Dos And Don’ts For Travelling In Greece: Customs And Etiquette For First Time Travellers.

package holiday in Rhodes Greece

Greece is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but despite the number of travellers who head there every year there are still a lot of cultural faux pas and etiquette no no’s that hit unsuspecting travellers hard, so if you are planning a trip to Greece here are the custom and etiquette dos and don’ts that will help you get far more out of your experience.

Greece is a popular destination for a reason, amazing beaches, more history and heritage that you can take in an any one trip and of course the famous nightlife, but perhaps more than anything it is the way Greeks cling onto and respect their culture and traditions more fiercely than many other countries do. So how exactly do you blend in as a traveller and experience Greek culture in a more in depth way? Easy, you get to know local do’s and don’ts and follow local etiquette. The good news is that it really isn’t that hard and common sense and respect will get you a long way.


Greece is a country that is used to tourists and is pretty laid back in terms of what people wear, especially on the beaches and in the nightlife areas, but it is important to remember that it is still culturally pretty conservative and the predominant religion in the country is Greek Orthodox, and that means just be a little bit sensitive with what you wear. That bikini may look awesome on the beach, but it isn’t really appropriate when shopping in Athens, and those shorts and vulgar stag night T Shirts might get some laughs in the clubs of Faliraki or Mykonos, they aren’t great for a nice evening out.

This may seem like common sense but there are so many tourists who go into ‘holiday mode’ and just don’t think sometimes.

It is also important to note that if you are visiting any of the countless churches, monasteries, religious sites or historical landmarks, a slightly less than casual look is appreciated. For the most part you don’t have to go overboard, a long dress with a shawl that covers the shoulders or a casual shirt paired with smart shorts are fine. There are also some religious sites that do not permit women at all unless they cover their shoulders or legs, and others still that require specific clothing to be worn (although these can often be borrowed on site if that is the case.

Speaking The Language.

Whilst most Greeks speak English – and many other European languages – extremely well, it is always good advice to just learn a few local phrases and try to use them, even if it is just something as simple as hello and thank you! The gesture is always appreciated and welcomed. The big cultural difference when coming to Greece, especially if you are coming from somewhere like the UK, is just how much Greeks use their hands when they talk, so much so that it may seem like every conversation turns into an amateur dramatic performance! Hardly surprising from the culture that supposedly invented drama to be fair! In Greece it will be expected for you do be just as gregarious as they are so don’t be afraid to open up and gesture wildly, just be prepared to duck if you are in a crowded room!

One thing to be aware of when doing this though is the dreaded ‘moutza’. This is where you display your hand with your palm out and all your fingers splayed out, as if you are indicating the number five. This may be relatively innocent back home, but in Greece this is the equivalent to giving people the middle finger! So be careful!

Ftou Ftou!

One of the strangest customs I have had to get used to, especially as someone trained in infection prevention control, is the Greek custom of spitting all over you!

I mean I am far from a germaphobe, but surely having huge gobs of strangers spit hurled at you every day isn’t hygienic?

Well don’t worry, it is a little bit strange at first but they aren’t actually spitting at you, which is obviously considered rude in most places.

If a Greek makes a ‘ftou’ sound at you three times, almost like they are spitting but actually aren’t, and flicks their gand at you, they are actually blessing you or giving you a compliment by warding off the evil eye. If a priest dies it, they see warding off the devil! A padre’s ‘ftou’ has some extra firepower it seems!

So don’t worry, they aren’t actually trying to spit on you! Take it as the compliment it is!

Look But Don’t Touch.

Greece is overflowing with ancient cultural heritage and artefacts, so much so that you can’t throw a stone without hitting a museum, archaeological site or ancient monument, but the real point is that you shouldn’t be picking up that stone in the first place!

In the past Greece has had a huge problem with tourists touching, climbing on or just generally disrespecting ancient monuments like the Acropolis. Just don’t do it!

Eating And Drinking.

Despite common misconceptions, Greeks do not sit around eating souvlaki and drinking copious amounts of frappe – an intense, highly sugared instant coffee that runs the risk of giving you a heart attack or diabetes – all day! But what they do have is a really strong coffee culture and it is really common to see people simply enjoying the slow life in cafes with a coffee and a snack, or people on nights out drinking coffee with friends and enjoying a game of Tavli instead of drinking alcohol.

Alcohol, when drunk, is often done relatively sensibly, as an accompaniment to a meal or adding something extra to a coffee as a treat. Moderation is the key word here. Getting drunk, or going on an epic night of binge drinking – outside of the club areas like Faliraki of course – is not something that is appreciated in most of Greece, and is not something you will see many locals doing.

This same mentality goes for the local foodie culture too. Normal dinner time may be 1800 or 1900 in large parts of Europe, but in Greece they eat late and after a long evening of drinking coffee it is not unusual to see kitchens getting busy at midnight.

Accept Invitations.

Hospitality is extremely important to Greek culture and it is not uncommon to be invited back to a locals home for lunch or dinner. Use your basic common sense around safety of course, but most of the time this is a friendly honour that you shouldn’t refuse! Greek home cooking and hospitality is amazing! And Greek grandmothers will literally keep feeding you no matter how full you are! If you are invited anywhere don’t be early, on time is considered early in Greece, and bring a small gift. A bunch of flowers or a small cake is fine.

A lot of these do’s and don’ts are relatively common sense, and if you do make the odd faux pas as a tourist you’ll generally be forgiven, but a little bit of respect and forethought goes a long way and will ensure your time in Greece is even more special!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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6 comments on “Dos And Don’ts For Travelling In Greece: Customs And Etiquette For First Time Travellers.
  1. Lindsay says:

    Interesting tips, thanks! I’m planning a trip to Greece this summer so these will come in handy.

  2. Evan says:

    I can vouch for the accepting invitations part! I’ve been to Greece a lot and the Greek hospitality is real.

  3. Jules says:

    I always wondered about the spitting thing! That’s so funny!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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