By Odysseas Papadimitriou

Growing up in Athens, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d take the city’s natural beauty and historic significance for granted. But now — years after moving to the U.S. for college and starting my own business — my biannual trips back to Greece to visit friends and family have allowed me to see the country for what it is: a veritable wonderland for the senses. But, being an expert in personal finance, I can also see the costs and logistical challenges travelers face when they’re thinking about visiting.

A beach bar on a small island off of Zakynthos. (Photograph by Dragan Arsovski, My Shot)

So, let me save you some time and frustration by providing some insider tips on what to see in Greece, what to skip — and how to save a ton of money while you’re at it. And don’t worry, I’m not on Greek Tourism’s payroll (I don’t think they could afford me these days), so I’ll give it to you straight.

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: anxiety about Greece’s economic struggles. It’s easy to assume from snippets on the news that Greece is awash in protests and debilitating strikes. The truth is that the demonstrations are really only limited to ten square blocks in Athens’ center (around Syntagma Square), and if you’re anywhere else, you’ll have no idea that anything is going on. Even with the recent turmoil, there is far less violent crime in Greece than in Canada or the U.S. — at least that’s what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime tells us.

If you need more convincing, consider the fact that Greece’s main draws – history and natural beauty – haven’t been affected by the unrest, and that the downturn has made hotels, restaurants, and inter-country travel much, much cheaper. In other words, it’s actually a great time to visit. You just have to keep a few things in mind as you plan your itinerary. Like:

1. Look for a package deal. Often, you’ll be able to get a better deal by booking flights, hotels, and certain activities in a bundle rather than individually. Just make sure to check online reviews before you sign on the dotted line.

2. Don’t cruise. While the Greek islands are popular cruise destinations, cruise line operators are much less affected by the struggles of the Greek economy than hotels and restaurants, which means you won’t be likely to score the best deal. Besides, in my opinion, docking at a bunch of different islands for a few hours won’t give you enough time to get a real taste for each one’s unique flavor.

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. The trick is to shop around for the lowest possible rates and then call the respective hotel or package-deal provider and tell them that you’ll make a reservation then and there if they give you a 10-15% markdown. I’ll tell you from past experience that this works more than you might think. But keep in mind that the odds of success decrease in July and August.

Check out Paros instead of the uber-popular Mykonos. (Photograph by Natalia Romay, Flickr)

4. Skip cosmopolitan islands. Like cruises, notoriously popular islands such as Mykonos and Santorini have a worldwide appeal that insulates them from the financial troubles that have befallen the Greek mainland. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of beautiful, fun, and most importantly, reasonably priced island destinations to visit — including Paros, Skopelos, Tinos, and Zakynthos.

5. Forget the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Don’t plan your whole trip around visiting these historic attractions because any protests or strikes will make them inaccessible. If you are dead-set on seeing some archeological sights, check out Delphi, PhaistosOlympia, and Vergina instead. If you really want to hit the main attractions, schedule a couple of days in Athens at the bookends of your trip because odds are that you’ll be able to get there at some point.

6. Avoid flying within Greece. Airline personnel have a history of going on strike, so try to rent a car and drive if you can, or at least take a mode of transportation that offers back-up options (e.g. travel by boat to an island that gets served by more than one port in Athens). In that vein, traveling to the Peloponnese could be an excellent alternative to the islands because you can rent a car and visit a number of beautiful seaside towns as well as important archeological sites.

7. Save money. Use a no-foreign-transaction credit card to save on purchases made through foreign merchants. Just make sure to notify your credit-card company of your travel plans and only sign receipts in terms of Euros. If you have excellent credit, apply for a card that offers a lucrative initial rewards bonus. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card currently gives you up to $500 toward travel expenses if you spend $3,000 during the first three months.

There you have it, a Greek personal finance professional’s guide to experiencing all that Greece has to offer while saving money in the process.

All that’s left to say is Kalo Taxidi (have a good trip)!

Odysseas Papadimitriou is a native of Greece who founded the credit card comparison website Card Hub in 2008 after serving as a senior director at Capital One for eight years.

Comments

  1. Martha O'Brien
    Ireland
    February 21, 9:07 am

    I just love everything about Greece too! My first island was Corfu, but when we decided to go back, we risked going on a tiny island called Schinousa with no prior reservations. It was the best thing we’ve ever done in our lives! That summer we visited so many islands, completely untouched by modern civilisation like Irakleia and Donousa it was pure magic.

    p.s. Turkey was a D I S A S T E R. We were robbed blind by everyone, we weren’t aware that we couldn’t drink their water and spent 2 days in a toilet, the food was horrible and we were treated like dollar bills with legs wherever we went.

  2. pedalbarron
    BOCO, USA
    July 14, 2013, 11:50 pm

    Very insightful, thanks. We’re contemplating a 2 week self-supported cycling trip in Greece in October or November.

    Would you recommend the Peloponnese or Crete for that time of year?

    Figure 80 – 100 km a day, staying in hotels, inns, etc. We’d be looking for a nice climate, scenery, quiet roads, and frequent small towns with good food and friendly people. All the roads need not be paved, but we cycle slower on dirt.

  3. Lesvos Car Rental
    Greece
    January 23, 2013, 9:30 am

    I can propose Lesvos island as a great place to visit and enjoy your vacation. It is great for sightseeing and relaxing. People are very nice…

  4. Christian Rene Friborg
    November 25, 2012, 11:52 pm

    I just love everything about Greece! Their rich and marvelous culture, the lovely people, the food and of course, the various tourist spots that will surely take your breath away. I’d love to visit this country again soon.

  5. mary
    United States
    November 20, 2012, 7:49 pm

    Has anyone been to Greece in early March? seem to find a lot of ferries are not operating…is that accurate? I I’m looking for hiking, outdoor activities and few crowds and not too cold. Any information and/or information? Thanks!
    PS: Turkey is great!! I have been seven times in just over two years and love everything about that amazing country!

  6. Denis
    South Africa
    November 14, 2012, 12:17 pm

    Yay I can’t wait to get famously hospitalized in Turkey! (not)

  7. Mehmet Cem Dereli
    Türkiye
    November 14, 2012, 7:40 am

    Why bother with all these hustle and bustle?
    Just skip “Greece only” archological and culturel sides and go to Turkey for more than one civilaziton going bcak 8.000BC.
    PS:No demostirations but get ready for famous Turkish hospitalization.

  8. Rita Marie Azarcon
    Bacolod City, Philippines
    November 14, 2012, 1:50 am

    Very helpful. Thank you for the info. We’re planning to visit
    Greece next year.

  9. inder bhalla
    hyderabad. India
    November 13, 2012, 11:50 pm

    Good tips. Thanks.

  10. zee russ
    seattle
    November 13, 2012, 6:44 pm

    I heard that receipts are not given in Greece so the accounting is very shady. Sales tax is not rendered to the government; thus the government is broke.

  11. Ed Evans
    Ocean Springs, MS, USA and London, UK
    November 13, 2012, 12:49 pm

    I just returned from a two week holiday in Crete and found it to be virtually untouched by the mainland’s economic woes. Everyone seemed prosperous and the folks were as friendly as ever, perhaps because they continue to use the old economic tricks they always have. I won’t elaborate on that, but it certainly is the main reason why Greece is in economic trouble. The government in particular, but not the people.

  12. Nick Daskalakis
    Crete, Greece
    November 13, 2012, 12:16 pm

    Greece is an amazing country to visit! There is so much stuff to see crammed into such a small country. The “beauty density” is incredible. If you do make your way to Greece consider stopping in Crete. We are in the business of selling crete property so we aren’t unbiased, but its the island where the Minoan civilization was born and they chose Crete for a reason!

  13. Ed
    IOWA
    November 13, 2012, 11:24 am

    What did the author mean by, “only sign receipts in terms of Euros”?

  14. Don Bates
    New York City
    November 13, 2012, 11:02 am

    Greece is great. Check out island of Spetses, not far from Athens. My wife’s favorite destination. She’s been visiting for years.

  15. Nick
    Johannesburg
    November 13, 2012, 9:38 am

    Quite Right !

    I have been to Greece at least 8 times over last 30 years or so.

    1st Trip in 1963 and this year were the best by far !!

  16. Eva
    http://hotelinyerevan.com/
    October 17, 2012, 9:13 am

    The Greece is an ancient country with great architecture, nice weather, sunny people and delicious food. Love it so much :)

    p.s. my grandma is a greek :)

  17. Rizki
    Jakarta, Indonesia
    October 16, 2012, 6:54 pm

    Wonderful Place, full of history

  18. Michaela Hunt
    Worthing, Sussex, UK
    October 16, 2012, 4:52 am

    We have already booked next years holiday, to Santorini – we have always wanted to go there. I got it cheaper with Thomas Cook than any of the other companies – £300 – 400 cheaper and believe me I spent days searching. I also had a £250 voucher from work, so saved even more money. I know Santorini is going to be pricey and busy, but we will be staying exactly where we wanted to go – Thira (Fira) and in the hotel we wanted. I can’t wait, roll on September 2013.

  19. Eleni
    US
    October 15, 2012, 3:17 pm

    Actually, I would disagree with you regarding #4. Take the cruise ships to an island. But instead of getting back on in a few hours; stay on the island for a few days and catch another ship to the next island. That is the ONLY way to truely experience Greece….and don’t forget my homeland, Lesbos!

  20. Paul Römer
    Hilversum, The Netherlands
    October 13, 2012, 2:37 pm

    Wonderful blog. But please don’t skip the island of Crete!

  21. Coco
    China
    October 13, 2012, 10:25 am

    It is pretty good,I dream to visit there .

  22. Nancy D. Brown
    San Francisco, California
    October 11, 2012, 9:47 pm

    Hurray for insider tips. ζήτω (don’t you love Google translate?) FYI, that’s Greek for hurray!