Overview of Greece

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About Greece

Greece is probably a country that everyone wants to visit at least once in a lifetime. Whether it is to see the Parthenon, experience the sunsets of Santorini, walk through the pebbled streets of Mykonos, swim in the turquoise waters of the islands or taste the Mediterranean flavours the country offers, everyone has something on their bucket list they would want to experience from Greece. 

A unique thing about Greece is that one can visit the country nearly all year round as it is particularly blessed with good weather. Also you can experience the entire world in Greece, as the country is so diverse. I always encourage people to view the campaign “Meet the World in Greece”, to get a feel of the diversity Greece has to offer…it’s not just the Parthenon and the Greek islands – although both these are a MUST at least once in your life.

Apart from the mainland and buzzing cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece also offers over 6.000 islets and approximately 227 inhabited islands, each of which have their own unique character, scenery and identity. It is a country with a very rich history, the birthplace of democracy and a population of talented and passionate people about the country and the history.

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Key Information

Basic Information​

  • Capital City: Athens

  • Currency: Euro

  • Official Language: Greek

  • Calling code: + 30

  • Time zone: GMT +2

  • Electricity: 220 V/50 Hz/ Type F plug

  • Smoking: Prohibited in workplaces, transport and all enclosed public spaces

Emergency Numbers:

  • Ambulance service: 166

  • SOS doctors: 1016

  • Duty hospitals and clinics: 1434

  • Pharmacies: 1434

  • Poisoning first aid: 210 77 93 777

  • European emergency number: 112

  • Fire service: 199

  • Police: 100

  • Tourism Police: 171

My Greek Island has created a cheat sheet for you with Key Information and Emergency Numbers. Click here to download and save on your phone.

National holidays:

  • New years day: 1 January

  • Epiphany: 6 January

  • Ash Monday: Movable holiday

  • Independence day: 25 March

  • Green Monday: Movable holiday

  • Easter (Holy Friday to Easter Monday): Movable holiday

  • Labor day: 1 May

  • Pentecost: Movable holiday

  • Assumption of the Virgin Mary: 15 August

  • Christmas day: 25 Decemebr

  • Boxing Day: 26 December

My Greek Island has created a cheat sheet for you with the National Holidays. Click here to download and save on your phone. 

 
 
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Travel Requirements

Greece is a member state of the EU and is also part of the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area covers the majority of the European Countries and some countries that are not members of the EU and allows free and unrestricted movement between Schengen countries. However, if you are not a citizen of the Schengen Area or the EU, you may require a Schengen Visa to enter Greece.

 

For more details on visa requirements click here and for the associated link to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, click here.

Please note that if you are subject to Visa requirements, the Schengen visa is a short-stay visa and allows stays only up to 90 days in any country within the area for tourism or business purposes.

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Travelling to and within Greece

Depending on where you are coming from and where in Greece you are heading, there are many ways to reach your destination. In general, most people will travel to Greece by plane via Athens International Airport and continue their route from there.

 

However, many islands have their own airports making them accessible by plane either via a domestic flight or even an international flight. For example, the United Kingdom has direct flights to Mykonos, Santorini, Skiathos, Kefalonia, Corfu, Crete, etc. All islands can be reached by sea and are connected to many ports on other islands and the mainland.

 

The biggest port and main port of Greece is Piraeus Port located in Athens and connects to the majority of the islands. Many of the ferries that connect to the islands can accept cars too while others are passenger only.

For those that are based in countries that boarder the mainland of Greece, an alternative option can also be by car. Travelling to Greece with your own car can be particularly useful when you are heading on an extended holiday or are with children as you can pack up in the car everything you will need for your holiday.

Once in Greece, there are many ways to travel around:

  • Domestic Flights

  • Buses or Trolleys

  • Metro

  • City Train (also known as the Elektrikos)

  • Tram

  • Trains

  • Boats/Ferries

  • Taxis

 

To reach the Greek Islands you will most likely experience an international flight and/or domestic flight, a taxi, the metro, the city train and a ferry. The countries main airline and carrier is Aegean/Olympic airlines which now operate under a single company.

Renting a car: Renting a car in Greece is sometimes a great way also to get around. An international drivers license is required, so please take this into account if you plan to drive.

 

Fun fact: Olympic airlines was owned at some point by the shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Read more on the fabulous uniforms of Olympic Airways on the webpage of a great traveller, Maryhop here.

 
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Safety in Greece

In general, Greece is a safe country and has a low crime rate, especially on the islands. However, it is worth noting that the big cities like Athens do have their fair share of petty crime, like pickpocketing and bag snatching (“portofolakides” as the Greeks refer to them). This is more common in popular touristic areas of the city. Additionally, Athens is subject to demonstrations and protests in the city centre near the Parliament which sometimes can get out of hand and can cripple the over-ground public transport links, but sometimes also the Athens metro.

 

Advice: Try to avoid any demonstrations in Athens city centre. Although the majority are peaceful demonstrations there have been a few incidents over the years, so it’s better to avoid them. We particularly recommend that you avoid the day of 17 November where there is an annual demonstration in memory of the Athens Polytechnic uprising. On this day, many of the shops in the centre are closed, and the hotels have extra security and restricted access. The area of Exharcheia is particularly under tight security of police on this day.

 
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Online in Greece

Mobile carriers: Greece has three main mobile carriers; Cosmote, Vodafone and Wind each offering different packages for SIM cards pay as you go. It might be worth comparing the charges of your local carrier to those if you were to obtain a local SIM card and if it works out better for you, to purchase a local SIM card when you arrive in Greece. 

Prior to 2018, I had a local SIM card that I would use every time I would visit Greece. However as one of my primary bases is the UK, ever since I discovered the Go Roam Around the World contract that Three offers there, I stopped using my local Greek SIM card. Also, in 2018, roaming charges were banned across the EU, so if you are from another European country, you can use for mobile data in Greece at no extra charge. 

Online chats: Many of the locals use chat applications to communicate between them. The most commonly used ones are WhatsApp and Viber. Consider downloading these on your phone to communicate while in Greece. 

 
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The Language / Basic Phrases

The official language of Greece is Greek (also the official language of Cyprus). The older generations in Greece did not all speak English, however the majority of the younger generations now speak fluent English.

Greek is not an easy plug and play language, but you can definitely try to learn some basic phrases in Greek to help embed yourself in the culture and enjoy the experience.

One interesting thing about Greek (similar to Russian and Spanish and I imagine many other languages too), is that there is a formal and informal way to address or speak to others. Rule of thumb is that you use the formal way, unless you know the person well. The formal way is effectively using the plural, so you will use the same conjugation of the verb when addressing one person formally or multiple people whether formally or informally.

My Greek Island has created a cheat sheet for you to use on your travel to Greece and learn some basic phrases to connect with the locals. Click here to download and save on your phone.

 
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When to Visit Greece

In general Greece can offer all year-round tourism for a lot of the mainland and the bigger islands, like Crete for example, but don’t expect to swim in any of the islands in December and January especially! When to visit the country or islands depends on what you want to experience and gain from your trip. The majority of the islands are best visited between May and October. During this season there is a big influx of tourists looking to enjoy the islands and Greek summer. Also, the schools are closed for nearly three months in the summer, so the locals too head to their holiday homes or visit the islands during June, July and August.

 

See below our quick guide by the various months:

June-August: This is the peak season during which the country and islands are particularly busy. During this season everything is open and marked up in price, although the major cities like Athens can be quite quiet the week of the 15th August.

 

May to early June & September to Early October: Prices drop significantly the months before and after peak season, but during this time the sun still shines offering warm summer weather. My favourite time to visit the islands is in September. The sea is at its warmest, the beaches are quiet, and you are able to have a much more affordable holiday with a slightly cooler breeze! Also, the locals start to unwind and have more time to engage in conversations with you and offer you those tips and secrets only they know! You also get to learn more about the destination and enjoy it with more ease and comfort.

November to April: Overall this period is not the best time to visit the islands as you may struggle to find things open and a frequent ferry connection. If you would like to visit an island during this time, try and go for the bigger ones that have their own airport or try some of the big cities or winter destinations the country offers.

For example, the vibrant city of Athens can be visited any time of the year, even in August. If you have the luxury of time, August can actually be a nice time to visit Athens and explore the suburbs and the beaches in close proximity to Athens.

Other Tips:

  • Religious holidays: Take special caution when travelling to Greece during religious holidays. The majority are Greek Orthodox with the biggest religious events each year including Easter and the 15th August. During that time (especially Easter Sunday), most shops and restaurants may be closed while most people are with their families at a village or on one of the islands. The most popular islands during Easter are Mykonos and Kerkyra (Corfu). If you plan to travel to Greece during this time, double check with your hotel what is open to ensure you make the most of you travels.

  • Smaller Islands: Some of the smaller islands may not be fully tourist functional in May and October. Boat connections may be limited and many restaurants/cafes may be closed. 

 
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Payments in Greece

The official currency of Greece is the Euro (Symbol = €) used by many European countries. Prior to the Euro the currency used was the Drachma, however this is no longer in use since the adoption of the Euro in 2002.

The Euro is denominated in coins and notes.

  • Coin denomination: There are 8 coin denominations of which 6 are less than one Euro in value and are generally referred to as cents (or lepta in Greece). The other 2 are the one and two Euro coin respectively.

    • Cents: The coins available are  1 cent (€0.01), 2 cents (€0.02), 5 cents (€0.05), 10 cents (€0.10), 20 cents (€0.20) and 50 cents (€0.50)

    • Euros: The coins available are 1 Euro (€1) and 2 Euro (€2)

  • Note denomination: There are 7 note denominations, these are. €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. You Will very rarely see €100, €200, €50 in circulation and prefer not to take them if you exchange another currency for Euros, as not many people will accept them in Greece. As a rule of thumb the largest note you will want is €50.

How to get hold of Euros: There are many ways, you can exchange at the airport, withdraw from an ATM, go to a Bank. The easiest way will probably just be to withdraw from the ATM, but make sure you check what you are being charged and keep in mind that there may be a daily limit to withdraw money. Also, its advisable to check with your own bank if you need to notify them you will be using your card abroad. 

Using other currencies in Greece: You cannot use any other currency other than Euros in Greece, unlike some other countries that may accept US Dollars. So you will need to either need to exchange for Euros or use your cards to pay.

 

Card payments in Greece: Greece in general is a country that still uses cash as its main means of payment, although this is recently starting to change with the government enforcing card use for many businesses. However, many businesses will not be too happy if you ask to pay by card for a small amount, as they get charged for the transactions. So for small amounts it might be better to have some petty cash handy.