Frequently Asked Questions about Greece

Matt Barrett in Kea

I recently came to the profound realization that by having a FAQ(Frequently Asked Questions) page then I would not have to keep supplying FSA's (Frequently the Same Answers). I hope this helps in your never ending search for information. In some cases I have included the links where you can find more info on a particular subject or a person who can help you. These are actual responses to people that I have saved. In some cases I have added things I thought would be helpful or subtracted things that I did not think mattered. If this page does not answer your question then send me an e-mail and I will try to help you. Or if you have comments about this page let me know too. If you find this page useful please share it with your friends and soulmates on Facebook or whatever social media has enslaved you. You can also get assistance by joining Matt Barrett's Greece Travel Guides Group on Facebook where you will get lots of the same and different answers from other people who travel to Greece regularly and some who live there.

1.What is the best Airline to get to Greece?

The best airline is the one that gets you there without delays for the best price with the fewest stops and layovers. People say "I will never fly such and such and airline..." but I have flown them all and they can all be equally bad or good. A great deal depends upon the crew, traffic and of course time of year. If you are coming from the USA Delta and USAir fly non-stop to Athens. For more on flying to Greece see www.greektravel.com/flying

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2.Where can I find the best deals to Greece from the USA?

The problem with finding a great deal is that most travel agents don't want to spend a lot of time finding a great deal because the more they look and the better the deal is they find, the less they make. Travel agents don't make much money off tickets because of the commission cap imposed by the airlines. But there are deals out there. In fact there are a number of cheap tickets on just about every flight. But they are limited and when they sell out for that flight then you have to get the next cheapest tickets and so on. When you try to book a cheap ticket through one of the giant travel sites you do it by date so it is hit and miss on whether you will find a cheap ticket because the date you ask for may be sold out for that price but the day before or after may not. So try sites like Kayak.com or Justfly.com and be persistent and you should find something you can afford. For more on flying to Greece see Matt's Guide to Flying.

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3. Are there hotels near the airport for early departures or late arrivals?

In my opinion the only reason to stay at the airport is if you are arriving in the evening and leaving early in the morning. There is a hotel at the airport called the Sofitel but it is not cheap. You are better off staying in Athens at somewhere more affordable and taking a taxi each way so you can enjoy the city instead of spending the evening watching TV or jets. There is also a Holiday Inn a few miles down the road and they offer free transfers. Another option is the Avra Hotel in Rafina which is about 20 minutes away by taxi and overlooks the port. They have a free airport shuttle too. It is not a bad idea to stay there and use that port to get to the Cyclades islands or back.

The reason it takes a long time to get downtown from the airport is because of traffic. If you arrive or depart early when there is no traffic the trip is about half an hour. See my Athens Hotel Page for the Athens hotels I recommend. The Hotel Attalos is where I stay and it is centrally located, clean and inexpensive. For information on getting to and from the airport see www.athensguide.com/airport.html

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4.What do you recommend for getting to the islands? High-speed, ferry, or flight.

If you don't want to see Athens and you can make a connection to an island that does not have you waiting all day in the airport or sitting on the plane wondering if you will make the connection, then fly. But give yourself at least 3 hours between flights.

If you plan to spend the first night in Athens I would take the high speed. Here's why: If you fly to Mykonos in the daytime it is a half hour flight. But it will take you about an hour or more to get to the airport if there is traffic. Then you will have to be there an hour early. If there is no delay you fly to Mykonos and then you have to get from the airport to your hotel by taxi or bus. If you go by high-speed you take a taxi to Pireaus or just get on the metro. In twenty minutes you are on the boat and in about 2 hours you are standing in the port of Mykonos.

If you are going to a further island and you don't think you would like being on a ferry for 10 hours or more then fly. But for any island that is within 3 hours of Athens (Pireaus) by highspeed you are better off going by boat.

If you have a choice between an overnight ferry, flight or a highspeed then I would go with the overnight ferry. The highspeeds don't have cabins so it is like being on a plane for 6 hours and then you arrive and have to pay for a hotel. If you get a cabin on an overnight ferry you have a nice meal in the restaurant and go to sleep and wake up on the island. You save money because you did not need a hotel. This would apply to Crete, Kos, Rhodes, Lesvos, Chios and in the summer there are overnight ferries to Santorini too. See Matt's Ferry Boat Page and for ferry schedules visit Ferryhopper.com

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5. I have heard that on some of the islands little old ladies come to the dock and offer you rooms in their homes. Is this true and is it a good way to book?

This is somewhat true but on the most popular islands these little old ladies have been shoved aside by professional hustlers who are paid per head to bring travelers to the hotels. They are called domatia kamakis which means literally 'room harpoons '. If you are a back-packer and are not too picky about where you stay and want to have a lot of flexibility, in other words you don't want to be tied down to a schedule, then this is a way to go, just booking your hotel when you arrive. Keep in mind that in many cases when you have decided on a particular kamaki to go with, chances are that if you don't like the room you probably will take it anyway to avoid going back and starting all over again or wandering around looking for a room on your own, especially after a long boat trip. In places like Santorini where the port is nowhere near the hotels this is a major deal. Also in July and August things can get pretty competitive if the arriving tourists outnumber available rooms. Mostly the rooms are nice but I think if you know where you want to go and book in advance with a Greek travel agency you will have more of a choice and less pressure to decide. If you are worried about your budget just tell the agency how much you would like to spend and they will tell you if that is realistic or you should just take your chances with the domatia kamakis . Also some of the little old ladies who were offering rooms in their homes have built hotels in their backyards and are the ones hiring the kamakis. I believe you get more for your money by doing your homework on the web and working with a Greek travel agency that knows the territory. You don't have to rely on luck when you have access to knowledge. See also www.hotelsofgreece.com where you can actually book simple rooms and apartments in the last section for each island. Or use Matt's Hotel Search and you can probably find whatever you want.

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6. I have read where you say that it is better to book your hotels with a travel agency then directly with the hotels over the net. Why?

Greek Travel agents have discounts since they pay a much lower price for the rooms so they can be competitive with the hotel prices. In many cases they will pay for the rooms for the whole season in advance and have even lower prices because they can sell them for whatever they want as an incentive for booking. In other words if I am a travel agent I can offer the Grande Bretagne for cheaper then you will find anywhere else because you are booking a cruise or a week on Mykonos where my profit is high enough to make up for even losing money on the hotel in Athens. So by booking directly with the hotels the traveler may miss opportunities to save money. Another reason is because if you book your hotel through the hotel then it is your responsibility to get to the hotel on the date you are booked. If you call the hotel in Santorini from Mykonos and say you can't make it because you thought there was a boat and there isn't, the hotel will still charge you since they could have given the room to someone else. But by booking with the travel agent the ferry schedule becomes their responsibility. See www.greecetravel.com/travel-agents.htm

That being said you can also find some good deals on the internet if you are flexible, courageous or have a plan that does not include too many islands. For those who want to book individual hotels without the use of a travel agency try Matt's Hotel Search where you can find and book hotels by price, catagory, location or whatever. Also see www.hotelsofgreece.com

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7. You have pages for individual hotels where you can book directly but you encourage people to book with the travel agencies. Why?

If you have a complex trip with two or more islands, tours of the mainland, and it is your first time in Greece I think you are much better off in the capable hands of a travel agent. You can't put a price on the value of feeling secure in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong there is somebody who will fix it even before you know something has done wrong. So for you I recommend using my Create-an-itinerary Page or going to my Greek Travel Agents page.

But with the development of the hotel booking sites and the ability of the hotels themselves to have their own booking systems it would be silly of me not to let people book however they like. And since Booking.com gives me a small commission on bookings which enable me to do this instead of having to go out and get a real job, then why not? And really when you look at their website and see the presentation of the hotels, photos, maps, guest reviews and hotel comparisons, it is pretty obvious that these sites are here to stay.

So for those who want to book individual hotels without the use of a travel agency try Matt's Hotel Search where you can find and book hotels by price, category, location or whatever. Also see www.hotelsofgreece.com which is a mix of hotels that you can book through an agency, through Booking.com, or even directly with the hotels themselves.

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8. I have heard that travel agencies offer lower rates than the hotels but I have e-mailed a hotel and gotten lower rates than the agency. How do you explain that?

The travel agency gets net rates from the hotel before the season begins. If a hotel has an official rate of 100 euro for a double room the travel agent may get it for 70 to 80 euro which enables him to mark it up 20% and still be able to sell the room cheaper than the hotel offers it on their website. This is a partnership since without the travel agent the hotel could not fill his rooms. Some hotels will offer the rooms cheaper out of desperation if they have a lot of empty rooms. The problem with this is that it makes the travel agent look greedy when in actuality it is the hotel that is undercutting his partner (the agency).

The other thing to keep in mind is that when you book with a travel agency they usually sell you a package which includes hotels, ferry tickets, maybe a tour, and transfers. Transfers are the trips between the airport, hotels, ports etc, usually with a taxi or a limo and sometimes with someone from the agency who has met you at the airport and is giving you your tickets, vouchers and orientation. So if you are trying to compare the hotel prices that you got from the hotels to the price of the package don't forget the transfers.

For those not deterred from going on their own try Matt's Hotel Search where you can find and book hotels by price, category, location or whatever. Also see www.hotelsofgreece.com

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9. I booked a hotel in Athens and when I arrived they told me it was full and I had to wander around looking for another hotel. Is this common?

This is not that common but it does happen occasionally. Unfortunately some hotels overbook to be on the safe side. When this happens something has to give and usually it is the late-arriving individual traveler, especially if he has not already paid for the hotel with a credit card. This is an example of why it is better to use a Greek travel agent then to book directly with the hotel or at least call on the day of your arrival and let them know you are on your way. A hotel is more likely to inconvenience the individual traveler because chances are there won't be repercussions. They don't want to deny the room to the customer of the agency that sends them thousands of dollars a year in business because next year they may take their business elsewhere. Regardless, in most cases the hotel will find somewhere else for you but beyond making a phone call or two they may not do much more and they may just shrug their shoulders and say 'sorry'. Again if you have an agent in Athens and you get to the hotel and they are full (which is unlikely) you have the concierge call the agency and chances are they will feel so bad they will put you up in somewhere better. If you want to book a hotel without a travel agency then hotels like the Hotel Attalos have secure booking forms and once you have paid they are not going to bounce you because they got a better deal from someone else. I am also pretty sure that sites like Booking.com have pretty strict policies about a hotel canceling one of their guest's reservations. See also www.hotelsofgreece.com or visit my Hotel Search page.

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10. I am leaving for Greece in a week and am feeling very anxious about being a single girl traveling alone and simply traveling. Do you have any advice?

You will be fine in Greece. Not only will you be made to feel welcome (especially as a single girl traveling) but you will meet many people and probably make friends that you will stay in touch with. Greece is the safest country for women traveling on their own and for that reason there are many women traveling alone there.

As for anxiety...I always get it. I am a wreck for several days before I leave and often full of doubt. I have come close to canceling trips several times and calling a psychiatrist instead. It has a lot to do with breaking your routine, which is what a vacation does. We are creatures of habit with a fear of the unknown and as you get older and more settled it gets worse. Once you have actually left your home and begun to travel the anxiety leaves and the excitement sets in and you wonder what all the angst was about. You should read Is Greece Safe for Women

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11. What is the difference between getting a transfer or using a street taxi from the airport or the port?

Transfers: This is when you hire a taxi or driver to meet you at the airport(or to the airport, ferry, cruise ship etc). He is there even if your plane is delayed, knows where you are going and takes you there for a previously agreed upon price. Transfers from the Airport to the center of Athens costs around 55 euro and from your hotel to the port around 35 euro. I always use transfers because arriving in a foreign city is disorienting enough, it's nice to know you can get to your hotel without a hassle. It's like having a friend meet you at the airport.

The other option is getting a street taxi from outside the terminal for about 35 or 40 euro. The problem with these guys is that you may get one who is great. But you may get one who does not speak English, just came from the village and is driving his brother's old Datsun cab to make a few bucks and does not know where anything is, smokes like a chimney, has removed the handles to the windows in the back seats because he does not like the draft on his neck, and then overcharges you.

With a transfer you have a well informed English-speaking driver in an airconditioned Mercedes picking you up, helping you with your luggage, helping you check into the hotel and making sure there are no problems and telling you a bit about Athens on the trip in (plus he does not smoke).

When you book with a travel agency transfers are usually part of the package but you can save a few euro by booking it yourself with an individual English-speaking driver like George the Famous Taxi Driver. See www.greecetravel.com/taxi

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12. What is the best way to rent a fully furnished apt.or house in Athens?

The best way to do this is with assistance. To do this blindly on your own would be frustrating and confusing and you may end up being far from the sites in an area you are afraid to go out in after dark.

The areas I recommend living in are Plaka, Pangrati, Thission, Koloniki, Agia Paraskevis, Halandri, Kiffissia, Psihiko, Glyfada, Voula, or Vouliagmeni.

If you want something short term or monthly in Athens or the islands see www.greecetravel.com/villas

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13. Where is Katakolon is and why is there no mention of this place anywhere and yet the cruises all go there?

I had never heard of it either until I realized that it is a small port on the western part of the Peloponessos and the reason all the cruise ships go there is because it is the closest port to Ancient Olympia. Anyway I got so tired of this question that I actually made a page for Katakolon at www.greecetravel.com/peloponessos/katakolon

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14. My husband and I would like to go to Sifnos next year but cannot find any travel agents in the UK that go there. Do you know of any?

Travel agents in the UK and in the USA can be remarkably ignorant about Greece, especially the less known islands like Sifnos. They have very limited information and seem unwilling to explore on their own or maybe they just don't have the time. Work with
Aegean Thesaurus Travel in Sifnos. They speak perfect English and can get you better rates and are also there if you have any problems. If you want a package tour then use an agent in the UK but I don't think you will enjoy it as much in Greece if you are surrounded with English people.(No offence). You can book your flights locally or on the net. But Greek travel agents specialize in Greece. They are your best bet for travel within Greece. They will have the most up-to-date information, can assist with ferries and will have cheaper rates for hotels. See www.greecetravel.com/travel-agents.htm

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15. I know August is the busiest season but it is the only time I can go. Is this a bad idea?

If August is the only time you can go then it is better than not going at all. It is best to book early. Any island will probably be crowded so you may as well go to one of the more popular ones which will at least have the infrastructure to deal with the number of tourists and Greeks who visit the islands during that month. Any of the popular islands would be fine.... Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos....

See www.greektravel.com/greekislands

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16. Do you have any information on buses, either local or long-distance?

I have some info on buses. It's in my Athens Survival Guide. I think I have the schedules for the buses and trains for all over Greece. The page is www.athensguide.com/schedules and I have added another section which I got from the Athens News which has information on buses and just about everything else you can think of and that is at www.athensguide.com/practicalinfo . You can find information on Greek buses at Ktel.gr but the site is a little uneven because it is not really a national bus service but a lot of bus companies all sort of working together.

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17. Do you have any suggestions for day-trips from Athens?

If you go to my Athens Survival Guide there is a page of suggested excursions outside the city. www.athensguide.com/rafina.html Also of course there is Delphi: ( www.greecetravel.com/delphi ), the Argolis ( www.athensguide.com/taxitrip.html ) and the islands of Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Angistri all close enough to Athens for day trips. There is also the One-day Saronic Gulf Cruise that visits those islands and goes almost every day of the year. A great half day trip is to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion and of course you can't go to Athens and not visit the Zoo. There are also a number of beaches on the outskirts of Athens you can go to by public transport or taxi. I recently made another page for day trips at www.athensguide.com/day-trips

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18. Why can't the travel agencies give me the ferry schedules?

The reason they can't give you the schedules is not because they don't want to or they are not nice people but because of the work involved in getting the schedules since the Greek ferry companies only release the schedules the week before and even then you have to double check to make sure they are correct. What that means is that the agencies have to call up the ferry company and ask if there will be a ferry for a particular date and this can take a lot of time since they have to remain on hold until the ferry company finally answers. A travel agency will go through all this trouble to book ferries for their clients who book hotels with them, not merely as a courtesy but because they want to be sure that the client can get to the hotel. You can find the weekly schedules from Pireaus, Rafina and Lavrion and pretty much every port in Greece at www.ferryhopper.com

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19. I have booked my hotels through the net but am having trouble finding out if I can get to the island and how to get tickets. Why won't the travel agents sell me ferry tickets?

The Greek Travel agencies do not make money off ferry tickets. They make their money off the hotels since they get a cheaper rate then you get and then they can add their commission and still offer the hotel for the same or less then what the hotel offers directly. If you contact the agency and have already booked your hotels and want to buy ferry tickets they won't help you. It's because not only do they make almost nothing on ferry tickets, but if you don't show up they are stuck with these useless ferry tickets that they had to pay for. If you pay them for the tickets with a credit card the commission they pay the bank for using the card is more than the profit on the ferry tickets. If you know which islands you want to visit then have the agency book the hotels because then they can make sure you can get to the island. Otherwise use www.ferryhopper.com

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20. Which island would be the best for a honeymoon?

Most honeymooners choose Santorini . It is almost a tradition and agencies like Fantasy Travel have honeymoon packages on their websites.
Mykonos is popular too. My choice would be Sifnos . It is quiet and romantic and still Greek, yet you won't feel like you are completely out of place because there are some travelers there too. Some are even honeymooning. Great beaches, great food and several different villages to visit.

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21. My wife and I are doing all of our own arrangements in advance, including hotel accommodations, ferries/hydrofoils, etc. Any good web sites with summer schedules?

I use www.ferryhopper.com and if you use Matt's Hotel Search where you can find and book hotels by price, category, location or whatever I get a commission which helps me pay the rent among other things.

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22. I have seen some boats called High-speeds, others are hydrofoils and others Express. Is there are difference?

The highspeeds, catamarans and the hydrofoils (Flying Dolphins) are actually very fast boats. What a ferry takes to get to an island they do in half the time. The boats that are called 'Express' in most cases are just ferries which they stuck the name 'express' on so people would think it was fast. The Blue Star ferries are something in between a slow ferry and a highspeed. They have cabins too. The highspeeds just have seats.

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23. What is the best way to get to Alonnisos, Skopelos and Skiathos in the Sporades Islands?

To get to the Sporades you will need to take a
bus or taxi to Agios Konstantinos about an hour or so out of Athens and take the boat from there. It is the same ferry line that goes to Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos. You can also go to Volos and catch highspeeds and ferries from there. Many people fly to Skiathos but there is only one flight a day in the summer and two a week in the off-season. Skyros is even more difficult. You have to take a bus to Kimi in northern Evia and a boat from there.

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24. What is better to bring, travelers checks or dollars and is it easy to change them?

You can exchange dollars and travelers checks at any bank or exchange service and there are even banks in the airport. The banks that will exchange money will have the rates posted outside. They all have basically the same rates and commissions. Some have no commissions but I imagine it is because they give you a lesser rate. Anyway it is not much and it really does not matter where you change your money or whether it is in dollars or travelers checks. I usually bring a credit card for emergencies and there are ATM machines all over Athens and on most (if not all) the islands. Most people use the ATM machines now. They feel that if you use a travelers check you get hit in both directions, buying and selling.

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25. Are hotels in the region of Omonia square dangerous at night?

There is a project going on which is restoring the area around
Omonia and now towards the train station. The hotels are pretty nice and the area has been cleaned up though there is still a lot of traffic and does have a somewhat seedy appearance though I would not call it dangerous. That being said, I prefer to be on the Plaka side since it is quieter and closer to the sites and the restaurants I like. If you have business in Athens then Omonia is fine but if you are coming to see the sites you will be happier closer to the Plaka. But Omonia is much better than it was when many of the guidebooks wrote about it and improving all the time and with the metro right there you can get just about anywhere easily. But the area near Omonia has the cheapest hotels in Athens. See www.athensguide.com/hotels-budget though if you are only in Athens for a night or two you should try to stay near the Plaka and maybe pay a few euros extra for the convenience. See www.athensguide.com/hotels.html for recommendations.

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26. You recommend the Hotel Attalos but in a guidebook I read it says it is in a seedy area. So why do you recommend it?

Any guidebook that says the Hotel Attalos on Athinas street is in a seedy area has not been updated in fifteen or twenty years because that is how long it has been since that area was anything resembling seedy. There used to be a couple hotels on the street that had prostitutes that gave the area a bad look but they have been closed down for ages. The area of Athinas between the Central Market and the Monastiraki Flea market is working class with shops and several tourist hotels. It also borders Psiri which is the restaurant-nightlife center of Athens.

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27. I have heard that Santorini is a spectacular island and should not be missed. But I have also heard that there are a lot of tourists. Should I skip it?

It is true that Santorini is one of the most popular islands and there are a lot of tourists, particularly in Thira, Oia, Perissa and Kamari. Santorini is not just a beautiful Greek island, it has to be one of the most visually spectacular places in the world and that is why it is so popular. But you don't have to stay in these places. The village of Akrotiri is quiet and still pretty much a Greek island village like you would find on one of the less popular islands. So you can go to Santorini and still stay in an area that is still relatively traditional. That being said, few people have complaints about Santorini and even those seeking something quiet have been impressed with Santorini and were glad they went there. Same goes for Mykonos. If you are looking for somewhere quiet go to Sifnos.

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28. I am bringing my hair-dryer. What current does Greece use and what equipment will I need?

Greece is on 220. We in the USA are on 110. Many modern appliances convert automatically but you will still need a little plug adapter that will make your plug fit in the holes for the Greek plugs. They sell them at Praxitelous street down from Syntagma or right next to the Hotel Cecil on Athinas street. There are a number of electrical shops there and scattered around the city. You can also find a little conversion kit at shops like Radio-shack. But some appliances need a transformer. It should say on the side if it works on 220. If you are unsure take it to Radioshack.
Some hotels have hairdryers so ask when you book.

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29. I will be coming to Athens and bringing my laptop with me. How can I use a local internet service provider?

Don't worry. Almost every hotel has free internet now as do most cafes, restaurants and even entire parts of town.

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30. I wonder if you can recommend to me places (like clubs or even tavernas) to hear some good Rembetika in Athens.

When you get to Athens get a copy of the weekly Athenorama (pronounced ath-ee-no-ra-ma) available at any kiosk or magazine stand. It is in Greek but take it to the concierge of your hotel and he will tell you where to go and how to get there. You can also read my Nightlife in Athens page. In the summer most of the clubs with the big-name musicians are closed but in the neighborhood of Psiri you can still find live music played by unknowns and some of them are pretty good. In the Plaka there are a couple rooftop and garden restaurants with live music around Mnisicleous street but it is a mixture of rembetika-laika and tourist music. Though they say it is hard to find a restaurant with both good food and good music, my friend George at Fantasy Travel says Stamatopoulos Taverna is good and always tries to get me to come with him there. (I don't because I know he will make me dance and then I will be embarrassed). Personally I like the musicians who play at Oinopouleion Taverna in Psiri because they have live authentic rembetika. Also in the afternoon by the small church of Kapni Karea there is a tiny cafe called Kapni Karea where a couple guys play and it can get pretty festive there. Try to find where Babis Tsertos is playing. He plays very authentic laika and rembetika but usually in the summer guys like him play out-door concerts and are not in the clubs. F or more about Greek music see Matt's article on Rembetica and Laika.

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31. I am looking for a warm island in Greece to spend a winter at. Any suggestions?

Unfortunately Greece has a winter too and while there will be some warm days on the islands there will also be many days which are cold and wet. Rhodes and Crete are the most furthest south and they can be a little bit warmer but it won't be summer there. For travel in Greece during the winter see
www.greektravel.com/winter and also see www.athensguide.com/weather.html for the seasons and temperatures and what to bring in the way of clothing.

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32. Do you have an idea of temperature and does it rain during the winter?

Sometimes it rains and sometimes it is cold but if you are lucky the weather will be beautiful. The temperature averages around 55 I believe but you can have days in the seventies. It never gets below freezing and hardly ever even approaches the mark except on the top of mountains where it snows. It does rain more in the winter than in the summer when it does not rain at all or rarely. For travel in Greece during the winter see
www.greektravel.com/winter and also see www.athensguide.com/weather.html for the seasons and temperatures and what to bring in the way of clothing.

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33. What Islands do you go to when you visit Greece?

I usually try to go to one new island everytime I come, or if not new, one I have not been to in many years. But the islands I go to every year are Sifnos, Lesvos, and Kea. One island I my wife has a house on, one my sister-in-law has a house on and the third I have lots of friends so it is like home for me. I also go to the Peloponessos every year and when I visit Greece in the winter I try to go to one nearby island like Aegina, but mostly I stay in Athens because it is so much fun then.

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34. What are the best islands to party and meet people from all around the world?

The best islands to meet young people to party with are: Ios, Mykonos and Santorini but there are places in Crete, Rhodes, Hydra, Paros and Naxos that can be just as fun and crazy. But the party scene on the islands is seasonal. You can't come in October and expect to have a wild time. The time to come if you want to party is July and especially August when the Greeks and Italians join in. But Athens is a lot of fun in the off-season and there are still bars open on many of the islands.

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35. Is it possible to catch a ferry from Athens to Istanbul, Turkey?

There is no ferry from anywhere in Greece to Istanbul nor from the Greek mainland to Turkey. The easiest way to get to Istanbul is to fly. To take a ferry to one of the border islands and then cross over to Turkey and then take a bus would take several days. But there are daily boats in the summer from Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos to Turkey. The schedule is reduced in the off-season. You can also take a bus or train to Turkey but it is a long trip. For more info see my Guide to Istanbul

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36. Is the water in Greece drinkable?

In most places the answer is yes but if you are the type who uses bottled water at home or has a filter on your tap for drinking water then you will be happy to know that they sell bottled water everywhere. Some islands have a water-table that has been mixed with sea-water and it does not taste very good and you will want to use bottled water there too. It is fine for bathing though. But Athens water is of as good or better quality then the water that comes from your tap at home and on the islands and villages with springs you will be drinking water of the quality that you buy by the bottle at home.

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37. We have been asked to send a signed photo-copy of our passport and credit card in order to make a booking with a travel agency in Greece. Is this normal?

Most agencies have some method of protecting themselves from credit card fraud. By faxing a signed copy of your card they have proof that it was you who made the charges and not someone who got a hold of your cc number. Some agencies may not do this but once they have been burned by someone using a stolen credit card then they will too because the credit card companies refuse to pay them and they get stuck holding the bag, paying for hotels, cruises etc.

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38. How much do travel agents charge in comission?

The ones on my site don't charge the customer a commission. They get discount rates from the hotels and that enables them to sell to their clients for less than the hotels charges. Same with cruises and tours. So you could say theu get their commissions from the hotels and cruise and tour companies.

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39. How can I get from the Cruise terminal in Pireaus to the Acropolis?

The easiest way is by taxi of course. Many people have a pre-arranged taxi waiting for them and they visit the Acropolis and the main sites in Athens and see a lot in the limited time they have between arrival and departure. See www.greecetravel.com/taxi for more information. You can also get to the Acropolis by metro. From the cruise terminal you can walk along the port (keeping the water on your left and the city on your right) until you come to the Metro station. It is an old building, very distinctive just beyond the square with all the buses. Take the metro to Thission, it is about 5 stops and will take around 12 minutes. When you exit the station you will see the Acropolis in front of you. Just walk towards it. Come back the way you came or from Monastiraki which is on the same line. See Matt's Metro Page. There is also a bus that leaves from Akti Xaveriou which is the main road that is in front of the cruise terminal. The X80 connects Pireaus with the Acropolis and Syntagma Square and it is an express route which means it should get you there and back pretty quickly. It includes stops at some of the most important sites including The Acropolis Museum (a short walk to the Acropolis), the Archaeological Museum of Pireaus, the Planetarium and the National Museum of Contemporary Art. It ends in Syntagma Square and takes about 30 minutes to get there from the cruise terminal. Read Matt's Cruise Page which will probably answer other questions you have.

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40. Do I need an international drivers license to rent a car or a motorbike?

I have never been asked for anything besides my North Carolina license for renting a car and I rent them all the time, everywhere in Greece. I think that info about the international driver's license was printed in some guidebook and then all the others just copied it over and over again. If you had to have an international ID to rent a car all the car rental companies would go out of business. That being said I recently got the International Driver's ID which is issued by AAA though I have never been asked to show it. However in 2018 they have made it obligatory that you carry this and if you get pulled and you don't you can get a fine and so can they guy who rented you the car. Anyway you can get it through the mail easily enough.

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41. The Greek Embassy website says that travelers to Greece are required to have travel insurance. Is this true?

I have never heard of such a thing and nobody has ever asked someone coming into the country if they have travel insurance. I can also tell you that 2 years ago I had a medical emergency (I cut my foot and had to get stitches) and not only did they not ask for my insurance or money, they did not even care what my name was. They have socialized medicine and if you get hurt or sick they treat you and that is that.

Whether or not you have travel insurance is up to you if you are from the USA. EU citizens require a European Health Insurance card to be sure of receiving medical assistance free of charge. Travel Insurance IS required as this card does not cover anything other than emergency medical treatment. E.G. it does not cover repatriation to the UK should that be required. Travel Insurance also covers things like lost baggage or loss or theft of personal items as well as more serious things such as Medical emergencies and in some cases lost passports. (Thanks Kevin)

Some countries, like South Africa for example, require insurance to get a visa, but this has nothing to do with Greece.

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42. Is there a place to leave our luggage in Pireaus near the ferries?

There is a place to leave luggage in Pireaus. It is a cafe in the port, right on the dock near where the Cyclades ferries are. You will see a bus station in front of the ferry ticket offices. Behind the offices is a big cafe and they have a luggage storage section. They also have an internet cafe. They are open 24 hours too. There is a place to leave luggage at the airport too but that is pretty inconvenient unless you are flying everywhere. Many hotels like the Attalos allow you to leave your bags when yougo off to the islands. There are a couple places in Athens where you can leave luggage in lockers. One is called Athens Lockers and the other is Athens Left Luggage.

See also www.athensguide.com/ferries.html

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43. I have heard that the Greeks are rude. Is this true?

This is untrue in a general sense but of course there are exceptions. I think many Greeks don't hide their emotions very well. In most countries the people who have contact with tourists are well trained to keep a smile and be polite no matter what. I don't think you can do that with the Greeks nor can you control who the tourist comes into contact with because the entire country is visited, not just a few scattered resorts on one or two islands. But at the same time that you have a few people acting like jerks you also have those who go above and beyond the call of duty or hospitality. So its not a matter of saying the Greeks are rude. The Greeks are a little bit of everything. Greece is not Disneyland, or a resort. It's a whole country and you can't make a whole country behave the way you think they should. That is why when you go to places like Jamaica you have barbed-wire fences around the resorts and beaches where the tourists go. In Greece you go everywhere and meet everyone.

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44. My father was born in Greece. Do I have to serve in the military if I come to visit?

Most likely not. As a foreign citizen with Greek ancestry you can come to Greece for 3 months and not worry about the military. But if you plan to stay longer you should find out what your military status is because it depends on a number of variables and in some cases you can pay a fee and buy your way out because practically speaking they don't really want you in their military since you will be fairly useless if you don't speak Greek and more trouble than you are worth. Dorian Kokas provides the service of finding out the military status of Greek-Americans, Canadians or whatever.. See www.athensguide.com/dorian (Dorian passed away but there is still info on his website. If you still need assistance contact Matt)

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45. If I were to book the hotels, planes tickets, transfers myself, how much would I save?

You would probably not save that much and it would take you days or weeks to do badly what a travel agent can do well in a couple hours. The itineraries they offer are good deals because they pay less for hotels then you do and they can sell it for the same or cheaper than the hotels do directly. The tickets you won't save on because they don't make any money on tickets. Transfers you may save a little by not doing them or using George the Taxi Driver you can save maybe 20 euro on the airport trip.

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46. Is it true that in some hotels there is a waste-basket because you can't flush toilet-paper down the toilet?

It is true of many hotels. Some of the higher class hotels you can actually flush toilet paper down the toilet and most hotels in Athens you can too. But on many of the islands you can't for a couple reasons, the main one being that the pipes are narrow and the water pressure not strong enough to get the toilet paper to that place it is supposed to end up and since it takes longer to decompose then the stuff it is following, it clogs up the pipes and makes a big mess which I have experienced first-hand.

Some people get bummed at the thought of a waste-basket full of shitty toilet-paper but I tell them to take comfort that it is the toilet paper they and their loved ones have used and the baskets are cleaned by the maid daily. You can actually request hotels that allow you to flush toilet paper. Try www.greecetravel.com/create-an-itinerary and write that under comments and it will amuse the agent but they will do it. Here's a tip from a traveler for those who are horrified at the prospect of sharing a room with dirty toilet paper: ..we take the baby nappy bags, the ones you get in a pack of 100 scented... use these to put your loo paper in, tie the bag off (as you do when putting a nappy in) and then stick these in the bin... nice & easy, cheap and clean..keeps the smell nice also..

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47. You have too much information on your site. Can you just tell me what I should do?

Yes I know I tend to get carried away and instead of making things easier for travelers sometimes I give them too many choices. But I have made a page for people who feel like you at www.greektravel.com/suggestions

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48. Which is the best travel agency on your website?

They are all good. If there was one that was not it would not be on the site anymore. Which one you should use depends on you and what you want to do in Greece. For example Fantasy Travel is the largest and most organized so if you need every detail taken care of you go with them. They also are more experienced with high-end clientele and have an eye for quality when it comes to hotels. Plus they get room comittment at the best hotels which means they can offer them for less than other agents because they buy the rooms for the whole season and can sell them for whatever they want. Aegean Thesaurus are a small, highly efficient, high-tech travel agency based on Sifnos so they are right there on the island, but can book anything the other agencies do. If Sifnos is a part of your itinerary then use them because they will have more choices of hotels and probably better rates. Dolphin Hellas was the first agency on my site and are very well organized and people love them. You may find one hotel is cheaper with one agency but another similar hotel is cheaper with another agency so it all works out in the end. I use them all but I come to Greece two or three times a year. Some people request info from all of them and go with whoever is cheaper in the end. But my feeling is if you pick any and work with them the end result will be the same. You will have few if any problems and you will have made the most of your time in Greece and probably come back and use them again.

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49. Is your Guide in printed form or for sale anywhere?

Not yet. I was working on a printable form of my guides beginning with my Athens Survival Guide but then Rick Steves called and asked if I would write a book with him, so I put it on hold until I see what happens with Rick. If we do the book together you will be able to get much of the material from my websites in that. If it does not happen there have been offers from a couple companies but most likely I will just take all my material and put it in a pdf file as I was originally planning to do and people can print it out. But in the meantime you can do what most people do which is print out what you need and put it in a big bundle or loose-leaf and as you finish using it leave it behind for someone else to find and use. I find pages from my guide everywhere I go.

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50. Do you have the ferry schedules? (Most popular question)

I used to say "Only for this week and you have to e-mail me to get it and tell me the dates you want to travel". Now I just say go to Ferryhopper.com

You can count on there being at least a ferry and/or a highspeed leaving every morning at 7:30 for the islands of Syros, Tinos, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos and Milos. There are boats to Samos, Crete, Lesvos, Chios, Rhodes, Kos, and Patmos leaving every evening or almost every evening. Getting between the islands can be tricky especially those in different island groups. I don't have the schedules between the islands but if you know which islands you want to visit I recommend using this page: www.greecetravel.com/create-an-itinerary and let a travel agent book your hotels and ferries and save you the aggravation and organize your trip more efficiently and save you time and money.

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51. Is it true that in some Greek restaurants, you smash plates to show your satisfaction? If so, where can I find one of these types of restaurants in Athens?

This used to be common in restaurants that had live music but now they throw rose petals on the musicians and the people who get up to express themselves through dance. According to Tom Mazarakis there is nowhere that plates are still smashed unless it just happens spontaneously in a spirited moment.

Tom recommends any of the following night clubs where you can either go for just a drink at the bar (drinks cost $7 to $15 each) or you can book yourself a table and have a late dinner. Dinner for two would run $150 to $200. Note that the show doesn't start until around midnight and goes on until 4 or 5 in the morning so be sure to take a long nap before going out.

APOLLON Leof. Sygrou 259, Nea Smyrni, Tel.210 942-7580, 1, 2, 3
ASTERIA Asteria Glyfada, Tel. 210 894-4558
IERA ODOS Iera Odos 18-20, Athens 210 342-8272
POSEIDONIO Leof. Poseidonos 18, Elliniko, Tel. 210 894-1033
SHOW CENTER Leof. Poseidonos 5, Elliniko, Tel. 210 894-4138

See also
www.athensguide.com/nightlife.html and www.athensguide.com/latenite.html


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52. Do the travel agencies make money from airline tickets?


They make 8% but they pay 3-5% to the bank for credit card bookings and then if you add the time factor it ends up costing them money which is why they won't book only tickets. But they will for the clients who book hotels, cruises and so on.

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53. Lonely Planet says that it is illegal to bring Codeine into the country and I use a prescription drug that contains codeine. Will I have any problems? Who can I contact to get the official ruling?

Nobody will put you in jail for having a drug with codeine in it and unless you tell them nobody will know. If you have a perscription you have nothing to worry about. E-mail Tom Mazarakis and he can give you the un-official ruling which will be closer to reality to further reassure you. This is what he says:

"Don't worry about it. There are hundreds of drugs that are considered to be controlled substances in Greece, just as they are throughout the world. Most of these drugs, including those that contain codeine, require a physician' prescription. If you have such a prescription, the customs authorities will not give you any problem. Over 12 million tourists visit Greece every year and probably half of them take all kinds of prescription medication that is necessary for their health. Obviously, the Greek authorities are very well aware of this fact and will certainly never do anything that would jeopardize anyone's physical well being. Therefore, go ahead and bring all the medications you expect to need during your stay in Greece and as long as you have a bonafide prescription you will be within the parameters of Greek law on this issue."

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54. What is the best time to go to Greece, e.g. not too warm and not too cold?

The best time is May/June or September/October but that is just my opinion. See www.athensguide.com/weather.html

55. When dining in the restaurants I noticed that they have a cover charge, we were confused if that was basically the restaurant including the tip in the bill?

There is a cover charge in all restaurants but this is not the tip. It is sort of like a charge for bread and napkins. But the tip is 15% included in the price of the meal. If you go to a sit-down restaurant and you buy everything to go each item will be 15% cheaper. This is by Greek law.

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56. If someone approaches me on the street and wants to take me to his bar or travel agency should I go?

I wouldn't. There is a well-known scam where a man introduces himself to you on the street and invites you to see his bar. You go to the bar and then all these girls come out of nowhere and ask you to buy them a drink and then you get an enormous bill when it is time to leave. Then a couple guys usually bigger and stronger than you join the 'conversation' to intimidate you. You may be able to negotiate a lower bill but it is still more than you want to pay if you think you are going to see a guy's bar because he seemed friendly. With travel agencies a guy asks if you are looking for a travel agency and takes you to the agency he works for. You tell them what you want ferry tickets to Sifnos and they tell you there is no boat today or it is sold out and in the end you walk out having booked a cruise, a hotel and a day-trip to Delphi. Chances are you will have a good time but since you made the booking because they gave you wrong information intentionally in order to sell you something more expensive then I would include this under scams too though some might argue that these are legitimate travel agencies with a technique that tests the boundries of 'ethical business.' (I am being diplomatic).

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57. I bought some jewelery at Byzantino and had my VAT tax stamped and mailed at the airport on my exit. I have yet to get my refund. Is there anything I or the store can do?

There is nothing the store can do. They have already paid your taxes to the government and now you have to wait for the government to get around to giving you your refund. It can take a year or more and all you can do is be patient. Actually the best thing to do is forget about it and when it eventually arrives it will be like a gift. But if it is any consolation the money does eventually arrive (or so they say).

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58. Are there any "slow" boats between Heraklion and Santorini for someone that is prone to sea sickness?

If the sea is rough then slow is not better, it's longer. Anyway if you take a dramamine or even half that usually works. Its not worth worrying about because if even 5% of the people who were afraid of getting seasick on a Greek ferry actually got seasick on a Greek ferry there would be long lines outside the toilets. These ships are huge, modern and are more like flying than being on the sea.

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59. How do the travel agencies know the ferry times when trying to put together an itinerary 6 months or more in advance?

They don't. They have a good idea because it is their job. Then they keep calling the ferry company until they get confirmation that a boat will be going. Then they book the tickets. In the meantime they have already booked the hotels but because they have a relationship with the hotels, if the ferry is not going the day they hoped, they can change the hotel reservations without a penalty. A person booking directly with the hotel on the other hand may not know there is no ferry until too late to change the reservations without a penalty.

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If this page does not answer your question then send me an e-mail and I will try to help you. Or if you have comments about this page let me know too.


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