12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Greece: Helpful Tips & Tricks

If you’re anything like us, visiting Greece and its magical islands was a top bucket list item. After spending a month there island hopping, we can safely say it did not disappoint! If you’ve booked your tickets or are looking to travel there, here are just some handy tips and tricks we’d like to share that we picked up along the way.

1) Be aware of fixed taxi pricing from Athens airport & on the islands

If you are catching a taxi from Athens airport, be aware of the fixed pricing and remember that the cost is all inclusive of tolls, luggage and charges and is the price per cab not per person!

Unfortunately sometimes taxis may try and charge a higher price (such as to Piraeus Port rather than Athens city centre) if tourists aren’t aware of the pricing schedule.

Taxi TransferDay
05:00 – 24:00
Night
00:00 – 05:00
Athens Airport >> Athens city centre € 38 € 54
Athens Airport >> Piraeus Port € 45 € 60
Church in the middle of Athens

Another thing to note is once you’re on the islands, taxis typically have a fixed fare – none use meters. Make sure you confirm the price of the trip with your driver before you get into the cab.

2) The combined ticket for Athens archeological sites is worth buying IF…

If you’re looking to visit most of the Athens archaeological sites you might want to consider the combined archaeological ticket which allows you one entry into the following sites:

  1. The Acropolis of Athens.
  2. The Ancient Agora of Athens and the Museum of the Ancient Agora
  3. Kerameikos and the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
  4. The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieio)
    Note: you can see this through the fence quite easily without needing to pay any entry fee!
  5. The Roman Agora of Athens and the Tower of the Wind
    Note: again another site that is out in the open with a small fence around, relatively quite small and in our opinion is not worth buying a separate ticket to visit since you can see it all from the fence!
  6. Hadrian’s Library
  7. Aristotle’s Lyceum (Archaeological site of Lykeion)

During our visit in July 2019 (high season), the combined ticket was €30 and is valid for 5 days from the date of purchase. If you do the maths, the combined ticket is only worth purchasing if you wish to see the Acropolis (€20 adult ticket) and at least two other sites.

Also it’s important to note that this combined ticket does not include the Acropolis museum which charges €10 per adult, so you’ll need to purchase this separately.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets online too and save yourself queuing up from here: https://etickets.tap.gr/

Check out our post on why we loved Athens so much here.

3) Visit the Acropolis and Museum early morning or just before closing

When we visited the Acropolis, we were ready in the queue at 8:00 am when the gates opened. This, in our opinion, is the best time to visit as it’s the least amount of crowds and before the heat of the day sets in.

This also meant we were able to head straight to the Acropolis Museum by 9:30 am where there was no queue for tickets or entry.

If you’re unable to make it this early, go late afternoon. The crowds will die down closer to closing time at 8:00 pm. On a hot summers day, I wouldn’t recommend visiting in the middle of the day as there is no shade and a lot of marble up there, which is highly reflective! Brutal would be the word.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack comfortable and grippy shoes (it gets slippery up there) and lots and lots of H2O.

4) Transport delays are part and parcel of a holiday in Greece

On our holiday alone we managed to experience a 24 hour Greece wide ferry strike, a 1 hr delayed ferry, and 3 x flights delayed anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. All in all I think we had one flight that left on schedule. Travel delays are the norm, not the exception in Greece, so when booking your ferry and flights, be sure to give yourself ample buffer time between them.

5) Google maps doesn’t work so well on the islands

On the Greek islands, particularly the smaller ones, google maps is not always your best friend. Streets that are supposed to be there won’t be there, or streets that aren’t on google maps will suddenly appear!

Also, sometimes roads on maps may end as a hilly narrow dirt street that you end up having to push your car up as the engine can’t make it (true story).

Best to get a locals directions and stick to the main roads if you can as those little backstreets may end up taking you twice as long!

6) Be aware of the Meltemi, the legendary Greek winds

The result of 2 pressure systems, the Meltemi is the prevailing recurring summer wind that blows strongly over large parts of Greece and the Aegean. These winds can wreak havoc on islands such as Milos, preventing sailing tours to certain parts of the island on a given day or making specific beaches unvisitable.

Our tip is to check the weather forecasts and note when the winds are expected to hit and where, and plan your visits accordingly.

On the island of Milos, these winds hit during summer on 15 days out of the month and unfortunately for us, it happened during our sailing tour. It just meant we were unable to visit the north of the island and that most of the “sailing boats” use their motor rather than traditional sail power. We also managed to visit Sarakiniko twice during our visit to Milos, once on a normal day and the other when the Meltemi was blowing. On the day the winds were blowing it was a ghost town as it was impossible to stay and enjoy the water as the wind was kicking up so much grit and sand it was akin to a full-body exfoliation standing there!  

7) Pack those reef shoes

As an Aussie, when we think beaches, we picture glorious inviting and soft golden sand. Sorry to burst your holiday bubble, but alas sand beaches in Greece are far and very few between. Instead, think rock or pebble beaches which can prove somewhat painful to navigate barefoot. One of the things you’ll be exceptionally grateful you packed will be reef shoes!

8) Don’t flush toilet paper

You’ll soon notice that in almost every Greek toilet there’s a little sign saying “Don’t flush toilet paper!”. Greek plumbing gets clogged very easily and can’t support toilet paper being flushed, so unless you want to make a call to the local plumber, look for the little toilet bin to throw away your used paper.

9) Don’t drink tap water on the islands

On the mainland ie Athens, tap water is fine to drink however once you get to the islands, it’s highly recommended to buy bottled water. So play it safe, as who wants to be stuck to the toilet when you’re in paradise?

Are you buying still or sparkling?
A great thing to note is all still bottled water is price regulated by the government, meaning you won’t pay more than 50 cents for a 500ml bottle or €1 for a 1.5L bottle from any little corner shop or cafe. Buying direct from groceries stores makes it even cheaper, particularly if you buy bottles in bulk.

Unfortunately however this does not apply to sparkling water, so at restaurants be sure to check prices. On islands like Santorini we’ve seen a 1L bottle of still water for €1 but costing €7 for a bottle of sparkling!

10) Hiring a car?

On many islands, to truly visit all the exquisite beaches on offer, a car is often required. Below are just some of our experiences and tips when it comes to renting a car in Greece.

An international driving permit is a must to rent a car

To rent a car in Greece, you need an international driving permit, and this is non-negotiable. You can apply for one online easily, it takes 5-7 days to process and costs AU$42 in NSW.

Check the age of your car

If you are like us and left renting a car to the last minute when we arrived on the island (don’t recommend!), before you commit to the rental be sure to check not just the model of the car but the age of it too. You won’t believe the shit box we rented on Milos for €50 a day – I think it was honestly as old as I was and miraculously still working.  

Petrol costs are high on the island

Circa €1.72/L in July 2019 don’t forget to factor this cost in when calculating your estimated car rental cost.  

Check the price of transfers against car hire on the islands

You may find booking a car in advance can cost the same (or less if there’s 5 of you), but give you much greater flexibility. On the islands, all transfer prices are fixed too and don’t operate by way of any meter, so what is a 10-minute ride will likely still cost a minimum of €15. For eg, it cost us €25 just for a taxi transfer from Adamos port on Milos to our Airbnb house, a 12 minutes drive away versus €35 to hire a fiat panda for 24 hours with pick up at the port.

11) Another excuse to shop!

VAT is the standard value-added tax included in the price of goods and services sold in the EU. The good news for tourists though is VAT can be claimed back on goods you purchase when you leave in the EU. 

In Greece VAT can be up to 24% of the purchase price and the best news is the minimum purchase amount is only €50! All that’s required is when you purchase your goods, you receive a completed ‘tax free form’ from the retailer that you then get stamped by airport customs as you leave the EU. The last step is then to submit your stamped documents to the tax refund counter at the aurport such as Global Blue or Planet for your VAT refund!

Things to note when tax free shopping:

  • Always ask the retailer if they do tax-free shopping, as unfortunately, not all stores will offer this. On Santorini with its high tourist volume, many stores offer tax-free shopping however on smaller islands such as Milos; it’s virtually non-existent.
  • Make sure you have your passport on you! Retailers require your passport details to complete the required VAT refund form.
  • Note you won’t get the full amount of VAT back (as the tax refund agency takes a commission percentage) but use this calculator by Global Blue that works out your exact cash refund back after commissions.
  • The €50 minimum must be met at a single retailer – you can’t add up purchases from different shops to get to the €50.
  • You have a time period of 3 months to claim the VAT back from the date of purchase.

Remember to successfully claim VAT back:

  1. You need the VAT claim form completed by the retailer. No matter what a retailer might say, they need to issue this form as step 1!
  2. You can only claim VAT back when you leave the EU. So if you’re flying to another EU country in the meantime, you’ll need to wait until you’re on your way home to claim the tax back.
  3. At the airport when you get your form stamped by customs, make sure you go early and bring the goods with you as often customs will check the form and receipt against the physical goods. These custom counters are typically located before you enter the departures area.
  4. Once your custom forms are stamped, all airports will also have the tax refund counters by Global Blue or Planet where you can make your claim, and receive the refund typically onto your credit card or in cash.
  5. Don’t forget the time limit – you need to claim it by the end of the third month after that in which you buy the goods. eg, if you purchased it on the 15 January, you have until 31 March to make a claim.

12) Lose something along the way?

If the unfortunate event of losing something or theft occurs, contact the Tourism Police first. Check with your host or hotel where they might be located, or call #171 from all over Greece 24/7 to reach them.

Also – if your incident is in any way related to ferries or the ferry ports, you’ll need to speak to the Port Police specifically.

On Santorini, we had to contact the police to lodge a lost item report and we simply googled the closest police station. After a 1.5km walk in the blistering sun, we arrived only to be told to head back into town where we had just come from to speak to the Port Police.

Bonus story on the Greek Islands

The Greek Islands are a highlight of Greece, with over 200 populated islands to visit, something new is being discovered every year. But with the flurry tourism, it’s starting to lose the magic it once had.

Check out the story here during our visit to Santorini.

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Visiting Santorini, a Beautiful Mess

Santorini is one of Greece’s most famous islands. A photographers paradise, one could say. But tourism is destroying what makes this place so magical.

Let’s face it, if you are into travel, following any blogs or social accounts, have planned or just love getting away, you have likely heard of Greece’s iconic island, Santorini. If you haven’t, then you would have at least seen this photo and said to your self, “ah, that shot again.”

Famous blue domes over Santorini’s, Oia

The famous blue domes of the church in the city of Oia (pronounced ee-ya). It’s an image that is all over Greece’s tourism marketing and on every traveller Instagram page, somewhere.

Following our visit to Athens (our story here), we arrived in Santorini just at the end of shoulder season, the start of peak season, which hits its climax in August. The weather was hot, but as an Aussie, bearable. Any warmer, which it apparently can get, and it may have been a little uncomfortable.

Social platforms have changed the way we travel, and places like the Greek islands have felt this impact.

Santorini is an incredibly beautiful place and in all honesty, for once, the photos you see live up to the visual expectation of the island. From the stunning and iconic blue and white buildings to the clear waters, the island is picturesque.

Santorini, seating over the roof tops

Taking a step back, though; beneath its white luxury is a growing mess.

Twenty years ago, Santorini was known by few people and even fewer as a travel destination. Then along came social platforms, like the modern Instagram, and within what felt like a minute, turned Santorini into one of Greece’s most prominent destinations.

Quickly tourists by the boatload poured in from ships and planes to see the white city, and overnight it went from a home to Greek locals, to a tourist haven. Only a couple of thousand locals live here, compared to the 10,000 – 15,000 that can rock up daily.

Up went luxury hotels, new roads, shops and restaurants by the dozen, and more and more tourists role in.

Walking the streets of Oia, you cannot move without bumping shoulders with a fellow tourist. Lines form around corners to get photos of iconic viewpoints, and to watch the sunset you need to arrive at locations an hour or more ahead just get a spot.

They have sadly become “Tourist pushers.”

This is where the problem lies. Tourism has taken over the island and it’s slowly becoming unsustainable. The ecosystem is deteriorating bit by bit. With so many people coming in; rubbish is piling up (although unseen), and the biowaste is wreaking havoc on the surrounding environment.

Hike through the dry cliffs around Santorini

Then you have what makes Santorini so unique, tarnished by overcrowding. With so many people, it becomes a battleground, rather than a place to get away and relax. Any form of process for transportation is non-existent, and what is available, can’t handle the volume of passengers.

Lastly, is the culture of the people who live there. They have sadly become “Tourist pushers.” (If you have visited places like Morocco, you’ll know what this means). Shop owners wanting every dollar they can get by charging high prices for things as simple as bread. This removes any genuine interaction you have with a local, as their honesty becomes a chase for extra cash out of your pocket.

So what can be done about it?

I get it, in fact, a lot of people I have met get it. It’s short term thinking for a country that is going through hard times. Pump in the tourists, and we get more. But what about the long term?

The real solution and long term benefit will come with the right policies and infrastructure in place to control volumes of tourists. Not only does this make the experience more pleasurable, but makes their tourism operations more sustainable; minimising the impact on the environment, their culture and holding onto to what makes Santorini so beautiful.

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THE EXCITEMENT OF TRAVELLING TO ATHENS

I’ve wanted to visit Greece, Athens, Acropolis since I was kid. I finally got to tick it off my bucket list, and boy was it an amazing experience for me.

I’ve done a small amount of travelling in my teenage to adult life. But always to nearby places, fitting in with the cliche of the day today Australian; the “affordable” traveller. We are all over Asia, because it’s close by and comparatively cheaper. I’d be surprised if you traversed Indonesia or Thailand and didn’t come across a loud and rowdy group of Aussies. But where we are fewer in travellers, is Europe. It’s far away, a high price for flights and expensive when considering currency conversion.

For this reason, many places I’ve always wanted to visit in my younger years have been just out of reach. But yesterday I got to tick off a long time dream and bucket list item.

As a kid, I always loved ancient/mythical stories. Hercules, Xena, Spartans and Gods battling to save the world or keep control of their domains. Roman and Greek mythos has always excited me and is why places like Italy, which I saw only last year, has also been one of my favourite places, ever. Rome astounded me with their mix of ancient and well-preserved buildings mixed within the enormities of modern society.

Greece – quickly summarising it’s problems

Athens, Greece, has been through a lot. From their ancient civilisation being conquered Romans from 509BC to 1453AD, to the Ottomans (Turkish Empire) occupying Greece for more than 400 years, they didn’t truly gain their independence again until the mid 1800s. Then came the many modern wars, and invasions through the 1900’s.

Shooting ahead, during the 1980’s Greece began exploring expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to help improve their economy, which unfortunately backfired on them, negatively impacting inflation rates, trade and growth rates.

Soon after, came the European Union, and despite the economy being in a bad state, they were let it in due to some doctored budget figures. Suddenly they were tied to the Euro and gained all the benefits of the EU; such as lowered interest rates on borrowing, and borrow cash they did. But with a lack of revenue coming into the country, it was not able to pay off it’s debts, and before long it had to claim bankruptcy.

Impacted heavily by this, are of course the millennials. In 2014, Greece’s unemployment rate was at an all-time high of almost 28%. This has now come down to 18%, but still very high for a country like Greece. Of this group, 70% are millennials.

This has impacted the generation in two ways.

Firstly, labelled the brain drain, Greece has a whole lot of millennials who are incredibly educated, due to their free education system, but are unable to get employed. So what do they do? They leave Greece to find work somewhere else in Europe.

The second is lashing out. This has a significant impact on the city of Athens in the form of graffiti. A city already pained with theft, congestion and waste. While some have turned to the arts as a form of expression, what i would call graffiti with style, others have littered streets with words of frustration and anger. Some roads look wondrous, beautiful even. Others unfortunately just ads to the chaos and pain of the city.

But why I loved Athens!

Arriving in Athens, we settled in for the day and prepped a few tours. I was eager to hear about the modern city, and it’s history before seeing the highlight. And I was pleasantly surprised by these experiences.

Beneath all of the issues, there is also still a lot of positivity. Greek people hold their heads high and are incredibly passionate and kind. They know they have some ironing out to do, and they’re not afraid to admit it. Friendly locals would remind us to hold our bags securely or engage us in conversations about our travels and give advice on things to do and see. I generally loved this about them.

Culturally, beauty shone through with; markets, music, dancing and food. There’s something to experience around every corner.

Then there is the highlight of the city, and for me, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

The Acropolis of Athens

We woke up early. I definitely wanted to beat the crowds. 7AM start, with pre-booked tickets in hand ready to march through the gates of the Athens’ Acropolis.

We walked hastily through the streets making our way there and for once Gabby saw some pace in my step. Finally, we made it with only 10 people in front of us. I was happy. The gates opened on 8AM, and BOOM, we ran our way up to the top point of the Acropolis.

I can’t express the feeling of emotion I got when I stepped through the archway to see the temples.

Despite the damage that had been done due to hapless Turk invaders who did more damage in a day to the location, than had been done to it in the 2000 years prior, it was in a great state. I was overwhelmed with how beautiful it was, almost to the point of tears.

The two main structures/temples stood tall to the left and right, barely a person in sight, as if the moment was just for Gabby and I. Marble flooring that was once the ground for the Greeks more than 2000 years ago was all around, heat reflecting in full force from the morning sun. The pylons of the temples stood tall and white, and you could envision the beauty it would have once held in its undamaged state.

To me, it was a real wonder.

Beyond the Acropolis is then the ruins within the city of Athens. The old Greek and Roman markets, the Agoras, and the temple of Poseidon. Each a marvel of their own, completing stories about how the ancient Greeks once lived.

Many tourists skip Athens and head on through to the Greek islands. But honestly, I can’t understand how you could miss something so wonderful.