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Our Greece Trip Tips

Hello All. Just got back from our first trip to Greece and decided to write down tips, observations, and other things learned along the way (before they fade from our memory) so that we can pass them along to friends who want to travel to Greece and ask for advice. Though it is a bit long, figured we’d share our list here too in case it is helpful to anyone. This stuff likely won’t be helpful if you’ve been there before, but I figured It might be useful for newbies planning their first trip and trying to get a feel for what to expect. We are semi-budget-travelers in our early 30s. Will come back later to post a trip report for the specific places we visited.

- great for hotel reviews. easy to navigate for seeing what’s available (can often book with free cancellation). Some hotels will offer cheaper price if contacted directly as well as softer pricing for paying in cash, longer stays, etc. If booking directly with hotel, make sure their quote includes city taxes, etc, and re-confirm a few days before arriving. Some websites charge you in euros, so be sure to use a card with no foreign transaction fees.
- Bed sizes are often smaller – double or two twins pushed together.
- Bathrooms are creative – don’t expect full US-style bathroom (or a private bathroom if room description doesn’t say so). Ours all had hand-held shower-heads, 1 out of 6 had a way to hang it for use like a regular shower. Bathrooms generally small and set up in a way that showering gets whole bathroom wet. Go with the flow.
- Accessibility is not a given. If you have mobility issues, need to confirm with hotel very specifically about this. All 6 of our hotels involved stairs (sometimes within the room), didn’t see any elevators.
- Some hotels (particularly those on islands) offer free shuttle service to/from port and airport – keep this in mind when weighing prices. It’s worth paying a little more to stay centrally.
- Consider a hotel with a safe when staying in the islands – nobody wants to cart their passport and other valuables to the beach, then have to take turns getting in the water! On mainland, it can all just go in a moneybelt, so this is less essential.
- Consider the season you’re traveling in – booking a hotel with AC may be an essential, but not all hotels have it.

- Planning: When choosing how many stops to fit into your trip, bear in mind that transportation between sites often takes ½ day or more. So 2 days in a town is actually 1.5 days. Minimizing short stays typically increases enjoyability.
- To/From Airport: Shuttles from airport to hotel are easy to find and are a good option for those with long travel itineraries…figuring out public transport in a foreign country when you’ve been awake 24+ hours is not the best. We were unable to find shuttle back to airport at cheaper rate than taxi in Athens. Taxis cost significantly more in middle of night. Metro can take you to Athens airport during day; bus from Syntagma Square (6 euro pp) runs 24/7 and was easy.
- Getting to islands: boat takes longer than we expected from Athens (e.g. 8 hrs to Santorini). Flying to furthest island, then making your way back to Athens on ferries = good option. Depending on time of day, flight can be super cheap ($50) or expensive ($200) plus extra charges for lots of luggage – IMHO, worth it to not lose a whole day in transport. Would have preferred to do islands last to decompress before heading home, but was warned that ferries/flights can get cancelled, causing risk of missing flight back to US, so followed suggestion to do islands first/end in Athens. We tacked on flight to islands at the end of our US-to-Greece travel day, getting it all over with at once. We chose a flight scheduled to depart for islands a few hours after landing in Athens and paid more for the flexible ticket in case our flight from US was cancelled/delayed.

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  • Ferries: Easy to move within an island group, not so easy to try to move between island groups. Blue Star ferries are the huge, reliable, comfortable ferries that are minimally affected by weather – trade-off is that they’re slower. There are a variety of higher-speed ferries, but trade-off is that they can’t handle weather in the same way. This can = seasickness, rough ride, cancelled trips, etc. We were happy with our choice to use Blue Star. Cheapest “economy” seats = scrambling to find any open deck or café seat, lose your seat if you want to wander. Not recommended for long haul back to Athens, which can get pretty crowded, but worked well for a short hop between islands. A few dollars more = “airplane seats”, which = a cushy airplane-style seat reserved just for you, better for long trips. We chose seats in Lounge 1, which we’d heard was quieter. Food available for purchase on board. Time of year/flexibility of your itinerary determines how important it is to get Blue Star tickets in advance. Can purchase them on Blue Star website and pick them up at port for small fee (50 cents/ticket?). Connections are more limited off-season. It’s not uncommon for boats to arrive to your departure point a little late.
  • Driving: You’ll read online that driving in Greece is a white-knuckle experience and that Greece has a very high accident rate. This almost caused us to rely on buses instead, but in the end we were glad we chose to rent a car because this allowed us to go at our own pace and save a lot of time. Buses were going to be almost as expensive and would have used up a ton more of our valuable vacation time. Greek drivers were a little bit crazy (everyone is constantly passing each other, and it’s not uncommon to see people passing multiple cars around a blind curve) but it felt manageable, as my husband is a pretty confident driver. His assessment is that if you are fairly confident/comfortable with driving, driving in Greece feels manageable and even enjoyable, but if you are a more nervous/worried driver, this might make you struggle more and perhaps cause an accident, so perhaps driving isn’t the best fit. If you do drive, the main thing to know is to stay way over to the right (straddling the shoulder) to allow people to pass and to leave a gap in front so that passers can swerve back into the lane if needed. Saw signs warning of speed enforcement via video. Keep change on hand for tolls; big bridges (like one between Delphi and Olympia) can be a big toll (~$15). Choose a car with a large enough trunk for your luggage if you plan to make stops between hotels/cities (though smaller cars are generally better for narrow roads/streets). Get your International Driver’s Permit from local AAA office or risk a big fine. Parking was free and generally easy to find outside of Athens and central Nafplio. Most rental cars are stick shift. Diesel cars may be cheaper to operate. Picking up a rental car in one city and dropping off in another is prohibitively expensive. Make sure the pick-up and drop-off locations are convenient in huge Athens. Unlike the chain rental agencies in the US that allow you to drop off a car any time, our rental from Piraeus was very flustered when we arrived earlier than expected/asked if we could meet them early. Be sure to learn about the insurance that comes with the rental and determine if you need to purchase separate coverage (sometimes free through credit card, though requires declining rental car company’s insurance). Before departure, watch YouTube videos of what it’s like to drive in Greece and read up on Greece’s road signs. To avoid break-ins at night, open the luggage cover in the hatchback (to show that it’s empty) and try to look like a local by covering rental car decals and leaving a local newspaper (NOT tour books, etc) in view.
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  • Navigating: T-mobile phone with Google Maps GPS worked fine for us while driving. Briefly lost signal a few times, but never to the point of causing problems. Never had to use paper map, never got lost. If choosing this method, research route ahead of time (Google Maps may offer you multiple routes, but some may take you on difficult mountain roads/through the crazy center of Athens). Also be sure you know all the alternate spellings of your destinations (e.g. Nafplio/Nauplion/Nafplion, Mycenae/Mykines, Corinth/Korinthos, Delphi/Delfoi). Do at your own risk, as I’ve heard others post about GPS’ leading them astray. If using separate GPS unit, you may have to purchase its international maps at an extra cost. GPS through car rental company is extra and sometimes a significant cost (more than just buying a GPS unit, depending on length of car rental). We were comfortable going the speed limit, so the travel times listed on Google Maps were fairly accurate within 10-20 min for long drives. There was adequate English on road signs.
  • Public transportation: Athens has a metro, but otherwise public transportation isn’t quite as easy as places like Europe or France, where you can hop on a cheap high-speed train to get between main tourist cities. Car and bus are your main options for moving around the mainland.

SAFETY: These are uncertain times, but we found Greece to generally feel safe with a laid-back and welcoming atmosphere. The only time we felt mildly unsafe was at night in Athens – had to navigate some dark, graffiti-laden streets to get to hotel, and saw a demonstration marching down the street with extra police around on last night, but even those turned out ok. Only place we were cautioned about was Omonia Square in Athens. Use common pickpocketing precautions when in Athens. We were cautioned by multiple Greeks to not keep a wallet in the back pocket. May choose to avoid crowds/metro due to current world events. I’ve been asked about refugees – we didn’t see any (we stayed relatively south, refugee path tends to be up north).

- Popular dishes to try: moussaka, stifado, pastitsio, stuffed tomatoes/peppers, baklava, pastry pies (cheese hand pies, spanakopita), loukoumades, dolmades, saganaki, keftedes, pasta/meat cooked in a clay pot (giouvetsi), fried zucchini balls, octopus/calamari, lamb, horta, Greek yogurt with honey and fruit, olives, Greek salad, eggplant, tzatziki with pita, spicy cheese spread (“cheese salad” or “tirokafteri” on menus), and frappe (coffee drink). Gyros/souvlaki are your go-to for cheap eats. If you need a break from Greek, Italian seems to also be plentiful. If you order cheese (common appetizer), don’t expect it will come with something to spread it on. Popular drinks = ouzo and raki.
- Greek coffee is made from finely ground coffee beans boiled in water, not strained afterwards. If you ask for “Greek coffee”, what you get can range from a normal-sized cup with lots of grounds at the bottom to a very concentrated and gritty espresso-sized cup.
- Not uncommon to receive complementary shots, olives, bread, or dessert. Some may give you bread without asking and charge you for it.
- Have a method for identifying good restaurants, either by scoping out before trip or having cell data/ available during trip. Though Europe has great food, you can’t expect to go into any random restaurant and be blown away. We made this mistake in France, just choosing restaurants at random and ended up just eating ok food. Going places with high reviews makes all the difference. Sometimes the places with highest reviews aren’t the ones with the perfect ambiance, so unless you have tons of time to research places with both, may need a few days where you just choose the place with the fun “I’m in Greece!” atmosphere (e.g. right on waterfront with the Greek music playing and candles on the table) at the expense of having the best food.

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  • If remembering what you ate is an important part of your travel memories, remember to take pics of the menu before ordering. Not always easy to track down online afterwards.
  • Water isn’t always potable, particularly on the islands. Check locally. Expect to pay for bottled water in some but not all restaurants. Buy 6-packs of large water bottles from the corner markets to keep in hotel room (most economical).
  • People generally dine late (restaurants start to liven up closer to 9:00) and linger for a long time.
  • I’ve heard mixed reports about tipping. Most common is that service charge is generally included in the price of the meal, but can round bill up or leave a few euro on the table for a good meal.
  • We had no problem bringing < 100 ml bottles of Olive Oil and honey home in our carry-on (in our quart-sized liquids ziplock). We had no problem bringing vacuum-packed olives, or spices, olive-wood products through customs.

ATTIRE: I wouldn’t worry too much about this – people seemed to be wearing a wide variety of clothes. Closed-toe shoes weren’t always comfortable in the heat, but most people wore T-bar style or nicer sandals rather than flip flops outside the islands. Ladies may want to consider wearing hair pulled back – having hair down in the windy island condition was not only a little irritating (hair whipping around all over constantly) but also made for bad photos. Many people dressed for the setting in Oia, Santorini (wearing white or dark blue, which makes for good photos). You’ll want one pair of supportive shoes for climbing the volcano in Santorini, scaling the Acropolis, walking miles around Athens, etc.

WEATHER: Research for the time of year you intend to travel. Main things to be aware of are that summer can be extremely hot (this will affect you visiting ruins sites, which often have limited shade), and that “meltemi” winds come through at certain times of year, impacting boats’ ability to sail, your ability to enjoy the beach, and general enjoyability of strolling the islands.

- Don’t put too much trust in opening/closing times listed in guidebooks, hours can change without warning. Some places have “last admission” time, meaning you can’t show up 20 minutes before closing and expect to get in. Many sites are closed one day per week and can have random closures due to strikes, holidays, etc – don’t put off seeing a must-see till the last day. Unlike Italy, we didn’t need advance tickets for any sites. Going to sites early or late to avoid crowds/heat makes a difference. Hours are shorter off-season.
- May need to cover shoulders/knees in churches (I did to be safe).
- I preferred to see a site followed by its museum rather than vice versa…made the stuff in the museum meaningful.
- We didn’t carry a backpack everywhere, but the only place we encountered that made us check it was Acropolis Museum. No touching the ruins or they’ll blow a loud whistle at you. Photography was allowed everywhere we went except for first floor of Acropolis Museum and one particular exhibit of a burial site in Corinth, though you could only take a photo of the museum pieces themselves (not of your travel partner in front of them).
- Ruins can be hard to interpret – have a plan for how to appreciate them, either by guided tour, guidebook, printed internet resources, etc. They won’t come to life in the same way if you just go and look. Most sites did not have a tour available onsite, or even a group tour through an outside company – for most, I was only able to find expensive private tours. The only place where we observed guides waiting at the entrance looking for people to join their tour was Delos – for everywhere else, I think we would’ve had to arrange in advance. I didn’t see audioguides for rent at any of the sites.
- Useful site:

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- No throwing your toilet paper in the toilet! Most Greek plumbing can’t handle it. Throw in bin next to toilet instead. If you’re honeymooning and are worried about ruining the mood, can bring roll of diaper/dog poo bags. We didn’t find this to be as gross/odorous as expected.
- Stray dogs and cats everywhere!
- You’ll be approached intermittently by people asking for money or wanting to sell you something.
- We encountered English-speakers/English menus/English signs almost everywhere along our touristy route, didn’t have any problem not being Greek-speakers. Would still recommend learning the basics (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, do you speak English, sorry, pardon me, where is, how much, I would like) in order to not come across as a rude American who just expects everyone to speak our language.
- You may find yourself so wrapped up in enjoying the sights that you come home and realize you don’t have many frameable photos. Pay attention to this if frameable photos are a priority to you. My husband and I have learned the hard way to be intentional about getting “The One” (after going all the way to Italy and realizing we don’t have any good shots of the two of us at the Colosseum to hang on our wall) and now pause to review the photos on our camera before leaving the big-ticket sites.
- We found sunscreen to be expensive, about $15 for a cheap bottle as opposed to like $8 in Italy, and we needed more than one bottle. Bring a bottle of waterproof sunscreen with you if checking luggage.
- Free WiFi common at hotels and some restaurants
- Hotels were cheap. Other stuff seemed more on par with normal prices (not overly cheap).
- Most places accepted credit cards, but it was always good to have cash on hand. Some did not want to take a card for small amounts, and a few times they said their credit card machine was broken. Always decline to have charges converted to dollars (Dynamic Currency Conversion).
- Some places can get a bit mosquitoey. Keep windows closed in hotel.
- Before the trip, familiarize yourself with: how to use electronics given the voltage difference, how to avoid foreign transaction fees when using ATM/credit cards, where to get good exchange rate on euros, how to use your medical insurance abroad (may need to purchase extra for medical evacuation/repatriation in the case of death, which can cost several thousand out of pocket), VAT refunds, duty limits, what your credit card offers in terms of complementary car/travel insurance, how to use public transportation at your destination, rules for using your cell phone plan abroad, and common pickpocketing/petty theft schemes in the place you’re visiting and how to avoid.
- Register your trip with the State Department’s STEP program and notify your credit card companies of your trip (they may send you a PIN to use abroad).
- Check your passport and visa requirements – many countries require six months left on your passport (it’s not good enough to just have an unexpired passport) with a certain number of blank pages.
- As nice as it is to unplug, smartphone users will find that having cell service available saves a lot of hassle. We had a spare phone available and – after two trips to Europe without a phone - purchased T-mobile’s one month international plan for $50. Used it for GPS while driving, finding good restaurants on TripAdvisor throughout the trip, looking up unknown Greek words/menu items, and calling our car rental company when they didn’t show up at the port. Overall, we found it much easier to travel with a phone available. If you’re going without cell service, download ahead of time: offline maps, offline translation app, offline TripAdvisor city guides
- Check out Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app for free audiotours to use on-site. His guidebooks also have some nice walking tours laid out.

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  • Don’t do all your research online. Get a good guidebook (it can be from the library) and read it through, as this will tell you all the random odds and ends about a country and important pre-trip to-dos that are too exhaustive to be listed here.
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Thank you, thank you for coming back, Commila, and we'll be particularly interested in hearing some brief reactions to destinations, and to places where you stayed. It helps us all to stay current.

And especially, thank you for the final tip you gave to other newcomers, about looking at a guidebook rather than relying solely on the Internet. I remember urging you to do that, and I am gratified that you found it rewarding (and as you said, the library is full of guidebooks .... AND many of them also are available used & cheap, on Amazon).

We look forward to your trip details!

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My pleasure! Yes, we've primarily used guidebooks for all of our trips to Europe, then filled in all the odds and ends through the internet. We've enjoyed the Rick Steves ones because of the walking tours they have laid out, but if we have time next time around we will peruse some other options at the libraries too!

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Wow. This is awesome. Thanks Commila. I am planning my trip sept of 2017 and you actually hit on one of my questions as I am booking flights. We got tickets using miles from Dallas to Athens (not direct or anything). Idea would be to sty in Athens just one night or two. Then go to the islands. Seemed like you are suggesting that.

We are trying to decide would we go from Athens out to islands sample Mykonos santorini,then Crete i.e. Start close to Athens and end in Crete and then come home. Or go from Athens to Crete and then head backwards.

Does that make sense what I am trying to figure out.

We are trying to use air miles on the way back. And it may or may not go through Athens.

Do we need to worry about the small flights from any of the islands getting canceled where we need extra time or even a night wherever we are flying too.

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Stacey, please re-post your question as a separate post. Otherwise, every time someone responds to your new inquiry, commila will receive an email (and you won't).


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Hi Stacey!
If you want answers, you're better off starting your OWN "thread" here on the forum. Many regulars will remember this commila posting as being already read, and won't scroll down to your new addition. A few considerations for your postings:

• DATE & LENGTH: since you seem to have already booked your flights, why not give exact dates? That helps advisors 2 ways (1) tells LENGTH of Stay, and (2) early Sept or at end. Both factors can influence advice.

• SEQUENCE: if trip is shorter than 2 weeks & u want to see many places, travel-efficiency is key; staying in Athens area TWICE eats up precious hours. Best strategy: on arrival, immediately fly to farthest isle & "hop" your way back to Athens last. Then you'll already be versed in Greek ways, ready to deal with a lively big city.

• AVOIDING CLICHES - When you say "Myknos Santorini Crete" do you mean choices you've made after reading and viewing material about the many wonderful island options -- or are you just echoing names mentioned by friends who did a cruise or a package tour? American tourists are too often steered to a "Cliche Combo Special" that includes only the most touricized (and costly) Greek Isles. There are only 5 ports with deep enough water for those giant cruise ships, so of course the companies promote only those islands. Some are "must-sees" others are just ballyhooed.

• HOMEWORK -- I STRONGLY encourage you to go to Dallas' wonderful library system and take out an armful of travel guides! R Steves guide doesn't cover the islands (altho his book is GREAT on Athens); look at EYEWITNESS: The Greek Isles for a colorful overview, and online this site -- -- is a well-organized quick view of island highlights. Here's a ferry map (somewhat outdated but still v. useful) -- its virtue is that it makes very clear which islands work as a sequence, and which ones are not connected AT all!

• TRANSPORT -- Do NOT count on flying from island to island.. there are very few inter-island flights even in high season, and almost none I know of, after August. Sometimes you can save travel time by doing what cruise ships do... sail while you sleep. There are overnight ferries from Santorini to Rhodes, Crete to Athens etc. But this requires advance planning. Rule #1 for ALL people doing D-I-Y Greece trips... Lock in your Transport options BEFORE you book any hotels.

Good luck, happy planning, and DO start your own topic, for best responses.

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Hey Commila excellent summary of things to know when planning a trip to Greece. Both Jan and I have probably posted essentially all that same stuff over the years but neither one of us has done it in such a single, comprehensive fashion. This should be required reading for every first time visitor in the planning stages.

To Stacey It would make more sense to fly to Crete then ferry to Santorini. The reason? Because the ferries depart Heraklion Crete in the morning and head to Santorini then on to Paros, Naxos and Mykonos. Then they return in the afternoon and make all the same ports on the way back. So if you head from Santorini to Crete you won't arrive until about 7pm and will have had to put in a day after checking out of your Santorini hotel. Much better to do it the other way around and have most of the day in Santorini already booked into your accommodation.

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I will start a new thread; I just hadn't gotten that far. Usually i do try to read s few books THANKS so much for your suggestion on books.

At this point I was just trying to get an idea for flights as I have to book with miles so far in advance. And it was just getting the "direction" that might work best. This was very helpful. but I can start my own thread as I did post in an airline talk, but I think this forum would be better! :-) Thanks again. and will post some details right now to get more feedback. So stanbr this will be duplicate for you.

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Thanks Stacey and stanbr, glad the info can be of some help. Figured I'd jot down all the little tips we learned along the way before they faded from our memory like some of the logistics of our other Europe trips have! I'm working on also writing down specific tips for each of the places we've visited, though life keeps getting in the way...will get to it eventually! Stacey, sounds like you already have your question answered, but yes, as others have said, it is best to immediately go from the Athens airport out to the most distant island at the start of your trip and then work your way back to the mainland. This worked very well for us, despite the fact that going to the islands last would have been our preference. You really do need to be in Athens for the end of your trip to avoid any risk of missing your flight home to the States (my understanding is that ferry/flight cancellations from the islands to Athens are possible, so if you are relying on them for a last-minute connection to the mainland at the end of your trip, you could in theory end up in a pickle). Rolling it all into one long travel day makes the most productive use of your vacation time - if you stick around the Athens airport for a few hours upon arrival and then catch one of the short flights out to the islands and then get all settled into your hotel, you can get all of your travel done at once and wake up ready to start your vacation the next day (for us, our jetlagged arrival day is never productive anyway, so we weren't missing out by spending the rest of that day doing more travel). If you venture into Athens upon arrival, then you have to eat up precious vacation time getting back to the airport and taking a flight on a different day - much less efficient. Hope you have a great time on your trip!

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Thank you Commila! For taking the time to make notes during your trip, for taking the time to write them on the forum afterwards, and for being so detailed and helpful.