Will be in Greece for the month of May (2009) and have received incredibly contradictory advice about driving in Greece -- not in Athens, but the rest of the country. Anyone with recent experience, especially in the Peloponnesus to and from Olympia? Buses are the other option--any sense of that?
We spent a month in Greece in 2007 and used rental cars in Crete and the Peloponnese. The driving is fine but you have to drive defensively. The Greeks tend to make 4 lanes where there are only two.
There are lots of hills and hairpin turns but if you enjoy driving you should be fine.
It is a good idea to learn some basic Greek alphabet as not all signs are in English.
Have a wonderful time.
We rented a car in Sept 06 for a drive from Athens to Olympia, down to Epidaurus and back to Athens. In hindsight, it was fine but if we'd known what we were getting ourselves into, we likely wouldn't have done it. The roads are narrow, there are hair-pin turns on mountains with no guardrails and the Greeks drive fast. Also, there is a custom that a small shrine thing be put up wherever there is a fatal crash, and there seem to be an alarming number of these. Not trying to scare you, but that's what we found. That said, we got through it fine, and I know lots of others that did as well. but if you're a nervous driver, I wouldn't recommend it.
Oh, and we drove on Crete too--it was fine.
I would avoid driving in Athens unless you have a GPS since it's so so easy to get lost.
Rough Guide to Greece, p. 48: "Greece has the highest accident rate in the EU after Portugal, and on mainland motorways and the larger tourist islands it's easy to see why. Driving habits amongst locals can be atrocious * * * Drunk driving is also a major problem."
I'm not intending to confuse you further but here's my two drachmas.
We recently (December) spent 3 weeks in Greece driving around the Peloponnese. I am ancient historian in training and I love archeological sites, the more, the better. We drove all over the Peloponnese aided by our GPS. Yes, the turns around the mountains are sharp. Yes, people drive aggressively. Yes, LP has dire warnings (they say similar things about driving in Italy and Turkey). However, if you are aware of your surroundings (and you have a GPS), you can drive around without much of a problem. Have you driven in other countries? Have you driven in big cities in the US? If you've driven in Italy or Turkey, you can manage Greece. However, if you've never driven in Europe, it might be a bit of a jump to start driving in Greece. If you only want to go to Olympia, I'd recommend the bus or the train (transfer in Corinth) because it is a low stress option and very easy to do; we took the bus everywhere on our first trip to Greece in 2005. If you want to go to multiple places or to some of the more obscurer sites, don't be afraid to drive. I recommend a GPS because you can program it ahead of time with all the sites you want to visit and then it is easy to get directions from one to another. It also guided us straight out of Athens, the first time we ever left a big city without getting lost. I'd also recommend that you rent a car a level or two above subcompact. You may not need the space in the car but a larger car can make you feel more secure on the road.