Greece travel guide
A flavourful melting pot of sparkling nightspots, fresh seafood, sizzling Mediterranean passion and mythical legend, Greece is a fascinating and enchanting destination.
The country has long held appeal for travellers, who decamp to its shores to lounge on beaches, explore ancient relics and take advantage of the legendary Grecian hospitality.
Yet despite its popularity, there is still an undiscovered feel to parts of Greece with Mount Olympus, the Peloponnese coast and some of the more remote islands slipping, for now at least, under the radar of mass tourism.
The first port of call for most visitors is Athens, the country’s stunning capital, which combines a modern centre with the stark ancient beauty of the Parthenon and a position overlooking a cerulean stretch of the Saronic Gulf.
Like the rest of the country, Athens was built on a classical civilisation that produced some of the world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers and poets. The ancient Greeks also brought the world democracy, which locals cheerfully remind visitors about, and a pantheon of deities, who are celebrated through statues and local folklore.
Everywhere has its own legend; from the tiny island of Ithaca, home to the wanderer Odysseus, to the rugged stretch of the Peloponnese, the onetime playground of divine beings.
While modern Greeks might not be hitting the intellectual heights of Pericles, the country remains one of Europe’s leading holiday destinations, thanks largely to its gorgeous collection of islands, which are scattered like confetti across the Mediterranean Sea.
Greece boasts 1,400 islands in all, amongst them Rhodes, which was home to the ancient Minoan culture and, legend has it, the terrifying Minotaur. Today it is better known for its stunning beaches, charming seaside towns and lively nightlife.
The islands of Corfu, Crete and Santorini are also established hangouts for sun-seekers and merrymakers, while Kos has begun to attract deities of a very modern kind – the world’s rich and famous. Ultimately, though, in democratic Greece, everyone is welcome.
131,957 sq km (50,949 sq miles).
10,919,459 (UN estimate 2016).
81.7 per sq km.
President Prokopis Pavlopoulos since 2015.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras since 2015.
Last updated: 22 January 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
British nationals make over 3 million visits to Greece every year. Most visits are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
There are regular strikes, sometimes called at short notice that can cause disruption to public transport (including air travel and ports), as well as road networks and borders. You should avoid all demonstrations and follow the advice given by local security authorities.
Localised or severe weather extremes, including wildfires, can affect areas of Greece over the extended summer period. At times, this can cause travel disruption. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the Greek Meteorological Service or European Meteorological Services website, follow the advice of local authorities at all times and check with your travel provider for travel updates.
There were a number of cases of West Nile virus in Greece in 2018. You should consider preventative measures to minimise exposure to mosquitoes, for example using mosquito repellent when outdoors and closing doors or windows or using screens.
Greece has capital controls in place. You can withdraw cash using a UK card up to the daily limit imposed by the Greek banking system (usually €600) or the daily limit imposed by your UK card issuer - whichever is the lower amount. You should be able to pay for retail transactions with debit and credit cards as you would elsewhere, but always check beforehand as not all business hold a machine for processing card payments. The Greek government currently limits cash withdrawals from Greek bank accounts to €5,000 per month. There are no restrictions on taking euros from the UK to Greece or bringing euros back from Greece to the UK at the end of your stay. When travelling outside the UK you should take more than one means of payment with you (cash, debit card, credit card).
If you’re living in or moving to Greece, visit our Living in Greece guide in addition to this travel advice.
Terrorist attacks in Greece can’t be ruled out.
You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired.
Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC, so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
Carry a copy of your passport or other photographic ID which confirms British nationality at all times.
The Greek police won’t accept rowdy or indecent behaviour, especially where excessive drinking is involved. Greek courts impose heavy fines or prison sentences on people who behave indecently. Your travel insurance may not cover you after drinking.
There have been reports of an increase in holidaymakers being encouraged to submit a claim for personal injury if they have experienced gastric illness during their stay. You can find more information about the action you can take if you have suffered a personal injury on the Citizens Advice website. You should only consider pursuing a complaint or claim if you have genuinely suffered from injury or illness. If you make a false or fraudulent claim, you may face legal proceedings in the UK or Greece.
The emergency services number in Greece is 112. Calling 999 from a UK mobile in Greece will automatically transfer you to the Greek emergency services.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Major pre-planned strikes and demonstrations
Demonstrations take place regularly around major squares in central Athens, in particular Syntagma Square. Nationwide strikes and protests can occur at any time and may disrupt road/air/sea travel and cause delays/diversions at border crossings. You should follow local media reports and check with your travel operator. You should avoid large crowds and demonstrations. Some demonstrations in the past have turned violent.
Road closures are common in Athens and are not always announced in advance. Demonstrations can be called at short notice, but there are certain dates on which demonstrations traditionally occur: 1 May, 17 November, and 6 December.
Most visits to Greece are trouble-free, but theft of passports, wallets and handbags are common on the metro and in crowded tourist places, particularly in central Athens. Leave valuables in a safe place at your hotel or apartment and carry a photocopy of your passport with you. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK.
When driving on holiday, keep your valuables out of sight and lock your vehicle at all times. Always park in a well-lit area or secure car park. Be alert to car crime.
Personal attacks, including sexual assault and rape, are generally rare in Greece. Although there have been incidents involving British nationals in some holiday resorts frequented by large numbers of youth tourists. In some cases the alleged attackers were also British nationals. In many cases excessive drinking by either the victim or the offender preceded the incident. There have been some racially motivated attacks, mostly but not restricted to inner-city areas.
Alcohol, drugs and use of nitrous oxide can lead to you being less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment. Drinks served in bars overseas are often stronger than those in the UK. We recommended only purchasing branded and labelled drinks.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you may need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) to be able to drive in Greece and other EU/EEA countries as a visitor after 29 March 2019.
There are 3 types of IDP. Check that you have the correct permits covering all countries where you will be driving - you may need more than one IDP. For full information, check this guidance page. You should also check guidance on driving in the EU after Brexit for information on other additional documents you may need to carry.
If you’re living in Greece, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
Take care when travelling by road. In 2016 there were 812 road deaths in Greece (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 7.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population, compared to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2016.
Make sure any vehicle you hire is in good condition and check that you’re insured. When renting mopeds or quad bikes, insurance sold by the hire company usually only provides third party insurance, which only covers the cost of damage to another vehicle. Quad biking is considered an extreme sport and carries the risk of serious injury or death. Specific travel insurance to cover quad bike rental is essential to avoid you having to pay the costs of private health care and/or repatriation to the UK. Always take care to read the details of your insurance cover before you travel on holidays paying particular attention to the small print and exclusions on your insurance policy.
Greece has recently introduced legislation banning the use of quad bikes of 125cc and under on tarmac roads. A fine of €1000 can be imposed. Larger quad bikes (150 and 310cc) are available to rent, but only to drivers aged 23 and over with a full driving licence. Provisional licences are not considered adequate for driving in Greece and can invalidate your insurance.
If you intend to hire a moped you will need a valid driving licence with at least category A1 - ‘light motorcycle’. Category P, which is valid in the UK for driving mopeds up to 50cc, is not valid in Greece.
By law you must wear a crash helmet on a scooter, moped or motorcycle. Quad bike riders must wear a full-face helmet (or non-full-face helmet plus goggles). Failure to wear a helmet might invalidate your travel insurance if you are involved in an accident and could lead to a €350 fine and confiscation of your licence.
You shouldn’t approach or take photos or videos of military installations, vehicles or buildings at any time. The Greek authorities will arrest and possibly prosecute anyone doing so. Certain border areas are also militarily sensitive. Although you can visit these areas, you should avoid taking photos or video footage.
Water sports and swimming
Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.
If you are considering taking part in water sports activities, do so through a licensed water sports centre and make sure paperwork is completed before starting the activity. Check the Safe Water Sports website for more information.
However inviting the blue waters may be, make sure you follow any warning signs, adhere to instructions from lifeguards and observe the flag indicators on beaches.
Since 1974, Greece has been a stable parliamentary democracy, with its head of state elected by the Parliament. It joined the European Union in 1981. Greece is going through a long-running economic crisis and its financial system is fragile. Greece has made positive steps in reducing its debts. Following the latest economic review, international creditors have released funds, but there remains a risk of further economic difficulties and related demonstrations.
In 2015 and 2016, there was a dramatic increase in the number of migrants and refugees arriving on Greek islands, including Lesvos, Kos and Samos, and seeking to continue their journey via Greece to other EU countries. The flows have now reduced significantly. The British Embassy is keeping the situation under review, but at present there are no reports of any specific risks to British nationals visiting these islands or at border crossing points.
Terrorist attacks in Greece can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners. High profile British interests in Greece should be vigilant and regularly review their security measures.
There have been several attacks involving explosives and automatic weapons against Greek institutions, shopping malls, banks, media offices, diplomatic premises and the police.
British nationals aren’t normally considered a specific target, but attacks could happen in places visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Indecent behaviour, including mooning, isn’t tolerated. The police will make arrests and the courts are likely to impose heavy fines or prison sentences on people who behave indecently. Some fancy dress costumes may be regarded as offensive and therefore against decency laws.
Drugs and Alcohol
Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind, and don’t bring drugs - including ‘class C’ drugs - from the UK. Possession of even small quantities can lead to a long prison sentence.
Alcohol, drugs and use of nitrous oxide can make you less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment.
The Greek authorities are clamping down on the sale of nitrous oxide as it is illegal to buy or sell for recreational use in Greece. You will be liable for arrest as well as a possible fine. You should also be aware of the health risks associated with its use.
Driving any vehicle while over the legal drinking limit can result in a heavy fine and/or imprisonment.
It’s sometimes necessary to time stamp or validate your ticket on public transport for it to be valid.
If you’re seeking employment in bars or night clubs in Greece, you will need a health certificate/licence issued by the local authorities. Failure to have such a certificate is punishable by a fine and or imprisonment.
Always insist on a contract for employment and check offered accommodation beforehand. Always keep your passport safe and do not hand over to others for safekeeping. If someone has taken your passport and is withholding it, report it to the police and/or contact the British Consulate for advice.
If you feel you have been exploited during seasonal work, don’t be afraid to seek advice. You can call the UK charity UNSEEN on their 24/7 helpline or call the local Human Trafficking 1109 NGO for advice and help in English.
Purchasing goods or services
Make sure you get a receipt for any goods or services you buy. If you buy pirate CDs or DVDs in Greece you could be imprisoned.
Don’t buy any offensive items like pepper spray, knuckledusters or knives with a blade length of 10cm or above. These items are listed as weapons in Greece and fall under the current weapon possession law. You need to have a special licence from the local police authority to carry any weapon otherwise you might face arrest and legal charges. The same applies for knives; you need to have a special licence to carry any knife that is not made for domestic, professional, artistic or hunting use.
Same-sex sexual relations are legal in Greece and civil unions between same-sex couples have been legal since 2015. The age of consent of 15 is the same as for partners of the opposite sex. Transgender people are able to change their legal gender. Anti-discrimination and hate speech laws apply to gender identity.
Public attitudes towards homosexuality vary throughout the country; public displays of affection by same-sex couples may be frowned upon, especially in rural areas.
Attitudes are generally much more welcoming in Athens and on many Greek islands, particularly on Lesvos, Mykonos and Skiathos, which are well known for their gay and lesbian scenes. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
It’s illegal to smoke in all indoor public places. The penalty for violating this law is a fine of up to €500.
Military Service obligations
Men, aged 19 and above, born to a Greek national parent may have military service obligations, regardless of any other nationality they hold. Authorities can prevent you leaving Greece until you complete military service obligations.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you do not need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
However, if the UK leaves the European Union with no deal, the passport validity rules for travel to most countries in Europe will change from 29 March 2019. Some passports with up to 15 months validity remaining may not be valid for travel. Before booking travel, you should check that your passport will meet these new rules and find out whether you need to renew it.
If your passport describes you as a British Citizen, you don’t need a visa to enter Greece. If you have another type of British nationality, check the current entry requirements with the Greek Embassy.
If you’re planning a stay of longer than 3 months, see our Living in Greece guide and contact the Greek Embassy if you have further questions.
The UK and EU have agreed the full legal text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement in principle. This sets out that there will be no change to entry requirements for British citizens travelling to the EU or for EU citizens travelling to the UK during the Implementation Period (30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020).
In the event of changes to entry requirements after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, this page will be updated as soon as information is available.
Travelling with medication
According to Greek law, a visitor can bring up to 5 different prescribed medicines for personal use, with a maximum of 2 boxes of each medicine.
Some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines available in the UK, including medication containing codeine, are considered controlled substances in Greece. A doctor’s prescription is required in all cases, which should mention your details, the types of medicine and the condition treated. On arrival, Greek Customs may in some cases require you to obtain permission from the Greek National Organisation of Medicines - if you need to carry more than the permitted number of boxes, for example. The National Organisation of Medicines examines these requests on a case by case basis.
For more information on controlled medicines, contact the Greek National Organisation of Medicines (telephone: 0030 213 2040 285 / 307 / 225, open Monday to Friday, 12pm to 3pm Greece time, or email: email@example.com).
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are valid for entry, airside transit and exit from Greece.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
There were more than 300 cases of West Nile virus in Greece in 2018. You should consider preventative measures to minimise exposure to mosquitoes, for example using mosquito repellent when outdoors and closing doors or windows or using screens. Visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website for more information about the transmission season and advice for travellers.
The Greek National Health system has a reciprocal agreement with the British National Health Service. You should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Greek nationals.
If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC). The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
Treatment and facilities are generally good on the mainland, but may be limited on the islands. The standards of nursing and after care, particularly in the public health sector lag behind what is normally acceptable in the UK. The public ambulance service, which will normally respond to any accident, is basic. There are severe shortages of ambulances on some islands.
While pharmacies across the country stock a good supply of medicines, you should make sure you have sufficient medical supplies (including prescription medicines) for the duration of your stay and any unforeseen delays, adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 or 166 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
Greece can experience earthquakes and earth tremors. You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake and follow advice given by the local authorities. The Greek General Secretariat for Civil Protection website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, and issues announcements about ongoing incidents.
Forest fires often occur during the summer months across Greece due to the dry/hot weather. Forest fires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. Take care when visiting or driving through woodland areas. Make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, and don’t light barbecues. Causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Greece even if unintentional. If you see a forest fire, call the emergency services on 112.
Localised or severe weather extremes can affect areas of Greece over the extended summer period and this can at times cause travel disruption. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the Greek Meteorological Service or European Meteorological Services website and check with your travel provider if necessary. You should follow the advice of local authorities at all times.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.