Although the news has been full of negative stories about the financial and immigrant crises which have engulfed Greece in recent years, there are still many reasons to visit. Its stunning beaches, superb mountain scenery, great food and warm Hellenic welcome are just a few.
Our first ever Rough Guide was to Greece, 35 years ago. As we celebrate our 35th birthday, co-author of The Rough Guide to Greece, Nick Edwards, shares his tips for travelling around this beautiful country.
1. Share the wealth
Try to use independent accommodation and dining options as much as possible. Resort packages, especially all-inclusive ones, can be very cheap but little of the money you spend stays in Greece.
The economic crisis has actually led to most villa, pension and small hotel owners lowering their prices and being more prepared to bargain on spec.
And who wants to eat the same resort buffet every day, when there is a choice of authentic tavernas close by?
2. Avoid peak season
Unless you have to go in high summer because of school holidays, try to visit outside the peak season of late July to the end of August. During this period, the weather is blistering hot, prices soar and everywhere gets overcrowded because the Greeks themselves are on holiday.
May and June see warm days, with a proliferation of flora, and fresh nights, while September and early October offer golden days and the sea still holds its summer heat.
3. Meander around the mainland
Don’t fall into the trap of associating Greece solely with its islands. The mainland has a great deal to offer, from the imposing Pindos mountain range in the north to the empty golden beaches of the western Peloponnese. It also boasts the greatest number of archaeological sites.
Travelling between the main towns is easy on the comprehensive KTEL bus network, with local services radiating out to villages.
You can also make use of the limited but extremely cheap national rail service for a number of key destinations.
4. Eat and drink like a local
Eating is invariably a casual affair in Greece. Look out for the restaurants that the locals dine in as the food will be much better. Just remember that Greeks eat late – often after 10pm.
Always ask for local barrelled wine, which is cheaper than bottled, or try a fiery spirit such as ouzo or tsipouro. Likewise, don’t be fobbed off with bottled water, as what comes out of the tap is perfectly potable.
5. Go island hopping
There’s no doubt that the golden age of island hopping was in the 70s and 80s, and most people now stick to one island per holiday.
But 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 and see as many as you can?
Always plan to return to your departure airport a day or two ahead of your flight though.
6. Embrace Greek time
Punctuality is not held in the highest esteem in Greece. There is a healthy Mediterranean belief that most things can be put off and nothing needs to be done in a hurry: Spanish “mañana” equals Greek “avrio”.
So don’t expect service in a restaurant to be too snappy or transportation always to run like clockwork.
7. Be culturally sensitive
Most younger Greeks regard themselves as modern and open-minded – but the older generation have an ingrained conservatism and the Orthodox Church still holds great sway.
Nudity is frowned upon away from designated beaches and it is better not to visit churches or monasteries in skimpy shorts or tops.
8. Beware of directions and regulations
There’s a good deal of truth in the maxim that if you ask five Greeks how to get somewhere you’ll get five different answers. But don’t worry – getting a bit lost is all part of the fun.
It’s similar with rules and regulations such as having to wear seatbelts or crash helmets, or not smoking in public places. These are all regularly ignored but it’s up to you whether you follow suit.
9. Take care in the capital
Athens may come across as a concrete jungle, but it is also rich with sights, including the ancient Acropolis and some superb museums.
It is where you are most likely to encounter the effects of the twin crises, however, with an increasing number of shuttered buildings and homeless people.
Although it is not generally unsafe, you should watch your valuables, especially when travelling on crowded transport such as the metro.
10. Don’t be shy
Greeks are mostly extrovert types and love exchanging views and opinions with anybody and everybody. So don’t hold back on asking people about their beliefs and opinions or expressing your own.
If you are travelling with kids, you’ll soon see how much they are indulged. They can often act as natural ice-breakers, especially at restaurants, where nobody minds them running around and making a bit of a noise.
11. Learn a little of the language
Greeks generally do not expect foreigners to know any Greek, and levels of English are good throughout the country.
On the other hand, they love it if you do learn at least a few words. Any effort will be rewarded by your status being elevated from a regular tourist to an honoured “xenos”, which means both “foreigner” and “guest”.
Inspired? To celebrate our 35th birthday, we’re offering our readers 35% off all ebooks with the code RG35YEARS.