If you’re travelling to Greece for the first time you probably have all sorts of questions. Whether it’s how to travel within Greece or more to do with day-to-day etiquette and practicalities I’ll answer some of the most common questions here.
What is the best website for Greek island hopping?
I love FerryHopper.com because it’s easy to use and I like the user interface (i.e it looks nice!). It’s the easiest site I’ve found to search for dates and several “hops” at once. Plus they send you an email with all your booking details filled out so it’s super easy to check in online with just a single click. Perfect for this last-minute booker who needs things to be very quick and easy!
I’ve answered all your Greek Ferry questions in a separate post here.
What do I need to hire a car in Greece?
Using the bus
Bus facilities on the islands vary greatly. Places like Paros and Syros have good frequent buses around their islands. Mykonos has good transport to the various popular beaches there. Where I stayed in Tinos there were only buses on Mondays. I’ve included bus information as part of many of the island guides.
During July and August, there are usually a lot more buses serving popular routes. Outwith these months buses can be cut right down or entire routes stopped altogether. If there are a few of you travelling together it can often work out cheaper to get a taxi.
Often there’s a small bus stop/shelter on one side of the road where you can wait for the bus. If you need to travel in the other direction just wait opposite it if there’s no obvious sign of a stop on the other side.
In Greece, you put your luggage or any big or bulky items in the storage areas under the bus. If there are handles on the doors just open them up and put your suitcase in yourself. If there are no handles then the driver will open them up from the dashboard.
Keep valuables with you but I’ve always felt comfortable leaving the rest of my stuff under the bus. It was the same in Spain when I lived there. Don’t try and take your stuff onto the bus with you. You can’t take up a seat for your bags and there’s not much space to put them anywhere else.
Paying your fare
On some buses, you pay the driver directly. On others, you take a seat and a conductor comes round and takes your money. I’ve seen both options on the same route too, sometimes. It’s usually ok to pay with notes if you don’t have change.
How can I exchange dollars or access Euros in Greece?
Euro only in Greece
Just to clarify, Greece uses the Euro. I’ve seen a surprising number of people ask if it’s possible to pay in US dollars when you get here. The answer is no.
Exchanging money at the airports
You can exchange money at Athens airport. If you fly directly to an island then this is also possible in some places like Rhodes, Crete and Mykonos. However, it’s always likely to be more expensive than if you were to exchange money with your bank at home before travelling.
Withdrawing foreign currency from the cashpoint/ATM
As I fly by the seat of my pants a bit, I tend to withdraw money from the cashpoint when I arrive. You get charged a fee each time but I don’t think it’s more than what you would pay to an exchange place. Because of the fee, make sure that during your stay you pull money out in chunks rather than frequent, small withdrawals.
It’s probably sensible to have at least a bit of cash on you when you arrive. Many taxis won’t take cards so at least if you have some physical money on you, you can get to your hotel if there are any problems with the ATM(s) at the airport. Having said that, I’ve asked taxi drivers to stop at ATMs on the way plenty of times. Although, perhaps it’s not ideal for a female traveller, especially if you’re travelling at night in an unfamiliar area.
Avoid Euronet ATMs
Look for a normal bank ATM rather than these yellow and blue convenience ATMs. They’re installed in smaller, touristy areas, often next to tourist supermarkets. The exchange rates aren’t good and they charge a much bigger one-off fee to use them. They’re ok if you’re stuck – hence paying more for convenience – but I’d advise against using them regularly.
Paying by card in Greece
I use my contactless bank card for most things in Greece. However, I heard that a lot of US cards don’t have this facility. You can still use chip and pin or you may be asked to sign the receipt.
A lot of taxi drivers won’t accept cards and some smaller shops and restaurants may not either. Of those that do, American Express and Diners Club are probably less widely accepted than others.
If you get the option on the PDQ machine when you pay, it’s usually the most cost-effective to pay in local currency. I.e. choose the option to pay in euros rather than in dollar or pounds or whatever you’re home currency is.
Why am I being asked for my passport number?
It’s quite common in Greece to give your passport number for things so don’t be alarmed. It’s not about recording you, it’s about the recipient allocating payment for tax purposes. Every Airbnb needs to take your name and passport number to be recorded for tax. I’ve also had to give my passport or Greek ID when I’ve booked a car through an app (using iMove in Mykonos for example) or other private transfer.
Why am I being asked to pay by wire transfer?
In the UK and Europe, it’s not at all unusual to pay friends or businesses by bank transfer. That might be different to what you’re used to if you’re from the US so don’t immediately think you’re being scammed.
Even established hotels might ask for you to pay this way. I’ve noticed that a lot of businesses in Greece use a Facebook page as their website so, many simply don’t have the facilities set up to take payments online. If you feel uneasy about any transaction then go with your gut. But just be aware it’s not necessarily an unusual request.
I saw a thread in a travel group on Facebook where someone asked about this and all the advice was that it must be dodgy and to stay well clear. People were saying this particularly because the accompanying email was written in less than perfect English. Understand that the culture is different in different countries. Also, be aware that if someone is responding to you in a second or third language their English is unlikely to be perfect. It doesn’t mean there’s an issue.
When are Greek public holidays and how will they affect me?
I’ve written a separate post about Greek public holiday dates and what you need to know.
Power Sockets, Plugs and Voltage
The plugs, sockets and voltage in Greece are different to many areas of the world. Unless you’re coming from somewhere with European appliances you’ll need a travel adapter for your device plugs. You might also need a converter so that your items work on the Greek voltage and electrical frequency. I’ve written a separate post here that answers all your questions.
Where can I do laundry/washing?
If you just want to do a little bit of handwashing during your stay don’t bother bringing travel wash. Pick up a small box of powder from the shop. It’s really cheap and many places will provide a small washing bowl in your room.
For a mid-stay load either make sure you book at least a night or two in an apartment with a washing machine. Or head to the local laundry/laundrette.
Note that not every island will have a laundry and many that do literally are laundries, not self-service laundrettes. I’ve used a few in different places and the turnaround time has been about 2 hours.
On average I’ve paid between 5 euro for wash up to 10 euro for wash and dry. Although I think one place in Mykonos was something ridiculous like 18 euro. I usually just get my stuff washed and I dry it where I’m staying as I think that’s much nicer. However it will depend on the size and facilities of your accommodation plus the time of year you visit.
How do I open the windows/doors?
Ok, this sounds like a random one. But I know from my experience in the hospitality industry, and now in Greece, that windows and doors can flummox visitors in different countries!
This type of window is quite common in Greece (and Europe) and the same design is used for doors too. If you’re playing around with the handle to see how it works you can get a fright when the door angles back from the top. The first time I encountered a door like this in the UK I thought the whole thing was falling on me!
Can I drink the tap water?
The general answer on the islands is no, however, there are exceptions, like on Paros. But don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need to buy single-use plastic bottles for your whole stay.
The Greek water supply is subject to the same levels of cleanliness as the rest of the EU. Unless you’re somewhere remote you’re getting water from the mains. So cleanliness isn’t really the issue. It’s more that seawater can mix with the mains water. Many islands don’t have desalination plants and don’t remove any of the excess minerals/salts that the water contains.
If you’re in cities like Athens it’s ok to drink the water from the kitchen tap. However, on most islands, you’ll be told not to do that. The villages have public taps in the street but check locally whether this is good to drink. In some places, I understand they’re supplied by a spring and it’s fine to drink. In other places I’ve stayed, the public taps in the village were the same as the kitchen tap water and I was told not a good idea to drink from.
10 litres of water for 10 – 20c in Syros and Paros, Free in Andros
In the supermarket, a 1.5l bottle of water will cost about 30c. Although there’s a big awareness campaign on Paros to show people the water is safe to drink, you might still prefer filtered. In which case you’re in luck.
Syros and Paros both have big units in several points across the islands where you can get 10l of water for 10c (Paros) or 20c (Syros). You’ll obviously need a few bottles to fill, or ideally a 10l container. Find out more about the locations in Paros here. In Syros, I’ve seen them on the road to Vari (just before the village, travelling from town) and on the big roundabout along from the Lidl and the bus station, where the taxis stop.
In Andros these machines are free to use.
Is it true I can’t flush the toilet paper
Yes, it is. Greece was ahead of its time and invited toilets before toilet paper was a thing. Therefore, the pipes used were really narrow. As things changed, it didn’t make sense to overall the entire country’s plumbing system so the same tiny pipes are still used today.
You’ll find a small bin in the toilets where you throw your toilet paper (and anything else you need to dispose of). The bin bags get thrown out with the normal rubbish when they’re full. If you’re staying in a hotel or serviced apartment, housekeeping will come in regularly to remove and replace your bin bags.
I hate it, and as a rule, I take the bin bag out myself. What a horrible job for someone else to have to do for me. If that’s not practical I always tie the top to try and make it marginally less unpleasant.
How do I get hot water?
Solar heated water is common in Greece. You’ll have water when the sun has had a chance to heat the tank. In that case, you might not have water first thing. Once the water’s heated it could cool down in the evening if it’s not hot enough outside to keep it warm. So, you may need to be strategic about when you have a shower.
Some water tanks are heated electrically, like an immersion heater. More than likely the switch on the fuse board will be kept off until you need it. If you’re staying in an apartment or villa this might be the case. If so, you’ll need to flip the switch for about 20 minutes to let the tank heat up.
Make sure you turn off the switch before you get in the shower. Water and electricity don’t mix and standards of installation might not be as high as you’re used to.
Crush a can and save a cat
If you’re self-catering for any part of your trip and are eating anything from a tin can, please crush it before binning it. Many cats live in and around the bins and they will scavenge anything. If there is the tiniest bit of food in a can they’ll get their head in to eat it. The problem is, they can’t always get their head back out again. So please crush your cans.