Greece captured my imagination from an early age – both through the stories (which I couldn’t get enough of) of gods and heroes, minotaurs and centaurs, and also due to it being my family’s regular summer holiday of choice while I was growing up. I haven’t actually been back there as an adult, but all the memories of beaches and mountain monasteries, ancient ruins and lively tavernas, sun-drenched meals and afternoon siestas, of all those summer weeks combine to make it feel very familiar to me.
Travel to, from, and within Greece overland
Greece has a well-developed road network, a somewhat limited railway, and a very extensive network of ferry connections. Geographically speaking, Greece consists of a ‘mainland’ at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, plus a huge number of islands in the surrounding seas. Mainland Greece is mountainous and has just one main train corridor running from the capital Athens to the second city Thessaloniki in the north, and from there along the coast to Alexandroupoli near the Turkish border. For the rest of the mainland, travel is mostly by road (with a few more minor railway lines) and you can travel by bus to Albania and Turkey. Greece’s international train connections are from Thessaloniki to Sofia (Bulgaria), and to Skopje (Macedonia) and on to Belgrade (Serbia).
A plethora of domestic ferry services connect the Greek islands to the mainland, especially via the Port of Piraeus (Athens). The western port of Patras handles most of the international ferries between Greece and Italy, and a couple of the outlying eastern islands also have international ferries to the nearby Turkish coast. An Interrail pass (or a Eurail pass for non-Europeans) grants you free or discounted passage on most ferries from Italy (the Bari – Patras ferry is the best crossing for pass holders as you get free deck passage), plus 30% discounts on major domestic ferry services. The rail passes also grant you a free bus ride from Patras to the closest train station (Kiato, located halfway from Patras to Athens).
Although Greece’s train network is quite limited, it is part of the Interrail area and with the international train services to Macedonia / Serbia and Bulgaria, plus the free ferries between Italy and Greece, an Interrail / Eurail pass can be a good way to include Greece as part of a wider European overland trip. There is also a special Interrail Greek Islands pass available which includes free domestic ferries – see here for details.
As Greece and Italy are both members of the Schengen Area, you don’t have to worry about the border crossing when taking the ferry between them; however, Greece’s land borders are all with non-Schengen countries. For Albania, Macedonia, and Turkey, none of which are (yet) in the EU, you need to check the visa requirements for the passport you hold. Bulgaria is already in the EU but not yet in Schengen, though it will be part of Schengen in the near future; what this means for travellers is that if you’re an EU / EFTA passport holder, the border isn’t an issue, but if you’re not you need to be careful about your Schengen visa / Schengen entry stamp if you’re intending to re-enter the Schengen area later.
Things to do in Greece
Enjoy the healthy and delicious Mediterranean cuisine of Greece; stuffed vine leaves, moussaka, souvlaki, hummus, tzatziki, fresh seafood, pita breads, feta salads… it really is good stuff, and it’s good for you so knock yourself out! The al fresco dining at the beachside and mountainside tavernas while the sun goes down also makes the food taste that little bit better than it already does.
Go island hopping.
Lie on the beach all day, if that’s your thing.
Check out the remnants of Ancient Greece – there are ancient ruins all over the country, but some of the best-known are the Acropolis (in Athens), Knossos (in Crete, said to be the site of the Minotaur’s labyrinth), Delphi (site of the great Oracle of Delphi), and Olympia (of Olympic Games fame).
Resources and Useful Links for Visiting Greece
Official website for the Interrail pass
Official website for the Eurail pass
Search Agoda for hotel deals in Greece
World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance you can buy even if already overseas (most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you’ve already left your country, and this can be a crucial point as I once found out the hard way in Thailand)
Seat 61 has the details for London to Greece by train
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