Guide to Greece

First Timers to Greece should go to Greece Primer

The Greece tourism industry has put the government financial problems behind them. Each year has seen growth in tourism numbers and next year looks like even more success. Now is the time to plan your own Greek odyssey.

Ferry Schedules

ferries at Paros

The most common question that we are asked about travel involves ferry schedules. Ferries are subject to a great many more variables than trains, for instance, so they are seen as “unreliable”. To me, rather, it is just part of the Greek island experience to be more relaxed and tolerant of the uncertainties caused by wind, water, holidays and even labour strikes.

Rather than list all the possibilities for ferry travel here I will just state that it is very easy to island hop, but it does cost a lot of time and a little money.  Keep in mind that the summer routes are usually not complete before mid-May each year.

For routes and rates my favourite link is: Greek Travel Pages  But don’t buy your tickets from the agency advertised there unless there is some rare circumstance you need the tickets by snail mail.  Instead go the ferry lines website and buy direct.  Usually you can pick-up the tickets on the quay before departure.

For travel to the islands the three main ports are Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio.  Each year its gets easier to get from the airport or downtown Athens to the ferry ports.  The Metro (underground), suburban railway or express busses; which we use depends upon current schedules and exact destination.  If you are a taxi person, they are available as well.

Flights

Flight horizons for each season change constantly.  New airlines enter the market with reduced fares; others leave. Use more than one site to search.  Check out CheapOair because we get a tiny commission if you like their lowest price guarantee 😊


Fly Now, Pay Later. Easy monthly payments over 3, 6, or 12 months.

If you are flying long haul from the US, Australia or the like, don’t search for Paros or whichever island you going to first. Locate your flights to Athens and then buy the island or mainland city leg separately. Olympic Air, Aegean Airlines, Sky Express are the usual local carriers. It is much cheaper that way unless flying with one of these.

If you prefer working with a travel agent, find one willing to work with consolidators(bucket shops in the UK) or seats only charters.  Also, we have found, in general the most economical way to fly is to find a direct flight from your nearest gateway city to a European gateway. Then a “no frills” or charter flight to Athens or one of the islands. Most European cities, including several within the U.K. have direct flights, both charter and scheduled to nearby Mykonos, Santorini and Heraklion on Crete. Paros is easily reached by ferry from all of these.

Trains

A few people do come to Greece by train, the intrepid few. The most common way is to choose a route to an Italian ferry port, then a long ferry trip, usually overnight, to Patras, then on again to anywhere in Greece. The last couple of years, however, it has been possible to bring the train all the way to Thessalonica or Athens. The Man in Seat Sixty-One tells how it is done in great detail and reliability. This is a thoroughly great site for train travel that I use frequently.

Read about our 2008 train misadventure here: Prelude to Adventure

Camping

Camping in Greece, like most places in Europe, I think, is more about socialising than about saving money.  Especially on the Greek islands the campgrounds are full of young people having a great time interacting with each other.  During the summer that is.  They are not open otherwise in most cases. This video shows bits of Agri. Irini Camping behind the palm trees.  This was my original “home” beach when I lived in one of the houses on the hill way behind.  A list of thirty or so of Paros Beaches is HERE

From what I hear and read the mainland campgrounds are mostly full of the older generation in motorhomes and campervans.  Everyone sharing their recent experiences over a drink or coffee and looking for tips for the next day’s activities.

Athens

Athens with Acropolis
Athens is difficult to write about. There is a lot to see and do, but a big city is a big city. Most people are happier spending their time at other mainland sites or on the islands. So we recommend two days, including arrival and departure, at the end of your vacation to take in the Acropolis and other essential antiquities. This builds in some safety time in case of unforeseen delays. We have a difficult time recommending hotels for Athens and Piraeus. Prices are relatively high and all have pros and cons for location and facilities.  For just passing through we stay at Rafina or Piraeus for convenience and economy. Note: There are no reasonably priced hotels at the airport, but it doesn’t matter because there are dedicated express busses to Athens, Piraeus and Rafina. The only hitch is to allow plenty of time for traffic; the fastest is 1 hour travel time and busses every 20 minutes; the slowest . . . . For more on Athens Matt Barratt is the guru. If you want to know more about ancient Athens visit this quality site: Visit-Ancient-Greece.com

Guest Post from a young adult:

What I Learned from a Trip to Athens

When I landed in Athens, which was my first trip to Greece, I began putting a paper to pen, writing all the questions I had before going in search of the answers. I worked hard to find answers to the questions by following every lead I came across.

ASTIR BEACH: The first thing we did was head out to Astir beach. The beach is located about a 30-minute drive on the outskirts of Athens, and because taxis and Ubers are very cheap there, we did not waste any time and it was worth the effort. The sky, climate, and the view were beautiful especially when on a desk chair. However, on this particular beach, they had TGI Fridays, which is very different from the restaurants available in the UK. You have to taste their delicious twisted chips, which are only on the menu in Greece. At the same time, there are single potatoes that are still connected to one long curl and then deep-fried, which is then topped with something that looks like tomato vinaigrette and melted cheese. The combination is seriously bad for you but when lounging under the sun getting a tan, the taste is absolutely fabulous. THE DIMOTIKI AGORA: CENTRAL ATHENS PUBLIC MARKET:  You need to visit the food markets located in the center of Athens. While there, you will see fresh fish and meat market under one roof, which is directly opposite the road to the fruit and vegetable market. You can enter the market and wander around while talking to the vendors and get the real experience from the working class. If you get there early, you can join the vendors for breakfast in one of the side stalls in the meat market and worth a visa to see Greece from travelvisapro.com alone. Furthermore, it is the perfect place to stock up on fruits to last you through the day (such as nectarines, peaches, and cherries).

MONASTIRAKI SQUARE:  The nightlife is the best part of Athens, which is around Monastiraki Square. Clubbing will go through the night until the very early hours of the morning. Athens is not like London where if a place is slow, people tend to close early if possible. In Greece, shops have to stay open until 3 am or whenever they are advised to close no matter how few people are. This means you can head out to local bars and see the new side of the locals.

ENJOY A GREEK FRAPPE:  The frappe can be taken as the people’s national drink. Coffee and café houses are institutions considered important in Greek culture. It is common to find people spending hours sipping frappe. The Plaka area is a welcoming and yet commercial region with countless cafes. As such, if you are searching for a youthful place, consider the Psiri neighborhood. If you decide to visit Acropolis, then it is wise not to go between the hours of 12 pm to 5 pm. This is because if you go between those hours, you will leave with a strong dose of sunburn and sunstroke, which will begin to peel immediately. Therefore, the best time is late afternoon and then later head over to Gazi and Psiri for a drink (Both are great areas where you will find bars and cold beer). THE ACROPOLIS SECRET ENTRANCE:  Do not bother yourself lining up at the main Acropolis entrance. It is important to know that there is a back way in, which has a tiny line that no one knows about. Apart from being efficient, it is faster compared to the main gate. This alternative entrance will save you hours of lining up under the hot sun. MOBILE PHONE DATA:  Mobile phone data have become paramount especially since we have stopped using paper maps. Therefore, you can buy a local sim card outside the central subway station, with different data packs on offer. Even though they are trying to sell to local people, as a tourist, getting a months’ worth of data is helpful, plus giving you the ability to book restaurants and bars. UBER:  There is no reason to use the subway when taxis and Uber are readily available. Uber is a company that is widely known, even in Greece. As such, because it is widely used in the country, you will get a more professional service compared to local taxis. This is one of the reasons you should download an Uber app on your phone before you arrive there. Their cars are brand new; the divers have an iPad or smartphone in their car, with the route they should follow. At times, the drivers will give you water or sweets as part of their service. In Athens, there is a local transportation service app known as Uber X, which undercuts the prices of local taxis for the same journey by 20%. Therefore, why not take advantage of this service and furthermore you do not have to worry about carrying cash because your credit card will just do it. HEAD OUT OF TOWN:  While there, you can also decide to head out of town. This means taking a bus to Kessariani and take a short hike up the Monastery and its surrounding areas. This can be a great historical outing for you and your family. On the other hand, you may consider heading over to the historical Olympia, Mycenae, or Delphi.

Crete & Ephesus

Theatre in Ephesus
theatre at Ephesus

What do these two places have in common, you might ask.  In this case I don’t have another page to put them on.  Crete is part of Greece yet was once its own country.  Ephesus was once Greek but is now in Turkey. Crete is a very big island with plenty of everything, including the incomparable Knossos. During the summer it is easy and quick to ferry to and from Paros, but it is also easy to fill up a week on Crete.  Ephesus is a city of ancient Greece that was expanded and preserved by the the ancient Romans. Everybody who goes there raves about it, but it is complicated to cross the Greece-Turkey border. The site I have used for information–and a great place nearby to stay–is Atilla’s Getaway.  Since it was closed when we were there in late September we stayed at Hotel Bella and enjoyed it very much. The owners were helpful and friendly and yes, we bought a rug from them.

Like to gamble?  Greece has only a few casinos.  The closest to Paros is on the island of Syros.