11 important things to know before your first trip to Greece

11 important things to know before your first trip to Greece

11 important things to know before your first trip to Greece

In 2022, there were nine flights a day from the US to Greece on all three major US carriers, starting from Boston, Chicago and Atlanta on March 7, for a total of 63 flights per week. Greece is expected to expect more than half a million tourists from the US this summer. This is, of course, exciting, as tourism has long been the industry that drives the country’s economic strength.

If it’s your first visit, or even if you’re a seasoned traveler, it’s always helpful to know some tips and important things before you visit. As a long-term resident here, I will share with you what I believe are some important things you need to know before your first trip to Greece.

1. Use of currency and credit card

The currency used in Greece is the euro (€). Since exchange rates fluctuate daily, you should double check them, but keep in mind that the euro is a strong currency. Always have some cash on hand. You can use your credit or debit card in any ATM in Greece. Credit cards and debit cards are increasingly accepted, including the contactless function where you do not have to put your pin code in the machine.

Personally, I would recommend Visa and Mastercard as while Dinars and AMEX can be accepted, they are few and far between. You are much more likely to have better luck with Visa or Mastercard.

Keep in mind that sales tax is included in the listed price of an item so you won’t be in for any nasty surprises when you get to the checkout.

2. Tipping is Not As it is in the US

This is an important “tip”. Tipping is not mandatory in Greece, which is unheard of for many North Americans. If you decide to tip – at your absolute discretion – then 5-15 percent of the final bill is acceptable. Usually people tip in a taverna, especially places run by small Greek families. A good example to follow is, if a bill for two is $35, round up to $40. Always round up to the nearest $5 if you think you need a guideline.

If you eat in a larger establishment, check whether the service costs are already included. And for coffee shops, you will most likely find a tip jar at the cash register.

One thing is certain: don’t overdo it. It can be considered offensive and a little flashy.

3. Explore the nearby Greek islands

Many visitors to Greece head to the islands of Santorini and/or Mykonos without realizing that there are over 227 other inhabited Greek islands to explore. The Saronic Islands, for example, are a cluster of smaller and lesser-known islands, easily reached by ferry from the port of Piraeus in sometimes less than an hour, making a day trip from Athens possible. But it’s worth taking some time for island hopping or staying on a particular island to relax.

The island of Poros has a beautiful amphitheater built harbor and is surrounded by a lush pine forest. It is only 1 hour by high speed ferry from Piraues. Or head to the Jewel of the Saronics, Hydra, which has no motorized vehicles and, while not as popular for beaches, has a very bohemian vibe with boutiques, small hotels and a Venetian harbour.

Certainly, the Saronic Islands give the more popular Greek islands a run for their money for their aesthetic beauty and lack of distance, making it possible to combine an Athens city break with an island trip.

4. Spend some time in Athens

Athens has some wonderful sights after you visit the famous Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum. Don’t just use the capital as a transit point before heading to the islands or further along on your journey, spend some time exploring alternative things to do in the city. Explore places such as Anafiotika, an island village in the city just below the Acropolis rock; or enjoy phenomenal street art with an informative street art tour, learning the background of each piece and understanding that street art is more than just graffiti.

With your choice of beautiful and cozy boutique hotels to stay in, you’ll make the most of your time in this eclectic city.

5. Explore the mainland

Of course, Greece is more than just its many islands, there are also some beautiful mainland destinations to explore. The Peloponnese, a 13,359-mile peninsula in southern Greece, is surrounded by water and connected to the mainland by the Corinth Canal or the Rion-Antirion Bridge, effectively turning the region into one large island.

Here you’ll find Nafplion, the original capital of Greece, with its cobbled streets, stately mansions and grand squares. At just under 2 hours, it’s a perfect day trip from Athens.

The town of Monemvasia is located at the southernmost tip of the peninsula, a breathtaking ancient castle town carved into the slopes of a huge rock jutting out into the sea. It is only accessible by a single causeway from the mainland, or it can be viewed from the sea on a boat trip.

And further inland you have the Oracle of Delphi, the ‘Navel of the Universe’, as scientists confirm that this is the absolute central point of the Earth.

6. Eat like a local

With its mix of influences, Greek food is hugely varied, so expect more than just tzatziki and moussaka. As a seafaring nation, you can expect seafood to be served across the country and the capital, from Michelin-trained chefs to small family taverns. In recent times, Greece has not only embraced traditional street food such as souvlaki and gyros, but also its own cuisine, with an international twist, and restaurants increasingly cater to the growing vegetarian and vegan crowd. Learn how to eat like a local before you come.

7. Watch out for your belongings

With only three lines, the Athens metro system is very easy to use. It’s clean and cheap. For example, a 90-minute network ticket costs just €1.20 ($1.28). The subway to or from the airport costs just €9 ($9.58) and some stations are like museums with ancient artifacts on display, found when the subway was excavated and built.

But it is not without problems. Pickpockets operate through the transportation network, so be careful with your belongings. Don’t leave anything in your back pocket, such as money, a wallet or a phone – some people use decoy wallets to deter would-be pickpockets.

It’s a good idea to spread your money over your body and invest in anti-theft travel gear, or wear a money belt hidden under your T-shirt.

Never leave your phone casually on a cafe or taverna table, nor hang your bag over the back of a chair.

8. Respect and Sensitivity

Orthodox religion is widespread in Greece and permeates everyday life. This can be admired by their many beautiful and ostentatious churches. If you’re going to the beach for a day, chances are you’ll find a small church there too. If you want to explore a bit, to show respect, take a scarf to cover your arms and legs. Tight shorts and tops are not appreciated.

There are also a few gestures that are extremely rude in Greek culture – such as making the “OK” sign by forming a circle with your index finger and thumb and spreading your hand out, palm facing the individual.

9. Manual transmission cars are more the norm

That’s not to say vending machines can’t be found, but manual, stick-shift cars are more likely to be found on the lesser-known Greek islands and some of the smaller mainland destinations. If you think this is likely to affect you, I recommend renting a car in Athens and planning your trip from there. You can take your car on the ferry trips to bigger islands, and the bigger islands have vending machines anyway. However, do not rely on this, especially in high season. It is always best to book one in advance.

10. Wait before crossing the road

This is a favorite of mine, and an important thing to know. Always wait an extra 5 seconds or more before crossing a busy main road, even if your light may indicate that you are allowed to do so. This is because many cars seem to think it is acceptable to run a red light – and are rarely stopped for it.

11. “Greek Time”

Relax. When you are in Greece, you are in the Greek time. This invariably means things don’t necessarily open when they should, the taxi driver may be a few minutes late and the restaurant may open a little later than the time stated on the door, for example. It’s not a rigid country – just go with the flow. You will soon relax in it. Somehow you are never late.

As for time, shops such as supermarkets and shopping malls will be closed on Sundays to respect the Orthodox religion. However, you will notice that most tourist shops are open.

I hope this prepared you for your Greek vacation. Greece is a beautiful country to visit and a very relaxed country. Follow these things to know and you will be well prepared.

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