With an average of 31.3 million visitors every year, Greece is one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations. Millions flock to its sunny shores for ancient ruins, Mama Mia! islands and endless sandy stretches. It’s not only the islands that get all the attention either – Greece’s hinterland has become a hiking hotspot in the past few years too. It might not be off-the-beaten-track, but you might want to take a look at our top tips on what not to do in Greece before take-off to save you any unnecessary embarrassment, awkward moments or wasted time.
Top tips on what not to do in Greece
1. Photograph anything to do with the military
It sounds obvious, and we’re not suggesting you would have tried to Instagram an officer if we hadn’t warned you, but in Greece, authorities are exceptionally strict about taking photographs of or near military installations, including airports and camps. You’ll usually see a sign next to the said building but if not, it’s worth checking first.
This no-photo policy extends to museums and ancient sights, like the Acropolis museum. It’s also illegal to take pictures of monks.
2. Point your palms the wrong way
The moutza is a complex insult used in Greece, Africa and Pakistan. It’s complex, and possibly the oldest insulting hand gesture still in use, thought to have been introduced in Byzantium. According to local lore, criminals would be chained to donkeys or displayed on the street, and for added disrespect, local townspeople would squish a lot of mud – or worse, manure– in their faces. It’s been simplified since (and now omits the manure). The gesture involves extending every finger while thrusting your palm forward to someone’s face. It might be accompanied by a ‘par’ta’ or ‘orse’ too.
3. Ask for butter
It’s not a thing.
While we’re at it, don’t ask for a separate bread plate either. In Grece, it’s customary to tear off chunks of communal bread to avoid double-dipping.
4. Eat or drink on the metro
This is frowned upon in most countries but you can usually get away with it. The Athenians are proud of their sleek, clean and punctual network since it underwent extensive renovations. Sipping water is just about tolerated but don’t try to eat anything – crumbs aren’t welcomed kindly.
5. Spend your whole trip bumming around on the beach
Most people head to Greece and hotfoot to the islands. While we’re all for making the most of the Cyclades, Sporades and Dodecanes, it’s worth spending some time on the mainland too. Obviously, there’s Athens, home to the mighty Acropolis, but beyond the capital, there’s more to see too. The country packs incredible diversity, from soaring mountain ranges in the north to deserted sandy stretches on the western Peloponnese. There are also plenty of archaeological treasures to discover too, not least the ancient site of Olympia.
6. Throw toilet paper in the toilet
As a rule of thumb, if you see a small bin next to the toilet, it’s best to throw your used tissues in there. More often than not toilets will have a sign above the flush to remind you. Sewage systems in Greece, particularly Athens, are worn and won’t hold up to clogging. No one wants a sewage leak.
7. Travel in peak time if you can help it
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. Not many people know it, but Greece is beautiful in winter too. The capital still averages a few hours of sunshine each day and the temperatures are milder too. Or, plan your trip around one of the country’s many carnivals and festivals. 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.