... first the good news
Car rental rates are down, and the choice of vehicles is extensive. You can expect to find very good, well maintained automobiles, many with automatic transmission, especially in Athens and at major tourist destinations, such as Mykonos, Crete, and Santorini Islands. In Athens and its surrounding areas, you’ll find new, modern roads, well signposted for the most part, and well laid-out.
Now the bad news ...
Driving in Greece is still a daunting, white-knuckle affair. Traffic in the city of Athens is heavy and congested; narrow side streets are frequently narrowed even more by cars illegally or badly parked; potholes are rampant; traffic signs are sometimes missing at intersections, or ignored all together! Greek citizens are some of the most hospitable, helpful, and kind people on the planet, but when some of them get behind the wheel of a car (or motorbike, taxi, truck, bus, etc.!), Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde!
All of this is a good reason to rely on public transportation. And for Athens, that is becoming a very desirable option what with all of the new choices available, such as new buses, routes and bus lanes; a fantastic new and revamped old metro system; the new tram; and lovable old trolleys. But, sometimes public transport just doesn’t go where or when you want it to, and a rental car is very desirable. And on the islands, it’s the best way to see everything! So, here are some rules of thumb that we think will add to your enjoyment, as well as to your safety, when driving in Greece.
Expect the unexpected! That is rule number one and the preface to all of the other tips that follow. If you stay alert and are ready for anything, you’ll avoid nasty situations.
Drive defensively! That is rule number two, and it also applies to all of our helpful tips.
Do not drink and drive! This is the law in Greece, and just good common sense, but the majority of traffic accidents in this country are drinking related.
Buckle Up! Seatbelts are the law in this country too, and they may save your life.
If you stay alert behind the wheel and follow our simple rules of the road, you will enjoy your driving experience, and you will return home unscathed and undamaged. Here are some tips to help you along:
Don’t tailgate. Greek drivers are notorious for suddenly changing their minds about where they want to go; or suddenly deciding to park; or discovering they’ve run out of cigarettes and need to divert immediately to the nearest kiosk; or, seeing a friend walking along the street, they suddenly decide to stop and chat or offer a lift. By not tailgating, you will have plenty of time to react.
Use your directional signals. This is a very good idea, as you will probably be tailgated by a Greek driver, who is beginning to lose patience with your slow speed. Always indicate your intentions, even if no one else does.
Don’t jump the green light at traffic signals. After a very short period of driving in Athens and its suburbs, you will notice that red traffic lights appear to be an invitation to rev your engines and “start the race.” Do not be led into playing that game. Let the light turn green, before you step on the accelerator.
Keep to the right of the road and let the faster traffic (and that will be just about everyone else!) pass you. Don’t be wooed into a race; drive at the posted speed limit, or at anything less than that that makes you feel comfortable. Know your limits, and stay within them.
Use your rearview mirror often, as well as your left and right wing mirrors. While it is the law in most of the countries with right-hand drive, that all passing is only done in the left lane, a Greek driver in a hurry will pass you any which way that he can! And motorcyclists are the worst offenders!
On the islands, if you rent a motorbike, please ask for a helmet. It is the law everywhere in Greece, but not everyone has the common sense to wear one.
Here are a few facts that will also help you adjust to driving in this country and to accustom yourself to the way things are done.
Credit cards are just beginning to catch on at petrol/gas stations. Most stations don’t accept them, so be sure that you are traveling with enough cash to cover your needs.
If you are combining a holiday on the mainland with one or more islands, the chances are that you are better off not transporting a rental vehicle from place to place, as the ticket price for cars on ferries is not cheap. Furthermore, many car hire agencies do not permit cars to be transported beyond a certain jurisdiction (for issues of insurance coverage and repairs to the vehicle); so you will need to have their permission to do this.
If you are traveling with your own private car, be sure that you have booked as much of your journey in advance as is possible. Ferry space is limited overall, and access during high season and holidays may not be available, if you leave it to the last minute.
Finally, Greece and many of the islands are mountainous, with narrow, winding roads, very low guardrails (if any at all), lots of blind corners, and the occasional herd of cows/sheep/goats being moved from one spot to another. Just be on the lookout and watch your speed.
If you decide that driving here is simply not for you, don’t be concerned that you’ll miss out on anything! Public transport exists throughout the country, and there are plenty of organized tours to just about everywhere. So, sit back and relax … and leave the driving to us!