How to Travel to Greece and NOT Be a Tourist |Advice by a Local

Visit Greece Like a Local | Greece Travel Advice

Greece is one of the most visited countries in Europe, with over 20 million tourists arriving in the country every year. It is a relatively affordable and safe country with a rich history, warm and sunny weather, breathtaking  sceneries, and a long tradition of hospitality.

Many people can only stay in Greece for a few days and visit only the most well-known sights, such as the Acropolis of Athens, and the typical Cycladic islands with the white and blue houses, such as Santorini and Mykonos. If you are planning on staying in Greece for more than a couple of weeks either during your summer holidays, a semester abroad or as an au pair, you might want to experience Greece from a local’s perspective.

Here is what you should consider if you want to travel to Greece and NOT be a tourist:

  1. Start with the city of Athens and explore the countryside
  2. Avoid staying at a resort – choose a small hotel instead
  3. Connect with a local – Eat like a local
  4. Follow the Greek time schedule
  5. Learn some basic Greek

Start with the city of Athens and explore the countryside

Flying directly to an island or a seaside location might be the best option for someone who wants to soak up some sun and spend a relaxing vacation by the sea. If you want to get the full Greek experience though, consider spending a couple of days in Athens, the capital city of Greece. Why? Because nearly half of the country’s population lives there. By understanding the urban culture of Greece, you will understand the country better. 

There are plenty of things you can do in Athens. Visiting the Acropolis hill, the ancient Agora, and the Museum of Acropolis is a must. However, how about visiting Benaki Museum – the museum of Greek culture? Or what do you think about a bike ride in Stavros Niarchos Cultural Foundation; a day of thrift shopping in Omonoia and Monastiraki. A morning shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables in one of the various outdoors markets. And getting some affordable bites and drinks in Metaxourgeio and a tour with the tram on Poseidon’s highway – the road that connects the port of Piraeus with the “California style” south west suburbs of Athens. And going out for cocktails at the small bars on the streets next to square Klafthmonos. And what about getting some fresh air by visiting Mount Penteli or Mount Parnitha – the “magic” mountains of Athens. Stay tuned because we will be talking specifically about Athens in the near future!

Now, once you have experienced living in the city – including using the public transport and seeing the ups and downs of Athens – it is time for some exploration. You may choose the Cyclades, the sunny islands of the Aegean sea, or the “greener” islands of the Ionian. Or you might want to visit South Pelion and combine mountain and island life at once. Chalkidiki, the Peloponese region, Creta… the list goes on. All parts of Greece are beautiful and worth a visit. Whichever area you choose, I am sure you will have a great time. If you want to live like a local though, here is what you should avoid:

Staying at a resort?

There are many luxurious, all-inclusive resorts in Greece that can be the best option for someone who wants to spend some relaxing time with their family. However, if you would like to blend-in with the locals and experience Greece to the fullest, staying in a family-owned hotel (or Airbnb, if it seems appropriate) might be a better solution.

Not only you will get to support different local businesses instead of spending your entire budget in one place, you will also get to observe the locals’ habits, eat the authentic Greek cuisine, and listen to Greek music, instead of the music of your home country. You might also get the chance of meeting a local.

Connect with a local – Eat like a local

Greek people are generally very approachable and hospitable. Being offered free dessert, drinks, or fruits after a meal at a local taverna is quite common. Business owners might start chatting to you; this is often perceived as a “marketing trick” to lure the customers into spending more of their money, however, you have to remember that most small business owners do not necessarily have a business diploma. They might simply be interested in you and your life, since you are coming from a different country.

If you engage in the conversation, you might be lucky enough to get invited in their house and dine with them and their family. And trust me, when Greeks expect visitors, they prepare a LOT of food. The dishes are placed in the middle of the table and you are free to fill your plate as many times as you want.

One thing you will realize after getting in touch with the locals in Greece is that there is a different concept of time. And that is why you should:

Follow the Greek Concept of Time

When I moved from Greece to central Europe, I was surprised to hear that many people my age chose to wake up at five and six o’clock in the morning every day, without being forced to. In Greece, I was considered a morning person for waking up at seven or eight. And, indeed, what is considered early or late changes from country to country.

In Greece, when people say that they will meet you at noon, they don’t necessarily mean at 12.00 pm. Noon is usually when the sun is too bright – usually between 12 and 15.00 in the winter and 12.00 to 17.00 in the summer. Afternoon is around 18.00 and evening around 20.00. It is common for people to eat dinner at 20.00 or 21.00 pm and going out for drinks is usually after 22.00. If you are planning to go clubbing, you might be surprised to find out that being there at midnight is considered early.

Another thing you should keep in mind is that, it is generally acceptable to be late for five, ten, fifteen minutes. However, being punctual is very important when you are going for a job interview! In Athens, due to the traffic, buses and trolleys can often be very late. That doesn’t apply to the underground though. In general, being flexible with time will make your life easier in Greece. The same goes for making plans; being spontaneous is more common than planning weeks ahead.

Speak Greek with the Greeks

And now we get to the most important tip that will help you have the ultimate Greek experience: speak Greek with the Greeks. Of course, if you have no previous knowledge of Greek, you might want to start with some basic words and phrases. How to say “yes” and “no”, how to greet people on the street and order something at the taverna or the bar. People will be positively surprised and you might meet some new people this way.

Disclaimer: The video was filmed in May 2020 – a time when humanity was plagued by a global pandemic that halted travel from country to country and any type of large gatherings. However, some of you might be able to travel to Greece this year or you are already planning your vacation for next year. Nevertheless, this video provides general information regarding your trip and does not cover the things you should consider when traveling during the pandemic. For more information on this subject, check your local travel advisories and the website of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO).

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Marialena Perpiraki is a journalist and writer from Athens, Greece. In 2020, she founded Helinika as a cross-media platform.

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