Greece is a beautiful country filled with friendly people, captivating history, beautiful beaches, and spectacular islands. With all of these amazing features, it’s no surprise that Greece welcomes over 30 million visitors every year and that it’s on so many travel bucket lists! There are a few important things to know before traveling to Greece, including its cultural customs or societal tendencies.
After all, you’re probably wondering how much to tip, whether or not you should drive, and what time of year to visit. This guide answers all of those questions as more.
So if you’re looking for a list of things to know before traveling to Greece, I’ve got you covered!
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15 Important Things to Know Before Traveling to Greece
Greece is one of my most favorite countries in Europe and it’s one of the most magical places I’ve traveled to. But, there are a few things that I wish I would have known before I went.
Before you indulge in feta cheese, wine, olives, and more, it’s important that you have a general idea of what to expect when you’re there. Traveling to a new country can be stressful if you haven’t done your research. Just a few minutes of reading up on a destination can really make your experience seamless.
Here are 15 of the most important things to know before traveling to Greece!
1. The Greeks Are on Island Time
Whether you’re on one of the Greek islands or on the mainland, you should expect that everyone is on relaxed, island time.
In other words, don’t expect everything to happen when it should. The restaurant might open a little later than the sign indicates, your taxi driver might show up a few minutes late, and even the ferry might show up a full day after it was expected to arrive (especially if the workers are on strike, which is relatively common).
The best way to deal with this mentality is to simply go with the flow. Stressing about when your transportation is going to arrive isn’t going to make it show up any faster. Who knows? Maybe you’ll have an unexpected adventure thanks to your unforeseen delays.
2. Shops Close on Sundays
Along the same lines as island time, be sure to check the opening hours of the places you hope to visit in advance! There’s a good chance that they won’t always be open when you think they will.
First and foremost, almost everything closes on Sundays in Greece. Everything closes in the early afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays as well. Be sure to take these hours into consideration when planning your trip itinerary!
3. Haggling Is Expected
In many countries around the world, including the U.S., the price of an item is set. You can’t go to the farmer’s market and bargain for a bag of oranges.
But in Greece, haggling (or bargaining) is expected, and it is one of the most important things to know before traveling to Greece.
It’s important to know when to haggle and when not to haggle. How do you tell, you ask? It’s easy. When you go into a store, someone will inevitably come up to you to convince you to purchase something. Then, you can ask how much something is. If they respond by saying something like, “It’s 10 Euros, but I’ll give it to you for 8,” prepare to haggle. If they flat out say a price, that price is likely the price that you’re paying.
As for the actual haggling process, don’t be afraid to offer a low price. You’ll probably end up meeting in the middle, so if your first offer is 50% of the original price, you’ll end up paying 75%.
And, finally, if you don’t like the price, feel free to walk away! As a matter of fact, if you do, there’s a good chance that the person you were bargaining with will start the negotiations up again — and in your favor.
4. Always Have Cash on You
While most European countries have shifted to using credit cards and debit cards, Greece still revolves around cash.
Considering our last point – that haggling is expected — it’d be difficult to plug different prices into the cash register depending on the customer’s bargaining abilities, so the preference for cash makes sense.
If you don’t have cash at any point in time, there’s a good chance that there’s an ATM nearby, especially in the big cities.
5. Greece Isn’t the Most Disability-Friendly
Just about any movie set in Greece can give you a decent picture of how disability-friendly the country is. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
On the small islands, you have to climb hundreds of steps to get from one destination to another, but even the city isn’t very accommodating to those with disabilities.
If you or someone you’re traveling with does have a disability, it’s a good idea to check in ahead of time with your accommodations and transportation to make sure that they have options that work well for you.
If possible, try to book everything early, because the few places with disability accommodations are often booked far in advance.
6. Greeks Practice Hospitality at Its Finest
Despite the fact that Greece isn’t super disability-friendly, Greek people still exude hospitality. You’ll always feel like you’re taken care of.
As a matter of fact, if you happen to befriend a local, they’ll probably end up feeding you loads of delicious food and serving you quite a few shots of Ouzo, a popular local alcohol.
I’ve traveled to 87 countries and I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that Greeks are some of the kindest people in the world. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome.
7. Drink, But Don’t Get Drunk
In Greece, drinking is popular. Ouzo and Tsikoudia top the list of the most common types of alcohol in the country. But it’s important to note that while Greek people drink, they don’t usually get drunk.
Considering the high alcohol content in both Ouzo (between 37.5% and 50%) and Tsikoudia (between 40% and 65%), it’s actually quite a feat to balance the line between tipsy and drunk.
However, the secret is rather simple: don’t drink on an empty stomach. Make sure you have some food in you before you start drinking. And even after that, take a few breaks between your shots to sample some food and drink some water.
8. Driving Can Be Difficult
You almost need to be a professional racecar driver to drive in Greece. With aggressive drivers going 60 kilometers per hour over the speed limit and tiny winding streets that can be difficult to navigate, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times!
When I went to Greece, I didn’t drive and I’m so glad I didn’t attempt it. I vividly remember gasping to myself a few times when the tour guide was driving me around.
9. High Season is BUSY
Greece is an extremely popular tourist destination. After all, with an interesting history, golden beaches, and romantic Greek islands for couples, what’s not to like?
But this means that the high season in Greece, which is typically July and August, is extremely busy. Hotels, ferries, and even restaurants are often booked far in advance during the high season.
If you have some flexibility with your schedule, consider visiting Greece when it’s less busy. May to June and September to October are the optimal times, as these months are less crowded (and less hot) than high season.
I went to Greece in May and it was so peaceful and quiet. I felt like I had the islands to myself and I was able to take beautiful photos without anyone in the background. Plus, I got to enjoy the low season pricing.
A few of my friends have traveled to Greece during high season and they didn’t have as good of a time as I did. They were elbow to elbow with people and they said the weather was hot. After hearing their experience, I’m so thankful I went during the low season.
Pro tip — be sure to book your accommodation well in advance so you can get the hotel or Airbnb that you want rather than choosing from the leftovers. Plus, you might snag the place for a cheaper price compared to the last minute.
10. If You’re Staying on an Island, Stock Up on Bottled Water
When you’re in mainland Greece, you can drink tap water. But when you’re on an island, bottled water is your best bet.
On some islands, the water isn’t safe for drinking. On others, tap water is scarce and preserved for things like doing laundry and showering. And on a few, it just doesn’t taste pleasant.
I accidentally brushed my teeth with tap water in Santorini and it was very yucky. It tasted like seawater so you definitely don’t want to drink it.
11. And Don’t Flush the Toilet Paper Either!
Like the bottled water, this one only applies to the islands, but it’s important to know.
The pipes are simply too small to handle the toilet paper, so you’ll just put it in the trash can instead of flushing it down the toilet.
12. Beaches Are Sometimes Clothing Optional
It’s pretty common for people to be topless on Mediterranean beaches, and Greece is no exception. However, Greece is a little different because there are quite a few clothing-optional beaches – and they’re not tucked away or hidden as you might expect. You can easily stumble upon them.
If you want to embrace this way of life, you certainly can. But if you’d prefer to stay away, your best bet is to stick to the more crowded beaches filled with umbrellas and beach towels.
13. Speaking Any Amount of Greek Will Be Greatly Appreciated
One of the most important things to know before traveling to Greece is a little bit of the local language. Like anywhere in the world, the locals in Greece love it when you speak any amount of Greek. It shows that you put in the effort to learn about them and their culture.
Now, no one is expecting you to speak Greek fluently, but a few phrases won’t hurt. Here are a few to get you started:
Hello: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
Thank you: Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STO)
Please: Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LO)
14. You Can Tip A Little
Every country has its own tipping practices, and it can be difficult to keep track at times.
In Greece, tipping is not mandatory. But, my personal philosophy is that if I have the privilege of traveling somewhere, I can surely afford to leave a tip. Plus, I’m American and I’m used to tipping.
Tipping about 5-10% at a restaurant is a good rule of thumb. But, be sure to check the receipt to make sure the tip hasn’t already been added to the bill through a service charge. If that’s the case, you don’t need to leave a tip.
Lastly, please tip your tour guide! Tour guides in Greece are extremely knowledgeable and know everything there is to know about Greece and its history.
15. Be Sure to Dress Respectfully When Visiting Churches
Greece is filled with beautiful churches. The blue-domed churches of Santorini and the monasteries of Meteora are some of the most popular.
It’s important to know that, even if you’re a visitor to these churches, you’re expected to dress respectfully. That means no bare legs or shoulders. If you happen to visit some of the more popular churches, they’ll usually have cover-ups that you can use.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of things to know before traveling to Greece? Let me know in the comments below!
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Disha Smith is the founder of Disha Discovers. She quit her job in 2017 to travel the world to explore new cultures and experience new adventures. She has since been to 95+ countries and counting and has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Croatia, and Australia. She has done all kinds of travel ranging from luxury to budget backpacking, and her mission is to inspire others to discover their own sense of adventure and to help them plan a life full of meaningful experiences through travel.