Greece offers a myriad of experiences, landscapes and activities. It is the pulsing nightclubs of Mykonos and the ancient beauty of Delos; the grandeur of Delphiand the earthiness of Ioannina; the rugged hillsides of Crete and the lush wildflowers of spring. It is the blinding light of the Mykonos sun, the melancholy throb of Thessaloniki's rembetika (blues songs), the tang of home-made tzatziki, the gossip in the kafeneia (coffee shops). It is the Parthenon - solitary and pristine - lording it over the hazy sprawl of Athens.
Greece is a country with a hallowed past and an at-times turbulent present. Appreciation of the achievements of its classical past has tended to overshadow its development as a free nation since the War of Independence from the Ottomans in 1821. Many foreign Hellenists imbued with a romantic ideal of the Greece of Pericles and the Parthenon are blithely ignorant that Greece today is a vibrant modern European country. It is equally a land where the languages of recent migrant communities from the Balkans, Africa and Asia- not to mention the English and German of EU migrants and retirees - contribute to Greece's status as one of Europe's more recent multicultural societies.
As recently as 1983, when it acceded to the EU, Greece was essentially a conservative, agrarian society famous for olive oil, coups, beaches and islands. Its transformation since its induction - alone, at the time, among the southeastern European nations - to the Brussels-led club of prosperous nations has been no less than dramatic. It could once take up to two years to obtain a landline for a home - now Greeks boast more mobile phones than fixed-line phones. Internet hotspots pop up like mushrooms, while car ownership, once the privilege of the affluent few, is now a consumer commodity enjoyed by the majority. While sleeping on beaches was once de rigueur for travellers in the carefree '70s, tourism is now most definitely pitched to the middle to upper-end markets and sleeping rough is now oh-so out.
This has created mixed blessings for visitors: better facilities inevitably come at higher prices; faster and safer sea travel has replaced more romantic slow boat voyages to rocky isles; wholesome, home-cooked food may be hard to find amid the surfeit of tacos, sushi or stir-fried lamb; homey, boxlike rooms tended to with a smile have been usurped by airy, air-conned self-catering apartments with nary a Greek face in sight to say kalimera (good morning).
Yet the fact that Greece continues to enjoy a steady influx of foreign visitors is easy to explain. The Greek people still have the welcome mat out. It is they who, after all, make Greece. Without the indomitable bonhomie of the Greeks themselves, Greece would be a different place altogether. Their zest for life, their curiosity and their unquestioning hospitality to the visitors in their midst is what makes a visitor's experience in the country inevitably unforgettable. The Greeks may curse their luck at times, distrust their politicians and believe 'oiling' the wheels of bureaucracy a fact of life, but they maintain their joie de vivre, their spontaneity, their optimism.
So, the job at hand is simple: decide which particular Greece you want to experience. Then come and find it.
Passport and visa requirements
Greece is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union.
Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.
Nationals of EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) countries only need a valid national identity card or passport for entry - in no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length.
Nationals of non-EU/EFTA countries will generally need a passport for entry to a Schengen country and most will need a visa.
Only the nationals of the following non-EU/EFTA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong KongSAR or MacauSAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work - see below). The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries - see ]for the New Zealand Government's explanation.
If you are a non-EU/EFTA national (even if you are visa-exempt, unless you are Andorran, Monégasque or San Marinese), make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you are unable to obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally.
- while British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area,
- British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general do require visas.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
Further note that
(*) nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel,
(**) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa and
(***) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Mauritius, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Seychelles are permitted to work in Greece without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. However, this ability to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.
For detailed regulations applied to your country, refer to Greek Ministry for Foreign Affairs .
Athens' ElefthériosVenizélos International Airport located near the Athens suburb of Spáta is the country's largest, busiest airport and main hub, handling over 15 million passengers annually as of 2006. Other major international airports in terms of passenger traffic are, in order of passengers served per year, Heraklion (Nikos Kazantzákis Int'l), Thessaloniki (Makedonia Int'l), Rhodes (Diagóras), and Corfu (Ioánnis Kapodístrias).
Athens and Thessaloníki handle the bulk of scheduled international flights. However, during tourism season, several charter and planned low-budget flights arrive daily from many European cities to many of the islands and smaller cities on the mainland.
Olympic Air (previously Olympic Airlines) is a private company owned by Marfin Investment Group , offering services to Greece from several cities in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Aegean Airlines which owns half the the domestic market also operates international routes to Greece from a growing number of European cities. Athens is also well-served by airlines from all over Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Southeast Asia, with flights to their respective hubs.
The presence of low-cost carriers in Greece's international market has increased tenfold within the past decade, offering service to Athens and Thessaloníki from several other European locations, such as Easyjet (from London Gatwick, London Luton, Manchester, Milan, Paris and Berlin), Virgin Express (flying from Brussels), Transavia (Amsterdam), German Wings (Cologne/Bonn and Stuttgart), Hemus Air (Sofia), Sterling (Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Oslo), LTU (Düsseldorf), MyAir (Venice), Norwegian Air (Warsaw, Katowice and Krakow), Wizzair (Katowice and Prague), FlyGlobeSpan (Glasgow), Clickair (Barcelona) and Vueling (Barcelona). Ryanair (Bergamo, Rome, Frankfurt-Hahn, Charleroi and Pisa) offers service to smaller airports in Greece (Volos, Rhodes and Kos).
From Italy, several ferries depart for Greece daily. Ferries to Patras (Pátra), Igoumenítsa, and Corfu(Kérkyra) leave throughout the year from the Italian port cities of Venice, Trieste, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.
From Turkey there are ferries: from Marmaris to Rhodes, from Cesme to Chios, from Bodrum to Kos, from Kusa dasito Samos.
There are also ferries connecting Piraeus and Rhodes to Alexandria(Egypt), Larnaca and Limassol(Cyprus), and Haifa(Israel).
See Ferries in the Mediterranean
A frequently asked question of travelers in Greece is whether they should rent a car. The primary advantage of having a car is that you can cover a lot more ground per day if you're traveling in rural areas or on the larger islands: you can get almost anywhere in Greece by bus, but some isolated villages may only have one or two buses per day, and having your own car means you don't have to wait in the summer heat for the bus to come. Almost all archeological sites are accessible by bus, but at some of the more remote, less famous, sites, the bus may drop you off up to a mile away from the site, while with a car you can almost always get right to the site via at least a rough road.
On the other hand, going car-free in Greece is not only possible, but offers significant advantages, while driving involves a number of disadvantages. Though many people find driving in Greece easy and even pleasant, others are concerned by the high accident rate (one of the highest in Europe), the national reputation for risky driving, and the presence of many twisty mountainous roads, sometimes hugging the side of a cliff. Gas is as expensive as anywhere. (For more on driving conditions in Greece see below.) Driving in Athens and other big cities can be a frustrating, and sometimes hair-raising, experience, and finding parking can be very difficult. And having a car greatly restricts your flexibility when island-hopping, since only the larger, and usually slower, ferries offer car transport, which must be paid for in addition to your passenger ticket. Traveling by bus is not only cheaper but offers a greater chance of striking up conversations with both locals and other travelers than going by car. Language is not usually a problem for English speakers in using public transit: wherever there is significant tourism in Greece bus schedules are posted in English, and bus drivers and conductors, as well as taxi drivers, will understand at least enough English to answer your questions
Public transit can be supplemented by taxis (see below), which in many places, especially the islands, offer fixed rates to various beaches, which can be affordable especially if the price is shared among several people. And on many islands it's possible to get places by walking, which can be a pleasant experience in itself.
The nation's domestic air travel industry is dominated by Olympic Air [and its growing competitor, Aegean Airlines . Both airlines offer an extensive route network within the country, including service connecting several islands to the mainland. Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air offer e-tickets, which only exist as an e-mail or a web page with booking confirmation. It should be provided printed at the check-in desk at the airport (no need to visit airline office).
There are many taxis in Greece, but in the large cities, Athens in particular, getting one can be quite a challenge! Taxi drivers are known for being quite rude and not taking you if they feel like it. You hail taxis like in any other large city, but in Athens many taxis will refuse to take you if they don't like your destination. If you need a taxi during rush hour, it can be next to impossible to find one going outside the perimeter of Athens(they all say they are going home, or worse, they ignore you). If you want to go to a beach in the southern suburbs such as Glyfada, what I have found helpful in a moment of desperation is to find a hotel and get a taxi from there, much easier. A word about luggage and transport from the airport. Most taxis will not take more than three people but will load their trunks with luggage hanging out if need be since the cars can be very small. If you need a taxi from the ferry at night from Pireaus, well all I can say is good luck. The drivers who wait outside are looking to take at least three different individuals going in the same direction so they can charge three fares! I found if you are two or three people, only one person should hail the cab and then if he agrees to take you, have the other(s) jump in. The taxi situation has improved since the Olympics when they retrained all the drivers to be more polite, but getting a cab in Athens can still be a real pain in the neck!
Greekis the national official language and is the native tongue of the vast majority of the population, but the English speaking visitor will encounter no significant language problem. English is the most widely studied and understood of foreign languages in Greece, followed by French, Italian, and German. Basic knowledge of English can be expected from almost all personnel in the tourism industry and public transport services, as well as most Greeks under the age of 40. However, learning a few Greek terms, such as "hello" and "thank you" will be warmly received.
The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets were derived from the the Greek alphabet and about half of Greek letters look like their Latin counterparts, and most Greek letters resembles their Cyrillic counterparts. With a bit of study it's not too hard to decipher written names, and common terms such as "hotel", "cafeteria", etc. And you'll find that place names on road signs throughout the country are often transliterated into Latin letters (some signs, especially on the newer roads, are even outright translated into English).
Greece has the euro (EUR, €) as its currency. Therewith, Greece belongs to the 23 European countries that use the common European money. These 23 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Sloveniaand Spain(official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marinoand Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. These countries together have a population of 327 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse as well as all bills look the same throughout the eurozone. Nonetheless, every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
The euro replaced the drachma in January 2002.
Currency exchanges are common particularly in larger cities and in any touristed area. In addition to hard currency, they also accept traveler's checks. There are also automated currency exchange machines in some areas of the country, particularly at Athens airport. Most banks will also exchange euros for some currencies -such as the US Dollar and British Pound- often times at better rates than currency exchanges. Banks' commission fees for these exchanges are usually structured so that it's more economical to change larger sums than smaller. Usually, only the larger, international-standard hotels will exchange money for their guests.
As of this writing, branches of the Greek bank Alphabank will exchange US$ American Express Travelers Checks into Euros at their usual bank rates without fee or commission, which can result in a significant savings. They also cash Euro American Express Travelers Checks without charge.
When changing money in large amounts at a bank or currency exchange, it's a good idea to ask for mostly smaller notes, and nothing larger than a € 50. Many businesses are reluctant to accept notes of larger than € 50, partly because of a scarcity of change, partly because larger notes have a history of being counterfeited.
You may get better exchange rates by using credit and ATM cards. Mastercard, Visa, and Eurocard are widely accepted across the country in retail stores, hotels, and travel/transportation agencies (including ferry, airline, and car rental agencies), but are not accepted at some restaurants. Local souvenir shops usually require a minimum purchase before allowing you to use your card and may not accept it for special sales or deeply discounted items. ATM machines are present almost everywhere, with Mastercard/Cirrus and Visa/Plus being the most widely accepted cards. Many ATM machines may not accept 5-digit pin numbers; ATM card-users with 5-digit pins are advised to change their pin to 4 digits before leaving home.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on most items, usually included in the item's price tag but some shops offer "Tax Free" shopping to non-EU residents. This means that non-EU residents can ask for a VAT refund at their port of exit in the EU. Be sure to ask for your voucher before leaving the store and show that along with your items to the customs officer upon departure from the EU.
But for minor exceptions (like the Athens Monastiraki district), bargaining is considered impolite and it is quite ineffective.
Greek (horiatiki (village) salata) salad
Greek cuisine is a blend of indigenous traditions and foreign influences. Neighboring Italy and Turkey have left a major impact on Greek cuisine, and there are shared dishes with both of these nations. The traditional Greek diet is very Mediterranean, espousing vegetables, herbs, and grains native to the Mediterranean biome. Being a highly maritime nation, the Greeks incorporate plenty of seafood into their diet. The country is also a major producer and consumer of lamb; beef, pork, and especially chicken are also popular. Olive oil is a staple in Greek cooking, and lemon and tomatoes are common ingredients. Bread and wine are always served at the dinner table.
The cuisine in Greece can be radically different from what is offered in Greek restaurants around the world. Greek restaurants abroad tend to cater more to customer expectations rather than offer a truly authentic Greek dining experience. One example is the famous gyros (yee-ros), a common item on Greek menus outside Greece. While it is a popular fast-food item in Greece today, it is actually a relatively recent foreign import (adapted from the Turkish döner kebap) and is considered by Greeks as junk food. It is never served in the home and is generally not found on the menus of non-fast-food restaurants.
Eating out is Greece's national passtime and a rewarding experience for visitors; however, not knowing where to go or what to do can dampen the experience. In the past, restaurants that catered mostly to tourists were generally disappointing. Thankfully, the nation's restaurant industry has grown in sophistication over the past decade, and it is now possible to find excellent restaurants in highly-touristed areas, particularly areas that are popular with Greek tourists as well. Thus, it remains a good idea to dine where Greeks dine (Go search them at the times greeks dine: 21:00-23:00). The best restaurants will offer not only authentic traditional Greek cuisine (along with regional specialities) but Greece's latest culinary trends as well. A good sign for authenticity is when you get a small free desert when you ask for the bill. Bad signs are when deserts are listed on the menue, and also when the waiter is taking your plates away while you are still sitting at the table (traditionally everything is left on the table until the customer is gone, even if there is hardly any space left).
Restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
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