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driving in Greece

Is it recommended to rent a car and drive around Greece or what are recommendations for getting around?

Posted by
2951 posts

Self-driving yourself around Greece is the best way to see the country at your own pace and is a lot cheaper than you might think. If you live outside the EU be sure to bring an International Driving Permit with you.

Posted by
159 posts

Driving in Greece is not for cautious people. Roads are often narrow, there is no parking so everyone parks half way on the sidewalk, and Greeks like to drive fast. Do not drive in Athens at all. Use taxis and buses and rent a car when you’re ready to leave the city.
If you are Island hopping you don’t need a car in most Islands except Crete since it’s so large. We like to go by walk on ferry from island to island, staying in the main harbor towns. Most islands have frequent inexpensive buses that go to the smaller villages and popular beaches from the main town. The bus drivers all speak English.

Posted by
1856 posts

We rented a car at the Athens airport after touring Santorini and went to Meteora, Delphi and the Peleponnese. It was very easy. Just take your time on some of the roads.

Posted by
1023 posts

All good advice so far. Perhaps you can tell us what you are planning to do and we can give advice about car rentals or other options which can be different depending on where you are planning to go.

Posted by
8872 posts

Be sure to have a GPS with you, especially for the more remote areas. My observation was that the more remote the area, the less likely would there be signs in the Roman alphabet. If you are well versed with the Greek alphabet, then less of an issue.

Posted by
1023 posts

While we have been quite successful using GPS in Greece it is also a good idea to have a map so you can check where you are. Who would have guessed there are 7 places called meteora in Greece. Our GPS urged us on, however when we saw signs for Albania we realized we had gone off course. A simple map would have told us the GPS was fibbing.

Are you checking your thread? You still have not told us where you want to visit.

Posted by
976 posts

I have driven on several islands and for the most part was easy and never had any issues. It may matter when and where you are going however. I would never drive in Athens or other large cites on the mainland.

Maps are readily available from rental companies. Most will be in English and Greek so if you see a road sign in Greek you can usually find it on the map next to the English spelling (usually!)

Be prepared to make wrong turns . . . not matter how careful you are following a map. It can either be frustrating or just go with the flow and you'll end up someplace that may be even better!

Usually there'll be lots of mountains on most islands with switchback and hair pin turns along with goats either on the side of the road or walking in the road. Just take your time and you'll be fine.

Most Greek drivers are fine but like anywhere you'll find nuisance drivers, speeders and tail gaters and that includes tourists driving.

I travel off season and there is a lot less traffic, more relaxing and you can take your time and not worry about other motorists. In fact there were stretches where I didn't see another motorist!

Like anything you do common sense is your best "weapon".

Posted by
16883 posts

The main highways, however are easy. You're unlikely to do all your longer-distance driving on narrow, local roads.

Posted by
255 posts

Driving in Greece is easier than you think. You do need an International Drivers License which is available at AAA. I think it's a scam but it's the law in Greece.
I always rent a car at the airport and drive from there. I usually drive to Delfi, Olympia, Napflio, and Athens. Sometimes going to Cape Suonio. I've driven in Athens several times (not for the faint of heart but it's doable if you ignore the car horns directed at you) and thru the mountains (a beautiful drive but very winding roads).
You just have to be a defensive driver. If you are going slow, get over to the side of the road so others can pass.
My next trip I am taking a group of teachers from the high school where I teach and we are renting a 9 passenger van.
And by driving you make your own trip, your own adventures. If you see a sign that looks interesting, take that side road and see the real Greece.

Posted by
976 posts

Renting a car is probably the best way to see Greece. While buses are good they don't go everywhere nor do offer a schedule that may meet your needs.

You don't need to rent a car for your entire stay but even a few days of renting a car will take you to out-of-the-way and non-touristy Greece . . . which in the end is what travel to other countries is all about if you want as much of the real and authentic country you are visiting.

Take your time, pull over if someone is tail-gating, don't stop in the middle of the road to take photos . . . pull over. One maddening thing about taking photos on a Greek Island is finding a place to pull over safely. Just as you see a vista or view that is worthy of a photo you can't find a place to pull over or park. Go as far as you can to find a spot then walk back to take your photos.

I've driven on a number of Greek Islands (off-season) and for the most part it was easy, a lot less traffic once you leave a built up area and you can go as fast or as slow as you want.

The first couple of years going to Greece I took public transportation and it was generally OK but I soon realized how much I was missing by not renting a car and going to the more non-touristy, out-of-the-way areas where you'll find real Greeks, not touristy-oriented Greeks, more traditional villages/areas and a more tranquil, relaxing experience.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you for some great advice. I'm looking for ideas because my initial thought was to fly into Venice, visit Florence, catch a cruise and go along the coast of Albania, Croatia and Greece and disembark in Athens. Then rent a car to drive around to some of the smaller villages. We do not plan to drive in Athens, we are not big city people.
Now it is appearing cruises can be very expensive, so I'm re-thinking my plan.....would you recommend taking a ferry or perhaps flying from Italy to Greece and renting a car? Also would you rent the car in Greece or make arrangements while still in the States?

Posted by
2905 posts

Sammy, the best help comes when you give sufficient information. Advice can differ markedly depending on:
• do you plan to come in July-August, or in May or Mid-September? • how many are you? a couple or more than 4? • How many days do you plan to spend in Greece? Are you thinking about the mainland only, or are you interested in seeing some islands? (NOTE: almost no rental agencies will allow you to take your car on a ferry) • Do you drive a stick-shift or do you require automatic shift? (if the latter, you'd best reserve ahead) • Do you already have your IDP? (Internatl driving Permit = $25 & 20 minutes at your local AAA).

ARRIVAL in GREECE - If u are coming May - September, the upside is, you often can get a flight from Italy direct to a major Island and save time -- i.e., Rome to Santorini. The downside is, such destinations will be jampacked in July-August. However, you could just stay 24-36 hours to glimpse the Famous View, then ferry to another island for a few days, only rent a car if you wanted to explore the entire island (such as Paros or Naxos), then fly to ATH airport & rent a car from there to see choice Mainland sites, such as Delphi, or the Pelopponesian area around Nafplio -- both ancient sites & fine beaches.

Everything depends on your timing, length of stay, and interests, all of which you've yet to share. Tell us more!

Posted by
43 posts

After driving in England and Wales in 2016, the roads in Greece were superhighways. We headed out to the Peloponnese and up to Meteora, getting to some relatively remote places, and never had a problem with the roads or other drivers. Going in and out of Athens was the only nerve-racking part of the trip because some of the roads have so many lanes of traffic, but the other towns were small and easy to navigate; we did encounter herds of goats and sheep on the back-country roads, watched tortoises crossing in front of us a few times, and tragically, saw a few badger corpses along the way, but generally the roads were safe and clean. Wish the roads in California were as well maintained as the roads in Greece.

Posted by
22 posts

Janet and Lindann - we are a older couple planning on April visit to avoid crowds. If we go in April, that should alleviate some of the packed flights, etc. right? We've driven all over Europe, so don't think it would be problem in Greece, but Athens does sound kind of hair raising. We are interested in the islands and coastline of Greece, so when you say car rentals don't let you take them on the ferry, is it easy to drive from island to island, is there bridges, etc.

Posted by
2905 posts

Sammy, time for you to take a look at a MAP. - http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/greece.gif (click to enlarge). Tho you may have traveled much in the rest of Europe, Greece is a whole new experience, geographically. People who try to extrapolate from the rest of Europe try to apply their template of trains and bridges to the Greek Isles. No can do ... this is not the Florida Keys.

Since you are not planning to come until April, you have plenty of time to get yourself to a library and take out some Greece guidebooks. The Rick Steves book is great on Athens and the Pelopponnese (that part of the mainland sticking out to the left, looks like a hand), but almost totally omits the islands. I'd suggest looking at EYEWITNESS: the GREEK ISLANDS (good pictorial overview). Lonely Planet Greece is good on logistics, and IMO, The ROUGH GUIDE to GREECE gives most comprehensive info and -- very importantly -- is candid about plusses AND minusses of each destination.

Once you've done some homework, you'll see that driving works well for some parts of a visit ... for instance, by renting a car at the airport, you can drive straight to the highly historic AND beautiful section of the Peloponnese (The Argolid and Nafplio) without a single stoplight or tap of the brake -- modern divided highway outside Athens, and over the Corinth Canal). In Greece's largest island, Crete (bigger than some European countries), a car is very useful but you rent it THERE, not take it on a ferry; in fact almost no rental agencies allow you to take a rental on a ferry. On other islands, you can enjoy sights within a port town and/or using local busses, and just rent a car for a 1-day zoom around the island.

For each sightseeing destination, there are various strategies that have proved most useful for particular aims -- how can y ou see the most in least amount of time, how can you see out-of-the-way places, how can you sightsee most economically, etc. Some scenarios involve cars, some don't. The point is, you don't yet know enough to ask the key questions. First, you'll need to figure out what places interest you most, and whether April is the best time to go there. After that, the logistics... and you can't learn enough just from online forums (even tho we try to share our experiences and what we ourselves have learned from researching). Homework pays off ... and luckily, you have time for it. It can truly make Greece a Great Adventure....

Posted by
43 posts

We are an older couple too. Driving the Peloponnese Peninsula was pretty easy and no need to take a ferry. A small bridge crosses the Corinth Canal as you head to the eastern side of the peninsula. A stunning bridge crosses the Gulf of Corinth to the west. The parts of the mainland coastline we saw were spectacular, as were the coastal parts of the peninsula. I was surprised by how vertical the country was and quickly understood why there weren't a lot of golf resorts in the country. When I was researching, I was hoping that we could drop our rental car off in Meteora and take a train back to Athens where we started our driving tour. That wasn't really possible and nor was it possible to find a rental agency just outside Athens so we could take a train to avoid the traffic of the city. I sense that is also an issue when you go island hopping--that there are only a few cities outside Athens where you can drop off vehicles (if you are doing your booking online). Janet is right about distances to islands. We only went to Hydra, one of the island close to the Peloponnese and Athens. We had been invited to a friend's son's wedding on an island a bit east of Athens....making the trek would have eaten up most of a day, and another day for the return. If we had known earlier, we could have made it happen but the invite didn't come in until after we had purchased our airplane tickets. All that said, we thought the food in Greece was exceptional and so much more than the type of Greek foods served in the US. I know as I plan trips, there is a fear of the unknown mixed with excited anticipation; I worry about what might go wrong, and then, once I've hit the ground at my destination, there are so many delightful, spontaneous moments that I am reminded why travel is so much fun

Posted by
8872 posts

...would you recommend taking a ferry or perhaps flying from Italy to Greece and renting a car? Also would you rent the car in Greece or make arrangements while still in the States?

Flying from Italy to Greece is how I would do it

I would make the car reservation before I started the trip

Posted by
396 posts

Just got back from a trip to Athens, Pelopponese and Crete. Driving in Athens, even in the suburbs, was really challenging; we encountered a lot of traffic at 8:00 PM on a Friday night - not sure when their 'rush hour' ends. We picked up and returned a car to Hertz in a suburb of Athens, Kissamos; apparently the street address for that office is used twice in the north Athens area (yikes). It wasn't until we got off the highway that it got confusing. Doing it over again I would just drive out to the airport to pickup/dropoff to avoid the central Athens traffic and have a easy-to-navigate-to location.

Driving in the Pelopponese was easy. The roads are good and generally well-marked and very few hairpin turns while traveling to the major sites.

The highways and major secondary roads in Crete are fine. Once off the main roads, driving can be challenging. There are lots of blind corners on narrow roads, in small towns roads narrow to one lane to thread past houses, in the mountains roads may be littered with rocks that have fallen from the cliffs, no guard rails even at heights with sheer drops on narrow roads, more live animals in the road than we've encountered in any other trip to Europe. My husband enjoyed seeing the rural parts of Crete and was successful in seeing the charm in the routes we were driving, and it was really cool to see the rural side of the country, but I'm a bit more nervous about roads of this sort. I read something before the trip about avoiding 'short-cuts' while driving in Crete; I think that's good advice.

Having a car allowed us to be a lot more efficient with our time, and provided a broader reach to sights and experiences. We would do the same thing again, except maybe just stick to the red and yellow roads on the map : )

Posted by
1801 posts

You don't have to drive in Athens. We rented and returned cars to the airport. Driving from the airport is not that challenging.

We rented from Athens Car Rental. A representative met us at the airport, filled out the paper work and walked us to our cars. He did not have maps but told us the roads were well marked. They were to Corinth but it was more difficult to get to Nafplio as you had to know the towns in the direction you were going and we did not. So make sure you have a map before you leave the airport.

I didn't find driving the back roads on the Peloponnese around Nafplio that difficult as long as you have a map (we bought one for the Peloponnese in Corinth). We drove on two islands and I would say Santorini was much more difficult than Naxos because it was more congested (we had to drive through the main town to get anywhere) and I think the drivers were more impatient. My older son drove to Meterea and he thought the drivers were even worse than on Santorini and that they drove faster on the toll road north than to the Peloponnese.

I would rent a car again but do think you need strong nerves. I was white knuckled at times on Santorini, which is partly because it was the first place I drove but partly because it was more difficult driving.

Beth