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Driving in Greece

My wife and I will travel to Greece first time next May. We’d like to go to Delphi and Nafplio from Athens. We will stay in both places for two nights. Probably we will take a bus to Nafplio. But we are most likely to rent a car in Athens when we go to Nafplio because we’d like to visit Mycenae and Epidavoros also.
Do they drive in the right lane like we do in the U.S? Do you recommend not to drive in Greece because it is very dangerous in Greece? If we decide to go to Delphi by car also, is there any advantage as opposed to taking a bus?

Any advice on driving in Greece and renting a car is appreciated.

BTW, I can drive a car with a manual transmission. Do you recommend booking a car well in advance from the U.S?

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
1005 posts

I've driven over large parts of Greece. It can be very intimidating, but also gives you the freedom to really explore this magnificent country. The first thing I'd do is read some websites for foreigners who are considering driving in Greece. Matt Barrett's guide is a good start. Also check out the About.com pages. After reading them, if you still want to drive there, I'd emphasize a few things.

  1. Don't drive in Athens if you can avoid it. Rent your car at the airport or use an agency that will drive you to the outskirts (Rick recommends one in his book).
  2. Use GPS or Google Maps for navigation and also buy a good road map.
  3. Drive defensively and give way to the crazy Greek drivers. This means many times driving on the shoulder of the road so that they can pass you in the car lane.
  4. Most Greeks ignore the speed limits and treat stop signs as if they were yield signs. Be prepared for this.
  5. Book you car in advance. Be sure to get an International Drivers Permit at your local AAA office before you leave.

Have fun. Driving in Greece is really participating in the life of the country--and experience you'll never forget.

Posted by
4535 posts

I did a similar drive and did not find it stressful other than Athens traffic. Even the highways circling Athens can be crazy, but not really worse than a major US city. You'll find other roads lightly traveled and pretty well marked. Parking can be hard to find in Nafplio, but traffic there is not a problem.

An IDP is required and many rental agencies do ask and require it.

You'll find most roadways pretty wide, know that the middle is for passing. So stay more to the right and be careful and use turn signals for left turns.

A car will allow you some exploring - such as the monastery of Hosios Loukas near Delphi (it's not far off the highway on the way to/from Delphi). You could also stop in Corinth if you have time coming or going to Nafplio.

I always use the rental agency's CDW on a foreign trip to avoid any hassles and complications of dealing with things in a foreign country if someone did happen. But it's not particularly dangerous to drive in Greece.

Posted by
975 posts

When you visit Mycenae, don't miss the " Treasury of Atreus" aka beehive tomb across the street and down the road a bit- only takes a few minutes and worth it! Nafplio was very pleasant, and a car is a good idea- I thought the roads were fine- use GPS!

Posted by
7659 posts

My recollection of driving in Greece is that, Yes, they drive on the right side of the road, and the middle, and occassionally on the left.

All two lane highways actually are comprised of three lanes, one in each direction, then a space in the middle where cars travel at higher speeds in both directions.

Posted by
3335 posts

Ken, I see u are from Wyoming, which has about 1 person per square mile, right? However I trust you've driven in busy areas too. Don't let T of seattle scare you... but his advice is good;
• why you need a good map besides GPS: sometimes GPS gets confused ... there may be 2 towns with same name in adjoining areas (like the Springfields all over USA).

• Avoid Athens driving; its like trying to get out of Manhattan to New England when you don't know the routes. The Athens agency Swift/Avanti gets lots of business by driving you from hotel directly to the on-ramp of the intercity highway; just be sure to specify a new or nearly-new model car -- some people report getting older cars w. unreliable AC. If u rent from airport, lots of choice at good prices.
• Highways -- the highway almost all the way to Nafplio is THE most modern in Greece & 2 lanes each way w. central divider. When u get off on the road to nafplio, its 1 lane each way, but very little traffic in May; that's when I've used it. And the roads around Nafplio are narrow but again, very little traffic; you can slow down &enjoy the views. The Road to Delphi is 4-lane for about half-way, then 2 lane as you get into foothills, but again not much traffic in May.
• One thing for sure, tho -- stay ALERT for turn-offs (my role has been the navigator so I'm aware). In GReece, there's first a sign in Greek, then about 500 yards on , a sign in English (yes!) BUT USA roads cater to slow reactors/distracted drivers. Our road signs tell us "1 mile to Springfield" "1/4 mile to Springfield" "Springfield next exit" etc. Greek signs say "Exit to XXXX" about 500 yards before the exit. And that's IT -- no second chances. So don't chat or sightsee when coming up on a turn-off.

RESERVING -- Since you can drive a manual transmission, you'll get cheaper rates, and will not have to reserve way way in advance, if using an airport agency; this one -- http://www.athens-carrental.com -- is highly recommended by a UK forum "regular" who rents every year. Even if you don't rent from them, their very comprehensive price-list onsite can help you comparison-shop. For Avanti/Swift, best to rent farther in advance because of smaller fleet.

Then there's the usual rental advice:
• You need an IDP (International Driving Permit) to rent a car; NOT a license; you just stop by any AAA office & get one in 15 minutes; costs about $20.
• When picking up car, or getting it delivered to hotel; do a walk-around to note ANY dents or other dings, take a photo, and have it noted on the contract you sign.
• Even tho your credit card offers you insurance, take the agency's full CDW, its worth if for peace of mind -- if by any chance you get in a fender-bender, it can be a hassle to contact your home agency with a 9-10 hour time difference.

A final note: As for Delphi, I'm glad to see you're not rushing it for a day trip... but it can be done as a 1-night, with good timing. Driving there takes about 3+ hours... if you arrive in late afternoon, you can check into hotel, then walk along the road back to the MUSEUM, it's open until 7:30 or so, and NO crowds... you can also walk downhill to the Athena Tholos ruin (the round one), it's open24/7 and lovely at sunset. Then go have a nice dinner looking down the mountain. Next AM be at the Ruins site at 8:15 opening... and you'll have over 2 hours with almost no one on the site, until tour busses arrive. Then you can leave by noon or so.

For the Peloponnese, here's a great online map showing all roads large & small & landmarks - http://euro-map.com/karty-grecii/peloponnes/podrobnaya-turisticheskaya-karta-peloponnesa.jpg -- click & it gets huuuge.

Happy planning! You've chosen a wonderful time to visit greece -- the rains are over but the greenery is lush, flowers abound, the sea is "brisk" but swimmable, everything's open, nothing's crowded.

Posted by
1386 posts

You have received good information and all of it is true. I just wanted to clarify a couple of things. The big Greek highways have paved shoulders. Slow vehicles ( and most rental cars are slow) must stay over tot eh right with your right side wheels actually on the paved shoulder. The locals will be passing you from behind likely around 150 Km per hour. You need to be very aware of what is happening behind you. Your best plan is to just stay over to the right. Once you get off teh main highways you may find there are not paved shoulders. In that case just stay over to eh right as far as you can. If traffic piles up behind you look for a place to pull off the road and let them pass. It is on rural roads where the Greek tendency to pass on blind curves is a fact of life. If you are coming to a curve expect a vehicle to pass you or one to be coming toward you in the middle of the road. The encouraging thing about this is it happens at a relatively slow speed so everyone has an opportunity to get by.
It is essential that the driver pays attention to driving and the navigator must keep their eyes open for traffic and signs. In Greece a talkative back seat driver is an asset.

On the way to Nafplio you might want to take a stop at Corinth to see the canal and then Ancient Corinth and then Ancient Nemia. Nemia was a sister city to Olympia and is an excellent site as it has a partially restored temple and a stadium. I am surprised Janet didn't mention it.

Nafplio and Peloponnese http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157632094108982/

Posted by
25 posts

Hi All,

You guys are all great in offering me great tips on traveling in Greece, renting a car and extra sites to visit. I really appreciate it.
Here is my situation.

Our hotel is situated close to Acropolis in Athens. When we go to Delphi, do you recommend that we go back to the airport to rent a car rather than renting a car in the center of Athens?

On the day that we are going to Nefplio, we will be coming back to Piraaus (part of Athens?) from Hydra island. I have found two or three car rental places near the ferry port. Do you still recommend that we go all the way back to the airport to rent a car because they all have a better selection of cars?

Posted by
1386 posts

I would probably go back to the airport however that takes time and the car rentals are probably higher with extra taxes there. Peace of mind with major highways from the airport would be the main factor. However you might want to engage with the rental company and see what they suggest. Some might have good directions to get you onto the main highway. At least then you can make an informed decision.

Posted by
11 posts

Hi Ken, I'm excited for your trip! My husband and I just got back from 2 weeks in Greece. We rented a car and it worked out great! We picked up our rental car in town at Avis rental car. Yes, it was a little hectic driving in Athens but it only took about 5-10 minutes to get out of the city and it was pretty straight forward. We booked through Expedia. It was pretty easy and we did so only about a week in advance. I do think the statistics on car-involved fatalities are high, and it was pretty hairy at times -- frequent passing during times when it didn't seem safe such as around a bend or over a hill. If you can stay to the right/mostly on the shoulder, this makes things safer. If you expect this, it helps. We drove Athens -> Delphi -> Olympia -> Monemvasia -> Nafplio -> Athens. While it makes the trip a little busy, we were glad we stayed only 1 night in Delphi and Olympia, as it's very easy to see all that is available to see within one day. I hope you have a great trip! We used our phones for GPS and just set up an international plan before leaving the states. This was much less expensive than renting a GPS from the rental company. Having a navigator really helps as the roads are windy and narrow. With the routes we took, we ended up spending about 35 euro in tolls. -Rachel

Posted by
10 posts
  • Right lane and most vehicle manual. The roads are different than in US , more narrow and driving in the city centre with the motorbikes all around can be stressful. There is plenty of availability of cars so I believe you dont need to book long in advance. Consider than petrol - gas in greece is far more expensive, 1.4 euros/litre while busses are quite cheap. search for ktel.
Posted by
1379 posts

I rented a car at the port and returned it to the airport. Glad I didn't drive in central Athens. Use mass transit to get around the core. The traffic in Piraeus with tough but once we cleared it driving wasn't too bad. I was glad I got the car at the port rather than in central Athens.