Backpacking Greece instantly conjures images of postcard perfect caldera views, white-washed houses perched on steep cliffs, and beautiful blue water. There is no question why Greece is one of the most popular vacations spots in the world.
Before backpacking Greece, I wondered if this would mean Greece is too expensive, crowded, and touristy for backpackers. Fortunately, I was wrong, and it’s completely possible to avoid crowds and backpack Greece on a budget! There are plenty of awesome Greece backpacking routes and itineraries for every type of traveller.
Greece is a charming, laid-back country, and backpacking the Greek Islands has been one of my favorite travel experiences, not just for the beautiful views, but for the food, beaches, wonderful people, and plethora of history. I’ve written a detailed Greece Travel Guide to help you navigate the several groups of Greek Islands, and narrow down the best things to do in Greece. Read on for more!
Table of Contents
- Where to go Backpacking in Greece
- Greece Travel Tips
Where to go Backpacking in Greece
There are several groups of Greek Islands. The Cyclades are the most popular, followed by Crete and the Ionian Islands (West of mainland Greece). The convenient Saronic Gulf Islands are a stones throw from Athens, and Athenians visit these islands regularly on the weekends.
You can island hop the beautiful Dodecanese and Northeastern Aegean Islands near Turkey too. The least visited islands are the four Sporades with Evia being the biggest (East of Mainland Greece).
My biggest advice for backpacking the Greek Islands is to pick one group of islands, and don’t try to cram in too much! Below, I’ve put together six different Greece travel itineraries ranging from one week to one month – check them out and begin planning your Greece backpacking route!
Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Greece
Below I have listed several travel itineraries for backpacking Greece! If you have a month of more to visit Greece, it’s easy to combine a couple of these itineraries to put together a larger backpacking route if you have more time.
Backpacking Greece two week itinerary #1
2 Weeks in the Cyclade islands
For this Greece travel itinerary, I suggest at least 2 weeks. The Cyclades are made up of thousands of islands, and it would be impossible to see them all in one trip! This is a great itinerary route if you want to visit Greece’s classic highlights.
I suggest either starting or ending your trip on Santorini, the Cyclades’ farthest island. You can reach Santorini with a quick flight, or an 8 hour ferry from Athens if you’re not constrained for time. From Santorini, you can work your way North towards Athens via Ios, Paros and/or Naxos, and Mykonos.
If you more time to backpack the Cyclades Islands, consider adding a couple lesser known islands to your itinerary too. Andros is North of Mykonos, and known for its hiking trails. Amorgos is known for its monasteries and mountains.
You can finish your trip with a couple days in Athens exploring the beautiful historical sites, like the Acropolis, and the fun cafe culture and nightlife.
Backpacking Greece two week itinerary #2
2 Weeks in the Western Cyclades
This is the perfect itinerary if you want to experience the quintessential beauty and culture of the Cyclades without the crowds! This is a separate itinerary than the one above because these islands are connected by a separate ferry route; however, you can combine islands from both itineraries with a bit more planning.
You can start this itinerary with a couple days in Santorini with a long ferry or short flight from Athens. From here you can follow the Western Cyclades ferry route, making your way to Folegandros via the island Sikinos, then Milos, Sifnos, and/or Sirifnos towards Athens. Sifnos is a small island famous for its pottery, and a nice way to break up the ferries from Milos to Athens. Moreover, Sifnos is one of the cheapest Greek Islands to visit.
Backpacking Greece 10 day itinerary #3
10 Days Backpacking Mainland Greece
This is a great Greece itinerary route for history buffs!
Spend a couple days in Athens visiting the sites, and checking out the food and cafe culture. From Athens you can spend a weekend on Hydra, a car-free island with a well preserved Byzantine town. Once you’ve worked on your tan, travel to central Greece, and visit Meteora and Delphi.
There are tours that visit both Meteora and Delphi in 1-2 days, but I think it’s well worth going to Delphi and Meteora on your own if you’re interested in history. By travelling to these areas independently, you can explore these sites at your own pace, and avoid most of the crowds!
You can end your trip in Thessaloniki, Greek’s second biggest city, or loop back to Athens.
Backpacking Greece three week itinerary
2-3 Week Ionian Islands Route
This is a great backpacking Greece itinerary if you want to island hop lush green islands with hidden beaches and caves. The Ionian Islands are known for the mountains terrain, temperate climate, medieval towns, and flour-soft beaches. If you have 2 weeks to visit the Ionian Islands, I suggest picking 3-4 islands below.
Because the Ionian Islands are close to Italy and Albania, travellers can easily combine this itinerary with those countries.
You can begin your travels from Corfu’s airport, and then head south towards Athens via ferries. Paxi is a tranquil island best known for its pretty harbour villages. Next stop is Lefkada, known for its endless sand and turquoise water! If you want to beach hop, make sure to include Lefkada in your Greece itinerary.
I recommend allotting at least 5 days of your itinerary to the Kefallonia because it’s the largest Ionian Island with plenty to do and see. On Kefallonia you can visit its various golden and white sand beaches, and kayak and swim through its cave. Myrtos Beach is a popular beach to visit on Kefallonia. From Kefallonia you can catch a boat to Zakynthos, which has one of the most famously pictured coves (see below).
Backpacking Greece 10 day itinerary #5
10 Day Crete Greece Route
Because Crete is very far from mainland Greece, I recommend catching a flight from Athens, or other European cities to reach Crete. German airlines have cheap airline flights to Crete in the summer.
You will most likely start and/or end your trip in Heraklion, Crete’s capital. From Heraklion, you can explore the Minoan ruins of Knossos, and visit Spinalonga, a small rocky island that was actually a leper colony until 1957! Otherwise drive west to the colorful, cobble stoned town of Rethymno, also known for its fun nightlife. From here you can visit Plakias Beach & Prevali Beach, and Bali Beach.
Next, go to Chania, a great base on Crete for 5+ days. On your way to Chania, you can visit Lake Kournas, a fresh water lake in the middle of Crete. You can visit some of Crete’s best beaches in this area, Balos Beach, one of the top things to do in Crete because of its stunning views and shades of blue water. There is also Stefanou Beach, the pink sanded Elafonisi beach, and the beautiful Seitan Limania Beach. You can also hike Samaria Gorge, the largest gorge in Europe.
Backpacking Greece 3 week itinerary #6
3 Week Greece Route for the Dodecanese
This is a great itinerary if you don’t have a tight time schedule, and want to get off the grid. This area has amazing beaches and culture, but the ferries can be irregular. If you are planning to combine a trip to Greece with Turkey, you should definitely check out these beautiful islands.
Start your trip on Karpathos, and enjoy its walking trails, surreal scenery, whitewashed windmills, and glass-blue water for swimming and snorkeling. This island is popular with kite surfers. Next stop is Tilos, an island full of hidden coves only reachable by foot, and lush green meadows. Then you can ferry to Rhodes, which is known for its history, nightlife, and beautiful medieval town.
From Rhodes you can boat to the island of Kos then head to Leros, a great island for chilling out, and then to Samos. This island is known for secluded waterfalls and beaches. As you continue North you can hit up Lesvos, which is known for its olive oil, ouzo (traditional Greek alcohol) and hot springs, or Kalymnos, an island where rock climbers rejoice at the limestone cliffs. Then it’s back to Athens!
Places to visit in Greece
Now that we’ve covered some of the best travel itineraries for backpacking Greece, let’s dive in and explore some of the best places to visit in Greece on your adventure….
Santorini is probably the most popular island in Greece. The town of Oia is truly beautiful, and has some epic sunsets. My only issue with Oia is how crowded it gets in the afternoon leading up to sunset. It feels like Disneyland; people lining up by the dozens to get that “perfect shot,” which sort of takes away from the magic. Nevertheless, Santorini really is beautiful and deserves to be visited at least once.
The best time to visit Santorini is definitely shoulder season. You could even visit Santorini as early as April and as late as November, and still get decent weather. Many of the 5 star hotels will be selling rooms for a fraction of the price in April and November.
If you rent a car, it’s easy to get away from the crowds. We stayed in a smaller, local town via Airbnb. I recommend checking out the town of Pygros in the center of Santorini. You can climb up to the top and get some amazing views of Santorini, and there are some great shops and restaurants here far from the tourists.
The town Kamari is right on the ocean, and has some great seafood restaurants with lower prices than Oia. My favorite restaurant in Santorini is called Taverna Mou just outside of Oia. The prices are reasonable, and the food is good, but you come here for the overall experience. The owner plays music all night and interacts with his guests. Such a great guy! Do not miss this place! (It’s even frequented by Jennifer Aniston and Green Day.)
In my opinion, Santorini’s beaches are mediocre compared to neighboring islands. There still worth checking out because the beaches’ rocks and sand are different colors – red, black, and white – due to volcanic activity.
While there are a couple hostels in Santorini, I think you will have better luck booking with AirBnB.
Ios is known for its young backpacker partying reputation, but there is so much more to do on Ios than just party. There are plenty of beaches and pretty villages to explore during the day as well as opportunities to go swimming and cliff jumping. During Greece’s shoulder season, Ios will be much more relaxed than in August.
You can check out Paleokastro, a Byzantine castle on the Eastern side of the island. If you are looking for an escape from the parties. Manganari Beach is a nice beach made up of small, sandy coves, and it’s accessible by boat and car.
If you are backpacking Greece as a solo traveller, this is one of the best islands to visit because they have plenty of hostels with a very social atmosphere.
Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades, and makes a great addition to your Cyclades itinerary because most ferries will stop here. Mt. Zeus is the Cyclades’ highest peak, and where you will find the picturesque villages of Halki and Apiranthos. Naxos is famous for hiking and kiteboarding. There is a decent club scene here that is more affordable than Mykonos.
Naxos also has a few sandy beaches, like Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna.
Paros is also used as a ferry stop, but this island actually has some picturessque rural villages and popular resort towns. Think Mykonos without the price tag. You can also visit the beautiful island of Antiparos by boat. Paros’ most famous beach is called Hrysi Akti for its nice sand. Piso Livadi is a seaside village with a variety of restaurants and cafes.
Mykonos is a chic island best known for its glamour and nightclubs. Many celebrities visit Mykonos to lounge and party. While Mykonos’ villages are beautiful, it can be an expensive island for backpackers. You won’t regret skipping Mykonos if you’re on a budget because there are so many other lovely islands to explore, but if you’ll have a blast if you like world class DJs and parties.
There is plenty to do in Mykonos aside from partying too. You can visit the infamous windmills and Paraportiani Church, walk around the charming villages, and enjoy “Little Venice.”
I have heard that the best parties in Mykonos include: Paradise Club, which hosts some of the biggest DJs in the world, as well as Paradise Beach Bar, which gets going in the late afternoon (banana hammocks optional),and Scandinavian Bar.
Mykonos has one of the largest gay scenes in the Cyclades. As for the beaches, check out Paraga Beach. This beach is great for lounging by day, and then its bar turns into a crazy party at night. Psarou Beach is further from the parties, and can be a nice, calm beach to visit.
Spend a couple days (or months) on the small, photogenic island of Folegandros. I loved this island because of its laid-back vibe and beautiful scenery. Santorini’s beaches are too crowded for what you get, but Folengandros has some hidden gems you can get all to yourself. The town of Hora is picture perfect too thanks to its white houses and colorful flowers that match the colorful trimmings.
My favorite beach is called Katero Beach for its blue waters and beautiful cliffs. It’s reachable by foot from the port town. Because of its remote location, there will be hardly anyone there! It is a bit rocky, so bring a blanket!
If you are visiting Santorini and Milos, be sure to stop in Folegandros in-between. There are no hostels here. I recommend staying in a pension or studio instead! We were able to get a 4 person studio for about $45 in June.
Milos is one of my favorite islands in Greece because of its dramatic coastal landscapes, rock formations, and beaches. There are more beaches on Milos than any Cycladic island, and they are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
I think you need 5 days minimum here to really explore all of the beaches. Each one is completely different than the next. The must see beaches on Milos include Sarakiniko for its white rock formations and cliff jumping, Paliorema Beach for its tranquility, Firopotamos Beach for its beautiful setting next to a small fisherman village, and Firiplaka Beach, which is one of my favorites for the beautiful water and white sand. We went snorkeling here, and saw some cool fish and squid.
Plaka is the most charming town, lined with so many great shops and some nice restaurants. Pollonia is a laid back fishing village with a lot of great seafood restaurants lined up on the water. Our favorite breakfast spot and bakery on Milos was – hands down – Kivotos ton Gefseon. There is a magical seating area, and the food is phenomenal. They sell their homemade honey and pastries in the shop.
There are several picturesque fishermen villages with colorful boat garages that you can hike to as well. Half of the island is inaccessible by car, so you need to splurge and hire a catamaran or join a day tour to explore these coves and beaches. There are plenty of options to be found in the port town, so shop around and pick a tour based on an itinerary that works for you.
There aren’t many hostels on Milos, so check for local pensions and hotels. I highly recommend renting a car, ATV, or scooter because Milos is huge, and public transportation is infrequent.
Athens merges past and present as both a modern metropolis and ancient open-air museum. One one hand, you have trendy neighbourhoods with great restaurants, bars, and shops. On the other hand, you have the ancient Acropolis and its museum; this is one of the oldest cities in the world! Check out this post for a breakdown of the best backpacker hostels in Athens.
Check out the neighbourhood Kolonaki; it’s kind of like Soho in NYC. Athens has a huge cafe culture. One of the most popular cafes is called Tailor Made. It’s a micro-roastery in the up and coming part of town. You can order espresso, filtered coffee and tea all day and night. They also serve trendy cocktails.
If you are after Athens’ best nightlife, check out the bars around Plaka and Monastiraki. One of the coolest bars we went to is called Six d.o.g.s. The back of this venue has a secret garden surrounded by trees and twinkly lights with plenty of outdoor seating. They serve really unique cocktails, and late night snacks as well. If you want more of the club scene, check out the beach club, Astir Beach. It’s known for showcasing local and world-class DJs, and is open year-round.
Backpacking Hydra and the Saronic Gulf Islands
Hydra and the rest of the Saronic Gulf Islands (Poros, Agistri, Aegina, and Spetses) are the closest island group to Athens. Many Athenians visit these islands on the weekend. If you are backpacking Greece any of these islands can make a great addition visiting Athens, though Hydra is the most popular because of its medieval town. Hydra is also laid-back and timeless because there are no cars here!
Poros is a small forested island with pebbly beaches. Spetses has only one town on this island, and has some of Saronic’s most accessible swimming spots.
You will have better luck finding accommodation through local pensions, apartments and hotels rather than hostels.
Since the 11th century, monasteries have sat on top of massive rock pinnacles in Meteora. They were built in inaccessible places so monks could retreat from the wars between the Roman Empire and Ottoman Empire. This is an amazing historic place in Greece everyone should see while backpacking Greece.
There is a bus that departs from Kalambaka and Kastraki around 9am, and returns around 1pm, which gives you enough time to visit a few monasteries. It is possible to view all of the monasteries in one day if you get an early start, but you’ll need a rental car. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can also rent a bike!
The best known monastery in Meteora is called Moni Megalou Meterou because it is built on the tallest rock in the valley, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Entry to the monasteries is about EUR 3. No bare shoulders are allowed, and men must wear pants and women must where skirts below the knee.
This area is also huge for rock climbing! Visit Meteora can set you up with professional guides. While visiting Meteora, it’s best to stay in the town of Kalambaka or the village of Kastraki.
Why go to Delphi in central Greece? It’s one of the most visited archaeological sites. Ancient Greeks built the Sanctuary of Apollo here and regarded Delphi as the center of the world; moreover, Delphi is surrounded by alpine meadows and valleys, and it’s a great place to travel around for a few days and combine with Meteora.
The Sanctuary of Apollo is the main archeological site here, but there is also the Gymnasium (what remains of an ancient gym), the Sanctuary of Athena, and the Delphi Museum.
While visiting the sites, you can also stretch your legs, and walk from Delphi to Ancient Kirra through olive groves. It takes about 3-4 hours and you can take a bus for the return.
There are a couple hostels in town, but you may also have better luck finding a pension (cheap hotel) or hotel/apartment.
Corfu is the most popular – and most northern – Ionian Island. While there are pockets of resort towns, it’s totally possible to escape the crowds and explore the cypress tree forests, pretty villages, and blue-water coves.
Corfu Town is famous because of its massive fortresses that kept Corfu safe during 5 successive Ottoman sieges. You will find plenty or restaurants and bars in Corfu town.
South of Corfu Town you can visit the sleepy old village of Benitses. Further south are more popular beach resorts. Corfu’s prettiest villages and beaches lie on the west coast.
Crete is a full destination in itself with plenty to keep you busy for at least a week. Keep in mind it takes 20 plus hours to drive around the entire island! If you have a month in Greece, I recommend combining Crete with a couple of the Cyclades Islands, or the Dodecanese Islands if you are backpacking Greece and Turkey!
Rhodes is the largest and best known island within the Dodecanese because of its well preserved Byzantine old town. Here you will find plenty of beaches, culture, and a buzzing nightlife.
Rhodes’ Old Town transports you back in time with its high walls, deep moat, mazing alley ways, and architectural history. New Town boasts upscale shops, bars, and restaurants.
Off the Beaten Path Travel in Greece
With hundreds and hundreds of Greek Islands to choose from, it’s pretty easy to get off the beaten path in Greece. For the most part, you just have to avoid the Cyclades Islands, although even dozens of those islands see a fraction of the tourism that Santorini and Mykonos do.
I also recommend exploring the beautiful Dodecanese Islands, which offer amazing clear-blue waters, historic towns, and plenty of outdoor activities.
Backpacker Accommodation in Greece
While backpacking Greece, I used a combination of hostels, Airbnb, apartments, and local guesthouses. Athens has a ton of great hostels, and it can be a great way to meet other travellers, but the islands tend to only have a couple options (if any at all). You can find double bed studios and apartments for as little as EUR 25 a day, so apartments and pensions are often a better option if you are backpacking Greece as a couple or group.
A lot of Pensions and local hotels do not like to put all their rooms online, so if you are not travelling during high season, you can figure out accommodation when you get there.
Otherwise, Couch Surfing is the cheapest way to go, and a great way to meet other travellers; however, some of the islands will not have much of a couch surfing scene.
Airbnb is huge in Greece, and you can find some awesome apartments for cheap prices. Follow this link for $35 free credit.
|Location:||Hostel:||Why we like it!|
|Athens||Athens Backpackers||Central location and social atmosphere. The rooftop bar is dope.|
|Meteora||Meteora Central Hostel||Clean, comfortable, and central.|
|Santorini||Caveland||Set in an old winery, cool atmosphere. Has dorm beds.|
|Ios Island||Francesco's||Family run, great atmosphere, and nice location.|
|Mykonos||Mycocoon Hostel||Has dorm beds; rooftop bar and pool; in port town.|
|Crete||Hostel Plakias||Chill hostel, and great for meeting travellers.|
|Corfu||The Pink Palace||Located in nice, quaint village; good atmosphere|
|Rhodes||Stay Hostel||Amazing facilities (movie theatre, gym, kitchen, bar) and great atmosphere.|
Top Things to Do in Greece
While Santorini and Mykonos tend to steal the spotlight, there are hundreds of Greek Islands you can visit with completely different climates, points of interest, beaches, and awesome things to do. Moreover, you can explore beautiful scenery, and tons famous ancient archeological sites and places of historical significance on mainland Greece.
I have listed the top 10 most popular and best things to do in Greece below to get your ideas flowing for your next trip to Greece!
1. Island Hop the Cyclades
The Cyclades are the most famous group of islands thanks to their quintessential white washed houses, and dramatic caldera views. While they are quite popular, I think the Cyclades are a must while backpacking Greece. Santorini and Mykonos are two of the most famous islands – Santorini for its romantic views and Mykonos for its beauty by day and parties by night. That being said, there are dozens of Cyclades Islands, each with something wonderful to offer.
If you want dramatic coastlines and out of this world beaches, head to Milos. If you are after mystical castles head to Naxos. Folegandros is one of my favorite islands because its so laid-back and charming. If you want to party on a backpacker budget, and still get a great Greek experience, check out Ios.
2. Visit Meteora
This is an area on mainland Greece where a handful of monasteries stand on top of soaring rock pillars. It truly looks like a fairy tale, and is well worth visiting! There are several monasteries that cost EUR 3 to enter. There are also ample hiking and rock climbing opportunities here!
If you are backpacking Greece, and spending time on the mainland, don’t miss Meteora!
3. Fall in Love with Crete
Crete is a big enough island to be its own country. It definitely merits an entire vacation on its own with so much to do and see. It’s also one of the best Greek Islands to hike on due to its mountainous terrain.
Crete is famous for its farm-fresh produce, fresh seafood, and world’s best virgin olive oil, so you can expect excellent cuisine. Hania is Crete’s historical town that has been restored with Venetian and Turkish architecture.
4. Visit the Acropolis
One of the most important ancient landmarks of Western civilisation is Athen’s Acropolis. No modern building in Athens is allowed to be taller than the Acropolis because of its significance to the Greeks.
Chances are you’ll end up in Athens at least once while backpacking Greece. If so, I highly recommend visiting the Acropolis right when it opens to avoid the crowds. As magnificent as the Acropolis is, it’s not fun to sightsee with thousands of other people in the scorching midday sun. You can also walk around the area at night, and see it lit up. It’s built upon a hill, and the rest of the surrounding area has some nice park and sitting areas.
5. Watch a Santorini Sunset
There are several spots you can watch the sunset on Santorini, but the most popular is from the cliff-top town of Oia. The city is packed with tourists leading up to sunset, so I recommend getting their early (with a bottle of wine and some snacks). If you want to splurge, you can make dinner reservations at one of the several restaurants with sunset views.
6. Check out the Archeological Sites in Delphi
Delphi is most famous for the Sanctuary of Apollo site, but there are a few other impressive sites as well as the Delphi Museum that can take a full day to explore. Visiting Delphi is a great combination with Meteora, and many tourism companies arrange day tours to see both.
7. Experience Life with no Cars on Hydra
Hydra is just 90 minutes by sea from Athens, which makes this a great weekend trip. Hydra will transport you back in time with its lack of motorized vehicles and stunningly preserved stone village.
8. Get lost in the Byzantine Structures on Corfu
Corfu is located in the Ionian Islands (near Albania and Croatia). You can stroll through Byzantine fortresses and the streets of the Venetian Old Town. Beyond that, you can explore Corfu’s green mountains and coastlines. This area of Greece is heavily influenced by Venetia, so you can experience Italian-influenced food as well!
9. Explore Ancient Olympia
The site of the first Olympics, and source of so many Ancient Greek stories. This is a great addition if you are a history buff backpacking Greece!
Rhodes is part of the Dodecanese Island group, which is closer to Turkey than Mainland Greece. The Dodecanese Island group is a perfect itinerary if you are backpacking Greece and Turkey. The island of Rhodes is famous for its medieval town. It also boasts a buzzing nightlife in the summertime.
Greece Travel Tips
Below we have provided essential information and Greece travel tips for your backpacking adventure including the best time to travel to Greece, how much to budget for Greece, and a guide to Greek cuisine.
Books to read while traveling Greece
These are some of my favourite travel reads and books set in Greece which you should consider picking up before you begin your backpacking adventure…
The Backpacker Bible: Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building an online income.
Eleni (1983): Gage writes here about his mother, Eleni, who was murdered by communist partisans during the Greek civil war. The book is an account of the way a life that was destroyed by war. Gage’s is a story of emigration and loss—themes essential to Greek culture—and also a study of how we cope with the tragedies of the past.
Ashes: Ashes is a suspenseful story of revenge, corruption, and conspiracy in Greek society.
Something Will Happen, You’ll See: A collection of short stories about the working-class in the port town Piraeus. The stories focus on families, seniors, and young couples, who struggle to make ends meet. These stories give readers an insight into Greek life with the economic crisis.
Greece: A Traveler’s Literary Companion: This is a compilation of 24 stories and essays based on the ancient Greek myths and modern tales.
Deadline in Athens: This is a crime novel about an Albanian couple and journalist murdered in Athens. The story is both a mystery and reflection of political and social realities in Greek society.
Lonely Planet Greece Travel Guide: Relevant, up-to-date advice and tips for backpacking Greece.
Staying Safe in Greece
One should always have common sense when travelling in a new country, but I think backpacking Greece is very safe. Much of Greece and the sleepy villages feel safe enough to leave the doors unlocked, not that I would recommend this. In my opinion, most bad things happen to travelers after 2AM. I always advise people not to walk alone late at night, especially if you don’t know the area.
As in any city, watch for petty theft/pick-pocketing while visiting touristy areas in Athens and Greece. To avoid pick-pocketing, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket. Watch out for strangers coming up to you with petitions and signs; this is usually just a distraction to steal your stuff. If you are renting a car, keep valuables out of sight!
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in Greece
Greeks are known for their wine, and with good reason. I noticed that many families make their own wine, not to sell, but to consume with family. Ouzo is a popular liquor in Greece made by the by products from which they make wine. It’s then distilled into a high-proof alcoholic beverage. Raki is their spirit of choice.
There are definitely some cities and islands best known for all day and night parties: namely Athens, Mykonos, and Ios.
Many of the houses and restaurants on Ios have a relaxed vibe, but the bars, nightclubs, and summer festivities get pretty crazy. Mykonos is known for its chic, vibrant nightlife scene, most famously including Super Paradise Beach. Athens also has some great bars and clubs. It’s pretty normal to go to cafes before going out too.
Most night clubs will stay open until sunrise, and it’s very common to start the party before the sun sets on the islands’ beach parties. As always, where there are all night parties, there is a lively drinking and drug scene…
Get Insured before Backpacking Greece
Get insurance! Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Greece backpacking adventure, but take it from someone who has racked up thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! I highly recommend World Nomads.
What to pack for Greece
Greece is all about fun in the sun, so pack a few swim suits, and your trendiest beachwear! Ladies, this is the time to break out your favorite maxi dresses. There are some nice hiking opportunities, so bring a good pair of shoes and some active wear too.
People dress pretty stylish at the clubs, so having a dress shirt/dress is a good idea, and dinner tends to be more casual, but it doesn’t hurt to wear a dress or dress shirt to a nice restaurant.
And if you’re a swimmer/diver, don’t forget your snorkel and fins! You’ll save a lot of time and money if you don’t have to rent snorkeling gear.
While it’s always advisable to dress modesty in a new country, you don’t have to worry about this too much on the islands. I also suggest bringing a couple layers as nights can be cooler.
If you’re looking for a Greece packing list, check out our backpacking checklist.
On every adventure, there are five things I never go travelling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2. Pocket Blanket: This lightweight, waterproof, super compact pocket blanket is a must for all adventures. Doubling up as an emergency poncho, this picnic blanket is worth it’s weight in gold when chilling, or camping, on the beach. It comes with a carabiner, a secret zipped pocket where you can hide stuff and pocket loops which you can weigh down using stones.
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if needs be.
4. Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).
5. Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Best time to travel to Greece
In my experience the best time to visit Greece is during tourist shoulder season – May, June, September and October. The weather is great and the ferries are running consistently, but you can still escape the crowds. Moreover, you can book ferry tickets and hotels last minute.
High season (August and July) is most crowded and expensive time for backpacking Greece. Unless you have money to blow, or solely want to visit Greece for the parties, I suggest avoiding August. After October, most of the islands shut down until April/May.
On the other hand, travelling off-season could be a lovely time to visit mainland Greece or popular islands like Santorini. Many of the luxury hotels will be selling rooms for a fraction of the cost, and popular places, like Oia, are already incredibly crowded in the summer.
Arriving in Greece
If you are flying internationally, you will most likely fly into Athens’ international airport. Within Europe, it’s also possible to score cheap plane tickets to most of Greece’ airports. Most of the big islands (Santorini, Milos, Mykonos, Crete, Paros, Corfu, etc.) have airports. This is a great way to save time while island hopping in Greece.
Greece doesn’t have as good of public transportation as other European countries. There are trains, but the buses are going to be faster and cheaper.
Entry requirements for Greece
EU citizens will only need their passport to enter Greece. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, and the US do not need to pre-apply for a visa; their valid passport will be stamped on arrival. Other nationalities will need to apply for a Schengen Visa beforehand to visit all Schengen zoned countries.
As a non-European traveller, you can only stay in Greece and other Schengen zone countries for 3 months out of every 6 months. Once 6 months have passed from your original arrival date, the visa resets.
The Schengen visa can be a bit confusing because not all European countries are part of Schengen zone. Greece, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Scandinavian countries, Hungary, Czech Republic, etc. are part of the Schengen zone. A few other countries – namely Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway – are not technically associated with the EU, but they are part of the Schengen zone.
Whereas, the UK, Ireland, and most Eastern European and Baltic countries, are not part of the Schengen zone, even though they are part of the EU. Theoretically, you can visit Greece for 3 months, and then hop over to a non-Schengen country – like Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina – for 3 months, and then travel back to Greece with a fresh 3 month visa. A lot of long-term travellers plan their travels around the Schengen visa accordingly.
For more information, and the official Schengen country list, check out this website.
Onwards travel from Greece
Onwards travel from Greece couldn’t be easier. If you are flying internationally, you will more than likely fly from Athens. Other European cities and the Greek Islands are connected by air as well.
If you are backpacking Greece and Turkey, you can fly, cross by land or sea. There is a land crossing via Kipi into Istanbul, and there are ferries to Turkey from the Dedocanese. I recommend booking an international ferry in advance, especially in the summertime. If you are backapacking Greece and Italy, flying might be the fastest way to reach Italy, but there are also ferries that leave from the Ionian Islands!
There are multiple overland crossings into Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Buses are going to be the cheapest public transportation. The Greek railways run daily trains from Thessaloniki to Sofia and Belgrade. You can continue to Budapest via Belgrade.
Getting around Greece
While backpacking Greece and the rest of Europe, I have found budget airline flights are quite affordable, but only if you buy your plane ticket at least one month in advance. While island hopping, taking slow ferries is going to be the most affordable way of getting around Greece.
Tickets can be as low as $10 for the slow ferry, and double the cost for fast ferries. Longer ferries cost more, so to ferry Athens to Santorini it’s around $50.
If you are sticking to one route (like the backpacking Greece itinerary routes above), you should be able to catch a ferry almost any day of the week, which will give you more flexibility. When you start skipping around (ex: Milos to Mykonos), ferries are less frequent.
Make sure to book at least a few days to weeks in advance during July/August or holidays like Easter. Outside of these months you can buy a ticket the day before without an issue.
If you are ferrying from Piraeus (near Athens), you can buy ferry tickets from any of the travel agents in Athens.
Most of the bigger Greek islands have a public bus system, but I wouldn’t count on using the bus to get to the beaches, and other remote areas. If you are travelling with a couple people, it’s actually cheaper to rent a car versus use public transport. Cars also give you the freedom to explore the Greek islands and beaches.
Hitchhiking in Greece
Hitchiking around the Greek Islands can be tough depending where you are, but locals are friendly and can probably help out. Don’t forget to write signs in English and Greek because many Greeks might not know English well.
Wild camping in Greece is forbidden by law. If you camp next to hotels or other tourist accommodations, police may you fine you, but there are still a lot of remote beaches, far from touristy areas where you can camp without police problems.
For more hitchhiking tips, check out Will’s hitchhiking 101 post.
Greek Travel Phrases
I have written the pronunciations for a few helpful Greek travel phrases below with english translations.
Nice to meet you: (HA-ree-ka po-LEE)
How are you?: (tee-KAH-nis)?
Good morning: (kah-lee-MER-ah)
Good afternoon/evening: (kah-lee-SPER-ah)
Thank you: (eff-kha-ri-STOE)
Please / You’re welcome: (para-kah-LOE)
My name is… : (may LEH-neh)…
Excuse me / Sorry: (See-GHNO-mee)
Do you speak English? (Mee-LAH-teh ag-li-KAH)?
Cheers!: (STIN-eh YAH-mas)
Bottoms up! (AHS-pro PAH-toh)
How much is it?: (POH-soh KAH-nee af-TOH)?
I don’t understand: (Then Kah-tah-lah-VEH-noh)
Internet in Greece
The internet is decent in Greece. You’ll be able to get free wi-fi at most cafes, restaurants, and hotels, but many of the islands have weak/slow wi-fi. The WiFi was most reliable in Athens.
Apps to download before travelling to Greece
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map, and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Greece.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Greece. It is a great help while calculating expenses.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Bla Bla Car – This is a great ride sharing app that is popular in Europe. Use it to score cheap rides, and meet some awesome locals!
Greece Backpacking Travel Costs
Your Greece budget will largely depend on where you go and when. If you are backpacking the Greek Islands in August, good luck getting by on less than $100 a day. But don’t worry! You can still backpack Greece on a budget.
The tavernas and local eateries are affordable – around EUR 8. Gyros are the cheapest way to eat out and will run you about EUR 4-5. Produce and groceries are the way to go, however, if you’re on a backpacker budget. My friends and I cooked most of our meals to save money.
The popular islands, like Mykonos and Santorini, can be more expensive near the touristy areas. If you want to splurge on a fancy meal, consider doing so on the smaller islands.
If you stick to one group of islands, slow ferry tickets can be as low as $10. You’re going to want to rent a vehicle for at least a couple days to reach the beaches and remote areas. Scooters cost around $25 a day. ATVs and cars are about $40-50. If you can split the costs, it’ll be much cheaper to rent a car.
Money in Greece
Greece’s currency is the Euro. The current exchange rate is 1 Euro: 1.20 USD (Jan 2018).
ATMs are widely available everywhere, but you can expect a withdrawal fee for international bank cards, which is why I travel with a debit card that refunds me for transaction fees. (Americans, I recommend checking out Charles Schwab!)
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Greece. Always have cash on you when backpacking Greece and visiting smaller, family -run places! Many large stores in Greece accept cards, but a lot of out-of-the-way locations will only accept cash.
You should always have some emergency cash hidden on you and I’ve written an entire post on the best places to hide your money. If you want to carry a fair bit of cash safely on your body, your best bet is to get hold of a backpacker belt with a hidden security pocket.
Backpacking Greece budget – how much will it cost?
It’a pretty tough to backpack Greece on $10 a day unless you’re participating in a work exchange. You can, however, backpack Greece for under $40 by doing the following:
Travel during shoulder season, so April/May and October for good weather, and the best prices. This will be the cheapest way to visit Greece. June and September are also affordable, but stay away during July and August if you are backpacking Greece on a budget.
I recommend splitting costs with other travellers. Renting an apartment with a few people is cheaper than separate dorm beds, and a lot of islands do not have a hostel scene. The best way to save money on accommodation is to stay away from the touristy towns, although this means you may have to rent a vehicle.
Couch Surfing is the best way to meet locals and stay for free, but snagging a spot can be tough. You can also participate in a Work Away for free accommodation. If all else fails, most of the Greek Islands have cheap camping! Keep in mind that wild camping is illegal, but you may be able to get away with it away from the tourist areas.
As for transportation, my suggestion for keeping costs low is to pick 1-3 places. Ferry and plane tickets will eat your budget.
I spent an average $40 a day by splitting rental cars, apartments, and groceries with 3 other people. We were able to do everything we wanted to do, splurge on daily gelato, and even eat out once and a while. We could have travelled for less, but it was more of a vacation. Renting apartments on smaller islands was affordable but if you camp or couch surf, you can get by on much less.
More Comfortable Greece Backpacker Budget
If you want to splurge a bit while backpacking Greece, then I recommend budgeting at least $80 a day. This will cover eating out more frequently, renting a car during high season, and splurging on the occasional dive, or sail excursion.
Top Tips for Broke Backpackers
Camp: With plenty of gorgeous places to camp, Greece can be a great place to camp in the rural areas. While wild camping is totally illegal in Greece, you can still find some pretty remote places to camp for free. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking. Or, if you’re feeling real adventurous and want to save some cash, consider picking up a backpacking hammock.
Cook your own food: If you are on a tight budget, you can save money by cooking your own food – I recommend bringing a portable backpacking stove.
Book your transportation early: Both plane and train tickets are much cheaper if you purchase them in advance.
Couchsurf: Greeks are awesome, and I am so grateful I was able to explore its cities with local friends. Check out Couch surfing to make some real friendships and see this country from the perspective of locals.
Volunteer: If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board.
To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
Travel Greece for free
I found that backpacking Greece was affordable in comparison to other European countries, but if you are hoping to travel Greece for free, there are some ways! I always recommend participating in a work exchange program if you are not a citizen. This means you get free board (and sometimes food) for working 15-25 hours, depending on the agreement.
There are a lot of great websites that can link you to work, such as WorkAway. I have found that these can be pretty competitive, so sometimes I recommend just asking hostels in person, or even emailing them directly!
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Greece long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country with a paycheck is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Must Try Experiences in Greece
1. Swim, Snorkel, and Dive in the clear-blue Aegean Sea!
2. See the Greek Islands by boat by sailboat.
3. Eat delicious, local food at a traditional Taverna
4. Divulge on Greek’s Cafe Culture surrounded by picturesque flowers and buildings.
6. Visit some of the most ancient archaeological sites in the world!
7. Watch the sunrise and sunset on one of Greek’s hundreds of islands.
Food in Greece
Types of restaurants and cafés in Greece:
Tavernas: These are informal, traditional restaurants that serve homestyle dishes, usually very meat/seafood oriented. Eating at a taverna is a total must while backpacking Greece.
Estiatorio: These are the more formal restaurants also serving the same type of food as tavernas.
Kafeneio: Small traditional cafes that serve coffee and spirits.
Keep in mind that Greeks dine late, and many restaurants close in the afternoons and reopen after 7pm. A lot of coffee shops and bars are open well late into the night in the bigger towns and cities too!
Types of Traditional Greek Food:
Olives: Greece is famous for its olives, and you can expect olives as a free starter at most restaurants. There are many olive oil producers and cooperatives you can visit as well!
Feta Cheese: Greece has the best feta cheese I’ve ever had. It’s served as one large block that you break up into your salad.
Greek Salads: Served as a starter, these salads are made up of tomatoes, cucmber, onions, feta, and olives. Beetroot salads are also popular.
Saganaki: Most restaurants also serve, which is a fried feta cheese.
Souvlaki: Greek fast food consisting of gyros (meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie) and skewered meat in pitta served with tzatziki.
Tyropita and Spanakpita pies: cheese and spinach pies.
Bouzaki: A warm, flaky doughy desert
Tzatziki: yoghurt, cucmber and garlic sauce
Fish: Fish is usually grilled whole or lightly fried.
Seafood: Grilled or stewed octopus is pretty popular as is calamari.
Types of Traditional Greek Drinks:
Wine: Greek wine is famous, and pretty much every Greek family has someone who makes some just for the family.
Ouzo: This is Greece’s famous liquor, and made to be sipped slowly.
Traditional Coffee: Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan, but Greek coffee is brewed in a narrow top pot and served in a small cup. It’s kind of thick like Turkish coffee.
Diving in Greece
Greece has some of the most beautiful waters in the world, and some pretty interesting dive sites. The Aegean Sea doesn’t have a reef, so most of the dive sites emphasize exploring ship wrecks and natural formations, like caves. If you are backpacking Greece on a budget, I think snorkeling and free diving is just as fun and much cheaper, so bring your snorkel and fins!
If you want to scuba dive in Greece, check out “The Dome” off of Naxos Island in the Cyclades. This is an underwater cave that opens to an air-filled dome. Shinaria Beach off of Crete is one of the best places to observe marine life. You can see octopi, morays, lots of fish, and if you’re lucky a couple manta rays!
There are a couple great ship wreck dive sites off of the Dedocanese. Queen Olga, off of Leros, is a legendary WWII ship. Panormitis, off of Kalymnos, lies at a depth of 32 meters.
Meet the People of Greece
For a country going through an economic crisis, the people still remain impressively generous, passionate, and hospital. Greeks retain strong regional identities to their ancestors (Sparta, for example). While most Greeks aren’t devout, the Greek Orthodox Church is a large part of Greek’s identity and culture. Overall, while backpacking Greece I found Greeks to be passionate about life and extremely friendly and generous.
Festivals in Greece
Many traditional festivals surround the Greek Orthodox Church, such as Easter and Carnival. I’ve listed the most popular festivals in Greece below. Make sure to book accommodation in advance if you are backpacking Greece during these holidays!
Carnival Season: Three weeks prior to Lent, you can find Carnival parties and parades full of feasting and dancing.
Orthodox Easter: This is Greece’s biggest holiday, where communities celebrate Jesus’ resurrection starting on Good Friday. Easter Sunday is celebrated with parties, feasts and dancing.
Thessaloniki International Film Festival: 10 days of independent film screenings are held in Thessaloniki in mid-November.
Being a responsible backpacker while backpacking Greece
It doesn’t take much to backpack Greece responsibly. My biggest advice is to just be respectful to Greek people and their culture. Furthermore, be sure to show the historical and archeological sites respect too! Do not draw or tag any buildings or walls.
A Brief History of Ancient Greece
Greece is famous for some of the oldest human advanced civilisations, thousands of years BC, like the Minoans. King Minos is the mythical ruler of Crete, and Knossos on Rhodes had some of the oldest ventilation shafts and sewerage systems.
During the Archaic Ages, the ancient Hellenic people introduced the practice of polytheism (worship of many gods), with Zeus as the foundation. During Greece’s Golden Age, Greece saw the renaissance of literature and art. Around this time Athens often fought with the Persia. The 30 city-states formed the Hellenic League with an army and navy under Spartan command. Persia overtook Athens, but smaller Greek warships helped defeat the Persian army.
By the 4th century BC, Greece went on the decline. Macedon (modern day Macedonia) convinced most of the city-states (except Sparta) to swear allegiance to Macedonia by promising Persia’s defeat. Alexander the Great conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Afghanistan and northern India. En route to conquer the world, Alexander the Great died suddenly and his empire became independent kingdosm. Macedonia lost control of Greece.
While Alexander the Great rode East, foreign Romans started to invade from the West. This invasion wasn’t all bad as many Greek cities had the freedom to self govern at some extent and established a status of education.
In 300 BC the Byzantine Empire came from the west as crusaders who said they wanted to “liberate the Holy Land fro the Muslims.” For hundreds of years after, the Ottomans from central Asia began to rapidly expand the Byzantine Empire. Once again Greece was the battleground of two empires.
Final Thoughts on Backpacking Greece
It’s easy to understand why backpacking Greece is a magnet for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, history, and rich culture. This is the land of ancient myths of gods and giants, and beautiful beaches around every corner.
Depending on where you go, you can see ancient Byzantine, Venetian, and Greek history. In Greece, you can gaze upon Meteora’s monasteries and historical sites that have stood for thousands of years, or you can lounge on sandy beaches and swim deep blue waters in hidden coves. You can eat fresh seafood by the ocean, or divulge in Greek delicacies at traditional tavernas.
The choice is yours. You just got to get there!
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Need More Inspiration?
- The Best Hostels to Stay in Athens
- The Ultimate Backpacking Packing List
- How to Choose the Right Backpack for Your Next Adventure
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