Greece Travel Guide

Greece travel guide

Greece is the country I can endlessly describe and talk about. Especially after my several trips there when I definitely fall in love with Greece, felt its spirit and made an attempt to think and act like a local. I have to admit that I haven’t been able to abandon my northern mentality, so I just enjoyed my stay in Greece and spent most of my days hanging out somewhere.

It might be quite complicated to locate where the East ends and the West begins as the Greeks took too much from the Turks during the years of Turkish Rule. This fact, along with some others influenced the national character. As Greece is washed by the four seas – the Aegean, Ionian, Mediterranean and Cretan, the country is an amazing mix of traditional architecture and ocean landscapes.

The country has everything backpacker may ever need – cheap food, affordable accommodation, delectable mountains with picturesque canyons, rivers and plains. With all this, major attractions are located close to each other that makes traveling through Greece very convenient. With more than 2000 windswept islands in Greece, they cover vast areas of the Mediterranean and possess a huge amount of historical monuments, so it might take some time to discover them all.

The Greeks are very hospitable people. With this distinctive feature and national pride, life in Greece is really hasteless, no one is in a hurry. It might be a bit annoying at first, but you get used to it with time. One should keep in mind that when Greek promises you something, it usually doesn’t indicate his actual readiness to keep a promise. The Greeks are really good at enjoying life. They can savor the good life the way like they savor their morning coffee. The Greeks know how to have fun thanks, to the southern temperament, national music and traditional cuisine. Greek cuisine is really unmatched and very diverse, although much depends on the region. Olive oil, cheeses, coffee and wine should be on your grocery list when visiting Greece. Make sure to spend some extended time in Greece as it totally worth it!

Getting Around Greece

Intercity buses are great for not only getting around Greece, but for reaching other major cities of the Balkans. KTEL is a state-sponsored network of independent carriers, combined together into a dense transport system covering almost the entire country. Buses are efficient, reliable and relatively inexpensive. You can use bus to reach some islands as well, in that case fares include the price of the ferry ticket.

The railway service in Greece is run by the Greek Railways Organization (Organismos Sidirodromon Ellados) and less popular than buses or ferries. In fact, there are only two main lines: from Athens to Alexandropolis through Thessaloniki and the Peloponnese network with a narrow gauge track. The train is convenient to get from Patra to Athens, if you got there by ferry from Italy. There are trains to Kalambaka (Meteora) and the port of Pelion. Expect to pay around 20 EUR for the slow train from Athens to Thessaloniki. Book tickets in advance to get the discount.

Another popular way of getting around Greece is by ferries. The frequency, reliability and availability are highly dependent on the season. That said, the period from January to March may provide unfavorable weather conditions for sailing in the Aegean Sea, so delays may occur. On the other hand, ferries are crowded on the eve of the state holidays (like August 15), so it is desirable to plan a voyage in advance. There are three ports in Athens: the main port of Piraeus and the remote ports of Lavrion and Rafina. High-speed ferries can save you time when traveling across the sea, while by using overnight ferries you can save up to half off the normal price. Consider approaching Santorini by ferry to enjoy an amazing view of the island, which is worth the eight hour voyage.

Food in Greece

Traditional Greek food is mostly about greenery, vegetables, olive oil, feta cheese and yogurt. Gyros are really cheap and come for less than 4 EUR. Most taverns will offer nice local wines to pair your food for around 8 EUR per bottle. The average bill in the tavern is 17 EUR without alcohol. Expect to meet such prices on the islands like Kos. Food prices are affordable in Greece, a hearty meal for two in a meat tavern can be as high as 20 EUR.

Regular customers are often attracted by free fruit platters and bread. It is worth noting that Greek taverns are somewhat different than ordinary restaurants. Taverns have smaller menu, cheaper table covering and lots of wine and conversation. Quiet neighborhoods are usually always about taverns. Expect to pay a bit more for the same dish in an estiatorio, however, you will find these mostly in major cities and tourist areas. Restaurants or estiatorio serve both European and Greek cuisine. Keep in mind that food prices in Greece taverns start at around 17 EUR, but rise dramatically the closer you get to historical monuments. Thus, a meal in high-end restaurant will begin at 35 EUR. By cooking your own meals you can get your weekly grocery expenses at around 50 EUR.

Accommodation in Greece

Greece, with its tradition of family-run accommodation, has not taken, in general, to the idea of chain hotels. If you are looking for budget accommodation, consider staying at domatia, rooms or houses rented by locals. Some time ago, domatia could be found in the homes of the owning family, but nowadays they are usually located within a separate and renovated building. Domatia usually have self-catering facilities that make them a good value compared with hotels or even hostels. Always negotiate with the owner before settling a price and don’t pay until you’ve seen the room.

Prices depend on the region and season, but you can expect to pay about 13-20 EUR for a single (25 EUR for a double) in the more remote areas of northern and central Greece, and 15-22 EUR for a single (25-35 EUR for a double) on the islands. Mainland hotels stay open year-round, except those at seafront resorts, which operate only from May to October. Hotels in skiing areas, conversely, may open only during the winter period. Hostels in Greece aren’t nearly as regimented as hostels in northern Europe. A hostelling membership isn’t of great use in Greece. You can expect to pay around 13-30 EUR for dorm room. If you travel in group, however, domatia is better value.

The Greek mainland has around 150 officially recognized campsites with an attractive seafront facilities that accommodate caravanners as well. The vast majority of campsites provide hot showers, shady landscaping and a snack bar or cafe. Power outlets are generally available for an extra fee. Prices depend on the facilities, so you’ll usually pay around 5 EUR per person, plus 4 EUR per tent.

How to Do Greece on a Budget

Travel Off-Season. Avoid crowds, find great deals on accommodations and airfares, enjoy the autumn colours or spring flowers and take walks in pleasant temperatures during shoulder season.

Discounts. When planning ahead, check out if the company offers discounts for early booking. It can save you a lot. If you are a senior citizen or a student, do not forget that you may get a discount on entry charges to museums and historic sites with proof of age.

Cheap Flights. Explore the possibility of booking a low-cost flight and then accommodation separately. If you can be flexible on dates, you are likely to pay a lot less. Check the airfare aggregators for last-minute deals, which can often be much cheaper than booking months in advance.

Self-catering and eating cheap. Save money on food by staying at accommodation with self-catering facilities. Buy fresh groceries at supermarket to eat at home or head off into the forest for a picnic like the locals. Gyros and other street snacks, as well as taverns, allow you get cheap food and don’t break the bank.

Hostels and Domatia. The islands have a long tradition of being an island-hopping, backpackers’ paradise and a selection of hostel-style accommodation has developed. Although not luxurious and rarely offering a wide range of facilities, hostels and domatia are usually comfortable and can be good places to stay for budget traveler.

Picnics are a favourite summer Sunday event for Greek families. You will see all generations laughing and eating together in designated picnic spots that often overlook beaches or are located in pine forests. Fun to prepare with fresh, inexpensive produce from local markets, picnics are cheap and may even mean you can mingle with the locals.

Free Entertainment. Having so many festivals throughout the year, Greece is rich with history, tradition and culture. Orthodox Easter, Lent, Navy Week, Hellenic Festival and August Moon Festival are the main events with music and dancing in towns and village squares throughout the Greece. Many celebrate religious events or derive from traditions such as when a successful harvest is gathered in. Visitors are always welcome to join in.

Car share. If you are feeling adventurous and would like to save a few Euros, hitchhiking is the way to get around Greece. Even though you may spend some time waiting for a lift on the mainland, people living on the smaller islands are very friendly and will be glad to give a lift. You can also hitch a ride with other travelers using sites like Blablacar. Women travelling alone should exercise the usual caution.

Top Things to Do and See in Greece

Visit Thessaloniki

The second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki has lively festivals and buzzing nightlife that make this city the cultural capital of Greece. Having both the historic centre and commercial district, Thessaloniki offers numerous attractions like the Byzantine walls, the White Tower and Turkish baths, colorful food markets, museums and art galleries. The contrast of Thessaloniki is manifested in the luxurious hotels of the Nikis embankment and the intricate alleys of the Old City, fanciful Ottoman buildings and the Greek architecture, immodest magnificence of the Agia Sofia and Agios Demetrios temples, and cozy little churches in nondescript neighborhoods.

Go To Corfu

A beloved island of many European writers, Corfu was repeatedly depicted in numerous literary works, while the writers took a fancy to its picturesque villages. Along with beautiful beaches and secluded rocky coves, city of Kerkyra is also shouldn’t be missed. Kerkyra is worth visiting to attend the Carnival held in Old Town, forty days before Easter. Being the northernmost of the Ionian islands, Corfu is immersed in Greek mythology and reflects the diverse cultural and architectural influences of foreign empires that have ruled it for centuries.

Explore Rhodes

The most popular island to hang out in Greece because of its great beaches, nightlife and historic importance. Located in the Aegean Sea near the coast of Turkey, Rhodes is the capital and the largest island of the Dodecanese archipelago. Rhodes is usually regarded as one of the most beautiful Greek islands because of its lush pine forests and countless flowers, such as bougainvillea and hibiscus. Several centuries ago Rhodes was known as home to a statue of the Colossus of Rhodes, while now the island attracts travelers by the Rhodes Fortress, which served as a safe haven for the knights-Hospitallers during the Middle Ages. The fortress is perfectly preserved and looks very impressive. Consider visiting the Temple of Aphrodite and The Windmills of Mandraki.

Stand in Awe of Meteora

The phrase “suspended in the air” aptly describes the Byzantine monasteries that sit on top of a sheer rock mountains in the northern Greece. By following the winding mountain paths you can climb up to the top of the pillars with spectacular views of Kalambaka and the river of Pinos. According to legend, the first hermit monks settled here long before 10th century. They lived in the rocky recesses and natural caves with narrow areas nearby for a joint study of spiritual texts and a prayer. However, constant raids of robbers forced the monks to leave their caves and built monasteries on the mountain top. It is hard to imagine how much work was involved in building these monasteries in that extreme environment. The monasteries were not available to outsiders before 1920. The monks lived in seclusion from society and used ropes and baskets to deliver food and goods to the monastery. With around twenty four monasteries used to perch on the steep rocks, only six can be found there today. Meteora is one of my favorite sites in Greece.

Learn about history in Delphi

Delphi is famous because of the temple of Apollo and the Delphic oracle that were once known far beyond Hellenistic Greece. I was struck by the beauty of Delphi. It was impossible not to feel that you are in a very special place. Delphi is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. Therefore, this ancient city should be on the bucket list of any traveler, exploring historical heritage and culture of Greece. Located in the southeastern Phocis, Delphi wasn’t just a religious center, it also accommodated the Pythian games. The oracle attracted people to learn their fate, while Greek city-states mostly got consulted before making major decisions. The well-preserved temple ruins near the Mount Parnassus slopes are complemented by a picturesque natural environment. Inscribed the World Heritage List, Delphi is home to the temple of Pythian Apollo, statues of athletes and the ancient Delphic theater.

Expolore Sparta

A tiny town in the southeast of Peloponnese, Sparta was once known as a city-state and home to strong warriors. It was considered an honor to face death in the battlefield so all young boys were involved in a rigorous training program called Agoge. The modern Sparta is located in an Eurotas river valley, very close to the spot where the antique Sparta initially was. If you find yourself here, there is so much to see and to do. It has ruins, museums, the Tomb of Leonidas and Koumantareios Art Gallery. Even though often missed by travelers, Sparta is steeped in history. So if you love history and hate crowds, visit this city to get the most out of it. To commemorate the name of Pheidippides who run around 240 km (150 mi) in two days, the Spartarton running competition is held here annually.

Samaria Gorge

The place is a paradise for hiking lovers. As Samaria Gorge is considered the longest in Europe, it might take from four to seven hours to finish it, so it definitely isn’t the easiest trek. The national park is home to Cretan goats, cypresses and pine trees. I just can’t imagine any other place in Greece for enjoying steep cliffs, unique nature and the Libyan Sea in the very end of the gorge.

Don’t miss the Acropolis

Erected to honor Athena, the Parthenon at the top of the Acropolis once was the city’s religious center and most visited historic site in the Greek capital. Made of Pentelic marble, this Doric temple is steeped in history. To visit the Parthenon and its columns means to touch the deep layers of world history. Even though it seems that reconstruction will never end, there are several lesser temples with stunning panoramic view of the city. Keep in mind that morning is the best time to visit the Acropolis, as daytime attracts too many tourists. Admission fee is 12 EUR.

Santorini

One of the most beautiful volcanic islands among the Cyclades island group in the Aegean Sea. You can start your day in the city of Thira and then to go for a hike near the volcano’s caldera to reach the neighboring Imerovigli. Needless to say, the most spectacular view of the island can be enjoyed there. Kamari and Perissa beaches with black volcanic sand, red and white beaches are also worth visiting. Santorini is the right spot for beachside camping, scuba diving and winery tours. You can end your day in Oia watching the sunset among the gorgeous blue-domed churches.

Check Out Myths at Knossos Palace

The Knossos Palace with a maze of royal quarters, living spaces and its upside down columns was the center of Minoan civilization. Even though the palace was badly damaged by fire and earthquake during the ancient times it still has some images on the walls that reflect the spirit of Cretan life in the bronze age. The Knossos Palace is in the middle of the myth that tells about the Minotaur and his defeat by Theseus. It can be easily reached by bus from Heraklion, as it is just 6 km (4 mi) from it. I really enjoyed the wall paintings, frescoes and the impressive ruins. The Palace shouldn’t be missed by history lovers.

Float the Boat in Melissani cave

A stunningly beautiful place. It is hard to image a mirror-like surface with picturesque rocks along the sides and bright sun rays shining through into the cave. Visiting this cave may become an unforgettable experience. Located on the island of Cephalonia, the cave is also known as a cave of the Nymphs. While the admission is around 7 EUR, it is quite a popular place, so make sure to come early enough to avoid the crowds and late enough to see the sun rays penetrating turquoise water.

Epidaurus

Epidaurus is a city in the northeast Peloponnese that was established during the Mycenaean era and considered a place dedicated to the god-healer Asclepius. The temple of Asclepius, the sources where the priests healed the suffering were a pilgrimage sites for the pilgrims of ancient Greece. Nowadays, travelers usually visit Epidaurus to see a well-preserved amphitheater where the Hellenic festival is held annually. The Sanctuary of Asklepios is the ancient place of the Force that shouldn’t be missed. You can reach Epidaurus by bus from Athens or ferry from Piraeus to Methana.

Hike Up the Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus is one of the most popular landmarks in Greece. No visit to Greece would be complete without hiking up the Mount Olympus. Once known as the home of ancient gods, now anyone walking up can enjoy stunning view and beautiful surroundings of Litochoro. As most of the hiking trails start from this town, there are one-day and multi-day treks to get to the very top. However, the European E4 hiking path is quite a popular way to reach the top, there is also the national O2 trail, which runs along a north-south direction. With six organized refuges and several smaller huts spread around the mountain, even the least experienced travelers will spend a great time here.

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