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Greece hit its stride well before Christ was born, making it one of the oldest and most influential world civilizations. Western art, politics and philosophy all took significant cues from Ancient Greece. Very few countries can rival the richness of Greece's history. Philosophers like Plato, Socrates and Aristotle formulated some of history's most important ideas here. Today, ancient sites like the Parthenon and Delphi survive to be awe-inspiring spectacles for the throngs of tourists who flock to them. Many of Greece's cities date back millenniums, and despite modernity rearing its head, the character of these places still retains their ancient tradition.
Greece is a destination with more than enough attractions to lure you there and plenty of surprises to keep you dazzled. After you have seen all the touristy hot spots, head for one of Greece's many fine Mediterranean beaches, stretch out, close your eyes and let the sounds of a land of dreams wash over you.
One of the earliest civilizations to appear around Greece was the Minoan civilization in Crete, which lasted approximately from 2700 (Early Minoan) BC to 1450 BC, and the Early Helladic period on the Greek mainland from ca. 2800 BC to 2100 BC.
Athens and Sparta led the way in repelling the Persian Empire in a series of battles. Both were later overshadowed by Thebes and eventually Macedon, with the latter under the guidance of Alexander the Great uniting and leading the Greek world to victory over the Persians. There are no fixed or universally agreed dates for the beginning or the end of the Ancient/Classical Greek period. In common usage it refers to all Greek history before the Roman Empire.
The Hellenistic era was brought only partially to a close two centuries later with the establishment of Roman rule over Greek lands in 146 BC. The subsequent mixture of Roman and Hellenic cultures took form in the establishment of the Byzantine Empire in 330 AD around Constantinople. Byzantium remained a major cultural and military power for the next 1,123 years, until the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
After the Greek War of Independence, successfully waged against the Ottoman Empire from 1821 to 1829, the nascent Greek state was finally recognized under the London Protocol. As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 Epirus, southern Macedonia, Crete and the Aegean Islands were annexed into Greece. Greece reached its present configuration in 1947.
The Greek Civil War was fought between 1944 and 1949 in Greece between the Governmental forces of Greece supported by the United Kingdom at first, and later by the USA, and the Democratic Army of Greece; the military branch of the Greek communist party. The civil war left Greece with a legacy of political polarization; as a result, Greece also entered into alliance with the United States and joined NATO, while relationships with its Communist northern neighbours, both pro-Soviet and neutral, became strained.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Greece developed rapidly, initially with the help of the U.S. Marshall Plans' grants and loans, and later through growth in the tourism sector. In 1975, following a referendum to confirm the deposition of King Constantine II, a democratic republican constitution came into force. Another previously exiled politician, Andreas Papandreou also returned and founded the socialist PASOK party, which won the elections in 1981 and dominated the country's political course for almost two decades. Since the restoration of democracy, the stability and economic prosperity of Greece have grown remarkably. Greece rejoined NATO in 1980. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the euro as its currency in 2001. Tensions continue to exist between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea but relations have considerably thawed following successive earthquakes - first in Turkey and then in Greece - and an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance by ordinary Greeks and Turks.
At the present time Greece is going through a major financial crisis. The roots of the problem come from Greece taking on too much debt to their GDP. The crisis has lead to protests in major cities with some leading to riots.
Greece covers about 132,000 square kilometres and has about 11.3 million inhabitants. It is located in the southeastern corner of Europe, on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula. Greece is borderd by Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania to the north, by the Ionian Sea to the west, by the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and by the Aegean Sea and Turkey to the east. The country consists of a large mainland called the Peloponnese, a peninsula connected to the southern tip of the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth. On top of this, there are around 3,000 islands, including big ones like Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades. With all these islands, it doesn't come as a surprise, that is has the 12th longest coastline in the world! Over 80% of Greece is mountainous. The Pindus mountains stretch much of the centre of the country and reach a maximum elevation of 2,637 metres. Extensions of the same mountain range stretch across the Peloponnese and underwater across the Aegean, forming many of the Aegean Islands including Crete, and joining with the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey. Central and Western Greece contain high and steep peaks and is a true canyon landscape. The Vikos Gorges are of the largest of the world and the second deepest after the Grand Canyon in the USA, plunging vertically for more than 1,100 metres. Mount Olympus is the highest point of Greece rising to 2,919 metres above sea level. The Rhodope Mountains form the border between Greece and Bulgaria and is covered with vast and thick forests. Thessaly, Central Macedonia and Thrace are areas with plaines and Western Greece contains lakes and wetlands.
At the broadest administrative level, Greece is divided into thirteen peripheries.
If a traveller wants to know the future then Delphi (Δελφοί) is the place to go! This town was home to the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in all of ancient Greece. Many an empire has fallen and risen because of the predictions of these oracles. Delphi is also home to several other amazing ruins including one of the best temples to Apollo and a treasury that stored all the money the oracles made. Reading the future is not cheap after all. The archaeological site of Delphi is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Originally built in the 5th century BC, the Parthenon (Παρθενών) is the most famous ruin in all of Greece. This building was built as a temple to Athena in Athens. It also represents an enduring symbol of Athenian democracy. It contains many excellent examples of ancient Greek art and architecture. The temple has had many forms over the eras of occupation, ranging from a temple to Athena, to a christian church, to a mosque. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sights in all of Greece.
Although the price of Greece has gone up in recent years there are still plenty of options for youngsters looking for a wild time. The most famous party island is Ios, which until recently was famous for being the burial place of the famous poet Homer. Now Ios is an all night party centre 365 days a year. Other famous party islands are Kos, Mykonos and even the larger Crete has great night life in certain towns. A major plus is all these islands also have amazing beaches to hang out while recovering from a hangover. A few more popular islands, some of them with good nightlife, include Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Rhodes, Corfu and Zakynthos.
Most of Greece practices the religion of Greek Orthodox. The Greek Orthodox church has several events and festivals that are unique to the sect. Remember that many of these holidays involve Greek Orthodox saints that are not in the Catholic or Protestant tradition. Also because of the remoteness of many islands there are countless locals holidays that are wroth exploring and seeing.
After New Year’s Eve common to all countries, Greece celebrates New Year’s Day as St Basil’s Day, with church services followed by festive seasonal gifts to the children, commemorating the Three Kings and their gifts to the baby Jesus.
This traditional festival falls in January at the end of the 12 days of Christmas. It’s a ceremony to bless the waters of the sea, rivers, and lakes in order to banish evil spirits, with its origins lost in the mists of time. Taking place in Piraeus, as well as in fishing villages all over the country, it involves a local priest hurling a crucifix into the water, followed by young men diving in to retrieve them.
The pre-Lent Carnival festivities take place in Athens, Greece and across the country in February, with traditional costumes worn by all, street parties, food and wine, and all kinds of traditional and modern entertainment. Kite-flying is a standard game, while eating and drinking to joyful excess are a must.
Holy week for the Orthodox Church falls later than the Catholic Easter, with celebrations beginning on Palm Sunday and continuing until late on Easter Sunday. Good Friday sees candlelit processions, but midnight on Easter Saturday is the heart of the celebration, with massive fireworks displays and the ceremony of the Holy Flame. A priest carries the flame from church at 12:00 p.m. and lights worshippers’ candles until the area is a sea of flickering flames. Special foods include red-painted Easter eggs and roast lamb, with the traditional fast broken after midnight on Easter Saturday.
St George of dragon-slayer fame is Greece’s patron saint, as well as the patron of many Greek towns and villages. His day, April 23, sees celebrations across the country involving parades, church services, and street fun, often including costumed reenactments of the hero’s victory over the dragon.
Officially known as International Workers’ Day, May 1 in Greece sees the pagan Festival of the Flowers, traditionally linked with deities Persephone and Demeter. Wreathes of May flowers are hung on doors and buildings, and parades of flower-decorated floats take place.
This theatrical and musical event runs every June through August at the spectacular Greek amphitheater at Epidaurus. Every Friday and Saturday evening, the massive stone theater with its amazing acoustics hosts recreations of famous classical plays, concerts, and recitals, truly a unique experience to relive history.
A community event, as well as a family feast, Christmas sees midnight masses, sparkling Christmas trees, and carols on Christmas Eve. Families reunite for the festivities and Christmas markets, dance and music processionals, and Christmas lights all set the holiday spirit. Many hotels offer special Christmas and New Year packages and, although the weather isn’t at its warmest, the Greek people compensate with their love of this season.
The weather of Greece can be categorized into the three areas of the Mediterranean, the Alpine and the Temperate climates. All three areas are affected strongly by the Pindus Mountain range, which makes the western side of the country wetter on average. Most of the Mediterranean area has mild wet winters with hot dry summers. Temperatures infrequently reach extremes but the occasional snow storm has been known to happen, even in the far south. In summer, daily highs are mostly around the 30 °C to 35 °C mark with warm nights of around 20 °C.
The Alpine area is in the mountainous areas of northwestern Greece as well as some of the central areas at higher elevations. This area of the country has cold winters with common snow and relatively cool but dry summers. The temperate areas of the country are in Central Macedonia, East Macedonia and Thrace. This area can have cold damp winters and hot dry summers. Athens is an odd example because the city lies in both the mediterranean climate and the temperate climate at the same time. Depending on where a traveller stays in Greece affects what the weather will be like that time of year.
Olympic Airlines is the national airline of Greece and is based at Athens International Airport (ATH) near the capital. Destinations with this airline include Alexandria, Amsterdam, Berlin, Cairo, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Paris, Toronto and Vienna. Aegean Airlines has several flights within Europe as well, including Rome, Milan and Düsseldorf. Many European airlines have direct flights to Athens and charterflights mainly in the summer months but increasingly outside the season serve dozens of islands of Greece. Easyjet is a lowcost airline serving Athens from London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Milan.
For mainland Greece, from and to Thessaloniki International Airport (SKG) are flights as well with several dozens of European airlines flying here. The second busiest airport in the country though is Heraklion International Airport on the island of Crete, one of the largest and most popular islands of Greece. Rhodes International Airport is popular as well, though the bulk of flights is only seasonal (April-October).
There is train service to most Greek cities on the mainland. The best way is to catch a train to Athens then go to other areas of the country by train or ferry. Remember that most of Greece consists of islands, which makes train travel a little harder. Trains from Athens and Thessaloniki go to Sofia, with onward connections to Budapest, Bucharest, and Vienna. Trains also go towards Skopje from Athens, where there are onward trains to Belgrade. Regular train services also operate between Istanbul and Athens via Thessaloniki. You have to change trains in the latter city. (Read the Turkey page for more details). In summer, there even is a weekly train from Thessaloniki all the way to Moscow.
You can enter Greece from neighbouring countries quite easily, including Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. Be sure to have your documentation in order. You can also travel on the ferries from Italy.
The Greek Railways Organisation has buses between Athens and Tirana, stopping en route in Ioannina and Gjirokastra. They also have buses to Sofia from Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as from these places to Istanbul.
Olympic Airlines has domestic flights to many destinations including Alexandroupolis, Chania (on Crete), Chios, Corfu, Heraklion (on Crete), Ioannina, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kavala, Kefalonia, Kithira, Kos, Limnos, Milos, Mykonos, Mytilene (on Lesvos), Naxos, Paros, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Sitia, Thessaloniki and Zakynthos. Aegean Airlines has a share of domestic flights as well.
The Hellenic Railways Organisation operates a network of train, most of them originating and terminating in or near Athens (Larissa for the north and Peloponnissos for the south). Trains north stop in Thessaloniki, Livadia, Paleofarsala, Larissa, Plati, Edessa, Florina, Seres, Drama, Komotini and Alexandroupolis while trains south stop in Kiato, Xylokastra, Diakofto, Patras, Olympia, Argos, Tripoli, Megalopolis and Kalamata. Most destinations are served on a daily basis with some destinations having more frequent services. The most important thing to remember is to validate your train ticket before getting on the train every time because the punishment is a hefty fine. The validating machine is usually pretty close to the train but sometimes can be difficult to find.
The road network in Greece has a good standard and most roads are paved. The driving skills in Greece on the other hand are one of the worst in Europe with relatively high mortality rates. Just watch out and be defensive yourself. Most international and a number of local companies offer rental cars at airports, bigger cities and some hotels. Especially on some of the islands, it is a pleasant way of seeing a lot in your own pace.
A national driver's licence for EU citizens is enough, others need an international one. You can also bring your own car if you are from the EU for six months, sometimes 15 months. Be sure to have decent insurance (green card for EU members).
Dozens of bus companies serve a number of national, regional or local routes and for longer trips you might contact KTEL which has most long distance bus services in Greece. Especially to places without a train link, these buses fit in perfectly. It is possible to validate bus tickets on the bus.
There are numerous ferry connections because there are so many islands that are part of Greece. On the mainland the most used ports where ferries originate or terminate include Piraeus and Rafina. Others which have regular sailings to the islands are Alexandroupolis, Igoumenitsa, Kavala, Kyllini, Patras, Thessaloniki and Volos. Routes from Piraeus usually go to the Argo-Saronic, Cyclades, Dodecanese and the Northeast Aegean island chains and also to Crete and other mainland ports as far as Thessaloniki. From Rafina there are slightly less connections. On some routes, faster hydrofoil services operate. There are two classes on most ships (first and second) and couchettes are available on night trips. In summer, book well in advance.
Although remember that time schedules are not an exact science in Greece. Therefore many ferries leave early or more often extremely late from port. This means do not depend on time schedules ever! Always get to port a little early and be prepared to wait. You will usually get there on the same day but if you plan to take a morning ferry and catch an evening flight it might be a risky gamble. However there are no open container laws in Greece, so kicking back with a beer and a gyro is a good option while waiting for a boat.
Check the Greek Travel Pages for an impression about companies, schedules and prices, as the choice is very wide. Or check the Greek Ferries website or another one about Ferries between islands in Greece.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
The following countries allow citizens to visit Greece for up to three months with a Schengen visa: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Uruguay, USA.
See also: Money Matters
Greece has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone. The coin for Greece has an olympic discus thrower on the backside.
EU, Norwegian, Icelandic and Swiss citizens can work without any restrictions in Greece. Citizens of most non-EU countries are required to hold a visa to work in Greece. However, 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.
For those interested in learning modern Greek, there are several schools offering courses in language instruction for foreigners. Most of these are designed for English speakers, but some schools have courses for people with other first languages. Some schools are in Athens, some in Thessaloniki (among them the very good school of Modern Greek language in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) while others have centers in the islands offering a residential program that combines language study with a vacation. Some offer individual tutoring in addition to classes. Some well established programs are The Ikarian Centre, The Hellenic Culture Centre and The Athens Centre.
Modern Greek is the national language. It is the native tongue of the vast majority of the population, although the English speaking visitor will encounter no significant language problem. English is the most widely studied and understood foreign language in Greece, followed by French, Italian, and German. Basic knowledge of English can be expected from almost all in the tourism industry and public transport services,as well as many younger people. 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 Greek alphabet and about half of Greek letters look like their Latin counterparts, and most Greek letters resemble 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. 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).
A trip to Greece without trying many kinds of local food would be a waste of time. Greek food is an amazing blend of Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Another great thing is this amazing food changes with every island and depending on the region. If on one of the islands or the coast there will be amazing seafood. If in the mountains be prepared for lots of lamb and feta cheese. A trip to Greece is not complete without trying some soivalki, moussaka or spanakopita which are all great dishes. Remember that the Greeks put olive oil on everything, which might upset your stomach a bit. Still, it is healthy! As warning Greece is not a vegetarian friendly country. Once outside the major cities or resort areas restaurants tend to mix everything together. If a vegetarian stick to the Greek salad.
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. Greece 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.
Some main Greek dishes include:
Greece offers a wide range of accommodations. There are many camping sites and hostels on the budget side, while you can have 5-star luxury as well, especially in the capital Athens and along the popular coast and islands of the country.
If you enjoy the local traditions and charm, unhurried rhythm of living, small, family-run pensions are the best way to enrich your experience. Owners and personnel there are friendly and open-minded, compared to the impersonal service you normally encounter in large hotels.
If you have a bigger budget, renting a villa is a luxurious and splendid idea. They are normally near or on the beach and provide more space and a great view.
Ouzo (ούζο) is the main liquor of Greece. This clear anise-flavored spirit can go down deceptively smooth and is dirt cheap in the islands. It takes back to Byzantine times but did not become popular until the 19th century following Greek independence. The island of Lesbos claims to the originator of the drink and to this day is one of the major producers of ouzo. One interesting feature of ouzo is if water or ice is added to it the liquid it will turn a milky color.
Raki or tsikoudia is the Greek equivalent of the Italian grappa, produced by boiling the remains of the grapes after the wine has been squeezed off. It is quite strong (35-40% of alcohol) and in the summer months it is served cold. It costs very little when one buys it in supermarkets or village stores. The raki producing process has become a male event, as usually men are gathering to produce the raki and get drunk by constantly trying the raki as it comes out warm from the distillery. One raki distillery in working order is exhibited in Ippikos Omilos Irakleiou in Heraklion, but they can be found in most large villages. In northern Greece it is also called tsipouro (τσίπουρο). In Crete, raki is traditionally considered an after-dinner drink and is often served with fruit as dessert.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Greece. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Belarus. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Greece is generally a safe destination for the traveller, but there are some things to keep in mind. Generally your biggest worries will be traffic (Greece has a bad safety record in traffic), for example when crossing the street, and pickpockets in some cities like Athens.
Internet access is widely available throughout the country. Almost all hotels provide internet access, either free or paid. Local coffee shops usually offer free Wi-Fi access, as many other public places do. Feel free to ask for the password, if the network is locked. Internet cafes however tend to be expensive, about €1.5-2 per hour.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The cheapest way to call someone abroad is to use a pre-paid calling card and call from a land line anywhere (also from your hotel room). Pre-paid calling cards are sold in many shops and kiosks. The calling card is not much more than a phone number and a pin code, which you dial prior to dialing the usual phone number. If you want to call internationally, ask for an international calling card. For one euro you can call for about 45 minutes, so buy a card in the cheapest value (which is about €3). Calling someone for half an hour is cheaper than sending one email from an internet café. Cards expire usually 90 days after first use. You can also use this pre-paid calling card at public phone boxes, which are widely available.
Mobile phones are prevalent in Greek's communication, and if you need to talk with your co-travelers it is advised that you buy a local prepaid plan instead of using roaming, as it is far cheaper. There are at least three mobile carriers, Cosmote, Wind and Vodafone all of which require by law presenting some form of identification in order to activate your prepaid plan. Choose whichever has better reception in your area, keeping in mind that GSM 900, GSM 1800 and UMTS 2100 bands are supported. Data usage is cheap, costing about €3 per 100 MB. Ask the mobile carrier for more information.
Hellenic Post is the Greek postal service. On their website you find more information about options to send letters, postcards and parcels and there is a search function regarding post offices and post boxes. It also has information on services like paying bills, transferring money, financial products etc. Greek post codes are five digits long and are usually written as follows; 123 45. The first three digits are used to identify the city, municipality or prefecture, for example the digits between 100 and 180 relate to the city of Athens. The last two digits identify a street or part of a street. Most post offices are open Monday to Friday from 07:30-14:00, although the largers ones usually have longer opening hours. For sending packages, you can also use international courier services like DHL, UPS or TNT.
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Ask Kaceyroo a question about Greece
Lived and studied in Greece
Ask tellya a question about Greece
Travel advice for discerning (ie not hostel/camping) travellers in Greece - specializing in Crete, Santorini, Peloponnese, Thessaloniki, Athens - Driving in Greece.
Ask Gurt a question about Greece
Of course I'm no Greek. But I've travelled CRETE more than 10 times, driving in total over 6.000 kms.
I can help you with making plans, give actual (2011) advise about the island and tell you the hidden gems.
Ask Gpk2010 a question about Greece
Greetings fellow travellers! I live in Greece and I have been almost everywere, so I could provide you with a long list of information.
Last 5 years I was in Santorini, Naxos, Rodos, Chania, Ag.Nikolaos (Crete) and (of course) Athens!
Ask vickon a question about Greece
I am 28 years old greek man living in Athens all my life. Althouh i travelled all over the Greece lands and I could give you imformations about transportations accomodation and of course what to do to and where to go to see the true live of the residents. Also as I am still young I though! I can give you imformations about the night life of Athens and other cities for all the tastes and maybe i could join you. I would be really happy if i could help you i some way as i am an individual traveler by myself.
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