As Malaysia's international borders remain shut amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysians who want to travel abroad will have to wait just a little longer. But just remember that the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) is not forever! In the meantime, why not daydream and plan for your next trip to the beautiful country of Greece?
With its pristine beaches, stunning landscapes and revered ancient sites, Greece definitely lives up to all the hype and would be the perfect place to visit once travel restrictions finally let up. ? To help you out, we've even prepared some tips for Greece perfect for first-time visitors. ?
Best time to visit Greece
The peak seasons, for the most part, should be avoided if you’d like a calm and hassle-free trip. In Greece, the peak period is between mid-July to the end of August. During this time, the country is practically swarming with locals and tourists alike - regardless if it's in the city or on the islands. With that in mind, the best time to visit Greece is definitely during the off-season. ?
The best thing about Greece is that it’s been blessed with a wonderful climate. Throughout most of the year, the weather in the country remains mostly sunny and pleasant - save for October which is when it's most likely to rain. In general, if you do plan on visiting, try aiming to for the Autumn season (between mid-September to mid-December) as it is during this period that the country is at it's most pleasant. ?
P.S. If you’re not convinced that a trip to Greece is a good idea, here are 10 reasons that'll make you want to take the next flight out to Athens!
Essential tips for Greece
Safety in Greece
Greece is considered one of the safest tourist destinations in the world. But visitors are advised to use normal precautions that they would in any other European country and should always remain vigilant; especially when visiting crowded places such as market squares, major tourist spots and areas of public transportation. In Greece, purse snatching and pickpocketing are some of the most common crimes that visitors fall victim to. ?
Some of the most well-known tactics that petty thieves employ to make off with your belongings are:
- Suddenly bumping into you
- Sneezing on you
- Try to spill something on you
- Try to start an argument with you
While you're distracted and trying to defend yourselves or trying to gather your bearings, an accomplice will then sneakily make off with your belongings with you none the wiser! In Athens, the places where you’re most likely to encounter these petty thieves are in Omonia, Vathi, and Kolokotroni Squares. So be sure to be extra careful where visiting these places .?
Some other safety measures you can take:
- Don’t draw attention to yourselves by wearing expensive accessories, watches, or flashy jewellery
- Be sure to keep some form of identification on you at all times (e.g. hidden pouches worn on your body)
- Opt for a crossbody bag as opposed to a handbag
- Don’t carry all your money with you when touring
- Invest in a money belt
Halal food in Greece
When it comes to food, Greece is famous for its Mediterranean style dishes that utilise top-notch seafood and fresh ingredients. In Athens where the Muslim community is slightly larger, you'll be able to find quite a few halal restaurants which serve both international cuisine and Greek dishes - like Raja Jee Fast Food. Though finding halal food throughout the rest of the country can be difficult, Greece also has a wide variety of vegetarian dishes and fresh fish-based options for you to enjoy without worry ?.
Currency in Greece
The currency used in Greece is the Euro and while there's no limit to the amount of cash that you can bring into the country, visitors must declare if they're carrying anything over €10,000 (this includes cash, checks and money orders). If you didn't have the time to exchange cash beforehand or are in need of extra Euros, the Greek banks usually have the best exchange rates. On the flip side, money changers at the airport usually have the worst. ? Additionally, while many merchants do prefer to receive payment in the form of cash, credit cards and debit cards (Visa & Mastercard) are generally accepted at most businesses that receive a high volume of international tourists. ?
Greece isn't a very strict country so when it comes to cultural do's and don'ts, you don't really have to worry. In terms of clothing, you'll be pleased to note that most Greeks actually dress rather modestly - preferring to keep their legs and shoulders covered (something a majority of Muslims already practice). When you're visiting places of worship or places of significance (such as churches, monasteries, mosques or even some archaeological sites such as the Acropolis and Parthenon), it is recommended that both men and women keep themselves fully covered. This means opting for long-sleeved shirts, long pants, loose skirts and scarves as opposed to athleisure, shorts, or short-sleeved shirts. ?
Greece has a strong coffee culture. Anywhere you go you'll be able to find a bunch of people - regardless of age, gender or race enjoying coffee at little cafes or ice cream shops; just chilling and people-watching for hours! Unlike most cafes anywhere else in the world, where ordering a single beverage and sitting for hours will get you the stink eye from the staff, in Greece it's perfectly normal! So feel free to head over to a cafe, order a frappucino, and spend a couple of hours relaxing and updating your social media. ?
P.S. Almost all cafes and hotels in Greece have wifi so if you're travelling on a really tight budget you don’t have to bother getting a local SIM card just to access the internet!
Body language and Gestures
Greek people are very friendly, open and casual. They also utilise a lot of body language and gestures in order to express their feelings. When meeting new people, a smile and handshake are common and appropriate gestures. But when greeting people you already know (like a Greek friend or family member), gestures like a strong handshake and a hug is normal between two men while a hug and two simultaneous kisses (one on each cheek) are common between two women or men and women. So don’t be too surprised if you spot such gestures while exploring the country. ?
How to get around the city
When it comes to getting around anywhere in Greece, the public transport systems such as the Metro are actually really good and reliable. Not only is the metro station very clean, but it is also super easy to navigate as there are only three Metro lines - unlike London’s veritable maze of a system. The Athens Metro system also uses an easy ticket system - paper tickets (called the Ath.ena Ticket) that can be charged with fares from simple 90-minute tickets up to 5-day tickets. ? The 90-minute tickets are valid for 90 minutes after the first ‘touch in’, the 24-hour tickets are valid for 24 hours after the first ‘touch in’, and the 5-day tickets are valid for 5x24 hours after the first ‘touch in’. For example, if the first time you use the 5-day ticket is at 10:05 am on Monday it will be valid until 10:05 am on Saturday that same week.
Top attractions in Greece
One of the most popular attractions in Athens is the Acropolis. Known throughout the world as a symbol of the classical spirit, it was completed sometime in the 5th century BC and is now one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece. This famed archaeological site also plays host to other important, classical greek monuments such as the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea and the Temple of the goddess Nike! ?.
Monastiraki and Plaka, Athens
For those of you who want to do some casual exploring on foot, there's no better place to do start than with Monastiraki's famed flea market. You can spend literal hours just roaming the ancient streets that are filled almost shoulder to shoulder with all kinds of shops and kiosks that sell a wide array of cool souvenirs. From linen clothing and leather sandals to handmade jewellery and burnished antiques, you'll be dazzled at the sheer variety! ? Other than satisfying your inner shopaholic, there are also several other notable landmarks that would make for great photo ops - such as the Pantanassa church, Hadrian's Library, and the Tsisdarakis Mosque. ?
Located a 2-hour ferry ride away from Athens is the beautiful island of Hydra - one of the most cosmopolitan islands in Greece. Known as the 'The Grand Lady' of the Argo Saronic Gulf, this charming island is a great spot for art enthusiast, history buffs and those who love architecture. The island's cube-shaped houses are built on the higher slopes of the mountains near the back of the harbour - reflecting its rich maritime history (which includes defending the island from roving bands of pirates ☠️). Some fun things to do include exploring the many walking routes, going on a boat tour to Bisti cove, swimming at Aghios Nikolaos beach and going on a tour of the island on horseback, courtesy of Harriet’s Hydra Horses tour. ?
A trip to Greece is not complete unless you've visited the beautiful and romantic island of Santorini (also known by locals as Thíra). Made famous for its iconic volcano cliffs, whitewashed buildings and half-moon-shaped bay, this picturesque island looks like it jumped straight out of a painting! ?️ Some of the best things to do in Santorini include watching the sunset from the Akrotiri Lighthouse, going on a Catamaran Cruise around the island, signing up for a volcano tour to learn about the history of the island (as well as to swim in the hot springs) and finally, indulging in a walking tour through the villages of Oia, Pyrgos and Fira.
Types of accommodations
Those of you who don't need anything too fancy and are looking to save on accommodations, you can definitely opt to stay at a hostel. Understandably. some people might be hesitant to opt for this option but hostels are actually quite versatile and have a lot to offer. ? Depending on the location, room type (shared or private) and other amenities provided, a hostel room could easily cost just RM 85 - RM 200 a night. ?
For those who would like to spend their holidays in Greece in relative comfort, they can opt to get a hotel room or rent an apartment instead. Not only does this offer more privacy and comfort, but staying in a hotel room that has at least a 3-star rating will also give you more peace of mind in terms of safety and security of your personal belongings. Depending on the location and whether its peak season, a hotel room can cost anywhere between RM 250 - RM 400 a night. ?
For those of you who are planning to spend your dream vacation in Greece in absolute luxury, you can opt to stay in boutique hotels or hotels with a 4 or 5-star ranking. Rest assured that everything will be top-notch. Similar to mid-range accommodations, the price per night depends is rather dependent on the location, season and the types of amenities provided. The cost of staying in such superb conditions can rage anywhere between RM 350 - RM 900 per night. ?
P.S. If you prefer to stay somewhere closer to the sea, check out these 8 gorgeous Muslim-friendly accommodations in Greece for the best island vacation ever!
When it comes to shopping for souvenirs, some of the 'must-have' items includes olive oil-based soaps and beauty products, Greek coffee, and leather sandals. In the main tourist areas, shops stay open until about 7PM so feel free to take your time and browse through anything that catches your eye. A majority of them carry almost the exact same items, so you don't have to shop at the first store you see. As for the prices, despite what they might write on the sticker, you can still haggle with the shopkeeper and usually be able to walk away with your souvenir at a lower price. ?
#HHWT Tip: Be sure to carry around cash and small change with you as a majority of souvenir vendors with small stalls may not have any change. ?
So in conclusion, Greece should definitely be one of the first countries you visit once cross country travel bans have been lifted. With its amazing sightseeing spots, great food and a vibrant populace, the country also ensures that there’s a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. ? To get you started on your journey, check our 6D5N Muslim-friendly (and budget-friendly!) itinerary to the best of Greece!