Overview of Greece
Located in South Eastern Europe, Greece lies on the Southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula and is part of the Mediterranean. Greece shares its borders with Albania, Turkey, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Most of Greece is surrounded by water, and the country itself has over 1400 islands of which less than 230 are populated.
Islands which form part of Greece include Crete, Cyclades and the Ionian islands. As a country, it is deeply entrenched in history and is considered the birthplace of the modern Western world. Greece brought the world philosophy with its great thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato, and a wealth of knowledge including mathematics, politics and science. Ancient Greece also gave us the Olympic games.
Ancient Greece has had a profound impact on modern day Greece which has maintained a high quality of life and an excellent standard of living since. Today, Greece is part of the EU and a member of the United Nations.
Climate And Geography
Greece has a typical Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers, plenty of sunshine and mild, wet winters. The average annual temperature is a very pleasant 17°C, and summers can be as hot as 37°C. Winters can drop below freezing, although they tend to stay mild with temperatures around the 10°C-15°C mark.
Over 80% of Greece is covered by mountains making it the most mountainous of all the European countries. The Pindus mountain range dominates the skyline though and the highest mountain in Greece is the legendary Mount Olympus – home of the Ancient Greek Gods.
There are also many rare and endangered species living on or near the Grecian coastline – the 12th longest coastline in the world. The coastal areas are home to the loggerhead turtle and piniped seals – both rare forms of marine life.
Athens – The capital of Greece, Athens is a very mixed metropolis with a fusion of eastern and western cultures living side by side. There is a good population of Turkish settlers here and this is evident in the cooking and the culture.
Athens is a modern city which has echoes of the past all around it. However, most tourists only really see the high-rise apartments instead which are littered everywhere throughout the city. The city itself is an economic and socio-political powerhouse and considered the backbone of the Greek economy.
Peloponnese is based in the Southern Peninsula and is famed for its rich, Ancient Greek history. The city has some superb landscapes and some excellent ancient sites including Olympia, Mycenae, Corinth, Mystras, and Epidavros.
Peloponnese is mostly a mountainous area with mountain towns which can make getting around difficult. With more goats than people, Peloponnese is a beautiful city with much to see and experience.
Create is one of the largest cities in Greece (although it is strictly an Island) and was built in the seventh millennium B.C. The heart of the city is rooted in Ancient Greek history and Crete is home to many monuments, historical buildings and mountains.
Crete is one of the most popular destinations within Greece and has much to offer the discerning traveller from caves, rock formations and mountains to quaint villages and towns, superb food and Ancient ruins.
Transportation in Greece
Air Travel – Greece has a total of sixteen international airports, with the main airports being in Athens, Crete, Rhodes and Corfu. Most tourists coming into Greece will come via Athens (ATH) which handles most International and Intercontinental flights. Greece has its own carriers which include Olympic Airways and Olympic Aviation. Average flight time from London to Athens is 3:15 hrs.
Road Travel – The road network in Greece is very well developed and most road signs on major routes have English signposting as well as Greek. On smaller routes though, most signs are in Greek, so unless you are confident in understanding the language, its best to stick to taxis for lesser known routes.
Driving here is on the right hand side and road safety is a serious issue so always belt up and drive carefully. You will need a full British or other EU driver’s license to drive in Greece. It’s a good idea to have your passport ready as well, as some car hire agencies don’t allow hire without one.
Bus Travel – All the main towns in Greece are linked to Athens, so if you wish to see more of Greece than Athens itself, you shouldn’t have a problem. Athens has two main terminals – A and B. If you wish to travel to the Province, you need to go to terminal A.
Bus travel in general is fast and cheap, especially for the Inter-City Services. Services are also frequent and very reliable too. You can buy bus tickets from any ticket booth which can be found near main shops or from a corner kiosk.
Train Travel – Trains are great for those on a budget as travel is cheap. However, services in general are pretty slow, minus the express train service between Athens and the major cities. The trains are run by the Greek Railways Organization which is abbreviated to OSE. You can contact their call centre on 1110 for more information.
There are two main train stations in Athens which are Peloponnese (trains only go to Peloponnese from here) and Larissis where trains go to Northern Greece. The main switchboard number for Larissis is +30 2410 236250.
Taxis – Taxis are cheap and very reliable in Greece, so getting around should not be difficult. Only ever use a metered taxi so you know what you are paying and won’t get a nasty surprise. Be warned though, you may find that your driver picks up other passengers on your travels which doesn’t affect your fare but may surprise you!
Things to See and Do in Greece
One of the best attractions in Greece is the Ancient Acropolis and Parthenon – both of which are now a UNESCO world heritage site. These beautiful ruins were built in the 5th Century B.C and have been lovingly restored since 1986 – you can still unfortunately see scaffolding and cranes around. As you get to the top of the Acropolis, you can see the Odeon to Herodes – a huge Grecian open-air amphitheatre capable of seating 5000 people.
Oia village on Santorin Island is one of the most stunning of villages on the Island, with its white-washed walls, fantastic architecture and the colourful doors and shutters which contrast with the brilliant white walls of the village. From the village you can enjoy panoramic views of the sea and the volcano known as Caldera which is located on Thirassia Island.
The Knossos Palace on the Island of Crete is another stunning example of Greek architecture at its best with the characteristic colonnades that are so typical of places like the Acropolis and other monuments and temples. Built in 1900 B.C, the Knossos was damaged by an earthquake which destroyed much of the palace. This was later restored and is the biggest palace on the Island with over 1000 rooms and toilets that actually flushed! While you are stopping at the palace for a nosey around, be sure to visit the nearby Heraklion museum which houses some rare artefacts from the palace.
The Ancient Greeks were very religious people who believed in myths, legends and gods. It was steeped in their culture and so all over Greece you’ll find countless temples paying homage to the gods. None are quite so impressive as the temple of the Olympian Zeus in Athens which is the largest temple in Greece and was completed over a period of 6 centuries because of issues with funding from the Emperor Peisistratos at the time. The temple was completed by Hadrian in 132 AD.
Herakleion City is based in Crete and is the largest city here, as well as being a port. This beautiful city has some excellent points of interest within it such as the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis – a famed local author who died in 1957, as well as the Monastery and church of St Peter. The church is a 13th Century creation built by the monks at the time and was consequently converted into a mosque during the Ottoman rule. The church contains some very rare and very valuable 15th Century Frescoes.