Greece may be the home of Zeus and his fellow Olympians, but at first glance its bustling, traffic-ridden capital, Athens, is anything but divine. Yet here, as all over Greece, are reminders of the country’s glory – from Athens’ Parthenon and Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, to the ruins on Crete of the Minóan city of Knossós, a civilization reaching even further back into history.
Scattered throughout the calm blue waters of the Aegean are the islands, each with its own special story. Visit Zakynthos in the spring to see why it is ‘the island of flowers’, or the volcanic Santorini, where the blackness of the sand accentuates the brilliant whiteness of the villages. The serenity of islands like Skópelos contrasts with the hedonistic party islands such as Myknos and Páros where the worship of Dionysus the god of revelry continues to the beat of garage and house music.
It is easy to forget that from this fertile land of mythology, olive groves and retsina, sprang political, philosophical and artistic ideas that shaped the whole course of western civilization. Greece today offers the traveller the comforts of modern Europe in close proximity to the stark beauty of the ancient world.
Visitors to Greece will find the Greeks to be well aware of a strong historical and cultural heritage. Traditions and customs differ throughout Greece, but overall a strong sense of unity prevails. The Greek Orthodox Church has a strong traditional influence on the Greek way of life, especially in more rural areas. The throwing back of the head is a negative gesture. Dress is generally casual. Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in public buildings.
12 to 15 per cent is usual.
Greece’s national airline is Olympic Airlines (OA). British Airways make scheduled flights to Greece. Delta Airlines operate daily flights from New York to Athens.
Approximate flight times
From Athens to London is five hours; from Rhodes is five hours 15 minutes; from Corfu is four hours; from Heraklion is eight hours; and from Skiathos is six hours (all flight times include a stopover). From Athens to Los Angeles is 15 hours; to New York is 13 hours; to Singapore is 13 hours; to Sydney is 24 hours 30 minutes.
Athens (ATH) (Elfetherios Veniselos) has been newly constructed, replacing all air traffic from the old airport. Located 27km (17 miles) northeast of the city, there is a six-lane motorway linking the two, and regular airport buses running 24 hours from the center and the port of Piraeus. Airport facilities include duty free shops, car hire (Avis, Budget, Hertz, Europcar and Sixt), banks, cash machines, bureaux de change, bar and restaurant facilities, post office, business center and hotel.
Heraklion (HER) (Crete) is 5km (3 miles) from the city. Bus and taxi services are available. Airport facilities include a cafe, bureaux de change, bar and restaurant facilities, hotel reservations and a duty free shop.
Thessaloniki (SKG) (Macedonia) is 16km (10 miles) from the city. Regular coach and taxi services are available. Airport facilities include duty free shops, restaurants, bars, banks/bureaux de change, car hire (Alamo, Avis and Hertz) and a post office.
Corfu (CFU) (Kerkira) is 3km (2 miles) from the city. Regular coach and taxi services are available. There is a duty free shop, cafe and bar.
Rhodes (RHO) (Paradisi) is 16km (10 miles) from the city. Coach and taxi services are available. Airport facilities include a duty free shop, car hire (Avis, Rent-a-car), bank, bureau de change, cafe and bar.
There are also international airports at Chania (CHQ), Kalamata (KLX), Karpathos (AOK), Kavala (KVA), Kefalonia (EFL), Kos (KGS), Lesbos (Mytilini) (MJT), Mykonos (JMK), Preveza (Lefkos) (PVK), Samos (SMI), Skiathos (JSI), Thessaloniki (SKG), Thira (Santorini) (JTR) and Zakynthos (ZTH), most of which serve predominantly summer traffic.
The major Greek ports are Corfu, Heraklion, Igoumenitsa, Patras, Piraeus (Athens), Rhodes, Thessaloniki and Volos. Shipping and ferryboat lines link these ports with Italy, Croatia, Cyprus, Russia and Turkey. Greek ports are used by a number of cruise lines including Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Festival Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Silversea and Swan Hellenic. The Greek/Hellenic National Tourism Organization can give full details (see General Info section). A car ferry links the Italian ports of Brindisi, Venice, Trieste and Ancona with Corfu, Igoumenitsa, Patras and Piraeus. There are also services from from Corfu to Bari, Brindisi and Trieste; and from Rhodes to Marmaris (Turkey). During the summer months there are also services from Ithaca and from Cephalonia to Brindisi.
The national railway company is Hellenic Railways Organization Ltd (OSE). A good way to travel from the UK is to take the Eurostar through the channel tunnel, from London to either Brussels or Paris, both of which have onward connections to Greece. For further information and reservations contact Eurostar; or Rail Europe . Travel agents can obtain refunds for unused tickets from Eurostar Trade Refunds, 2nd Floor, Kent House, 81 Station Road, Ashford, Kent TN23 1PD, UK. Complaints and comments may be sent to Eurostar Customer Relations, Eurostar House, Waterloo Station, London SE1 8SE, UK . General enquiries and information requests must be made by telephone.
Rail passes: Inter-Rail tickets, for those aged 26 and under, include rail travel within Greece, but a supplement will be added for couchettes; the ticket does not include the cost of ferries between the mainland, other countries or islands, but certain shipping lines offer a discount to ticket holders. Prices for those aged over 26 are approximately 40 per cent higher. For passengers wishing to make multiple train journeys within Europe, the EuroDomino travel card offers reduced prices on various journeys to the destination of their choice. Other discount fares include air or ferry journeys with rail travel packages. Contact Rail Europe for further information.
It is possible to ferry cars and caravans across to one of the major ports of entry or to enter overland. Points of overland entry are from the Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of) via Evzoni, and Niki; from Bulgaria via Promahonas or Kastanies and Kipi. From Serbia and Montenegro, the route is via Italy (Trieste), Austria (Graz) and Belgrade. The journey from northern France to Athens is over 3200km (2000 miles). For car-ferry information, see details under Sea above.
Bus: There are routes from Athens via Thessaloniki to Dortmund, Istanbul, Paris and Sofia. Information and bookings are available from terminals in Athens at 6 Sina Street (tel: (210) 362 4402; 1 Karolou Street (tel: (210) 529 7777) and 17 Filellinon Street (tel: (210) 323 6747); also at Thessaloniki rail station.
The following goods may be imported into Greece by visitors without incurring customs duty by:
(a) Passengers arriving from within the EU:
800 cigarettes or 200 cigars or 400 cigarillos or 1kg of tobacco; 10l of alcoholic beverage or 90l of wine and 110l of beer; there is no limit for perfume.
(b) Passengers arriving from non-EU countries within Europe:
200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 cigarillos or 250g of tobacco; 1l of alcoholic beverage over 22 per cent or 2l of alcohol beverages of 22 per cent or less and 2l of wine and liquers; 50g of perfume and 250ml of eau de cologne; gifts up to a value of &Euro;175 per person and &Euro;90 if under 15.
(c) Passengers arriving from outside Europe:
400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 200 cigarillos or 500g of tobacco; 1l of alcoholic beverage over 22 per cent or 2l of alcohol beverages of 22 per cent or less and 2l of wine and 2l of still table wine; 50g of perfume and 250ml of eau de cologne.
The tobacco and alcohol allowances listed above are not available to passengers under the age of 18.
It is forbidden to bring in plants with soil. One windsurfboard per person may be imported/exported duty free, if registered in the passport on arrival. The export of antiquities is prohibited without the express permission of the Archaeological Service in Athens; those who ignore this will be prosecuted.
Abolition of duty free goods within the EU
On June 30 1999, the sale of duty-free alcohol and tobacco at airports and at sea was abolished in all of the original 15 EU member states. Of the 10 new member states that joined the EU on May 1 2004, these rules already apply to Cyprus and Malta. There are transitional rules in place for visitors returning to one of the original 15 EU countries from one of the other new EU countries. But for the original 15, plus Cyprus and Malta, there are now no limits imposed on importing tobacco and alcohol products from one EU country to another (with the exceptions of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, where limits are imposed). Travelers should note that they may be required to prove at customs that the goods purchased are for personal use only.
The national airline, Olympic Airlines, flies from Athens to Alexandroupolis, Astypalaia, Chania (Crete), Chios, Heraklion, Ikaria, Ioannina, Karpathos, Kassos, Kastellorizo, Kastoria, Kavala, Kefaloniá, Kerkira (Corfu), Kithira, Kos, Kozani, Lemnos, Leros, Milos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Paros, Preveza, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini (Thira), Siros, Sitia, Skiathos, Skiros, Thessaloniki and Zakinthos; from Rhodes to Heraklion, Karpathos, Kassos, Kastellorizo, Kos, Mykonos, and Santorini (Thira); from Chios to Mykonos, Samos and Thessaloniki; from Heraklion to Santorini (Thira), Mykonos and Paros; from Karpathos to Kassos and Sitia; from Kefaloniá to Zakinthos; from Kos to Leros and Samos; from Mykonos to Mytilini; and from Thessaloniki to Chania, Heraklion, Ioannina, Kavala Kerkira, Kos, Larissa, Lemnos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Rhodes, Samos and Santorini. There are also regular services to the Greek Aegean Islands (including Cyclades, Dodecanissa, North Aegean Sea and the Sporades).
It is both cheap and easy to travel around the islands. There are ferry services on many routes, with sailings most frequent during the summer. The main ports are Attica, Piraeus and Rafina, although there are regular sailings to the islands from the smaller ports of Alexandroupolis, Igoumenitsa, Kavala, Kyllini, Patras, Thessaloniki and Volos. Tickets can be bought from the shipping lines’ offices located around the quaysides. In major ports the larger lines have offices in the city center. There are two classes of ticket (First Class and Economy Class) which offer varying degrees of comfort; couchette cabins can be booked for the longer voyages or those wishing to avoid the sun. Most ships have restaurant facilities. During high season it is wise to buy tickets in advance, as inter-island travel is very popular.
Routes from Piraeus: There are regular sailings to the following ports: Dodecanese: Astipalaia, Chalki, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kassos, Kastelorizo, Kos, Leros, Lipsi, Nissiros, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi and Tilos. Cyclades: Aegiali and Katapola (both on Amorgos), Anafi, Donoussa, Folegandros, Heraklia, Ios, Kimolos, Koufonissia, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Schinoussa, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Siros and Tinos. Peloponnese: Gytheion, Hermioni, Kithira, Methana, Monemvassia and Porto Heli. Saronic Gulf Islands: Aegina, Hydra, Poros and Spetses. Crete: Agios Nikolaos, Chania, Heraklion, Kastelli, Rethymnon and Sitia. Samos: Karlovassi and Vathi. North Eastern Aegean Islands: Agios Kirykos (Ikaria), Chios, Evdilos (Ikaria), Limnos, Mitilini (Lesvos) and Psara. Northern Greece: Kavala and Thessaloniki. Check sailing times either with individual lines, the Greek/Hellenic National Tourist Organization, or in Piraeus upon arrival in Greece.
Routes from Rafina: There are local services from Rafina (near Athens) to: Agios Efstratios, Amorgos, Andros, Chalkida (summer only), Chios, Donoussa, Heraklia, Karistos (Evia), Kavala, Koufonissi, Kythnos, Limnos, Marmari (Evia), Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Schinoussa, Serifos, Sifnos, Syros, Thessaloniki and Tinos.
Other routes: These include Agia Marina–Nea Styra; Perama–Salamis; Rio–Antirio; Aedipsos–Arkitsa; Eretria– Oropos; Glifa–Agiokambos; Patras–Ithaca; Patras–Kefalonia (Sami); Patras–Corfu; Patras–Paxi; Preveza–Aktion; Igoumenitsa–Corfu; Corfu–Paxi; Kyllini–Zante; Kyllini– Cephalonia (Poros); Kavala–Thassos (Limenas); Kavala– Thassos (Prinos); Keramoti–Thassos; Alexandroupolis– Samothrace and Lavrion–Kea.
Hydrofoil: A hydrofoil service (also called the Flying Dolphins) offers a fast and efficient service from Piraeus, traveling to many of the nearby islands. Although this is somewhat more expensive than traveling by ferry, journey times are cut drastically. There are also fast hydrofoil services from Agios, Gytheion, Kimi (Evia), Konstandinos, Lavrion, Thessaloniki, Volos and Zea Marina (Piraeus).Numerous types of yachts and sailing vessels can be chartered or hired with or without crews. ‘Flotilla holidays’ are popular, and the Greek/Hellenic National Tourism Organization (see General Info section) has a full list of companies running this type of holiday.
The two main railway stations in Athens are Larissa (with trains to northern Greece, Evia and Europe) and Peloponnissos (with trains to the Peloponnese). Train information and tickets are available from the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) in Athens (tel: (210) 529 7313 or 529 7777) or in Thessaloniki. Traveling north, there are regular daily trains from Athens to Thessaloniki, Livadia, Paleofarsala, Larissa, Plati, Edessa, Florina, Seres, Drama, Komotini and Alexandroupolis (connections from Thessaloniki and Larissa). Traveling south, there are regular daily trains from Athens to Kiato, Xylokastra, Diakofto, Patras, Olympia, Argos, Tripoli, Megalopolis and Kalamata.
Current promotional offers include:
Inter Rail Cards are open to all European residents for unlimited rail travel in 2nd class in several European countries. Passes are valid for 16 or 22 days or one month.
Euro Domino Cards are open to passengers of all ages and offer rail travel in either 1st or 2nd class travel in one or more European countries of the holders choice. Passes are valid for three to eight days and do not have to be taken consecutively.
Vergina Flexipass offers unlimited rail travel in Greece for three, five or 10 days within one or two months in either first or second class, depending on the choice of ticket.
Greek Flexipass offers unlimited rail travel in Greece for three or five days within one month in first class.
Students may be entitled to a 25 per cent reduction in the price of domestic rail fares. Travel is restricted to certain routes and times. For further information on the above schemes, contact the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE).
Greece has a good road network on the whole, totaling approximately 116,150km (72,174 miles), mostly paved. Traffic drives on the right. Examples of some distances from Athens: to Thessaloniki, 511km (318 miles); to Corinth, 85km (53 miles); to Igoumenitsa, 587km (365 miles); and to Delphi, 165km (103 miles).
Bus: Buses link Athens and all main towns in Attica, northern Greece and the Peloponnese. Service on the islands depends on demand, and timetables should be checked carefully. Some islands do not allow any kind of motorized transport, in which case islanders use boats, or donkeys and carts to travel around. Fares are low. The Greek/Hellenic Railways Organization Ltd (OSE) runs bus services to northern Greece from the Karolou Street terminus and to the Peloponnese from the Sina Street station.
Bus information: There are two long-distance bus terminals in Athens: Terminal A and Terminal B. For information on long-distance buses, run by KTEL, from Athens to the provinces, enquire at Terminal A, 100 Kifissou Street, Athens (tel: (210) 512 4910) or Terminal B, 260 Liossion Street, Athens. Further information can be obtained from KTEL offices.
Taxi: Rates are per km and are very reasonable, with extra charge for fares to/from stations, ports and airports. Taxis run on a share basis, so do not be surprised if the taxi picks up other passengers for the journey. There is an additional charge from 0100-0600, with double fare from 0200-0400.
Car hire: Most car hire firms operate throughout Greece. For details, contact the Greek/Hellenic National Tourism Organization (see General Info section). Reservations can be made by writing or telephoning the car hire agency direct.
Regulations: The minimum age for driving is l8. Children under 10 must sit in the back seat. Seat belts must be worn. There are fines for breaking traffic regulations. The maximum speed limit is 120kph (70mph) on motorways, 110kph (60mph) outside built-up areas and 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas. There are slightly different speed limits for motorbikes. It is illegal to carry spare petrol in the vehicle. EU nationals may import a foreign-registered car, caravan, motorcycle, boat or trailer for a maximum of six months. This period may be extended to 15 months for a fee and further paperwork.
Documentation: A national driving license is acceptable for EU nationals. EU nationals taking their own cars to Greece are advised to obtain a Green Card, to top up the insurance cover to that provided by the car owner’s domestic policy. It is no longer a legal requirement for visits of less than three months, but without it insurance cover is limited to the minimum legal cover in Greece. The car registration documents have to be carried at all times. Nationals of non-EU countries may need an International Driving Permit and should contact ELPA (Automobile and Touring Club of Greece).
Road assistance: A breakdown service is available on main roads, conditions of which have vastly improved. For details, contact ELPA, Athens Tower, Messogion 2-4, 115 27 Athens . Emergency breakdown services can be contacted toll-free by dialing 104. There are good repair shops in big towns and petrol is easily obtainable.
Buses: There are several services around Athens and Attica. The terminal at Mauromateon Street, Areos Park, Athens has regular services to Amfiaraio, Marathonas, Nea Makri, Porto Rafti, Ramnous and Sounio. Trolley buses (ILPAP) and regular buses (ETHEL) have frequent links to tourist attractions and places of interest. Tickets for buses and trolley buses can be purchased from the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA) at various booths and kiosks situated around the city. For further information contact OASA at 15 Metsovou Street, 106 82 Athens .
Metro: Athens has a reliable underground system (ISAP) that consists of three major lines. The old line runs north–south between Athens (suburb of Kifissia) and Piraeus daily 0500-0015. There are also two new lines: Line 2 runs between Aghios Antonios and Aghios Dimitrios and line 3 runs between Monastiraki and the airport. Tickets can be purchased at every Metro and ISAP station. Information on timetables and schedules can be found from Athens Metro or OASA (see address details above).
Tram: A new tram system in Athens cuts through the city from Syntagma Square right through to the coast and runs a pleasant route from Peace and Friendship Stadium all the way to the most southern point of Glyfada. Tickets can be booked at all stations and trams connect with the Metro at Neos Kosmos and Neo Faliro .
The following chart gives approximate travel times (in hours and minutes) from Athens to other major cities/islands in Greece.
*The travel time by road to Corfu includes a sea crossing from Patras.
Greece is situated in southeast Europe on the Mediterranean. The mainland consists of the following regions: Central Greece, Peloponnese, Thessaly (east/central), Epirus (west), Macedonia (north/northwest) and Thrace (northwest). Euboea, the second-largest of the Greek islands, lying to the east of the central region, is also considered to be part of the mainland region. The Peloponnese peninsula is separated from the northern mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth. The northern mainland is dissected by high mountains (such as the Pindus) that extend southwards towards a landscape of fertile plains, pine-forested uplands and craggy, scrub-covered foothills. The islands account for one-fifth of the land area of the country. The majority are thickly clustered in the Aegean between the Greek and Turkish coasts. The Ionian Islands are the exception; they are scattered along the west coast in the Ionian Sea. The Aegean archipelago includes the Dodecanese, lying off the Turkish coast, of which Rhodes is the best known; the Northeast Aegean group, including Chios, Ikaria, Lemnos, Lesvos and Samos; the Sporades, off the central mainland; and the Cyclades, comprising 39 islands (of which only 24 are inhabited). Crete, the largest island, is not included in any formal grouping. For fuller descriptions of these regions and islands, see the Where to Go section.