Greece is a country with a lot of natural beauty, unparalleled history, and an irreplaceable part in the foundation of western society.
As with any foreign country, you are going to experience things that are very different to what you may be used to. For that reason, I put together this article on Things to Know Before Traveling to Greece. This is especially true in the time of covid, so I’ve included some covid-specific things to be aware of.
After reading this article, you should be mentally prepared for most of what the country will throw at you, and thus be more able to appreciate what Greece has to offer!
They Use the Euro
The euro is, as of June 2023, worth about $1.10. The exchange rate with the US dollar is pretty favorable right now, and you’ll find that things are generally about as expensive as back home. You may even find meals to generally be less expensive, as well as healthier.
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Gyros Are Not Traditional Greek Food
Speaking of food, this one surprised me. As a lifelong lover of what I considered “Greek food,” it was shocking how difficult it was to find gyros in Athens.
The gyro (actually called gyros, pronounced “yee-rosh”) comes from the word “to turn,” which is a direct translation of the Turkish word, doner. Doner, and its Greek counterpart gyros, refers to the large metal rod that holds up the big piece of meat and turns it slowly next to the fire. Doner kebaps have been eaten in the Middle East for hundreds of years, but really only gained popularity in Greece after World War II. They made their way across the ocean to the US around the 1960s, and so many of us will associate gyros as being a traditional Greek food.
To be fair, you can find gyros in Greece, but they’ll be in the more trendy restaurants that cater to tourists. You have to know where to look to find them.
Luckily, there are plenty of delicious traditional Greek dishes to try. Moussaka and souvlaki are both great meals, and for dessert you must have the baklava. Real Greek baklava is literally dripping with honey and, no lie, one of the sweetest, most incredible things I’ve tasted in my entire life.
English is Not Widely Spoken
Outside of the hotels and the occasional shop or restaurant, English is not super common in Greece. The cyrillic alphabet is also completely different from English, and can be difficult to decipher if you don’t already know it. My recommendation, as with any other country, is to learn a few useful phrases before you go. I would also recommend learning what certain words look like. It will make navigating the subway system easier. You can also keep Google Translate on hand, but don’t rely on it.
Below I’ve compiled some useful phrases and how they’re pronounced:
Yes = Ne
No = O-he
Hello = Geah sass
Good morning = Kalimera
Good afternoon = Kalispera
Thank you (very much) = Efharisto (poli)
Please = Parakalo
Everyone and Their Dog Smokes
I personally saw a guy take a drag from a cigarette, throw the butt on the ground, get on a crowded bus and then exhale. Literally just blow cigarette smoke into a packed city bus.
Just something to be aware of if you’re particularly sensitive to the smell of cigarette smoke. Everybody smokes in Greece.
Many Flea Markets Don't Haggle
Running contrary to flea markets the world over, most Greek markets don’t accept haggling.
Basically, if the item has a price tag on it, that’s the price you pay.
If you don’t see a price tag, proceed with caution to haggle. But be careful, because a lot of Greek vendors can get offended rather easily.
Don't Spend Too Much Time in Athens
I make comments like this not to put down anyone’s city, but just to give people realistic expectations.
Athens is not the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to. That’s the most diplomatic way I can put it. It’s the most heavily graffitied place I’ve ever seen in my life, smoking is pervasive, and it’s generally kind of dirty.
The rest of Greece is NOT like this. I would recommend spending just enough time in Athens to see the Acropolis and other ancient ruins, and then move on. Santorini and the other islands in the Cyclades are world-reknown for their beauty, and there are countless towns and cultural sites (like Meteora) that give you a much better glimpse into the “real” Greece.