What you need to know before traveling to Greece

Greece is a favorite destination for visitors from all over the globe. More than 18 million people vacation here each year, making Greece tourism one of the country's leading industries. Located among the Ionian, Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, Greece is spread out over the mainland and more than 1,400 islands. Although Greece is well-known for its beaches, more than 80 percent of the country is mountainous. Greece is famous for its mixture of ancient Greek, Byzantine and modern history; its many archaeological sites; its delicious cuisine and its friendly and easy-going pace.

  • Key facts
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    Athens, the capital of Greece, is the most popular tourist destination in the country. The city of more than three million residents, seamlessly mixes ancient and modern. This is the home of the Acropolis, which look out over the entire city, as well as the National Archaeological Museum, the twisted cobblestone streets of the Plaka restaurant and entertainment district, and the well-preserved Dionysus amphitheater.
    However, as fascinating as this bustling metropolis can be, Athens isn't the only interesting place to see in this diverse, historic country. Just a few of the other places you'll want to consider when you travel to Greece include:

    • Crete -- The largest of the Greek islands, Crete was home to the Minoan civilization and many examples of their art and architecture remain there.

    • Mykonos -- One of the Cyclades Islands, Mykonos is known for its many beaches, its white-washed buildings and its relaxed atmosphere.

    • Delphi -- The ruins at Delphi, located in south-central Greece, are one of the most important collections of ancient Greek buildings in the country. This is where, according to myth, Apollo communicated to mortals via the oracle.

    • Santorini -- Located in the Aegean Sea, Santorini is known for its high cliffs and dramatic sea views. Formed by a volcanic caldera, Santorini is believed by some to be the site of the lost city of Atlantis.

    Greek is the official language in Greece, although English and other European languages are widely spoken and understood. Road signs and other signs in Greece are written in both the Greek and the Roman alphabet.
    The official currency in Greece is the euro. American dollars are also frequently accepted, particularly in tourist areas.
  • Weather & when to go
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    The weather in Greece is temperate year round. However, there is a wide difference between the climate in the mountainous regions in the north and the islands of the Aegean Sea. Just a few of the average temperatures in Greece include:

    • Athens -- 50/10 F/C in January; 83/29 F/C in July

    • Thessaloniki -- 42/6 F/C in January; 77/25 F/C in July

    • Mykonos -- 48/9 F/C; 79/26 F/C in July

    • Crete -- 52/11 F/C; 79/26 F/C in July

    • Corfu -- 49/10 F/C; 77/25 F/C in July

    High season for airfares and hotel rates is between mid-June and mid-September. The Greek islands are also popular cruise ports during this time. May, late September and October are less crowded in both Athens and the islands and offer a good value.
  • Getting around
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    How to best get around Greece depends on where you're traveling. Ferry service is still the primary mode of transportation between the Greek mainland and the islands as well as between islands. The Greek rail service, while not as extensive as you'll find in many other European countries, is an affordable way to travel between major cities on the mainland. Within Athens, riding the subway is the most affordable and efficient way to travel.
    Athens International Airport is the primary entry point into Greece and the primary hub of Olympic Airlines. This facility, located about 40 minutes south of the city, serves more than 15 million passengers each year and offers non-stop flights to points throughout Europe, North America and the rest of the globe. There is a rail station adjacent to the airport terminals that connects to the Athens Metro (subway) system.
  • Know before you go
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    It's helpful to know when the public holidays in Greece occur, since all government buildings and offices as well as most retailers and attractions are closed on these holidays. Public holidays in Greece include:

    • January 1 -- New Year's Day

    • January 6 -- Epiphany

    • Forty-eight days before Easter (March/April) -- Shrove Monday (the 1st day of Lent)

    • March 25 -- Annunciation Day and Greek Independence Day

    • The Friday before Easter (March/April) --Good Friday

    • March/April -- Easter Sunday

    • The day after Easter -- Easter Monday

    • May 1 -- Labor Day

    • Seven weeks after Easter -- Pentecost

    • The day after Pentecost -- Whit Monday

    • August 15 -- Assumption Day

    • October 28 -- Ochi Day

    • December 25 -- Christmas Day

    • December 26 -- Glorifying Mother of God Day

    To reach emergency services while traveling in Greece, dial 112. In addition, you can dial 100 for local police, 199 for the local fire department, 166 for emergency medical service, 108 for the coast guard and 197 for emergency social assistance. In addition to Greek, calls are answered in English and French.
    Citizens of European Economic Community (EEC) countries need only a valid identity card written in the Roman alphabet to enter Greece. Citizens of other countries need to carry a valid passport to visit Greece. In addition, citizens of countries outside of the EEC, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are required to obtain a tourist visa in advance of their trip. You can apply to any Greek consulate or embassy in the world for this document
  • Travel tips & recommendations
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    • Shop hours in Greece can be somewhat confusing. Except for shops specifically catering to tourists, Greek retailers are typically open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, shops are open between 9:00 AM and 2:30 PM and again from 5:00 PM to 8:30 PM. All shops, except food stores and pharmacies, are closed on Sundays.

    • In Greece, lunch is typically served around 2:00 PM and is a light meal; dinner is usually served around 9:00 PM and is the main meal of the day.

    • Greek cuisine features fresh produce, fresh seafood and grilled meats prominently. Popular dishes include moussaka (a casserole made of eggplant, ground lamb and cheese), baklava (a pastry with honey and nuts), stifado (a meat stew with onions and redwine) and greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and black olives.

    • Greek restaurants typically add a small charge for bread and service in addition to what you order from the menu.

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