Where to Go
With over 2000 islands across the entirety of Greece it can be difficult to decide where to visit in Greece, especially if you’re in a backpacker’s limited budget and itinerary. To make it easy, we’ve hunted own the best places to visit if you want to see all of Greece’s natural beauty, combined with incredible historical sites you just can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Known around the world as the birthplace of democracy Athens is the capital of Greece and vibrant enough to be an entire country of its own. It’s here that backpackers can spot the incredible Acropolis, as well as the ancient Agora, and soak up the history at the National Archaeological Museum.
Plus, Athens is home to some dazzlingly colourful streets, such as those in Plaka and Monastiraki.
A beautiful seaside city tucked away on the coast of Greece, Thessaloniki was first named after the half-sister of Alexander the Great, and was built as early as 316 B.C. A fairly sleepy town compared to, say, Athens, it’s nevertheless full of incredible historical sites: Roman and Byzantine ruins, for example.
Thessaloniki was also the very place where Apostle Paul brought the first message of Christianity. A town full of restaurants and cafes with a fun, bubbly atmosphere, it’s well worth adding to the itinerary.
Otherwise known as Greece’s honeymoon island, Milos was once home to the famous Venus de Milo statue that now sits in the Louvre museum. The island was created by a volcanic explosion, much like Santorini, which means it’s lucky to feature a similar white landscape – just with none of the crowds. Plus, it’s home to a number of stunning beaches thanks to its unique geology.
One of the best places in Greece for value for money, Paros is somehow simultaneously glamorous and fairly cheap. Found tucked away south of Mykonos, Paros is often overlooked for the more famous party island which means it’s a favoured vacation spot for Greek locals.
As a result, you can guarantee great food, a great atmosphere, and a proper local experience. Visit Naoussa on the island for some of the best seafood in the whole of Greece.
Crete has a reputation for being more of a holiday spot than a backpacker’s spot, but it’s actually great for both. being the largest of the Greek islands there is always a lot going on, whether you enjoy culture, history, hiking, or admiring incredibly Venetian architecture – Crete has it all.
Head north to visit interesting cities such as Heraklion with the famous Minoan ruins of Knossos just nearby, as well as Chania and Rethymno.
The region outside Athens is always overlooked for, well, Athens itself, but it’s so much more than just the spot where the planes land (the airport). In fact, Attica is home to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, and the entire peninsula is known for being a favourite of local Athenians – you know the beaches here are to die for if they pass the locals’ test.
One of the best spots to enjoy some lazy swimming in the sea, or to spend an afternoon exploring hidden coves along the coast.
What to Do
Greece is known for having some of the best historical sites in the world, and it’s a reputation it definitely lives up to. From the famous Acropolis, to UNESCO site of Delphi and Mount Olympus, there’s plenty to see and do across the various islands.
Visit the Acropolis
One of the most famous monuments in the world, the Acropolis dominates the skyline of Athens and is pretty much the number attraction not to miss. Made completely from marble, it was once home to the famous statue of Athena, goddess of Athens.
Climb Mount Olympus
If hiking is your thing, then don’t miss the chance to hike to the gods at Mount Olympus. A stark symbol of Greek mythology, Mount Olympus is the site of Zeus’ throne, and the gateway to the underworld where Hades ruled.
If you fancy taking the hike, travel to Litochoro first where you can trek as far up the mountain as you want.
Admire the blue and white architecture of Santorini
One of the most Instagrammed places in the world, the architecture in Santorini is nothing short of iconic. Every part of the island is postcard perfect, with traditional Cycladic white homes contrasting with the deep blue ocean.
Originally formed by a volcanic crater, Santorini is also the best place to witness some fantastic sunsets thanks to the varying levels of land.
Visit the Delphi
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Delphi is tucked away next to Mount Parnassus, and was one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for those wishing to pay homage to Apollo, the ancient Greek god of healing, music, light, and prophecy.
Today, people still pay homage, but the site is visited more to see the delightful ancient ruins of temples and an impressive stadium.
Explore the Samaria Gorge
Found on the island of Crete, the Samaria Gorge is the place to go in Greece if you love nature. Spanning an impressive 16 kilometres, there are a number of different treks to take to see the entire place – although walking along the entire gorge can take up to 7 hours.
Visit the Meteora Monasteries
The monasteries of Meteora are known for sitting on top of towering rock formations, that have formed over thousands of years as the weather eroded the rock and cliffs surrounding them.
First built to accommodate the monks who fled the Eastern Orthodox after the invasion of the Turkish army, it’s one of the most incredible religious sites in the country. Here, travellers will see ancient boulders, monolithic pillars, and more.
Read More About Greece
Best Time to Visit Greece
Greece’s peak season is during the summer months of June to August, so while this means there’s the most going on, it’s also the most expensive time to visit. This is when temperatures reach peaks of 33 degrees, and the overall atmosphere across the country is fantastic.
Having said this, the best time to visit for a backpacking trip is probably the shoulder season: March through to May, and then September to October. There’s still great weather, but it’s typically cheaper with fewer crowds – a win win.
In terms of festivals, Easter is a fantastic time as all over Greece there are elaborate processions, brass bands, decorations, music and bell ringing to celebrate the holiday. September sees the Aegina Fistiki Fest, a four day festival celebrating the tasty green fistiki, while October is the time to witness the Kaylmnos Diving/Climbing Festival.
How Much Does it Cost
Greece is a tricky one; in recent years, it’s been the centre of media attention as a result of the overall bankruptcy of the country, and the amount it needed to borrow from the EU – which can point towards the country becoming gradually more expensive to visit.
However, the country itself, for tourists, doesn’t typically represent this, and Greece is actually a very underrated budget destination. Sure, it’s also the country of island-hopping cruises and fancy villas but travelling on a budget is all about how you travel.
A typical budget would be between €40-60 a day, if you’re staying in a hostel, enjoying cheap food – cooking it yourself where you can – and using local transportation.
Typical costs while backpacking across Greece:
There are literally thousands of different ways to keep costs down while backpacking through Greece.
First off, make sure you eat traditional Greek street food. Not only is it incredible, but it’s also very cheap, with just €10 being enough to keep you full all day. Stay on the lookout for gyros, a Greek delicacy made from meat cooked on a rotisserie grill.
Another great tip is to stay off the beaten track – and that means avoiding Mykonos. Sure, Mykonos is a fantastic place to visit, and it definitely deserves the hype it gets, but It’s by far the most expensive area in Greece with no cheap accommodation, and even a simple drink will set you back €12.
What to Pack
Greece is in the middle of the Mediterranean, which means hot weather – hot enough to swim the sea, for example.
So, the main thing you want to make sure you’ve got is swimsuit, dress, t-shirts, and shorts. It’s important to stay cool and not overheat or dehydrate. For evenings it tends to be fairly casual, but maybe bring a nice dress or two, and a few nice shirts to glam up a little bit.
If you’re a big fan of diving, pack your own gear – it will save you a lot of money in the long run. You’ll also want the basics: towel, shampoo, shower gel, hand sanitizer, a first aid kit, underwear, and a lock for your bag.
Backpacker accommodation in Greece comes in all shapes and sizes. The most popular one, as in many countries, is the safe hostel which is a great way to meet other travellers as well as having a number of double rooms perfect for couples.
A traditional Greek style accommodation is known as a Pension, which is essentially a guest house and offers really cheap rooms. However, typically Pensions won’t advertise their rooms online, so it’s best to drop by and see if they’ve got anything available – although they do get booked up quick during the high season.
For the cheapest accommodation, try couch surfing. Not only will you meet great people, but it’s a great way to hop around the islands – although bear in mind some islands don’t have a great offering for couch surfing, so check it out beforehand.
Food and Drink
Greece has long been famous for its exceptional food and while it’s likely that no matter what you eat over there it’s going to be amazing, there are some things that you absolutely have to try before you leave.
The first of these is taramasalata. You’ve probably heard of it before as it’s made its way across the continent, but it is essentially a fish roe dip with either a potato or bread base, and its used as a dip for appetisers, typically served with warm bread.
Another classic Greek dish is moussaka, an iconic meal made up of layers of sautéed aubergine, minced lamb, fried pureed tomato, onion, garlic, various different spices – notably cinnamon – some potato, all topped with bechamel and cheese. To die for.
Other good dishes include souvlaki, which is marinated and grilled meat on a skewer, and dolmades, which is a rice and herbs stuffed inside a grape leaf. While you’re out and about, make sure you try a traditional Greek coffee; thicker than a typical English coffee, it’s made from heating finely ground coffee beans with water very slowly over a stove.
Greece is in Europe, which means that for the most part the cultural norms are similar to the rest of the countries in the continent. However, things can change when it comes to the more rural areas of the country, with the traditional Greek culture outshining the tourist mentality.
A few things to bear in mind when backpacking through Greece:
- It’s customary to greet people with two kisses on the cheek, rather than shaking hands
- There is no norm for tipping, but it’s expected to tip in coffee houses, restaurants, taverns, and room service if you enjoyed the service
- People in Greece enjoy a drink or two, but it’s not common to get very drunk
- It’s considered offensive and rude to hold your hand up with the palm out
- Greeks are the heaviest smokers in Europe, and the no-smoking inside rule is pretty much completely disregarded, so expect most places to be full of smoke
The Greek alphabet is notoriously tricky, which means a lot of people will travel to Greece without having learnt any phrases at all to get them through. While this is fine for the touristy areas, if you’re planning on backpacking off the beaten track you’re going to need some phrases to get you through.
Plus, it’s just polite to try and converse with people in their native language.
- Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
- Χάρηκα πολύ (HA-ree-ka po-LEE)
- Tι κανείς (tee-KAH-nis)
- Καλημέρα (kah-lee-MER-ah)
- Καλησπέρα (kah-lee-SPER-ah)
- Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STOE)
- Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LOE)
- Με λένε (may LEH-neh)
- Ναί (neh)
- Μιλάτε αγγλικά (mee-LAH-the ag-li-KAH)
- Πόσο κάνει αυτό (POH-soh KAH-nee af-TOH)
- Hello / goodbye
- Nice to meet you
- How are you?
- Good morning
- Good afternoon/evening
- Thank you
- Please / you’re welcome
- My name is
- Do you speak English?
- How much is it?
Public transport is the easiest way to get around mainland Greece. In most of the larger cities the transport system is excellent, with subways in Athens starting at just €1.40 for a ride. There’s also plenty of buses which cost less than €2 a ride, as well as a great tram system in place.
While you’re travelling around the smaller cities – such as Thessaloniki – buses are the easiest way to get around, and this is the same for a number of the more popular islands, such as Santorini.
As Greece is made up of over 2000 islands, it’s not possible to get on a bus to visit each one – obviously. When island hopping, ferries are your best bet, costing an average of €35 per trip, and then once you’re over there you can hire a scooter or moped to get you around for between €20-40 a day.
If you’re trying to cut costs, then get an overnight ferry which is about half the price, and has the added bonus of saving you money for accommodation for the night.
If you’re an EU citizen, then the only thing you need to enter the country is a valid passport. Anyone from Australia, Israel, the USA, New Zealand, Poland, Canada, Japan or Switzerland will have their passport stamped on arrival, so there’s no need to pre-apply for a visa.
Any other nationalities have to apply for a Schengen Visa before their trip to visit any Schengen zoned country, and this visa means citizens can only stay in any Schengen zone country – including Greece – for 3 months out of every 6. Once 6 months have passed from the original date this will reset.
Is It Safe?
A lot of Greece is made up of sleepy villages and picturesque countryside, so by and large it’s mostly safe – safe enough to leave the doors unlocked at night even, not that we’d recommend that of course.
As with anywhere you go, it’s not going to be the safest in the middle of the night, so if you’re out partying or just back late from an exhibition, then don’t walk around alone if you can help it – especially if you’re in an unknown area.
The most popular tourist areas in Greece – such as Athens – are likely to suffer from pick pocketers, so make sure you keep an eye out, and keep valuables in front pockets / cross body bags where possible. Better still: leave things in your hotel room, either in a locked bag or in a safe, if the room comes with one.
A Brief History
Greece is an incredibly old country, with a history that can be traced back to the Stone Ages. From a farming country to being inhabited by the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations, wars, and invasions from the Dorians, it wasn’t until roughly 300 B.C. when the ancient Greek classical and Hellenistic eras came into play – arguably the most famous, and most beautiful.
The classical and Hellenistic eras left behind the fundamental ideas, concepts, and beliefs that we still have today in western civilisation. During this time, the Greek language spread across the Mediterranean until at one point it was more common than Latin – even in Rome.
During the 4th century, the Roman Empire was divided in two halves: the eastern half centred on the Greek Byzantium (renamed Constantinople), and when the western half collapsed during the fifth century, Constantinople became the centre of the Roman empire.
Eventually the Roman empire collapsed, and Greece was under Ottoman control for nearly 400 years. In 1821, the country declared its independence, and in 1944 it was occupied by the Germans during WWII. Following a complicated civil war, a Greek government was instated that favoured the west, but in 1967 a military junta against this overthrew the government and ended the monarchy.
In 1974, this regime disintegrated, and so the country became a democratic republic in 1975 – which it remains to this day. Greece then joined the EU in 1981, and adopted the euro in 2001.
- Greece is often considered to be the world’s first democracy, with the Athenian Democracy having first been created in the 5th century B.C.
- 98% of the total population are ethnic Greeks
- The country is made up of more than 200 islands, but only 170 are populated
- At traditional Greek weddings, everyone will dance and throw plates
- Greek is the oldest written language still in existence
- There’s an ancient Greek legend that talks of how when God created the world he sifted all the soil onto the earth in a strainer, giving every country good soil. He then took the stones left in the strainer, threw them over his shoulder, and made Greece.
If you really want to make the most of your time in Greece, then check out these useful resources. When you’re backpacking, it’s always better to be safe and prepared than winging it.
- Links incoming