For years, I did postpone my visit to Greece because of two main reasons. The first one was to avoid the summer crowds, when a big majority of the Europeans are heading towards the islands and everything gets busy and expensive. The second reason it was to avoid going to touristic places, so I tried instead to discover other virgin locations. On one hand, I was right, on the other, there are always exceptions from the rules.
Personally, I do think 2020 is the best year to visit Greece and I do feel it was totally worth in delaying my visit till now. Because of covid-19 virus Greece imposed restrictions for travelling, people avoided to go abroad, which convered the country into an authentic experience at low prices.
I bet you all heard or visited already Santorini, Mykonos or Athens. But apart from these, there are so many other places to explore that you would literally need a lifetime to see them all – without an exageration! I need to confes that for the first time in my life I did spent almost a full month of holiday in one single country – and this should say a lot coming from me!
Now, let me tell you what I do think it makes this country so special and why tourists are chosing to visit Greece year after year.
Chosing the right destination
We all want to ensure we are chosing the best destination for our holidays, especially when it may happen only once or twice a year. But in case of Greece, it doesn’t really matter the place you choose, mainland or islands, cause everywhere is something beautiful to be discovered.
The mainland has a lot of historical places to offer like the Acropolis in the capital of Athens, the ancient site of Delphi – where the oracle used to be, to beautiful beaches spread across the land, plantations of olives or the holy sites of Meteora.
The islands have all a different personality, landscape and entertainments. So, the rule: I saw one I saw them all, it cannot be applied in Greece. Which is perfect as you ca never get bored!
A personal advice I would give, is to combine a bit of everything in order to get a more complete taste of what Greece means. Don’t go only to touristic places as Santorini or Mykonos as this is not real Greece. Try to add on your list small cities, remote places and some islands none of your friends have ever heard about it. Like this, you can create an authentic experience and step out of the crowd. Be brave, as Greece cannot dissapoint regardless of your choise.
You don’t speak Greek? Ooo, such a shame! Actually, not really, as this may help you only during your visit in Greece. But if you do speak English you should pretty feel like home. This is the huge advantage of being in a country which lives from tourism!
As there are always exceptions to the rules, on one side I did met people speaking several languages apart from English – Italian, Spanish or French are among the most popular. On the other side, in remote place I did had to use my body languages to express myself, as nobody was speaking a foreign language, only Greek. And I need to admit sometimes I do prefer the second option, as it takes me out of the comfort zone!
You may say it sounds hilarious, but this is how I felt. Greek people are so nice, polite and curious with the tourists, that you couldn’t feel any better. Because I lived in England, I need to confes there is no comparison between the British politeness – which is something unnatural and retoric, comparing to the open hearted Greek discussions. They trully make you feel like home, as part of the family.
Also, don’t be surprised to be approached with questions like the country you are coming from, your name and the places you’re aiming to visit there. Greek people like to know more about their tourists and help them with advices as much as you allow them. Maybe it is more an East European approach, invading people personal life without knowing them before, but I personally like this ice breaking barreer. In the end, is a lot more easier to get some local insights and advices than in Western European countries.
Coming from Paris where in regular places you are not always served at its best, I need to say that I was very impressed by the service in Greece. The waiter is extremely careful to serve you as quick as possible and at its best.
Something I was very impressed of is that you will always receive water at the table without asking. On the mainland, as the water is drinkable, you will be served with water with ice once you get sitted. On the islands, as the water is not drinkable, you will receive a bottle of water even without asking – but you need to pay for it. This last part I found it a bit weird as maybe you just want to have a limonade or a coca-cola to drink and not water. I never refused the water they brought it to me, so I’m not sure if you can actually refuse it or not.
I don’t know in your town, but in Paris we are struggling to stop the waiter and ask for the bill. Not to mention the waiting time! In Greece it looks like they did found a smart solution to fix this, by bringing your bill after you order. You may even receive it before your order, how funny is this!
To conclude this topic with the cherry on the cake, expect even to receive free deserts at the end of your meal! It happened to me several times to enjoy watermelon, grapes or baklava!
Before jumping straight into the food and drinks you should know that Greeks do have their own “special hours” to enjoy the meals. If you’re used to have your meals at precise hours like midday or 7pm, in Greece people are more relaxed. They do enjoy a coffee on the terrase in a late morning, having lunch after 2pm and dinner after 22pm. This doesn’t mean you cannot follow your own hours, but you should maybe know this in case you’re wondering why you’re having the meal by your one.
During the summer, the usual coffee to order is the iced coffee (cafe fredo), which is an americano with ice. Bare in mind you will always be asked how much sugar do you want in it, from none, to medium or sweet. I normally do drink the coffee sweet, but in Greece I had to change it to medium as it was too much sugar in the sweet one. If you order simply coffee, they will bring you the turkish coffee, which is the small hot one with ground. Also in this case, you need to precise the level of sugar you want, as it is added during the boiling process and not after.
There are a few varieties of local beers you can try. I am not a fan, but for curiosity I tried Mythos and Spartan beers, which were really good. If you like wine, there are local choises too. The best wine I had was from Santorini, which is really special because of the volcanic ground. Last but not least, you have to try ouzo, which is the traditional beverage. I personally don’t like it at all, but you cannot know this until you try it!
If you say you plan to visit Greece to enjoy the food, you cannot be wrong. Their mediteranean cusine including fresh vegetables and fish is absolutely delicious. You cannot visit Greece without trying the Greek salad (tomatos, cucumber, onion, olives, feta cheeese and olive oil), the mousaka (pasta with minced meat) and the filled vegetables (pappers and tomatos filled with rice) and the fresh fish!
Greeks do keep themselves healty and the majority of the time are enjoying fruits or yagourt for deserts, instead of the French pastries we are used to. Of course, if you’re looking for something really sweet, there is a big variety of bakalava to chose from.
I personally tried all the ways of transportation during my visit in Greece from buses, trains, ferries, taxis to hitchhiking. The good part is that are all reliable and on time. On the other side, if you rely only on public transportation to move around, you need to plan a bit your next steps in advance and be flexible. For example, to move from Kalamata to Sparta there are only two buses per week, even if the cities are only around one hour and a half away.
One interesting thing I noticed is that while travelling with the bus, you can actually ask the driver to stop between stations. Drivers are doing it especially to help older people, but they do stop for everybody as long as you ask.
If I was dissapointed of something while in Greece, this was for sure the level of cleaningness on the streets. This is a lot more visible in Athens as it’s a big city, but I was surprised seeing so much trash even in historic areas like Sparta or small islands like Elafonisos. I hope this will improve, as the places are way too beautiful to be affected by negligence.
Amazing, amazing and amazing beautiful weather, probably one of the best things Greece has. Even if it can get very hot on the mainland (I had 38C in Kalamata), on the islands it is more windy and you cannot actualy feel the heat. The sky is always blue and there are no clouds. Regarding rain, I amost never seen it during one month.
If you have an account in euro then nothing easier than using it while in Greece. I think 95% of the places I went to they were accepting card payment. However, you do need cash if you want to buy small souvenirs or food straight from the streets.
Also, if you pay cash you can negociate better the prices. For example, I did bought two dresses and instead of paying 100€, I first negociated to 45€ each, then to a total price of 80€ only because I was paying cash. Like this, they don’t have to declare the income and you pay less, it’s a win win situation.
The majority of the Greeks are Christian Orthodox so don’t be surprised seeing a Church at every corner. Comparing to other countries, I was surprised by the number of people going to the church, young and old people, reflecting the faith and the devotion they have towards their religion.
One thing I was surprised of is that there is no fix price for the candles. I went to several churches and I was looking to see how much money I need to put in the box, but there was no price. In the end, locals told me you are free to pay how much you want. Nobody is obliging you to pay an overpriced candle like in other countries, it’s only up to you.
Comparing to other countries, the authetic greek music survived in front of the occidental music. And I need to admit it is a real pleasure hearing local songs while being there. It really immerse you into the culture. Unfortunatelly, I didn’t heard the famous song of Zorba.
There are so many souvenirs you can buy from Greece, that the only problem is how to transport them rather than what to buy. If you’re coming by car or have a check-in luggage, buy some olive oil and honey, because are authentic and locally produced. If you like leather, buy a pair of authentic Greek or Spartan sandals, then complement them with a Greek dress or cotton clothes. For the loved ones, there are endless choises for magnets, ceramics and so on.
There may be many places around Europe with a historical significance, but I doubt is something that can beat Greece, the place where art, philosophy (who didn’t heard about Socrate, Platon, Aristotel) and democracy were born. We may need a lot of imagination to understand how those places looked thousands of years before, but the feeling you get once you understand the importance of the history and our evolution is speechless. Better said, if you love history, a visit to Greece is trully a must!
Couple or family destination
After travelling around the country by myself, I did realised the tourism is well developed for couples or familis rather than solo travelers. For example, excepting touristic destinatinations where you can find hostels (Athens, Santorini), in the majority of the places you have only one single hostel (Mykonos, Kalamata) or none (Neapolis, Elafonisos). In this case you need to opt in for a hotel or apartment, which of course is more expensive. More than this, as you need to always take a double room, you pay the same price as a couple but you stay by yourself, which is not the best vaue for money.
If you love cats, then you’re in the right place. You will have the chance to see them on the streets or in the historical places . They are friendly so don’t be afraid to make new friends.
There may be many other things to say about Greece, but I do hope I didn’t missed anything primordial to tell you. In case I did, please tell me in the comments section below.
Meanwhile, continue with a virtual visit to Greece by clicking here.