Greece: What to Know Before You Go

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Updated: July 2, 2020

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Tips & Information for First-Timers

The beautiful church of Panagia Korphiatissa on the island of Milos.

Greek Currency and Tipping in Greece

Greece is part of the European Union and uses the euro (€). Most major shops and restaurants across Greece accept credit cards, but it is not unusual for there to be a minimum purchase required to use them. ATMs are plentiful in large cities like Athens and generally easy to find in most Greek villages and beach towns. It is always a good idea to have some cash on hand for bus trips and small purchases like bottled water and snacks. Most shops in Greece have fixed prices; attempts at bargaining aren’t generally expected or appreciated.

Tipping is not expected in Greek restaurants, but it is appreciated. A restaurant tip in Greece is not a percentage of the bill, but rather a few euros left on the table as a recognition of good service, or simply rounding up the tab to the nearest convenient amount. A small tip left in the room for hotel cleaning staff upon departure is also appreciated; 1-2 euros per night stayed is recommended.

Common Greek Words & Phrases

English is widely spoken across Greece and you can easily get by without knowing any Greek at all, but it’s a nice gesture to learn at least a few common Greek words and phrases before you go. A simple kaliméra or kalispéra to a shopkeeper is appreciated and can go a long way.

Hello/Goodbye: Yeia sas (YEA-sahs)
Good morning: Kaliméra (kah-lee-MEH-rah)
Good afternoon/evening: Kalispéra (kah-lee-SPARE-ah)
Thank you: Efcharistó (eff-har-ee-STO)
Thank you very much: Efcharistó polý (eff-har-ee-STO po-LEE)
Please/you’re welcome: Parakaló (par-ah-kah-LO)
Yes: Ne (neh)
No: Ochi (O-hee)
I don’t understand: Den katalavaíno (then kah-tah-lah-VEH-no)
Goodbye: (literally “be happy”): Chaírete (HARE-eh-teh)
Goodnight: Kalinychta (kah-lee-NEE-htah)

Dress Code in Greece

It all depends on where you’re going. On the beaches, dress is informal. Beachwear is only for the beach, however – don’t wander around town in your bikini top. Topless sunbathing is common on Greek beaches, especially those with popular beach clubs, though it is rarely practiced by locals. In most restaurants, dress is fairly casual, but if you must wear a t-shirt and shorts, make sure they’re in good repair. Many monasteries and some churches in Greece will forbid bare shoulders or knees, or require that women wear a skirt. There are often cover garments provided for those who need them.

Driving in Greece

In Greece, cars drive on the right side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the left. Highways and major roads in Greece are in generally good condition, with clear signage. Foreign drivers in Greece require an International Drivers Permit. If you are renting a car, it is a good idea to do so in advance, especially if you require an automatic transmission. RentalCars.com is the best and easiest website for renting cars in Greece.

Taxis and Uber in Greece

Taxi cabs in Greece have a strict limit of four passengers per vehicle. Sharing cabs is common in Greece, and it is okay to hail a taxi that already has passengers inside. (Fare is not shared by the passengers, each party pays their own.) If you’d prefer not to be joined by strangers during your cab ride, let the driver know at the outset. By law, they must comply. Outside of large cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, taxis often aren’t hailed but instead picked up at designated taxi stands – if you try and hail a cab when you’re in close proximity to a designated taxi stand, they will tell you to go to the taxi stand. Tips for taxi drivers are not expected, but are appreciated, usually just a few euros or rounding up the fare. Uber does have a presence in Greece, but the rideshare app Beat is more commonly-used and more reliable. A good pre-booked alternative to a taxi for port and airport transfer in Greece is Welcome Pickups car service. Price is similar to that of a cab, larger vehicles are available for groups of more than four, and child car seats are available on request.

Smoking in Greece

Cigarette smoking in Greece is common, though generally forbidden indoors. (There are plenty of restaurants that overlook this rule, however.) Greek hotels do not offer smoking rooms, but most hotels allow smoking on a room’s private or shared terrace or in any of the outdoor common areas. It is common for people to smoke at outdoor tables at Greek restaurants, and also common for smoke from outside to blow indoors.

Drinking in Greece

The drinking age in Greece is 16. Greeks rarely drink on an empty stomach, and being drunk in public is frowned upon. Restaurants will sometimes offer a complimentary digestif after a meal.

Commonly Asked Questions about Greek Travel

Thatched umbrellas line a sandy beach on a sunny day

Karathona Beach near Nafplio, in the Peloponnese.

Is it safe to drink the tap water in Greece?

In Athens and most places across mainland Greece, the tap water is perfectly safe to drink. In harbor towns and the Greek Islands, however, it is generally better to drink bottled water, which is readily available and very cheap. If you’re feeling unsure, just ask at your hotel – they have a vested interest in keeping you safe and healthy and will let you know whether buying bottled water is necessary. Even in places where bottled water is recommended, tap water is fine for bathing and brushing teeth, though it may taste salty on the islands (especially Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, and Milos).

I’ve heard you can’t flush toilet paper in Greece. Is that true?

Yes. Sewage pipes are very narrow and clog easily everywhere in Greece; nothing but human waste should be flushed. (This is true even if there is not a sign that explicitly says so.) All Greek restrooms have a trash bin into which to dispose of your toilet paper, usually pedal-operated. In larger restrooms, there is one in each stall. Bin liners are usually changed a couple of times a day, and cleanliness/smell is not an issue. Still, if it weirds you out, feel free to bring along a roll of biodegradable dog waste bags to bag and tie your toilet paper in before disposing of it in the trash.

Do they have siesta in Greece?

In most parts of Greece, noise limits are enacted and shops, offices, and restaurants shut down for mesimeri (midday), between 2pm and 5pm. It’s impolite to make phone calls to businesses or locals, and if you’re traveling through smaller towns or rural Greece, it is expected that you avoid playing music, speaking in a loud voice, or making excess noise during this time. This is not the case in more heavily-touristed areas like Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos, where business owners cater to the schedules of travelers.

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