Greece is a wondrous, magical destination for all types of vacationers. There’s nothing you can’t find in Greece, from its iconic Cycladic islands with the sugar cube houses and the blue-domed churches to age-old forests, deep canyons, medieval castles, gorgeous beaches of literally all colors (even pink!), turquoise waters, or deep blue waters, palm tree forests and pine or fir tree forests, mountain slopes or valleys, wild beauty or manicured cosmopolitan resorts.
Because there is so much variety and so much to do and see, planning a trip to Greece may be an overwhelming endeavor. Even knowing where to begin might feel daunting!
Many travelers opt to solve this problem by leaving the planning to a travel agency or going wherever other people they know have traveled. This is not necessarily a bad tactic, but it can be more expensive than it has to be: either the travel agency will charge you for the service if they do it right, or they will book you the same itineraries and accommodation they have reserved for everyone.
This will probably subtract a lot from your experience and you won’t get to experience Greece the way you could. If you simply go on the advice of others who have visited Greece, you run the risk of going to the touristy places but not necessarily where it would suit you best without breaking the bank.
The best solution for visiting Greece and its vast diversity is to plan your trip on your own, using a handy guide that will serve as your compass for research and wading through the various technicalities and necessities of preparation.
In this guide for planning a trip to Greece, all the major aspects of planning vacations in Greece are covered, giving you flexibility to design your trip the way you want to while avoiding pitfalls and unforeseen events. Plan your trip to Greece like a pro by following all the steps below!
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- Step 1: Know where Greece is
- Step 2: Know basic practical facts about Greece
- Step 3: Know what you need to get there
- Step 4: Know when to get there
- Step 5: How much time to spend there
- Step 6: Where to go in Greece
- Step 7: Some itineraries to consider
- Step 8: Accommodation
- Step 9: Moving around Greece
- Step 10: Money
- Step 11: Communication
- Step 11: Staying connected
- Step 12: Packing your bags
- Step 13: Paperwork
Step 1: Know where Greece is
Greece is in Southern Europe. It the biggest country of the Balkans, located in the southeastern most part of Europe and is the southern part of the entire Balkan peninsula with almost 4,000 islands, big and small. Of these islands, 227 are inhabited.
Greece has borders with Turkey in the east, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Albania in the north, and sea borders with Italy in the west. It also shares sea borders with Cyprus and Egypt and Libya in the south, across the Mediterranean.
Greece is surrounded by sea in every direction but towards the north: there is the Aegean Sea in the east, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, and the Ionian Sea in the east.
Greece is actually called Hellas by the Greeks, who call themselves Hellenes, and the actual name of the country is the Hellenic Republic. Greece is part of the European Union.
The official language of Greece is Greek. The official religion is Greek Orthodox Christianity, but the Constitution protects the right to practice all religions or no religion. Greece’s population is around 10,700,000 people.
Greece’s currency is the euro, and the time zone is the Eastern European Time (UTC +02:00 in the winter and UTC +03:00 in the summer).
The power sockets are type C and F, and they operate on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. The calling code for Greece is +30.
Greeks drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Step 3: Know what you need to get there
Because Greece is part of the European Union, no visa is required for visitors from all EU member states which have signed the Schengen Agreement. Have a look at the list of these countries here.
There are also other countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to visit Greece, but you should always check first. Have a look at the list of the world’s countries and visa requirements from the Greek government site.
Make sure that this information is the first thing you check, since if you do need a visa, you will need to apply for one.
Step 4: Know when to get there
The truth is that any time of the year is perfect for visiting Greece: there are places specializing in summer holidays as well as winter holidays, including ski resorts.
That said, it’s good to know when things get very busy, which means that prices also rise and you are likely to encounter a lot of crowds.
Officially, the Greek low season is from November to March. The mid season is from April to June and the high season is from July to August. Fall season (also considered the ‘extended summer’ season) is from September to October.
The busiest, most crowded state you’ll find Greece is, of course, the high season. Prices then are the highest as well. During the height of summer, you can also expect extremely hot temperatures and heat waves which may impede your explorations if you don’t time them to take place early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
The crowds and prices lower during Fall season mostly at the levels of the mid season of Spring and early Summer. During these months the temperature is comfortably hot, warm enough to enjoy swimming in the sea (especially in the Fall season) but not so hot that you are in danger of heat stroke. During these months most, if not all, tourist facilities are in operation just as they are during the high season.
During winter there is the official low season, which ironically is the high season for internal tourism: during the winter holidays, it’s the Greeks that travel to various places and resorts in Greece, enjoying the winter wonderland.
If you decide to visit Greece in the winter, you have to assume that most tourist venues will be closed, and several itineraries of planes and ferries are discontinued. That doesn’t mean you can’t get to your desired destination.
You simply need to schedule ahead and be very clear about when you will be traveling within Greece. As for the venues available, you will have access to all the entertainment, dining, and events that the locals enjoy, so the experience will be a lot more authentic.
Long story short: if you plan to travel in the summer, opt for the mid season months. If you plan to travel in the winter, account for the low season availabilities.
Step 5: How much time to spend there
You have to accept from the beginning that there is no way to get to know all of Greece, or even a big section of Greece, within the span of an average vacation. To do that you would need to spend a few months at least roaming the country.
To decide how many days you should spend in Greece you should first decide what you want to do there. If you have a set number of days you can afford to spend in Greece, decide what to do there based on that number.
Be realistic and don’t let yourself become stressed or exhausted trying to fit too many things in too few days; that will only undermine your experience.
If you have only up to four days, go small: choose a city or a single island to go to. If you choose an island, make it a direct flight there if you can, to save time.
If you have about a week, try making a city your base, and schedule a day trip or two to areas nearby. This works well for islands, too, if you operate within an island group such as the Cyclades or the Ionian islands.
If you want to visit different areas or different cities, you should have at least ten days in order to enjoy them and get a good feel for them.
The ideal time in Greece is around two weeks, which can make for a very diverse and colorful vacation across several different locations.
Beyond that, the more time you have in Greece, the better!
Step 6: Where to go in Greece
This is a tough question to answer. And even if you do answer it, the next time you decide to go to Greece it will remain just as difficult to answer. There are so many beautiful options with exciting things to experience and discover in Greece that it’s realistically hard to make a choice.
While the popular destinations are popular for a reason- they’re all amazing- consider looking within yourself and first decide what you would like to do. What is the character of your ideal vacation? Is it lounging around at a beach, cocktail in hand? Or is it hiking through gorgeous landscapes? Perhaps you really enjoy history and want to see all the sites.
Answering all these questions will help you determine what you want to do in Greece, which in turn will determine where the ideal place is to go for you specifically.
That said, the popular places to visit are:
Athens is the capital city of Greece and is itself a wonderful destination. Not only is it the place of the iconic Acropolis with the Parthenon overseeing the sprawling city, it is also full of regions and neighborhoods with their own distinctive feel and personality.
If you go to Athens, Plaka, the historical center, is a must, as are the several important archaeological sites, museums, and displays scattered around the city. In Athens, you will find fine dining or traditional dining, great nightlife, and surprisingly romantic places to visit around the year.
Often called the co-capital of Greece, Thessaloniki is the northern jewel in Greece’s crown. Thessaloniki is a gorgeous port city with one of the most beautiful seaside promenades, excellent food and street food, interesting sites, and beautiful places to walk and enjoy yourself. It is also a great base to use for various day trips to other cities and towns in Greece that are iconic in their architecture and just as beautiful.
Nafplio was the original capital of Greece in the Peloponnese when the country gained its independence after the Revolution in 1821. A gorgeous city full of history, with architectural fusion styles from very different cultures including Venetians, Byzantines, and Ottomans, with amazing views and vistas, Nafplio does not disappoint for romantic escapades and unique beauty.
As a bonus, you need only a couple of hours or so to drive there from Athens!
The biggest island of Greece and perhaps the most gorgeous one is Crete. Large enough to give the impression of mainland as well as island environments, Crete is renowned for pretty much everything: stunning archaeological sites such as the Palace of Knossos and Phaistos from Minoan times, gorgeous beaches, the amazing Samaria gorge you can hike through, and the famous local Cretan cuisine and Cretan wines.
Crete is a place you should devote an entire vacation time to visit to better experience it and its different historical cities among its other wonders.
Perhaps the most famous of the island clusters of Greece, the Cyclades is where you will find the iconic, postcard sugar cube houses and the blue-domed churches overlooking the Aegean. There are several Cycladic islands with the most famous being the gorgeous volcanic Santorini (Thera) with the beautiful sunsets and the caldera, Mykonos with the iconic windmills, and Syros with its neoclassical main town that you should walk in at least once.
The Ionian Islands
If you’re looking for a fusion of Venetian, British, and Greek cultures, the Ionian islands are for you, especially Kerkyra (Corfu) with its iconic palace, Zakynthos and its world-famous beaches, and the awe-inspiring Kefalonia with the beautiful villages and unreal cave lakes.
For fans of medieval times and the feeling of traveling back in time to experience some of that Byzantine and Franc wonder, the Dodecanese islands have got you covered, with Rhodes being the most iconic castle city island.
There are a lot more places to discover of unparalleled beauty and uniqueness, such as the Meteora region with the unusual rock formations, Halkidiki peninsula, Mani in the Peloponnese, Sparta and Mycenae, and a lot more.
Invest some time to research different areas before you make your choice!
Step 7: Some itineraries to consider
Depending on what interests you the most when you visit Greece, you should also design your itinerary. Here are some suggestions to give you an idea of what a feasible itinerary would look like for about 10 days in Greece, depending on your interests:
Culture and Uniqueness
Athens (Anafiotika, Plaka, Acropolis, Lycabettus, assorted museums) à Delphi (amphitheater, temple of Apollo, museum) à Meteora (Kalambaka, monasteries tour) à Thessaloniki (White Tower, promenade, Rotunda, museums, churches)
History and Seaside
Athens & Sounion (Acropolis, Kerameikos, Theision, Agora, museums, temple of Poseidon + Vouliagmeni, Sounion sea front) à Crete (Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Sunken city of Olous, Phalassarna + Elafonissi, Matala, Preveli)
Cyclades: Mykonos – Santorini – Syros – Tinos – Andros (starting high octane and gradually going quieter and more relaxed, spending about two days in each island to get a taste)
Ionian: Zakynthos – Paxoi – Kerkyra – Kefalonia
Dodecanese: Rhodes – Symi – Kos – Kalymnos – Patmos
Sporades: Skiathos – Skopelos – Alonissos
Popular Greece Itineraries
Popular Greek Island Itineraries
- One day in Mykonos
- Two days in Mykonos
- One day in Santorini
- Two days in Santorini
- Four days in Santorini
Step 8: Accommodation
Where you will stay in Greece is very important. Liking the place where you go to rest after an exciting day of new experiences is crucial.
There are many types of accommodation to consider for all types of budget. You will find hotels of all shapes, styles, and sizes, bed and breakfast, hostels, Airbnb, and even villas and houses to rent in various places in Greece.
There are also alternative kinds of accommodation, such as camping sites, luxury camping sites (known as glamping), and even treehouses to book! If you are feeling adventurous and want to have a unique experience, you can check out different camping and glamping sites in Greece here.
You should do your due diligence and research where you will be staying well in advance in order to get better deals and wider selection. A good place to start is Booking.com. If you want to explore the option of booking a house, flat, villa, or other singular accommodation, you can begin your research by checking VRBO.
Step 9: Moving around Greece
Once you have landed in Greece, you will need to commute. There are several ways to get around, each with its own pros and cons.
In general, Greece is quite well connected. Cars are the most flexible and reliable service, especially if you want to explore remote areas of Greece.
I recommend booking a car through rentalcars.com where you can compare all rental car agencies’ prices, and you can cancel or modify your booking for free. They also guarantee the best price. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
You also have the option of traveling by train, especially for Northern and Central Greece. The most popular route is Athens to Thessaloniki.
Going to the islands can be done by ferry or, in certain cases, by plane. There are many types of ferries and hydrofoils that can get you to your destination relatively quickly. However, before you book your trip make sure you are aware of the estimated time. Consider booking a flight if a ferry trip is more than six hours.
You can research the ferry timetable and book them with the form below.
Finally, you can rely on the extensive taxi service in Greece to get you anywhere. There are taxis you can hail down or phone apps that book you a taxi that way. The latter way tends to be cheaper as the fare is stated in advance.
If you wish for total independence and flexibility, you can rent a car in Greece and drive yourself everywhere.
To do that you must be over 18 years old and have an International Driver’s License or, as otherwise known, an International Driving Permit (IDP).
As already stated, Greeks drive on the right hand of the street. They are notorious for being generally impatient, aggressive drivers. Motorcyclists zip in and out and in parallel to cars, so you will need to always look out for them in between lanes.
Driving under the influence is a crime.
That said, if you follow the general international rules of driving and don’t get careless, you will be fine.
Step 10: Money
Greece’s currency is the Euro as is in most of the EU.
You should always carry some cash in Greece. Although most businesses accept credit cards, there will be some that don’t for various reasons.
In major cities you will find several banks and ATMs to withdraw cash. However, the more remote the area, the fewer the ATMs and bank outlets. It is good practice to do your research ahead of time and be aware how many and where the ATMs in the area you will be are.
If you are in remote areas, always carry cash as if there are very few ATMs, they may simply be out of money by the time you need them.
Step 11: Communication
Greece’s official language is Greek but you’re in luck in that most Greeks speak at least one more language, usually English.
The more touristy the area, the more fluent and frequent the use of the English language will be. People up to around 50 years old are likely to be able to speak English. Older than that, and you will probably need to employ at least some Greek phrases.
In general, it pays dividends to have learned some basic Greek phrases before you visit Greece. Not only will you be able to get around without resorting to pantomime if you find yourself in less touristy or more remote areas, but you will also please your local hosts, which always helps and might even include a couple of unexpected perks!
Step 11: Staying connected
When it comes to the internet, you can trust that most main venues will have free wi-fi for you. You only need to ask for the password.
If you don’t want to make arrangements for your provider to allow phone service in Greece (which admittedly may be costly), you can buy a local sim card in Greece.
There are several options for prepaid sim cards, as well as other packages specifically designed for tourists. The main cell phone service providers in Greece are Cosmote, Vodafone, and Wind. Before you commit to either of the three, check the coverage and speeds for the cell phone service.
Make sure that you pay attention to the rates in order to avoid expensive roaming costs. Also consider not buying your sim card at the airport, as they tend to be a lot more expensive than anywhere else!
Step 12: Packing your bags
Depending on the season you choose to visit Greece, your choice of clothes and other accessories you pack must match. Greece’s climate is Mediterranean, which means mild winters and very hot summers. But don’t let that lead you to false impressions. Always check to see average temperatures as well as top high and low temperatures for the season you will be visiting in. Remember, winters may be mild on average, but it snows regularly in many places in Greece, sometimes even in Athens or, more radically, Crete! So always remember to check and prepare for the extreme as well as the norm.
In general, regardless the season, you should have the following items with you when you travel to Greece:
- Sturdy flat shoes
- Face sunscreen
- Travel first aid kit
If you go in the summer, these items are a must-have in addition to what was already listed:
- Wide-brim sunhat
- Water bottle for hydration
- Full body sunscreen
- Loose and light-colored clothes
- Sandals (your feet will thank you later)
- Mosquito repellent
- Antiseptic cream
- Cream for mosquito bites
Always keep in mind that the summer sun in Greece is relentless and dangerous. DON’T try to get quickly tanned and DON’T expose your skin to it without due protection and for only short periods of time.
If you go in the winter, these are the items you should additionally pack:
- Isothermal underwear
- Gloves, hat, mittens
- Waterproof boots
During the winter, you are likely to experience heavy rainfall or cold, gushing winds, so be prepared for those. At the same time, there will also be sunny days of relative warmth so the best strategy is to dress in layers.
Step 13: Paperwork
Passport and ID
You should have proper identification papers with you at all times in Greece. Keep in mind that a police officer has the right to stop you and ask for them. If you don’t have any on your person, the police officer has the right to escort you to the police precinct to verify your identity. This only happens rarely, but it can occur, so best to avoid it.
Proper identification papers for tourists would be their passport. For EU citizens the state-issued ID can also suffice, though the passport is still the most secure option.
Make sure to also carry your travel visa, if it applies in your case.
Having travel insurance is a vital necessity no matter where you go, and Greece is no exception. Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that will cover medical costs, preferably to $1 million, should anything arise. Take the time to carefully read through the terms and conditions of your travel insurance to know what is and isn’t covered. Some things you’d think would be, usually are not (such as hiking).
Depending on when you plan to travel, there may be COVID-19 documentation requirements, such as a covid-negative test or proof of vaccination. Make sure you know what is required and have it prepared and ready.
Copies of all your travel documents
It’s good practice to have a couple of photocopies of your passport, visa, and travel insurance for immediate use. Not only will you protect your original documents from being lost or stolen, you will also have convenience if you are asked for a copy, such as when buying a sim card or even when checking in at your hotel.