Greece has captured the imagination of travellers for at least the last 5000 years, with a history and culture that has been influenced by cultures as diverse as the Minoans, the ancient Egyptians, Arabs, Romans and many more besides, leaving a deeply rich tapestry of myths and legends that will not fail to impress even the most jaded cultural philistine.
But far beyond that, Greece offers a whole smorgasbord of sensual and cultural delights that elevate it far beyond the hedonistic pursuits of a minority of package tourists that head straight to the party islands.
Languishing on a balmy beach at sunset, exploring ancient ruins and picturesque villages – just like when you are enjoying the fresh, delicious, healthy Grecian cuisine – Greece is at its best when it is kept simple and uncomplicated.
On the whole Greece is a very Westernised, European country that is very in tune with European customs and traditions, and few travellers will have trouble fitting into the culture here. The further away you get from the tourist hotspots however the more you will find very traditional roots still hold firm.
Greeks are often extremely friendly, and don’t have the same personal boundaries that many other countries do, you are as likely to receive a warm hug, a ton of personal questions and an invite to a family meal on the first meeting as you are a warm handshake.
Greeks are also extremely laid back, and this extends to their timekeeping too. Any timetable is only ever a rough guess.
Away from the touristy areas and party islands, a little more conservatism with your dress and behaviour is expected. Greece is far from a conservative country by any means, but making a little effort when you go out is the norm and wearing trousers instead of shorts will be expected if you visit any religious sites. A little decorum is expected if you visit a family beach too.
A vast range of countries including the UK, all of Europe, the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and many countries in South and Central America and Asia can enter and stay in Greece for up to 3 months without a visa. The list does change from time to time so check the Greek embassies to find out if your country is on the list. You can stay longer but you will have to apply roughly a month in advance (to be safe) to the Greek consulate, or to the Aliens Bureau in Athens if you are already in the country which can extend your visa to 6 months.
There are no recommended vaccinations for visiting Greece, but it is still strongly recommended that all travellers are up to date with their routine vaccinations including tetanus and polio.
All EU and UK citizens are entitled to free healthcare in Greece thanks to reciprocal arrangements, but will still need an EHIC card to access it. Everyone else should ensure that they have adequate insurance as any medical treatment outside immediate emergency trauma care will come at a very high cost.
Many large towns and resorts will have English speaking medical professionals, and pharmacies with well trained staff are widely available for common complaints such as sun exposure, diarrhoea and insect bites.
Crime and Safety.
Greece on the whole is as safe as any European country. Crime does exist but reasonable common sense precautions will reduce the risk of most travellers becoming a victim of any crime or mishap.
Many problems tourists and travellers encounter in Greece involve drink and other substances on the often notorious party islands such as Kavos, Faliraki and others. These places are often heaving with drunken tourists on a boozed up budget package holiday, so you should expect the behaviour and troubles that often come with that if you visit there and prepare yourself appropriately.
The common bar scam is particularly rife in the bars of Athens and some of the islands. Male travellers are particularly at risk of being led to a bar by friendly locals, conned into buying a good looking woman a drink, then presented with the vastly overpriced bill for those drinks. Threats and violence are not unknown if you do not pay up, so ask for prices beforehand and keep your wits about you.
Costs and money.
The primary unit of Greece is the Euro, and despite the recent economic meltdown Greece is very cheap compared to most other neighbouring European countries, but it can still be a very expensive destination depending on where you stay, how much island hopping you do, how many sites you see and how much you drink.
Accommodation can set you back at least £10 -£15 GBP for a basic dorm and £25 upwards for a private room, much more on the more expensive islands and you can expect prices to rise in the peak summer season.
Transportation will be your next major expense, especially if you plan to visit a lot of islands. Island hopping will involve a lot of ferries and boats, which can on average set you back between £10 -£30 GBP or more. The slower overnight ferries are cheaper which can also save you a night’s accommodation costs.
Activities will also set you back a fair bit, with tickets to ancient sites costing between £5 – £15 GBP and tourist activities on the party islands costing much more.
Food and drink however can be quite cheap away from the resorts. Eat at smaller cafes and local gyros and you can get great local meals for a few pounds.
When to go.
Weather wise you can visit Greece at any time of the year, head South for warmer weather in the winter and North for cooler weather in the Summer as a very general rule. Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit Greece as you will avoid the tourist crush of peak season in July and August and the practical shutdown of many tourist services in the winter.
The topography of this volcanic landscape is absolutely stunning, and according to some theories the location of the mythical Atlantis. Either way, visiting this island is an absolute must for anyone travelling through Greece.
This is perhaps one of the most famous historical monuments in the world, up there on any list alongside the Pyramids and the Sphinx of Egypt or the Incan ruins of Peru, the Acropolis is hailed as the birthplace of modern civilisation and this perpetually restored ruin is an absolute must see in Greece.
The birthplace of the Olympic games is a great place to visit and soak in some history, any fan of the games themselves will appreciate the significance of the site.
The ruins at Delphi.
Surrounded by beautiful countryside, the famous ruins of Delphi have been the source of pilgrimages for thousands of years. You may not get your future told by the mythical oracle, but you will be rewarded by some stunning ruins and a history so tangible and rich you can almost feel it.
Trekking to the top of Mount Olympus.
A visit to the home of the Gods is almost obligatory on any visit to Greece, but to get to hike up there surrounded by breathtaking views is the icing on the cake. You can easily imagine how the Greek Pantheon could call this their home!
Hike the Samaria Gorge.
Descending into the gorge isn’t difficult for anyone with a basic level of fitness, and the amazing views, surrounded by towering mountains is more than worth the effort!
Indulge in a feast!
Greece is famous for simple, fresh but delicious Mediterranean food, and feasting on a traditional mezedhes platter followed by cheeses and fruit is absolute heaven, and you can even wash it down with locally sourced wine or even a glass of ouzo!