Driving in Greece

Driving in Greece

This is a brief guide about driving in Greece that will cover some necessary information as well as a few tips and suggestions for people driving abroad for the first time.


International Driver’s Permit

In 2018 Greece made it mandatory that foreigners renting cars have the International Driver’s Permit (IDP), whereas EU citizens of the European Union can use the standard photocard type driving license for driving in Greece.

IDP is not the same as an international license and is basically just a translation and photo ID of whatever license you normally use. Whether or not you will be asked for it, outside the event of a road accident, is anyone’s guess but tourists and car rental agencies have been fined. An international driving permit (IDP) allows you to drive legally in Greece and 174 countries and must be accompanied by your valid driver’s license.

US Citizens

Only two organizations in the US issue IDPs: Automobile Association of America (AAA) and American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) and you can order it online if there is not an office nearby.

GPS in Greece

As a rule of thumb you are better of using your smartphone’s map service as this is most likely to be up-to-date with the latest version of the maps.

Irrespective of your preferred service do yourself a favour and download the area map beforehand at your home/office WiFi connection as broadband in Greece is fairly pricey and depending where you go, signal can be patchy on the road.

Google Maps

Pros
Better choice of routes
More accurate travel times
Faster to load
More detailed search results, e.g. businesses with opening hours

Cons
Place names and business names are often presented in Greek characters, so may be unreadable for non-Greeks
Seems several years behind on freeway construction
Audio translation of road names is often lengthy and garbled – a bit pointless

HERE WeGo – for when Google Maps falls down

Pros
Greek place names are translated into Western alphabet – much easier to search and read maps
More detailed road maps
More up-to-date on new freeways
Includes speed limits

Cons
Slower to load
Less accurate travel times
More prone to “crazy shortcut” routes.

Both apps are prone to the “crazy shortcut” feature, where they instruct you to turn onto a country lane that would save a few minutes, if you could continue at 90kmh, but actually takes twice as long because you will be lucky to get up to 40kmh.  As a rule, I never turn onto any road that doesn’t have a blue signpost to somewhere. Hopefully the app will recalculate a more sensible route in a few seconds.

Offline Alternatives

MAPS.ME

Android and iOS apps with maps for offline use, so no need for data. It is very detailed and voice instructions are excellent.

OsmAnd+

Offline Travel Maps & Navigation which has all the maps you want on your micro sd card. So no data needed while on the road.

Mobile Data

If roaming using your homecountry’s data plan is not an option, some people use a portable gadget (like e.g. a Huawei E5577) and load that with a local SIM for data. It makes a portable WiFi hotspot that you can connect your other phones etc to.  It can often be faster and more reliable than hotel WiFi.

Currently the best prepaid deal for data appears to Cosmote WHAT’S UP “#GIGA_day” (WHAT’S UP is a Cosmote’s sub-brand), where you can get 1GB for 1 euro, which lasts for 24 hours.  They also seem to have the best network.

General Overview of Driving in Greece

Although certain generalisations do apply, this section is mostly written having in mind the journey related to getting to Aigeira/Akrata and driving around the two towns.

Driving in mainland Greece and on the Greek islands is a pleasure for those who know how to drive and especially those who know how to drive defensively. Driving in Athens is different. The most important thing to know is that following the rules is seen as a weakness of character by many Greek men who drive with the patience and consideration of a 13 year old drug addict in need of a fix. There are lots of people on the road who could not pass a road test if they had to, yet they are driving and some of them are driving fast.

Matt Barrett, Survival on the Greek Roads

Following on the quote from Matt Barrett above, in Greece there is a massive difference between people that can operate the machine known as the car and those people who are able to drive.

You must always keep in mind that you may be the only person on the road who actually knows how to drive and you have to make up for their lack of ability by driving more defensively.

You should always anticipate the improbable and sometimes even the impossible.

With this in mind things have improved significantly over the years but your hazard perception should be more acute than what you might be used to. As above, just slow down a bit and drive more defensively.

Watch out for people opening their doors without looking while parked or double parked. Expect the unexpected.

In the mountains and rural areas, driving can be unnerving to first timers, due to narrow roads, blind curves, and unprotected embankments sometimes on the edge of 1,000 ft cliffs that fall to the sea, or even worse, the ground. Watch out for people parked in unbelievably stupid places like when you come around a mountain bend and someone is relieving himself or taking a picture of his girlfriend while his car is parked halfway in the road.

If you have never driven in mountains before you may want to practice using your gears to downshift and reduce your speed instead of using your brakes and then not having any when you need to actually stop.

Road Signs

Road signs are mostly in Greek and English but that does not mean you will always see them, especially in urban areas but also in the countryside where they might be hidden behind overgrown hedges, trees, you name it…

Graffiti and stickers are amongst other culprits.

Traffic

Nothing out of the ordinary with the exception of a few days a year during the major bank holidays, especially those of Good Friday/Easter Weekend, 1st May (International Labour’s Day), 15th August.

For the list of the major bank holidays in Greece check the list here.

Flashing Head Lights

Flashed head lights, long or short means the driver is coming through. Contrary to the UK this means the driver is not giving way to you but alerting you that s/he is coming through.

Hazard lights

Hazard lights do not mean that the vehicle is standing or is in an emergency parking position. It means the driver is going to do something unexpected and at the end, when s/he is finished the car will stop, somewhere, it could be on the right it could be on the left, it could even be in the middle. When you see a vehicle put on its hazards lights on, keep a distance and expect anything to happen.

No it’s not an accident!

In urban areas hazard lights more often than not mean that the human like ape driving the car has just popped to the bakery for fresh bread or to the “periptero” (kiosk) for cigarettes. Since s/he couldn’t care less about fellow drivers or pedestrians, they have basically pseudo-parked the car to the most convenient place to their royalness without any consideration for road safety and disruption to anyone else.

Zebra Crossings

Hardly anyone in Greece pays attention to a pedestrian stepping into a zebra crossing. Usually if one sees that, s/he speeds up to pass the pedestrian before s/he gets to block their way. Better safe than sorry DOES NOT work here. If you stop because at the far end of a zebra crossing someone puts their foot on the asphalt, the car behind you will crash into you. The car behind simply does not expect you to stop. The same is also true about amber or yellow lights, almost everyone, as soon as they see a yellow light speed up. This must sound really confusing to British drivers so my advice is just drive slowly and with much caution it is much better to be shouted at for driving too slowly in unfamiliar territory than never getting there.

Lanes

There are lanes but these can get blurred in certain places so keep your eyes on the car in front of you. There is especially a lack of lane discipline at night. The double lines in the middle of the road mean no-passing just like at home but don’t be surprised to see someone else passing in fact they may be coming right towards you. Just take it to mean that you should not pass and that you should be extra alert for someone who is passing from the opposite direction because the rule does not apply to them. When driving on the National Road and in the countryside remember the advice: “Keep to the right”.

Motorbikes

Motorbikes don’t obey any lanes or rules and there is usually one or more somewhere nearby. Watch out for them especially on the islands where tourists who have never driven a motorbike in their lives are doing so now and are possibly drunk too. Motorcycles are responsible for the greatest number of accident victims in Greece.

This is of course a generalisation, so unfortunately the self-respecting, fully kitted, boots, gloves, helmet, proper clothes, mature road manners bikers are the exception and not the rule.

Young Drivers

Young Greeks with nice cars are a public liability. They do have excellent reflexes which gets them out of trouble as fast as they get into it, probably having something to do with a diet rich in caffeine and nicotine. That means you will have some close calls, almost guaranteed, but if you are attentive and they are not fighting with their girlfriend or mother on the cell phone, chances are you won’t have any major accidents.

Gas Station (greek: Βενζινάδικο, venzinadiko)

Gas stations are common (too common maybe) but be aware that in many cases they don’t accept credit cards. Yes even in 2019!

Emergency Number

Dial 112 for the Emergency Line in Greece. Information is available in English, French and Greek regarding ambulance services, fire brigade, police and the coast guard. For roadside assistance call INTERAMERICAN  at 1158 or Express Service at 1154 and chances are good there will be someone there who speaks English. If you are renting a car be sure you have a 24-hour line or cell phone number for the rental company so you can contact them in an emergency or hassle them if the car is a piece of junk.

Parking

The situtation with regards to parking is one of mild anarchy, with (very) flexible rules, and no policing.

Be considerate and most importantly safe especially if you have young kids. You can almost always do better.

Motorway/Highway

The motorway linking Athens airport to Aigeira/Akrata is fairly modern, with decent road surface, and clear road signs. If you had a good peek on a map before you set off you could probably make the journey without relying on your GPS.

It will feel familiar to anyone used to driving in European highways, and is without any confusing intersections.

The section from Corinth to Aigeira was extensively renovated the previous years and was delivered in 2018. The route has tolls.

The Speed limit is 100-130 kph.

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