Driving is another word for independence. If you can drive and have a vehicle, you can take yourself anywhere in the world, explore whichever regions tickle your fancy, and roam the streets with the wind blowing in your face all day long.
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Especially if you’re visiting Greece, the urge to do so will multiply, as the magical landscapes offer the ultimate setting for a road trip. Before you decide to jump on the opportunity to sit on the driver’s seat, however, you must know a couple of things regarding both the driving rules and driving culture of Greece. Read below a survival guide to driving in Greece and drive through Greece at your leisure safely!
There's a lot you can enjoy in Greece, and driving is certainly one of those things. In our country, there are no never-ending monotonous roads of the same scenery and chaotic 8-line highways. On the contrary, the roads of Greece resemble a real-life rollercoaster with lanes that go uphill and downhills and relatively small highways that connect each of those rollercoasters that make up the marvelous Greek land.
What’s more, although during rush hours there is a chance that you may be caught in traffic, -that is, only if you’re staying in one of the big cities- the traffic in Greece is nothing compared to LA traffic for example, even when at its worst.
Things are not always coming up roses though. Greece is unfortunately famous for its quirky driving etiquette, where ignoring all rules is more of the norm than the exception. It is common knowledge -even between the locals- that many drivers don't even follow basic rules, such as wearing a seat belt, and are easily distracted; not to mention that road rage runs in most Greeks’ blood. For that reason, there are a few things you must take into consideration.
First and foremost, in order to be eligible for driving any type of vehicle in Greece, you need to be at least 18 years old. If you come from a country outside the European Union, you’ll need to obtain an International Driver's License in order to be able to rent a car. If you’re not interested in renting and have decided to bring your own car to our country, in addition to your International Driver's License, you’ll need a valid registration and proof of internationally valid insurance.
If you plan on staying in Greece for more than 6 months, then you’ll need to convert your U.S. license to a Greek license. If you fail to do so, stiff penalties will ensue, ruining your vacations; t’s just not worth it!
ATV in Paros Island - credits: Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock.com
Fortunately, there are no big differences between the driving laws and regulations of Greece and those in the European Union, the United States, and the rest of the world. There are, however, small variations you should keep in mind.
Driving side: The first piece of information that will keep you alive if you decide to drive in Greece is that Greeks drive on the right-hand side of the road, unlike the people in the UK and Australia and much like the people in the United States.
Seat belts: As expected, if you’re sitting on the two front seats of the vehicle, wearing a seatbelt is strictly prohibited, If I were you, however, I’d wear my seatbelt even if I was sitting in the back of the car. The saying ‘better safe than sorry’ is in my opinion one of the wisest sayings in the English language.
Children: Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to sit in the front seat in an effort to protect their safety. What’s more, it is obligatory for toddlers under the age of 3 to be seated in an appropriate car seat.
Toll roads: There are only two toll roads in the mainland of Greece: the national road, which is called ‘Ethniki Odos’, and the freeway that connects the Athens’ city center to Athens’ International Airport, called ‘Attiki Odos’. The entrance fee comes up to a little less than 3€ for a normal car, and the amount can be paid both in cash and debit/credit card. There is also a Fast Pass system, however, during your stay in Greece, you’ll only have to take a toll road a couple of times, making issuing a fast pass not worth the money or trouble.
Traffic Circles and Roundabouts: Although people coming from the European Union are familiar with traffic circles and roundabouts, American drivers have probably never come across one. Traffic circles and roundabouts function as an intersection, keeping circulation flowing without the use of traffic lights. What you should know about them though, is that unexpectedly, those entering the roundabout have right of way and not the ones already in them.
Restricted Areaσ: In order for Athens’ city center and other major Greek cities to be more beautiful for all the visitors that choose it year after year for their vacations, and to minimize the traffic, certain central areas restrict car access based on whether each car's license plate ends in an odd or even number, with the odd number being allowed to access the city center half of the month and the even numbers being able to enter the other half. Fortunately, these restrictions do not apply to rental cars!
Parking: Within Athens’ city center and other major Greek cities, parking is forbidden within 9 feet of a fire hydrant, 15 feet of an intersection, or 45 feet from a bus stop. What’s more, especially in Athens, street parking requires the purchase of a ticket from a mobile app called AthensPass, so make sure to download it ahead of your visit.
Cell phones: Please know that it is strictly illegal to use your phone when you’re on the steering wheel in Greece. If you like to talk on the phone while driving, make sure to purchase appropriate headphones to avoid the hefty ticket that will come upon you otherwise.
Headlights: You should under no circumstances make use of full-beam headlights in urban areas. Besides being a common sense that blinding the other drivers around is a no-go, doing so is also illegal!
Roadside assistance: In case of emergency, you pull your car to the side (!) and 104 or 154 on your phone in order to receive assistance. It is quite a handy service and it has been proven way more useful than one would expect.
Couple on a road trip - credits: GaudiLab/Shutterstock.com
Unless a specific sign suggests any different, these are the legal speed limits when driving in Greece:
- In urban areas: 50 km/h
- On open roads: 110 km/h
- On motorways: 120 km/h
Tickets and fines
Breaking the law has its consequences, which in the best-case scenario are economic. Passing a red light or ignoring a stop sign will cost you 700 €.
Not wearing a seatbelt in a car or a helmet on a motorbike will set you back 350 €.
Talking on your phone without hands-free headphones will cost you 100 €.
Driving under the influence will earn you a ticket that will vary from 200 € to 1200 €, depending on the level of your drunkenness.
Illegal parking can cost you from 10 € to 150 € depending on where you’ve parked, and in the worst possible outcome, it will also cost your license plates, which you’ll be able to get after 10 days minimum.
Keep in mind that is you get caught breaking the law, along with the fine you’ll have to pay you’re more likely going to have to give up your license from10 days to 6 months.
The Locals' Street Rules
The unique, temperamental character of Greece and its people has resulted in the existence of some street rules that despite them not being laws, they’re often followed more religiously than actual laws.
- First a foremost, the most important and helpful street rule to keep in mind is that there are no rules! Unfortunately, Greeks are infamous for always figuring out ways to go against the law, so don’t expect everyone around you to follow the driving law. Actually, expect the exact opposite.
- Although the excessive use of the horn is both annoying and illegal, there is a time and place for everything. In Greece, when you’re driving uphill and take sharp turns it is that time, so honk that horn and let the cars on the opposite lane know you’re coming!
- Everyone’s in a hurry! That is especially true for big cities where everyone is running everywhere. For that reason, keep to the right lane and let everyone else pass by; you don’t need the additional stress!
- I know that in any other part of the world the orange traffic light is a sign for slowing down, but that’s not the case for Greece. Contrary to the driving rules, Greek drivers exhilarate when they light turns orange, anxious to pass it in time before it turns red. For that reason, if you plan on stopping on an orange light make sure there’s no one behind you. You want to slow down gradually end let them know of your intentions, otherwise, there is a fat chance that they’ll crash into you.
- Avoid taxi drivers like the plague. I know it sounds a bit cruel, but the vast majority of taxi drivers in Greece act as if the streets belong to them, paying absolutely no mind to driving rules and laws and doing as they please without a second thought, If you have the opportunity to drive as far away from them as possible, take it!
- Especially if you’re driving in the Greek countryside, be prepared to experience what it feels like to leave all driving rules behind in the big city. The majority of people in the villages are old, with no good reflexes and a know-it-all attitude that will drive you insane. Still, there is no arguing with them as they make the rules. It is what it is.
- Again in the Greek countryside and the Greek islands it is not uncommon to see a 15-year-old driving, most probably a motorcycle. Act as if you’re the only one on the streets who owns a driving license and drive accordingly.
- The prices of gas vary from gas station to gas station so if you’re on a budget, don’t go straight to the first one you come across, but rather do your research and find out which one is the cheapest.
- Ignore all the angry people around you. As mentioned before, most Greeks suffer from a severe case of road rage, treating the streets as a matching ring. Pay them no mind and don’t let them influence your driving behavior. Go at your pace, take your time, and park wherever you choose no matter if there is a big line forming behind you!
- I like to compare Motorbikes in Greece to cockroaches: they run like crazy, they’re always where you don’t want them to be, they’re annoying and they’re always in between something. It is common knowledge that Motorbikes in Greece are above the law, it’s as if driving laws don’t apply to them. One of the most irritating things about motorbikes though is that they never follow a lane but are always in-between two. Keep your eyes peeled and your reactions sharp!
- Be extra careful when driving across the Athens Riviera at night or the crack of dawn. It’s a road where unfortunately many serious accidents take place almost daily so keep that in mind and be aware of your surroundings.
- If you decide to drive really late at night or really early in the morning on a Friday, a Saturday or a Sunday, you must expect people around you to be drunk. Go slow, be cautious, and stay as far from the other vehicles on the street as possible.
- Just because there are signs on the road, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to spot them. Although written both in Greek and in English, many of Greece’s road signs are hidden between tree leaves, leaving people guessing about the direction they need to follow. If you need to make it to your destination, make sure to actively look for them.
- If you’ve never driven up a mountain before, maybe you should first practice with shorter hills before taking the big step. It’s not too difficult, but it does take getting used to it.
- There is a very high probability of stumbling upon a protest during your stay in Greece. They take place almost daily and they influence the traffic flow immensely. For that reason, make sure to check the internet before you hop on your vehicle to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
- If you have the luxury to avoid leaving Athens on a Friday and returning on a Sunday, do yourself a favor and do so without a second thought. With everyone trying to take advantage of the beautiful weather on the weekends, the roads get swamped and you can find yourself stuck in traffic for hours and hours. No one deserves that.
- The Greeks are amazingly hospitable and are always eager to help those asking for directions, however, the language barrier can be a major problem that often times cannot be overlooked. That’s why it would be wiser for you to bring a map of Greece –after all, you don’t want your phone’s battery to die using Google maps- and ask for direction only when absolutely necessary.
- If you’re visiting Greece during the winter, there is a big possibility that you won’t be able to drive up a mountain without putting chains to your wheels. The Greek mountains have snow and ice for the majority of winter, making access to them a bit challenging. Have the appropriate gear with you and ask for help if need be.
- If you’d like to stay at a central sport in the big city make sure the accommodation you’re going to book offers a parking spot. You don’t want to spend your precious time looking for a place to park in the hectic city centers!
- If the first time you sit on the driver’s seat of the rental you find out that the car is lacking in quality, don’t wait and don’t think twice to return it. It is of bigger importance to be safe than it is to be likable. Check your engine, check your wheels, and check your lights before driving off to the sunset.
- Provided that you want to visit the Greek islands, it is will cost much less to just rent a car from each of your destinations than rent it in Athens and take it around with you! The car tickets for the ferries are rather expensive and will make a dent in your pocket.
- This one is one of the most important ones: unlike many places in the world, a pedestrian stepping into a zebra crossing in Greece is never taken into consideration by Greek drivers so if you freeze your vehicle as soon as a pedestrian touches the asphalt, all you’re going to do is cause a serious accident. Pedestrians know it, they’ll never try to pass the street trusting that no one is going to run them over!
Extensive, excessive, but incredibly essential, here is the survival guide to driving in Greece that will keep you out of harm’s way. Driving around a foreign country is a daunting task in any place of the world, let alone Greece. However, now you know better and have all the information that you’ll need to know before starting your fun road trip! If you find yourself greeting your fellow drivers with an open palm –a very common rude gesture Greek drivers love to indulge in- then you’ll know you’ve been in Greece for too long! Is there such thing as staying in Greece for ‘too long’ though? Find out for yourself on a self-drive tour organized by us! Spoiler alert: No, there isn’t!