When I told a co-worker my first stop was Athens this summer, her face grew concerned and she made me promise to be very careful. Elections were happening, the economic crisis was in full swing, and people were unhappy.
But I was never worried about traveling alone in Greece, and I have to say that the country has captured my heart in a way I never expected. Here are a few reasons why you should give it a chance to capture yours, too.
If you’re anything like me, you like to eat. A lot. Food is one of my favorite things, and I think mealtime is hugely important for any culture. Greece is no different, and lucky for us travelers, traditional Greek food is wonderful!
Like seafood? No problem! Pretty much anywhere you go in Greece, the seafood is guaranteed to be fresh and local. Vegetarian? Definitely no problem! Tons of salads, vegetable options and omelets grace taverna menus.
Need gluten-free? Also not an issue, especially if you eat meat. Vegans might have to stick to produce more, since a lot of heartier dishes have meat or pasta, but the veg in Greece is incredible, and you won’t find better cherries anywhere.
My favorite Greek foods are their traditional yogurt, horiatiki salad (which is basically what in America we call a “Greek salad:” olives, tomatoes, onions, and a HUGE chunk of feta to top it off), and koloukithokeftedes, fried & spiced zucchini balls. There are dozens of other incredible Greek foods, but those are some standouts. Oh, and of course don’t forget to try the pita souvlaki for a cheap, quick and tasty meal!
Tip: To gauge pricing, check the price of the village salad (horiatiki) first. If it is more than 6 euro, don’t eat there, as the 6 euro pricing portrays how touristy the place is.
Getting around in Greece was surprisingly easy! The KTEL bus system goes almost everywhere you need, and since the national train service has been cut quite a bit, it’s generally a lot quicker to travel on the buses. The train works well, too, but it’s running less.
Note: If you’re planning to leave Greece by land, keep in mind that now there are no international trains leaving the country (buses are still available).
Sometimes it’s tricky to find schedules on the KTEL website, because each region has its own site. Generally, hotel and hostel folks are very helpful in figuring these things out, though, so I never had a problem. Public buses run frequently within cities, and as long as you ask the driver for the name of your stop, they—or the folks around you—are willing to help you get off at the right place.
Thanks to the 2004 Olympics, Athens has a super navigable metro.
There’s a direct train from the airport into the center of the city, and you can buy a ticket that’s valid for both bus and metro, in case you need to transfer.
BE SURE TO VALIDATE YOUR TICKET when getting on a bus or entering the metro. If you’re using a combo ticket of bus/metro, you just need to validate it once and it’s good for whatever number of minutes specified on the ticket.
Ferry travel is relatively easy to organize, although you might be advised to stick with a Greek travel agent for that. We were able to book our overnight ferry to Santorini without problems online, but figuring out where to pick up the tickets was confusing. Travel agents abound in Greece, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one in Piraeus or in the cities; they can book your ferry and accommodation, which is helpful because not all the ferry times are online.
You can buy tickets for buses and the metro at Peripteros, the little round newsstand thingies that are ubiquitous in Greece.
Tip: Do browse the Travel section of LivingInGreece.gr, which is a frequently updated and comprehensive website about Greece, and has a lot of valuable info on transit.
Overall, I found Greece super easy to get around in, even all by my non-Greek-speaking self.
Greece truly has something for everyone. If your dream vacation is lying on a beach with a drink in your hand, go to the islands. You’ll see some of the world’s greatest beaches and most picturesque sunsets. (Yes, those postcards of Santorini sunsets are REAL, people!)
Prefer something more outdoorsy, like hiking? That’s cool, try Olympus or hiking up to the monasteries in Meteora.
If history is your cup of tea, then Greece is definitely one of the top places to be. The Acropolis (and essentially everything in Athens), ancient Olympia, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini…all of these places have notable ruins and interesting histories, and that’s barely scratching the surface.
Tip: If you’re going to a heavily touristed site, sometimes it’s worth the pain of getting up early to arrive when the gates open. You might not be the very first arrival, but it’s a lot cooler in the mornings, and your photos will be less crowded with strangers! I was really glad I did this in Delphi.
These reasons are not the only ones I loved Greece, but they are some big ones. The Greek people I encountered were, without exception, eager to help me have the best experience possible in their country. Nobody was bothered by my lack of language skills, nor did I feel talked down to for being a tourist.
Most Greeks speak some English (many of them really well), but even if they don’t, a general eagerness to communicate exists.
A final note about safety in Greece: last year, headlines were rampant in American newspapers featuring the riots in Syntagma Square and the protests happening in Athens. The general rule of thumb when protests like that happen is simply to avoid the areas of the city where protests are happening, play it smart, and you shouldn’t have any trouble.