Greece Tourist Information and Tips
First, it should be emphasized that Greece is one of the safest destinations for the traveler: the vast majority of people you interact with will be honest and helpful. The detailed information below is intended to forewarn travelers of risks which they have a small, though not zero, chance of encountering.
Crime and theft
Violent crime and theft rates are very low; public disorder is rare, and public drunkenness is generally frowned upon. Visitors should rest assured that this is an extremely safe and friendly destination, but it is always advisable for foreign tourists to exercise basic precautionary measures just as they would at home. There has recently been a spike in theft (at least a perceived one), which some locals will not hesitate to blame on the influx of immigrants.
The places where the visitor is most likely to encounter crime and theft are probably the handful of overcrowded, and overheated, tourist resorts thronged with younger foreigners attracted by cheap flights, cheap rooms, and cheap booze. The more notorious of such places include Faliraki in Rhodes, Kavos in Corfu, Malia (currently the "hottest" such destination) on Crete, and Ios (though this last is said to have quieted down a bit recently.) Most visitors to these places return home unmolested, but there have been increasing reports from them of theft, public indecency, sexual assault, and alcohol-fueled violence; the perpetrators as well as the victims are usually young foreigners, though sometimes locals are involved. Authorities have stepped up police presence in such areas to crack down on these activities. Still, visitors to these places would do well to avoid anything that looks like trouble, especially late at night, and to remember that their own overindulgence in alcohol increases their chance of attracting trouble themselves.
The most commonly reported major scam against travelers is the Greek version of the old clip joint routine. This is reported primarily from central Athens, but also occasionally from other cities and even the larger island towns. A single male traveler will be approached, usually at night in a neighborhood where there are a lot of bars, by a friendly Greek who will strike up a conversation leading to an invitation to go to "this really cool bar I know" for a drink. Once at the bar, they are joined by a couple of winsome ladies who immediately begin ordering drinks, often "champagne," until, at the end of the evening, the mark is presented with an astronomical bill, payment of which is enforced by the sudden appearance of a pair of glowering thugs. The reason this scam works is because most Greeks have a tradition of being friendly to visitors, and almost all Greeks who strike up a conversation with you will have no ulterior motives. But if you're a single male traveler approached by a Greek in the circumstances described above, it's safest to politely but firmly decline any invitations.
It is strictly forbidden to take photos of military installations or other strategic locations. Authorities will take violations quite seriously. Obey signs prohibiting photography. In fact, it would be best not to take photographs of anything of military significance, including Greek navy ships, or of airports or any aircraft, even civilian ones: Greek authorities can be very sensitive about such things. Many museums prohibit photography without a permit; some prohibit only flash or tripod photography, and many ask visitors not to take photos of objects (statues, etc.) which include people standing by them, as this is considered disrespectful. But these specific cautions shouldn't discourage visitors from otherwise taking photos in Greece, which is one of the most photogenic places in the world.
Greece also has very strict laws concerning the export of antiquities, which can include not only ancient objects but coins, icons, folk art, and random pieces of stone from archeological sites. Before buying anything which could conceivably be considered an antiquity, you should become familiar with the current laws regarding what can be taken out of the country. Do not ever think to export or buy any piece of archeological value because it will be either be a fake or you will be arrested promptly at the airport for trafficking of goods of archeological value.
Greece has some of the strictest, and most strictly enforced, drug laws in Europe, and tourists are not exempt. No matter what anyone tells you, it is most definitely not cool to do drugs in Greece, including marijuana.
The greatest danger to travelers in Greece is probably in the simple process of crossing the street: traffic can be bad even in smaller towns and horrendous in Athens and other Greek cities, and accident rates are high. Caution should be exercised by pedestrians, even when crossing with a walk light.
Despite a loud call for health care reform from both the voters and the political establishment, the nation's health care system has received very high marks from the World Health Organization (WHO), a branch of the UN. However, many citizens prefer private health care for longer-term hospital stays. Depending on the age and nature of a particular hospital or clinic, services range from adequate to excellent. Health care is free and universal for all citizens, as well as for all EU nationals upon presentation of an EHIC card (Formerly the E111 form). For non-EU nationals, only emergency care is provided for free.
A network of helicopter ambulances serves the islands, transporting patients who need immediate attention to the nearest island or city with a major hospital.
The country's pharmacies and medications are of top quality, and pharmacists are highly trained experts in their field. Many medications that can only be acquired by prescription in the US and UK, can be purchased without prescription in Greece. When sick with a simple, common illness, a visit to the pharmacist will provide you with the medication you need. If you are looking for a specific medication, be sure to know its generic name, as brand names might be different. Most pharmacies close on Sundays, but a sign will be posted on the door indicating the nearest pharmacies that are open.
Sun and heat pose risks that summer visitors should take precautions for. Take a good, light sun hat and sun glasses, and drink plenty of water.
In late spring and summer, the government runs public service announcements on television reminding Greeks to wear their sunblock at the beach. The Mediterranean sun tends to get quite strong, and can burn skin that has not been exposed to the sun for a long time. Any excessive daily sun exposure can also cause long-term damage to skin. Sunblock and sunscreen are widely available throughout Greece at supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, and special stores selling beach-related items, though they tend to be expensive, and the higher SPF factor blocks can be hard to find.
During the hottest months, while visiting archaeological sites, wear tank tops, carry umbrellas, and carry water. Daily high temperatures stay at about 95-100 F. The sun is merciless. Athens in recent years has been subject to periodic summer heat waves where the temperature can reach above 100 F.(38°C), posing a risk of respiratory problems and heat stroke for some people. Be aware that many islands, especially in the Cyclades, have very little shade to ameliorate the summer heat; if hiking around such islands, including going by foot to distant beaches, it's especially important in hot weather to wear a hat and sunscreen, to take water, and to avoid being caught walking during the hottest part of the day.
Jellyfish periodically infest some beaches and their stings can be severe. The red ones are particularly dangerous. Sea urchins are common along the Greek coast, usually clinging to underwater flat surfaces such as smooth rocks and sea walls. They usually inhabit shallow water so they're easy to see. Care should be taken not to step on them, since their spines can be painful.
It's inadvisable to go hiking cross country in Greece alone: even in popular places, the countryside can be surprisingly deserted, and if you get in trouble while you're out of sight of any houses or roads, it could be a long time before anyone notices you.
Lifeguards are rare at Greek beaches, though most of them where people congregate to swim are locally considered safe. Some beaches have shallow water a long way from shore, others suddenly shelve steeply. If in doubt about safe swimming conditions, ask locally.
There are no required inoculations for Greece and the water is almost everywhere safe (see above under Drink.)
Greeks rate politeness with a person's behavior and not their words. Furthermore, there is an air of informality; everybody is treated like a cousin. They use their hands to gesture a lot. Have fun with this. Sometimes over-emphasizing politeness in spoken language will only make the person dealing with you think you are pretentious. It's nice to learn basic words like "thank you" (?????????: ef-khah-rees-TOH) or "please" (????????: pah-rah-kah-LOH).
Greeks generally consider it proper etiquette to let the stranger make the first move. You may find that on entering a cafe or passing a group on the street you feel that you're being ignored, but if you take the initiative by saying hello first, you're likely to find that people suddenly turn friendly.
Greeks take leisure very seriously; it is a work-to-live culture, not live-to-work. Don't take perceived laziness or rudeness harshly. They do it to everyone, locals and tourists alike. Rather than fight it, just go along with it and laugh at the situation. It can be very frustrating at times but also appreciate their "enjoy life" attitude. They do take politics and soccer very seriously.
Dress codes for churches include covered shoulders for women and knees covered for both sexes. This tends to be lightly enforced during the height of the summer tourist season, simply due to sheer volume! In any case, appropriate clothing is usually available at the entrance of churces and monasteries, especially the ones receiving most tourist traffic. Just pick it up going in and drop it off on the way out.
Do not say that Greece is part of Eastern Europe; Greece was the only openly pro-Western country in a shore of Communist neighbors, both pro-Soviet and neutral. It is not geographically correct either.
Greeks dislike Greece to be labelled as a Balkan country , due to the negative image of the region, even though as the southernmost tip of the Balkan peninsula, Greece lies entirely inside the Balkans.
The Macedonian issue is considered a very sensitive topic: Greeks consider that the name "Macedonian" is stolen from them and used by Tito's partisans in southern Yugoslavia to address themselves.
Also, be very careful when talking about Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire, which are the symbols of their national pride and splendor; however,most will say the polar opposite when talking about the military junta of the late 1960s-mid 1970s. Many Greeks-- not just Communists and other left-wing groups-- have suffered severe repression and view its leaders with utter resentment. Many Greeks take pride of their ancient history , since Ancient Greece is a well known civilization to first develop the concept of democracy and western philosophy, as well as its art, architecture, literature, theater and sciences which is regarded as the cradle of European civilization.
Likewise, be polite when asking about their relationship with the Turks, the Turkish occupation and the Cyprus civil war of 1974, as these create passionate, sometimes aggressive, debates, given the past turmoil between the two nations.
To "swear" at someone using their hands, Greeks put out their entire hand, palm open, five fingers extended out, like signalling someone to stop. This is called " mountza ". Sometimes they will do this by saying "na" ( here ) as well. It is basically telling someone to screw off or that they did something totally ridiculous. " Mountza " is known to come from a gesture used in the Byzantine era, where the guilty person were applied with ash on his/her face by the judge's hand, in order to be ridiculed. Be careful when refusing something in Greece: when refusing the offer of drink, it's best to put your palm over your glass.
Greeks smoke tremendously, and they see cigarettes as a birthright. However new laws are putting restrictions on smoking, and awareness is growing about the risks of second-hand smoke. Don't be afraid to tell a cab driver or someone to put out the butt if it is bothering you... but they might bite back! Smoking will be prohibited by law in public places like restaurants and cafeterias by mid-June 2009. It remains to be seen whether this will be strictly enforced or not.