Greece

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General Information (currency, climate, population, religion, history, etc.)

Greece and its islands are known for their ancient civilization, amazing landscapes, and a well-established tourism system. The country is so rich, diverse, and beautiful in its culture and landscape that even after multiple trips here, there will be a lot left to experience and explore.

Holidays in Greece delight with its stunning beaches, marvelous natural locales, rich culture, and warm hospitality from the locals. With the longest coastline in Europe, it attracts millions of tourists each year who come here to soak up the sun and enjoy delicious Greek cuisine.

Country general information

Geographic Position

The country is bordered by Albania, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria on the north, and by Turkey to the east. The country is spread over 131,957 square kilometers, with over 13,600 kilometers of coastline.

Geographic Features

Greece is the country with the longest coastline in Europe, located in the southern part of the continent. The mainland is mostly full of rugged terrain with mountains, forests, and lakes. The country is famous for its adorable islands in the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Aegean Sea to the east, and the Ionian Sea to the West.

The Greece seas are dotted with over 2000 islands, but only about 170 of them are populated.

The Capital

The capital city of Greece is Athens, a city boasting more than 3000 years of history and the oldest inhabited city in the country.

Located at the center of the country, it serves as an important transportation hub to the rest of the areas. Due to the presence of ancient and modern architecture all around, Athens is an interesting city of contrast and diversity.

Since Athens is a pedestrian-friendly city, most of the important sights in the city can be easily reached on foot. All the iconic sites tourists usually want to visit are located at a short distance from each other.

40% of the population of Greece resides in Athens.

Demographics

Greece has an estimated population of 10.47 million in 2019 and a density of only 82 people per square kilometer.

The population comprises 91% Greeks, 4.5% Albanians, and the rest is made up of Pakistanis, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Georgians. 98% of the Greek population is Christian Orthodox. The rest of the population are Muslims, Catholics, and Jews.

Millions of Greeks have moved out of the Greek for lack of better opportunities in the country, leading to a large Greek diaspora in Europe and the USA.

Climate and Weather in Greece

Since it has a large coastal area, the weather in Greece is mostly Mediterranean. But, due to its varied geography, it experiences a continental climate as well.

The climatic conditions in the country can be divided into the Mediterranean, Alpine Mediterranean, and Transitional Continental Mediterranean zones.

In areas where the Mediterranean climate dominates, the summers are sunny and dry during the day and pleasant at night. In July and August, temperatures usually reach 30 to 35°C, and even 40°C and more. During summer, sometimes a strong northern wind, “Meltemi” sweeps through the east coast, offering a pleasant relief to the heat. At times, Maltemi can get very strong, which can affect ferry boat itineraries. Winters in this area are wet. If snow falls, it doesn’t last long.

Alpine Mediterranean climate sees harsh winters with an abundance of snow while the summers are cold with frequent thunderstorms.

Transitional Continental Mediterranean climate has characteristics of both Mediterranean and Alpine Mediterranean climate.

History

The earliest settlements in Greece can be traced back to 270,000 BC. All three stages of the stone age are represented in Greece. Remains from the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic times bear witness to the earliest days of humanity.

Greece was home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe and is considered to be the birthplace of western civilization. The early advanced cultures of Greece were Cycladic civilization on the islands of the Aegean Sea (around 3200 BC), the Minoan civilization in Crete (2700–1500 BC), and the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland (1600–1100 BC).

Those civilizations collapsed around 1200 BC, and for more than 400 years, during the so-called Greek Dark Ages, people lived in isolated village cultures.

The first Olympic Games held probably in 776 BC, represent the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the era of the unprecedented cultural boom of classical Greece. Architecture, drama, science, mathematics, and philosophy of that period set the foundation of western civilization culture. In 508 BC, the world’s first democratic system of government was established in Athens.

After a short Macedonian rule, Greece never again restored its advanced, direct democracy.

The land-mass of Hellas became part of the Roman empire in In the second century BC Greek area became a part of the Roman empire.

By the 4th century AD, the roman empire was becoming weak
And too large to be centrally controlled. It was separated into two parts – The Eastern and The Western Roman Empire. Greek countries became part of the Byzantine empire. The Byzantines took control over Greece until the attack on Constantinople in 1204 by Frankish invaders. The Franks split up Greece, and in 1452 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. Only after more than 400 years, in 1821. Greece regained its independence.

Until 1967. Greece was a monarchy. After a short time of a military regime (1967-1974) that ended a monarchy, in 1975, Greece became a democratic republic. It joined the EU in 1981 and adopted the Euro in 2001.

Currency and Payment Options

The currency in Greece is the Euro, which roughly translates to $1.10. All major foreign currencies can be freely purchased and sold in exchange offices throughout the country. Many banks have ATMs, enabling you to withdraw money easily. Both credit and debit cards are widely accepted in cities, while in the rural area, sometimes it is better to have some cash. Visa, Visa Electron, Master, American Express, Diners Card, and Maestro are commonly accepted cards. However, it is advisable to carry some cash for small immediate purchases, mostly in taxis.

Electricity
In Greece, the standard voltage is 230 V with a frequency of 50 Hz. The power plugs here are of type C and F.

Water
In Athens and major towns, you can drink the tap water. However, in most islands and smaller mainland towns, bottled water is recommended for use to avoid any health issues.

Airport sand connections with EU and USA

Greece has many international airports situated all over the country, but the majority of international traffic is handled by the Athens international airport and the Thessaloniki International airport.


Athens International airport (IATA ATH) is the largest of all airports here and is located 20 kilometers away from downtown Athens. It has good connectivity with major destinations in Europe, North America and Asia with regular flights to destinations like Newark, Singapore, Jeddah, Doha, Chicago, Beijing, etc. Almost all major airlines like Air China, American Airlines, British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, etc. operate flights to and from this airport.


Thessaloniki International airport serves Thessaloniki and is the third-largest airport in Greece. Regular flights operate to destinations like Budapest, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, Doha, Frankfurt, etc. but it has no direct connectivity to the US.


Heraklion International Airport is the second largest airport in Greece and handles mostly seasonal flights from major destinations in Europe only.

Must see sights

Athens is the most popular Greece destination, with plenty of breathtaking sights to enjoy. This ancient city contains world-famous sites such as the Temple of Parthenon, Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, and many other historical monuments. But, besides rich cultural heritage, Athens is also famous for its food scene.


Santorini is probably one of the most Instagrammed locations in Greece and on the list of every traveler to Greece. White Cycladic houses on the cliff tops above the cobalt blue sea, dramatic sunsets, and top-notch restaurants and wineries make Santorini a favorite summer destination for rich and famous from all over the world.

Views from Skaros Rock, the sunsets at Amoudi, sailing in Santorini, and wine tasting tours are the best activities to enjoy here.

Mykonos is another extremely popular tourist destination where towering blue domes dominate the landscape. Mykonos is full of gorgeous windmills that have become the core attraction of this place. Along with this, you can enjoy gondola rides in Little Venice, the windmill tours, beaches in Megali Ammos, and the authentic Greek seafood delicacies.


Crete is another popular waterside city that is famous for its long coastlines, rolling mountains, greenery, and rocky terrain. One of the safest places to visit in Greece, its highlights include Elafonissi beach, White Mountains, Balos Lagoon, Sacred Monastery of Arkadi, and the Palace of Knossos.


Meteora has monasteries that are located at an altitude of 1,200 feet located near the villages of Kastraki and Kalambaka. The perched monasteries provide accommodation, and you can spend time in the serenity of this place, enjoying panoramic views from the top.

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, is famous for its festivals, social events, and nightlife. It blends beautiful cultural heritage sites, such as Byzantine walls, White Tower, and Turkish baths with modern new buildings, bustling nightlife, and an extraordinary food scene.

Hersonissos is an old port town and great for family vacations. It offers amusement parks, beautiful sand beaches, local shopping hubs, and plenty of water-based activities. One of the best destinations in Greece, this town is not very expensive too.

Rethymnon – This well preserved old town has gorgeous architecture from the 16th century that has strong European and Moorish influences. You can explore the town, walking on pretty cobblestone streets, explore the waterfalls, or enjoy the delicious local cuisine in waterside restaurants.

Tsilivi town is a famous beach town with a Venetian observatory on the northern side. This town is popular amongst tourists looking to engage in surfing, parasailing, sunbathing, and try delectable seafood cuisines.

Apokoronas, with its lush greenery and azure waters, is known for bread baking and cheese tasting tours. The shallow waters are great for kids to swim around. Along with the beaches, you can explore Lake Kournas, Agios Nikolaos church, and take part in cooking lessons as well.

Chania/ Hania is – The town’s center of attraction is the Old Venetian Harbour. The unique architecture of this place has been included in many Hollywood movies. This seaside town is great for couples looking for a romantic destination. Explore the Old Harbour, Chania Venetian lighthouse, Agii Apostoli beach, and the stunning Topolia Gorge.

Gourmet scene (must try and about it)

A country rich in culture and diverse in ethnicity will surely have a great food scene, and Greece doesn’t disappoint where food is concerned. Many dishes Greek shares with other countries of the Mediterranean – but their Greek versions are definitely worth trying.

Moussaka is a casserole made of eggplant and ground meat with a tomato base with a creamy layer of béchamel sauce on the top. Moussaka is an amazingly tasty and healthy meal.

Gyros is a handheld pita roll that contains different varieties of meat, sauces, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and often combines with a serving of fries/chips.

Souvlaki consists of meat like beef, fish, chicken, lamb, and pork put on the skewers and then grilled. These are served with a side of vegetables or can be placed inside pita bread and eaten like a Gyro.

Yemista is a traditional dish made of stuffed tomatoes or peppers, filled with vegetables and rice, baked in the oven. It is served with fetta cheese and garnished with yogurt and fetta cheese. There are two varieties – with vegetables only and with ground meat in the filling.

Saganaki is a tasty appetizer that is made of mussels, shrimps, meat, or vegetables that are wrapped in cheese and pan-fried. Sometimes the saganaki is made of cheese only, without any accompaniments.

Pastitsio is a baked pasta dish with a ground beef and béchamel sauce, served with green salads dressed with wine vinegar and virgin olive oil.

Baklava is a traditional Greek dish made of crispy layers of Phyllo, containing nuts, sugar, and butter and a sweet syrup. Baklava is the ultimate Greek dessert.

Halva is a popular Greek dessert, made of oil, semolina, sugar, and water, topped with nuts and other dry fruits.

Ellinikos – is the most popular style of coffee served in Greece. It is served in a traditional long-handled copper coffee pot known as a Briki. Try it out, and you will surely love it.

Retsina Wine is produced in Greece for more than 2000 years. The wine goes through a unique process where the barrels are sealed with Pine raisin, which prevents air from entering the container and fills it’s with raisin aroma.

Best wineries in Greece

Lyrarakis Winery is located near Crete and consists of a 14-hectare family-run winery. They make wine of rare local varieties, such as Kotsifali, Mandilari, and Vilana.

Douloufakis Winery is another Crete winery, offering courses about grape varieties, history of Crete’s vineyards, and wine tastings.

Hatzidakis winery is located in Santorini. They produce organic wines. Visits and wine tasting sessions are regularly conducted by the estate.

Alpha Estate Winery is located in the Northwest part of Greece near Florina. They produce high-quality Malagousia, Sauvignon Blanc, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, and other wines.

Near Athens is another excellent winery, Papagiannakos, the first bioclimatic winery in Greece. They are focused on a Malagousia, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot varieties.

National parks to visit

With a total of 12 national parks in the country, Greece has an array of ecosystems and biodiversity in the country.


Ainos national park is located in the Ainos Mountain range on Kefalonia Island and covers an area of over 7000 acres. The park has tons of Greek fir and is home to a small population of wild horses.

Sounio National Park is located 60 kilometers from Athens on the Attica Peninsula. It is the smallest Greek national park, famous by the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Poseidon, mining tradition, lovely beaches, and great hiking trails.


Parnassos National Park – was one of the first national parks in the country, established in 1938. Spread across 36,000 acres, it is home to species like wolves, badgers, weasels, birds of prey and boars. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Delphi is located close to this national park. According to Greek mythology, MtParnassos was a secret place of Dionysus and the Dionysian mysteries, Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and a home of the Muses. Today, at the slopes of the Parnassos are famous Greek ski resorts, Kellaria and Fterolakka, which together make up the largest ski center in Greece.

Olympus National Park has encompassed Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece. It has also been declared as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.


Samaria National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve, is located on the island of Crete. The gorge of the river Samaria is one of the most beautiful places in Greece and the longest canyon in Europe. It is home to many endemic species, such as the kri-kri, an endangered wild goat.


Pindus National Park is located in the Pindus Mountain range near West Macedonia. It is full of European black pine and common beech forests. The park has a small population of Eurasian bears, lynx, otters, and over 80 species of birds.


Vikos-Aoos National Park was established in 1973 to protect its mountainous terrain. It contains over 31,000 acres that have caves, forests, lakes, and canyons. It is considered a UNESCO geopark due to a large variety of species found inside its forests.

Oeti National Park covers Mount Oeta in the central region of Greece and covers an expanse of over 7,000 hectares. This park, the third biggest in the country, is home to species like roe deer, wild hog, rabbits, brown bears, wolves, and wild cats.

Alonissos Marine Park is located off the coast of Greece. The park includes 6 islands, and 22 isles, with incredible diverse marine life. You should be able to spot monk seals, over 300 fish species, and about 80 bird species.

Getting around (public transportation, rent a car, good to know)

By Rail – The train system in Greece is extremely limited, and the ticket prices can change often. There is the regular train that stops at all stations and the modern intercity trains that link most major towns.

By Car – The interstate system connects Greek cities with well-paved roads, making them suitable for a road trip. Traveling by car in Greece is a lovely experience as you will be able to decide your pace of travel and get to enjoy the sights in the countryside.

By Bus – In Greece, the national bus system is quite efficient, comfortable, and cost-effective when compared to other modes of transportation. The country has excellent long-distance buses, and you should be able to book these services online.

By Boat – Greece has an extensive network of islands and regular ferry services ply from the mainland connection the islands. From super speed boats to long haul high-speed ferries and catamarans, there are plenty of options to explore the country through its water bodies.

Car Rentals – If you are looking at renting a car, don’t do it at the airport since they come at a premium. All major towns offer car rental services, and the booking can be made in person or online.

By Bicycle – Since it’s a safe country, cycling has become a popular way of traveling around town, and cycling tours have mushroomed all over the country. Many tour operators offer guided cycle tours that will take you through the cities and help you explore the Greek countryside as well.

UNESCO sites

Acropolis is probably the most popular of all the UNESCO sites in Greece. The Acropolis is a collection of massive, perfectly balanced architectural masterpieces and a classic example of Greek expression. Completed in the 5th century BC, it is one of the most visited places in Greece.


Delos – According to Greek mythology, this sacred island was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The island, located near Mykonos, has undergone extensive excavations, and most of the artifacts can be found in the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Meteora is a large rock formation that houses monasteries on its top. Six of the original 24 monasteries were constructed on massive natural pillars and hill-like round boulders. This is one of the most visited sights of Greece.

The Archaeological Site Of Delphi is located in Phocis, below Mount Parnassus. The ruins were once a religious center and also a place where many athletic games were held.

The Medieval City of Rhodes consists of multiple layers of architectural history from the Classical, Ottoman, and Italian times. Street of Knights, city walls, and seven gates, The Palace of the Grandmaster, the temple of Afrodite is just a few of the must-see sights of this fascinating place.

The Old town of Corfu is a vivacious UNESCO site surrounded by the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea. It was a famous port city in ancient times and had a significant influence on Venetian culture in its architecture.


The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus, located near the Saronic Gulf, was built in honor of Asklepios, the god of medicine. A sacred place was a home of ceremonial medical practices from the 2nd millennium BC. It is considered a birthplace of modern medicine, which provides insights about the Greek approach to healing rituals and ancient medicine.
It looks like a massive amphitheater with temples, stages, and hospital buildings.


Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni of Chios are geographically distant from each other, but since they are very similar, UNESCO treats them as one unit. The beautiful churches are built on a cross-in-square plan with a large dome supported by squinches. In the 11th and 12th centuries, they were decorated with superb marble works as well as mosaics on a gold background.

Mystras used to be Byzantine capital. The fortified city, perched high on the slopes of the MtTaygetos, dates from the 13th century. Impressive medieval architecture and the valuable frescoes are worth a visit to this cobblestoned medieval town.

Safety

Greece is rarely under a travel alert or travel warning and is relatively a very safe country to travel to. Even solo women travelers have nothing much to worry about, and you can roam about anywhere in the country without worrying about safety issues.

Who is it for

Greece is a country for everybody, right from college students on their college break, to honeymooners and family travelers. The country has so much to offer that every tourist will find plenty to indulge in. From serene, quaint hamlets to adrenaline-pumping adventure activities, the country draws millions of travelers each year who find this to be a perfect vacation spot.