Frequently Asked Questions about travelling to the Greek islands

Planning your first trip to Greece can be both exciting and a bit overwhelming. With its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture, Greece offers a unique travel experience. However, navigating the practicalities of travel can raise many questions.

To help you prepare, I have compiled a list of frequently asked questions based on the inquiries I receive most often from first-time travelers. These answers reflect my personal insights and experiences, and while opinions may vary, this guide aims to provide you with helpful information for a smooth and enjoyable Greek holiday.

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 for boat seats and taverna chairs).

Q: Should I get a health card?
A: The old E111 form was scrapped in 2006. If you are traveling 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 an EHIC card quickly online or call 0845 605 0707 for more information.

Q: Do I need health insurance?
A: While the EHIC covers 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: It depends on what you are looking for. Spring has wildflowers but can be rainy. High summer has crowds and heat (especially at night). Autumn has warmer seas and cooler nights.

Q: Is winter a good time to visit?
A: Not generally. Winters on the Greek islands are fairly bleak. The 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 involved in the tourist industry. However, Greeks have great regard for those who 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 and 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.

Questions about 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: It 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.

Questions about 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 on a price (per trip, not per person) before you get in. 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.

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: Yes, helmets are mandatory for motorbike riders.

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 due to bad driving. Most accidents occur 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 conduct random tests.

Q: What are the speed limits?
A: Built-up areas: 50 km/h. Main roads: 90 km/h. Motorways: 120 km/h.

About 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. It is only the 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. You may 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 of 15% is usually included in the bills, but if service is good, it is customary to leave 10%.

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 there, in which case an AIDS test is required.

Q: What if I need a prescription?
A: Take your E111 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 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 are brothels in major cities but not on any island I know of.

Q: Is it safe for women to travel on their own?
A: Greece is not free from