The Do's and Don'ts When Traveling in Greece
As a first time visitor to Greece, it is always good practice to get acquainted with the common customs and practices. Knowing the “do's and don’ts” of Greece gives both to you as tourist and the local people a better experience and helps you avoid any unpleasant encounters! Here is a list of things you should know before your arrival.
- Do accept a greeting with two kisses on the cheek. Like in many parts of Europe, this is a customary greeting that is done in a more personal setting. Shaking hands is not as much common.
- Do accept an invitation for a lunch or dinner at their home. Greeks are very hospitable to foreign visitors. Bring a gift to show your gratitude.
- Don’t thrust the palm of your hand in front of someone's face, it is considered a very rude gesture, so don’t attempt to do this even jokingly!
- Don’t repeat the “bad words” without knowing exactly what they mean, especially the one starting with "M" and ending with an "A"!
- Don’t be alarmed if many people smoke indoors, as Greece has a sizeable population of smokers. It is the norm in most places for people to smoke indoors even though it is banned.
Traveling and Sightseeing
- Do visit some mainland areas in Greece. Greece is of course known for its stunning islands, but there are many mainland cities worth exploring as well. Consider Meteora, with its gorgeous mountain top monasteries, or Delphi, with its rich ancient history and ruins. You can easily take a train (the national suburban railway) or bus to go there.
- Do get an Athens City Pass, which is a good way to save money on transportation and seeing the major attractions! It comes in various packages from “mini” to “complete”, and includes things like 72 hours of unlimited free travel in public transport, and free and priority access to the Acropolis and Archaeological Museum.
- Don’t try to cram in too many Greek Islands. With so many incredible Islands in Greece, it is understandable that you want to “island hop” and see many islands as soon as possible during your time here. But if you’re visiting Greece for a week, stick to visiting Athens for a couple of days and then at most two islands. Allow yourself some time to relax and get acquainted with everything an island has to offer!
Food and Drink
- Do drink the tap water in Athens and the Greek mainland, but bottled water on the islands. The tap water in Athens, especially, is very safe along with the cities in mainland. But when vacationing on the islands, you should drink bottled water since the water tanks used on the Greek Islands are for water used for bathing or doing the laundry, but not for consumption.
- Do tip if you liked the service. Although there is no norm for tipping in Greece unlike in North American culture, it is still a good practice to tip and reward good service. People do not expect you to tip in anywhere else than in coffee houses, taverns, restaurants and maybe room service in the hotels. You can tip as much as you want or you can still no tip at all.
- Do try the wide variety of foods in Greece! Greeks are known for their delicious cuisine and offer something for everyone from vegetarians to of course the meat lovers. Try going to some off beat places and restaurants for authentic Greek cuisine; If you’re in Athens and want to try authentic Greek food and consider yourself a foodie, join our "Get a Taste of Athens food tour" for a chance to get acquainted with the amazing Greek cuisine with a local expert!
- Do learn the various public transportation systems. It will be useful to take a look at how you’ll get around in the area you’re visiting before you get there. For example, the metro is the easiest and most convenient way of getting around in Athens. For a more comprehensive guide on public transport in Athens, read this article!
- Do expect metro or bus strikes, especially in the summer. It might be inconvenient but public transport in the city does go on strike at times for hours at a time. Download “Moovit”, an app that warns you ahead of time of any scheduled strikes so you can plan accordingly.
- Don’t cut that return to Athens too close. If you’re returning to Athens to catch a flight back home, make sure you allow enough time in between. Your ferry could suffer mechanical problems, or be delayed due to the weather or another work stoppage. It’s less risky if you’re flying back but delays are always possible with flying as well.
- Don’t try to learn to drive in Greece. It’s better to get around on the various public transportation options available rather than learn to drive on Greece’s roads where the road rules are different and street signs may be confusing.
- Do speak English, as most Greeks you’ll encounter will know how to speak English. Greece offers English language lessons starting in third grade, so almost everyone under the age of 50 will have had English in school and will know enough to communicate on a basic level.
- Do learn some common Greek words and phrases to use in conversation. It will show your interest in the country and the culture; even if you’re not perfect, your effort will be appreciated by Greeks! It could also help communicating in situations where a Greek local does not speak much English and save some hassle.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Greek people will understand you’re a tourist and are generally extremely friendly and willing to lend a hand. If you find yourself a bit lost while traveling around, feel free to kindly ask a local about directions.
- Do pack light. Overpacking can really destroy the joy of traveling, not just from the hassle of carrying all the extra weight around but also the extra cost that may be associated with additional luggage from airline companies.
- Don’t forget to pack your adapter and a power bank. A power bank is especially useful when you need to charge your phone on the go; it can be a life saver at times! If you forget one, you’ll easily be able to find one in Greece.
- Do always carry a bit of cash. The official monetary unit of Greece is the Euro and no other currency is accepted. Cash is the preferred method of payment in many shops even if they have a debit/credit machine. Also only cash accepted when traveling in a taxi (except when you use the Beat app).
- Do use the ATMs widely available around the country. If you find yourself running out of cash, the best and most convenient way to get more cash is from an ATM. There are plenty of them in large cities like Athens and on the islands, as well. Be prepared to pay an extra withdrawal fee from your bank however; my bank in Canada charges $5 every time I withdraw cash from an ATM.
- Don’t get into taxis without asking how much they will charge you. While most Greeks are honest people, some can try to take advantage of the fact that you’re a tourist; always check that the meter is running and confirm how much the fee will be with the driver ahead of time. Also keep in mind that taxis double their fares at night.
- Don’t carry travelers cheques or personal cheques, as they are outdated and not really accepted in Greece.
- Do get a prepaid euro currency credit card for shopping, as most stores in Greece besides the smaller convenient and corner stores accept debit and credit card payments. I generally do not like carrying a large amount of cash with me so having a credit card is a must. With a prepaid Euro currency card, you can reload money online from your bank account and avoid the extra fee on top of exchange (usually 2.5%).
- Do be aware that stores usually close mid-day around 2-3 pm as Greek shop owners have their “siesta” which might be inconvenient for some, but yet it is a nice tradition. Large malls in Athens and other big cities are open usually till 9 pm in the weekdays and till the afternoon on Saturdays, Sundays closed. Little corner shops in the city and gift shops in the islands are usually open all day, every day.
- Do bargain. It is an acceptable practice in Greece to bargain but many stores have fixed prices. If you are buying a sizeable amount or multiple things, you have a better chance.
- Don’t decide to go grocery shopping on Sundays, as grocery stores and even some markets are all generally closed on Sundays. You will be able to find one here or there but it will be more challenging and you’ll end up paying a bit more.
Do be weary of pickpockets. Although it's not common, it does happen and is something you need to be cautious of. People often wear their backpacks in front of their bodies to protect themselves from people accessing their backpacks, especially in the metro or the bus. Wearing a cross body purse is also more secure.
Do lock valuables in your hotel/hostel. If you’re traveling with expensive things such as laptops, phones, or cameras, it is a good idea to lock them in your hotel safe. Since hotel thefts are rare, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you’re staying in a hostel, find one that comes with lockers and carry your own lock with you so you don’t need to buy one there.
Don’t be afraid of traveling alone in Greece as a woman. Greece, including the vibrant city of Athens is actually one of the most safe areas for women traveling alone. You may stay away from some specific areas of the city at night (e.g. near Omonoia, Victoria, and Attica metro stations), but at any other time it is very safe.
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What part of the Greek culture and the local customs did you find the most interesting or the most different from your own country's practices? Let us know in the comments below!
Words: Prachi Oza