Sustainable holidays in Greece

Now, more than ever, we must be aware of how we use our planet. Wildfires, droughts, storms, and floods worldwide show how real climate change is these days. Electric cars, paper straws, and recycling have become a part of our everyday lives. But why only care about the environment at home? More and more holiday destinations in Greece claim to be sustainable. But what does a real eco-accommodation look like?

Sustainability is a trend

Sustainability has become a trend nowadays. More and more of us want to protect our planet and its resources for the next generations. We tend to feel better spending our money on something labeled as eco-friendly than things that are not good for our environment. As a result, eco-labels have become well-selling advertisements. But sometimes, they are just that, a way to attract customers. 

Unfortunately, claims of being sustainable are not under governmental supervision. It is up to us, the customers, to decide if a claim meets our own expectations on sustainability. Unfortunately, this is what many companies use to their advantage. This deception is called greenwashing.

Greenwashed holidays

In the Netherlands, it has become a trend to offer eco-friendly holidays to big resorts in Africa and Asia. Travel agencies use supporting the local economy and water-saving shower heads as advertisements. Great! But what about one kilo ( 2.2 pounds ) of meat the resort will prepare for each guest daily? Or the hours you will spend on the plane to get to your destination?

A holiday far away will never be truly sustainable. The average US household produces 7.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. Flying from Amsterdam to Bangkok, Thailand, produces 2.1 tonnes per person! How can this be eco-friendly? The water you save with those shower heads will not make up for your flight. Greenwashing companies point out the things they do sustainably and forget to mention the rest. 

Curious to find out how much CO2 you produce flying to your dream holiday destination? Check out this article from the Guardian. It does not only show you the amount of CO2 a flight produces. It also gives the number meaning by showing the countries in which the average household produces less in a year.

Did Greece become eco-friendly in 2022?

This summer, I noticed greenwashing reached the Greek hotels and apartments. Freshly printed and laminated papers, pointing out that I had found myself an eco-friendly stay, appeared everywhere. Great! But what did Greece change this year and suddenly became sustainable?

It turns out many of the Greeks did not change anything. Most hotels and apartments claim to be good for the future of our planet because they use a Solar Water Heater, or SWH. And although this is a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of a holiday stay. In Greece, it is the ultimate way to greenwash an accommodation.

Solar Water Heating in Greece

The use of SWH in Greece is not something of the previous years, nor is it the result of improving sustainability. Instead, it is the result of the oil crisis in 1973. High prices forced Greece (together with other sun-rich countries) to rethink hot water production. Solar Water Heating was the solution, and Greece became one of the pioneers. Not for ecological reasons. Instead, the economy was their motive.

In Greece, installing an SWH will result in free hot water within 5 to 10 years. Because of this, 30 to 40 percent of Greek homes use this system. This number might sound low. But 2/3 of Greek people live in urban areas. Here, the architecture of apartment buildings makes the use of SWH nearly impossible. Meaning SWH is the norm in remote areas and has been for decades.

Can something usual be sustainable?

When I am looking for an eco-friendly stay in Greece and find out sustainability is only through an SWH, I feel slightly betrayed. Solar Water Heating is good for the environment. This is true. However, it is also very profitable for the owner, especially when he has had this installation for years. And shouldn’t an eco-label show some more active steps toward sustainability?

What if this accommodation offers plastic straws and a fridge full of small water bottles? Uses chemicals to kill insects and clean the pool? Has a rain shower and needs to be airconditioned? This accommodation might have a Solar Water Heater but does not take any other active steps to protect our planet. Is this sustainable? No, it’s greenwashing. The Greek accommodations found out that tourists like sustainable holidays. The installation they already had on their roof turned out to be eco-friendly, so they now claim to be so too.

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Sustainability is a new topic

Greece does two things very well when it comes to sustainability. The use of renewable energy, with the SWHs, solar farms, and windmills. And the big percentage of untouched nature in the country. Of which many areas are protected by NATURA 2000. 

However, Greece is below the average of the European Union regarding sustainability. This has to do with the crisis that started in 2010. Since then, the country has been preoccupied with economic and social issues. The Greeks had to find a way to survive, making sustainability an unaffordable luxury.

Recently change started. With the worst part of the crisis being in the past, there is finally room to think about improvement. New goals include digitalization and sustainable tourism, but Greece also started working on its first plans for becoming a more eco-friendly country.

What is sustainable in Greece?

Transportation

Sustainable means of transportation are hard to find in Greece. Train and metro networks are scarce and limited to Athens. Outside the capital, fossil fuel buses are often the only option, and even these are often no trustful way to get around.

There are car rental companies that offer electric vehicles to explore the country. However, charging stations are rare. Many large areas of the mainland and islands are inaccessible for electric cars due to a lack of chargers. The good thing is that Greece is on the way to changing this. The Greeks are offered tax reductions and subsidies when they choose to go electric, and municipalities will install new charging stations.

Until this time, check this map to find out if an electric vehicle is an option for your holiday. If not, the next best thing is a rental company that at least offers an airport transfer in an electric van.

Food

When in Greece, choose local and traditional delicacies to make your stay not only more sustainable, but tastier as well. Greek cooks learn that delicious food is seasonal and adaptable to the available products. Traditional Greek food is not imported from far away nor produced in greenhouses that fake seasons. It is straight from the land and grown by the sun. Here is an overview of what fruits and vegetables Greece has to offer during the different seasons:

  • Spring. Asparagus, beans, berries, carrots, parsnips, green onions, rutabaga, and zucchini.
  • Summer. Cucumber, eggplant, garlic, parsley, spinach, tomatoes, and peas.
  • Autumn. Apples, figs, grapes, olives, root onions, and romaine.
  • Winter. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, herbs, nuts, and citrus fruits.
Accommodation

What does an eco-accommodation in Greece look like? Here are a couple of points you can consider when booking your holiday!

SHW and solar panels

Although I said before that Solar Water Heating is not enough to make a Greek accommodation sustainable, you should find accommodation that has one. I believe it has to be the minimum requirement for an eco-friendly stay in Greece. 

Many apartments have solar panels for electricity on the roof or in a closeby field. Although, in Greece, solar power is not for individual use but is sold to the electricity grid, it does help the environment. 

Drinkable tap water

In many places in Greece, water from the tap is not drinkable. As a result, the use of plastic water bottles is extreme in Greece. Especially in summer, when temperatures are high. However, some accommodations invest in drinkable tap water, and those are the ones you should look for. Don’t forget to take a reusable bottle with you!

Water-saving showerheads and toilets

Did you ever wonder why many Greek accommodations do not have a way to hang the shower head? Greece is a dry country in summer, and the Real Greeks know you should not spill any water during summer. Showers in Greece should be quick. However, more and more accommodations want to offer a luxury with rain showers, for example. This goes completely against the country’s climate! Water in Greece in summer is, in many areas, produced in coal-fired power plants. So if you want to be sustainable, use as less water as possible, and pick a place to stay that keeps water-saving in mind.

Well-insulated and designed rooms

Air conditioning is your best friend in a Greek summer. However, when a house or room is well-designed, you do not need one! In our beach house, we do not have an AC since the temperature inside stays pleasant in summer. As a result, we save a lot of energy. Things to look for are:

  • Openable windows on multiple sides.
  • Big balconies shadowing the south facade.
  • Proper insulation.
  • A half-underground apartment
A beach bag and chargers

When I go on a holiday, I always forget at least something that I then have to buy and never use again when I get home. Chargers are a great example of this. But also air-mattresses, beach rackets, balls, and umbrellas are among the things we buy, just to use for a week or two.

An eco-friendly accommodation in Greece provides the things tourists often forget. This way, they are used by many people and don’t become waste immediately after a holiday. It might sound like a small step toward sustainability, but with over 30 million tourists in Greece each year, the amount of wasted plastic is extremely high.

No daily linen change or small shampoo bottles

You might want the best service in your hotel, but did you ever wonder about the plastic and water a hotel wastes with a daily linen change or shampoo bottles? You can reuse your towels for multiple days and either bring your shampoo or use a bottle shared with the previous guests. 

No swimming pool

Greece has crystal clear seas and perfect beaches all around the country. There is simply no reason to have a swimming pool in this country in summer. So pick an accommodation without one! Swimming pools need chemicals and energy to be maintained, while the sea is provided by nature. Curious about more benefits of the sea? Continue reading!

How important is sustainability for you when you’re on vacation? And what are the things you would like to see in your holiday accommodation regarding sustainability? Leave a comment below!

Swim with history at the sunken city of Greece

Upon arriving at Athens airport in the summer of 2022, an interesting advertisement was to be seen. A poster from a promotional campaign of EOT, Greece’s National Tourism Organisation. This poster showed something unique. A clear blue sea, photographed from above. With tree bright yellow kayaks floating above something that looks like an archeological site. An impressive scene, but without any information on where to find it. Luckily, we discovered it was close to Athens and on our way. The sunken city in Greece, is in Epidaurus.

Argolis, Peloponnese

Natural / Archeological

0.5 hour
tour: 4.5 hour

Free
tour: €70,- p.p.

Be careful
tour: >12 years

No
tour: contact

The EOT

The EOT (Hellenic Organization of Tourism) is an organization that falls under the supervision of Greece’s ministry of tourism. Their main mission is the development and promotion of tourism in Greece. Which counts for over 20 percent of the country’s GDP.

The 2022 summer campaign of EOT is based on the true story of Otto, an Austrian man who visited Greece and ended up “staying forever.” This sentence is the campaign’s slogan. And since the EOT was unclear about the location of their posters, you might end up doing just that.

EOT campaign greece sunken city kayak poster water archeological site ruins sea kayak
The summer 2022 campaign from Greece National Tourism Organization.

Location

The sunken city of Epidaurus is located in the North of the Peloponnese peninsula. In the East of the region called Argolis. This explains the nickname of the site, Argolida’s lost Atlantis

The Argolis region is home to Archaia (ancient) Epidaurus. The famous site which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. But there are also Nea (new), and Palaia (old) Epidaurus. The latter is where you can find the sunken city of Greece.

The historical underwater site is located in the Aegean sea. The Saronic Gulf, to be specific. In order to reach the site by car, navigate to Gliati beach in Palaia Epidaurus. There you can find a small parking area from which you can walk to the sunken city in less than five minutes.

History

Little is known about the sunken city. There is no information on site nor online, and even the tour guides are uncertain about what it is that is hidden underneath the water.

It could be an old Mycenean settlement dating back to the 12th century A.D. The site shows the remains of ancient walls, foundations, and paved streets. The second possible explanation of the history of the sunken city is a bit younger. A Roman villa from the 2nd century B.C. 

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How to visit?

The sunken city of Epidaurus can be experienced in two ways. By a guided kayak tour or by yourself with a snorkeling mask.

The tribal kayak tour

From the village Panagia, just South of Palaia Epidaurus, starts a guided kayak tour to the sunken city. This tour will take you along multiple historical and natural sites. A guide will tell you a lot about the region’s history and help you with your kayak. After the adventure, there is even home-cooked traditional Greek food. The complete tour takes 4,5 hours and costs 70 euros per person. This price includes water, dry bags, snorkeling gear, and a GoPro for underwater pictures. An absolutely recommended experience! However, pregnant mothers-to-be and children under 12 are not allowed to attend this tour.

Visit for free

If you travel through Greece on a budget or belong to one of the groups that are not accepted on the tour, there is another option. All you need is a snorkeling mask or goggles to be able to see the marvelous underwater scenery. Because the sunken city is just a few meters offshore and in shallow water, it is easy to reach swimming. Just bring water shoes or slippers you can walk in the water with. But these should be in everyone’s suitcase when traveling to Greece.

sealife at ancient ruins in sunken city Greece in Epidaurus fish and stones underwater kayak tour
Sea-life inside the ruins at the Sunken city
picture from tribal_kayak_argolida

The experience

Swimming over the sunken city of Greece is a unique and wonderful experience. Usually, archeological sites are organized, preserved, or even restored, and always packed with tourists. This one, however, is just there, taken over by nature in a unique way. And allows you to explore all by yourself.

Usually, only a drone can give you the perspective from above. At the sunken city, you are this low-flying drone. Floating over the ruins, you get a new kind of understanding of the spaces and sizes of ancient times. You can nearly touch the old walls and walk the ancient streets.

Where the Greek seas are usually very scarce when it comes to sea life, the sunken city is home to a rich underwater world. The ruins at Epidaurus are full of colorful fish and beautiful sea urchins, who now inhabit the structures once made by men. Add to that a clear blue sea like everywhere else in Greece, and you have a priceless experience. For free!

Tips:

  • If you plan on visiting the sunken city by kayak book your tour upfront through the website. 
  • Unfortunately, the site is difficult to reach with a wheelchair or with other difficulties walking. A 5-minute walk over a pebble beach is needed to get there. However, you might be able to attend the kayak tour if you contact the company in advance and discuss your medical situation.
  • When you visit the site on your own with children, be careful. Make sure they wear shoes or slippers when they go in the water. For children not good at swimming yet, it is a good idea to take an air mattress or something else they can float on, so you can take them to the site inside the water.
  • For adults, the site needs caution as well. Wear either water shoes or slippers, or be extremely careful where you step inside the water. When we visited in August, the beach in front of the sunken city of Greece was home to giant wasps, so do not plan on nicely-staying at the beach here.
  • If you want to combine the archeological site with a lazy day at the beach, there are two options close by. Yialasi beach, just South of the site, or Kalamaki beach in the North.
  • The site is perfect to combine with a visit to ancient Epidaurus, the city of Nafplio, or the dolines of Didyma. By car, the sunken city is two hours away from Athens airport.

Take your underwater camera!

Don’t forget your underwater camera when you have one! We left it at the hotel the day we visited the sunken city and now do not have any pictures of this beautiful site. Did you visit, take pictures, and want to share them on our website? Please leave a comment below or send an email to discoveringrealgreeks@gmail.com

Impressively deep and incredibly blue. The Corinth canal

The most popular holiday destination on the Greek mainland, Peloponnese, is known as a large peninsula in the South. However, technically, Peloponnese has been an island for almost 150 years. The Corinth canal separates this famous peninsula from the mainland of Greece as a narrow straight line of clear blue water.

Corinthea, Peloponnese

Natural / Architectural

1.5 hours

Free

Be careful

Yes

Location

The Corinth canal is at the border of the most southern peninsula of Greece, Peloponnese. Just one hour West of Athens Airport. The waterway cuts through the mainland in a straight line. From Isthmia in the East, on the coast of the Aegean Sea (Saronic Gulf). To Posidonia in the West, on the coast of the Ionian Sea (Gulf of Corinth). With this location, this man-made canal connects the two main seas of Greece.

History

Peloponnese reaches far South of Athens and has formed a dangerous detour for ships throughout history. The round around the famous peninsula put 185 nautical miles (340 km, 213 miles) in between the Aegean and the Ionian sea. And it comes as no surprise that even the Ancient Greeks understood that the two seas should be brought together.

Periander, who ruled Corinth in 602 BC, was the first to imagine the Corinth canal. He tried. But digging a 6.4 km (4 miles) long waterway turned out to be too advanced for his time. As an alternative, Periander created a diolkos. Dia means across in Greek, and the diolkos was a paved trackway to move boats across the land. This diolkos was in use for over two centuries.

The second attempt to create the Corinth canal happened in 67 AD. Emperor Nero and a group of 6.000 (!) of his slaves started work at the side of Corinth. Historians believe that during this attempt, almost a tenth of the waterway was constructed. However, Nero died long before completion, and construction came to a stop for centuries.

The idea of the modern waterway arose in 1830, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire when the Greek economy wasn’t strong enough to start. In 1882, with the help of an Austrian company, construction started. But soon came to hold (once more) due to financial issues related to the Panama canal. In 1890, and with the help of a Greek investor, the Corinth canal finally became reality. It opened in 1893, on October 28.

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The Corinth canal in use

After more than two centuries of waiting for the Corinth canal to be opened, it turned out to be far from the success everyone had hoped for. The only 21 meters (70 feet) width at the bottom proved to be insufficient for larger ships. Big vessels do not fit, and many captains have difficulty navigating through. Not only the narrowness of the canal, but strong winds and currents as well, make the waterway a dangerous place, even for smaller boats.

Besides, the steep 90 meters (300 feet) tall canal walls have proven risky. Even for the most talented captains. Rock debris often falls down into the water. Closing the passage for weeks, months, or even years. Today, you can see many man-made fortifications of the walls. As well as wider parts that are a result of big land slides. Fully functional the waterway has never been in the 130 years it is open.

Visiting the canal

Despite the Corinth canal being a struggle for most boat owners, for us tourists, it is a spectacular place to visit. The canal walls are impressively tall and steep, and the water at the bottom is incredibly blue. The scale of this man-made project is unbelievable. And the fact that a big ship looks small here, makes you question your own size like nowhere else.

corinth canal white cliff walls with blue water at bottom and greenery around
The depth of the Corinth canal, seen from the old bridge
The old bridge

The best-known location to admire the Corinth canal is the old bridge. A steel structure, in the middle of the canal, on the main national road between Athens and Peloponnese. Here you can park your car and walk high over the water. In the middle of the bridge, you can feel the scale of this project, and seeing a ship passing underneath you in the clear blue water is exciting. 

For more excitement, there is an option to bungee jump, down along the canal walls. However, since my legs were already shaking of the height on the bridge, I will not be able to tell you about this experience. But if you’re not afraid of heights, please let me know how it is in the comments below!

What I can tell you, is that the famous old bridge is not the only place to experience the Corinth canal. It is the most popular one and makes the best Instagram picture, but it can be packed with tourists. I would really recommend you to visit Isthmia or Posidonia. The beginning and end of the waterway.

The submersible bridges

At the end of the 1980s, Greece constructed two unusual bridges at both ends of the Corinth canal. Reaching Isthmia and Posidonia, you might believe you have reached the end of the road. The clear blue water of the waterway blocks the passage to the other side, while a connecting bridge structure seems to be missing.

But when the last boat has passed through the canal, something incredible happens. Machines turn on, and from the depth of the crystal water, the silhouette of a structure appears. A wooden deck, complete with balustrades, emerges from the water. The bridge arrives. Cars, cyclists, and pedestrians can cross the water. Until the structure slowly dives back to hide at the bottom of the Corinth canal.

Isthmia is the perfect spot to have a coffee and enjoy the beauty of this tourist attraction without tourists, and in peace. The place is close to being abandoned. Which is hard to believe, coming from the over-crowded touristic old bridge, just 2 km (1.2 miles) away. Why have people stopped coming here? I think it’s a shame. At the old bridge, the canal is more impressive in size, but the best experience is found here. Besides, in Posidonia, the remains of the old diolkos are preserved! 

corinth canal at istmia big red ship towed by small blue boat in between rocks on blue water
A big ship passing through the Corinth canal at Istmia

Tips:

  • The Corinth canal is just an hour away from Athens and easily accessible by car from the highway. It is the perfect destination for a trip away from the city. Or as the start of a holiday in Peleponnese.
  • The Corinth canal is very close to two famous archeological sites on the UNESCO world heritage list. Combine your visit with Mykines (30 minutes) or Eupidaurus (1 hour).
  • During a hot summer day in Greece, it can be difficult to see clear blue water without being able to swim in it. But don’t worry. Around the site are many great beaches and beach bars perfect for a refreshing swim.
  • The name of the village Isthmia is chosen for a reason. Isthmia in Greek means a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across the water by which they would otherwise be separated.

Beyond crosswords: Greek vacation islands

The Greek islands are not just a popular holiday destination, but also often used in crosswords all over the world. Did you ever wonder what the difference is between the 5 letter words Corfu and Crete? Or if Kos is really as small as the mere 3 letters its name counts?

Here is an overview of the Greek islands used in crossword puzzles. Sorted by the number of letters, so you can easily find your answers. But don’t do just that. Maybe some islands will not fit your puzzle today, they might point you to the destination for your next holiday!

3 letters

  • KOS
    Kos lies in the South East of the Aegean sea, close to Turkey and part of the Dodecanese. It is an average-sized island, around 290 km², more than 70.000 acres. Kos is famous for its beaches but is also full of historic landmarks.
  • IOS
    Ios lies in the middle of the Aegean sea and is part of the Cyclades. It is an average – small island, around 100 km², close to 27.000 acres. Ios is known for its vibrant nightlife but also has clear waters and picturesque cliff-top villages.

4 letters

  • EVIA
    This island might have a small name, it is 3.684 km², or 900.000 acres big. Evia, or Euboea, lies North of Athens, in the Aegean sea but is connected to the mainland by bridges. Evia is not well known by foreign tourists, but instead is the perfect getaway for people who work and live in Athens. Unfortunately, large parts of northern Evia were completely destroyed by the 2021 wildfires.
  • PAXI
    Paxi is a small paradise in the Ionian Sea, located just under the island of Corfu. It is only 30 km² or 7.000 acres. Paxi is known for its old olive trees and clear blue sea, some say the best in Greece.
daylight entering a cave in Greece white stone blue sea

5 letters – The Greek islands most used in crosswords

  • CORFU
    Corfu, or Kerkyra in Greek, as well as Crete, are two islands that are often used in crosswords, but do you know the difference between them? Corfu is a lush green island in the North West of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. The island is 585 km², 145.000 acres. Corfu has a strong Venetian influence and is the only Greek island that has never been occupied by the Ottomans. Corfu is famous for its architecture but has great beaches and hiking trails as well.
  • CRETE
    Crete is the most Southern island of Greece and also the biggest with 8.450 km² (over 2 million acres!). Crete has its own sea, the Creten Sea. Crete is so big that it is not just famous for one thing but instead has everything. There are places to go for nightlife, but also areas with untouched nature. There are great beaches, tasty food, and rich and welcoming culture. Because Crete is the most Southern island, it has the warmest climate of whole Greece, temperatures rarely drop below 15 degrees Celsius, or 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • NAXOS
    Naxos lies in the middle of the Aegean sea and is part of the Cyclades. It is an average-large-sized island, around 430km², close to 100.000 acres. Naxos is known for its white sandy beaches and ideal wind conditions for watersports.

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6 letters

  • RHODES
    Rhodes is close to Kos, in the East of the Aegean. It is the largest island in the Dodecanese with its 1.400 km², 346.000 acres. Rhodes is known for its beach resorts and ancient ruins and is a popular summer holiday destination.
  • LESBOS
    Although this name might make children giggle, the meaning of Lesvos in Greek is forested or woody. Lesbos is famous for its agriculture and cheese. Due to its location close to Turkey, Lesbos was the place where refugees used to enter Greece. This made the island very unpopular for tourists, who started returning over the last few years. Lesbos is a large island with 1.600 km², over 400.000 acres.

7 letters

  • MYKONOS
    Mykonos is famous all over the world. It is an average-sized island of 105 km² (26.000 acres) and is part of the Cyclades in the Aegean sea. Mykonos is an expensive party island known to be gay-friendly. “The Island of the Winds” is a nickname of Mykonos, due to the strong Meltemi winds that usually blow.
  • THASSOS
    Thassos is a pretty large but mostly unknown island in the North of the Aegean sea. The island is 380 km² (94.000 acres) and filled with lush green forests. The beaches here are sand, pebble, and even marble. Thassos is a paradise in the North.
underwater at sea in Greece, blue and clear like a swimming pool

8 letters

  • SKIATHOS
    The Sporades, which also counts 8 letters, is the name of the island group to which Skiathos and Skopelos belong. They are located just North of Evia, above Athens. Skiathos is the biggest of the Sporades, but still only 50 km² (12.000 acres). Skiathos is known for its sandy beaches and beautiful nature. Both Skiathos and Skopelos are famous for being the decor of Mamma Mia, the movie from 2007.
  • SKOPELOS
    Skopelos is slightly bigger than Skiathos, 95 km² (23.000 acres). However, the island is quieter and less visited. Again sandy beaches and the beauty of nature is what attracts tourist to come here. Skopelos is famous for the church Agios Ioannis Kastri. A small white church on top of a rock, overlooking the coast of Skopelos and Alonissos, which takes us to the 9.letter islands.

9 letters

  • SANTORINI
    Santorini is a natural wonder. This special island is the only inhabited caldera in the entire world and the perfect place for a honeymoon in Greece. The island’s land is shaped by a volcano eruption and is just 76 km² (19.000 acres). Santorini is known for its sunset and picturesque white-washed villages. But also its landscape is unique, and is made up of black, red, and white lava.
  • ZAKYNTHOS
    This Ionian party island is large, 405 km², or 100.000 acres). It is mostly known for its famous shipwreck beach but this is just a small part of what Zakynthos has to offer. Like other Ionian islands, the island is green with steep white cliffs and the water of the sea is blue and clear.

10 letters

  • CEPHALONIA
    Cephalonia is a large island west of Greece’s mainland. It is 786 km² big (194.000 acres) and the largest in the Ionian sea, but not the most famous. Unfortunately, not many tourists explore the full beauty of this island. Cephalonia is home to amazing beaches, nymph caves, and endangered sea turtles. The island is known for its wine, sweets, and food amongst the Greeks.
  • SAMOTHRACE
    Samothrace is the place to be for Greeks in their twenties. The island is a giant mountain with lush green forests and clear water streams with ponds and waterfalls. The islands’ landscape is unspoiled and wild. Samothrace is 178 km² big (44.000 acres), but the land is basically a mountain of 1.6 km high (1 mile).

11 letters

  • ELAFONISSOS
    The smallest island on this list of Greek islands, has the highest amount of letters in your crosswords. Elafonissos is just 18 km² or almost 4.400 acres. Making a round along the entire island by car, will not take you more than 20 minutes. Elafonissos lies close to Neapoli, in the South of Peleponnese, at the borders of the Aegean and Ionian seas. It is known for its beautiful waters and white sandy beaches.

Read more about Greek islands:

Experience the ancient theatre of Epidaurus

In the north of Peloponnese, close to Nafplion and just 2 hours away from Athens, lies the ancient city of Epidaurus. Epidaurus was a small city established in the sixth century B.C. Today, it is a big tourist attraction due to the most well-preserved ancient theatre. The site is on the list of UNESCO world heritage and is famous for its acoustics. Epidaurus is known as the most impressive ancient theatre in the world. But what is the true experience of visiting this place?

Argolis, Peloponnese

Archeological site

1 hour

€6 – 12,-
depending on age and time

Yes

Yes

History

The city of Epidaurus was not like the average ancient city. Since the sixth century B.C., it is known as the healing center of the classical world. Ill people from all over Greece would come here to visit the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Treatment would involve a cleansing diet and healing through dreams. But there are also records from performed surgeries and the use of medication.

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus was created as a part of the healing practice. It was believed that the observation of dramatic shows could increase not only mental but also physical health. The original theatre was completed in the fourth century B.C. with 34 rows. Later, in roman times (2nd century B.C.), 21 more rows were added. The complete theatre provides space for about 14.000 spectators.

Architecture

The theatre of Epidavros is an architectural masterpiece designed by the architect Polykleitos. It is built as part of the Cynortion mountain and looks over the lush landscape below. Impressive and giant gates mark the entrance on both sides of the theatre.

The gate at the entrance of the theatre, against the high walls that surround the theater’s koilon or cavea.

From the entrance, you first see the perfectly circular stage, the orchestra, with a width of about 25 meters. The center of the stage is the center of the entire theatre. This spot is marked by a small circular stone, the thymele or altar. This is the stone on which the actor in ancient Greek times would stand to reach all the spectators with his voice.

Around the stage are the 55 rows of seats, the koilon or cavea. With a radius of 60 meters and at a 26-degree incline, these rows make the theatre most impressive. The scale and the height, the perfect symmetry, and the excellent preservation. The theatre of Epidaurus is one of the few places that make you understand the scale of ancient Greek society.

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Theatre experience

The instructions for visiting the theatre of Epidaurus are clear. You leave your travel partner on the circular stone plate in the middle of the stage while you start to climb up. After approximately 110 steps, you sit down on the highest row. When your friend below speaks, and you can hear every word.

In reality, however, I was not surprised when I tried to communicate with my boyfriend on stage. I could vaguely hear some of his words, but my ears mostly caught the sound of crickets around. How could it be that I was finally at this famous architectural masterpiece, and all I felt was disappointment? Was the whole story about the theatre just a way to lure tourists?

Aggrieved, I climbed down the stairs and sat in a row halfway in the theatre. When putting my phone back in my pocket, I heard a coin drop. Where did my money fall? I searched around but couldn’t see it. Another coin drops. What is happening? How can I be losing money I did not know I had with me?

Confused, I looked at the stage. And at this moment I realized just how special the theatre actually is. A man, standing in the middle of the stage, was dropping his coins. The sound started 40 meters away, but according to my ears, it sounded right next to me. That’s impressive acoustics!

The truth about the acoustics

What they often forget to tell about the theatre is how the material contributes to the acoustics. The theatre’s benches are made of limestone, except for the first marble rows for special guests. Limestone has the ability to filter out low-frequency sound and amplify high-frequency. With this material, the noise of the crowd is absorbed while the higher tones from the stage travel from bench to bench, to reach even the spectators in the highest rows.

This is why my boyfriend was surprised when I spoke to him from the stage, but reversed, the acoustics failed. His, and many other men’s voices, are too low to be amplified. So when you plan on visiting Epidaurus with a male travel partner, remember to use a coin!

The limestone benches and the theatre of Epidaurus

How did the theatre work in ancient times?

The material’s acoustics made me wonder. Did men plan in ancient Greek theatres? Or was it just women and boys before the age of puberty? Or is it the aging of the limestone that changed the acoustic aspects of the material?

No. 

The limestone properties did not change. And strangely, ancient Greek actors were men. One man, actually, during the time of the completion of Epidaurus. And although the number of men on stage changed over time, actresses were never allowed on an ancient Greek stage.

However, this one man used costumes and masks to define the different roles he played. And it is these masks that are the key to good acoustics. Ancient Greek masks both amplify the actor’s voice and change its acoustical qualities. It was the mask that helped the actor’s voice to work together with the limestone material and travel through the entire theatre. Amazing!

Tips:

  • Attend a theatre at the summer festival of Epidaurus. For a unique experience, Epidaurus offers ancient theatre plays, performed at the ancient theatre during the summer months. After sunset, you can watch a play from the same spot the Greeks used to sit thousands of years ago. For more information and tickets, check https://aefestival.gr.
  • Combine with a visit to the museum and the rest of the site. At Epidaurus, not only the theatre is well-preserved. Instead, the whole site provides a unique look into ancient times. 
  • Epidaurus is close to Mycenae, another UNESCO world heritage site. Mycenae is famous for its lion’s gate and well-preserved tombs.
  • When visiting during summer, the temperatures at Epidaurus might ask for a refreshing swim afterward. At Palaia Epidaurus, a picturesque town on the coast, 15 km away from the ancient site, you can find the sunken city of Epidaurus. Here, you can swim around the ruins of an ancient villa, a rare and exciting experience. Don’t forget to bring water shoes and snorkeling or diving gear.
  • The site of Epidaurus is well accessible for people with a disability. Paths are paved or asphalt. However, the theatre and the paths between the ruins are not.
  • Bring water, sunblock, and a hat. Not unlike anywhere else in Greece, temperatures in summer can rise to 40 degrees Celsius. Be prepared and protect yourself. Drink lots of water while you explore the ancient site.

Frequently asked questions

How to reach the ancient theatre of Epidaurus?

The ancient theatre of Epidaurus is easiest to reach by (rental) car from Athens in about two hours. For tourists, there are also many organized day tours to the site from Athens and other towns around. However, when joining these tours in summer, be prepared for high temperatures since you will reach in the middle of the day.

Do I have to pay an entry fee at Epidaurus?

Yes. A ticket for the ancient site of Epidaurus, the theatre, and the museum costs 12 euros per adult and 6 euros for children in summer. From November till March, tickets are half-price. There are a couple of days each year on which entry is free. Examples are the 18th of April, International Monuments Day, and the 18th of May, International Museums Day.

What are the opening hours of the theatre of Epidaurus?

In general, the site is open when the sun is up. From 8 am to 8pm in the summer months, and from 8 am till 5 pm during the winter. In April, September, and October it is best to check the opening hours before your visit. During holidays the site is either closed or has adjusted opening hours.

What is the best way to experience the acoustics of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus?

Drop a coin in the middle of the stage, and check how many people start looking around for money. Many guides tell you to speak from the center point of the theatre, but the best and most impressive experience is dropping a coin. You can literally hear a pin drop at all the 14.000 seats. 

Renting a boat in Greece

Nothing is more relaxing than sipping a freddo cappuccino on a sunbed overlooking a turquoise and quiet sea. The Greek beaches are the country’s number one tourist attraction. Perfect for relaxation, watersports, refreshments, and observing natural beauty. However, the most unique and clear waters are often hard to reach from land. Whether inaccessible or extremely expensive, the most beautiful coastal spots remain a dream for most. But did you ever consider renting a boat in Greece?

Why you should rent a boat in Greece

In Greece, there are many easily accessible and beautiful beaches. All around the country. Beach bars and sunbeds here are affordable, and there is space for unorganized sunbathing as well. However, these beaches are often large and crowded. For the adventurers amongst us, they might seem a bit too commercial or large-scale.

When looking for a more unique and private beach experience, you might run into problems. Accessing a tiny paradise from land, you’ll often have to hike or climb, over dangerous cliff sites. Although this is a great experience, and I can definitely recommend doing this, it is not a Greek summer mid-day activity. Especially when you have children.

The other option of accessing a Greek paradise with a private experience is very costly. Many beach bars and hotels have illegally claimed small beaches as theirs. They often made the beach easily accessible, and instead of a toll, they ask entrance money. Visiting the perfect sea can cost up to 100 euros, just for access. Completely ridiculous and not even allowed. But unfortunately, a well-practiced way to make money from tourism. 

The third way of accessing a unique beach in Greece is by (renting a) boat. This way you can avoid risking your life and figure out which beach bar is worth paying for. Plus, you will see Greece from a completely new perspective. On every island I visit, I spend at least one day on a privately rented boat. And it is this day that I enjoy the most.

Benefits of a boat

First of all, there is easy and free access to the most beautiful beaches. You don’t have to worry about hidden costs and overpaying. Instead, you can go around and visit all of them for free!

Secondly, being on a boat creates the perfect circumstances to get through a hot summer day. The wind while speeding up and the water around decrease the hot temperatures. Besides, if you still feel burning on the boat, all you have to do is jump.

The final benefit of a boat I want to mention is the experience. A big part of Greece’s coastline is undiscovered by tourism. Inaccessible by land because of the roughness of nature. But when you follow the coastline, those beautiful parts of Greece are suddenly revealed. Caves, cliffs, underwater life. You will meet it all on a boat!

How to rent a boat

In many areas in Greece, the ports are home to local boat rental companies. These companies often offer boat rentals, private cruises, and tours. During the summer months, these companies are often fully booked, so make sure to arrange a reservation a couple months before your holiday.

For many of the smaller boats, owning a boat license is not mandatory. Instead, the only criterion is a minimum age. Always check the required documents with the renal company to be sure.

What to look out for?

Renting a boat is popular amongst tourists in Greece, which is why many companies offer them. However, don’t go for the easiest or cheapest option. Here are a couple things you should look for when finding the right company.

  • Instructions
    Especially when you are going to drive a boat for the first time, you need an introduction. Look for a company that provides this. If the company is good, patient, and willing to help you, customers will mention this in their reviews. So check for this.
  • Tracking
    Although I am all about privacy, a rental company that tracks its boats is worth a temporary limit. Imagine you get stuck at sea, or the engine fails. You want the company to be able to find you and track your moves.
  • Safety & emergency equipment
    Check online for reviews in which customers tell about the available safety & emergency equipment on the boat.
  • Weather and sea information
    It is always good to check if the company provides customers with up-to-date information on weather and sea conditions. 
  • Tent
    When renting a boat during the summer months, you need a boat with a tent. Without shadow, sunstroke after a day on the water is very possible, especially in the middle of the day. So don’t budget on this one. 
  • Cooler
    When on holiday in a foreign country, you probably don’t have one in your suitcase. Many rental companies offer a cooler for your journey, and this definitely comes in handy. 

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What to take with you on the boat?

  • Water
    Never leave a hotel in Greece without taking water. When you go on a boat, make sure to take at least 1.5 liters per person with you.
  • Swimsuit
    Be prepared for a lot of refreshing jumps into the sea. Wear a swimsuit and maybe take one extra in case you get cold. 
  • Extra clothes and towels
    It is good to always take an extra set of clothes as well as an extra layer for unexpected wind. Besides, it is a good idea to bring a hat as well. When you go at high speed, you will have to lower the tent of the boat, a hat can provide you some shadow at this time.
  • Food
    Although it is an option to dock at a port and have food on shore, I do not recommend this. Especially when you are a first-time captain. Take lunch and snacks with you.
  • Drybag
    Do you want to take a phone, camera, drone, money, or anything else that should not get wet? Take a drybag. Many renting companies provide you one, but if not, make sure you take one yourself. You might not be in the water, there will be a lot of water splashing around. 
  • Sunscreen
    Water is great at reflecting sunlight, making you the perfect target for an overload of UV radiation. Even if you have a tent for shadow, do not forget sunscreen and apply it regularly.
  • Don’t pack too much
    There is not a lot of space on a small rental boat. You don’t want more on the deck than one cooler with water and food, a drybag, and maybe one more backpack with clothes. Don’t overdress, don’t wear shoes, and simply don’t overpack. Keep it simple.

What are the costs of renting a boat in Greece?

Although renting a boat in Greece is not for those who travel on a strict budget, it is not crazy expensive either. A small boat for two to four people costs around 100 to 150 euros a day. However, in more touristic places, prices can increase significantly. In Santorini, for example, a day on a boat may cost 400 euros.

Bigger boats for bigger groups, are more expensive and often require a license. In this case, a private boat with a captain might be an option. An indication of the price for this option is between 50 and 100 euros per person per day.

Seasickness

You might believe a boat is not an option for you when you have experienced seasickness on, for example, a ferry or when you get nauseous in a car. But don’t say no to a boat experience too quickly!

Let me tell you my story. Ever since I was young, I get motion sickness in the back of a bar or on a big stable ferry. I get dizzy and nauseous easily and quickly, even with medication. And I always believed that entering a small boat would end up in disaster.

But then I went. Armed with medication, an empty stomach, and a weeks-supply of water, I decided to not let my motion sickness take the experience from me any longer. Surprisingly, I did not feel anything that day on the boat. The connection with the sea and the fresh air on a small boat, make me feel ok with the motion. Unless the waters are really rough, I do not get seasick.

So try it! Stay close to the coastline, where the sea is calmer. Go on a good day with good visibility. Forget about phones, tablets, and even a book. Look around, breathe in, and enjoy!

Dolphins

The Greek sea is home to many dolphins. Maybe you have heard about them or even seen them on a ferry? They live all around Greece and are quite frequently spotted since they love playing with ferries and smaller boats. However, when renting a small boat in Greece, don’t get too excited about them.
The Greek dolphins don’t often come close to the coastline but remain in the deeper waters. The deep sea is rougher and more unpredictable, and you should not go there for dolphin hunting on a small rental boat. If you want to see dolphins book a tour or ask an experienced captain. Or hop on a ferry.
That said, meeting dolphins is an absolutely incredible experience!

Frequently asked questions

What documents are needed to rent a boat in Greece?

Most of the smaller boats (for up to four people) do not require documents but instead a minimum age. For other boats an internationally accepted boat license is required.

How much does it cost to rent a boat in Greece?

Prices vary, from 80 to 400 euros, depending in how touristic the location is.

How do I find a reliable boat rental company in Greece?

Check the reviews online. If there are positive reviews on patient instructions, emergency equipment and helpfulness, the company should be good.

Do I have to book a boat before my holiday in Greece?

In the summer months it is prefered to book a boat before your holiday, since many of the companies are fully booked in this period. For the other months, however, I would wait. Since there is a bigger chance of rain and rough seas, it is better to check the weater conditions on that day. Also, keep in mind that some rental companies close outside of summer.

What to take with you for a day on a boat?

Water, a swimsuit, extra clothes and towels, food, a drybag, and sunscreen. But remember to pack light, and don’t wear shoes.

Why everyone should explore Greece

There are many beautiful places in this world, but I can recommend anyone to explore around Greece for a longer time. As a working nomad, backpacker, or just as a traveler, Greece can be as interesting as other, more popular, countries. The warm and welcoming culture merged with the paradise-like landscapes will never get boring. Everyone should spend time in Greece.

Greece has 110.496 square kilometers (42,663 sq mi) of the mainland and over 6.000 islands. Of all this land, more than 80% is mountainous, and the country has 13,676 km of coastline. All around, there are sights worth seeing. From something as simple as a beautiful white church on top of a mountain to the world’s only inhabited caldera, Santorini.

Greece is never boring

No matter how often or long you go to Greece, you’ll never finish exploring. For me, it became an addiction. To find an undiscovered and mind-blowing spot, only to start looking for the next one as soon as I succeed. It provides an extreme feeling of freedom and connection with nature to travel through the places only locals have discovered. And breathtaking views are everywhere in Greece.

I believe the best thing about Greece is that even when traveling from one site to another can be an adventure. The landscape’s beauty keeps surprising. Driving through mountains, fruit plantations, forests, and coastlines continues to excite. Besides, hopping on a ferry is not trite either. Surrounded by the blue seas, you can observe the coastline of the islands, and you might even discover dolphins on the way. 

Nature in Greece

Untouched nature

Greece provides the opportunity to connect with nature in almost every way possible. Hiking through Zagoria or Tzoumerka, for instance. Amongst lush green forests and giant cliffsides, solely accompanied by Mother Earth. There are rivers and waterfalls, blue water ponds, impressive caves, and monasteries. This area is not what you expect to find in Greece, nor are there many tourists visiting. However, exploring these mountains in Greece, the country of the perfect summer beach holidays, created my addiction. I can recommend everyone to experience it.

couple in lush green mountains on cliff side
Hiking through the mountains of Northern Greece
Unexpected Animals

In Greece, there is also the possibility to spot animals you did not expect to see. Bears and flamingos. In Northern Greece, along the borders of Albania and Bulgaria, around 450 brown bears are living. Finding them in the wild is both dangerous and difficult. However, there are guided bear hikes available, or you can visit the bear sanctuary in Nymfaio, called Arcturos. This non-profit organization tries to reintegrate ex-captive bears. 

Flamingos are a much easier find in Greece, but still as surprising as the bears. Around November, they come from Africa to the Greek wetlands and stay for about four months. They come with many and can be extremely loud. Finding them in Greece is easy. During the winter, they are in almost every shallow water in the country. The island of Lefkada, the Lefkimi lagoon in Corfu, Agios Mamas in Halkidiki, or Porto Lagos in Xanthi, are spots famous for their seasonal flamingo inhabitants. However, last winter, I encountered them in an unnamed small wetland, so I believe they are everywhere. 

Unique seasons

This brings me to the third reason for spending time in Greek nature, the seasons. You might not expect seasons in Greece since temperatures on islands like Crete rarely drop below 15 degrees. However, the further North you go, the more you can recognize the different seasons. The fall will turn the mountains into the most colorful paintings. The winter allows skiing and snowboarding in one of the many ski resorts on the mainland. But it is also the time to enjoy the hot springs, of which there are many throughout the country. Spring comes with blooming flowers and the celebration of Easter. And the summer months are perfect for a visit to the islands.

Greece changes throughout all seasons, and these changes come with new reasons to spend time and explore the country. When you believe you have seen all the beautiful beaches in summer, try the fruit plantations and mountainous areas in spring. Or experience the olive harvest during the fall. 

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Unexplored beaches

Last but definitely not least is the Greek coastline. Although Greece is famous for its organized and easily accessible beaches, much of the coastline is still unexplored territory for tourists. The most amazing shores are the ones that require at least an hour of hiking along cliffs or through forests. Since they are often not marked on Google Maps, you can only find these places through locals. But when you reach the beach, surrounded by nature without anyone else there, you will understand why it was worth the afford to get there.

reflacting lake with blue water and mountains around with snow on top
February in Northern Greece

Culture

Greeks teach you to slow down

Greek culture is warm and welcoming, but more important is that Greeks can teach you how to unwind. Going off-grid in Greece, you will meet people who know what it is to slow down while still working hard. The Greeks are masters when it comes to not worrying or rushing when there is no point to do so. To work hard but not stress over having to work harder. 

It is a misconception that Greeks are lazy, or that slowing down life means you can not work hard. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Greeks work more hours than any other European. The difference is that besides their jobs, they choose not to stick to schedules, spend time with friends and family, and live life at a slow pace. The further you are from Athens, the more relaxed life is. The people in the Greek remote villages have a kind of serenity over them, and whenever I am amongst them, I absorb their tranquility and feel like a different person.

Culture is something local

It is impossible to visit one island in Greece and say you know everything about Greek culture. Although Greek culture as a whole does exist, every region, or even village, has something unique to add to it. One Greek mousaka recipe does not exist, every Greek grandmother will have her own, as will every tavern cook. The same goes for lifestyle, cheese, liquor, traditions, and history. 

Exploring the whole Greek culture is impossible. However, it is extremely interesting to try. Every Greek region or island can teach you something different. 

The ancient history

Greece is known for its archeological sites. While history often remains no more than a story or object in a museum, in Greece, you have the opportunity to explore ancient cities and architecture. Popular examples are Mycenae in Peloponnese, Delphi in central Greece, and of course, the Acropolis in Athens. One of my personal favorites is Epidavros. This theatre, built in 400 BC, is the most well-preserved in the entire world. Visiting during the summer months, I can recommend attending an ancient theatre performance here. It is impossible to get closer to the Greek ancient culture.

religious site Meteora with monastery on a rock pilar with a lush forest below
One of the famous monasteries of Meteora.
On the UNESCO world heritage list.

Food

It is nearly impossible to have a bad meal while traveling through Greece. Feta, good olive oil, and fresh vegetables can turn any recipe into a delicious meal. Combine this with fresh fish or souvlaki, and you have heaven on a plate. Local products, vegetables, fruits, and olives, grown by natural sunlight, have a flavor unique to Greece.

As I said before, recipes will differ in every region or island in Greece, often based on the availability of products in the region. When entering a tavern, ask for the local specialty and try it! Explore Greece through food and don’t stick to the well-known gyros. 

Take your time in Greece

Although Greece is great as a summer holiday destination, many tourists fail to discover the real experience Greece has to offer. In 10 days spent on a famous island, you will not meet the real Greeks and not learn the Greek way of living. 

The beauty of Greek life is that it moves at a slow pace, so you should take it slow and take your time to explore. Don’t rush through a list of sites you want to visit. Don’t plan your entire trip and stick to a schedule. Instead, go to Greece without a program and see what happens. Explore different seasons and the different activities that they bring. This beautiful country deserves your attention, and you will be surprised by what it can give you! Everyone should explore Greece!

Why you should not rely on paying with your credit card in Greece

Paying by card is not as common in Greece as in other countries. Although quite a few places do allow card payment, some may not. Cash is the norm for many smaller Greek shops, restaurants, and hotels. When traveling in Greece, you should never solely trust your card. Always carry real money with you instead.

Going around Athens or Thessaloniki, a card will be accepted almost everywhere. However, as soon as you leave the big cities, there is a big possibility you will feel broke when not carrying cash. Smaller shops, taverns, hotels, beach bars, and even gas stations only allow cash payment in Greece.

Why the Greeks prefer cash

You might believe these areas of Greece are behind on modernization. But this is not the case. Every shop or tavern, every business that requires payment, has a terminal that allows you to pay by card. They are obliged to have one. The technology is there. The problem is the Greeks who refuse to use it.

Let’s say you go to a traditional tavern to eat souvlaki. The waiter here can serve you this for 5 euros. The owner makes a profit on this price, and you feel you’re not overpaying him. Great! But only if you pay in cash.

If these 5 euros are paid by card, you have to pay an additional 9% on tax. The tavern has to spend this 9% extra on its suppliers. And the employees have to pay at least 9% of their income. In the end, the price of the souvlaki will go up to 6 or 7 euros. So why pay extra and make things much more complicated?

Maybe you say, what is one euro extra? But this one euro for you makes, a big difference to the waiter that serves you souvlaki. He might not make more than 500 euro’s a month, and for him, taxes do count! If you pay your 5 euros in cash, this money goes into the tax-free profit of the tavern. With enough of these black souvlakia, the tavern owner can pay your waiter his salary in cash, and because this man does not have to pay taxes over his income, he can make it till the end of the month. Paying with card might have given him a slightly higher legal salary. However, over this salary has to spend such a big amount on taxes that he will not survive.

Tax evasion is a cultural norm

The reason the Greeks prefer cash payment is tax evasion, a cultural norm in Greece. You get things cheaper, the company gains more profit, and its employees have more money to spend. They will again buy at a lower price without paying tax, creating a new circle of profit. Everybody is happy, except for the government.

While Greece is amongst the countries with the highest tax rates, tax income is below average. Over the past years, the government tries hard to make its citizens pay taxes. It is for example no longer possible to live cheaply in an unfinished house. Business owners need to have a payment terminal. And people need to show that they spend at least 30% of their income on non-tax-free buying.

I guess the result is the broken terminal for tourists. Partly businesses are paying taxes, and people are spending money on taxes. However, when the books look legit and non-tax-evasive, the machine breaks. Profit increases, and undeclared employees get paid. And these are the people for whom you should not be paying with a card in Greece.

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Life in Greece got too expensive

During the crisis, people had to pay almost the same amount on taxes as did before. However, incomes have significantly decreased. The minimum wage was reduced, from roughly 900 euros in 2011 to only 680 in 2012. Still having to pay the same amount of money on taxes, the Greeks with a low income could not survive. As a result, their employees started to pay them in cash. This way, businesses were more likely to not go bankrupt during the difficult years, they could save money on salaries. However, almost 30% of the people working undeclared in Greece, asked themselves for their employees to allow it, just to be able to survive. Unfortunately, till today the lowest incomes in Greece can not afford life and for many, avoiding taxes is the only way to make it till the end of each month.

A vicious circle

I don’t say that what is happening in Greece concerning tax evasion and undeclared incomes below the minimum wage is good. The best would be if everyone could pay taxes and have enough money to rent a house and buy clothes and food. Unfortunately, this is today still not the case. Greece is in debt, asks for too much money from its citizens, and as a result, they will find ways to avoid paying. But if the government doesn’t lower the tax rates, the Greeks will keep finding ways to make black money. On the other hand, if the citizens don’t start paying the government, the tax rates will not drop.

Who will give in first? Greeks are stubborn, so finding a way may take a while. Slowly they will, and one day you will be able to use your card for paying anywhere in Greece. But until that day comes, make sure to carry cash.

2022 Update

This year, more shops and taverns in Greece allow you to pay by card. Especially on the more touristic islands, cards are accepted payment for almost anything. However, still there are occasions when you do need cash. Smaller family taverns, small apartment rentals, or even kiosks still try to avoid the tax-system. Although cash is not as needed as it used to be, still always carry some with you!

Frequently asked questions:

What is the currency in Greece?

Greece is part of the European Union and since 2001, this is when Greece adopted the euro.

Is paying by card accepted in Greece?

Not all around Greece. In Athens and Thessaloniki, a card will be accepted almost everywhere. However, as soon as you leave the big cities, card payments get might not be accepted. Always carry some cash with you, and before you order at a tavern, it might be smart to check if you can pay by card.

Where can I find ATMs in Greece?

In bigger cities in Greece, ATMs can be found in almost every shopping street or public square. In smaller villages or islands, the main square is where you can usually find an ATM.

How much does it cost to live in Greece?

How much money do you need to live in Greece? To be able to pay rent, go to a tavern once in a while, and live comfortably in Greece, you will need around 1.000 euros per person per month. In the bigger cities, however, prices are much higher. So here count on at least 2.000 euros a month.

If you have any other questions regarding payment in Greece, please leave a comment below, we're always happy to help!

Blue Flag beaches in Greece

What is better than a summer holiday on a perfect beach? Swim and relax, absorb some vitamin D, and enjoy the beauty of nature around. This is what attracts over 30 million tourists to come to Greece every summer. Greece is famous for its beaches, and it would probably be no surprise that if there is an award for beaches, Greece would be amongst the top countries to receive them. Well, there is an award, the Blue Flag. And Greece has many Blue Flag awarded beaches, marinas, and recreational boat operators. A tourist magnet. But are these Blue Flag awarded places the best you can find in Greece? 

What is Blue Flag?

Blue Flag awards are the Oscars amongst beaches. Only with many price winners. With the help and support of the Foundation of Environmental Education, the program aims to protect our coasts and promote sustainable tourism. The goal of Blue Flag is “pure water, clean coasts, safety and access for all.” 

Blue Flag started in France in 1987 as an initiative to raise environmental awareness amongst children. Although the program had the right goals, it chose the wrong way to achieve them. Groups of children would write messages in plastic bottles to throw into the sea. The idea was that currents would take the bottles to different shores. Whenever someone far away would read this message, he or she should understand the impact litter has on nature. However, not many bottles were ever seen again, and the program started with actually increasing water pollution.

After this, Blue Flag evolved. With the support of the European Union, it grew into the number 1 program to develop quality standards for beaches and seawater. Today the program is active in 48 countries. The majority of participating countries are in the European Union. But, for instance, islands in the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, and New Zeeland take part as well.

How does a beach get a Blue Flag award?

“A Blue Flag beach, marina or boating operator, is not only a place to give a sense of pride to the community and attract tourism but also promotes environmental issues and awareness.”

A Blue Flag is not only awarded to the most beautiful and clean beaches in this world. There are four categories in which a beach has to score points to acquire this eco-label.

Environmental education and information

One of the main goals of Blue Flag is to connect people to their surroundings. Each awarded beach has to inform visitors about ecosystems and provide environmental education activities. 

Water quality

The waters at a Blue Flag beach should meet ” the requirements for excellent bathing water.” No sewage systems can connect, nor can there be any industrial discharge. The waters have to be clean, healthy, and safe.

Environmental management

Proper waste and recycling management are included in this criteria. But also requirements related to domestic animals, camping, driving, and maintenance of buildings, are covered in this category.

Safety and services

Lifeguards, first aid equipment, and fresh drinking water have to be available to the public. It must be safe to both reach the beach as well as to be there. 

Blue Flag beaches in Greece

Around the world, 48 countries participate in the Blue Flag program. Amongst these 48, there are 5.042 awarded beaches, marinas, and boating operators, in 2022. Greece has a total of 602, 12% of the total awards, making Greece the 2nd country on this list. Most awarded are Crete (128), Halkidiki (87), and Rodes (55). But all over Greece there are awarded beaches. Even my beloved, nontouristic beach house is on a Blue Flag beach. Check the map on the Blue Flag website to discover if you have ever been on an awarded beach.

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How to interpret the Blue Flag label?

A comfortable, clean, and safe beach

The Blue Flag eco-label is a tourist magnet, but should you travel, chasing the beaches granted this trophy? The answer depends on who you are and who you are traveling with. 

When traveling with young children, or if you are disabled or older, the award might be a good guideline when deciding where to go. The Blue Flag beaches must be easy and safely accessible. First aid equipment and lifeguards should be available to help in case something happens, and so are toilets and drinking water. A sea with strong currents or dangerous waves will never make it on the list. 

The Blue Flag beaches are safe for children and comfortable for their parents. And since Greece has many cliff-side beaches and terrible dirt roads, the list of Blue Flag beaches is a good indication for people with limited mobility. Besides, all beaches carrying the eco-label must encourage visitors to learn about the environment and contribute to at least 17 Sustainability Development Goals.

The eco-label is not a travel guide

When I look at the 2022 Blue Flag labeled beaches, I can say that the most impressive spots on the Greek coastline did not get the eco-label. Even though requirements for the eco-label include pure water and clean coasts, other criteria are safety and accessibility. Resulting in many Greek paradises that do not make it on the list. 

Blue Flag has the status amongst tourists of a travel guide to the best beaches. This is a misconception. Although awarded beaches are clean and environmentally friendly, non-eco-labeled spots can be even more worth visiting. 

A beach with the cleanest, bluest water, surrounded by wild nature and without any disturbance of natural life and peace, will not make it on the list. Instead, a concrete road through the untouched nature, is needed for safe access. Environmental education activities have to be offered. Lifeguards should be available, and waste disposal bins should be installed.

The Blue Flag eco-label includes the necessity of human interference. But does this genuinely upgrade the nature of this place? Do these measures increase the sustainability of nature itself? Does it even make the beach a better spot to go to as a tourist? 

I would answer with no to all of these questions. 

The risk of the Blue Flag award

Most Blue Flag beaches in Greece, are located in areas well known by tourists. Combining this with the fact that municipalities of the beach have to apply themselves for the award, shows that the Blue Flag is not only about a green and eco-friendly holiday. There is economics and competition involved as well. 

Today, Greece is second on the list of countries with the most awarded beaches. Spain is first, and Turkey is third. For all these three countries, tourism is important to the economy. Being first on the Blue Flag list plays a role in the number of tourists that visit, making it economically beneficial to have as many beaches as possible granted with the award. 

This raises my doubts when it comes to the Blue Flag label. What if competition drives countries to get as many beaches awarded as possible? The result would be a lack of unique, secluded, and rural coastlines. 

The Blue Flag award is beneficial in places already known as good holiday destinations. For a beach organized and visited often, I can only praise any attempt to increase sustainability through human action. But I fear that with the increase in the familiarity of the Blue Flag label amongst tourists, the beautiful and untouched beaches of today will turn into tourist magnets in the coming years. Great for the economy, but not for us travelers.

Where to be in Greece when the sun sets?

Whenever I travel through Greece, no matter how busy my itinerary, I always make time for the sunset. Every day and during every season. The magic of the sunset is that every time and in every location, it is unique. You might think otherwise since it happens every day. However, going to the same spot before nightfall daily, you will always find something different. Making each end of the day a truly exclusive experience.

For me, every sunset is a special moment. Like fireworks on New Year. The fall of the sun marks the end of the day and the beginning of a new one. It is the moment I use to reflect on the things I have done and seen that day, and make a plan for the next one. A time to remind me to cherish the beauty of our world and remember how blessed I should feel to be a part of it.

What makes a sunset special?

Greece’s most famous sunset is in Santorini. In the village of Oia, thousands of people gather here daily to share this special moment. Although I must admit seeing the sun fall in the sea behind the white houses on a cliff is marvelous, I disagree that it is the best sunset in Greece or even the world. Especially not during the summer months. The picture you take in Santorini might be breathtaking. Yet I believe the experience while taking that picture is far more valuable. And fighting over a spot with thousands of other people is not the most romantic circumstance.

All throughout Greece, there is the opportunity to enjoy a magical ending of the day. So why stick to one spot and be amongst many others? As I said before, for me, experience comes before the picture. And the real sunset experience is in the ability to connect with your surroundings. Either the Greek culture or the nature. Not tourism and crowdedness.

Taking in the beauty of the descending sun surrounded by quiet is the most peaceful thing I can think of. It is like the sun says to our world, ” take a breath, rest, and rejuvenate. Tomorrow we will continue.” And while nature listens, I allow myself to breathe with her. The red and orange light helps me to find inner peace because that is what nature around me does together with me. This all might sound a bit too meditative for you, but I dare you to try and feel the same. It is an amazing feeling!

And for those of you who want a more practical guide to a good picture while not having to fight for a good spot amongst many other tourists, keep reading.

What makes a sunset beautiful?

What makes the Santorini sunset in Greece a tourist attraction? It is not so much the sun itself. It is the orange and pink light that changes the color of the picturesque white-washed villages. The sun is the same everywhere, but it is the foreground, your direct surrounding, that makes a difference.

The image below shows two similar sunsets. In both, the sun falls over the sea, behind the mountain of Athos. And both pictures are taken less than one kilometer apart and with a 24-hour difference. However, the foreground is what is missing in picture number one. And although the angle of the sun behind the mountain is slightly better in this picture than it is in the other one, the lack of close-by context really turns this one into more of a snapshot.

Sunset nr 1
Behind Athos over the sea but without a foreground reference. Although the setting is perfect, the lack of a context makes this picture quite boring to look at.
Sunset nr 2
Mount Athos and sea like in picture number 1. But now combined with a foreground showing the walls of a hundreds of year old castle and the silhouette of a deer.

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How to find the right location to watch the sunset in Greece?

There is a variety of applications available to help photographers find their perfect lighting conditions. An example is Golden Hour. This app can tell you when the sunset starts and points out where the sun will fall. All you have to do is find the spot where the lines of the app align with a beautiful landscape. And be at this spot at the right time.

In the image below, you can see how the blue line, the direction of the sunset, perfectly aligns with mount Athos in the top left corner. Combining this line with old castle walls in the foreground results in the beautiful picture above. But more important is that I was alone when I took the picture. Observing the sky turn to gold while being surrounded by deer and hundreds of year-old structures, was what really made this experience unique.

A screenshot from Golden Hour, an app that shows you everything you need to know about the sunset.

Another great location to watch the sun go down is where the foreground consists of multiple peninsulas. One behind the other, with water in between. Every piece of land will reflect a different shade of orange sunlight. Again these spots are pretty easy to find using the application.

It might also be a good idea to watch the sunset in Greece either on the beach or close to a little harbor. Standing, or even swimming, in the golden water while the day ends is a unique experience. The reflection of the sun on the waves makes for a perfect picture. The same goes for the harbor. Here you might also have the chance to capture a traditional fishing boat heading out to sea.

Lastly, definitely go out at nightfall when it is just partly cloudy. These clouds turn the orange sunlight into all shades of pink and purple. The perfect dramatic end of a day.

Inspiration:

If you have any question about where these sunsets took place in Greece, please leave a comment below! We would also like to know your idea about the daily sun's descent and your best experiences of this moment.