
Santorini is Crowded
For many visiting Greece means the island of Santorini. Santorini is beautiful and has a unique landscape. However, everyone has Santorini on their bucket list and it means it is very crowded during the tourist season. If you must visit Santorini, here are a few tips that may help you avoid the crowds. First, go in the offseason. The main season is May to September with July and August being the busiest. However, I was in Santorini in September and it was still very busy. Go in October or April and you will still get to see the sites without the crowds.
If your only option is to go to Santorini in the tourist season, then stay outside the two main villages of Fira and Oia. They are the most crowded and probably the most expensive places on the island. A great alternative is in the village of Imerovigli. You will still get caldera views from here and the prices are less steep than in Oia.
200 Inhabited Greek Islands
There doesn’t seem to be an exact count of how many inhabited islands there are in Greece, but safe to say there are around 200. This is another reason that Santorini or Mykonos are not the only Greek islands to visit. These islands range from big islands like Crete, Rhodes and Naxos to small islands like Hydra, Aegina and Kythnos. All of these have many different things to do and see. Each island has its own culture and feel. You could go to a different island every time you visit Greece and still not see them all.
Mainland Greece is much larger than all the islands and there is so much to see there. The second largest city in Greece is Thessaloniki. Not only does it have the benefits of a city with cultural things to do but Thessaloniki has beautiful beaches as well. You can get to Thessaloniki by train from Athens or a quick flight from Athens.
Meteora is another gem of a place to visit on the mainland. Meteora is famous for the monasteries that are perched on top of high rocks that almost seem impossible to get to let alone build. You can either drive from Athens or take the train.
Another option on the mainland is the Peloponnese region. The Peloponnese is a peninsula and isn’t too far from Athens. This is were Kalamata is and where the famous Kalamata olive is from. This region is also known for its beautiful beaches.
People are always asking me if Greece is expensive. The answer is yes if you are going to Santorini or Mykonos. However, if you are not going to these two places then my answer is no. Hotel prices vary across islands and the season, but even the 2 star hotels in Greece are nice. Most islands don’t have that many luxury resorts and you can always find something near the beach. I just booked a hotel in Naxos for 6 nights for less than $250 without breakfast. It is even less expensive if you go in September or later. Food is not expensive and you can eat out for about €25 for two people not including drinks. Although in some places, that does include one glass of wine. Look for where the locals are eating and not only will you get great food but good value for your money.
This is the only bad thing about Greece. Greeks still smoke a lot and I am comparing this to Italians! For the most part, it probably isn’t a big deal unless they are smoking next to you at dinner. Most restaurants in Greece do not allow smoking inside and you will most likely be eating outside. If it does bother you, ask the waiter to move you or if you are in a cafe, just move tables.
Sailing the Greek Islands
Sailing is a great way to see many islands in a short period of time without having to ferry hop with your luggage. This was how I saw Greece the first time and I fell in love. We sailed to 14 islands. While you don’t have as much time to explore if you were visiting a few islands for two weeks but it gives you a good feel for what the island is like and you can plan your return trip. It is very relaxing and being on the water with the Greek breeze feels amazing. Most sailing trips have a preplanned itinerary but I have seen a few that let you plan the trip as you go based on the guests wants and the weather. Go in September as the water is warmest and the wind is not so high.
When to Visit Greece
My preferred month is September. The water is warm and so is the weather. The nights can be cool but never chilly. The crowds have left by then as well. October is also nice but many places start to close in October so there are fewer options for hotels and dining. However, you will have the beaches to yourself. You can also get good deals with shopping later in September you go.
If you must go in the summer due to work or school, I recommend going in June. The crowds haven’t started yet and the prices will still be low. The hotels and restaurants will be open by this time as well.
Beach nudity is common in Greece. Some beaches are more prone to it than others. If it is at a large beach the nudists tend to stay away from the sunbeds and umbrella areas. You will see some topless sunbathing on almost all the beaches. I am going to be totally honest and tell you that I am not a fan of full nudity for a variety of reasons. However, I have learned to accept it and try to look away as much as possible. Maybe I would feel differently if it was young fit people I was seeing naked and not 80-year-old men!
Cash is king in Greece. Restaurants would prefer you pay in cash. Some do this to avoid the taxes and some because they don’t want to pay the credit card fees. Technically the tax thing is illegal but unless you get a ridiculous bill, I would just pay and let it go. Paying in cash will endear you to the restaurant as well. Get Euros at the airport and take out enough to last you as long as you can. There are ATM fees in Greece and on some islands, the fee is quite high. On the small or less populated islands, ATMs can be a bit harder to come by.
No Toilet Paper in the Toilet
I saved the worst thing for last! On all of the islands, you cannot flush toilet paper. There will be a small covered trash can to dispose of your toilet paper in. It can be unsettling at first, but everyone is doing it. And no, it doesn’t smell either. The reason you have to do this is that the pipes can’t handle it. In Athens, this isn’t an issue as the plumbing is better there.
These are all the things you should know before traveling to Greece. I hope that I have answered all your pressing questions or have given you some things you didn’t know. Is there anything about visiting Greece that you think I have missed? Tell me in the comments.