Things to Know When Visiting Greece

view of Naxos port

One of the things I love about travelling is learning about other cultures and ways of life. I always think it’s good to know a few things in advance though so you know some of what to expect. So here’s some of what to know when visiting Greece.

Back in 2012, I lived on Rhodes – the largest Dodecanese island – for a few months. I’m currently writing this from Naxos, the biggest Cyclades island and have been here for just over two months now. There are some things I thought would be worth sharing if you’ve never visited Greece or somewhere like it.

sunset over the sea

Many of the islands are very different and things are probably different again on the mainland. But this will give you a guide of what to expect in most places.

Is Greece safe for solo women travellers?

One of the things solo women want to know when visiting a county is how safe it is for them. I’ve found Greece to be very safe. Trust is a big factor here. I’ve noticed that empty rooms of hotels I’ve stayed in had the keys left in the doors. People often don’t lock their cars. I left my hire car at the port and the instructions were to leave the keys under the mat. If the wifi’s poor and a shop’s card machine isn’t working they just tell you to take your stuff and come back tomorrow to pay.

In the cities and during the peak summer season I’m sure it’s a little bit different. I think in any city or tourist areas you visit it’s wise to be vigilant for pickpockets and that sort of thing.

But as a solo woman, I haven’t felt threatened at all. Being an Orthodox Christian country probably has something to do with the safety. Greek people are curious though so I’ve had local people stop me and ask where I’m from and where I’m staying.

I’ve done a lot of walking here on my own in the countryside and I haven’t felt unsafe. Even when I arrived the port area felt much safer than others I’ve been to. It’s part of the main town and not miles off in a separate area.

I arrived off the ferry about midnight and felt completely comfortable walking through the streets to my accommodation. I think in summer I’d have been more worried about walking past drunk tourists and any threats they posed, but that’s the same in any touristy place.

I also haven’t felt the need to cover up more than I would in the UK in summer.

What to wear in Greece

Even though Greece is an Eastern European Orthodox Christian country I haven’t felt the need to dress modestly. (Not that I normally flaunt anything but as I discovered in Morocco, what we class as demure in the UK is not necessarily considered modest abroad.)

Selfie of Suie Young from in a bright coral bikini on the beach

Before I decided to come to Greece I was planning to go to Turkey. I was intending to pack my suitcase with clothes that meant I’d always have my shoulders, cleavage and knees covered. In some ways, Greece is less tolerant of certain aspects of modern life than other countries. However, I’d say things are much more similar to the UK than it is to neighbouring Turkey, for example.

For the most part, I just wear what I’d wear in the UK, particularly on the beach. If you do go to more remote, non-touristy areas you might need to be a bit more modest.

The exception in areas used to tourism is the monasteries and churches. When visiting Greel, like in most countries it’s respectful to be a bit more covered up. Here you need to cover up cleavage and arms. Skirts should at least be around knee length and dresses shouldn’t be figure-hugging. In some places, women have to wear skirts, not trousers or shorts, to enter religious spaces. Usually, that means there are skirts or sarongs available to wear over your own clothes to enter if necessary.

Don’t drink the tap water in Greece

Public water tap in Vivlos village, Naxos, Greece

It’s not a good idea to drink tap water when visiting Greece. From my understanding, it’s not so much that it’s unclean but that it’s likely to have minerals and sea salt in it. (Not so much the case in places like Athens and Thessaloniki but elsewhere.)

You can either buy bottled water at the supermarket or top up at local taps. Obviously, the second option is best to save on plastic. You can buy large containers from the shops and then fill up from the nearest tap when you need to.

Although some people would probably advise against this, I use the tap water for cooking and cleaning my teeth.

Toilet paper goes in the bin in Greece

The pipes in Greece are narrow and can’t tolerate much toilet paper without getting blocked. Instead of flushing it, you need to put toilet paper in the bin. If you’re staying in a house sit or Airbnb (rather than a hotel with daily cleaning) the toilet binbag just goes out with the rest of the rubbish. It all goes in the big bins on the street.

Shops are closed on Sundays

Pretty much all the shops are shut on Sundays. Even supermarkets, bakers and chemists. In the summer season some of the touristy supermarkets might be open but not the normal shops.

I actually really like this. I think it’s good to see that there’s a day to switch off and spend with the family. However, you might need to plan accordingly!

There’s no Amazon (or post)

If you’re thinking about remote working from a Greek Island you’ll need to consider how you’re going to receive parcels and mail. (Athens and big towns are probably a bit different. But this applies if you want to go a bit off the beaten track.)

I tried ordering something from Athens and even though I put the full studio hotel address on it they said it was incomplete. After one delivery attempt it was sent back to the company and I never head anything about it again. Now I’ve moved to a housesit but it doesn’t have a proper address. Many of the dirt roads are unnamed and the post isn’t delivered to the villages.

Luckily I’m able to use my housesit owner’s PO Box to receive parcels. But if you’re going to be in a village or the countryside you might want to think this through. It’s probably less of an issue normally. But right now we’re in lockdown and can’t get to the shops here or hop over to Athens.

Don’t use the OK sign when visiting Greece

There are some hand gestures you need to know when visiting Greece. Here, the hand gesture that we’d use in the UK to say OK is considered very rude. So don’t use it!

I had a sudden panic when I read about the hand gestures as I’d been waving to thank drivers for letting me pass. (They all beep their horns here but I find that sensory overload.) I’ve also got to know a farmer and his wife and always wave when they pass me in their truck.

I found out that about the most offensive thing you can do here is a forceful, “talk to the hand” type of gesture in someone’s face. But the way it was described was as facing your palm towards someone. So I thought I’d been leaving a trail of offended people in my wake when I’d been trying to be friendly. Turns out a little wave is fine, but it goes to show how easy it can be to cause unintended offence if you don’t educate yourself.

Drive on the right in Greece

Maybe the UK and Australia are the exceptions but to me driving on the right is the wrong way round. So I need to remember to always pull out onto the correct side of the road!

Cats live on the street

Cat colonies are part of everyday life in Greece. When I lived in Rhodes it seemed completely out of control. 10 years later a lot of have programmes in place to sterilise the street cats. In the past dogs have been the emphasis for rehoming. But now cats are being rehomed too.

A sandy coloured cat sits on a stone wall

In the summer the cats live off scraps from the restaurants, whatever they can find in bins and what tourists drop.

In the winter, volunteers (certainly in Naxos) set up feeding stations so the animals don’t starve. It’s been particularly important this year as restaurants that would normally open in winter are closed due to COVID.

Anyway, wherever you stay when visiting Greece, cats will be part of daily life. I encourage you to feed them and look out for the welfare of any near where you stay.

So there you have it, some things I think you should know when visiting Greece. Let me know if you visit and found anything else memorable worth noting.

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