Questions about Greece: The Definitive Guide for Seniors
An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
Greece (Greek: Ελλάς, Hellas) is located in sun-drenched southern Europe, on the southernmost tip of the Balkan peninsula. It has extensive coastlines and hundreds of inhabited islands in the Aegean, Ionian, and Mediterranean Seas. Greece shares borders in the north with Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
Greece is famous for giving birth to democracy, for its ancient culture that has had a significant influence on the world, and for its mountainous mainland and idyllic island beaches.
Athens is the capital and largest city of the modern-day Greek Republic, but thousands of years ago, when Hellas was not a single unified nation, Athens was one of its most important self-governing city-states (poleis; singular form: polis). The cradle of democracy, birthplace of prominent philosophers such as Socrates and Plato, home of the “father of history” Herodotus, the Acropolis, and Aristotle’s Lyceum, and the city that nurtured the tragedian Sophocles and the comedian Aristophanes, Athens was the centre of Greek civilised life and the wellspring of the artistic, philosophical, and intellectual ideas that still guide us to this day.
Hellas is the name used in ancient Greece, and the name modern Greeks use to refer to their country. The country’s official name is the Hellenic Republic (Helliniki Dimokratia) and it is referred to as Hellas in the European Union. “Greece” was adopted into English from the Latin name Graecia, which was what the Romans used to refer to Hellas. Graecia simply translates to “land of the Greeks”.
There are several theories regarding the etymologies of Hellas and Graecia, with roots in ancient mythology. One theory says Hellas came from Hellen, son of Deucalion and Pyrrha, who survived the Great Flood; and that Graecia came from Graecus, son of Zeus and Pandora, who is the sister of Hellen. However, the source of the terms remain uncertain and no theory is widely accepted
Greece has been a Member-State of the European Union since 2000 and has signed the Schengen Agreement, which means you only need the Greek Schengen Visa for a short stay visit of up to 90 days or three (3) months. Exemptions apply (for example, citizens of Australia and the United States can visit Greece visa-free) so it is always a good idea to check with your local consulate before travelling.
The Schengen Visa also allows you to visit other countries included in the Schengen Area, which as of 2019 consists of 26 countries. Citizens of the Schengen Area countries only need an Identity Card to visit Greece, but may need to show a passport upon arrival for security checks.
It is a modern airport which began operating in 2001, replacing an old airport (now closed), and is currently among Europe’s busiest air transport hubs.
The airport is named after Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, who established Greece’s first Ministry of Aviation. A permanent exhibition dedicated to him is housed in the airport, along with permanent exhibitions of archaeological findings and pieces from the Acropolis Museum–a great start to your Greek holiday.
The best time to visit Greece is April to June, if you wish to avoid the swell of tourists during the summer peak season and still enjoy some sunshine. Greece has a Mediterranean climate, which means mild temperatures and limited rainfall, which can make even the winter months a viable time to visit.
The vast majority of visitors arrive during the summer months of June to August. The average summer temperature in Athens is around 30 degrees Celsius. April has an average high of 20 degrees, and progressively grows warmer as we approach the summer months. Temperatures begin to drop in November, with an average max temperature of 18 degrees.
Most of the tourists and tourism industry in Greece are concentrated in the capital, Athens, and the islands of Crete, the Dodecanese, Cyclades, and the Ionian (Western Greek) Islands.
Athens is a popular entry point and a worthy city break, especially for those interested in ancient history, but there is plenty more to explore in the archipelago. Greece is composed of 6,000 islands and islets with coastlines on the Aegean and Ionian seas, with less than 300 of them inhabited.
After enjoying a view of the Agora and the Acropolis in Athens, you may want to head to Crete, the largest island in Greece. Learn more about the ancient Cretans that archaeologists now refer to as the “Minoans”, after the labyrinthine nature of a Bronze Age archaeological site unearthed in Crete, and which was probably the origin of the ancient tale of King Minos and the Minotaur. The Minoans had an advanced culture, the first of its kind in Europe, and you can see it in the incredible details of the Knossos Minoan Palace. You can also take in the natural beauty of the gorgeous beach of Elafonissi.
Speaking of gorgeous beaches, sandy coastlines and crystal-clear waters define the group of 56 islands called the Cyclades (“circular islands”), located about 200 km (or 120 miles) from the Greek mainland. They form a circle around the sacred island of Delos, the ancient headquarters of the Delian League formed by Athens to ward off attacks from Persia. Santorini is its most well-known, itself a group of islands: the large inhabited island of Santorini (with the Minoan town of Akrotiri on the southern tip) and a smaller inhabited island called Therasia, and the uninhabited islands of Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana.
You can go island hopping through the lush Ionian Islands, or decide to stay in cosmopolitan Mandraki or the quieter Lindos on the island of Rhodes in the Dodecanese.
As Greece has a strong tourism structure in place, you can choose from a wide array of accommodations: hotels, restored cottages, traditional villas, beach campsites, and even a secluded eco-resort built in the Greek highlands!
You can definitely travel around Greece without a car because Greece has a reliable (and cheap) public transport service.
As of 2019, Athens is the only city in Greece with a subway system. The Thessaloniki subway system is still being constructed, with operations eyed to start in 2020.
Greek towns also have an extensive bus network, but you will only really need them in Athens, Patra, Kalamata and Thessaloniki as other towns are small enough to explore by walking.
Of course, if travelling between the Greek islands, you can hop on a ferry or the faster but more expensive hydrofoil service.
Every major tourist hub has an assortment of souvenirs you can bring home as memorabilia, and in Greece they range from the practical to the mythical.
You can buy olives and authentic Greek extra virgin olive oil. The Greeks have been cultivating olives since ancient times, and to this day Greek olive oil is renowned for its quality.
Another famous Greek product is honey, which is said to be richer and denser compared to honey produced in other countries. Wild thyme honey, light in colour and produced by bees feeding on the nectar of wild thyme flowers, is rarer and therefore more expensive.
You can also buy handmade leather sandals and painted ceramic, as well as amber kompoloi (worry beads), used as a stress reliever in Greek culture, and the mati (eye), a blue charm to protect you from the “evil eye”.
If you want to learn more about Athens and the ancient Greeks, do join Odyssey Traveller’s small group tours, designed for the mature-age traveller who wants to go on an adventure alone or with a partner.
- The tour to Greece begins and ends in Athens and visits the Greek islands of Corfu, Mykonos, and Delos as well as the ancient cities of Corinth, Delphi, and Olympia.
- The Eastern Mediterranean Islands small group tour covers Athens, Santorini, Cyprus, and Crete
- You can also read our articles on Santorini and Athens.