Driving on the Greek Islands might be daunting for some, it certainly was the first time I drove on Santorini. I had been warned about the turns and traffic. I was prepared for the worst, but it wasn’t bad at all. This last year I rented a car on Ios and had a different experience, so here are my tips for driving on the Greek Islands with confidence and ease.
Renting a Car
Most of the time, I like to rent cars in advance. This is for two reasons, usually, the rate is better and I need an automatic transmission. On some islands, renting a car in advance might not be an option though. Ios is not listed on several car rental sites I checked. However, if the island has an airport, you will most likely be able to book in advance online.
When booking rental cars in Europe, I prefer to use AutoEurope, click here for rates. Picking up the car is pretty straightforward and is similar to picking up a rental in any country. If you have a driver’s license from outside the EU, you will need an international driver’s license to rent a car. Some companies will not ask you, but you and the company can receive a fine if you are pulled over. The rule on this is being more strictly enforced since the beginning of the 2018 season.
Before I rented a car on Santorini, I had done some research on driving there. People warned the drive from the ferry to Oia could be scary. The drive was twisty and some the curves were next to cliffs, but the roads were well maintained and there were guard rails.
Ios was different. The island of Ios is not as popular as Santorini and many of the tourists do not drive. The roads were steep and many did not have guard rails. The rural roads were not well maintained. I am also deathly afraid of heights.
My tips are to do your research on the island you are going to. Find out about the geography of the island. Go on travel forums and ask about the road conditions.
Another tip for driving on a Greek island is to make sure you rent a car with enough horsepower. I had a two door smart car on Ios and it was barely enough for the steep Ios hills. This is also something to consider if you are going to rent an ATV instead of a car.
There are not many stop lights or stop signs on many of the islands, so proceed through intersections with caution. Greek drivers have been driving on these roads all their lives, so they tend to drive faster and what seems more erratically than you are. My advice is to drive in the right lane if possible and let them pass you.
You might see a Greek driver come up behind you and flash their lights. Basically, this means get out of my way. If you can’t, do so as quickly and safely as you can. As in many European companies, honking is common.
If you are renting a car, check that your hotel has parking. Finding a parking spot in small or crowded villages can be hard. The lots are often full, especially during the high season, from May to September.
Some parking lots are for use for patrons of a specific business, so check before you walk away. There should be a sign and they are usually in English and Greek. I only saw a few paid parking lots in Greece, so that isn’t as big an issue. It may even be worth paying so you can park in a real spot.
You will see some people get creative about making a parking spot. However, in a rental car, I would avoid this since your car will easily be spotted by the local police.
Gas stations are few and far between on many islands or they are all in the main village. If you are going for a long drive, fill up before you head out and check to see if there are gas stations on your route.
Another thing to note is that most gas stations in Greece only take cash. They also will most likely pump the gas for you. If they do, I tip a euro or two to the attended.
Taking a Car on the Ferry
My tip is to not do this if at all possible. Driving on and off the ferry is done so quickly and many times you are expected to park your car in reverse once inside the ferry in a tight spot.
Renting a car on the islands is so easy and many car rental places have cars at the port, so you can pick up a car right there.
If you do decide to do it, you need to make sure you pay the fee for it when you book your tickets. There is also a place at the port to line up the cars for driving onto the ferry. Check with the port police when you arrive. They are wearing navy blue uniforms that look like military uniforms.
Driving in Greece doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared and know your limits. Enjoy the scenery and the places you can only reach by car. Have you driven in Greece? Give us your tips in the comments!
Driving in other countries is always an experience!!!
Totally! Usually fun.
We hired scooters on Santorini, but it was when I was young, poor and fearless…I think I’d be more up for hiring a car these days. Or just cycle/hike everywhere!!
I had to go to the clinic in Ios and they were talking about how many people break bones every year riding those things. Scary!
On my very few out-of-the-US trips (Canada, the Caribbean), luckily I never needed to rent a car, but I’m definitely bookmarking your post for if (when) I do travel more internationally. You covered so much – and many of these things are good to keep in mind even when not traveling specifically on the Greek Islands (international ID, gas station locations, etc.) – thank you!
Thank you. I hope you get to go somewhere and rent a car. It’s the best way to see a country.
My goal in the next 5 years is to drive in a foreign country- I’m hoping to eventually move to the UK, so I will need practice! It is interesting about the gas stations being in a central location, though. You would really have to carefully plan routes!!
Most islands are small so you just need to fill up before you go but Santorini was one of those I had to find one further out.
We hired a car when we visited Kos a few years ago. We were out of season in late October, so the roads were really quiet and surprising not stressful at all, and we adapted really well. I would a million times over prefer to drive on Greek islands than London, we did that last week and I’m still recovering ?
I refused to drive in London. It has been too long since I have driven on the left and I was so afraid of hitting a pedestrian.
I really hope to get to use the tips one day ☺
I hope you do too!!
Great tips Tiffany, this is the type of article I always search for when we’re planning to drive abroad! I wish someone had mentioned things like cash only gas stations before we went to Malta for example…
Yes, the cash only gas station is common in many countries. I wish I had rented a car in Malta. The bus system was terrible.
You have the heart of a lion, there is no way I’d drive anywhere so tight, my anxietwould be through the roof!
I have driven through an ancient walled town in Italy. Thought I was going to lose my mirrors. Once you have done that it isn’t a big deal.
Im terrified of driving abroad, and although we have done it, Im always nervous. The thought of driving along those steep roads gives me anxiety, like you, Im terrified of heights! I can imagine its a really great way to see the island though, so I will pull my big girl pants up and go for it if needed. Great post
I’m afraid of heights as well and Ios made me very nervous. But sometimes it’s the only way to see a place.
Great tos Tiffany. Full concentration is needed when driving overseas and the rest is easy ?
Arghhhh tos supposed to be tips!!!
I hadn’t given any thought to the cliffs for some reason so I was very pleased to read your post! They are great tips and driving in another country is always exciting if not a little scary!! This is one place I really want to visit so thansk for whetting my appetite again ?
Thank you! I really enjoy driving in another country as I feel more like a local that way. So glad I sparked some wanderlust.
Beautiful place and you are very brave driving in every Country you’re visiting!
In this case, yes brave! Most of the others haven’t been so bad.
This is great thanks for sharing these helpful tips,
Great post, Appreciation.