Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
National Archaeological Museum
This is one of the world's great museums, housing the most important finds from archaeological sites around the country. The museum's tour de force is its fabulous collection of Mycenaean antiquities, including the celebrated Mask of Agamemnon unearthed at Mycenae, and the Warrior Vase, depicting men leaving for war and a woman waving them goodbye.
The exquisite Vaphio gold cups, with scenes of men taming wild bulls, are regarded as among the finest examples of Mycenaean art. They were found in a tholos (Mycenaean tomb shaped like a beehive) at Vaphio, near Sparta. The other big crowd-puller is the spectacular collection of Minoan frescos from Santorini (Thira).
The museum also houses a wonderful collection of sculpture, starting with the superb figurines of the Cycladic collection that inspired such artists as Picasso. Other stars of the sculpture galleries are the 460 BC bronze statue of 'Zeus or Poseidon', found in the sea off Evia, and the 2nd-century-BC 'horse and young rider'.
The pottery collection traces the development of pottery from the Bronze Age through the Protogeometric and Geometric periods, to the emergence of the famous Attic black-figured pottery of the 6th century and the red-figured pottery from the late 5th to early 4th century.
Knossos (k-nos-os) was the capital of Minoan Crete and is now Crete's major tourist attraction. The ruins, home of King Minos' mythical Minotaur, were uncovered in 1900 by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Evans was so enthralled by his discovery that he spent 35 years and
Some archaeologists have disparaged Evans' reconstruction, believing he sacrificed accuracy to his overly vivid imagination. However, most nonspecialists agree that Sir Arthur did a good job and that Knossos is a knockout. Without these reconstructions it would be impossible to visualise what a Minoan palace looked like.
You'll need to spend about four hours to thoroughly explore the site. There's absolutely no signage, so unless you have a travel guidebook or hire a guide, you'll have no idea what you are looking at. The onsite cafe is expensive - bring a picnic along.
Of all the ancient sites in Greece, Delphi is perhaps the fairest of them all - the one with the most potent 'spirit of place'. Built on the slopes of Mt Parnassos, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and extending into a valley of cypress and olive trees, this World Heritage-listed site's allure lies both in its stunning setting and its inspiring ruins.
The ancients regarded Delphi as the centre of the world: according to mythology, Zeus released two eagles at opposite ends of the world and they met here.
The Sanctuary of Apollo is on the left of the main road as you walk towards Arahova. From the main entrance, at the site of the old Roman agora, steps lead to the Sacred Way, winding up to the foundations of the Doric Temple of Apollo. Entering the site, you pass the pedestal which held the statue of a bull dedicated by the city of Corfu (Kerkyra).
In ancient times the Sacred Way was lined with treasuries and statues given by grateful city-states - Thebes, Siphnos, Sikyon, Athens and Knidos - in thanks to Apollo for helping them win battles.
Above the temple is the well-preserved 4th-century-BC theatre, restored by the Romans, yielding magnificent views from the top row. From the theatre the path continues to the stadium, the best-preserved in all of Greece.
Opposite the Castalian Spring is the Sanctuary of Athena, the site of the 4th-century-BC tholos (dome), the most striking of Delphi's monuments. This graceful circular structure comprises 20 columns on a three-stepped podium - three of its columns have been re-erected.
Ancient Delphi managed to amass a considerable treasure-trove, and this is reflected in its magnificent Archaeological Museum. Amongst its highlights is the celebrated life-size 'Bronze Charioteer'.
Santorini is regarded by many as the most spectacular of the Greek islands. Thousands come to marvel at its sea-filled caldera, a vestige of what was probably the world's largest volcanic eruption. Its landscapes of blue-domed roofs, dazzling white walls and black-sand beaches contrast the charming with the unearthly.
The eruption that caused the caldera is believed by some myth-makers to have caused the disappearance of Atlantis. The island's violent volcanic history is visible everywhere you look - in its black beaches, earthquake-damaged dwellings and raw cliffs of lava plunging into the sea. Volcanic activity has been low-key for the past few decades, but minor tremors occur pretty frequently and experts reckon the caldera could bubble up once again at any moment. For lovers of impermanence and drama, no other place even comes close.
To get some background into this island's extraordinary history, head to the Megaron Gyzi Museum of local memorabilia in Fira, with fascinating photos of the town before and after the disastrous 1956 quake. The Museum of Prehistoric Thira houses impressive finds from the ancient site of Akrotiri, destroyed in the 1650 BC eruption. Look out for the gold ibex figurine, found in mint condition in 1999 and dating from the 17th century BC.
Athens exists because of the Acropolis, the Western world's most important ancient monument. Crowned by the Parthenon, it's visible from almost everywhere within the city, with monuments of Pentelic marble gleaming white at midday and taking on a honey hue as the sun sinks. An unexpected glimpse of this magnificent sight can't fail to lift your spirits.
Inspiring as these monuments are, they are but faded remnants of Pericles' city, and it takes a great leap of the imagination to begin to comprehend the splendour of his creations.
There is only one entrance to the archaeological site, but there are several approaches to this entrance. The main approach from the north is along the path that is a continuation of Dioskouron in the southwest corner of Plaka.
The crowds that swarm over the Acropolis need to be seen to be believed. It's best to get there as early in the day as possible. You need to wear shoes with good soles because the paths around the site are uneven and very slippery.
The Greek year is a succession of festivals and events, some of which are religious, some cultural, others an excuse for a good knees-up. Gynaikokratia on 8 January is a day of role reversal in villages in northern Greece. Women spend the day in kafeneia (cafes) and other social centres where men usually congregate, while the men stay at home to do housework. The Greek carnival season runs through February-March over the three weeks before the beginning of Lent, and features fancy dress, feasting, traditional dancing and general merrymaking. Easter is the most significant festival in Greece, with candle-lit processions, feasting and fireworks displays. Emphasis is placed on the Resurrection rather than on the Crucifixion, so it is a joyous occasion. There are numerous summer festivals across the country, the most famous being the Hellenic Festival (mid-June to late September), which hosts drama and music in ancient theatres.
When to go?
Conditions are perfect between Easter and mid-June - beaches and ancient sites are relatively uncrowded; public transport operates on close to full schedules; and accommodation is cheaper and easier to find than in the mid-June to end of August high season. Conditions are once more ideal from the end of August until mid-October, as the season winds down. Winter is pretty much a dead loss outside the major cities as most of the tourist infrastructure goes into hibernation from the middle of October till the beginning of April. This is slowly changing, however; on the most touristy islands, a few restaurants, hotels and bars remain open year-round, while the ski resorts on the mainland do thriving business.
Travel Visa Overview
The list of countries whose nationals can stay in Greece for up to three months without a visa includes Australia, Canada, all EU countries, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the USA. Other countries included are the European principalities of Monaco and San Marino and most South American countries. The list changes - contact Greek embassies for the full list. Those not included can expect to pay about
European plug with two circular metal pins
You can get sunburned quickly and seriously, even through clouds. Use a strong sunscreen, hat and barrier cream for your nose and lips. Calamine lotion and aloe vera are good for mild sunburn. Protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over 6 months of age coming from infected areas.
Greece generally has mild wet winters and hot dry summers. Winter temperatures can be severe in the mountains and even Athens can get viciously cold. Maximum temperatures on the islands hover around 30°C (87°F) in summer, but the heat is often tempered by the northerly wind known as the meltemi.
History and Culture
There are few places that evoke such a heady sense of cultural romance as Greece. The cradle of Western thought, literature, art, architecture and democracy gave birth to such treasures as Homer's The Iliad, Sophocles' Oedipus the King, the teachings of Plato and Socrates, the Parthenon, the Delphic Oracle, the Olympics and yes, even a Eurovision song contest winner. It is a cultural red carpet which Greeks are justifiably proud to roll out.
Pre-20th Centure History
During the Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC) the powerful Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean maritime civilisations flourished. According to Homer, this was a time of violence and wars based on trade rivalries, although it is thought that Minoan culture was generally peaceful and harmonious. By the 11th century BC the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures had collapsed due to changing patterns of trade and a Dorian invasion from the north, and a 'dark age' ensued.
By 800 BC Greece was undergoing a cultural and military revival, with the evolution of city-states, the most powerful of which were Athens and Sparta. Greater Greece was created, with southern Italy as an important component. This period was followed by an era of great prosperity known as the classical (or golden) age. During this time, Pericles commissioned the Parthenon, Sophocles wrote Oedipus the King, Socrates taught young Athenians the rigours of logic, and a tradition of democracy (literally, 'control by the people') was ushered in. The classical age came to an end with the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 AD) in which the militaristic Spartans defeated the Athenians.
While embroiled in the Peloponnesian Wars, the Spartans failed to notice the expansion of Philip of Macedon's kingdom in the north, which enabled him to easily conquer the war-weary city-states. Philip's ambitions were surpassed by his son Alexander the Great, who marched into Asia Minor, Egypt (where he was proclaimed pharaoh and founded the city of Alexandria), Persia and parts of what are now Afghanistan and India. The reign of the Macedonian empire, which lasted in the form of three dynasties after Alexander's death at the age of 33, is known as the Hellenistic period, due to the merging of Greek ideas and culture with the other proud cultures of antiquity, creating a new cosmopolitan tradition.
From 205 BC there were Roman incursions into Greece, and by 146 BC Greece and ancient Macedonia had become Roman provinces. After the subdivision of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western empires in 395 AD, Greece became part of the illustrious Byzantine Empire. By the 12th century, the Crusades were in full flight and Byzantine power was much reduced by invading hordes of Venetians, Catalans, Genoese, Franks and Normans.
In 1453 the Ottoman Turks captured the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, and by 1500 almost all of Greece had also fallen under Turkish control. The lands of present-day Greece became a rural backwater, with many merchants, intellectuals and artists exiled in central Europe. It was traditional village life and Orthodox religion that held together the notion of Hellenism. A cultural revival in the late 18th century precipitated the War of Independence (1821-29), during which aristocratic young philhellenes such as Byron, Shelley and Goethe supported the Greeks in their battle against the Ottoman Turks. The independence movement lacked unity, however, and in 1827 Russia, France and Britain decided to intervene. After independence, the European powers decided Greece should become a monarchy, with a non-Greek ruler to frustrate Greek power struggles, and installed Otto of Bavaria as king in 1833. The monarchy, with an assortment of kings at the helm, held on despite popular opposition until well into the 20th century, although George I established a new constitution in 1864 that returned democracy and pushed the king into a largely ceremonial role.
During WWI, Greek troops fought on the Allied side and occupied Thrace. After the war, Prime Minister Venizelos sent forces to 'liberate' the Turkish territory of Smyrna (present-day Izmir), which had a large Greek population. The army was repulsed by Atatürk's troops and many Greek residents were slaughtered. This led to a brutal population exchange between the two countries in 1923, the resultant population increase (1,300,000 Christian refugees) straining Greece's already weak economy. Shanty towns spilled from urban centres, unions were formed among the urban refugee population and by 1936 the Communist Party had widespread popular support.
In 1936 General Metaxas was appointed as prime minister by the king and quickly established a fascist dictatorship. Although Metaxas had created a Greek version of the Third Reich, he was opposed to German or Italian domination and refused to allow Italian troops to traverse Greece in 1940. Despite Allied help, Greece fell to Germany in 1941, leading to carnage and mass starvation. Resistance movements sprang up and polarised into royalist and communist factions, and a bloody civil war resulted, lasting until 1949, when the royalists claimed victory. During the civil war, America, inspired by the Truman Doctrine, gave large sums of money to the anticommunist government and implemented the Certificate of Political Reliability, which remained valid until 1962. This document declared that the wearer did not hold left-wing sympathies; without it Greeks could not vote and found it almost impossible to get work.
Fearing a resurgence of the left, a group of army colonels staged a coup d'etat in 1967, said by Andreas Papandreou to be 'the first successful CIA military putsch on the European continent'. The junta distinguished itself by inflicting appalling brutality, repression and political incompetence upon the people. In 1974 the colonels attempted to assassinate Cyprus' leader, Archbishop Makarios, leading to Turkey's invasion and occupation of Northern Cyprus. This is still a volatile issue for the Greeks, and tensions with Turkey are easily inflamed.
In 1981 Greece entered the European Community (now the EU), and Andreas Papandreou's socialist party (PASOK) won elections. PASOK promised removal of US air bases and withdrawal from NATO, but these promises were never fulfilled. Women's issues fared better, with the abolition of the dowry system and legalisation of abortion. In the end, scandals got the better of Papandreou and his government was replaced by an unlikely coalition of conservatives and communists in 1989. Elections in 1990 brought the conservatives to power with a majority of only two seats and, intent on redressing the country's economic problems, the government imposed unpopular and severe austerity measures. A general election in 1993 returned the ageing, ailing Papandreou and PASOK to power.
Kostas Simitis was appointed prime minister in early 1996 when it became clear that Papandreou's time was drawing nigh - Greece's elder statesman died mid-1996. Simitis was re-elected by the skin of his teeth in April 2000, with a victory margin of one percentage point.
Greece adopted the euro currency in 2002. In 2004 the country hosted the Olympic Games and in 2005, much to Greece's surprise and delight, won the Eurovision Song Contest. Simitis and PASOK found themselves on the opposition benches following a heavy loss in the 2004 election that saw Costas Karamanlis and his conservative Nea Dimokratia party take power. Karamanlis was re-elected with a diminished majority in 2007.
PASOK returned to power with Andreas Papandreou's son George Papandreou as prime minister in October 2009. He inherited a country in severe economic crisis, with rising levels of unemployment.
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