9 June 2020

Your Guide to Traveling Around Greece with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in Greece?

Greece is one of the top European travel destinations for a reason — its fabled history, idyllic islands, and famous beach resorts attract millions of visitors every year. Most tourists tend to stick to just part of the country, flying in and out of the same place. But if you want to explore Greece in all its fascinating diversity, your best bet is to get a rental car — this way, enjoying the paradise beaches of Zakynthos or Mykonos, marveling at the history in Athens and exploring off-the-radar inland destinations is not something you have to choose from.

Your Guide to Traveling Around Greece with a Rental Car

By Aleksandrs Buraks | Published June 9, 2020

Why should you rent a car in Greece?

Greece is one of the top European travel destinations for a reason — its fabled history, idyllic islands, and famous beach resorts attract millions of visitors every year. Most tourists tend to stick to just part of the country, flying in and out of the same place. But if you want to explore Greece in all its fascinating diversity, your best bet is to get a rental car — this way, enjoying the paradise beaches of Zakynthos or Mykonos, marveling at the history in Athens and exploring off-the-radar inland destinations is not something you have to choose from.

When should you go to Greece?

Although opinions may vary, most people think that the best time to visit Athens is either from April to June or from mid-September to early November. Located in the southern part of the Greek mainland, the capital city gets very hot in July and August — it's not uncommon for temperatures to exceed 35 °C (95 °F) during day time. Some travelers prefer to enjoy the city's historic sites during the winter months - the weather is mild (although rainier) and the crowds are considerably lower. Roughly the same advice can be used for visiting Greece's second city, Thessaloniki - the temperatures there are very similar.

The best time to visit Greek islands like Crete, Corfu and Rhodes is also either late spring or early autumn. While the famous beaches of the Greek islands are also very enjoyable during the hottest months of the year, July and August are when all of them see the highest number of visitors and can become seriously crowded. You should not wait too long either, though — while Crete and Corfu can also be easily reached in wintertime (and the weather remains pleasant), getting to smaller islands like Karpathos and Lesbos takes some planning as the number of flights and ferry rides to them goes down dramatically.

Know when you want to travel to Greece now? Check out our prices for your selected dates!

Where should you pick up a car in Greece?

Most visitors to Greece pick up a rental car at the airport. There are many international airports in Greece and more than ten of them served more than one million travelers in 2019. Athens Airport is by far the busiest one, offering flights to destinations not only in Europe, but also in North America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Other large airports in Greece include Heraklion Airport, Thessaloniki Airport, and Rhodes Airport. Many low-cost airlines like easyJet, Ryanair, Transavia, Volotea, and Wizz Air fly to Greece, connecting it with destinations all over Europe. In addition to airports, it is also possible to pick up or drop off a rental car at other locations like some international hotels and train stations.

Many car rental companies in Greece offer one-way rentals, meaning that you can pick up your rental car at one location and drop it off at another. Many travelers choose this option — it is quite popular to pick up a rental car in Athens and drop it off in Thessaloniki or Kalamata (or vice versa). Most rental car providers charge an extra fee for one-way rentals.

Most rental car providers do not permit international one-way rentals, though. If you want to visit them, you'll have to rent a seperate car in those countries. Do keep in mind, that unlike Greece, none of its four neighboring countries are members of the Schengen Area, so depending on your citizenship, you might need a visa to visit.

Can I visit multiple Greek islands with a rental car?

Island hopping with a rental car is possible in Greece and a lot of travelers do it! You can find out which rental car providers permit it by searching pick-up and drop-off locations and dates on our website.

Most ferry companies permit bringing a vehicle onboard, but you should look up each company's policy in advance. You will need to pay for your vehicle which often includes buying a separate ticket. It's important to look up the timetables and make bookings in advance as popular routes tend to sell out very fast during the high tourist season (on the other hand, the amount of ferries traveling between the islands is much lower during the low season, especially between smaller islands).

Another possibility is to drop off one rental car, travel on a ferry without a car, and then pick up another rental car after arriving at your destination.

How easy is it to travel around Greece independently?

A modern country with a lot of infrastructure and services geared towards foreign tourists, Greece is an easy place to explore on your own. Many of the national highways and secondary roads will take you through mountainous areas or along the coast, so traveling in Greece by car can be as interesting as exploring specific destinations.

The quality of the roads in Greece varies from region to region but is overall quite good. The main highways are in excellent shape, but some secondary roads are still being improved. Whether you plan to drive in the cities or in the countryside, getting an up-to-date GPS system is a good idea — ask your rental car provider about the availability of one.

Athens is quite infamous for its traffic jams — if possible, try to escape peak traffic by not traveling in the mornings and evenings of working days.

How safe is it to travel around Greece by car?

Greece is a very safe country overall — people are used to tourists, police are trustworthy and crime rates are low. The countrywide emergency number in Greece is 112.

Greece has its fair share of aggressive drivers and driving in its cities can take some time getting used to, especially for visitors from Western Europe or North America. Nonetheless, most tourists who drive in Greece do so without any problems by following the rules and exerting caution.

Many of the tensions in Greece are related to the large number of Middle Eastern and African refugees and immigrants that the country receives. Unfortunately, immigrants are sometimes harassed or even attacked. Consequently, there is a risk that anyone who can be perceived as an immigrant can end up as a victim of an attack — this primarily includes people of Middle Eastern, African, Hispanic or East Asian heritage, even if they come from European or North American countries. If you are being harassed or feel unsafe, do not hesitate to contact the police. It's important to note that this is perpetrated by a small minority — most Greeks are hospitable and honest.

What languages are spoken in Greece?

Greek is the official and by far the most widespread language in Greece. Learning at least a few phrases in Greek will go a long way with the locals and can be quite useful outside of touristy areas. Greek uses the Greek alphabet which differs significantly from the Latin alphabet.

Knowledge of English is improving across Greece but varies significantly from place to place. In Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as in most tourist hotspots like Corfu and Crete, you can expect a lot of people to speak English (especially the younger generations and people working in the service and tourism sectors). However, in some less visited parts, especially rural areas of mainland Greece, you can be hard-pressed to find an English speaker.

A noticeable number of Greeks also speak German, French, or Italian — if you know any of these languages, they may come in handy.

Three underrated travel destinations in Greece that you can reach by car:

Pylos. Also called Pilos, this small town in the southwestern corner of the Peloponnese peninsula is a seriously underrated travel destination. Although home to only about five thousand people, it is home to some of the most scenic beaches in the country, historic Venetian and Ottoman architecture, and protected nature. Pylos is only a three-hour drive from Athens and one hour from Kalamata — the latter city gives name to the famous Kalamata olives that are also native to the area of Pylos.

Zagori. A historic region in the northwestern part of the country, Zagori appears just like how many people would imagine Classical Greece. The area is made up of high altitude bodies of water like Dragon Lake, ancient monasteries, picturesque villages, and the stunning Vikos Gorge. With less than four inhabitants per square kilometer, it is also an area of special tranquility, perfect for walks or just a long picnic outdoors. You can combine a visit to Zagori with seeing Ioannina, an interesting city with an international airport which is just a 90-minute drive away.

Mount Olympus National Park. The home of the Ancient Greek gods (and the highest peak in modern Greece), Mount Olympus remains something of an unknown to many visitors. Those who venture to the national park that surrounds it, about a 90-minute drive south of Thessaloniki, discover snow-capped mountains, winding hiking paths and rich flora and fauna — and that's not to mention historic ruins, monasteries, and highland refuges where one can spend the night.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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