1. Greece in a nutshell
Greece is situated in the south east of Europe. It has extensive coastlines and has islands in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Ionian Seas. Greece has four neighbouring countries: Turkey, Albania, Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Greece is a country with an ancient culture that has had a significant influence on various aspects of life globally. They ‘invented’ the Olympics and have had a serious impact on philosophy, politics, literature, arts, drama and more. The nation's terrain is just as varied as its architectural heritage: idyllic beaches, towering mountain ranges, wine-producing valleys, beautiful beaches, vast stretches of olive orchards in the south and lush forests in the north.
The Greeks are known for their relaxed way of life and their hospitality. When you combine this with the abundant amount of culture, sunshine, historical sites, mountains and beautiful island beaches, then this makes a trip to Greece one you’ll never forget!
- Thousands of English words come from the Greek language, sometimes through Roman adaptation into Latin and then to English. Some common English words from Greek include 'academy', 'apology', 'marathon', 'siren', 'alphabet', and 'typhoon'.
- Greece has more than 2,000 islands, of which approximately 170 are populated. Greece’s largest island is Crete (3,189 sq. miles / 8,260 sq. km).
- Retirement homes are rare in Greece. Grandparents usually live with their children’s family until they die. Most young people live with their families until they marry.
- No point in Greece is more than 85 miles (137 km) from water. Greece has about 9,000 miles (14,500 km) of coastline, the 10th longest in the world.
- The Greeks revolutionized the art of sculpture. Instead of stiff poses and blank faces, Greek artists began to carve statues of people that showed both movement and emotion.
You can also view our Flickr photo album about Greece.
- Travel documents: Canadians and Americans only need a valid passport.
- Driver’s license and registration: For non-EU-members a valid national driver's license is routinely accepted, but Greek law requires that you have the official International Driving Permit to show along with your own driver's license. For Canada you can visit http://www.caa.ca/travel/travel-permits-e.cfm and for the U.S. http://www.thenac.com/idp_faqs.htm. Most people have no trouble driving the main roads of Greece and there are main roads leading to all of the major tourist destinations. Particularly good areas for road trips are the Peloponnese peninsula and Crete. However, bear in mind that Greece is a mountainous country and many roads will be curvy. Athens' traffic and parking in Athens can be harder, but our self-drive trips in Greece are perfectly enjoyable.
- Medical passport: If you are using medication, ask your doctor for a ‘medical passport’. This can be a signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medications, including generic names which details your affliction and what medicines you need to use. Bring medications in their original, clearly labelled containers. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.
- Insurance documents (travel/health)
- Tickets and reservations
- Money and credit cards
It’s best to carry no more cash than you need for the next few days. In Greece, you can exchange your currency at most banks as well as many exchange bureaus that you will find in popular areas. In most banks you'll need your passport when you are exchanging currency. If you do not have this with you, then the bank may refuse to exchange your currency. If you are planning to visit more rural areas during your holidays in Greece, it would be advisable to use a bank at the airports or main cities before heading to your destination. In small shops it is handy to have some small denomination notes or coins, as they hardly have any change. ATM’s are to be found in every town with a bank and certainly in all the tourist areas.
MasterCard and Visa credit cards are widely accepted in larger places, hotels, car hire etc. They can also be used as cash cards to draw cash from the ATM’s of affiliated Greek banks in the same way as at home.
American Express, Visa and Thomas Cook cheques are all widely accepted and have efficient replacement policies. They are, however, losing popularity as more and more travellers opt to put their money in a bank at home and withdraw it at ATM's as they go. Traveller's cheques are usually not accepted by businesses, except some hotels, restaurants and shops, all of which offer a poor exchange rate. It’s best to buy traveller’s cheques in euros when visiting Greece. There should be no commission charge when cashing euro travellers’ cheques at any bank in Greece (you must show your passport). Maintaining a record of the cheque numbers and recording when you use them is vital when it comes to replacing lost cheques – keep this separate from the cheques themselves.
Tipping in Greece
In restaurants a service charge is normally included in the bill and while a tip is not expected (as it is in North America), it is always appreciated and should be left if the service has been good (between 10 to 15%). For drinks at cafes, round the bill up to the nearest euro. Taxi drivers normally expect you to round up the fare, while bellhops in hotels or stewards on ferries normally expect a small gratuity of between € 1 and € 3.
There are no specific health risks in Greece, although medical facilities in Greece vary. Those in major cities are excellent, but many of the islands are some distance from a decent hospital. There is at least one doctor on every island and larger islands have hospitals. Hospitals can be overcrowded, hygiene is not always what it should be (according to our standards) and relatives are expected to bring in food for the patient (which could be a problem for a tourist). Conditions and treatment are much better in private hospitals, which are more expensive. All this means that a good health insurance policy is essential. Visitors who plan to walk through forested areas are advised to consider vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis.
4. Public transport
Public transport has improved, especially with the introduction of the metro lines. Anything on rail (train, metro or tram) will be more efficient and reliable time-wise. A large network of buses and trolleys is also available.
Trains in Greece are cheap, comfortable and efficient. The train organization is called Hellenic Railway Organization OSE (http://tickets.trainose.gr/dromologia/). Although the service provided by the Greek rail network today is somewhat less compared to the other European countries, it is a nice way to travel and enjoy the beautiful countryside. The trains are relatively slow, but quite reliable. There are two central train stations in Athens.
The Intercity express trains are the quickest way of travelling on the Greek mainland. They run between Athens and the major cities of Larissa, Thessaloniki, Patra and Kalamata. Tickets can be bought at the Central Stations. If you are travelling by train always try to book your seat a few days in advance and ask for a free seat reservation. Do not purchase your ticket on the train as you will be charged 50% extra on the price charged at stations.
Buses are generally cheaper than the train and you won’t normally have to book in advance unless it is high season. Buses link Athens and all main towns in Attica, northern Greece and the Peloponnese. Service on the islands depends on demand, and timetables should be checked carefully. Some islands do not allow any kind of motorized transport, in which case islanders use boats, or donkeys and carts to travel around. Fares are low.
The Greek/Hellenic Railways Organization Ltd (OSE) runs bus services to northern Greece from the Karolou Street terminus in Athens and to the Peloponnese from the Sina Street station (Athens). Trolley buses (ILPAP) and regular buses (ETHEL) have frequent links to tourist attractions and places of interest. Tickets for buses and trolley buses can be purchased from the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA, http://www.oasa.gr/?id=ind3ex&lang=en) at various booths and kiosks situated around the city. Upon entering the bus you must validate your ticket at one of the validation machines and keep the ticket for the whole trip.
The Athens Metro (http://www.ametro.gr/page/default.asp?id=4&la=2) is one of the most modern and complex projects in Europe. It is fast, comfortable and very reliable. It provides easy access to historical sites and Piraeus Port. Tickets are bought through 'automatic ticket machines' installed at all metro stations or ticket offices. Before going on board of the metro, passengers need to validate their ticket through special validation machines. The price for the ticket is (€ 0.70).
Taxis are available to/from the airports. Rates are per kilometer and are very reasonable, with extra charge for fares to/from stations, ports and airports. Taxis run on a share basis, so do not be surprised if the taxi picks up other passengers for the journey. There are additional charges for airport transfers and late-night fares from 1.00am - 6.00am, with double fare from 2.00am - 4.00am.
It is both cheap and easy to travel around the islands. There are ferry services on many routes, with sailings most frequent during the summer. The main ports are Attica, Piraeus (Athens) and Rafina. From there, ferries leave regularly for the smaller Greek Islands. Tickets can be bought from the shipping lines’ offices located around the harbours. In major ports the larger lines have offices in the city centre. There are two classes of tickets (First Class and Economy Class) which offer varying degrees of comfort; couchette cabins can be booked for the longer voyages or those wishing to avoid the sun. Most ships have restaurant facilities. During high season it is wise to buy tickets in advance, as inter-island travel is very popular.
Greece is considered a safe destination, although you should take the usual safety precautions you would in any urban or tourist area during a visit to Greece. Crimes against tourists (such as pick-pocketing and purse-snatching) occur at popular tourist sites, on public transportation (metro!) and in some shopping areas in and around Thessaloniki. If you travel by public transport, keep track of your purse/suitcase/wallet at all times. If you are staying in a hotel room, and the windows and door do not lock securely, ask for your valuables to be locked in the hotel safe. Recent strikes have inconvenienced travellers without turning violent, however tourists are advised to stay away from political gatherings.
112 - General emergency number in Europe
166 - Ambulance service
105/107 - Emergency doctor
106 - Hospitals
107 - 24hr Pharmacies
100 - Police immediate response
199 - Fire department
- Bring an adapter for the 220Volts/AC system to charge your phone, computer, etc. (European - two round pins, 220Volts/50 Hz.).
- Greece is in the Eastern European Time zone (Greenwich +2h; or +3h from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
- The international access code for Greece is +30. The international code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). All numbers must be preceded by 0, whether originating in Greece or out, unless calling a mobile phone.
- National holidays in Greece: 1 January (New Year’s Day), 6 January (Epiphany), Clean Monday (moveable, 40 days before Easter), 25 March (Independence Day), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Monday, 1 May (Labour Day), 15 August (Dormition of Mary), 28 October (Greek National Day), 25 December (Christmas) and 26 December (Boxing Day).
- Pythagoras (570 BC-495 BC)
- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Plato's teacher
- Plato (424 BC-347 BC), student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle
- Diogenes (412/404 BC-323 BC)
- Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), Plato's student
- Stylianos Kazantzidis (1931-2001)
- Nana Mouskouri (1934)
- Giannis Poulopoulos (1944)
- Vicky Leandros (1949)
- George Michael (England, 1963)
- Tzatziki (appetizer; yoghurt with cucumber and garlic puree)
- Gyros (‘fastfood’: meat roasted, served on pita bread)
- Moussaká (an oven-baked layer dish, sort of lasagna)
- Souvlaki (small pieces of grilled pork)
- Baklava (dessert: pastry layers filled with nuts and drenched in honey)
- Aristotelis “Telly” Savalas, alias Kojak (1922-1994), actor and singer
- Maria Callas (1923-1977), soprano
- Olympia Dukakis (1931), actress
- Jennifer Aniston (1969), actress, film director and producer
- Pete Sampras (1971), former tennis player
- Cleopatra (69 BC-30 BC), last pharaoh of ancient Egypt
- Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975), married to Maria Callas and Jackie Kennedy
- Queen Sofía of Spain (1938), married to King Carlos of Spain
- Vangelis (1943), composer
- Marcos Baghdatis (1985), tennis player