Greece’s dramatic coastlines, stunning sunsets, and iconic white-domed structures have made the country a staple for honeymooners while it’s world-renowned beach parties attract young people from all over the world. But there’s more to Greece than just the highlights, and the better prepared you are, the better off you’ll be. These are some of the important things to know when visiting Greece and some tips on how to navigate these idiosyncrasies.
It’s time to give Santorini and Mykonos a rest
Greece has literally thousands of islands, 227 of which are inhabited and 27 of which even have airports. There is more to Greece than Mykonos and Santorini. For years, these have been the quintessential Greek island destinations and not only have they become prohibitively expensive, they’re not even fun anymore because everything is so crowded. Santorini’s iconic architecture is not unique to Santorini. Island nightlife is not unique to Mykonos. The people are just as nice, the food is just as good, and the water is just as clear on the other 225 Greek islands. So check out the sunset at a taverna anywhere else in Greece. It’ll be a much better experience if you’re not craning your neck over 150 people and their cameras.
Time is a very fluid concept in Greece
The Greeks are like if Xanax was a culture. They’re super laid back and carefree which also means they’re not amazing at adhering to scheduled events. It’s not uncommon for a ferry to come 30 minutes to an hour after the scheduled time or for a restaurant to open and close whenever it wants. When someone tells you the boat leaves in a few minutes, it could be 5 or 30. Don’t get too hung up on how much time has passed. You have to just go with it or everything will be a little bit frustrating. Don’t think of the service as slow, just leisurely enjoy your €10 liter of wine while they bring out all the courses of your meal. You might get to dinner at 8 pm and finish at midnight, but it’ll probably be the best meal ever as long as you’re not in a hurry.
Ferries are like a carnival ride of nausea and vomiting
For many visitors, island-to-island ferry transport is how they get around different areas of Greece. Because the distances can be pretty long, high-speed ferries haul ass on the Aegean Sea. And when you’re sitting inside a metal boat that is bouncing on water for 6 hours, you’re bound to get seasick. I don’t recommend drinking before you travel on ferries. I don’t even recommend ferries. I would do everything to avoid a long-haul ferry. Either fly from island to island or do one better and stay on one island the entire time. If you absolutely can’t avoid taking a ferry, bring Dramamine and try to focus on the horizon outside the window.
Greece is not an ideal off-season destination
I’m a big fan of traveling off-season because you avoid crowds and everything is cheaper. But many Greek islands and many great resort villages on several of the popular islands are simply shuttered until late May or June. So though it’s possible to see these beaches year round, you’ll have nowhere to stay and far fewer dining options. Not to mention no beach amenities like umbrellas for rent and drink service to your lounger. If you go in the spring, waters will be even colder than usual, so it’s really difficult to enjoy unless you’re coming from the Arctic Circle and you’re used to icy swims.
You can’t throw toilet paper in the toilet
Greece plumbing is not equipped to handle paper products. Regardless of whether you’re in a dive bar in Paros or a 5-star resort on Corfu, you will have to use a bin for your toilet paper and other products. If that grosses you out, don’t worry, it’s so hot that you’ll have to shower at least 5 times a day anyway.
Most beaches are rocky
If you’re expecting the kind of expansive sandy beaches you see in the Caribbean, you might be surprised to find yourself walking around over scraggly rocks and pebbles on every coast. Since the Greek islands emerged out of tectonic shifting in the earth, sandy beaches are not the norm but the exception. Which is fine, because on the whole, these dramatic cliff-side vistas are what make beaches in Greece so stunning. And at the of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s soft sand or jagged rocks under your comfy lounger. Just bring water shoes protect your feet when you walk around.
Taxi cabs are not the most reliable and there are no rideshare apps
I don’t like to fuck around with cabs because they don’t take credit cards, they often scam you by offering you a flat rate when the meter would save you money, and sometimes it’s hard to communicate. We also found that they’re not readily available everywhere. Trying to get to dinner on the west coast of Corfu on a Saturday required a 15-20 minute wait while the hotel tried to get ahold of a company who would come pick us up.
Unfortunately, this is your only option because you can’t just hop on Uber and request a ride for a fair and pre-determined price. There are no available rideshare apps in Greece. So I recommend staying centrally, and if possible, pre-booking transfers from the airport or for day excursions around the islands.
Driving, cycling, and walking are a chaotic mess
Greek streets can be narrow and disorganized with two-way traffic, sweaty pedestrians, huge tour buses, and people on scooters sharing whatever space they can carve out. There is often no sidewalk, so a short hike up to the nearest taverna can be a treacherous adventure past several hairpin turns, speeding vehicles, and a nasty but beautiful cliff drop as your only potential way to avoid getting hit by a car.
Beach clubs are the best (sometimes only) way to enjoy the beach
While you can plop down a towel anywhere that’s adjacent to water (and many people do), many of the popular breaches across Greece have been colonized by beach clubs. These seaside towns offer the comfort of all-day facilities like showers and changing rooms, lounger and umbrella rentals, food and drink service, and WiFi. The good thing about this is that it has all the amenities you need to enjoy a long relaxing beach day while also capping the number of people on the beach, because they’re not going to let random people plop down between their €20 loungers.
It’s also not uncommon for beaches to have loud dance music, water sports, boat tours, and ferry service to more secluded beaches. So if a beach club isn’t exactly your scene and you want a more unspoiled beach experience, surely there is a random isolated sunny beach with your name on it nearby. I can’t stress enough the thousands of islands thing…
Be prepared for bugs
Greece is probably greener than you would expect, even in areas surrounding the beaches. While you probably wouldn’t think to take mosquito repellent on a beach vacation, you should or you might get eaten alive. In addition to pesky mosquitos, you might encounter bees or wasps who live among the colorful flowers and olive trees and who like to come visit when you’re sitting down to eat or have a sugary fruit juice. My best advice is to just ignore and co-exist with them. You have a higher chance of getting stung by a bee if you try to swat it away from your honey-soaked baklava.
When you sit down to eat, you will instantly get the bill
In some countries, getting the bill at a restaurant is an invitation to leave. But in Greece, you may get the bill before you even get your drink order, and it’s not because they’re trying to push you out. It’s not uncommon to receive a separate bill every time you order an additional dish or drink. When you’re ready to leave, you can pay for everything all at once. You can either ask to pay and they’ll bring a card reader to your table or you can get up and pay at the cash register. Really, no one cares what you do.