It seems like a trip to Greece is on everyone’s travel bucket list, and we can hardly blame them! Allison and I have both traveled extensively around Greece, exploring both mainland Greece and far-flung islands. Since traveling to Greece can incorporate so many different types of travel styles, it’s common for people to have a lot of questions as they start planning a trip to Greece.
To make it easier, we’ve created this easy 11 point checklist to help you make sure you’ve covered all of the important pre-trip planning steps so you can sit back and enjoy your Greek vacation once you get here!
Step 1: Check to See if You Need a Visa
Greece is one of the two Balkan countries that are part of the Schengen Zone, the block of twenty-six European countries that use a common visa system.
Passport holders from Schengen Zone member countries do not need a travel visa to visit Greece:
Austria, Hungary, Norway, Belgium, Iceland, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Latvia, Slovakia, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Finland, Lithuania, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, Malta, Switzerland, Greece, and the Netherlands
Additionally, passport holders from these countries can visit the Schengen Zone without a travel visa for up to 90 days out of a 180 day period:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong S.A.R*, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macao S.A.R*, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova*, Monaco*, Montenegro*, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, Serbia*, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan**, Timor Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela
Countries marked with an asterisk have special requirements to be allowed visa-free travel to the Schengen zone.
Note that travel to one country in the Schengen Zone starts the clock on your ninety days, so you can stay in Greece for up to ninety days or spread it out amongst different countries. If you have been traveling the Schengen Zone for a while before arriving in Greece, make sure you have enough days left so that you don’t overstay.
While we will try to keep this post updated, you also always want to check visa rules ahead of time with the country you are visiting as well as your own country. You can check updated Schengen Zone information here.
Step 2. Book Your Tickets
I’ll never forget seeing the view out of the plane window the first time I flew to Greece. Landing in Athens, it looked like I was flying into a mythical paradise.
I’d actually decided to visit on a whim since Athens was the cheapest flight from Cyprus, where I’d been staying. However, as soon as I saw Greece first-hand, I was hooked.
I am not the only traveler first enticed to visit Greece because of the abundance of cheap flights available. The country has a lot of cheap flights available from most of Europe, as well as having a lot of great budget flights to help you hop between Greek islands.
If you are coming from North America, flights will be more expensive. However, you may want to compare prices of flying into Athens and flying to one of the islands directly. You may save money by spending a few days in Athens and booking a separate flight to the islands (or even taking a ferry).
To find the best value for your flights, we suggest Skyscanner and Google Flights. Use Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” feature to check all of the various airports in Greece, since the country has so many different ones. Google Flights has a nicer interface and updates with the correct prices faster, so there are no disappointments when you click through, unlike Skyscanner.
Step 3. Plan Your Itinerary
Many people who visit Greece explore a combination of Athen and the mainland plus some islands. However, there are so many places to visit in Greece that it would be impossible to give one example itinerary that would cover all the best options. Here are some things you need to ask yourself:
- Am I interested in exploring Athens and seeing the ancient sites like the Acropolis?
- Do I want to spend time on mainland Greece seeing Meteora, Olympus, or the Oracle of Delphi?
- Do I want to spend time exploring multiple islands and experiencing how they are different?
- Do I want to explore one Greek island in-depth?
The answer to these questions will help you figure out how best to divide your time. I’ve spent almost two months in Greece, and I’ve barely scratched the surface! Don’t feel bad if you can’t see everything you want to on your first trip here. You can always come back!
Here are some good guidelines to keep in mind:
If you have four days or less, stick to one place. This would be a great amount of time for an initial trip to Athens. You can even include one day trip like the Oracle of Delphi or a cruise to the nearest three Greek islands.
If you have a week, you can explore two places. Alternatively, you can base yourself somewhere for the week and add in a day trip or two. For example, you can spend three days in Athens and then four days on Crete or Rhodes.
You could also spend the week in Athens, but add in a day trip to Delphi, an island day cruise, or Meteora. Or you could spend three days in Athens, and then rent a car and see Meteora, Olympus, and Delphi on a Greek road trip.
If you have more than a week, then I suggest spending a few days in Athens and then picking a few Greek islands to explore. For each island, you’ll want three or four days so that you have time to sightsee and also to relax. While the most popular islands are Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes, Greece has dozens of amazing islands for you to explore. You can also combine a few popular ones with one or two that are less touristy.
An important part of picking your Greece vacation itinerary is going to be knowing how you’ll get between destinations (unless you’re staying in one place). Check prices for both flights and ferries, and book these ahead of time if you’re traveling between April and September when its high season.
If you are trying to decide where to go in Greece, we’ve created a few pieces to help you decide:
- Where to Go in Greece: 27 Top Greece Vacation Destinations
- Greek Island Hopping: The Best Islands to Visit
If you are combining a trip to Greece with visits to additional Balkan countries, you’ll want to check out these Balkan travel resources:
- These are the 12 Balkan Countries Plus the Top Reason to Visit Each One
- The 10 Balkan Itinerary Commandments
- 41 Balkan Travel Tips
- Balkan Bus Trips: 10 Things You Must Know Before Your Ride
Step 4. Plan Your Activities
After you decide where you’re going to go, you’ll want to decide which activities to enjoy. In Athens, it’s popular to do day trips to some of the more important sites on the mainland like Delphi, Cape Sounion, and Meteora. If you’re going to be on the islands, you will want to look into boating activities, water sports, and walking tours.
We use and recommend GetYourGuide for booking tours in Greece and the Balkans. We like that they have a best price guarantee and that they tell you the name of the tour companies they partner with (unlike Viator), so you can research it and be sure it’s worth your money!
If you are traveling between April and September, you will want to make sure your tours and activities are booked in advance since Greece is a hot tourist destination. I have traveled to Greece in the shoulder season (early April and October), and I still found that my tours were full or almost-full.
Step 5. Budget Your Trip
Once you know where you want to go and how long you have, you can put together your trip budget.
Greece is a great budget-friendly destination compared to most of Western Europe, but if you’re traveling through the rest of the Balkans first, prices will seem a bit higher.
Even in cities like Athens and touristy cities like Rhodes, there are budget options available. We personally choose to stay in private rooms in hostels or AirBnB apartments over hostel dorms, but there are dorm beds available on almost every island to help you save money.
You can travel through Greece on $40 USD per day by staying in dorms, eating falafel and other cheap street food, and minimizing your activities and travel between places.
When I travel through Greece, I typically spend closer to $60 USD per day and enjoy that Greece offers some true bargains in this price range.
For someone wanting the best of everything, like fancy hotels, fine dining, and the best activities, you’ll find that this will cost much less than a similarly luxurious trip in France or Italy. So if you want to have a seriously bougie time somewhere, Greece is a great value.
Good ways to cut down costs without sacrificing quality is to travel with someone so that you can split costs, enjoy your nicer meals at lunch when there are specials, and to opt for public transportation between cities whenever possible.
Step 6. Book Your Accommodations
Once you’ve decided out what you want to spend per night on accommodations, it’s time to get booking! We use Booking.com because we like that they have free cancellation if you end up changing your plans. This is critical in Greece since you may decide to change your itinerary if you uncover a new Greek vacation spot that you need to add.
Booking.com also has a wide selection of types of accommodations. On my last trip to Greece, I stayed at a budget hotel in Rhodes, a private villa in Crete, and a mid-range hotel in Athens. One great way to keep accommodation costs down is to stay somewhere nice at one destination, and then pick a budget hotel at your next destination.
Step 7. Research Any Vaccinations You May Need
Greece has a lot of animals, both stray and wild. There are stray dogs and cats everywhere, many of which are taken care of by local business owners and families. Since we can’t help ourselves, visiting Greece is basically like visiting one giant petting zoo of friendly dogs and cats. The only animals we wouldn’t feel comfortable petting in Greece are bats (not that I would pet those anyways). According to the CDC:
Rabies is present in bats in Greece. However, it is not a major risk to most travelers. CDC recommends rabies vaccine for only these groups:
Travelers involved in outdoor and other activities in remote areas that put them at risk for bat bites (such as adventure travel and caving).
People who will be working with or around bats (such as wildlife professionals and researchers).
Anyone not at high risk for a bat run-in just needs to be up-to-date on normal shots:
Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.
Step 8: Learn a Few Common Greek Words and Brush Up on the Greek Alphabet
One thing that a lot of travelers from North America and Western Europe overlook is that Greece still uses the Greek alphabet. This means that reading maps, street signs, and menus will be more difficult. The more off-the-path you are (like when we visited the tiny beach town of Agia Triada outside of Thessaloniki), the more helpful knowing the Greek alphabet will be.
Most tourism professionals and people in the service industry speak amazing English. The one area where my friends and I found it more difficult not speaking Greek was when it comes to dating since locals who don’t interact with many tourists are less likely to speak fluent English. This does make for some fun misunderstandings, though!
The Greek alphabet was the precursor to Cyrillic, so many letters are similar. Plus, anyone who’s taken secondary math and science classes will be familiar with some of the letters. For Americans who were in fraternities or sororities in college, your days of memorizing the Greek alphabet for rush will certainly come in handy here! (That’s how I learned it). Here’s a great primer for anyone who wants to brush up!
Here are the Greek phrases we recommend you have handy for your trip to Greece:
Hello = Yasou
Hi (Informal) = Yah
Good Morning = Kaliméra
Good Evening (Can also be used for Good Afternoon though it doesn’t technically mean this) = Kalispera
Good Night (right before bed only) = Kalinikta
Goodbye = Antío Sas or Yah
Please = Parakaló
Thank You = Efkharistó
Excuse Me = Synchoréste Me
Okay or Good = Kalós
Yes = Né
No = Okhi
I Don’t Understand = Den Katalavaíno
Do You Speak English? = Milás Angliká
Note that Greek is an inflected languages, so pronunciation and inflection changes the meaning. If a Greek doesn’t understand the word’s meaning based on your pronunciation, don’t be offended! English and Greek speakers mentally classify words differently in our heads.
One of the biggest misunderstandings native English speakers have in Greece is with the Greek word for yes. When a Greek says Ne, a lot of English speakers will inadvertently hear No. Be careful since this can cause headaches!
We always recommend a good translator app, like Google Translate, just in case!
Step 9. Pack Your Bags
We are in the process of creating packing lists to help you know what to pack for Greece, but until then, here are some items you don’t want to leave home without:
- A Lonely Planet guidebook, to help you plan when on the ground
- An unlocked smartphone, so you can buy a cheap SIM card and use taxi apps in Athens
- An extra swimsuit so you can enjoy Greece’s beaches without having to put a wet one back on. Never go to Greece without a swimsuit! Even when you don’t think you’ll be at a beach, Greece tends to surprise you!
- Seasickness pills and Seabands for taking the ferries between Greek islands.
- Sunscreen (if you’re bringing checked luggage). Sunscreen and other cosmetics can be expensive in Greece compared to back home.
Step 10. Prepare For Your Arrival
Since there’s no universal way to arrive at a destination in Greece, you’ll want to do some prep work beforehand to make sure you know how you’ll get from the airport, ferry station, or bus station to your hotel.
Flying into Athens
This is the most common way for visitors to arrive in Greece. Since I first traveled to Greece in 2016, several things about Athens ground transportation has changed. Uber has been kicked out, so you have two options. Take a taxi from the official taxi stand (with a set rate) or take the train. I’ve used both, and the train will save you a lot of money while the taxi will save you a lot of time.
We were able to convince a taxi driver to take five of us into the city for ten euros more than the official rate, which saved us money. I don’t recommend this, however, as the ride was a bit harrowing!
While you can’t use Uber at the airport, you can use the taxi app Beat which works similarly to Uber after you’re in the city.
If you plan on taking the train into Athens, have the instructions written out and easily accessible since you may not have working data on your cell phone yet. We also recommend downloading the Google Maps area for wherever you travel so that it’s available offline.
Flying into Other Airports
I’ve also flown into Thessaloniki, Crete, and Rhodes, and at all three I found that the taxi rate was set from the airport. My Airbnb host graciously arranged to pick us up when we arrived at Thessaloniki, saving us a few euros.
Most airports also have public transportation options, though not all do. Because there are so many Greek airports, research the airport individually. For example, Crete alone has two airports with two different systems.
Before You Leave the Airport
You’ll want to have some Euros on you for your taxi or to get on a bus. You can take them out at the ATMs in the airports for the best exchange rates. Just make sure you don’t have big ATM withdrawal fees from your bank. Some banks require a travel notice, and others will still put fraud blocks on cards making purchases outside of their home country.
Tell your bank when and where you’ll be traveling to avoid this. They may still put a block on your card at some point (mine frequently does). To rectify this, you’ll need to call them or respond to an email if they send one. This is one reason its good to always travel with multiple cards attached to different accounts.
Note that many places in Greece take Visa and Mastercard, but you’ll still need some cash to be able to travel through Greece smoothly. It can be difficult finding places that take American Express.
Step 11: Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
We put this last so it’s fresh on your mind: travel insurance is essential for Greece and for travel in general! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last two years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. Also, car rental accidents in Cyprus, that time a goat peed on Allison’s dress, many cracked phone screens, the time I was too sick to fly to Santorini, etc. You get the idea!
While Greece is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!
Have you been to Greece before or are you planning a trip to Greece now? Leave your best Greece travel tips and any questions below!