Whether you’re a skilled traveler or traveling abroad for the first time, you should know that each country has its own quirks, secrets and traditions – and Greece is definitely one of these! Here you will learn about the smart way to island hop, hidden gems to see on the mainland, and the way to fully immerse yourself and become a local. These are 8 tips that will come in handy when exploring Greece.
You have probably heard someone saying they want to visit the Greek islands, and yes, they might just be picturing Santorini’s blue domes, or luxurious yachts in Mykonos, but actually Greece has over 200 inhabited islands waiting to be explored. Deciding on which islands to visit and how, now that is a whole other story.
Greece’s islands are separated into various groups – or families if you will - so it is always smart to keep that into consideration when planning a vacation. Most famous of these are the Cyclades, where the rocky volcanic scenery and white houses that look like sugar cubes from afar, contrast with the vibrant waters that surround them. Inhabited since pre-historic times, the Cyclades are home to quaint villages, remote chapels, charming bays, but most of all the relaxed atmosphere that makes all visitors feel welcome. Much visited are also the Dodecanese, which are amongst the most historically significant ones where you can still find traces of the Ottoman, Byzantine and Venetian rule. From Rhodes’ UNESCO listed medieval Old Town, to Patmos’ UNESCO listed Historic Center which houses the Cave of the Apocalypse, visiting these islands will be like traveling back in time with each turn. Located on the eastern side of Greece are the Northern Aegean islands, which are perfect for someone looking to completely immerse themselves in Greece’s beloved, laid back culture.
To get back to our island hopping discussion, - even though it is tempting to keep talking about the charms of the rest of the islands – when planning your ideal Greek vacation it is important firstly to choose which islands you want to visit. You will want to consider the location of the islands, as well as operating ferry routes. In order to service these islands, Greece has quite a busy and intricate ferry route system. You will need to do some research on which islands connect with which, and when. Travel dates between these islands need a little thought as well, as ferries don’t reach all the islands on any given day of the week.
While you’re reading this you might think ferries are not your thing, or you just want to get to your destination faster. Well, there’s an option for you too, most of the bigger islands have both national and international flights.
One of the first things we recommend to any foreigner visiting Greece is to get to know a Greek in order to get to know Greece. It’s important to us to keep the culture alive, even though most of the time it doesn’t seem too hard as it is clearly embedded in our DNA. This proudness of the culture makes us great hosts, always ready to show you what being a local is truly like.
The word that unmistakably describes this side of the culture is “Philoxenia”, which translates as “friend to a stranger”, and runs through all aspects of our lives. When you enter a Greek home, be sure that you will be treated as family, and fed – a lot! This in fact can be witnessed at all the family owned businesses around the country. In most of the villages, when you enter a restaurant the owner will behave as if you are their own guest. They will maybe sit down and get to know you a little, give you all sorts of advice, and will most likely keep bringing out food because, well, it makes them happy!
Places like these probably won’t be found on the “top tripadvisor restaurants” but you will only find out about them through the locals. Your travel12 expert will wholeheartedly share with you some suggestions which, unless you randomly stumble upon them while, let’s say, completely lost in the vast labyrinth of small island streets, would be otherwise rather hard to find – and for good reason!
Athens is constantly evolving and reinventing itself. The new “hot spot” changes year by year, to the point where even the internet cannot keep up. If it is your first time in Athens there is no doubt you will visit the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held, and then what you ask?
One of a Greek’s favorite pastime is sitting down for a coffee and chatting about everything and anything. So find a quaint café in the picturesque district of Plaka, or snatch a spot on Filopapou Hill and sit and people watch while enjoying the view of the Parthenon. Later, take a walk down the pedestrianized street of Dionysiou Aeropagitou, listening to street musicians reveling in the sun, and end up in the neighborhood of Monastiraki. Located there is the flea market where you can shop for clothes, antiques and local delicacies. Walking around you will also not be able to ignore the street art! Athens has become a hub for artists in the past years, and the street art around the center is colorful, inspiring and meaningful.
Like the majority of the European Union Greece’s official currency is the Euro, and cash is still notably the preferred method of payment for small transactions. Do not expect your local mom and pop store to accept a credit card. Keep in mind that at places like flea markets and souvenir shops paying in cash may sometimes mean a small discount. Having said this, visitors won’t have any issues using an ATM.
As any capital city in Europe, pickpocketing unfortunately can still be a concern in most crowded areas. You can avoid being a victim of a petty crime by keeping an eye on your valuables, not leaving your phone or wallet exposed, and walking with purpose in order to not look like an obvious tourist. Above all keep this in mind when waiting at any terminal or station, inside public transport and outside archaeological sites.
Consider skipping Greece’s peak season. Understandably travelers tend to choose the summer months to visit Greece, but there are many reasons to visit in the off season – or even the shoulder months that include April, May and September, October. Being one of the warmest countries in Europe, engaging in all outdoor activities is possible throughout most of the year. Eating outdoors, going to the beach, or for the active ones trekking, biking, or rafting, are just a few of these examples. Travel12 specialists are able to find the perfect destination for your ideal vacation at anytime of the year.
The off season gives the visitor a chance to discover the islands and mainland unobstructed by the summer masses. This also allows you to see the country beyond its known façade of sandy beaches, busy archaeological sites, and jam-packed nightlife crowds. Some of the coastal towns can get pretty quiet during winter, but remember that people live there year round, which means many restaurants and cafes remain open. In fact, the tourist dependent businesses close, so your choices will be the same ones as the locals.
Did I forget to mention that unquestionably close to everything will be cheaper? It is simply about supply and demand, from transportation to accommodation and entrance fees.
When traveling abroad you may find yourself to be a little confused around service and tipping customs. It is always worth taking a little time to familiarize yourself with the spoken and unspoken rules of foreign countries.
Tipping is optional here in Greece, but it is definitely appreciated. As I mentioned before, Greeks are natural-born hosts, and will always strive to provide the best service. When interacting with drivers, hotel staff, waiters, and guides, the gesture of leaving a tip is always appreciated and will be met with even more smiling.
Allow me also to quickly mention the well-known practice that thanking someone for their service is sometimes just as important as the tip!
Even though the islands might be the first thing to pop into someone’s head when thinking of Greece, we shouldn’t forget that the mainland has just as much hospitality, great food, and unbelievable scenery to offer! As it is sometimes overlooked by tourists, one tends to get a more authentic experience while traveling there. Some of the more impressive regions include Meteora, characterized by enormous rock formations that attracted people to build monasteries on the tops of these, isolating themselves from the rest of the world. Game of Thrones once wanted to use the location to film for its impressive landscape but was rejected due to the area being too sacred to be exploited. Another maybe not so hidden gem is the ancient site of Delphi, but definitely not a place to miss. Once believed to be the center of the world, this area exudes an energy that is still felt by visitors today.
If you want to continue feeling like you have traveled to simpler times, visit the lesser-known cluster of villages called Zagori or Zagorochoria, close to the city of Ioannina. These are found on the slopes of the dense green mountains, all connected by charming stone bridges. This is a perfect place for both tranquility and adventure seekers as there are tons of trekking, climbing and rafting opportunities.
If road trips are more of your thing, we highly recommend renting a car in order to have the freedom to explore the Peloponnese at your own leisure. The Peloponnese is the ideal place to combine a bit of everything that Greece has to offer. Visit the once capital of newly independent Greece, Nafplio, where if you’re brave enough, can climb the 900 steps up to Palamidi Fortress to appreciate the breathtaking view of the city. On the outskirts of the city lies another UNESCO world heritage site - the Epidauros Theater - dating back to the 4th century BC. Still in use for festivals today, this theatre was definitely ahead of its time. Test the superb acoustics by reciting your favorite song verse on stage, or just pick a seat in the house and enjoy the show.
Located at the southern tip of the Peloponnese is the medieval town of Monemvasia. The citadel was built on the side of an impressive sea rock, making it invisible from the mainland, and today is linked to the modern city only by a narrow bridge. Many have said that Monemvasia Castle feels like an anchored ship that takes its visitors on an effortless journey without even moving.
Don’t forget we are still in sunny Greece so anywhere in the Peloponnese a quick trip to the seaside is always possible. Some of the most stunning and lesser frequented beaches are found here including the bay of Vlychada.
If you haven’t already gotten a feel about the country and its people, let me give you one more important piece of advice. Sometimes we get lost and distracted in the intenseness and excitement of traveling in a foreign country, but it is always key to remember that there is a relationship of give and take between locals and the tourists everywhere – and a smile will always get you a long way!
If you are looking for a Greece itinerary to experience such moments, have a look at our sample trips for ideas on how to discover timeless Greece on a cultural trip, to take a road trip through authentic Greece, or to visit Greece's iconic spots.
Talk with our experts to find out more or to request your tailor-made itinerary.
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