Greece //

Travel essentials

Costs

The cost of living in Greece has increased astronomically since it joined the EU, particularly after the adoption of the euro and further increases in the VAT rate in 2011. Prices in shops and cafés now match or exceed those of many other EU member countries (including the UK). However, outside the chintzier resorts, travel remains affordable, with the aggregate cost of restaurant meals, short-term accommodation and public transport falling somewhere in between that of cheaper Spain or France and pricier Italy.

Prices depend on where and when you go. Larger cities and the trendier tourist resorts and small islands (such as Sými, Íýdhra, Mýkonos, Paxí and Pátmos) are more expensive and costs everywhere increase sharply during July–August, Christmas, New Year and Easter.

On most islands a daily per-person budget of €50/£44/US$72 will get you basic accommodation and meals, plus a short ferry or bus ride, as one of a couple. Camping would cut costs marginally. On €100/£88/US$144 a day you could be living quite well, plus sharing the cost of renting a large motorbike or small car. See Accommodation prices.

A basic taverna meal with bulk wine or a beer costs around €12–20 per person. Add a better bottle of wine, pricier fish or fancier decor and it could be up to €20–30 a head; you’ll rarely pay more than that. Even in the most developed of resorts, with inflated “international” menus, there is often a basic but decent taverna where the locals eat.

Crime and personal safety

Greece is one of Europe’s safest countries, with a low crime rate and a deserved reputation for honesty. Most of the time if you leave a bag or wallet at a café, you’ll probably find it scrupulously looked after, pending your return. Nonetheless theft and muggings are becoming increasingly common, a trend only likely to be increased by the economic crisis. With this in mind, it’s best to lock rooms and cars securely, and to keep your valuables hidden, especially in cities. Civil unrest, in the form of strikes and demonstrations, is also on the increase, but while this might inconvenience you, you’d be very unlucky to get caught up in any trouble as a visitor.

Though the chances are you’ll never meet a member of the national police force, the Elliniki Astynomia, Greek cops expect respect, and many have little regard for foreigners. If you do need to go to the police, always try to do so through the Tourist Police (t171), who should speak English and are used to dealing with visitors. You are required to carry suitable ID on you at all times – either a passport or a driving licence.

The most common causes of a brush with the law are beach nudity, camping outside authorized sites, public inebriation or lewd behaviour. In 2009 a large British stag group dressed as nuns was arrested in Mália and held for several days, having managed to combine extreme drunkenness with a lack of respect for the church. Also avoid taking photos in forbidden areas such as airports.

Drug offences are treated as major crimes, particularly since there’s a mushrooming local addiction problem. The maximum penalty for “causing the use of drugs by someone under 18″, for example, is life imprisonment and an astronomical fine. Foreigners caught in possession of even small amounts of marijuana get long jail sentences if there’s evidence that they’ve been supplying the drug to others.

Electricity

Voltage is 220 volts AC. Standard European two-pin plugs are used; adaptors should be purchased beforehand in the UK, as they can be difficult to find locally; standard 5-, 6- or 7.5-amp models permit operation of a hair dryer or travel iron. Unless they’re dual voltage, North American appliances will require both a step-down transformer and a plug adaptor (the latter easy to find in Greece).

Entrance fees

All the major ancient sites, like most museums, charge entrance fees ranging from €2 to €12, with an average fee of around €3. Entrance to all state-run sites and museums is free on Sundays and public holidays from November to March.

Entry requirements

UK and all other EU nationals need only a valid passport to enter Greece. US, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and most non-EU Europeans can stay, as tourists, for ninety days (cumulative) in any six-month period. Such nationals arriving by flight or boat from another EU state not party to the Schengen Agreement may not be stamped in routinely at minor Greek ports, so make sure this is done in order to avoid unpleasantness on exit. Your passport must be valid for three months after your arrival date.

Visitors from non-EU countries are currently not, in practice, being given extensions to tourist visas. You must leave not just Greece but the entire Schengen Group and stay out until the maximum 90-days-in-180 rule, as set forth above, is satisfied. If you overstay your time and then leave under your own power – ie are not deported – you’ll be hit with a huge fine upon departure, and possibly be banned from re-entering for a period of time; no excuses will be entertained except (just maybe) a doctor’s certificate stating you were immobilized in hospital. It cannot be overemphasized just how exigent Greek immigration officials have become on this issue.

Greek embassies abroad

Australia 9 Turrana St, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600 t02/6273 3011, wmfa.gr/sydney.

Britain 1A Holland Park, London W11 3TP t020/7221 6467, wmfa.gr/london

Canada 80 Maclaren St, Ottawa, ON K2P 0K6 t613/238-6271, wmfa.gr/ottawa

Ireland 1 Upper Pembroke St, Dublin 2 t01/676 7254, wmfa.gr/dublin

New Zealand 5–7 Willeston St, Wellington t04/473 7775, wmfa.gr/wellington

South Africa 1003 Church Street, 0028 Hatfield, Pretoria t012/434-7351, wmfa.gr/pretoria

USA 2217 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 t202/939-1300, wmfa.gr/washington

 

Greek embassies abroad

Australia 9 Turrana St, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600 t02/6273 3011, wmfa.gr/sydney.

Britain 1A Holland Park, London W11 3TP t020/7221 6467, wmfa.gr/london

Canada 80 Maclaren St, Ottawa, ON K2P 0K6 t613/238-6271, wmfa.gr/ottawa

Ireland 1 Upper Pembroke St, Dublin 2 t01/676 7254, wmfa.gr/dublin

South Africa 1003 Church Street, 0028 Hatfield, Pretoria t012/434-7351, wmfa.gr/pretoria

USA 2217 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 t202/939-1300, wmfa.gr/washington

Gay and lesbian travellers

Greece is deeply ambivalent about homosexuality: ghettoized as “to be expected” in the arts, theatre and music scenes but apt to be closeted elsewhere. “Out” gay Greeks are rare, and “out” local lesbians rarer still; foreign same-sex couples will be regarded in the provinces with some bemusement but accorded the standard courtesy as foreigners – as long as they refrain from public displays of affection, taboo in rural areas. There is a sizeable gay community in Athens, Thessaloníki and Pátra, plus a fairly obvious scene at resorts like Ýdhra, Rhodes and Mýkonos. Skála Eressoü on Lésvos, the birthplace of Sappho, is (appropriately) an international mecca for lesbians. Even in Athens, however, most gay nightlife is underground (often literally so in the siting of clubs), with no visible signage for nondescript premises.

Insurance

Despite EU healthcare privileges applying in Greece (see The European Health Insurance Card), you should consider taking out an insurance policy before travelling to cover against theft, loss, illness or injury. Before paying for a whole new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes (such as BUPA or WPA in the UK) offer coverage extensions for abroad. Students will often find that their student health coverage extends during the vacations.

Make any claim as soon as possible. If you have medical treatment, keep all receipts for medicines and treatment. If you have anything stolen or lost, you must obtain an official statement from the police or the airline which lost your bags – with numerous claims being fraudulent, most insurers won’t even consider one unless you have a police report.

Internet

Rates at internet cafés tend to be about €2–4 per hour and any town or major resort will have at least one. Most hotels and an increasing number of cafés offer free wi-fi internet access to patrons.

Laundry

Laundries or Plindíria, as they’re known in Greek, are available in the main resort towns; sometimes an attended service wash is available for little or no extra charge over the basic cost of €8–10 per wash and dry. Self-catering villas will usually be furnished with a drying line and a selection of plastic wash-tubs or a bucket. Most hotels will charge for laundry services.

Living in Greece

EU (and EEA) nationals are allowed to stay indefinitely in any EU state, but to ensure avoidance of any problems – eg, in setting up a bank account – you should, after the third month of stay, get a certificate of registration (vevéosi engrafís). Residence/work permits for non-EU/non-EEA nationals can only be obtained on application to a Greek embassy or consulate outside of Greece; you have a much better chance of securing one if you are married to a Greek, are of Greek background by birth or have permanent-resident status in another EU state.

As for work, non-EU nationals of Greek descent and EU/EEA native speakers of English (ie Brits and Irish) have a much better chance than anyone else. Teaching English at a private language school (frontistírio) is still a relatively well-paid option but almost impossible to get into these days without a bona fide TEFL certificate.

Many people find tourism-related work, especially on the islands most dominated by foreign visitors, April and May being the best time to look around. This is often as a rep for a package company, although they recruit the majority of staff from the home country; all you need is EU nationality and the appropriate language, though knowledge of Greek is a big plus. Jobs in bars or restaurants are a lot easier for women to come by than men. Another option if you have the requisite skills is to work for a windsurfing school or scuba operation.

Mail

Post offices are open Monday to Friday from 7.30am to 2pm, though certain main branches are also open evenings and Saturday mornings. Airmail letters take 3–7 days to reach the rest of Europe, 5–12 days to North America, a little longer for Australia and New Zealand. Postal rates for up to 20g are a uniform €0.75 to all overseas destinations. For a modest fee (about €3) you can shave a day or two off delivery time to any destination by using the express service (katepígonda). Registered (systiméno) delivery is also available for a similar amount but is slow unless coupled with express service. Stamps (grammatósima) are widely available at newsagents and other tourist shops.

Parcels should (and often can) only be handled in the main provincial or county capitals. For non-EU/EEA destinations, always present your box open for inspection, and come prepared with tape and scissors.

Ordinary post boxes are bright yellow, express boxes dark red, but it’s best to use those adjacent to an actual post office, since days may pass between collections at boxes elsewhere.

Maps

The most reliable general touring maps of Greece are those published by Athens-based Anavasi (wanavasi.gr), Road Editions (wroad.gr) and newcomer Orama (wnakas-maps.gr). Anavasi and Road Editions products are widely available in Greece at selected bookshops, as well as at petrol stations and general tourist shops countrywide. In Britain they are found at Stanfords (t020/7836 1321, wstanfords.co.uk) and the Hellenic Book Service (t020/7267 9499, whellenicbookservice.com); in the US, they’re sold through Omni Resources (t910/227-8300, womnimap.com).

Hiking/topographical maps are gradually improving in quality and availability. Road Editions, in addition to their touring maps, produce 1:50,000 topographical maps for mainland mountain ranges, including Áthos, Pílio, Parnassós, Ólymbos, Taiyettos, Ágrafa and Íti, usually with rudimentary route directions in English. Anavasi publishes a series covering the mountains of central Greece (including Ólymbos) and Epirus, some on the Peloponnese, the White Mountains and Psiloritis on Crete and Mt Dhýrfis on Évvia. The map-and-guide booklets published by Marengo Publications (t01485/532710, wmarengowalks.com) in England also prove very useful for areas including Crete, Corfu, Kálymnos, Lésvos, Messinía, Párga, the Pelion, Sámos, Sými and Thássos.

Money

Greece’s currency is the euro (€). Up-to-date exchange rates can be found on wxe.com. Euro notes exist in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros, and coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and 1 and 2 euros. Avoid getting stuck with counterfeit euro notes (€100 and €200 ones abound). The best tests are done by the naked eye: genuine notes all have a hologram strip or (if over €50) patch at one end, there’s a watermark at the other, plus a security thread embedded in the middle. If you end up with a fake note, you’ll have no recourse to a refund. Note that shopkeepers do not bother much with shortfalls of 10 cents or less, whether in their favour (especially) or yours.

Banks and exchange

Greek banks normally open Monday to Thursday 8.30am–2.30pm and Friday 8.30am–2pm. Always take your passport with you as proof of identity and expect long queues. Large hotels and some travel agencies also provide an exchange service, though with hefty commissions. On small islands with no full-service bank, “authorized” bank agents will charge an additional fee for posting a travellers’ cheque to a proper branch.

A number of authorized brokers for exchanging foreign cash have emerged in Athens and other major tourist centres. When changing small amounts, choose those bureaux that charge a flat percentage commission (usually 1 percent) rather than a high minimum. There is a small number of 24-hour automatic foreign-note-changing machines, but a high minimum commission tends to be deducted. There is no need to purchase euros beforehand unless you’re arriving at some ungodly hour to one of the remoter frontier posts. Travellers’ cheques (best in euros rather than dollars) can be cashed at most banks, though rarely elsewhere. Cashing the cheques will incur a minimum charge of €1.20–2.40 depending on the bank; for larger amounts, a set percentage will apply.

ATMs and credit cards

Debit cards have become the most common means of accessing funds while travelling, by withdrawing money from the vast network of Greek ATMs. Larger airports have at least one ATM in the arrivals hall and any town or island with a population larger than a few thousand (or substantial tourist traffic) also has them. Most accept Visa, MasterCard, Visa Electron, Plus and Cirrus cards; American Express holders are restricted to the ATMs of Alpha and National Bank. There is usually a charge of 2.25 percent on the sterling/dollar transaction value, plus a commission fee of a similar amount. Using credit cards at an ATM costs roughly the same; however, inflated interest accrues from the moment of use.

Major credit cards are not usually accepted by cheaper tavernas or hotels but they can be essential for renting cars. Major travel agents may also accept them, though a three-percent surcharge is often levied on the purchase of ferry tickets.

Opening hours and public holidays

It’s difficult to generalize about Greek opening hours, which are notoriously erratic. Most shops open 8.30/9am and close for a long break at 2/2.30pm. Most places, except banks, reopen around 5.30/6pm for three hours or so, at least on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Tourist areas tend to adopt a more northern European timetable, with supermarkets and travel agencies, as well as the most important archeological sites and museums, more likely to stay open throughout the day. If you find yourself needing to tackle Greek bureaucracy, you can’t count on getting anything essential done except from Monday to Friday, between 9.30am and 1pm.

As far as possible, times are quoted in the text for tourist sites but these change with exasperating frequency, especially since the economic crisis. Both winter and summer hours are quoted throughout the guide but to avoid disappointment, either phone ahead or time your visit during the core hours of 9am–2pm. Monasteries are generally open from approximately 9am to 1pm and 5 to 8pm (3.30–6.30pm in winter) for limited visits.

Phones

Three mobile phone networks operate in Greece: Vodafone-Panafon, Cosmote and Q-Telecom/WIND Hellas. Coverage countrywide is good, though there are a few “dead” zones in the mountains, or on really remote islets. Contract-free plans are heavily promoted in Greece, so if you’re here for more than a week or so, buying a pay-as-you-go SIM card (for €15–20) from any of the mobile phone outlets will pay for itself very quickly. Top-up cards – starting from €8–10 – are available at all períptera (kiosks). Roaming charges within the EU are capped at €0.51 equivalent per minute (or €0.26 to receive calls). North American users will only be able to use tri-band phones in Greece.

Land lines and public phones are run by OTE who provide phone cards (tilekártes), available in denominations starting at €4, from kiosks and newsagents. If you plan on making lots of international calls, you’ll want a calling card, all of which involve calling a free access number from either certain phone boxes or a fixed line (not a mobile) and then entering a twelve-digit code. OTE has its own scheme, but competitors generally prove cheaper. Avoid making calls direct from hotel rooms, as a large surcharge will be applied, though you will not be charged to access a free calling card number.

Photography

You can feel free to snap away pretty much anywhere in Greece, although some churches display “No photography” signs, and museums and archeological sites may require permits at least for professional photographers. The main exception is around airports or military installations (usually clearly indicated with a “No pictures” sign). The ordeal of twelve British plane-spotters who processed slowly through Greek jails and courts in 2001–2 on espionage charges should be ample incentive.

Time

Standard Greek time is always two hours ahead of GMT. For North America, the difference is usually seven hours for Eastern Standard Time, ten hours for Pacific Standard Time. Greek summer time begins at 2am on the last Sunday in March, when the clocks go forward one hour, and ends at 2am the last Sunday in October when they go back. This change is not well publicized locally, and visitors miss planes and ferries every year.

Toilets

Public toilets are usually in parks or squares, often subterranean; otherwise try a bus station. Except in tourist areas, public toilets tend to be filthy – it’s best to use those in restaurants and bars. Remember that throughout Greece, you drop paper in the adjacent wastebins, not the toilet bowl.

Tourist information

The National Tourist Organization of Greece (Ellinikós Organismós Tourismoú, or EOT; Visit Greece abroad, wvisitgreece.gr) maintains offices in most European capitals, plus major cities in North America and Australia. It publishes an array of free, glossy, regional pamphlets, invariably several years out of date, fine for getting a picture of where you want to go, though low on useful facts.

In Greece, you will find official EOT offices in many but by no means all of the larger towns and islands where, in addition to the usual leaflets, you can find weekly schedules for the inter-island ferries – rarely entirely accurate, but useful as a guideline. EOT staff may be able to advise on bus and train departures as well as current opening hours for local sites and museums and occasionally can assist with accommodation.

Where there is no EOT office, you can get information from municipally run tourist offices – these can be more highly motivated and helpful than EOT branches. In the absence of any of these, you can visit the Tourist Police, essentially a division (often just a single room) of the local police. They can sometimes provide you with lists of rooms to let, which they regulate, but they’re really the place to go if you have a serious complaint about a taxi, or an accommodation or eating establishment.

Greek national tourist offices abroad

Australia & New Zealand 51 Pitt St, Sydney, NSW 2000 t02/9241 1663, [email protected].

UK 4 Conduit St, London W1R 0DJ t020/7495 4300, [email protected].

USA 305 E 47th St, New York, NY 10017 t212/421-5777, [email protected].

Travellers with disabilities

In general the disabled are not especially well catered for in Greece, though, as relevant EU-wide legislation is implemented, the situation is gradually improving. In cities, wheelchair ramps and beeps for the sight-impaired are rare at pedestrian crossings, and outside Athens few buses are of the “kneeling” type. Only Athens airport, its metro and airline staff in general (who are used to handling wheelchairs) are disabled-friendly. Ancient monuments, one of the country’s main attractions, are usually inaccessible or hazardous for anyone with mobility impairments.

Some advance planning will make a stress-free holiday in Greece more likely. The Greek National Tourist Office is helpful; they also publish a useful questionnaire that you might send to hotels or self-catering accommodation. Before purchasing travel insurance, ensure that pre-existing medical conditions are not excluded. A medical certificate of your fitness to travel is also extremely useful; some airlines or insurance companies may insist on it.

Travelling with children

Children are worshipped and indulged in Greece, and present few problems when travelling. They are not segregated from adults at meal times, and early on in life are inducted into the typical late-night routine – kids at tavernas are expected to eat (and up to their capabilities, talk) like adults. Outside of certain all-inclusive resorts with children’s programmes, however, there are very few amusements specifically for them – certainly nothing like Disney World Paris. Water parks, tourist sites and other places of interest that are particularly child-friendly are noted throughout the guide.

Luxury hotels are more likely to offer some kind of babysitting or crèche service. All the same basic baby products that you can find at home are available in Greece, though some may be more expensive, so it can pay to load up on nappies, powders and creams before leaving home.

Most domestic ferry-boat companies and airlines offer child discounts, ranging from fifty to one hundred percent depending on their age; hotels and rooms won’t charge extra for infants, and levy a modest supplement for “third” beds which the child occupies by him/herself.