The Olympic Games were spawned in ancient classical Greece, along with democracy and the fundamentals of philosophy, science and mathematics. Modern Greece is better known as a great place to vacation rather than a center of learning and culture. Today the country attracts by offering simple pleasures: delicious food at reasonable prices, local wine, beautiful beaches, sunshine, quaint villages, a seemingly endless lacework of coastline and little islands full of scenic surprises.
The country exudes traditional charm, particularly on its ever-popular islands, which cling to their stereotypical architecture and way of life despite being often over-run by tourists.
Full country name: Hellenic Republic
Area: 131,944 sq Km (51,458 sq mil)
People: 98% Greek with minorities of Albanians, Turks and Slavic-Macedonians
Language: Greek (Hellenic). Most people connected with tourism and those of a younger generation will speak some English, French, German or Italian.
Religion: 98% Greek Orthodox, with Muslim, Roman Catholic and Jewish minorities
GDP: US$256,3 billion
Major industries: tourism, shipping, food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products, mining, petroleum products
Major trading partners: Germany, Italy, France, UK, USA
Time: GMT + 2 (GMT + 3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Visas: Nationals of Australia, Canada, Cyprus, EU countries, the European principalities of Monaco and San Marino, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the USA and most South American countries are allowed to stay in Greece for up to three months without a visa; most others can enter Greece for up to two months without a visa; Greece will refuse entry to anyone whose passport indicates that, since November 1983, they have visited North Cyprus
Health risks: sunburn, Typhus (rural areas from April to September), Lyme disease, Rabies; codeine, which is commonly found in headache preparations, is banned in Greece and you may face prosecution if you bring it into the country
Time: GMT/UTC +2; +3 during daylight saving time
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: metric
When to go
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Greece; specifically May, June, September and October. Many hotels, seasonal cafés and restaurants close their doors from the end of November until the beginning of April; bus and ferry services are either drastically reduced or cancelled.
Mid-June to the end of August is high season. It’s party time on the islands and everything is in full swing. It’s also very hot – in July and August the mercury can soar to 40°C (over 100°F) in the shade just about anywhere in the country; the beaches are crowded; the ancient sites are swarming with tour groups; and in many places accommodation is booked solid.
The high season starts to wind down in September and conditions are ideal once more until the end of October.
By November the endless blue skies of summer have disappeared. November to February are the wettest months and it can get surprisingly cold. Snow is common on the mainland and in the mountains of Evia and Crete; it occasionally snows in Athens. But there are also plenty of sunny days and some visitors prefer the tranquillity that reigns at this time of year.
There are excellent facilities along all coastlines of the mainland and particularly in the islands. Most major hotels can help with arrangements. Water-skiing is especially popular and there are over 30 water-ski schools in Greece with restaurants and child-care facilities. Speed boats are also available for hire. Independent scuba-diving is strictly forbidden, in order to guard against the pilfering of underwater antiquities.
Greek waters offer good fishing, particularly during the summer and autumn. Boats and equipment can be found in most villages.
This is becoming increasingly popular and there is scope for hill walking and climbing. There are well-maintained trails in the most popular areas, supplemented by donkey and goat tracks connecting villages and leading over mountains. The best areas for walking include the Peloponnese, the Pindos Mountains and the south and west of Crete.
Attractions - Athens
The old town section of Athens below the Acropolis has become the gathering place for travelers and tourists, particularly in the warm Athens evenings. Strolling the narrow streets of the Plaka flanked by ancient monuments, Byzantine churches and mosques, stately mansions, and inviting tavernas with vine-covered courtyards, makes a pleasant diversion.