First time in Greece? So, before you book that “trip of a lifetime,” what should you know? We’ve got you covered!
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About the country
Greece is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, ranked in the world's top 20 countries according to the World Tourism rankings compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Greece has been a landmark with a culture and history dating back in ancient times and with a significant contribution and influence on the arts, politics, philosophy, historiography, major scientific and mathematical principles, literature and western alphabets, and sports of western society, including the genres of comedy and drama, Platonic ideals and the Socratic method, democracies and republics, the Olympic Games and Western drama including both tragedy and comedy. Well, that was a long sentence but it still isn’t enough to describe the eventful past of Greece. The list goes on and on and further information will be given in the next sections. Concerning geography, Greece is a very appealing place to visit for all tastes, with a mountainous and vibrant mainland and idyllic island beaches.
Greece is a developed country with stable democracy, a high standard of living and a very high Human Development Index (http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr14-report-en-1.pdf).
As a member of the European Union since 1981, the official country's currency is euro. Greece is also a member of the Schengen Agreement, which according to the Visa policy of the Schengen Area gives the privilege to any visitors from countries that have signed and implemented this treaty to travel only with their passport or national identity card, without the need for a visa.
The official language of Greece is Greek, spoken by 99% of the population. Greece has one of the longest documented histories of any language and Greek literature has a continuous history of over 2,500 years. Several notable literary works, including the Homeric epics, Euclid's Elements and the New Testament, were originally written in Greek. But the language barrier is not a problem for the visitors. Since all schoolchildren start learning English in the third grade, most Greeks especially under the age of 40 know English. People in the tourist industry, especially in the locations favored by foreign tourists, usually have a good command of English as well as a few other languages. Other common foreign languages learned by Greeks are French, German, Spanish and Italian. So, you don't really need to speak any Greek, except perhaps for your own joy!
Electricity in Greece is 220 V/50 Hz. Plugs are the standard continental (DIN) type with two round pins.
ATMs are widely available all over the country. Banks are open from Monday to Thursday, 8:00-14:30 hrs and on Friday, 8:00-14:00hrs; on Saturdays and Sundays they are closed. Central branches of some banks may be found open until 20.00 daily and from 10.00 to 16.30 on Saturdays. For further details while in Greece please consult your hotel concierge.
About the people and gestures
Greeks are friendly, social, hard-working but also revelers. Greek hospitality is a concept that dates back to the ancient times, when they used to worship god Zeus Xenios, the protector of travelers. In Greece everyone is treated like a cousin. Greeks gesture a lot using their hands and are more than willing to give you advice or instructions about anything you need to ask. Greeks love to gather for a chat over coffee. In Greece, it is quite common for people to go out for coffee after dinner and stay out for an hour or two just chatting and enjoying one another's company. On their free time, they practice the art of hanging out on any street corner, at any time of day, sipping their coffees, debating the latest Politics news, or just watching the world go by. They also like sharing things and treating foreigners to local delicacies.
Greeks are open and casual people and use a lot of body language and gestures in order to express their feelings. When a person is introduced to another for the first time, a handshake is a common and appropriate gesture. But for greeting someone they already know, an old friend or a neighbor, the gestures differ according to the sex and the intimacy. Between men a strong handshake and hug is usually the case. Between women or between a man and a woman, a hug and two simultaneous kisses, one on each cheek, come naturally. Greeks have no purpose to make anyone feel uncomfortable, as they perceive this behavior as a common way of expressing gratitude or sympathy, inherited from one generation to the next. Also, nodding up and down your head is an affirmative gesture of saying “yes” or “ok” and nodding your head right and left (within a normal range of 30 degrees to each direction) is a negative gesture for saying “no”.
Avoid stretching your hand or hands towards someone with your palms open and the five fingers extended out, like signaling someone to stop. It is the Greek way of "swearing" at someone and is called "mountza”.
In Greece you can't travel far across the land without encountering the sea, or far across the sea without encountering one of the world-wide known Greek islands. When it comes to it, it's hard to take your pick out of the 6000 options you have, 227 of them being inhabited. Their rocky coast lines, sandy beaches, charming villages, the white painted Cycladic houses, the breath-taking sunsets, the inviting scents of sea and traditional food, the calming sound of the waves of a crystal clear or turquoise waters, the sheltered bays and yacht harbors make them extremely popular among all kinds of travelers.
Although small, Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Basin and the 11th longest coastline in the world at 13,676 km (8,498 mi) in length, featuring a vast number of islands. Excellent seawater quality, litter management, environmental protection and organized swimming areas provide Greece with the precedence concerning the Blue Flags the country receives for its exquisite beaches and marinas, among a few other top countries in the world.
But mainland has nothing to envy, ornated with sublime mountain ranges, unique wine-producing valleys, amazing waterfalls, beautiful rivers, peaceful lakes, thermosprings many of which classified as therapeutic by the National Institute for Geographical and Mineral Research, vast stretches of olive orchards producing the famous Greek olive oil and lush forests, hosting a great variety of fauna.
Greece has a quite varied climate, enjoying a so-called Mediterranean climate in most of the country and especially at all coastal areas, almost identical to much of California. Summers are relatively hot and dry, but cooled by seasonal winds, with a 7-month period of near-constant sunshine generally from April until November. The most pleasant weather occurs in May-June and September-October. Winters are mild especially at low altitude, yet mountains are usually snow-covered.
The vast majority of visitors arrive during the tourist season, which is April through October. Peak season is July through Augustcharacterized by crowded islands and beaches, higher prices and low availability with temperatures usually reaching 30°C to 35°C, albeit there are still many rewarding areas in the country free of large-scale tourism. If you want to enjoy the sun and the sea of the Greek islands best months are May being quite inexpensive and crowd free, June combining the best of spring with warmer summer temperatures and still a bargain and mid-September through October which is another great month for the budget-minded travelers while the weather holds up well. Athens city and mainland are an all year round destination. For visitors from northern climates, the off season from November through February can be a rewarding time to explore Greece. It will not be beach weather, but temperatures are mild.
As a developed country highly dependent on tourism, Greece offers a wide variety of tourist facilities. Tourism infrastructure in Greece has been greatly improved since the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and continues to expand with a number of important projects. There is a wide variety of accommodation available, from family-owned guesthouses and small hotels up to luxurious villas. Conference tourism, targeted at academic, business, or cultural markets is a cornerstone of the Greek national tourism policy, with the Greek government offering lucrative cash grants for new conference facilities and the expansion of the existing ones.
Greece is also a famous venue for weddings, offering amazing facilities in completely diverse landscapes sprinkled with beautiful wedding customs like dances, music and other unique traditions. Visitors can choose between exotic islands with stunning sunsets or lush green mountains with cozy stone houses. They can choose from traditional picturesque houses up to luxury villas, from a Santorini black sand wedding to a luxury estate in Athens or Mykonos. They can spend their days in a relaxing and dreamy environment or in the most cosmopolitan places, full of nightlife and people. Greece can offer the perfect mix for a romantic, unspoiled and once-in-a-lifetime wedding ceremony.
Concerning health system, Greece, home of Hippocrates and Asclepius, has adequate medical facilities and some, particularly the private clinics and hospitals in Athens and Thessaloniki, are excellent. Greece also has plenty of pharmacies, some of which are designated to stay open all night. But it is very important to carry the specific medicine you will need with you, as you might not find the exact brand in Greek pharmacies.
Greek Tourist Police offices are located throughout Greece wherever there are enough travelers to warrant their presence and their staff receive special training in dealing with visitors.
Transport in Greece has counted significant additions during the past two decades, vastly modernizing and enhancing the country's infrastructure. The country has more than enough ports, harbors and airports. Ferries remain the predominant way of transport between the nation's islands, but airports in some of the islands serve this transfer as well. Greece's public transportation is equally developed, including railways, metro routes, commuter rail, tram, urban bus transport, intercity and regional bus transport (KTEL). Athens Airport is a representative example of this integrated transport improvement, being nominated as "Europe’s Best Airport for 2014". It can also serve as a great starting point for you first trip to Greece.
Modern digital information and communication networks reach all areas. There are over 35,000 km (21,748 mi) of fiber optics and an extensive open-wire network. ADSL is currently the main broadband standard. Greece also has 3G mobile broadband (HSPA) and a more expensive Satellite Internet access. Internet access is widely available. Coffee houses in big cities usually provide wireless internet connection, as long as you ask the staff for the password. Here we have to mention that our VIP Mercedes, ideal for big families, unseparated parties and special custom tours, is equipped with free Wireless Internet Access so that you can stay connected on route from the moment that your foot touches the Greek land.
Tap water is drinkable virtually everywhere, especially in the mainland, as it goes through purification procedures and controls. Taste varies from place to place. Also tap from tap varies. This means that you should avoid drinking from a bathroom tap when staying at a hotel because the water might come from a tank.
Concerning the islands, the first timers should pay some additional attention. Due to the warm Mediterranean climate and the lack of natural water resources, some of the islands end up desalinating sea water or using water from drills. Sometimes they also transfer water from the mainland in order to cover their everyday needs. This water is more suitable for taking a shower or teeth brushing and less suitable for drinking. This of course does not mean that the water is poisonous or infected, but it is a fact that the human body reacts to every change concerning the water consumption.
So, on islands as well as some remote villages in the mainland, it is preferable to drink bottled water, which can be found anywhere and actually with a very low price in contrast to other countries. Price of bottled water when bought at road stalls is regulated. All around the country a small bottle of 50 ml costs 50 cents while a large bottle of 1 liter costs 1 euro. Bottled water costs even less when purchase in super-markets but you might encounter higher prices in restaurants.
If you are quite confident about yourself you can as well observe how the local people act and drink accordingly. You can drink as much ouzo as you can handle but in regards to tap-water the golden rule is "when in Rome do as the Romans do".
Don't let any unreasonable fears daunt you. Keep in mind the quote of Aldous Huxley “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”. Athens is one of the safest world capitals. Violent crime and theft rates are very low; public disorder is rare, and public drunkenness is generally frowned upon. Visitors should rest assured that this is a safe and friendly destination, but it is always advisable for foreign tourists to exercise basic precautionary measures just as they would do at home. You should also keep an eye for pickpockets, who in particular seem to remain active at popular tourist sites and on public transportation systems. Metro railway system provides its own guards that move around the trains ensuring the safe movement of citizens. Take full advantage of the guidance that our qualified travel agents will be more than delighted to offer you concerning some areas that are supposed to be more dangerous in a certain time of the day, usually late at night.
Greece boasts a very long history, with the Greek language being present in the country for nearly 4000 years.
All three stages of the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic) are represented in Greece, a country that is home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe. The country's first inhabitants are now referred to as the Pelasgians. Little is known about them, but it is believed that they were a primitive people. The first advanced civilizations in Greece are known as the Cycladic in the Cyclades Islands, and the Minoan in Crete and Santorini.
During the Dark Age, Greek-speaking Indo-European people arrived in the country from somewhere to the north, around 1700 BC, and slowly invaded the entire country from the north all the way to Crete, as well as the west coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey), absorbing the native population. Their arrival may have been responsible for ending the Cycladic and Minoan civilizations and brought the country into what is now referred to as the Dark Age of ancient Greece; although it is now understood among historians that civilization in Greece remained sophisticated and advanced during this time.
The first Greek-speaking civilization, the Mycenean Civilization, centered in the Peloponnese region, was prominent during this time period. Many ancient Greeks made a living from the sea, as their descendants the modern Greeks also do now. They became accomplished fishers, sailors and traders and the sea has profoundly shaped Greek civilization.
Next came the Golden Age of Greece, which lasted many centuries and spurred several scientific, architectural, political, economic, artistic, and literary achievements. At that period of time Greece was separated into smaller districts, they so-called city-states that occurred in the period 1200 to 800 BC. Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes were the most prominent with Athens being the most prestigious. Greek settlements were also established in southern Italy and other coastal areas of the Mediterranean colonized by Greeks. The legacy of Greek Civilization from this time period made a major impact on the world and continues to influence us to this day.
During the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the epicenter of Greek Civilization shifted from southern Greece to northern Greece. The northern Macedonian kingdom, under Alexander the Great, conquered all of Greece, and proceeded eastward, creating an empire all the way to South Asia with the stated intent of spreading Greek Civilization. The empire broke up after Alexander's death, and Greece was eventually annexed by the growing Roman Empire. Although weakened politically, Greek Civilization continued to flourish under Roman rule and heavily influenced Roman culture.
Christianity arrived in Greece with the preachings of St. Paul during the 1st century AD, and eventually spread throughout Greece and the Roman Empire. In the 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christian worship and declared it the state religion of the empire. He moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium (present-day Istanbul), which he renamed Constantinople. Internal divisions eventually divided the Roman Empire into a western half (the West Roman Empire) and an eastern half (East Roman Empire.) The West was eventually invaded and sacked by invaders from northern Europe, while the East survived for another millennium as the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as its capital.
Greece's medieval history is dominated by the Byzantine Empire, a powerful force in the Mediterranean basin for centuries, engaging in trade, politics, and the spread of Christianity. The empire collaborated with Rome during the Crusades against the Muslims. However, during the 13th century, the Crusaders turned on the Byzantine Empire itself and sacked Constantinople. With a weakened Byzantine Empire, Frankish and Latin invaders arrived and occupied various parts of Greece. Over the following centuries, the Byzantine Empire began to regain strength and reconquer lost territory, but received a final blow in the 15th century when a growing Ottoman Turkish Empire to the east conquered Constantinople.
With the capture of Constantinople, Greece fell under Ottoman Turkish rule, but vigorously retained its Greek-speaking Christian culture. However, many Greeks fled the country, establishing Greek communities elsewhere in Europe; these communities would later influence the Greek Revolution.
The Italian city-states of Genoa and Venice competed with the Ottoman Turks for control of various areas of Greece and managed to conquer various islands and coastal areas, bringing pan-European movements such as the Renaissance (and later the Enlightenment) to places in Greece such as Crete, Corfu, and parts of the Peloponnese region. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment, both in Venetian/Genoese-occupied areas of Greece and from Greek communities abroad, led to an awakening among prominent Greeks and gave birth to the goal of an independent Greek state.
The Greek Revolution finally broke out on the 25th of March, 1821, and led to a long war against the Ottomans for independence. The Greek Revolution gained attention across Europe, with Russia, Britain, and France sending military aid to assist Greece.
The nation finally achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. The newly-independent Greek State was briefly a republic, before becoming a monarchy at the will of major European powers. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Greece gradually annexed neighboring islands and territories with Greek-speaking populations. The country sided with the allies during WWI. Despite declaring neutrality during WWII, the country was invaded by Mussolini's military in 1941. Greek forces victoriously pushed the Italians out of Greece, but the Germans then came to their aid, occupying the country until its liberation toward the end of the war. Civil war broke out in 1946 between communist rebels and royalists, the former supported by Yugoslavia (until the Tito-Stalin rift of 1948) and the latter by the West. The communist rebels were defeated by the royalists in 1949. World War II and the civil war that followed had left the country war-torn, forcing many people to flee the country in search of a better life abroad.
Greece joined NATO in 1952; rapid economic growth and social change followed. A right-wing military dictatorship staged a coup in 1967, disbanding all political parties, suspending political liberties and forcing many prominent Greeks into exile, including Communists, who played an active part in the Greek Parliament before and after the junta. King Constantine II and his family also fled the country. Democracy returned in 1974, and a national referendum abolished the monarchy, creating a parliamentary republic.
In the recent past, Greece joined the European Community or EC in 1981, which later became the European Union (EU) in 1992. The country's tourism industry – which had begun to take off during the 1960s – began to flourish, bringing 5 million annual visitors to the country in 1980 (a figure that will eventually grow to over 17 million by 2007). In 2004, the nation stepped into the global spotlight as it successfully hosted the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, to the defiance of critics.
Greeks satirize the abundance of ancient Greek ruins by suggesting not to dig too deep or you might unveil a lost monument and find your house taken over by a museum. A typical example of this is the subway work that unearthed many ancient ruins including a 2,000-year-old road in Greece, apparently delaying the completion of the works. Many of the ruins are being displayed and protected behind glass partition at some of the metro railway stations, such as Syntagma stations.
Greece has an ancient culture that has had a significant influence on the arts, language, philosophy, politics, and sports of western society, including the genres of comedy and drama, western alphabets, Platonic ideals and the Socratic Method, democracies and republics, and the Olympic Games. The culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, beginning in Mycenaean Greece and continuing most notably into Classical Greece, through the influence of the Roman Empire and its Greek Eastern continuation, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. Other cultures and nations, such as the Latin and Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Genoese Republic, and the British Empire have also left their influence on modern Greek culture, although historians credit the Greek War of Independence with revitalizing Greece and giving birth to a single, cohesive entity of its multi-faceted culture.
Several kinds of museums are located in the Hellenic Republic. Most of them can be found in the big cities like Athens, where the famous New Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum are located. Furthermore there is a vast number of galleries like the National Gallery (Athens). There are many museums in Thessaloniki too, like the Byzantine Museum. Overall, there are approximately 150 museums all over the country which are easily accessible for the tourists.
World famous Greek monuments are the iconic Parthenon in the bustling capital Athens and the splendid site of Delphi, where the mighty emperors sought the prophecies of the most prominent oracle in the ancient Greek world. There's the temple of Apollo at Bassae and the gorgeous old city of Rhodes, once overlooked by the Colossus of Rhodes. The archaeological site of Olympia is the birthplace of our modern Olympic Games and the place from where the Olympic flame is sent across the world. The many Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Meteora are just stunning to look at, built high on natural sandstone rock pillars. At the small town of Vergina the ancient site of Agai was found, and many valuable artifacts were discovered in several untouched tombs, one of them being the tomb of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.
Proudly situated on Mt. Taygetos is the ancient town of Mystras, close to (and often mistaken for) ancient Sparta. Another great site is the island of Delos, not far from the popular holiday destination Mykonos. According to myths, this is were Apollo and Artemis were born. The island used to be the main Panhellenic sanctuary and is now dotted with archaeological remains.
Some major sights are nicely located on one of the beautiful Greek islands, allowing for a delightful combination of sightseeing and relaxing on one of the many fine beaches. Patmos is a lovely example, boasting the historic center Chora, the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse, but also some pleasant sea side restaurants with pretty views. Corfu has the same characteristics, being a popular holiday destination with good beaches and an impressive historic town center. Although not an island, the ancient Mount Athos is located in the north of Greece, on the peninsula of Chalkidiki. It's one of the country's most popular tourist regions with excellent beaches, numerous other ancient sites and many charming villages.
Greek art (or, more correctly, art in Greece) began in the Cycladic and Minoan civilization, and gave birth to Western classical art in the subsequent Geometric, Archaic and Classical periods (with further developments during the Hellenistic Period). It absorbed influences of Eastern civilizations, of Roman art and its patrons, and the new religion of Orthodox Christianity in the Byzantine era and absorbed Italian and European ideas during the period of Romanticism (with the invigoration of the Greek Revolution), right up until the Modernist and Postmodernist. Greek art is mainly five forms: architecture, sculpture, painting, pottery and jewelry making.
Many first-time visitors arrive in Greece with specific images in mind and are surprised to discover a country with such regional and architectural diversity. The famous whitewashed homes and charming blue-domed churches only characterize a specific region of the country (the Cyclades Islands). Architecture varies greatly from one region to the next depending on the local history. Visitors will find Neoclassical architecture in the cities of Ermoupolis and Nafplion, Ottoman-influenced buildings in Grevená and Kozáni, whitewashed Cycladic homes on the island of Paros, and pastel-colored baroque homes and churches on Corfu. Greece's historical sights are just as varied; the country is littered with just as many medieval churches and castles as classical ruins and temples. Ancient Greek architecture is best known from its temples, many of which are found throughout the region, mostly as ruins but many substantially intact. The second important type of building that survives all over the Hellenic world is the open-air theatre, with the earliest dating from around 350 BC. but also its concept of architectural beauty based on balance and proportion.
The music of Greece is as diverse and celebrated as its history. Greek music separates into two parts: Greek traditional music and Byzantine music, with more eastern sounds. These compositions have existed for millennia: they originated in the Byzantine period and Greek antiquity; there is a continuous development which appears in the language, the rhythm, the structure and the melody. Music is a significant aspect of Hellenic culture, both within Greece and in the diaspora.
In ancient times, The Twelve Olympian Gods, also known as the Dodekatheon were the principal deities of the Greek pantheon. residing atop a mythical Mount Olympus. The Olympians gained their supremacy in a war of gods in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the Titans. In addition to the twelve main gods and the innumerable lesser deities, ancient Greeks worshipped a deity they called "Agnostos Theos", which in Greek means "Unknown God". In Athens, there was a temple specifically dedicated to that god and very often Athenians would swear "in the name of the Unknown God". Greece is full of remnants of ancient temples dedicated to the ancient Greek gods, with the best-preserved being the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.
Additionally, classical Athens may be suggested to have heralded some of the same religious ideas that would later be promoted by Christianity, such as Aristotle's invocation of a perfect God, and Heraclitus' Logos. Plato considered there were rewards for the virtuous in the heavens and punishment for the wicked under the earth; the soul was valued more highly than the material body, and the material world was understood to be imperfect and not fully real (illustrated in Socrates's allegory of the cave).
Most Greeks nowadays belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is governed by a synod of metropolitan bishops, presided over by the Archbishop of Athens. The largest religious minority is the concentration of Greek Muslims in northeastern Thrace. Some islands in the Ionian and Aegean have a significant number of Catholics. Greece's once vibrant Jewish community was nearly vanished in World War II.
Greeks and foreign visitors are stunned by Greece’s majestic churches of the Byzantine era, countless rural churches and metochia (monastery grounds and gardens), sacred places of pilgrimage and religious sites, all of which inspire awe. Whether they are here for religious purposes or purely for pleasure, visitors to mainland Greece and its islands are amazed by the countless number of sites of religious devotion and major references to the divine. Visitors have the chance to see buildings and religious sites related to various dogmas and religions, which all co-exist in a state of ongoing dialogue and thus highlight the rare historic and cultural mosaic of Greece. Since antiquity the desire to embark on a journey for religious purposes has inspired Greeks and non-Greeks to make their way to religious sites throughout Greece. From the earliest times it has been a custom of the Greek people to express their religious sentiments, their deep faith and their reverence for God, a key characteristic of the Orthodox faith for 2000 years.
Some of Greece’s most important religious centers include the monastic community of Mount Athos, the impressive monasteries of Meteora the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of Saint John Theologos on Patmos, the places where the Apostle Paul preached, and the pilgrim destinations of the Madonna (Panayia) of Tinos, the Panayia Soumela, the Panayia Ekatontapiliani, etc.
Religious restrictions concerning dressing don’t apply in all the churches and monasteries, but visitors are advised to wear appropriate length dresses or skirts with sleeved blouses. Shorts are not always allowed on either men or women. Such restrictions apply in higher frequency on islands or remote places. Many monasteries offer visitors skirts and tops to slip over clothing that is not deemed appropriate. A typical example of this case is the Meteora monasteries. In Mount Athos, a World Heritage Site and peninsula in Northern Greece, applies a prohibition on entry for women. It is always a good idea to ask before you visit. Useful information can be given by a licensed travel agency or the locals and the hotel’s staff.
Such sites, with their divine immanence or their representation of preternatural forces, exist by the happiest of consequences side by side with the splendors of Greek nature. Every rock, every cave, every mountain and every island - each of them offers a route to the divine. A religious trip offers a journey through a different side of Greece, through expressions of religious sentiment over the centuries. Such a journey is, in effect, a trip through time, a journey that everyone should undertake at some time.
All through the year, Greece plays host to religious festivals with customs and traditions that have become deeply rooted over the centuries. These festivals, some local, some celebrated all over Greece, offer a chance for merrymaking and an escape from the dull monotony of everyday life. Fortunate indeed is the visitor who ends up as a spectator at such popular religious events. Without even realising it, he will soon find he is not just a spectator, but also a participant!
The greatest of all these celebrations in Greece is Easter, with its host of religious events and popular traditions each spring (in Corfu, Patmos, Skiathos, Leonidio, etc.). The “summertime Easter”, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15th August, is similarly spectacular and is especially popular in this country. The weather at this time of year helps, of course, and many festivals take place the length and breadth of the country. Many major Orthodox saints who play an important role in the Orthodox calendar of saints, often patron saints of different cities or countries, are also joyously celebrated on the day which is devoted to them, with major festivals or something on a smaller scale taking place in their honour.
Thousands of visitors are interested in seeing Byzantine or post-Byzantine works of art with a religious theme, such as icons, murals and mosaics, cultural tributes from the past which pay testimony to dedication and tradition and to the tenacious relationship between Art and Religion. The major Byzantine museums in Athens, Thessaloniki, Veria, Ioannina, Kastoria, etc., will stun you with the richness and quality of their sublime collections of exhibits.
Whether you come on a pilgrimage or to discover places and monuments that bring us closer to the divine aspect of our existence, come and visit these special places in Greece, where Man once raised his eyes up to search for the Divine Light. And then discovered it within his own soul!
National Holidays and Festivals
The nation's three most important holidays are Christmas, Easter, and the Assumption of Virgin Mary. Christmas tends to be a private, family holiday, but lights and decorations adorn city squares across the country. Assumption Day is a major summer festival for many towns and islands. Easter weekend is perhaps the most flamboyant of all holidays; religious processions on Good Friday and the following Saturday evening culminate in exuberant fireworks at midnight. Contrary to most national holidays in other countries, Independence Day in Greece is a very sober holiday. There is a school flag parade in every town and village and a big armed forces parade in Athens. Although not an official holiday, pre-Lenten carnival -or apókries- is a major celebration in cities throughout the country, with Patras hosting the country's largest and most famous events. Carnival season comes to an extravagant ending the weekend before Lent begins, with costumes, float parades, and various regional traditions.
In addition to nation-wide holidays and celebrations, many towns and regions have their own regional festivals commemorating various historical events, local patron saints, or wine harvests. Note that the Greek Orthodox Church uses a different method to determine the date of Easter from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. Therefore, Greek Orthodox Easter and - derived from that - Holy Week and Pentecost usually fall one or two weeks later than their Roman Catholic and Protestant counterparts, but they do sometimes coincide.
According to Greek Law every Sunday of the year is a public holiday. In addition, there are four obligatory, official public holidays: March 25 (Greek Independence Day), Easter Monday, August 15 (Assumption or Dormition of the Holy Virgin) and December 25 (Christmas). Two more days, May 1 (Labour Day) and October 28 (Ohi Day), are regulated by law as optional but it is customary for employees to be given the day off. There are, however, more public holidays celebrated in Greece than are announced by the Ministry of Labour each year as either obligatory or optional. The list of these non-fixed National Holidays rarely changes and has not changed in recent decades, giving a total of eleven National Holidays each year.
In addition to the National Holidays, there Public Holidays that are not celebrated nationwide, but only by a specific professional group or a local community. For example many municipalities have a "Patron Saint", also called "Name Day", or a "Liberation Day", and at this day is customary for schools to have a day off.
Notable festivals include Patras Carnival, Athens Festival and various local wine festivals. The city of Thessaloniki is also home of a number of festivals and events. The Thessaloniki International Film Festival is one of the most important film festivals in Southern Europe.
One of the authentic cultural elements of a region is gastronomy. The distinctiveness of the “kitchen taste” (gustation) is many times associated with the quality characteristics of its society, while “revealing” information concerning its cultural and economic history. At the same time, gustation seems to be a way of communicating. A way for someone to “talk” to the heart of someone else.
Greek gastronomy has recorded a history of around 4,000 years, with especial characteristics based on pure and unique quality goods produced on Greek land. In fact, it was Archestratos who wrote the first cookbook in history (330 B.C.).
The traditional Greek diet is very Mediterranean, espousing vegetables, herbs, and grains native to the healthy Mediterranean biome, which is epitomized by dishes of Crete. Being a highly maritime nation, the Greeks incorporate plenty of seafood into their diet. The country is also a major producer and consumer of lamb; beef, pork, and especially chicken are also popular. Olive oil is a staple in Greek cooking, and lemon and tomatoes are common ingredients. Bread and wine are always served at the dinner table. Also important are cheese, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), and yogurt. The cuisine in Greece can be radically different from what is offered in Greek restaurants around the world.Restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary. Fast-food too. Coffee (kafes: καφές) is an important part of Greek culture.
Orektika is the formal name for appetizers and is often used as a reference to eating a first course of a cuisine other than Greek cuisine. Dips are served with bread loaf or pita bread. In some regions, dried bread (paximadhi) is softened in water.
Some of the most famous and characteristic local dishes are moussaka (a rich oven-baked dish of eggplant, minced meat, tomato and white sauce), pastitsio (a variety of lasagna), stifado ( pieces of meat and onion in a wine and cinnamon stew), spetzofai (braised sausage with pepper and tomatoes, a hearty dish originally from the Mt. Pelion region), sahanaki ( fried semi-hard cheese), paidakia (grilled lamb chops), fasolada, spanakopita.
Fried potatoes (often listed on menus as chips) are a naturalized Greek dish, found almost everywhere. They can be very good when freshly made and served still hot. Tzatziki is usually a good dip for them, though they are still good on their own.
Some dishes can be traced back to ancient Greece like skordalia (a garlic mashed potato dip which is usually served with deep fried salted cod), lentil soup, retsina (white or rosé wine sealed with pine resin) and pasteli (candy bar with sesame seeds baked with honey). Greek salad (called "country salad" locally, "HorIAtiki"), a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and onion – all sliced – plus some olives, and occasionally green bell pepper or other vegetables, usually garnished with oregano. Traditionally it is dressed only with olive oil; vinegrette or lettuce are added only in the most tourist-oriented restaurants.
Mezés (μεζές) is a collective name for a variety of small dishes with various dips such as tzatziki (made of strained yoghurt, olive oil, garlic and finely chopped cucumbers and dill or mint), grilled octopus and small fish, feta cheese, dolmades (rice, currants and pine kernels wrapped in vine leaves), various pulses, olives and cheese. These dishes are typically served and suit traditionally with wines or anise-flavored liqueurs as ouzo or homemade tsipouro.
With its extensive coastline and islands, Greece has excellent seafood. Try the grilled octopus and the achinosalata (sea-urchin eggs in lemon and olive oil). By law, frozen seafood must be marked as such on the menu. Fresh fish, sold by the kilo, can be very expensive; if you're watching your budget, be sure to ask how much your particular portion will cost before ordering it.
Greek desserts are characterized by the dominant use of nuts and honey. For dessert, ask for baklava, tissue-thin layers of pastry with honey and chopped nuts; or galaktoboureko, a custard pie similar to mille feuille. Other pastries are also worth tasting. Another must-try is yogurt with honey: yoghurts in Greece are really different from what you used to see at Danone stores: to start with, genuine yoghurt in Greece is has 10% of fat. Fruit such as watermelon is also a common summertime treat.
For breakfast, head to local bakeries (fourno) and try fresh tiropita, cheese pie; spanakopita, spinach pie; or bougatsa, custard filled pie, or even a ""horiatiko psomi", a traditional, crusty village type bread that is a household staple, and very tasty on its own too. All are delicious and popular among Greeks for quick breakfast eats. Each bakery does own rendition and you are never disappointed. Go to the next Kafeneion with them and have it there with a Greek coffee to be local.
In addition, the nutritional culture of the Greeks has traditionally added an extraverted social dimension to the table, combining gustative satisfaction with recreation and communication, and thus maintaining even today some overtones from ancient feasts.