The bright side of Greece: lower prices, fewer tourists

All the things you're looking for in a trip to Greece — mouthwatering food, deep-blue water, striking scenery and the thrill of connecting with ancient history — are all here waiting for you; at a cheaper price.
BY RICK STEVES Modified: March 15, 2013 at 12:02 am •  Published: March 17, 2013
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I keep getting asked if Greece is “safe” for travelers — a question that feels absurd the instant you arrive there. Ask anyone who's been to Greece recently, and you'll learn that safety concerns have been played up by both Greek and international media outlets.

Frankly, this is a great time to travel to Greece. The financial crisis — while making life difficult for most Greeks — is a boon for budget travelers. Hotel prices are down, the normally warm Greek hospitality has ratcheted up a few notches and roads outside of Athens are essentially traffic-free, as higher gas prices have caused locals to cut down on nonessential driving.

The downsides (shorter hours at sights, reduced long-distance bus service, occasional strikes) are noticeable, but not reason enough for you to postpone a trip. All the things you're looking for in a trip to Greece — mouthwatering food, deep-blue water, striking scenery and the thrill of connecting with ancient history — are all here waiting for you; at a cheaper price.

Greece is easy on travelers. Tourism makes up 15 percent of the gross domestic product. The Greeks pride themselves on a concept called “filotimo” (love of honor), roughly translated as openness, friendliness and hospitality. Social faux pas made by unwary foreigners are easily overlooked by Greeks, and many speak English.

Despite the headlines, the major sights of this ancient land are open and relatively crowd-free. Athens, while sprawling and congested, has a compact, pleasant tourist zone capped by the famous Acropolis — the world's top ancient site.

With its central location, it's also the perfect launchpad for farther-flung destinations. You can commune with ancient spirits at the center of the world — the oracle near the picturesque mountain hamlet of Delphi.

Or travel farther to the Peloponnese, the large peninsula that hangs from the rest of the Greek mainland, and experience a wild, mountainous landscape dotted with the ruins of Mycenaean palaces, ancient temples, frescoed churches and countless medieval castles.

Most travelers like to take a vacation from their vacation on one of the famous Greek isles, such as traffic-free Hydra, whitewashed Mykonos or volcanic Santorini. It all sounds idyllic — and for the most part, it is.

On my last trip here, if it hadn't been for the blaring headlines and shrill news reports calling the demonstrations “riots,” I probably wouldn't have been aware of them at all.

I was too busy pondering the ancients at the Acropolis and nibbling olives at dinner. I found Greece to be the same old wonderful place, with perhaps a few more minor headaches.



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