Quick Guide to Greece: Fun under the Mediterranean sun

2018-07-30 11:36
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a photo of athens and acropolis

The home of togas, great yoghurt and curly blonde hair is also so much more. With a rich history denoted by a collection of mythological icons, the birthplace of democracy, white sandy island beaches and soft, turquoise waters - Greece is a country with an unmistakable flavour and vibe.

If you’re looking to enjoy both the aesthetic splendour and deep cultural aspects of early Europe, there is almost no place better to see this than in Greece. From the cobble-stoned alleyways and vistas of idyllic beaches on the islands to olive groves, medieval streets, architecture and ancient ruins - you will be enamoured by the wondrous charm of Greece.

From Athens to Thessaloniki, Crete to Euboea - Greece has plenty of great cosmopolitan and traditional city and island experiences on offer for the eager traveller. Feel the authentic buzz of the Mediterranean as you stroll by busy sidewalk cafes, share in a coffee-drinking ritual or just take a walk through some of the places of earliest human civilisation as the city goes by. From creative and cultural centres to exciting dining opportunities, the cities and islands of Greece will have you hooked. 

Here's what you need to know if you go:

Visa: A Schengen Visa is required for travel to Greece. Find out more about that here

TRAVEL PLANNING: UK, Schengen, US and Australia visa costs: What South Africans can expect to pay in 2018 

Costs: EUR60 or EUR99 for short or long stay visas respectively.  

Passport validity: Ensure that it is valid for a period of at least 3 months after your last day of stay in Schengen territory.

National Carrier: Aegean Airlines

Airport Hub: Athens International Airport

Useful app to download: ATH Airport (iOS, Android) to help you navigate the airport and get around. Useful for more than just for checking your flight status and arrivals and departures, you can also stay up to date with information on how to get to the airport, parking information and even special offers for airport shopping.

Flight Route Access:

Airlines that service South African travellers heading to Greece include: Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Alitalia, South African Airlines, VRG Linhas Aereas and Etihad Airways.

Flight time: Johannesburg to Greece: From 16 hours 25 minutes to 23 hours 50 minutes (average 1 stops). Cape Town to Greece: From 24 hours 35 minutes to 36 hours 15 minutes (average 1 stops). Durban to Greece: From 19 hours 15 minutes to 21 hours 35 minutes (average 1 stops).

Currency: Euro

Medical and health:

You should be up to date on routine vaccinations while travelling to any destination. Some vaccines and medication may also be required for problem-free travel.

It is recommended that you also get inoculated against some relatively common medical problems. Common illnesses experienced by travellers in Greece include respiratory infections and diarrhoea which are, fortunately, preventable and easily treatable.

Religion: Eastern Orthodoxy (Orthodox Catholic Church) is the prevailing faith in the country.  

Travel Adapter: Plug type C, D, E and F. The standard voltage is 220V and the frequency is 50Hz.

Country code: +30

Time Zone: Eastern European Time (UTC +3). Greece is one hour ahead of South Africa.  

Emergencies: General emergencies: 112. Police: 100. Fire brigade: 199. Medical: 166. Tourist police:171

Public Transport:

Surrounded by water and with many islands being called home to many Greek citizens, the country has a well-developed network of ferries to help travellers get around. These ferries are often the only way to get to the famous islands of Greece. 

The ferry schedules are subject to delays for a number of different reasons so it is important to be flexible. Summer is when you're likely to have the least trouble grabbing a lift on one of these ferries with it being completely different in Winter where you will often find there are no ferries in operation at all. Plan accordingly. 

Getting around Greece on four wheels is equally easy and accessible with a comprehensive network of buses linking the mainland and the islands. For more information on the urban-area transit buses, dial '14505'. In most big cities, there will likely be more than one bus station that services different regions of the country. It is therefore quite important that you find the correct station for your destination.  

Alternatively, if you're looking for something a little less public much of Greece has extensive access to taxi cabs. Widely available and reasonably priced in comparison to fares elsewhere in the EU, getting a taxi in Greece (especially Athens) is a breeze.   

Useful App to download: Like Uber but with actual taxi cabs, make sure you download Taxibeat (iOS, Android) to help you get around. 

Climate:  

Predominantly Mediterranean. The climate in Greece is marked by hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. However, Greece is a country with a varied and unique geographical disposition and as such the country’s regions tend to have micro-climates.  

Best time to go:

Arguably, the best time to visit Greece is in their spring period which runs from April to June and autumn which runs from September to November. At this time of the year, wildflowers are in bloom, which adds bursts of colour to the landscapes in a particularly beautiful way. 

In autumn, the foliage and fading of the life of the plants coat the islands and cities in a warm amber-gold hue. The islands are best-enjoyed during the balmy summer days. That being said, you can expect throngs of visitors to fill up the beaches and attractions so prepare accordingly.   

Language: Greek

Useful phrases to know:

Though the urban population of Greece tends to be cosmopolitan and relatively well-conversant in English, it's never a good idea to assume that people will speak your language. Outside of the tourist centres, you should expect no English to be spoken and as such, it's a good idea to learn a few phrases to ensure that your stay runs smoothly.

Useful app to download: Where other language apps may teach you the basics, World Nomads Greek Language Guide & Audio gives you the ability to prepare for your trip and learn to converse like a local. 

  • kalí méra (Good day/morning)
  • Kaló apógevma (Good evening)
  • Chaírete (Hello)
  • Antio sas (Goodbye)
  • to ónomá mou eínai...(My name is…)
  • Naí (Yes)
  • óchi (No)
  • póso kostízei aftó? (How much is this?)
  • efcharistó (Thank you)
  • panemorfi (Beautiful)
  • nóstimo (Delicious)
  • o ellinikos mou einai kakos (My Greek is bad)
  • Milás angliká? (Do you speak English?)
  • O Theé mou! (Oh my goodness!)
  • me synchoreíte, poú eínai ...? (Excuse me, where is...?)
  • Stin ygeiá sas! (Cheers!)
     

Practical Tips:

  • It is seen as being rude to not acknowledge and greet everyone when entering or exiting a room.
  • Meals and dining are commonly enjoyed family style. As such you can expect the meal to be laid in the centre and shared.
  • Related to the above, don't expect swift, responsive service as dining tends to be a leisurely, drawn-out experience so enjoy.
  • Don't refuse an offer of a drink, it is usually a positive act if you're offered one so rejection can be seen a being a negative.
  • If you invite people out, you're expected to pay. If you're invited out, don't expect to pay, insisting you do can even be an insult to your hosts so accept their kindness.
  • When headed to religious spaces, make sure to dress modestly and cover up any excess skin that may be visible. Some places might even deny you entry if you push your luck.
  • To say 'yes' with body language just swing your head. To say 'no', curtly raise the head or eyebrows. 
  • While Greece may not have the same reputation for criminality like many other countries, there are problems. One way that this is seen is in the spaces between premium, tourist-friendly neighbourhoods which are often right next to shadier, rough spots where you stand out as a foreigner. Stay woke and know where you are and where you’re going.
  • To get an authentic experience of the main city areas, walk around on foot. Pack good, comfortable walking shoes and a light rain jacket and pack a warm sweater.

Top attractions in Greece: