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Greek island holiday FAQ

I get many emails from people going to Greece for the first time. Some of the questions pop up again and again so I have put together a list of frequently asked questions. The replies are my own opinion and other may well disagree but there, as they say, you are.


Greek holiday preparation

Q What are must items to pack in the case? A As little as possible. Forget heavy stuff like sun cream - there are plenty of shops selling basic goods. Things I always pack are tea bags (for a decent cuppa), sink plugs (scarce for some reason) and an old jumper (for sitting on as much as wearing - especially boat seats and taverna chairs).
Q Should I get a health card? A The old E111 form was scrapped in 2006. If you are travelling to Greece you now need an EHIC - European Health Insurance Card. This covers basic healthcare on short trips around Europe. It entitles you to the same level of healthcare as a local. The card is valid for five years and is only available to UK residents. You can get a EHIC card quickly online at EHIC or call 0845 605 0707 for more information.
Q Do I need health insurance? A While the EHIC above will cover emergency treatment, it is essential to get good travel insurance. The EHIC card will not cover flights home, accommodation, drug costs etc. It will also not cover loss of luggage or other personal items. Remember too that treatment covered will be for that received by locals and this can vary among EU member states.
Q When is the best time to visit? A Depends what you are looking for. Spring has wild flowers but you can get rain. High summer has crowds and heat (especially at night). Autumn has warmer seas, cooler nights.
Q Is winter a good time to visit? A Not generally. Winters on the Greek islands are fairly bleak. Weather can be wet and cold with deep snow and sea storms. All the tourist tavernas and cafes are closed and village resorts can appear deserted. Only southern Crete stays open in the winter.
Q Do I need to learn Greek? A No. Most Greeks have good English, especially those invloved in the tourist industry. Greeks however have great regard for those that try to speak Greek so it is a good idea to learn a few phrases.
Q Should I get an island map? A Get a map if you intend to travel about but it is better to get a Greek language one as well as an English one. The Greek place names are more likely to tally with the local road signs. Beware that many maps can have little or no relation to the roads, especially in rural areas. Road Editions maps are usually the most accurate.
Q Do I need a visa to get a job? A EU nationals can enter Greece indefinitely with just ID. You need a driver's license for vehicle rental or to drive your own. You can also get work. Authorities, like police, banks, always prefer lots of ID so take some that includes a photo.
Most non- EU Europeans need no visa but can only stay up to 90 days. A three month extension can be negotiated at the local police station. If you are at all unsure check with the Greek embassy.

Greek holiday accommodation

Q Should I avoid the Greeks touting for rooms when the ferry comes in? A You often get a good deal this way. Don't take the first one and compare the prices. Ask to be brought back to the quayside if you decide you don't like the room. They are usually happy to do this for a small tip. Try asking at the local taverna. The waiter usually knows someone, who knows someone. I've often got very good deals by asking around, especially at local car rental firms.
Q How much should I pay for a room? A Depends on the island and the time of year. Prices drop considerably out of the high season and owners are always prepared to haggle. If you aim for €40 for a double bed, shower and kitchen you should be able to find something decent.
Q Will my electrical stuff work? A Yes. The standard in Greece is 220V AC (50Hz) but you will need a three-to-two pin adapter.

Greek holiday driving

Q Are taxis expensive? A Taxi fares are regulated though some drivers will try to rip tourists off. All drivers must switch on the meter when you get in and it is always good to agree a price (per trip not per person) before you get in. Latest fares are on my Info/Travel page. Don't be alarmed if the driver picks up another fare, this is usual though the driver should ask first if it is OK.
Q Should I hire a car now or when I get there? A Car hire outfits are plentiful on the islands and most offer good rates. Online firms are very competitive and you get proper insurance cover. For online car hire see my holiday finder pages
Q Must I wear a seat belt? A Seatbelts are compulsory for all passengers though I have yet to see a Greek wearing one,
Q Do I have to wear a crash helmet? A For emergency roadside help dial 104, for police dial 100, for an ambulance166 and for fire 199. The Automobile and Touring Club of Greece provides 24-hour information to foreign motorists on 174.
Q What should I do in an accident? A Dial 112 This free 24-hour service was launched in 2001 for visitors. Callers get information in English, French and Greek about ambulance, fire, police and coastguard services, Operators stay on the line in case a tourist needs help with translation.
Q Are the roads safe? A Greece has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities in Europe, mostly down to bad driving. Most accidents are on the mainland but island drivers must also contend with poor road surfaces, inadequate signs, unfenced cliffs and stray animals such as goats. Drive very carefully.
Q Can I drink and drive? A No. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05 % with a heavy fine or even prison for offenders. Police take random tests.
Q What are the speed limits? A Built up areas 50 km/h
Main roads 90 km/h
Motorways 120 km/h

Greek holiday ferries

Q Where can I get the latest ferry timetables? A You can find the latest ferry information posted at the port. Timetables are published and posted on the internet but the information may not be accurate and you shouldn't rely on it. It is only time the ferry operators hope for. Always allow plenty of leeway in any ferry journey times. There is no need to pre-book, in fact it is best not to as your ferry may not even turn up.
Q Do I need to pre-book ferry tickets? A Not normally. Check on sailing at the port and buy tickets then. Youmay need to pre-book on popular routes in August and for festivals when the Greeks take their holidays and they all go home to the islands for the break.

Greek food and drink

Q Is it OK to drink the water? A Yes, but many find it bitter as it usually has a high mineral content. Personally I think it tastes foul and always buy bottled water.
Q What is the beer like? A Lager is ubiquitous with Amstel and Heineken the main brands. There are some better Greek beers though. Try Mythos and Hellenic
Q Is Greek wine any good? A Not much. The average price bottle of plonk tastes awful. Some wines have improved in recent years but you will pay through the nose for them.
Q Where can you buy food? A Most villages have small mini-markets where you can buy most foodstuffs and other household items. Some villages have bakeries with delicious fresh bread.
Q Should I leave a tip? A A service charge is 15 per cent and is usually included in the bills but, if service is good, it is customary to leave 10 per cent.

Greek health and medicine

Q Are Greek pharmacies any good? A They are usually excellent often having a trainee doctor or some other qualified medic on the staff. Someone usually speaks good English. Medicines can be more expensive than at home.
Q Do I need a jab? A Greece requires no medical inoculations unless you are studying here, in which case an Aids test is required.
Q What if I need a prescription? A Take your E11 to the doctor, dentist etc and you will be given a health services booklet and directed to an IKA clinic or doctor. Consultation and treatment are free but you may have to pay for any specialist treatment. If you are charged get a receipt and apply for a refund on return to the UK

Greeks and naturism

Q Are there nude bathing beaches on the islands? A Public nudity is illegal in Greece but every island has at least one beach where nudity is common. Captain Barefoot's site (see links pages) is the best guide to naturist beaches in the Greek islands.
Q Is it OK for women to go topless on beaches? A Yes.
Q Is prostitution a problem? A Female prostitution is legal with periodic state medical checks. There a brothels in major cities but not on any island I know of.
Q Is it safe for women to travel on her own? A Greece is not free from problems but a woman is safer in Greece than many other countries. Stay away from troublespots like Faliraki in Rhodes, Laganas in Greece and anywhere on Ios. There are rising incidences of rape but only in places where loutish behaviour is common among tourists, not Greeks.

Greek communications

Q Can I phone home? A Getting prepaid phone cards is the cheapest way to make local or international calls. Get them from kiosks and mini-markets. Don't try call at busy times like early evening.
Q Should I take my mobile? A Buying a local sim card is the cheaper. A street kiosk will sell one for 15 euros. Calls in Greece cost 0.39 euros/minute and calls back to the UK cost 0.85 euros/minute - much cheaper than roaming on a UK mobile.
Q Will my mobile work? A In Greece you can use all GSM mobile phones but US cell phones do not work. You will pay fairly high rates for outgoing calls and incoming calls are more expensive, because you pay for the international part of the call.
Q Can I send letter and parcels? A There are stamp vending machines and post-boxes outside all central post offices. Parcels must be inspected, so don't seal them beforehand. Brown paper, envelopes and boxes can be bought at post offices. Post offices signs are usually bright yellow as are post-boxes.
Q Can I use my laptop? A Yes. You can buy internet dial up cards at most street kiosks. You can go online when you want and for how long you want.
Q Are there many internet cafes? A They are cropping up all over the place now in the more popular tourist areas.

Greek money

Q Are there any cash machines on the islands? A Cash machines are everywhere apart from the remotest islands where there are no banks anyway. Bank trading hours are Monday to Thursday from 08:00 to 14:30 and Friday from 08.00 to 14:00 for most banks.
Q Can I change money when I get there? A Almost every island has moneychanging facilities though commission can vary. Greece has joined the euro and there have been complaints about higher prices since the switch.

Other Greek stuff

Q Is it OK to take children? A Greeks adore children and make a great fuss of them. Children under eight may be eligible for discounts. Better hotels may do baby-sitting.
Q Is there a dress code anywhere? A Religious buildings such as churches and monasteries do not like t-shirts and shorts. Women should wear a skirt and buttoned up blouse, men a shirt and trousers. Women are not allowed to enter some monasteries.
Q Why do they paint the trees white? A To protect them against insect pests and so drivers can see them in the dark.