The basics do’s and dont’s
The basics do’s and dont’s for the first-time visitors in Greece
I am feelin obliged to ‘give’ you my knowledge to some common of our customs and practices before your arrival. That is to say avoiding misunderstandings about transportation, cash or cards, dress code etc.. I put a lot of thought at the topics and I believe I covered a wide range. But you can always submit your questions to me about more topics you want to know. Let’s begin with the basics do’s and dont’s.
- Always, always pack light. There are many picturesque cobblestoned roads at the islands, but inside the center of the capital of Athens as well. A heavy carriage is not useful. Remember that most of the airlines they have extra fee for the extra weight. Besides, -for your convenience- most of the hotels have laundry service. And after all, we have a variety of shops with international brand names. Bonus? We have lower prices than the rest of Europe. In case you will need to buy some clothes. But, if you decide to have more suitcases than one per person, then you must inform your hotel. They will send you bigger shuttle car (stason wagon) at the airport to pick you up than a regular one.
- Do speak English. Most of us we are speaking the English language. Since this language is what they taught us in primary schools from the 3rd grade. Most of the Greeks, except English, we are also learning french or german. So, you won’t have problem to communicate in Greece.
- Do take your adapter and your power bank with you. I purchased a universal adapter from Amazon. It proved to be extremely useful to me. Although, the most useful of all my purchases was the power bank. I picked a small one enough in order to be accepted by the airlines (10,000mAh). But, I chose a large enough to charge my phone at least twice during the day. Since, they are saying that it gives you enough power to charge an iPhone 12 twice & a Samsung S20 over one and a half times. I like to wander around all day to my trips. I am returning to my hotel’s room only for bathing and sleeping at night. In case you forgot these, most of the hotels can provide you. But, they will not allow you to take them with you outside the hotel. If you got them over though, do not worry. All the electronic stores have some. PS: I remind you that the standard voltage in Athens is 230V. The standard frequency is 50Hz. Power sockets and plug types are C and F and you can reference them at the international guide.
- Do visit the mainland. I understand that you wanna see our spectacular islands. But do not miss the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Meteora with the monasteries at the top of the hill or Nafplio-the first capital of Greece. Visit Delphi with the sacred precinct of the oracle Pythia and Eleonas with Hercules cave. Or sail through the isthmus of Corinth and bungee jump inside the isthmus. Choose to parade at Patra’s carnival or try Kalamata with the homonymous olives. Whether visit Sparta where Leonidas participate in the 2nd Persian War or go for hunting snipe, partridge and wild boar at Atalanti where goddess Venus-Aphrodite were hunting. Pay a visit at Lamia where god Dionysus had his temple ot to Volos in Thessaly with the salt pans and the nice beaches. Observe the Mount Pilio where the centaurs are living, and many-many more. There is a way to do all these -if you do not rent a car- with the intercity public transport bus. This bus is called KTEL or by you could simply take the national suburban railway train from Athens.
- When you are in Athens do get an Athens City Pass. You will save yourselves money. You can pay for a package to see all the main archaeological sites -not only Acropolis and Acropolis museum-.
- Do take a transportation ticket for 2, 3, 5, 7 or 10 days and embark to all public transports. This includes metro, train, blue buses, trolley-yellow/purple buses and tram. Athens is a hilly city, but has a very good metro system. It is accessible to all, since it has steps, escalators and elevators in each station. The moovit app will help you to know if there is a strike scheduled and the traffic now app will help you to see the traffic jam if you are wandering with your car. Even though I am not advising you to learn to drive in Greece. It can be proved a little bit confusing for you. Maybe there are many different road rules and street signs from your country. Or you will even see a sticker in the middle of the street sign (from the brats). This will prevent you from distinguishing the correct sign.
- Did you decide to take a taxi for your convenience? You have to remember that the regular cars can have the taxi driver and 4 more people. Τhe police forbids the extra passengers. Even if you have only an “extra” baby with you or a young kid that hypothetically can seat at your lap. It is preferable to arrange with your hotel to bring you a shuttle car. They will have a seat for each person and a baby seat -if you need- to take you to the museum. Do ask before the ride if there is exact fee-fixed price for the particular ride you want. Otherwise check if the driver remembered to run the meter. Additionally, keep in mind that the taxis will double their fare during 00:00 at night until 06:00 in the morning.
- Do drink the tap water. In Athens and the mainland the water is safe to consume. And in most of the islands. If it is not, the waiter at the tavern or the concierge service will inform you and give you bottled. At the restaurant the tap water is not payable, but if you ask for a bottled, you will be charged.
- As Greeks, I believe, we are a hospitable people. So, if the Greeks invite you to their homes, do accept. Given the fact that you already made friends…. If they invite you to their homes formally, for dinner or lunch, then you have to bring some treat. The acceptable are: sweet confectionery or a bottle of liquor/wine or flowers to show them your appreciation for the invite.
- Do try the food. There are many-many delicious dishes in the Greek cuisine. Therefore, I am convinced that you will find something of your preference. Either you are on a carnivorous diet or on a vegan one or on a vegetarian or on a low carb or ….. or…. And of course, do not stay at the basics like moussaka, tzatziki and ouzo. Try spanakopita and dolmades and vegan briam and zucchini balls and grilled feta cheese. Taste the fresh fish and Christmas’s cookies and Easter’s sweet bread and loukoumades and… and… and….. (the list is so-soooo long). Also, I advise you to dip your bread inside the Greek salad’s extra virgin olive oil. I guarantee that you will no more need butter before the meal. Tip: In Greece we have all the big food chains like Mac Donald’s and Subway and Starbacks to choose. But do remember that Greece’s street food is souvlaki. Souvlaki is a skewer with small pieces of pork meat or chicken or mushrooms or sausage etc. Pick your flavor according to your preference and your diet. Just give it a try and I am sure that you’re gonna love it, as much as we do.
- Do tip. In Greece there is no law to force you tipping your waiter/your taxi driver/your personal concierge at the hotel. It’s optional. If you liked the service, you could tip accordingly.
- Ευχαριστώ-thank you (efharisto) is difficult word -for most of nonGreeks- to say. Ohh trust me, it is a delightful moment for us trying to teach you this particular word. But, it is a great rewarding for as, as soon as you say it. Even if you do not say it perfectly, we appreciate to hear it after offering you our service. Your effort it shows your interest for us as human beings and also shows your interest to our culture. So, do learn some common Greek words like efharisto and kalimera. (You can use this article to see few common basic words for our everyday’s routine.).
- Like in all big capitals of the world, so in Athens there is always a risk of pickpockets. Be careful especially inside the train (Omonoia and Victoria stations) or outside the Monastiraki station. So, do be aware of the pickpockets. In Athens, we tend to carry our backpacks in front of us. We also carrying our smaller purses diagonally our body when we are wandering at the city center and not at back behind. Or you could carry a slim pouch for your valuables cheek by jowl to your body.
- Are you staying at a hostel? If you are traveling with things like your laptop then do lock it in a hotel’s safe or locker. Because normally they do not have cameras and security like the hotels.
- Do not try the ‘island hop’. Let’s say that you’re visiting Greece for a week. I propose to visit Athens for 2 days and then at most two islands. Otherwise, you will be tired and you will not enjoy your time. Nonetheless, if you want to try, then choose nearby island like Hydra-Spetses or Aigina-Poros or Evia.
- Please, do not repeat all the bad words-obscenities. Do not do the moutza gesture if you do not know the exact meaning. Especially, the ‘m’ word, that tend to become an international one. You all know in which one I am referring to. (Moutza hand is an insulting rude gesture where you are showing your one palm extending the 5fingers forward towards someone.).
- Do not wear mini skirts or shorts inside churches and monasteries*. Monasteries have strict policy (stricter than the churches) about the dress code. Women must wear long skirts and men long trousers. And be careful: at no circumstances you are allowed to enter at a monastery with your swimming suit. If you do not have appropriate clothes, the monks/nuns will provide you clothes. Skirts/trousers at the entrance of this sanctuary or a wrap-coverin-swal for your shoulders and breasts. Even if you are not religious, try to follow this rule and do dress appropriate inside churches. In that way, you will show your appreciation to the sacred historical place. Moreover, you will enjoy the magnificent architecture, colorful stained window glasses and ornate carvings at wood and stones.
- Do not be alarmed if you see someone to smoke inside a restaurant-tavern-coffee place etc.. The smokers are thinking that smoke will not bother anyone in open spases. Even though, it is now prohibited by law. Just ask your waiter/waitress to tell them stop smoking. Either the waiter will move them away or they will stop smoking fearing the money fine.
- Do not eat or drink inside the metro/bus/train in Athens. During the excavations, the archaeologists found many historical pieces and artifacts and tombs. They were displaying many of them in glass cases in some metro stations. As a result, we are trying to keep stations and wagons clean. Of course, they are allowing the water, in order to avoid fainting from the heat.
- Euro is our currency. Do not give anything else than euros. Of course you can pay by credit/debit card. After the corona virus-covid19 this policy was strengthened even more in Greece, even for Greeks themselves. But, the shopkeepers love cash. And if you pay by cash, then the shopkeeper will make a further discount. With cash you can bargain the price of each item (not in restaurants or coffee places though). And remember that most of the taxis do not have a POS machine and you will need cash. Except for those which there are in the taxi app. There are two situations that you will certainly need cash. Either if you decide to try the local tavern in a small village at the top of the mountains that a granny has it or in a small fishing village at the edge of the island. If you are running out of cash, use an ATM machine at the biggest city before the small village. Because travelers’ cheques/personal cheques are not accepted in Greece to pay a bill. Also, larger coins than the 200 euro paper-money (like 500 euros) are illegal to have it and pay in Greece. If you do, you have to deposit it at the central bureau of the National Bank of Greece in Athens at 38th Stadiou street showing them your passport, in order to register the number of the banknote and your passport also, and then they will give you smaller ones.
- In Greece we have an old saying that quotes: asking go to town. Meaning? If you are lost, ask someone local and you will find your direction to anywhere. You will not need the gps (Global Positioning System). So, do not hesitate to ask for help. Especially in small towns and villages is better to consult a local. It is better than searching at gps tracker this small road’s offshoot. There are also many stone-built roads that in addition change their name after few blocks.
- Are you coming back after your vacation in our beautiful islands? Are you coming back in Athens to catch your flight? Make sure you have enough time. My advice is to stay one night in Athens. Consider the possibility that there are bad weather conditions. Your ferry will not cast off the island or takes more time to reach to Peiraeus port. So, eliminate the risk to lose your flight from a delayed ferry. By do not cut that return to Athens remarkably close. After all you need about 1hour by car or 2 hours and a half by public transportation to reach the El.Venizelos airport from Peiraeus port.
- Do not take photos of military installations. It is forbidden and a sentence of imprisonment is provided.
- You do not have to be afraid of travelling alone in Greece. It is safe (with the basic precautions) and you will definitely make some friends in here.
- Do not touch the artifacts in museums or at archaeological sites. The sign will inform you if it is safe to take pictures, but without your flashing.
- Last but not least: the most important rule of all: do not throw paper in the toilet. Greece do not have a waste composting system in each house. Consequently, you have to use the provided trash can/bin to avoid clogging the pipes. Please, do not through toilet paper, wet wipes, napkins and feminine products inside the toilet.
Travel tip: Are you extremely worried about your valuables? You can always have them with you in printed form. ID card, passport, driver’s license, extra cash or even your credit cards you will not need at your ramble in the city. Carry the copies with you and left the originals at your hotel room’s safe.
Fact: In Greece we tend to kiss our friends and families on both cheeks. When we meet each other kissing by starting from the right side. To clarify, we are leaning to our right side touching our left cheek to the other person’s left cheek and continues with the opposite leaning to the left. It is our greeting custom. You do not have to espouse that’you can only shake hands. But, if someone will try to kiss you and you will accept the gesture, it means that you are now a friend. Sooo, do or don’t. It’s up to you.
* Below, you can see one of the Monasteries at Meteora. It is worth to pay a visit.