Area Codes -- All phone numbers in Greece are 10 digits long. Area codes range from three digits in Athens (210) to as many as five digits in less populated locales; the phone numbers themselves range from five digits to eight but all must add up to a total of ten including the area code. All numbers provided in the text start with the proper area code.
Business Hours -- Greek business and office hours take some getting used to, especially in the afternoon, when most English-speaking people are accustomed to getting things done in high gear. Compounding the problem is that it is nearly impossible to pin down the precise hours of opening. We can start by saying that almost all stores and services are closed on Sunday -- except, of course, tourist-oriented shops and services. Supermarkets, department stores and chain stores are usually open 9am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday. On Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, smaller retail shops' hours are usually 9am to 3pm; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, it's 9am to 2pm and 5 to 7pm. The afternoon siesta is generally observed from 3 to 5pm, though many tourist-oriented businesses have a minimal crew on duty during naptime, and they may keep extended hours, often from 8am to 10pm. (In fact, in tourist centers, shops may be open at all kinds of hours.) Most government offices are open Monday through Friday only, from 8am to 3pm. Call ahead to check the hours of businesses you must deal with, and try not to disturb Greek friends during siesta hours. Final advice: Anything you really need to accomplish in a government office, business, or store should be done on weekdays between about 9am and 1pm.
Banks are open to the public Monday through Thursday from 8am to 2:30pm, Friday from 8am to 2pm. Banks at a few locations may be open for some services such as foreign currency exchange into the evening and on Saturday. All banks are closed on the long list of Greek holidays.
Doctors -- Any foreign embassy or consulate can provide a list of area doctors who speak English. If in a town without these offices, ask your hotel management to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own.
Drinking Laws -- The minimum age for being served alcohol in public is 18. Wine and beer are generally available in eating places, but not in all coffeehouses or dessert cafes. Alcoholic beverages are sold in food stores as well as liquor stores. Although a certain amount of high spirits is appreciated, Greeks do not appreciate public drunkenness. The resort centers where mobs of young foreigners party every night are tolerated as necessary for the tourist trade, but such behavior wins no respect for foreigners. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car and don't even think about driving while intoxicated.
Electricity -- Electric current in Greece is 220 volts AC, alternating at 50 cycles. (Some larger hotels have 110-volt low-wattage outlets for electric shavers, but they aren't good for hair dryers and most other appliances.) Electrical outlets require Continental-type plugs with two round prongs. U.S. travelers will most likely need an adapter plug and a transformer/converter. Laptop computer users will want to check their requirements; a transformer may be necessary, and surge protectors are recommended. But increasingly various appliances -- including laptops and hair dryers -- allow for a simple switch to the 220 volts.
Embassies & Consulates -- In Athens: Australia, Thon Building, Corner Kifias and Alexandras avenues (tel. 210/870-4000); Canada, 4 Ioannou Yenadiou (tel. 210/727-3400); Ireland, 7 Leoforos Vasileus (tel. 210/723-2771); New Zealand, 268 Leoforos Kifissias, Halandri (tel. 210/6874-700); United Kingdom, 1 Ploutarchou (tel. 210/727-2660); United States, 91 Leoforos Vas. Sofias (tel. 210/721-2951).
Emergencies -- If there is no tourist police officer available (tel. 171), contact the local police, tel. 100. For fire, call tel. 199. For medical emergencies and/or first aid and/or an ambulance, call tel. 166. For hospitals, call tel. 106. For automobile emergencies, put out a triangular danger sign and call tel. 10400. Embassies, consulates, and many hotels can recommend an English-speaking doctor.
Insurance -- Given the sometimes unstable conditions in Greece in recent years, some might consider purchasing travel insurance. But it is vital to understand just what you are paying for -- that is, exactly what kind of incident or situation would allow you to cancel and collect. Your own last-minute fears about strikes in Greece would not qualify, nor would a canceled flight within Greece.
Language -- Language is usually not a problem for English speakers in Greece, as so many Greeks have studied it and find it necessary to use in their work worlds -- most particularly, in the tourist realm that visitors encounter. Many Greeks have also lived abroad where English is the primary language. Young people learn it in school, from Anglo-American-dominated pop culture, and in special classes meant to prepare them for the contemporary world of business. Several television programs are broadcast in their original languages, and American prime-time soaps are very popular, nearly inescapable. Even advertisements have an increasingly high English content. Don't let all this keep you from trying to pick up at least a few words of Greek; your effort will be rewarded by your hosts, who realize how difficult their language is for foreigners and will patiently help you improve your pronunciation and usage.
There are several books and audio courses on learning Greek, including Berlitz's Greek for Travelers, Passport's Conversational Greek in 7 Days, and Teach Yourself Greek Complete Course (book and CD pack). In recent years, Rosetta Stone has been heavily promoting its courses as the best way to learn a foreign language: based on my own experience, this is not the best way for those who simply want to learn some basic and functional Greek for traveling there. It is, rather, for those who intend to learn the language for long-term usage.
Legal Aid -- If you need legal assistance, contact your own or another English-speaking embassy or consulate. If these institutions cannot themselves be of help, they can direct you to local lawyers who speak English and are willing to help.
Mail -- The mail service of Greece is reliable -- but slow. (Postcards usually arrive after you have returned.) You can receive mail addressed to you c/o Poste Restante, General Post Office, City (or Town), Island (or Province), Greece. You will need your passport to collect this mail. Many hotels will accept, hold, and even forward mail for you; ask first. American Express clients can receive mail at any Amex office in Athens, Corfu, Iraklion, Mykonos, Patras, Rhodes, Santorini, Skiathos, and Thessaloniki, for a nominal fee and with proper identification. For the fastest service, try FedEx or one of the other major private carriers; travel agencies can direct you to these.
Postage rates have been going up in Greece, as they are elsewhere. At press time, a postcard or a letter under 20 grams (about .7 oz.) to foreign countries costs .75€; 20 to 50 grams (up to 1.75 oz.), 1.30€; 50 to 100 grams (3.5 oz.), 1.75€. Rates for packages depend on size as well as weight, but are reasonable. Note: Do not wrap or seal any package -- you must be prepared to show the contents to a postal clerk. If you are concerned about some particular item, you might consider using one of the well-known international commercial delivery services. Your hotel or any travel agency can direct you to the nearest local office.
Newspapers & Magazines -- All cities, large towns, and major tourist centers have at least one shop or kiosk that carries a selection of foreign-language publications; most of these are flown or shipped in on the very day of publication. English-language readers have a wide selection, including most of the British papers (Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, Times), the International Herald Tribune (with its English-language insert of the well-known Athens newspaper, Kathimerini), and USA Today. Kathimerini, by the way, has an online English edition that is quite adequate for keeping up with Greek news (www.ekathimerini.com).
Police -- To report a crime or medical emergency, or for information or other assistance, first contact the tourist police (tel. 171), where an English-speaking officer is more likely to be found. If there is no tourist police officer available, contact the local police at tel. 100.Tourists who report petty thievery to the local police will probably feel that they are not being taken all that seriously, but it is more likely that the Greek police have realized there is little they can do without solid identification of the culprits. As for the other side of the coin -- police being exceptionally hard on foreigners, say, when enforcing traffic violations -- although there is the rare reported incident, it does not seem to be widespread. Drugs, however, are a different story: The Greek authorities and laws are extremely tough when it comes to foreigners with drugs -- starting with marijuana. Do not attempt to bring any illicit drug into or out of Greece.
Smoking -- In recent years the Greeks have imposed no-smoking regulations on airplanes, on areas of ships, and -- as of July 1, 2009 -- all public locations (banks, post offices, and so on); also small restaurants, tavernas and cafes must declare whether they allow smoking or not; larger such establishments are supposed to set aside smoking areas. But Greeks continue to be among the most persistent smokers and, except on airplanes, many Greeks -- and some foreigners -- feel free to puff away at will. Hotels are only beginning to claim that they have set aside rooms or even floors for nonsmokers, so ask about them, if it matters to you. If you are really bothered by smoke while eating, about all you can do is position yourself as best as possible -- and then be prepared to leave if it gets really bad.
Taxes & Service Charges -- The Value Added Tax (VAT) has in response to Greece's economic crisis been greatly increased -- it now stands at 23% for many purchases and services, including restaurants and car rentals; food and medicine and certain other "vital goods" tend to have a VAT of 11% while books and newspapers have 5.5%. You may sometimes be given a printed receipt that shows these percentages but the point to realize is that the taxes have been included in the price quoted and charged. In addition to the VAT, hotel prices usually include a service charge of up to 12% and a "community tax," about 4% to 5%. (By the way, don't confuse any of these charges with many restaurants' "cover charge" that may be .50€-2€ per place setting.)
If you have purchased an item that costs 100€ or more and are a citizen of a non-European Union nation, you can get most of the VAT refunded (provided you export it within 90 days of purchase). It's easiest to shop at stores that display the sign tax-free for tourists. However, any store should be able to provide you with a Tax-Free Check Form, which you complete in the store. If you use your charge card, the receipt will list the VAT separately from the cost of the item. As you are leaving the country, present a copy of this form to the refund desk (usually at the Customs office). Be prepared to show both the goods and the receipt as proof of purchase. Also be prepared to wait a fair amount of time before you get the refund. (In fact, the process at the airport seems designed to discourage you from trying to obtain the refund.)
Time -- The European 24-hour clock is used to measure time, so on schedules you'll see noon as 1200, 3:30pm as 1530, and 11pm as 2300. In informal conversation, however, Greeks express time much as we do -- though noon may mean anywhere from noon to 3pm, afternoon is 3 to 7pm, and evening is 7pm to midnight.
Greece is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. In reference to North American time zones, it's 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, 8 hours ahead of Central Standard Time, 9 hours ahead of Mountain Standard Time, and 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. Note that Greece does observe daylight saving time, although it may not start and stop on the same days as in North America. For help with time translations, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Tipping -- Restaurant bills no longer include a service charge or tip and it is customary to leave 10% to 15%; also consider "rounding off" on larger bills; to the nearest 1€. Good taxi service merits a tip of 5% to 10%. (Greeks rarely tip taxi drivers, but tourists are expected to.) Hotel chambermaids should be left about 2€ per night per couple. Bellhops and doormen should be tipped 1€ to 5€, depending on the services they provide.
For help with tip calculations, currency conversions, and more, download our Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Toilets -- Most Greek establishments -- hotels, restaurants, museums, and so on -- now provide flush toilets, but especially in villages, you may still be asked to deposit toilet paper in a container beside the toilet. In cheaper and more remote restaurants, however, you may find that there is no water at the hand bowl or a shortage of toilet paper so you might consider keeping some tissues with you.
Public restrooms are generally available in any good-size Greek town, and though they are sometimes rather crude, they usually do work. (Old-fashioned stand-up/squat facilities are still found.) If there is an attendant you are expected to leave a small tip. In an emergency, you can ask to use the facilities of a restaurant or shop; however, near major attractions, the facilities are denied to all but customers, because traffic is too heavy. If you use any such facilities, respect its sponsor and give an attendant a tip.
Water -- The public drinking water in Greece is safe to drink, although it can be slightly brackish in some locales near the sea. For that reason, many people prefer the bottled water available at restaurants, hotels, cafes, food stores, and kiosks. The days when Greek restaurants automatically served glasses of cold fresh water are gone; you can ask for the tap or house water -- be sure to do so before the waiter opens bottled water. If you do order bottled water, you will have to choose between natural or carbonated (metalliko), and domestic or imported. Cafes, however, tend to provide a glass of natural water.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.