Know Before You Go - Greece
PASSPORT & VISA
United States citizens do not need a tourist visa prior to visiting Greece.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Greece is generally very safe, especially among the islands off of the mainland. That said, always be aware of general crime targeted towards unassuming tourists. More commonly, however, Athens experiences strikes and protests or demonstrations, particularly at or around Syntagma Square. As with all demonstrations, it is best to avoid them due to the risk that they become violent. Additionally, be aware that annual demonstrations occur on November 17, during which time it is strongly advised to avoid any affected areas, including the US Embassy.
METHODS OF PAYMENT
Though risk of Greece withdrawing from European Union membership has been high recently, they still remain a part of the group, and therefore transactions will all occur in euros. Credit cards will often work at most established vendors, though cash is often preferable, particularly at locally owned shops.
Typically, haggling is not accepted in the established shops in Greece. However, if you're unsure, it is more polite to simply show interest in an item but tell the vendor that the price is simply too high. If they offer to come down slightly, that means the price isn't fixed, and you can begin to haggle. It can also be worthwhile to negotiate in a less dramatic way, such as asking for two items for a discounted price.
Tipping is generally expected and recommended in all of the typical circumstances, but may not be as high as is customary in the United States. For example, a tip of 10% is genearlly acceptable at a restaurant, and more may be appropriate if the service was superb.
In order to explore Greece, you'll need to travel across water. Though some of the islands have small airports, it is often much easier and cheaper to take the ferry. You can often find tickets the day of departure, but if you only have a few days it is best to plan ahead as not all routes are taken each day. Additionally, there are different types of boats that you can take, and knowing the difference can save you quite a bit of time.
The standard mode of transportation over water, you will very likely find yourself traveling by ferry while exploring the Greek islands. They are the cheapest option, but also the slowest. Don't let their slow speed scare you away, however, as cruising slowing in the Aegean is quite a nice experience.
High Speed Catamarans
Faster than a ferry, but also more expensive, you would typically only charter a catamaran to travel from island to island if you were really looking to enjoy the ride. These boats often hold less people, but give each person more space to lounge and relax while on the water.
The fastest way to get from point A to B, you can recognize a hydrofoil because it literally flies on top of the water. This makes for much less drag and much more efficiency navigating the water. These boats are more expensive than a ferry, but also dramatically cut down on your travel time. Do be aware that if the weather begins to decline, hydrofoils are often the first boats to cancel their trips.
If you do need to travel on land, public transportation is the best method to travel around Greece. Vehicle traffic in Greece is erratic, and therefore we do not advise renting a car as nearly all desirable locations can be reached just as easily, and much more safely, via public transportation.
WHEN TO GO
If you want to visit the Greek Islands, it is best to plan your trip anytime from the middle of April to late October. During the winter months, most of the hotels and restaurants on the outer islands are closed as the owners and staff have moved back to Athens to work during this less touristy period. That said, the middle of summer not only brings high heat, but hordes of tourists. If you can, risk having cooler weather but fewer tourists by traveling during the shoulder season of spring or fall.
Dress in Greece is casual, and don't forget your bathing suit. It is also advisable to pack a light jacket for cooler evenings along the water.
Don't stress about wondering how you will communicate, learning a new alphabet, or anything else communication related. In Greece, you will also find that most people speak English very well, and most signage is also in English. Still, Greeks love to hear and speak their own language, and will likely greet you with a big smile if you begin a conversation in their language. A few basics:
Hello/Goodbye: Geia (Yah)
Thank you: Efcharisto (eff-ka-ri-STOH)
Good Morning: Kalimera (ka-lee-MER-ah)
Yes: Nai (neh)
No: Ochi (OH-hee)
Sorry / Excuse me: Sygnomi (see-NO-mee)