Capital and largest city: Athens
Official languages: Greek
Currency: Euro (€)
Population: 11.306.183 (2010 census)
Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
Calling code: +30
Greece & the Greek Islands are known for 3 things: ancient civilization, amazing landscapes and high developed tourism. Really beloved by people, Greece is so rich in culture and beauty that it never seems to be completely explored, no matter how many times you visit it. After all, this is one of the reasons that brought it in the list with the top 20 tourist destinations worldwide. It is all about Greece, from nature to locals, that makes people coming and coming to this wonderful land every summer.
Travel to Greece and the islands has become a must activity, according to the modern lifestyle. Over the last decades, it has been always visited by the jet setters, including politicians, musicians, actors, artists and other celebrities with a significant contribution to the popularity of Greece.
Holidays in Greece is the ultimate summer experience. Why visit Greece?. The hot sun, the relaxing beaches, the marvelous nature, the rich culture and the warm hospitality will charm you from the first step in the country. There are so many islands and mainland resorts in Greece that it will take you many years to explore the entire country. Have a look on the Greek destinations by popularity. However, if you believe that Greece is only about swimming in gorgeous beaches and sightseeing, then also check other types of holidays and you will change your mind. Greece is a wonderful place to visit all year round and gives amazing chances for trips off the beaten track.
More than 16 million tourists visit Greece each year. Compare this with the country’s entire population, which is approximately 11 million. Tourism is one of the largest industries in Greece, contributing to the Gross Domestic Product by about 16 per cent.
Voting is mandatory for every citizen over 18 years old; one cannot choose not to vote.
It is also mandatory for Greek men to serve in the army for some time, when they reach 18 years of age. This period used to be over two years long, but is now nine to twelve months.
Greece is the third largest producer of olives. Olive trees have been cultivated here since antiquity. According to mythology, Athena and Poseidon competed for who would become the patron of Athens; so, they decided they would each offer a gift to the citizens, who would then choose one to be the most valuable. Poseidon offered the gift of water, but Athena, offering the gift of an olive tree, became the patron of the city, which was also named after her.
Greece also has over 7 per cent of the world’s marble production, while it is the leading producer of sea sponges.
Thousands of English words derive from the Greek language, such as “academy”, “plethora”, “marathon”, “alphabet”, “apology”.
Nearly 80% of Greece is mountainous, which makes all Greek rivers non – navigable.
There are over 2,000 islands in Greece, but only circa 170 are populated. The largest island of Greece is Crete, followed by Evia.
Over 40% of the Greek population lives in the capital, Athens. Athens is over 7,000 years old, rendering it one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is also the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and literature, historiography, tragedy and comedy.
Greece has more than 250 days of sunshine annually.
Until the late 1990s, Greece and Turkey had seen their relations deteriorate, mainly because of territorial disputes. However, a catastrophic earthquake that hit both countries in 1999 helped in the vast improvement of their relations.
The life expectancy of Greek women is 82 years and of men is 77 years. It is ranked 26th in the world for life expectancy rates.
Feta is the national cheese of Greece, made from goat milk since the Homeric times. Greece has the highest consumption rate of feta per capita in the world.
The first Olympic Games took place in Ancient Olympia in 776 BC.
The most popular destination for tourists in Greece is the city of Rhodes, famous for once housing one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus.
Greek has been spoken for over 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest languages in the world.
No point in Greece is more than 137 kilometers away from water. The country enjoys the 10th longest coastline in the world, about 15,000 kilometers.
Greece follows the Eastern European Time (EET) during winter, which is one of the names of the UTC +02:00 time zone. During summer, Greece uses Eastern European Summer Time as a summer daylight saving time, which is the name for the time zone UTC +3:00. Along with Greece, Eastern European Time is also used by Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, Lebanon, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and other countries.
The climate of Greece is predominantly Mediterranean, but because of the country’s unique morphology, various areas have different micro – climates and variations. The Pindus range, which runs across Greece on a northwestern – southeastern axis, divides the country geographically in two, rendering the climate of Western Greece wetter and sharing more characteristics with maritime climates, while the eastern part of Greece is generally drier and windier. Northern Greece is mainly characterized by a transitional climate sharing features of both continental and Mediterranean climates, while there are also mountainous areas with alpine features.
The Mediterranean climate is prevalent in the region of the Aegean, including the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, Evia, and low – lying areas of Attica and Peloponnese. This climate is characterized by sunny and dry summers, with sparse precipitation in the form of showers or thunderstorms. Nights can be pleasantly hot, but there are also windy days, especially in Cyclades in August, with strong winds called meltemia. Winters are wet and snow, if falling, melts quickly.
The Alpine Mediterranean climate of the mountainous areas of Greece is characterized by harsh winters with lots of snowfall, and cool summers with thunderstorms. This climate is predominant in high mountains, like the mountain ranges of Pindus and Rhodope. Ski resorts have opened in areas with alpine characteristics, which are very popular among Greeks during winter, such as Karpenisi in Central Greece.
The transitional climate between continental and Mediterranean climate can be found in Northern Greece and the northern parts of Central Greece, mainly Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace. This climate is characterized by cold and wet winters with rainy days, while snowfalls may occur, though the snow does not last very long. In summer, there may also be heatwaves, as well as short rainfalls.
The minimum temperature ever recorded in Greece is -27.8 degrees Celsius in Ptolemaida, while the maximum temperature is 48 degrees Celsius in Elefsina. This is also the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe. However, due to the peculiar morphology of Greece, average temperatures may vary considerably among regions.
Greece has a large number of airports serving most major cities. There are 15 international airports, connecting Greek cities to various destinations in Europe and else in the world; the number of flights and connections greatly increases during high summer season (May – September) when millions of tourists flock to have an unforgettable holiday experience. There are also many more airports that connect small Greek cities with Athens and Thessaloniki.The largest airport in Greece is “Eleftherios Venizelos” International airport in Athens. It serves 13 million passengers each year and it was ranked as the 30th busiest airport in Europe. Several airlines land here, and there are connections with cities worldwide on scheduled or charter flights. The second largest airport is “Macedonia” International airport in Thessaloniki, which acts as the main hub operating in Northern Greece. Several scheduled flights connect Thessaloniki to various European destinations, as well as numerous charter services, which are increased in frequency during summer. Charter flights also operate on other airports in Greece, such as “Ioannis Kapodistrias” airport in Corfu, “Nikos Kazantzakis” airport in Heraklion, “Ippokratis” airport in the island of Kos, “Odysseas Elytis” airport in Lesvos and “Diagoras” airport in Rhodes. These airports also receive large numbers of visitors, especially during summertime when tourists flock to the islands to enjoy the crystal – clear waters of the Aegean and the Ionian Seas under the golden sun.
Greece has an extensive network of ferries which are the only means of reaching many of the islands. Schedules are often subject to delays due to poor weather and industrial action and prices fluctuate regularly. In summer, ferries are regular between all but the most out-of-the-way destinations; however, services seriously slow down in winter and, in some cases, stop completely. Ferry companies have local offices on many of the islands.
Taxis are widely available in Greece except on very small or remote islands. They are reasonably priced by European standards, especially if three or four people share costs. Many taxi drivers now have sat-nav systems in their cars, so finding a destination is a breeze as long as you have the exact address.Yellow city cabs are metered, with rates doubling between midnight and 5am. Additional costs are charged for trips from an airport or a bus, port or train station, as well as for each piece of luggage over 10kg. Grey rural taxis do not have meters, so you should always settle on a price before you get in.Some taxi drivers in Athens have been known to overcharge unwary travellers. If you have a complaint about a taxi driver, take the cab number and report your complaint to the tourist police. Taxi drivers in other towns in Greece are, on the whole, friendly, helpful and honest.
Most Greek towns are small enough to get around on foot. All the major towns have local buses, but the only places you’re likely to need them are Athens, Patra, Kalamata and Thessaloniki.
The bus network is comprehensive. All long-distance buses, on the mainland and the islands, are operated by regional collectives known as KTEL. Details of inter-urban buses throughout Greece are available by dialling 14505. Bus fares are fixed by the government and bus travel is very reasonably priced. A journey costs approximately €5 per 100km.
Every prefecture on the mainland has a KTEL, which operates local services within the prefecture and to the main towns of other prefectures. With the exception of towns in Thrace, which are serviced by Thessaloniki, all the major towns on the mainland have frequent connections to Athens. The islands of Corfu, Kefallonia and Zakynthos can also be reached directly from Athens by bus – the fares include the price of the ferry ticket.Most villages have a daily bus service of some sort, although remote areas may have only one or two buses a week. They operate for the benefit of people going to town to shop, rather than for tourists, and consequently leave the villages very early in the morning and return early in the afternoon.
It is important to note that big cities like Athens, Iraklio, Patra and Thessaloniki may have more than one bus station, each serving different regions. Make sure you find the correct station for your destination. In small towns and villages the ‘bus station’ may be no more than a bus stop outside a kafeneio (coffee house) or taverna that doubles as a booking office.
In remote areas, the timetable may be in Greek only, but most booking offices have timetables in both Greek and Roman script.It’s best to turn up at least 20 minutes before departure to make sure you get a seat, and buses have been known to leave a few minutes before their scheduled departure.When you buy a ticket you may be allotted a seat number, which is noted on the ticket. The seat number is indicated on the back of each seat of the bus, not on the back of the seat in front; this causes confusion among Greeks and tourists alike.You can board a bus without a ticket and pay on board but, on a popular route or during high season, this may mean that you have to stand.The KTEL buses are safe and modern, and these days most are air conditioned – at least on the major routes. In more-remote rural areas they tend to be older and less comfortable. Buses on less-frequented routes do not usually have toilets on board and stop about every three hours on long journeys.Smoking is prohibited on all buses in Greece.
Athens is the only city in Greece large enough to warrant the building of an underground system. Note that only Greek student cards are valid for a student ticket on the metro.
Trains are operated by the Greek railways organisation OSE. The Greek railway network is limited with essentially only two main lines: the standard-gauge service from Athens to Alexandroupoli via Thessaloniki, and the Peloponnese network. Due to financial instability, services have been greatly reduced and prices and schedules are changeable. When you can, double-check on the OSE website. Information on departures from Athens or Thessaloniki can also be sought by calling 1440.
There are two types of service: regular (slow) trains that stop at all stations and faster, modern intercity (IC) trains that link most major cities. The slow trains represent the country’s cheapest form of public transport: 2nd-class fares are absurdly cheap, and even 1st class is cheaper than bus travel.
The IC trains that link the major Greek cities are an excellent way to travel. The services are not necessarily fast – Greece is far too mountainous for that – but the trains are modern and comfortable. There are 1st- and 2nd-class tickets and a cafe-bar on board. On some services, meals can be ordered and delivered to your seat. The night service between Athens and Thessaloniki also offers a choice of couchettes, two-bed compartments and single compartments.
– Eurail and Inter-Rail cards are valid in Greece, but it’s generally not worth buying one if Greece is the only place where you plan to use them. For IC and sleeper cars, you still require a costly supplement.
– On presentation of ID or passports, passengers more than 60 years old are entitled to a 25% discount on all lines except in July and August and over the Easter week.
– Whatever pass you have, you must have a reservation to board the train.
Car & Motorcycle
No one who has travelled on Greece’s roads will be surprised to hear that the country’s road fatality rate is one of the highest in Europe. More than 1000 people die on the roads every year, with ten times that number of people injured. Overtaking is listed as the greatest cause of accidents.Heart-stopping moments aside, your own car is a great way to explore off the beaten track. The road network has improved enormously in recent years; many roads marked as dirt tracks on older maps have now been asphalted and many of the islands have very little traffic. There are regular (if costly) car-ferry services to almost all islands.
Greece is not the best place to initiate yourself into motorcycling. There are still a lot of gravel roads – particularly on the islands, and dozens of tourists have accidents every year. Scooters are particularly prone to sliding on gravelly bends. Try to hire a motorcycle with thinner profile tyres. If you are planning to use a motorcycle or moped, check that your travel insurance covers you. Many insurance companies don’t offer cover for motorcycle accidents, so check the fine print!Automobile Association Greece’s domestic automobile association is ELPA.Entry EU-registered vehicles enter free for up to six months without road taxes being due. A green card (international third-party insurance) is required along with proof of date of entry (ferry ticket or your passport stamp). Non-EU-registered vehicles may be logged in your passport.Driving Licence EU driving licences are valid in Greece. Drivers from outside the EU may require International Driving Permits, which should be obtained before you leave home.Fuel Available widely throughout the country, though service stations may be closed on weekends and public holidays. On the islands, there may be only one petrol station; check where it is before you head out. Self-service and credit-card pumps are not the norm in Greece. Petrol in Greece is cheaper than in many European countries, but expensive by American or Australian standards.
– Super leaded
– amolyvdi unleaded
– petreleo kinisis diesel
Main highways in Greece have been improving steadily over the years but many still don’t offer smooth sailing.Some main roads retain the two-lane/hard shoulder format of the 1960s which can be confusing and even downright dangerous.Roadworks can take years and years in Greece, especially on the islands where funding often only trickles in. In other cases, excellent new tarmac roads may have appeared that are not on any local maps.
Slow drivers – many of them unsure and hesitant tourists – can cause serious traffic events on Greece’s roads.Road surfaces can change rapidly when a section of road has succumbed to subsidence or weathering. Snow and ice can be a serious challenge in winter, and drivers are advised to carry snow chains. Animals in rural areas may wander onto roads, so extra vigilance is required.Roads passing through mountainous areas are often littered with fallen rocks that can cause extensive damage to a vehicle’s underside or throw a bike rider.
In Greece, as throughout Continental Europe, you drive on the right and overtake on the left.Outside built-up areas, traffic on a main road has right of way at intersections. In towns, vehicles coming from the right have right of way. This includes roundabouts – even if you’re in the roundabout, you must give way to drivers coming onto the roundabout to your right.Seat belts must be worn in front seats, and in back seats if the car is fitted with them.Children under 12 years of age are not allowed in the front seat.It is compulsory to carry a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher and warning triangle, and it is forbidden to carry cans of petrol.Helmets are compulsory for motorcyclists if the motorcycle is 50cc or more. Police will book you if you’re caught without a helmet.Outside residential areas the speed limit is 120km/h on highways, 90km/h on other roads and 50km/h in built-up areas. The speed limit for motorcycles up to 100cc is 70km/h and for larger motorcycles, 90km/h. Drivers exceeding the speed limit by 20% are liable to receive a fine of €60; exceeding it by 40% costs €150.A blood-alcohol content of 0.05% can incur a fine of €150, and over 0.08% is a criminal offence.If you are involved in an accident and no one is hurt, the police will not be required to write a report, but it is advisable to go to a nearby police station and explain what happened. You may need a police report for insurance purposes. If an accident involves injury, a driver who does not stop and does not inform the police may face a prison sentence.