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7 things no one tells you about the Greek islands

April 17, 2022
7 min read
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This guide has been updated with new information.


Travel to Greece is about to get a lot easier. Health officials announced, effective May 2, Greece will be suspending its COVID-19 travel restrictions.

While not necessarily a permanent change, Greek officials do expect the country will be keeping its entry requirements off the books through the summer tourism months. They're expecting heavy demand, too. As travelers plan trips to Europe at a rate unseen during the pandemic so far, Greece is expecting crowds close to the record-setting ones seen in 2019.

If you're booked on a trip to Greece (or you are considering an excursion there now) there are some important things to keep in mind as you plan your travel. Among them, preparing to navigate the country's beautiful islands.

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The Greek islands are complete with sunshine-filled beaches, charming white buildings and epic sunsets. Here, now, are seven things you may not know about this fascinating part of Greece that can help you have an incredible trip.

1. There are so many more islands than you think

If asked to name some of the Greek Islands, you’d probably be able to come up with a few off the top of your head, but in reality, there are closer to 6,000 of them. Only a couple of hundred or so are actually inhabited, but even that gives travelers many less-crowded options if you’re willing to go beyond the typical Santorini or Mykonos trip.

Lovely Mykonos. (Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

2. Take your pick of natural and man-made wonders

The magic of these islands goes beyond the breathtaking sunsets. Santorini is one of the few places in the world where you can see white, black and red-sand beaches, thanks to all the volcanic activity — the island of Crete is also home to more than 300 caves. Romantics should visit Kardia, a naturally heart-shaped island, and Amorgos is home to a giant shipwreck, as is the island of Zakynthos. Visit Giola, a turquoise pool of water formed by rocks on the island of Thassos, and hot springs on the island of Samothraki are said to have healing powers, too.

Read more: 9 things I wish I knew before visiting Greece

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A view of the shipwreck on the island of Zakynthos. (Photo by NurPhoto/Getty Images)

3. Don’t rush — you’re on island time

You should know this going in: Greece runs on “Mediterranean time.” Things here move slowly, and people don’t take time as seriously as they do in the U.S. or most of western Europe, especially in the islands. Don’t expect any type of public transportation — like buses or ferries — to arrive or depart on time, give yourself plenty of time at the airport and expect crowds everywhere.

Taxi and airport strikes are common and can put a damper on your plans, so try to just take it easy and go with the flow. There’s no point in rushing because no one else is. Head to a less-visited island if you want something a little calmer. Most importantly, add in a little extra time when planning and booking connecting flights, ferries and other transportation to avoid any extra headaches.

Stranded tourists crowd the docks during a ferry strike in Greece. (Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/Getty Images)

4. There’s an island where the people live forever (well, almost)

Ikaria is one Greek island where the people basically live forever — well, maybe not forever, but longer than anywhere else. It’s considered to be one of the few “blue zones” in the world, special areas where the residents tend to live longer and often reach the three-digit mark. Locals attribute their long lifespans to daily rituals involving coffee, exercise, drinking local wine and using the island’s natural herbs in teas and to cure ailments — bathing in the nearby hot springs is also said to help.

Read more: 8 Greek Islands you’ve probably never heard of

People live (almost) forever in Ikaria thanks to simple, stress-free living. (Photo by Dea G. Sioen/Getty Images)

5. Don’t wave at anyone

It’s probably best not to wave at anyone in the Greek islands because you could (accidentally) be flipping them off. The exact motion you should avoid: extending all of your fingers and directing your palm at someone in a forward motion. It’s called the mountza and is believed to be derived from an ancient curse, so don’t do it!

6. Be prepared to deal with large crowds

Greece normally receives double its population in tourists each year and is one of the few destinations where they actually outnumber the locals. While this isn’t limited to just the islands, in many cases the local population on one of them could be just a few hundred, but that number swells well into the thousands during the high season. Keep this in mind while traveling and try to respect the (few) locals who may reside on your chosen island.

You definitely won’t be alone on the beach! (Photo by Lichtwolke/Getty Images)

Read more: How to spend 48 hours in Athens

7. Dance all night long — and maybe all day

If you want to have a local experience, don’t forget to pack your dancing shoes. There are more than 10,000 types of traditional Greek dances and many of them come from the islands — each isle, and often each village, has its own. The people here don’t necessarily need a reason to bust a move — dancing at weddings, during holidays, to celebrate the grape harvest or just because they feel like it.

Make sure only to dance when you’ve been invited to, though, as some of the dances may have strict traditions and arrangements, like a set order by age or status — you wouldn’t want to be the random tourist who screws up the whole routine now, would you?

Bottom line

While the Greek islands have some gorgeous beaches and tavernas galore, each also has its own personality and systems and is definitely a different experience to the Greek mainland. So read the above tips to manage your expectations with regard to crowds and punctuality to have the best time possible in this fantastic part of the world.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023