It’s one of Europe‘s – if not the world’s – most popular holiday destinations. Pre-COVID the country attracted an average of 31.3 million visitors every year, contributing approximately 25% to the nation’s GDP. Rich in ancient ruins, sprawling golden beaches, bustling cities, hundreds of idyllic islands and some of the world’s most famous foods, it’s little wonder why. If you’re planning on making all of your Mama Mia! fantasies come true soon, take a look at some of our top tips on how to travel in Greece first.
How to travel in Greece
1. Take to the water
Nothing says Greek holiday like a wind-kissed Insta snap on the deck of an inter-island ferry. Ferries are the most famous way to travel across Greece’s 227 islands for good reason, the Greek ferry network is comprehensive and there are hundreds of connections linking the islands to the mainland.
There’s a staggering variety of boats to choose from too, ranging from catamarans and hydrofoils to fast car ferries and overnight services. If you’re hoping to top up your tan while travelling to your next holiday stop, avoid the high-speed car ferries as these often have limited outside deck space. Opt for a slower boat instead.
2. Avoid travelling in peak season
Greece is beautiful all year round, but if you want to avoid the crowds then try not to book a trip in high summer. Between the end of July and early September, you’ll need to compete with hordes of greek families, as well as international travellers, for a spot on the beach. Prices pick up considerably too.
For a winter sun escape from frostier climes, Greece is an excellent option. Even in the depths of winter, Athens gets several hours of sunshine each day accompanied by mild temperatures. For a colourful carnival atmosphere, Apokriátika boasts around three weeks of celebrations and culminates during the seventh weekend before easter. Or, for one of Europe’s most flamboyant festivals, take a trip to Patras in January for the Patras Carnival.
3. Make the most of the busses
Greece’s bus network is extensive, cheap and convenient. Even if you’re not travelling on a budget, don’t sniff at it before you try it. Most of the buses on the islands and mainland operate regionally under the umbrella of KTEL. For local bus information, you’ll need to investigate the relevant KTEL collective. Most major towns operate daily services to nearby cities and if you’re on the mainland you’ll always be able to find at least one daily service to Athens. If you’re staying in major cities such as Athens, Patra or Thessaloniki, make sure you pay attention to the bus stops. Most cities have more than one station serving different regions.
However, if you’re staying in more remote villages or towns, you might want to consider hiring a car since smaller locations only operate busses once or twice a week.
4. Eat like a local
In Greece, it’s less common to eat three square meals a day and eat little and more often instead. Greeks love their food and they love to feed others too – good news for the greediest travellers. Keep an eye out for restaurants that are popular with locals and avoid those with too many tourists to preserve your pockets too. Some of the most famous dishes in Greece include moussaka, faslolatha (white bean soup) and loukoumades (small deep-fried doughnuts loaded with syrup).
Ask for local barrelled wine, which is much cheaper than bottled wine. There’s no need to opt for bottled water either – tap water is safe to drink in Greece.
5. Spend some time on the mainland
Beyond Athens, most people who holiday in Greece hotfoot to the islands. While we’re all for island-hopping, it’s worth spending some time on the mainland too. The country packs incredible diversity, from soaring mountain ranges in the north to deserted sandy stretches on the western Peloponnese. There’s also plenty of archaeological treasures to discover too, not least the ancient site of Olympia.
There’s more to Greece than bumming around on a beach too. The Pindus Mountains, squeezed between northern Greece and southern Albania, have recently gained a lofty reputation amongst hikers.
6. Cash is no longer king
For years, most people’s top tip for travelling Greece was ‘bring lots of notes and coins!’ Even as the rest of Europe grappled with the switchover to cards, it was near-impossible to find ATMs even in the major Greek cities. Lots of lesser-known islands didn’t accept credit cards either. That’s all changed now, even more so after COVID-19. While we still always recommend bringing a small amount of cash, most establishments now accept major credit and debit cards. Most international banks now charge a fee for using ATM machines, so it’s worth bringing a travel prepaid card with you to save on transfer fees.
7. Hire a car – but take care
Hiring a car or a motorcycle will undoubtedly give you the most flexibility to get off the beaten track. Roads are generally good but there’s only a handful of motorways on the mainland so expect journeys to take longer than you anticipate. There are regular car-ferry services to most of the main islands too, so you won’t need to leave it behind when you’re island hopping though it may mean operating for the less glamourous ferry services. If you’re sticking to the cities – both on the mainland and on the islands – avoid hiring a car. Parking can be tricky and traffic is always a nightmare.
If you do choose to hire a car, most cities offer multinational agencies but local companies might be cheaper. Be extra vigilant when travelling to more rural sights as you’ll often need to drive along rough dirt tracks that might not be included in damage cover in a standard car-hire policy.