Do’s and Don’ts in Greece – Greek Customs and Etiquette from an Athens resident

Do's and Don't when travelling in Greece, from an Athens Resident - LifeBeyondBorders
Do's and Don't when travelling in Greece, from an Athens Resident - LifeBeyondBorders

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I write about hotels in this glorious country (Greece), I write about destinations, but one thing I do get asked a lot about is what to wear (for which I created my Greek Island All Round Packing Guide to help you out) and also my Recommended Anti-Theft Travel Items for those with travel security on their minds. But whilst Greece isn’t a strict country with regards to attire, one does have to extend a modicum of common sense in the clothing stakes at times (I have seen some real faux pas) and it dawned on me that a post about etiquette in Greece in general would be useful to have to hand – as what’s obvious to me may not be obvious to others.

**Updated JUL19**

So, without further ado I present to you the Do’s and Don’ts in Greece, some customs and etiquette if you will – and there’ll be more than just clothing tips.

Use this booking engine to book your Greek island ferries. I will receive a small amount of commission, at no expense to you.

You might also be interested in my Things to know before travelling to Greece article too.
Essential reading for your trip to Greece includes (shameless self promotion): My debut novel Girl Gone Greek – a fun look at Greek life.
Also, this essential guide to customs and cultures in Greece by CultureSmart is a really different guidebook.  It’s pocket size and is a guide to culture, customs and traditions in this country.
Click on the image to take you to a link to buy – and receive 40% discount by quoting LBB-40 at checkout (and I will get a small commission, but at no charge to you).

Culture Smart pocket size Guide book to
Culture Smart pocket size Guide book to Greek culture and customs

If you’re looking to travel further afield, you need to be prepared to understand what happens in other countries as well. So my collaboration post with other travel writers and bloggers about Cultural faux pas around the world may interest you too.

Customs and Etiquette in Greece – Clothing

So let’s start off with clothing. The predominant religion in Greece is Greek Orthodox and you’ll see many churches around the country, both large and small.   They’re lovely to walk into and you don’t need to be necessarily religious to appreciate the architecture inside and out. But note: some churches – especially monasteries, don’t like women to show their shoulders, and especially not their legs.  If you go visiting the monasteries of Meteora in Central Greece, even if a woman is wearing trousers you have to cover with a wrap around skirt…and they helpfully provide this.

Etiquette in Greece: Wrap around skirt provided at Monastery visit in Meteora - Greece
Etiquette in Greece: Wrap around skirt provided at Monastery visit in Meteora – Greece

So, respect this please.  Wear a long loose skirt if you intend to go inside churches – and bring a shawl or scarf to put over your shoulders – better still, wear something with long sleeves.

Talking of clothing: I am not going to just single women out.  I had an experience back in the summer that made me think of penning this post: Quite happily minding my own business in an Athens coffee shop in the heat, a male backpacker plonks himself down at an outside table opposite me, takes of his backpack – and his shirt…leaving himself topless in the middle of a busy Athenian street.  I’m not a prude and love wearing summer clothes, but look – just don’t do it please. Show some modicum of decency.  Do you walk around topless (males) in your home city in the summer?

What_Not_to_do_in_Greece
What_Not_to_do_in _Greece

Some etiquette in Greece tips regarding clothing: Do show a modicum of decency and use your common sense.  Carry a shawl around with you that can be used as a cover for legs and shoulders if needs be. Don’t show your bare legs or shoulders in a church, especially not a monastery, and men: please keep that singlet on.

A time when clothing won’t matter so much is Apokries, or Carnival Time that starts in about February each year. Be sure to visit the country during this period – it’s fun!

Customs and Etiquette in Greece – Beverages

One things the Greeks love is their coffee. And the most famous Greek beverage? Frappe. It’s made from instant Nescafe, sugar and water and is drunk cold with lots of froth and ice cubes.  Think of it as a coffee milkshake, maybe not as thick.

frappe photo
Photo by Anna Oates

The thing is, Greeks love their coffee so much it is a culture here  You can sit around for hours nursing just one cup/glass, and you won’t be harangued by a stroppy waiting staff to move or order more.  The Greeks appreciate the good things about life, and that’s a good coffee with good company, maybe playing tavli.

tavli and coffee photo
Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis

What the Greeks don’t do is binge drink.

binge drinking photo
Photo by The Lakelander

And this is why I love Greek culture.  You’ll see young people drinking coffee at 11pm with their friends, playing tavli (see my British vs Greek culture post for an in depth look at these cultural differences).  They enjoy alcohol as it’s meant to be enjoyed; with good food, good company and good times.  If they’re not actually eating a meal, then there’ll almost always be some small snack accompanying the alcoholic drink ordered.  The etiquette in Greece is not to go out with the intention of ‘getting smashed.’

Some etiquette in Greece tips regarding drinking: You may not think twice about binge drinking in your home culture.  Well, please think twice when visiting Greece (or any foreign culture to be honest). Do remember in a way, you are an ‘Ambassador’ for your country whenever you go away, so don’t do anything to give your fellow countrymen a bad name. Do try the frappe, it’s a delicious drink!  And some places even put a shot of Baileys with it – even more delicious. Do take your time over coffee – there’s no rush. Do remember people in Greece don’t tend to drink at home before going out, and they start going out about 11pm. Don’t think that because you get away with it at home that you’ll be OK drinking yourself silly and vomiting in the street – or worse, a local’s garden (if on an island). It’s not funny, it doesn’t show you’ve had a good time and worse still, you’re a bad ‘Ambassador’ for your country.

What_Not_to_do_in_Greece_Travel_Tips

Dos and Don’ts in Greece – Customs and Etiquette regarding Transport

The public transport – in Athens at least – is very very good, especially the Metro. It’s clean and some stations even have ancient artefacts in glass cases on display, usually found when the Metro was being dug up and constructed.  After all, this is a country that dates back to ancient times.

Etiquette in Greece - Artefacts inside the Athens metro
Etiquette in Greece – Artefacts inside the Athens metro

It’s very clean and worth using. Take a look at Syntagma Metro Station Archaeological Collection. It’s easy to use as there’s just three Metro lines to have to navigate – not like London’s,  but then to be fair, London’s transport system has been running for a lot longer. Athens’s Metro System only really modernised in 2004 in time for the Olympic Games.

Etiquette in Greece - Athens Metro System - Greece. Clean and easy to use
Athens Metro System – Greece. Clean and easy to use

The ticket system is easy to use with re-chargable Electronic Cards (paper tickets, so don’t get confused and think it should be a plastic card), that you can buy for varying amounts, each allowing a certain amount of journeys. IE: each journey is (only) €1.40 (Athens is not zoned, unlike London) – and you can buy a card, for example, for €13.50 that covers 10 journeys plus one for free.

Etiquette in Greece - Athens Metro Ticket - Greece
Athens Metro Ticket – Greece

Machines to buy them have languages in Greek, English, German, French and Russian. So you won’t be confused.
But alas, in my experience the Greeks seem not to understand the concept of waiting for people to disembark the train first before boarding, so be warned it’s a bit of a free for all.

See my Insiders Guide to Visiting Athens for some advice of things to do when visiting the capital on a city break and base yourself in the small, affordable luxury suites of Sir Athens – central and yet hidden away from the hustle bustle.

Driving in Athens, and Greece in general, can be a little hair raising!  A list of why:

  • The Greeks tend not to obey the speed limit – at all: and that’s not on the lower side of it
  • They tend not to wear their seatbelts in cars or crash helmets on bikes
  • The rules for roundabouts is this weird system whereby you give way to the cars coming onto it, so you clog up the traffic on the roundabout by having to stop
  • Stopsigns: virtually ignored.  So if you’re a pedestrian, be sure to not assume that just because your green man is showing means you can happily cross
  • On the subject of pedestrians: they are also a menace! To be fair, the sidewalks/pavements are quite narrow, so one has to walk in the side of the road at times…but car drivers; beware the pedestrians who think the street is their domain and walk nearly in the middle of it!

Some customs and etiquette in Greece tips for Driving and Public Transport:  Do wait an extra few seconds before crossing the road after your man has turned green – to allow cars to actually acknowledge they’re required to stop. Don’t forget to use the public transport in Athens – especially the metro. It’s clean, easy to use (and cheap) feels safe (I’ve not had any problems, touch wood) and as mentioned, quite classy. Don’t think you’re driving too slowly by driving the speed limit; everyone will wizz past you.  You are the one being correct – stay that way. Do remember to give way on a roundabout, that means stopping for cars that want to come onto the roundabout as they just wizz onto it. Don’t forget to validate your ticket when you go through the machines at the Metro system.  It’s easy to do as there are no actual gates; just a ‘swipe’ machine that takes off the required amount of money for a journey. I know, it would be so much easier to install gates – but, this is Greece!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief, what I consider essential etiquette in Greece.  Most of all, I hope it helps you to enjoy your holiday.

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Etiquette in Greece; the Do's and Don'ts of travelling in the country by an Athens Resident. Photo <br /> "<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosz/37625070985/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Santorini, Greece</a>" (<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/" target="_blank" rel="license noopener noreferrer">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>) by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/people/pedrosz/" target="_blank" rel="cc:attributionURL noopener noreferrer">szeke</a>
Etiquette in Greece; the Do’s and Don’ts of travelling in the country by an Athens Resident. Photo 
Santorini, Greece” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by szeke

Header Image © Mariamichelle

48 COMMENTS

  1. Nicely written! As a Greek who’s lived in the UK for some time, I can not stress enough the “not to go out with the intention of ‘getting smashed’” advice. Just enjoy your drink slowly!

    I’ll just add one point – when in Greece, don’t just stick to gyros, souvlaki and moussaka. Greek food is lots more than that, so be a little adventurous!

  2. I totally love this post! Really related to what you say about binge drinking; it is not that Greeks don’t want to binge drink but that the “aftermath” is considered embarrassing – so that’s why they mostly don’t do it. As for coffee, frappe is truly amazing, but I d suggest to everybody reading to try espresso Freddo; sounds Italian but it is not, really. It is the “new frappe” and the absolute summer coffee.

  3. What a dream to live in Greece! I think a lot of your suggestions are common sense and there are just so many ignorant people who don’t care!

    • Possibly Sami,

      Although maybe people won’t know about the ‘unofficial driving/road rules’ as you really have to be extra careful when crossing the road!

  4. I really loved Greece when I visited and would love to see more of the country. The frappes I had were delicious! I would have never known about wearing a skirt over pants. Thanks for the tips! I hope to visit again one day!

    • Thanks Scarlett.

      I’m glad you loved the country, like I do.

      The skirt over trousers thing isn’t everywhere – but just in some of the stricter places. And I agree about the frappes!

  5. Oh my God! All I’ve ever seen on the internet is about holidaymaking in Greece which gave me the total opposite impression of your first two tips! But if that’s the actual local norms, I think Greece would actually suit me much much better than I thought! Thank you! (And totally handy driving tips too)

    • Hi Teja,

      I’m glad the article has persuaded you that Greece is a cultural destination and traditions can be enjoyed

  6. LOL! “Do you (males) walk around topless in the summer in your home town?” 🤣 Like YES. I mean, actually no since I’m not male, but yes, 8/10 times the North American custom is to allow males to not wear a shirt outside. I mean, you have to throw one on one if you go into a store or restaurant, but other wise yeah, males do whatever the fuck they want. I mean it’s nice to know a countries preferences but when your economy relies mostly on tourism, just suck it up. Tourism doesn’t have to mean being a disrespectful douche, but also should not ever mean being required to conform, however temporarily, to a religion, even if it’s to cover my shoulders.

    • Interesting observation Sarah. I don’t take it as conforming, however; I peruse it as being merely respectful of others around me, irrespective of what country I am in.
      I am mindful of being an ‘Ambassador’ for my country when I travel and do wish to behave respectfully, therefore if it means covering my shoulders to go inside a church (my choice to go inside a church, I could choose not to), then I have no right to insist that I don’t cover my shoulder just because I am a tourist and my host country must ‘suck it up.’ If there is any ‘sucking up’ going on, then it must be me, the tourist, who does so. I am a guest in that culture – why should they conform to me?

    • Uhm, you are very wrong. First of all, covering up shoulders is only for the ladies and only in monasteries. Second of all, especially you who is a female you wouldnt go to egypt without covering up or else the locals would try to fondle you best case scenario ( b e s t). Its not a matter of conforming, its a matter of respect. Just because not obeying social rules in a country wont be dangerous to you (like many muslim countries) that doesnt mean you should respect them any less. And to be honest, if I saw an american man being shirtless I wouldnt give a shit, but only if they did it out of need, not if they knew its rude and still did it.

  7. Well being a Greek Canadian.. no Canadian do not walk around topless. When there are rules north Americans abide by them. Great article Bex and thank you. I like how you mentioned that everyone is an Ambassador of their own country. I like how you mentioned about the roundabout even though I learned how to drive in Greece when I visited last month to visit my mom I completely forgot. 🙂

    • Thanks Antonia.

      It was meant as a bit of ‘fun’ and cultural observations…but turned into a little bit of heated discussion!
      I do truly believe one is an Ambassador for their country when abroad and when a visitor in someone’s country, naturally abide by that country’s cultural norms. Who are we to dictate what is right and wrong in a country?

      I’m glad you engaged with and enjoyed the post. Thanks.

  8. You might also have mentioned the serious issue with pickpockets in the metro. I recently returned from Greece and had the unfortunate experience of having my passport picked out of my front pocket and I had only been in the country 1 hour! I will admit that I should have been carrying it in one of those under the shirt holders and in the future, that is what I will do. I realize you don’t want to scare people from coming, but it also happened to others in the tour group I was with on other occasions. Didn’t stop me from enjoying my stay in the country which was wonderful, but definitely made me more mindful. Thankfully, I had put a copy of my passport in my suitcase which made it so much easier in getting it replaced at the embassy.

    • Sorry to hear of your unfortunate experience Mark. Glad the Embassy in Greece was able to sort it out – and yes, there are incidences of pickpockets…as there are in a lot of cities. I know of incidences in Barcelona, Lisbon, a lot of European cities.

  9. I really enjoyed reading your information here.

    I think it is important to visit Greece equipped with a little knowledge of what to expect.

    Very often you can be surprised with what you come across. What can be seen as strange to outsiders is quite normal in Greece.

    The one thing I was not ready for when I first came here, was at the dinner table.

    All the food was in the middle and everyone just ate from the same plates. Although I was taken back by this, I am quite used to it now.

    I like your site, and it is a nice resource for people to learn a little about what to expect before they arrive.

    Thanks 🙂

    Chris

    • Thanks Chris,

      Yes, I love the community sharing of meze food. It’s so nice to share and not be individualistic.

  10. Omgosh! What a great article! My bestie and I are just now planning a 2 week trip there for this September. If I have questions…would you be available for me? Where would I contact you via the internet…here?

    • Many thanks for your compliments Conni. You are welcome to head to the contact form on my site and if I can answer anything, I most certainly will try. Have a good trip.

  11. A few tips for driving on the island of Crete, most of the roads are single highways with fairly wide shoulders. The locals and those such as myself who have lived here for 17 years always position our car to the right of the traffic lane so anybody trying to overtake can do so. Once you are aware of someone trying to overtake pull even a little further over on the hard shoulder please do not sit continuously in the middle or to the left of the traffic lane. Also on smaller roads beware of vehicles just stopped in the road or been driven in the middle and most disconcerting of all is the use of hazard lights instead of indicators. You then have to seriously question what the next move will be and I cannot understand who teaches the Greeks to do this as you have to take your hand off the steering wheel to put hazard lights on instead of flicking the indicator switch which again doesn’t seem to get used very much. At junctions you often wait for a sign but in the end nothing happens and they turn or go straight on with no indication whatsoever.

  12. Took me a while to come around to the frappe. Not a fan of instant coffee and rarely use sugar but in the end, I fell in love with it. I’m glad you pointed out about taking your time and enjoying your drink. My wife and I love sitting at a cafe and people watching.

    • Thanks Eric.

      Yes, they sure know how to treat eating and drinking as a lifestyle choice as opposed to just filling your stomach. And it’s such a healthy outlook to life too.

  13. How on earth can you NOT chug a frappe?? Haha, I’m absolutely obsessed with them. I’ve been to Greece twice, found a frappe mixer and brought it home but sadly because of the voltage difference it is not effective here in Canada. I’ve managed to make an immersion blender quite successful in imitating the frappe! Although, again sadly, I cannot get the frappe Nescafé mix so I use the kind we get here. It’s pretty darn close! I had THE strongest mojito at Brettos in April. WOW.

    I can’t wait to go back- my mouth waters and my heart flutters thinking about walking through monastiraki with a gyro and frappe in hand.

  14. Thanks so much for the great tips! Our family will be visiting Athens and Santorini next week and we are so excited! Can you tell me what the temperatures and weather is like in November? Is it cold and will we need coats? Thanks!

    • Hi Jeanna,

      You will love Santorini – but yes, it is chilly at the moment (not by UK standards though!) It’s sunny, you will need jumpers though as it gets windy on the islands – maybe a windproof jacket too?

  15. Great post. My hubby is Aussie Greek, we visited in 2017 and I loved the place the people, everything! So laid back, use your commonsense and you fit right in! I would do a mama Mia style go on holiday and never come back if I didn’t have young children…. maybe when they grow up !! We

    • Thanks Kylee – it’s always great to meet a fellow Grecophile. You have to come back soon! So many lovely places in this country to visit.

  16. My hubby and I are visiting first time mid April. We are Catholic…USA😎. Have traveled in Europe no problem with etiquette..we are overgrown..lol..in our 50’s.

    Not sure what to wear when chilly to tour? Are jeans acceptable? Minus athletic shoes? What to wear throughout day totour city while chilly and be able to visit a religious site or church dressed appropriately?
    Appreciate any advice ..always wish to respect local etiquette and learn from locals.

    • Hi Laurie,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and I’m glad you found it useful for your up and coming visit to Greece which you will love!
      It only really gets ‘chilly’ in Greece from end of November to late Feb. And it all depends on where you’re going and what you’re seeing: if you’ll be in the mountains, on an island, in the cities.

      One thing: Athens is by the coast so can get quite humid – so when it is chilly, it can feel colder than it actually is.

      So, I would suggest trousers that are maybe a cotton mix as they absorb any sweat (should it be hot) and keep you cool.
      I’m not endorsing their products and am on no commission (as I have never actually tried them) – but I have read that Scottevest is a good travelling product for both men and women’s clothing. They’re a North American company, and deliver.
      Sneakers/trainers (as we call them in the UK) are perfectly acceptable for going into a church…my point about a religious site was just to respect the local culture and if wandering around in the heat, maybe wear loose linen/cotton trousers and a long sleeved shirt. T-shirts are even fine – it’s just so long as you have your shoulders covered so no sleeveless t-shirts.
      Women can always grab a little sarong to throw over their shoulders – that’s what I do.

      The thing to remember is it’s not STRICT STRICT – and I am sure as you’re seasoned travellers anyway, you have knowledge and common sense. I have just seen some ridiculousness in the clothing stakes in the past – mainly from younger travellers who have an attitude of ‘We don’t care what your culture is, this is what I wear and you will not dictate to me what to wear’ which makes me angry because it shows a lack of respect to culture as far as I’m concerned.

      You might find this collaborative post interesting that I also have on my site:

      https://www.lifebeyondbordersblog.com/cultural-faux-pas-around-the-world/ It talks about clothing ‘faux pas’ and others around the world.

      Many thanks and happy travels!

  17. You recommend the metro, I have heard there are a lot of pick pockets on the metro, is this true? And if so, what is the best way to protect yourself from them.

    • Yes, there are lots of pick pockets on the metro – as with any big city. If you were travelling on the metro in another city, how would you protect yourself? I wouldn’t keep everything in one place – and usually travel with a hidden money belt that you can put under your clothes.
      I also wait to travel on less crowded metros so if the one coming is pretty jam packed, I wait for the next metro.

      • Thank you, had pick pockets in Rome as well – going to Athens and Santorini this August. Will most likely use Uber to be on the safe side. Pick pockets are not common in the US, so people who are not vigilant need to be warned. I like this blog and found it helpful for my upcoming trip, I am so looking forward to it.

        • I feel safer in Athens than I have done in a US city to be honest, but I guess it is all relative. When one travels, one gets used to being aware of surroundings, etc. I always recommend not ‘standing out’ as a tourist ie: huge camera hanging from neck, speaking loudly to each other in English so you stand out, looking at maps standing in the middle of a crowded, bustling market area, etc.
          Uber is not used in Greece (and quite a few other European cities). It’s been banned because the taxis in Athens are so cheap. You can download a App called Beat and link it to your credit card and order taxis from that. It’s basically an Uber but using the local taxis. I love using it. And the great thing is, you are using an actual taxi driver and here in Greece, to be a taxi driver is a huge investment in the car, licensing, etc so it’s not a profession that’s taken lightly.
          Just keep valuables hidden and be aware of your surroundings, but I will repeat again: I found travelling around Europe much safer than the U.S.

      • P.S. I think I mentioned it in this post already, but check out Scottavest. They offer travel clothes with hidden pockets and are a U.S. company. I am not endorsing them as I don’t have their products as they are U.S. based and shipping to Europe is more expensive than their products! But I have used products with hidden pockets in them before and found them useful

    • Hi Nancy and thanks for your message,

      The National Gardens in the centre near Syntagma Square has over 500 different plants, trees and bushes from worldwide – but the Botanical Gardens in the Athens neighbourhood of Halandri has more native species. I’ve never been, but it’s free (as is the National Gardens) and looks lovely. I should go and write a post about it.

  18. Thanks for the helpful tips. Do you have any tips for traveling with kids 10 and 8? My husband and I are really good travelers, we are the type of people who love culture. We try our best to blend in. We will be in Athens and Santorini in August.

    • Thanks Tammy.

      You and your family will have a wonderful time. Join in with as many activities that become available – sit in the squares at the small cafes and watch as the local families all gather. So much to do in both Athens and Santorini, but it will be very hot, so bring plenty of high sunscreen, especially for the children.
      I wouldn’t try to climb up to the Acropolis from midday onwards – make sure you aim to do it early morning or later in the early evening, it’s too hot.
      Most of all, enjoy your travels!

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