Weathered ruins, incredible history, turquoise waters and endless postcard-worthy vistas, Greece is unquestionably a must-visit destination. Whether your idea of a perfect vacation involves sitting on a beach, island hopping or exploring the Acropolis, Greece has something to offer even the most discerning traveler. From the blue-topped roofs of Santorini to the grand columns of the Parthenon, this insider guide to Greece will have you navigating the cradle of Western civilization like a seasoned professional.
Located at the southern end of the Balkan peninsula and at the intersection of Europe, Africa and Asia, Greece is a true melting pot of cultures. It shares land borders with Albania, Macedonia, Turkey and Bulgaria. Boasting the longest coastline in the Mediterranean Basin and the 11th-longest in the world, Greece is bordered by the Aegean Sea to the east, the Ionian Sea to the west and the Mediterranean and Cretan seas to the south. Approximately 80 percent of the country is mountainous, with Mount Olympus soaring the highest at 9,573 feet. In total, 227 Greek islands are inhabited.
Greece enjoys primarily a Mediterranean climate. It is characterized by mild winters and hot summers. The winter months tend to be wet, while the summer months are dry. The Pindus mountain range does affect the country’s climate, as areas to the west experience more rainfall than regions to the east. The mountainous areas in the northwest and sections of the Peloponnese receive quite a bit of snowfall. Because the climate varies, packing for a trip to Greece is largely dependent on your exact itinerary. It’s always wise to bring layers.
Greek is the official language in Greece. While there are a few dialects, the language is largely homogenous and is based on the Greek alphabet. However, English is taught in most schools starting in the third grade, so much of the population aged 40 and younger will understand basic English. Locals living in popular tourist locations will undoubtedly understand more English than those living in remote areas in the countryside. Still, it’s always polite to learn simple Greek phrases or to download one of the many translation applications available for smartphones.
The official currency in Greece is the Euro, represented by the € symbol. The U.S. dollar is not widely accepted, but it is easy to use a debit card at one of the many coordinating ATMs to withdrawal money. If possible, avoid using currency exchange kiosks, especially in popular tourist locations and in the airport. They often charge exorbitant fees. Most places in larger cities and on popular islands will accept major credit cards.
While tipping in Greece isn’t as common as tipping in the United States, the gesture is still widely appreciated. A 16% service fee is often added to restaurant bills, but it is still common to round up the total amount. The same is done in taxis. In hotels, tip the bellman, concierge and maids a Euro or two. As always, if service was exceptional, tip more.
As stated before, Greece is a true melting pot of cultures, and the modern Greek culture has continuously evolved over thousands of years. Considered the birthplace of Western civilization, Greece has pioneered the disciplines of biology, philosophy, history and math, just to name a few. The Olympic games originated in Greece, as did the notion of modern democracy.
Etiquette in Greece is largely the same as in the United States. Greek people are famously friendly and attentive to guests. To some, the hospitality can come off as intrusive. However, that is not the intent. Personal space is a foreign notion and it is not uncommon to be invited into someone’s home. Punctuality is also of less importance. Arriving 30 minutes late is not considered rude.
The cuisine in Greece is Mediterranean and has been characterized by the use of olive oil throughout history. Other notable elements include vegetables, seafood, meat, cheese, bread and lemon juice. Herbs are heavily used and wine and ouzo are widely consumed with meals. Eating out is common, especially at the moderately priced taverna- and estiatorio-style restaurants.
The Greek meal structure is similar to the meal structure in America. Breakfast is largely westernized and may include coffee, a bagel, yogurt and honey. Savory pies are popular for lunch, and dinner consists of a salad, meat or seafood, and wine.
The occurrence of violent crimes against tourists in Greece is relatively low, but unfortunately, the threat of terrorist attacks does exist throughout Europe, including Greece. Avoid known areas of demonstrations and strikes, especially around public transportation.
Non-violent crimes against tourists are the most prevalent threat. As with most countries throughout the world, simple pick-pocketing and theft do occur. Be aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Never leave your drinks unattended, and only use official ATMs.
Located on the eastern edge of the Greek mainland, Thrace is largely agricultural. However, tourism in the region is slowly increasing in popularity due to the beautiful beaches and scenery. The Rhodopi mountains also attract adventure tourists over the winter months.
Not to be confused with the Republic of Macedonia, the region of Macedonia occupies a large portion of northern Greece. It is the largest and second-most populous region in the country. It is home to the important port cities of Kavala and Thessaloniki. The interior central mountains host the ski resorts of Vasilitsa and religious tourism is significant at Mount Athos, which is home to over 20 monasteries.
Also located on the mainland, Thessaly is home to Mount Olympus. It is the highest mountain in the extremely mountainous country and is famous in Greek mythology as the home of important Greek gods. It also hosts the first national park in Greece, as well as a vast and fascinating variety of flora and fauna.
Located in western Greece, Epirus is remote, rugged and mountainous. The region hosts both Pindus National Park and Vikos-Aoos National Park. These parks attract all styles of travelers including the adventurous peak climbers!
Central Greece is the most populated region in the country. It is comprised of rugged mountains, pristine lakes and beautiful coastline. It is also home to the capital city of Athens. Athens has been attracting a large number of tourists since antiquity. It hosts more theaters than any other city on the planet and is an archaeological hot spot. Of course, a trip to Greece wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Acropolis.
A peninsula just barely cut off from the mainland, the Peloponnese is an area of incredible historical sites and unparalleled culture. Olympia hosted the Olympics for a millenium, while Argolid is home to a mind-blowing assortment of important historical sites. For those seeking relaxation, the Peloponnese also holds some of the most beautiful and untouched beaches in all of Greece.
Like the name implies, the Aegean Islands region is comprised of islands to the east of the mainland. While there are many islands worth visiting, two of the most famous are Mykonos and Santorini. Mykonos enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, while Santorini is often voted the world’s top island destination. This volcanic destination is home to imposing cliffs, a caldera and scenic villages.
Also known as the Seven Islands, this region is located on the western edge of Greece. An immensely popular tourist spot, the island and city of Corfu is located in this region. Visit the breathtaking beach of Canal D’Amour and wander through the winding streets of the renowned old town.
Crete is the largest island in Greece and one of the most popular vacation getaway spots. This picturesque island hosts sprawling luxury resorts and quaint bed and breakfasts. Minoan archaeological sights dot the region and the Palm Beach of Vai is the biggest palm forest on the entire continent of Europe.
Ancient sites and modern luxuries, Greece is a once-in-a-lifetime destination full of natural wonders and feats of human ingenuity. With so many sights to see and islands to explore, it’s often difficult to plan the perfect itinerary. This insider’s guide to Greece will save you time on the basics, leaving you valuable time to schedule your ideal Greek vacation.
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