We can often get caught up in our magical Australian summer but we should always have an eye on the winter and what we’re going to do to get away for a while. It’s a good idea to decide early on where you’d like to spend a few weeks to warm the bones. That way you can research where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do, find great deals, and have something to look forward to.
Greece is an incredibly popular destination for holidaymakers during the colder Australian winter. The warm weather, beautiful coastline, historic architecture, amazing food and friendly locals all keep Greece firmly on the ‘must visit’ list for most overseas travellers. For a European destination, it’s also incredibly cheap by comparison with other popular destinations such as Italy, France, Spain and the UK.
If you’re thinking about heading north during this coming Australian winter, here are 8 Greece travel tips that will make your holiday experience a whole lot better.
Take the time to learn about Greece’s history
How many times have we travelled to some fantastic foreign country and tried to cram as much sightseeing in as possible, only to gloss over the history and culture of the place? It happens all the time but there are many reasons why you should treat Greece differently. Ancient Greece is the birthplace of so much of what makes Western society function today:
- Philosophy – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
- Literature and the Latin alphabet – Homer and Hesiod
- Mathematics – Pythagoras and Euclid
- History – Herodotus
- Drama – Sophocles, Euripedes and Aristophanes
- The Olympic Games
- Science, particularly physics and engineering – Thales and Archimedes
What better place to learn about the history of civilisation as we know it than through the history of Greece? So don’t just visit the Acropolis, take a few happy snaps and race off to the next tourist destination. Slow down, read the information, join a tour group or hire a guide and soak up the culture. You’ll not only have a great holiday but you’ll come back enlightened as well.
Learn a few phrases before boarding the plane
This Greece travel tip can apply for any holiday to a foreign country where English is not the first language. You’ll find a lot of people speak some English, particularly around tourist areas, so you’ll always be able to get by. But to receive real hospitality, it’s always a good idea to at least attempt speaking in the local language. In Greece, breaking the language barrier with a few sayings will open up a whole new world to you. The Greek people are warm, friendly and very helpful, and will welcome you with open arms if you make an effort. It’s up to you to break the ice though, so here are a few phrases to get you started:
- Yassou (YAH-sue) – Hello
- Kherete (KHE-reh-tay) – Goodbye
- Ti kanis? (tee-Kah-nis) – How are you?
- Efkharisto (eff-kah-rees-TOH) – Thank you
- Signomi (seegh-NO-mee) – Sorry
- Ne (neh) – Yes
- Ohi (OH-hee) – No
- Me lene… (meh Leh-neh…) – My name is …
- Milas Anglika (mee-Lahs Ang-lee-kah) – Do you speak English?
- Borite na me? (boh-REE-the nah) – Can you help me?
- Poso kani (poh-soh Kah-nee) – How much is it?
Ouzo isn’t the only Greek drink
While ouzo is the most famous alcoholic Greek beverage, it shouldn’t be the limit of your drinking experience. Greece has a wine culture going back centuries, a rapidly growing craft beer brewing industry and home-made brandy that has to be sampled.
- Brandy – Tsipouro has been around far longer than ouzo – since the 14th century to be exact -and can be found right across Greece. In fact, when aniseed flavour is added to tsipouro, it turns into ouzo. Don’t be surprised to be offered tsipouro at any moment, day or night, from meal times to checking in at your hotel.
- Wine – While Greek wine doesn’t have the worldwide acclaim of other countries such as France and New Zealand, wine making has been around for 6,000 years in Greece, so they know what they’re doing. If you visit a Greek vineyard on your travels, expect to be given a generous glass to drink on arrival.
- Beer – A newcomer to the Greek drinking scene, microbreweries have started appearing right around the country, brewing some top quality craft beers. Dedicated beer pubs in big cities are the place to sample a wide range of craft beers, such as Beer Time in Athens or The Hoppy Pub in Thessaloniki.
Must see tourist attractions
How much of Greece you get to see will obviously depend on how long you’re staying there, how much money you’ve got and your desire to keep moving to see as much as possible. Sometimes it’s much better to slow down and stay in places for extended periods of time. That way you can really immerse yourself in the area, discover little nooks and crannies that you would have otherwise missed and probably meet a few of the locals as well. That said, if cramming in as much sightseeing as possible is what you want to do, then you simply must have the following places on your itinerary:
- The Acropolis – The quintessential symbol of Greece. Learn all about Greek history and enjoy stunning views over Athens while you’re up there.
- Olympia – Go to the spiritual home of the Olympic Games, back to where it all began. The ruins of Olympia and the reconstructed Temple of Zeus are worth a look.
- Meteora – The monasteries that sit on top of sheer rock mountains have to be seen to be believed. They are absolutely stunning and will be the highlight of the trip for many
- Delphi Ruins – According to Greek mythology, this is where the omniscient Oracle would speak to Apollo and offer advice to those seeking good fortune. Make sure you check out the fantastic Temple of Apollo.
- Mount Olympus – This is where the Greek gods ruled from, controlling the lives of the mere mortals below. Make your way to Litochoro, then start the strenuous trek up the mountain. You’ll be glad you did.
- Samaria Gorge – An incredible hiking experience where you’ll enjoy unbelievable landscapes. It’s not easy but it’s definitely achievable if you’re reasonably fit and healthy. The photos you’ll get to take home will be worth it.
How to choose the right Greek island for you?
With over 2,000 islands, Greece offers the most extraordinary range of island experiences in the world. Whether you’re looking for a beach holiday, water sports, culture and history, festivals or food, there’s the perfect island to suit your wants and desires. Here are a few ideas for you to narrow down your search for the perfect island getaway.
- Beaches – It goes without saying that almost all of Greece’s islands have great beaches but there are a handful of islands that take the beach experience to a whole new level. To lie on some of the best beaches in the world, head to Crete, Lipsi, Kefallonia, Skiathos or Mykonos.
- Diving and snorkelling – Check out the aquatic life, including seals and dolphins, with expert dive instructors on Karpathos, Milos, Paros or Kastellorizio.
- History – Walled Old Towns, fortresses, shrines, monasteries and other examples of magnificent ancient Greek architecture can be found on Rhodes, Delos, Corfu and Patmos.
- Nature walks – Get in touch with your inner greenie on Crete, Naxos, Alonnisos and Skopelos. You’ll discover hiking trails that take you through canyons and forests, over mountains, along gorges and historic paths between rustic old villages.
- Food and drink – Of course food and drink tastes are very subjective but some islands do it better than others. The best of the bunch are Lesvos (olive oil and ouzo); Samos (fine wine, particularly a sweet Muscat dessert wine); Folegandros (pasta with rabbit or chicken in red sauce, spaghetti with lobster, and sun-dried fish); Crete (olive oil, rusks with tomato, olive oil and cheese, and a sweet cheese used in pastries); Corfu (Italian inspired cuisine).
Head north for something completely different
The north of Greece is as diverse as anywhere you’ll ever go. Unbelievable landscapes, real Greek culture and food to die for are just some of the reasons to head to this region. From east to west, you’ll discover rugged mountains, pristine lakes, green dense forests and a crystal blue coastline, much of which is still being discovered. Because Macedonians, Romans, Thracians, Illyrians, Slavs, Turks and Byzantines have ruled this region over the centuries, the mix of architecture, culture and food is quite astonishing.
Get your financial housekeeping in order
- Organise currency before you go. The last thing you want to do is arrive in Athens with no money in your pocket. Exchanging cash at airports is expensive, so try to avoid it. It’s always a good idea to have a combination of money options when travelling, i.e. cash, credit card, debit card, etc.
- Notify your bank – The last thing you want is to make a purchase overseas and set off your bank’s automatic security system. You’ll find your credit cards cancelled without your knowledge and you’ll be unable to use them again without going into your branch (which is obviously not convenient!)
- Check for sister bank opportunities – Ask your bank if they have relationships with any Greek banks. That way you might be able to make cash withdrawals without incurring some of the charges that go along with it.
- Apply for other credit and debit cards – While your bank cards will incur various fees when used overseas, there are others that don’t. For example, the 28 Degrees Credit Card has no annual fees, currency conversion fees or international transaction fees on purchases. Then there is the Citibank Plus Savings Account that offers free ATM withdrawals at all Citibank ATMs worldwide (and there are heaps in Greece).
Make a copy of important documents and keep them handy
If the unthinkable happens and you lose your passport or have your wallet stolen with all of your ID inside, it’s vital you have copies readily available. The best way is to make a couple of photocopies so you have hard copies and keep them stored separately (i.e. one in each suitcase). Also, keep digital copies with an online storage service, such as Dropbox, for easy access when connected online. Important documents to keep on file are:
- Driver’s Licence
- Travel documents – i.e. tickets, visas, etc.
- Birth certificates, especially for your children
- Receipts for expensive equipment, such as cameras and laptops (so you can claim on insurance immediately)
Greece is one of the world’s best countries to visit and hopefully these Greece travel trips will make your visit a lot better. While it can be expensive to get there, once you’ve arrived you’ll find most things are very cheap including food, accommodation and internal modes of travel. You’ll have your eyes opened wide to a whole new world and – probably most importantly – you’ll meet some wonderful, hospitable locals during your stay.
© Lantern Club, Roselands