Though arguably best known - and most visited - for its stunning islands, Greece is astoundingly diverse. Beyond its beautiful beaches, Greece boasts mighty mountains and caves, salt marshes and cloud-forests. Its weather ranges from blazing summers to snowy winters. In short, few countries have such varied landscapes and seasonal extremes. Then there’s its ancient history, glorious food, and warm Hellenic welcome.
One thing’s for sure, visiting Greece has the potential to deliver all manner of unforgettable trips - you just need to know what you want, where to find it, and to do a little planning. With that in mind, here are our top 15 Greece travel tips - from what to know before travelling to Greece, to top tips for Greece getaways that take you off-the-beaten-track.
1. Avoid peak season
Unless you absolutely have to travel to Greece during high summer because of school holidays, try to visit outside the peak season (late July to the end of August). At this time, the weather is scorching, prices soar, and you’ll struggle to escape the crowds - this is when the Greeks take their holidays too.
For a winter pick-me-up with added colour and culture, you could consider visiting for the February Carnival (Apokriátika). The celebrations span three weeks, ending during the seventh weekend before Easter. For peak pageantry, check-out Patras Carnival - one of the largest and most flamboyant in the Mediterranean (and the third largest of its kind in the world). Patras itself is the largest city of The Peloponnese and its carnival boasts a chariot parade and exuberant costume parties. More of our winter travel tips for Greece can be found here.
It goes without saying that scaling mountain peaks in the peak summer months won’t be a walk in the park. So, the adventurous hikers among you should consider visiting in May - when warmer weather is on its way, but before the mercury has risen. From exploring the Meteora geological marvels and Eastern Orthodox monasteries of central Greece on treks like this, to tackling the iconic Imbros Gorge in southern Crete, spring is pretty much perfect for outdoor adventuring in Greece.
For more round-the-year information, head here to read our full when-to-visit Greece guide.
2. Be inspired by fiction
As well as researching where to go, when to go, and what do to, why not get yourself in the mood for Greece through reading fiction? There’s no shortage of quality material to enrich your understanding of the country - from re-workings of ancient history and culture, to contemporary page-turners.
To begin at the beginning, you could finally get round to reading Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. For fabulous contemporary novels centred on ancient myths, try Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and Circe, or Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, a magnificent account of Theseus in Minoan Crete. Then there’s Margaret Atwood’s ingeniously inventive The Penelopiad, and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls.
Moving away from myths, Crete-set Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis is considered a classic, while Captain Corelli’s Mandolin well and truly put Kefalonia on the map. Also read our guide to the best things to do in Kefalonia and find some useful ideas for your trip.
For real-life family drama and animal antics aplenty, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu-set memoir My Family and Other Animals is a must-read. Or how about Victoria Hislop’s The Island and The Thread for Greek history and atmosphere?
With literally hundreds of Greek-set literary treasures to choose from (we’ve hardly touched the surface here), you might just find your perfect Greek destination after reading one of them. What’s more, by the time you travel to Greece, you’ll be in the perfect frame of mind - when it comes to pre-trip tips for Greece, they don’t come more inspirational than this.
3. Learn a little lingo
Related to getting your Greek on through reading fiction before you travel to Greece, why not also learn (at least) a little of the language?
First up, it will make your trip all the more immersive. Secondly, Greeks don’t generally expect foreigners to know any Greek, so they love it when you do know a few words. What’s not to like about impressing (and ingratiating yourself) with locals?
Given the high levels of English throughout the country, learning Greek isn’t at all necessary. But that's not the point. Your efforts will be rewarded when your status is elevated from regular tourist to honoured “xenos”, which means both “foreigner” and “guest”.
If you’re wondering what to know before travelling to Greece, take a look at the Rough Guides Greek Phrasebook. One thing’s for sure - if you follow this advice (one of our top Greece travel tips) you’ll never have need of the phase “it’s all Greek to me again.” Talking of which, we also recommend reading John Mole’s hilarious memoir, It’s All Greek to Me.
4. Embrace island-hopping
These days most people tend to stick to one island per trip (the golden age of Greek island hopping was back in the 70s and 80s). Having said that, there’s no reason you can’t buck the trend and plan a multi-island adventure. While island-hopping can make travelling in Greece more complex, it can be done. What's more, it can make for a richly diverse experience.
For inspiration, you could take a look at our guide to the best Greek islands, and then start researching what’s possible. Ferry services are still plentiful and mostly reliable through the warmer months, so why not choose a group of islands like the Ionians, the Dodecanese or the postcard pretty Cyclades? Most islands offer trips to see some of their smaller gems, such as this full-day sailing cruise around the Small Cyclades from Paros. Or, if you’re flying into Athens, you could take a tour of the scenic Saronic Islands (Hydra, Poros and Aegina). Our Greece experts share some itinerary ideas here.
5. Stay put in paradise
If you don’t the fancy multiple moves that come with island-hopping, why not look to park yourself on a lesser-visited island for the duration of your trip? For travellers looking to discover the country beyond the trappings of resort-life. this is one of our best tips for Greece.
Take lovely Lesvos, for example. It might be the third-largest island behind Crete and Evvia, but it’s surprisingly little visited. Its coastline boasts a bounty of beautiful beaches, while main town of Mytilini has an impressive seafront, an extensive fortress, plus plenty of places to eat and drink. The island isn’t short of pretty small towns either, among them Molyvos and Ayiassos. What’s more, the large shallow Gulf of Kalloni includes salt marshes that are a birdwatcher’s dream.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking a well-travelled path. It's hardly a hidden gem, but with stunning sunsets, beautiful beaches, volcanic hiking trails, and lively nightlife, Santorini is the perfect place to enjoy a varied Greek Island getaway. Known for its iconic blue-domed churches, white houses carved into cliffs, and epic caldera views (not to mention the sunsets that will take your breath way - really), it’s no wonder that Santorini’s Oia is one of the most photographed spots on all the Greek Islands.
While you’ll most likely want to amble enchanting Oia in your own time, booking a boat trip to view that legendary sunset comes highly recommended. While building up to the main event, this sunset sailing cruise sails past the Indian Head Mountain and Venetian Lighthouse into the picturesque Caldera. It also offers views of the Ancient City of Akrotiri, with swimming and snorkelling stop-offs at secluded bays along the way. And if you give this a read, you might just discover some of Santorini's secret gems.
As with planning an island-hopping adventure, you’ll want to take time to research which island to make your “stay-put-Paradise” - but all that prep will be more than worth it when you find your Greek El Dorado.
6. Meander the mainland
Though we've waxed lyrical about the joys of island-hopping, and about staying put on your preferred island paradise, don’t fall into the trap of associating Greece solely with its islands (as Greece travel tips go, this is up there with the best of them). The mainland has a whole lot to offer too, from the imposing northern mountain ranges, to the all-but-empty golden beaches of the western Peloponnese. Talking of which, the Peloponnese is also perfect for culture vultures who are keen to discover Greece’s archaeological treasures, among them the ancient site of Olympia.
If nature and outdoor adventuring is more your bag, be sure to investigate visiting the Pindus Mountains. Known as the spine of Greece, this 160km long mountain range borders northern Greece and southern Albania. Hiking to the Vikos Gorge is an unforgettable experience - famed for its unique natural beauty and crystal-clear waters, the gorge is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the deepest gorge in the world.
Travelling between the main towns can be done on the extensive KTEL bus network, with local services radiating out to villages, but if you're interested in historical and cultural highlights and maybe pressed for time, consider a private guide and driver, or hiring a car.
7. Take-in the capital
Where ancient myth meets modern metropolis - historic Athens is as multi-layered as an archaeological excavation, or a serving of flaky baklava. For history buffs, visiting this bustling city is one of our top tips of Greece, with exploring the Acropolis and Parthenon a literal and metaphoric highpoint of any visit. This guided walking tour is a great way to see the city’s major sights - including the Acropolis - with entry fees included in the price.
One of our favourite spots in Athens is picturesque Plaka. Straddling the ancient and modern city, Plaka was the hub of Athens’s population from Byzantine times through to Greek independence. Today its tangle of winding thoroughfares is a delight to explore. Dappled with neoclassical mansions, fragrant with gardenias, and chock-a-block with street musicians, it’s the perfect place for a pre-dinner stroll. You could even blend Plaka’s ambience with Greek culture and great food on this deliciously entertaining dance-and-dine experience.
If you’re looking for a room with a view in Athens, they don’t come better than Electra Metropolis. It's elegantly appointed, conveniently located, with panoramic views over (you’ve guessed it) the Acropolis.
Discover the diversity of Athens with our guide to the best things to do in Athens.
8. Take care in the capital
Athens is where you’re most likely to encounter the effects of Greece’s twin crises of recent years (financial and immigrant), with an increase in shuttered buildings and homelessness.
While it’s not generally unsafe, you should watch your valuables, especially when travelling on crowded transport such as the metro. And, as with travel in general, look into taking out insurance before travelling in Greece, or to Greece for that matter. Better safe than sorry.
9. Eat and drink like a local
While Greeks love their grub, eating out in Greece is a delectably casual affair. And, rather than sticking to three square meals a day, they tend to eat more often - good news for travellers wanting to sample the country’s many culinary delights. It goes without saying that when you’re away, it’s better to look out for restaurants that locals dine in - not only will the food be much better, but it’ll be better for your pocket too.
Experiencing Greek food is a great reason alone to travel to this country. Read our guide to the Greek dishes you must try during your trip.
Another way to embrace that dine-like-a-local ethos is to ask for local barrelled wine, (cheaper than bottled), or to try a fiery spirit like ouzo or tsipouro. And don’t be fobbed off with bottled water - tap is fine.
You could get into Greek grub through taking a tasting tour, like this gourmet food walking tour of Athens, or this Crete wine and food tasting tour. You’ll find similar experiences all over the mainland and islands.
From breakfast koulouri (soft bread rings covered in sesame seeds), to mouth-watering moussaka, to perfect pastries (spanakopita is especially sensational - phyllo pastry layered with feta cheese and spinach), there’s plenty to whet your appetite. For more food recommendations, read our guide to must-eat dishes.
10. Embrace Greek time
Leading on from eating and drinking like a local, it’s worth knowing that punctuality isn’t held in the highest esteem in Greece. Greeks tend to hold the healthy Mediterranean belief that most things can be put off until tomorrow, and nothing needs to be done in a hurry - Spanish “mañana” equals Greek “avrio”.
So, don’t expect snappy service in restaurants, or transportation to run like clockwork. In fact, this might just be one of our best tips of Greece - don’t sweat the small stuff (like getting annoyed if your dinner’s a bit late). Instead, save your energy for the good stuff - like discovering (yet another) secluded cove, exploring (yet another) awe-inspiring ancient ruin, or making it to the top of that mountain peak.
11. Embrace Greek culture
Alongside eating like a local, you’ll get a whole lot more from your trip if you seek out the likes of local festivals, feasts and craft and food markets during your stay. Even better if you take part, or get a guide to show you the ropes. With options running from taking a weaving class in Crete’s traditional Arolithos village to learning the art of traditional breadmaking, you won't be short of activities.
And of course, don’t pass up the chance to see Greece’s rich ancient history up close. In all likelihood, there’ll be a host of amazing ruins to explore whenever you are.
12. Be sensitive...
While most younger Greeks regard themselves as open-minded, the older generation are pretty conservative. Also, the Orthodox Church still holds great sway. Nudity is frowned upon away from designated beaches, and it’s not advisable to visit churches or monasteries in skimpy shorts or tops.
It might be useful to be aware of two gestures that could cause offence, or misunderstanding. First, hand gestures. Don’t hold your hand up, palm out, to anybody, and don’t make an OK sign by forming a circle with your thumb and forefinger - both are extremely rude. Secondly, nodding and shaking your head for "yes" and "no" are also likely to be misinterpreted. Greeks use a slight forward inclination of the head for yes, and a more vigorous backward nod for no.
For our full guide to Greek etiquette, take a look at this.
13. ...but don’t be shy
Greeks are mostly extroverts and love exchanging views and opinions with anyone and everyone. So don’t hold back on asking people about their beliefs and opinions, or expressing your own.
If travelling with children, you’ll soon see how much they're adored - and indulged. Children often act as natural icebreakers too, especially at restaurants, where nobody minds them running around and making a bit (or even a lot) of noise.
14. Share the wealth
While resort packages - especially all-inclusive ones - can be very cheap, not much of the money you spend stays in Greece. So, you might want to give a little back and stay in independent accommodation - a local guest house, or locally owned villa. Not only are there great deals to be had, but you’re also more likely to have a more authentic experience. As an example, Home Sweet Hotel in Plaka is a lovely option if you're in Athens.
If you are set on staying in a resort, why not head beyond the confines of your holiday retreat to eat? Firstly, eating the same buffet every day can get a little boring. And secondly, as we mentioned above, there are plenty of local eateries serving excellent food at excellent prices.
15. Use your judgement
There’s a lot of truth in the maxim that if you ask five Greeks how to get somewhere you’ll get five different answers. So, take what you’re told with a pinch of salt. Ask, listen, get a second option - but don’t be surprised when that second opinion advises driving in the opposite direction. Above all, don’t worry - getting a little lost is part of the fun.
Greeks tend to have a similarly divergent, flexible attitude to rules and regulations - like having to wear seatbelts or crash helmets, and not smoking in public places. These are all regularly ignored, but it’s up to you whether you follow suit. Take your cue (or not) from others around you.
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Header image: idyllic Agios Stefanos on the Greek island of Corfu © Shutterstock