This guide to the top things to avoid in Greece is essential reading for any travelers looking to explore the home of Zorba this year. It offers some insights into the ins and outs of the country, hopping from the southern shores of Crete to the soaring mountains of the northern Peloponnese to seek out a few things that we think are better skipped.
There’s no doubt that Greece is one darn enticing part of Europe. Complete with glinting sand stretches, idyllic coves, lovely honeymoon hotels, wild peaks, and ancient ruins to match anywhere else on Earth, it’s visited by millions of people every season.
If you’re planning on being one of them, our list of things to avoid in Greece reveals a few tips about the top times to visit the country, the best places to go, and how to squeeze as much enjoyment as you can from the tavernas and the sands. Basically, it’s a 101 for anyone thinking of hopping down to the sun-kissed isles in 2022.
The peak, peak season (on some islands)
We won’t beat around the bush – it can get CRAZY in Santorini and Mykonos during the peak of the summer months. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people jostling for views of the sunset from the lookout points in Fira and Oia. We mean the sleek clubs of Paradise Beach and Psarrou positively bursting with bodies.
Some people might love the buzz that comes with the extra crowds, and there’s no doubt that it cranks up the hedonism on islands like Ios and Rhodes. But, if you’re not one for busy bars and beaches, then you might want to either dodge the most popular time of year altogether or choose somewhere a bit more off the beaten track to visit.
The peak season usually lasts from late June to late August. Things quieten down very fast by the time September swings around, and the weather’s actually not all that bad until November (more on that later). You could also pick somewhere like the Peloponnese or lesser-known isles like Poros, Kea, and Alonnisos to skip the hordes of tourists.
The hottest months
This might sound stupid to folks who are seeking that hit of scorching summer weather at the southern end of Europe, but the hottest months in Greece can actually be too much for some travelers. Yep, temperatures in these parts regularly breach the 100 F (37 C) mark in the balmiest season between June and August. That’s super, duper hot!
Global warming has hardly helped matters, either. Greece has been recording record temps almost year after year for the last decade now. It’s even led to uncontrollable wildfires in some parts of the country, like the ones that ravaged the mountain-carved isle of Euboea close to Athens in 2021.
Now, we’re not saying that you’re going to get caught in forest conflagrations. That’s not likely. What we are saying is that Greece can get extremely warm in the peak of the summer. So much so, in fact, that you might just want to consider pushing your trip to the fall or bringing it forward to spring. People who do that rarely regret it, as there are smaller crowds on the beaches and you still get mercury in the 80s and 90s.
We have A LOT of love for Athens. It’s one of the most enthralling cities out there. The great Acropolis, the immersive Plaka area, the vast collections of the National Archaeological Museum, the hipster bars and coffee houses of the Koukaki district – there’s loads to get through in the great capital of the country.
However, we do think that it would be a shame to jet into Greece to see Athens and nothing else. There’s a wonderworld of places outside of the big city. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the most enthralling treasures of the nation are beyond urban limits, in the form of glistening beaches, soaring mountain ranges, and ancient temple complexes.
The good news is that it should be a cinch to leave behind Athens for the islands and the wilds. Just hop on the metro line to Piraeus port. Boats go from there to all the major islands in the Cyclades region – Mykonos, Paros, Santorini. Alternatively, rent a car and whiz down the all-new highway to the Peloponnese, where you’ll be greeted by ancient Corinth, the Corinth Canal, and the UNESCO site of Epidaurus.
What! Why? Well…moussaka is a tasty Greek dish but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the regional kitchen. Too often do we see visitors order nothing but this layered bake of eggplant and mince. Too often do we see folks missing out on the other, more local dishes that are just as tasty, just as intriguing, and always best eaten whilst on the ground.
Be sure to order a hefty Greek mezze lunch of saganaki cheese (a grilled dairy product that’s sold with a zingy lemon on the side), horta highland greens (uber bitter and healthy), gingantes (butter beans in red sauce with onions), fava (a split pea paste with a pungent smell). We could go on and on and on!
Basically, the point here is that Greek cuisine is just too good to ignore in favor of eating the national dish and only the national dish. Yes, have one or two moussakas if you must, but avoid ordering it all the time because there’s a whole smorgasbord of flavors and tastes and small plates just waiting to be sampled.
Greece is really finickity about tourists coming into close contact with any sort of military site or installation. You might notice that there are often huge walls wrapped in barbed wire, beefy security guards, and loads of unsavory signage about the place whenever you come near one. That’s just part of the government’s effort to keep their armed forces under wraps, and it’s something they take very seriously.
Visitors are actually routinely arrested or questioned after being found to have taken photos of military-related things in Greece. It happened to a French woman in Rhodes back in 2015, and that certainly wasn’t the first time that a lens-touting tourist has seen the inside of a Greek jail cell just by snapping shots of something in khaki.
To be honest, we’re probably being a bit OTT saying avoid all military outposts. The issue here really arises when your encounters involve recordings or photos. Be sure to check where you are before bagging those holiday snaps, and always look at the map before giving lift off to the drone cameras. Greek beaches are better than Greek prisons, promise!
The most developed beaches
Greece isn’t famed for having some of the best beaches in Europe for nothing, you know? Spread over 6,000 separate islands and clocking up a whopping 9,300 miles of coastline, the country is positively brimming with amazing sands. But if those stats show anything, it’s that you might have to be willing to do some adventuring to discover the best of the bunch.
In our experience, skipping the most developed of Greece’s beaches to find the places that are more off the beaten path is a sure-fire way to wow yourself with the coastline at this southern end of the continent. That’s the way to find the bays that will get the jaw a-dropping and to escape the sunbed-packed sands. Here are just a few examples of developed spots and their less-developed alternatives…
- Skip Malia Beach in Crete for Elafonisi or Balos Lagoon – Malia is Crete’s party mecca and the main resort. It’s got its own beachfront, but the white-sand bays and lagoons in Chania prefecture in the far western part of the island are a much more dramatic prospect.
- Skip Psarrou in Mykonos for Agios Sostis Beach – Dodge the main jet-setter part of Mykonos on the south coast, where Psarrou is home to slick coastal villas and yachts, and head north to the largely untouched bay of Agios Sostis, where you can sunbathe alone under craggy headlands.
- Skip Shipwreck Bay in Zante for Porto Limnionas – Shipwreck Bay is one of the bucket-list spots of Zakynthos and one of the most amazing beaches in Greece as a whole. However, there are some amazing coves that are awesome for snorkeling to the north and south, not least of all lovely little Porto Limnionas.
Your credit card
As of 2013, Greece made the fewest digital transactions of any country in the EU. That’s changing. The government has actually made huge pushes towards using electronic transactions and card payments, mainly as a way to crack down on what they considered was widespread tax evasion among the population.
The bonus for travelers is that it meant that plastic started to get accepted in more and more places around the country, even in more rural spots that would have looked at a chip and pin more like a UFO only years before.
However, we’d say still don’t go relying on your card here. We still find ourselves in places where ATMs have been miles away and the taverna owner thinks Mastercard means a great poker player is in town. Always try to carry some euros and don’t be surprised if you have to use them.
Greece doesn’t do rushing. It’s as simple as that. This southern end of Europe is about slowing down the pace of life, about smelling the oleander in the air, about long lunches that leave you unable to move for hours on end. The Londoners or New Yorkers among us will simply have to find a way to alter that internal clock so it’s not rushing off at 400 miles per hour.
We’re not saying that there’s not a lively moment to be had in Greece. There’s a true buzz about downtown Athens and the promenades of Thessaloniki, for example. And then you have those ouzo-soaked wedding parties when the plates start smashing and the Zorba gets danced.
What we’re saying is that Greek culture has a certain penchant for taking things easy, for long conversations, big meals, and the simple things. Don’t arrive here expecting hi-tech society and Tesla cars whizzing around every corner. Come for the wave-lapped beaches and the soft sway of the eucalyptus forests.
Winter island hopping
Greece can be pretty lovely in the winter. There are hardly any tourists clogging up major sights like the Acropolis and the Parthenon on top of it. The beaches are almost totally empty across even popular island chains like the Cyclades. And prices for travel are their lowest for the whole year – you’re looking at paying under $20 for a return flight to London sometimes.
However, there’s one sort of Greek trip that we simply wouldn’t recommend come the wintertime: Island hopping. It might be one of the most bucket-list-busting things that you can do in this corner of the world, but it’s not really suited to the colder months. There are a few reasons for that…
Firstly, the weather isn’t great. Temperatures in the 40s aren’t uncommon throughout the winter and Greece can get hit by pretty strong storms known as medicanes. That leads us to problem number two with winter island adventures – the sea. From the Ionian to the eastern Aegean, the waters here are at their choppiest and most unruly from November to March. Some ferry companies shut up shop altogether and it’s not the best time to sail around in your own charter, either.
Things to avoid in Greece for a successful trip – a conclusion
There are a number of things to avoid in Greece if you want to make that vacation to the sparkling Aegean the trip of a lifetime. First, get the time of year you visit right – you don’t want to be competing with hordes of tourists, or find that you can’t catch ferries because you’ve arrived in the middle of winter. Second, make sure you sample as much local cooking as you can. Third, be sure to follow any rules around military sites and whatnot, because breaking those can land you in jail! We’d also say the gritty cities and the most developed beaches are up there with the things to avoid in Greece, because there are better things to see in this amazing corner of Europe.