Updated September 6th, 2022 by Travel the Greek Way

First Time to Greece, santorini on canoe
Canoeing in Santorini Caldera

Are you traveling for the first time to Greece and you would like to know useful tips about Greece, and cultural mannerisms? This post is all about useful information for a first-time traveler to Greece like tipping, which are the best Greek islands, the dress code for monasteries, and when is best to go to Greece.

First Time to Greece, Amorgos Greek Island
Amorgos Island, Agia Anna

It is always a matter of question how to draft the best itinerary, with a combination of sites and beaches, especially if you are visiting for the first time to Greece. In this post, I provide valuable and current information on all your FAQ on Greece and sample itineraries.

*Some of the links below are affiliate links. That means I may make a commission if you click and buy. The commission comes at no additional cost to you. If you buy something, thank you! Please see my full disclosure policy for more information*

First time to Greece Quick Reference

Fast Facts about Greece

First Time to Greece, Ancient Agora in Athens
Ancient Agora of Athens
  • European Country, member of EU since 1981. Coin: Euro
  • Population: 10.724.599 million (2019)
  • Language: Greek (but everyone in tourism speaks good English and/or French, Spanish, or German)
  • Religion: Eastern Orthodox Church
First Time to Greece, Meteora monasteries
Meteora Monasteries

Geography: 80% of Greece is covered by mountains, 25% of the total land is covered by natural forests mostly firs, pines, planes, and beeches, has 21 major rivers, 50 natural lakes, about 6000 islands, and islets, 220 of which are inhabited.

ski resort in chania pelio2
Ski Resort in Pelion Mt

Climate: Greece has 4 distinct seasons with hot and dry summers, mild springs and falls, and cold/wet/snowy winters, especially in the northern mountainous areas. Athens, Peloponnese, and the southern islands have milder winters but not always! You may find interesting my post on when is the best time to go to Greece.

First Time to Greece, Plaka Of Athens covered in snow
Plaka Athens January 2022

Greece has known ancient history of at least 5.200 years old. The Cycladic (3200-1600 BC), the Minoan (3000-1100 BC), and the Mycenaean (1900-1100 BC) are some of the oldest European civilizations. Ancient Greek Civilizations, in general, have been the most influential in Europe, and the country is widely known as the ‘Cradle of the Western Civilization‘.

Karthea Temople in Kea Tzia Island
Karthea Archaeological site on Kea Island

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Is Greece/Athens Safe to Travel?

First Time to Greece, Aerial view of Acropolis hill and Parthenon in Athens Greece
Acropolis Hill At

Yes, Greece is one of the safest countries in the world to live and visit!

However, there is a petty theft issue, especially in cities, like Athens, just like every other large city in the world. If you are first time in Greece, you may get stressed or unsure of public transport. You shouldn’t. Just keep your belongings with you at all times when you use public transport, and you will be fine.

Monastiraki Athens main square with Acropolis view
Athens Monastiraki and Plaka

Some tips that you may find helpful:

  • Keep your bags close to you at all times, and don’t let anyone “help” you with your things
  • Wear your backpack in the front part of your body, so that you have control of your bag at all times while walking in Athens or inside the metro
  • Leave your valuables at your hotel and walk around with some money, or a prepaid card with a small amount available and a copy of your passport to minimize any loss
Plaka Athens Anafiotika whitewashed houses
Plaka Anafiotika Athens under Acropolis

Still not so sure about safety? Purchase an anti-theft design Backpack, offering excellent safety for your wallet and documents due to the securable and puncture-resistant zippers.

Do I need a Visa?

Perhaps you do, please check it out with your embassy! Greece has signed the Schengen Agreement, so everyone traveling for up to 90 days from the EU, the US, Canada, and Australia, does not need a visa. Keep in mind that your passport should have at least six months of remaining validity.

When is the Best Time to Go to Greece?

All year round is fantastic in Greece!

There are great ski resorts in Greece, photographic villages, and striking sites to visit or hike in Greece in winter, autumn, or spring.

Syros island alley with bougainvillea
Kythira Island

If you are first time to Greece you would probably choose warm weather, that is between May and October. If you can’t stand high temperatures (32 C – 45 C) July and August should be avoided. The Cyclades islands have during (most of) the summer strong north winds, widely known as Meltemia, which can be both annoying and cooling from the heat.

First Time to Greece, Yachts in emerald islets in Paros island Greece
Antiparos Island

August is by far the most difficult month to visit Greece, as it is busy and overcrowded in places like Santorini (and too hot!).

For details about the Greek climate read my related post: When is the Best Time to Go to Greece

Top Must-See Sites all over Greece

First Time to Greece, Delos Greek Island ancient site terrace of lions
Mykonos – Delos Archaeological Site

Find below a list of some of the best Greek sites:

First Time to Greece, Woman pointing at Delphi site
Tholos Athinas Pronaias in Delphi Oracle

If you need a draft and tailored itinerary for a private tour anywhere in Greece please send your inquiry here for a quote. Thanks!

The Peloponnese (multi-day tour):

Ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Nafplion, Monemvasia, Mystras, Messini, Pylos, Methoni, Epicurious Apollo at Bassae, Lake Kaiafa, Ancient Olympia, Kalavrita, Dimitsana, Cave of Lakes, Kalamata, Kardamyli

First Time to Greece, zagorochoria in Ipirus Greece
Zagorochoria
  • Olympus Mt, Litochoro, Chalkidiki, Dion, Vergina, Philippi, Dodone (3-4 days)

First Time Traveling to Athens, Greece: The Must-sees

First Time to Greece, Athens Acropolis Odeon Of Herodes Attikus with Blue sky
Acropolis Hill: Odeon Of Herodes Attikus

Even if you don’t see anything else in Athens, you have to visit the Acropolis Hill with its Temples of Parthenon, Erechtheion, Athina Nike, Propylaea

First Time to Greece, Parthenon Temple north side in Acropolis of Athens a sunny day
Parthenon Temple

Significant sites are also the Ancient Agora, Plaka, Roman Agora, Temple of Zeus, Kallimarmaro, Parliament, and change of guards, the Athens Trilogy.

empty Panathenaic Stadium from above
Kallimarmaro Stadium in Athens

Museums: New Acropolis, National Archaeological, Benaki, Byzantine, Modern Art, National Gallery, Goulandris.

Lycabettus Hill, Kolonaki area (for posh shopping)

Relevant Posts on Athens

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First-time Traveling to Greece Itineraries

First Time to Greece, A Greek priest walking in Paros island
Paros Island

If you are wondering how long should you stay in Greece, you should schedule for at least 10 days, considering the ferry trips and road trips that may take quite a lot of your valuable time.

I have here a 10-day Athens and Greek Island Itinerary and a 4-day Itinerary for the Peloponnese that will help you organize your visit.

Do I Need a Car in Athens?

First Time to Greece, Picturesque alley in Plaka Athens Anafiotika with pots of flowers
Plaka Athens

If you stay in the center of Athens, no, you don’t. All the important sights are reachable either by metro or on foot (find here Athens Metro Map).

In case you need to rent a car, you may need an International Driving Permit. However, the residents of the US, Canada Australia, the UK, and Gibraltar are exempted from this obligation and can rent with their national driving permits as long as they are over 18 years old (Article 94 of Greek Law No. 4850/2021 – November 5, 2021). Greeks drive the right-hand side of a street.

Are Credit Cards Widely Accepted?

A woman in Mykonos Island sitting and looking at Little Venice
Admiring Little Venice on Mykonos Island

After the COVID era, the use of credit/debit cards has significantly increased in Greece especially in the bigger cities but also in the most popular places such as Mykonos, Crete, Santorini, or Rhodes. You can use your credit card in taxis and issue a ticket for public transport like the metro or buses.

In smaller villages and islands, where there might not even have a bank but only ATMs, you may need cash for small items like water which is €0.50 for 0.50lt.

Example Island with no banks: Why should I visit Folegandros Island Greece?

Should I Exchange Money in Greece?

As I said, most everyone accepts credit cards. Some places require contactless payment and generally speaking the exchange rate is better when you use your credit card anyway.

There are 4 systemic banks in Greece and you can use their ATM: Pireaus, Eurobank, National, and Attika. Avoid using the Euronet ATM, it’s fees are the highest, better choose an ATM attached to a bank. You should also avoid exchanging at the airport, the rate is not great.

There are a lot of exchange spots around Syntagma Square in Athens without charging a commission. A good card to use while traveling internationally is the Schwab.

7-Day Luxury Catamaran Tour to 5 Greek Islands

kolona beach in Kyhtnos from above
Kythnos Island exploring with yachts

Exploring the Greek islands on a sailing yacht is a unique and unforgettable experience. Sailing the Greek Islands, stopping at beautiful bays, and making a dive, is a wonderful experience! Check this sailing tour on Viator below for prices and availability:

Can I Drink the Tap Water?

First Time to Greece, Street with old houses in Plaka Athens Greece
Plaka Athens

Yes, you can and this is what I always drink, living in Athens almost all my life.

For out-of-Athens destinations, you better ask the locals if the water is drinkable. If you are uncertain, buy bottled water. 500 ml cost 0.50 cents (this is by law a fixed price that 500 ml can be sold) in kiosks and next to nothing in supermarkets in Athens (0.15-0.30 cents).

**In our battle against plastic, I always recommend you purchase a reusable collapsible water bottle like this free-silicone water bottle.

Is There a Dress Code in Greece?

First Time to Greece, Happy young girls in Greek island

No, there is no dress code in Greece, and you can wear whatever you want and nobody will bat an eye if you are “lightly” dressed.

However, there are two exceptions: Greek Monasteries and Casinos.

Are you Visiting Greece off-season? You may find this post interesting about what to wear in Greece in November

Is it Safe for Women to Travel Solo in Greece?

A woman walking in Kea Chora
Solo Female Traveler to Greece

Yes, it is!

Are you thinking of traveling alone to Greece and wondering if Greece is safe for solo female travelers? Greece is a perfectly safe country for everyone regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.

In addition to that, Greek people are very hospitable, they love their tourists and visitors and are always eager to offer directions to your destination or any other advice if you need one.

Where to Go in Greece for the First Time?

Most people visiting Greece for the first time go to Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos. Sometimes they don’t have the time to visit both islands so they ask me which one is best. Both islands are beautiful in their own Greek way, on the overdeveloped side of tourism, and can be very expensive if you are on a certain budget.

First Time to Greece, Perissa black beach in Santorini
Santorini Perissa Black Beach

Santorini’s beaches are the volcanic type of beaches, dark-colored with imposing cliffs behind you, some love it, and some find it intimidating.

First Time to Greece, Ornos Village and Beach in Mykonos
Mykonos Ornos Beach

Mykonos, on the other hand, has amazing, sandy long beaches, some of the best in the Cyclades.

First Time to Greece, Santorini Oia impresive sunset
Oia Santorini’s famous sunset

Santorini has the famous stunning sunset, rugged cliffs, and volcano views which are quite unique.

First Time to Greece, The windmills of Mykonos with people at the beach
Mykonos Windmills

Mykonos has also a very romantic sunset in Little Venice, it’s great for nightlife and you can have a couple of amazing days on it.

First Time to Greece, Little Venice in Mykonos island
Mykonos Little Venice

In a nutshell, if you have the time, visit them both as there is a frequent ferry connection. If this is your first time in Greece and you have to choose one, go to Santorini.

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Relevant Posts on Santorini & Mykonos

First Time to Greece, a newly wed couple in Santorini
Newlyweds in Santorini

Which Behavior is not Taken Well in Greece

  • Being rude or disrespectful
  • Expecting everything to be exactly like it is in your country
  • Eat or discuss loud in the Athens metro
  • Touch artifacts in museums and at archaeological sights
  • Take photos of military installations
  • Throw paper in the toilet

If you need a draft and tailored itinerary (free of charge) for a private tour anywhere in Greece please send your inquiry here. Thanks!

What is the Tipping Culture in Greece

Tipping in Greece is not a requirement or compulsory but the hard-working and usually not greatly-paid people will highly appreciate it.

The price you are paying for whatever service you have been provided doesn’t include a tip. As a general rule anything between 5-15% would be satisfactory and the next time you will go to the same place you will be treated even better!

Tip: Make sure to give any tips directly to servers in cash as it is quite common for them not to receive tips included on credit card transactions

What Difficulties you may Encounter in Greek Islands?

There are a few things that a first-time visitor should keep in mind while visiting Cyclades Islands:

  • The roads are not always in good condition or they may be too narrow for what you are used to. You need to be careful especially if you are driving at night
  • Many of the unorganized beaches have no trees or other shade available, water, or food supply. You should carry your own supplies if you are visiting a remote beach
  • When it gets windy (June – August meltemia), it just won’t stop. It can also get a bit chilly in the evening
  • The wind is very variable in Ios, on a hot day it’s even more than welcome and it keeps the insects away, remember to have anti-mosquito with you. Many select the beach of the day on Ios taking into account the wind conditions
  • If you go hiking in summer on an island with no trees, you can get very easily heat stroke. For more info on travel dangers and precautions in Greece, read here my post on hiking safely in Greece
  • For Solo Travelers: Greece is a perfectly safe country for everyone regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. In addition to that, Greek people are gene-programmed to be hospitable and are always eager to offer directions to your destination or any other advice, so ask freely.

How to Get to Greece – Greek Airports

First Time to Greece, Greek dog in an island
Cute dog admiring Santorini’s Caldera view

Like most visitors to Greece, you will probably have to fly to Athens or Thessaloniki International Airports to get to your final destinations. There are some international flights going straight to certain islands, like Santorini or Crete, you better check Skyscanner, for charters or direct flights from your own country.

Otherwise, you can catch a flight from Athens International Airport. Find below the list of the Greek Islands that have an airport and you can fly there:

AstypalaiaChiosChaniaHerakleionRethymno
Crete-SitiaCorfuMilosNaxosParos
MykonosSantoriniSyrosSkyrosKalymnos
KarpathosKasosKosLerosRhodes
KastellorizoLemnosSamosLesvosIkaria
KefaloniaZakynthosKythiraSkiathos

Where Best to Stay in Athens

Looking for the Best Hotels near old Athens Plaka and Acropolis Parthenon?

Or you would like to stay at a beachfront hotel?

Perhaps you are more in budget hotels interested?

Whichever your preferences I have collected the best options for your staying in Athens below:

If you need local help with organizing your visit, please leave a comment below or join my informative and entertaining group on Facebook. Thanks!
Evgenia
Travel the Greek Way

Plan Your Next Trip to Greece With These Resources

Some of my Most Favorite Travel Resources for Greece

Kythera

Amorgos island chora 2

Amorgos

Port in Spetses with ships and buildings

Spetses

Aegina

Aegina island is just 15 minutes far from Agistri. Aegina is a beautiful island, full of amazing things to do and see:

First Time to Greece, Santorini Oia and swimming pools

Best Santorini Budget Hotels

Enjoy gorgeous Santorini in beautiful accommodation with the best budget offers!

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Follow Evgenia Mataragka:

Hi! I am an Athens-based Greek obsessed with exploring Greece and bringing you the best travel experience ever!

2 Responses

  1. ANDREA HELEN GILBERT

    Evgenia, I lol when I read the bit about not throwing toilet paper in the toilet (unacceptable behavior). Excellent article, which I wish I had in 2019 when I was organizing an enormous international conference. 400 Pride organizers from 6 continents attended, most in Greece for the first time, and most staying extra days for vacation. I had to provide a lot of information, which would have been so much easier if I could have just forwarded them this link!

  2. Evgenia Mataragka

    Thank you Andrea, fantastic that you found it useful, hopefully, they will read it at the next Athens pride! Yes, I know, toilette paper is a funny thing to add but we have perpetual plumbing issues haha, need to protect the tubes.

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