Driving In Greece as a Tourist: Practical Tips for First-Timers

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Driving in Greece as a tourist can be quite the experience, depending on where you go.

Is Driving Difficult in Greece?

I learnt to drive on narrow country roads in Scotland, and then a lot of my early driving experience came from living on the Spanish islands. I didn’t initially think to write about this since driving in Greece didn’t come as too much of a shock to me after that.

But I saw a lot of Brits and Americans commenting about driving in Greece. And I realised there is a bit to brace yourself for if you’re used to nice straight, wide, tarmacked roads. Or even just most people obeying traffic rules and regulations!

In that case, you could find Greek roads and the Greek island driving experience a bit wild. The road rules go out the window even more there.

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Driving on the Mainland versus Greek Islands

My experience on the mainland has been good. (Other than Athens, which is a blinkin’ nightmare.) The national road motorway is big and well-maintained. And I’ve found that other main roads are also in good order.

However, driving on the Greek islands is another story.

So, I’ve come up with this list of things you might have questioned or considered about driving in Greece. Especially on the islands. But firstly…

Is it Safe to Rent a Car in Greece?

For the logistics of actually renting a vehicle see this post about renting a car in Greece. But to answer this question, cars are definitely safer than motorbikes/mopeds or ATVs. And your rental will include insurance.

Car Maintenance

Most rental cars have a few scratches and small dents, especially on the islands. But a couple of times I’ve taken what I could get at the last minute and they were somewhat less maintained.

It’s probably a good idea to read reviews from other users before choosing a company. People will mention things like the car being in a bad state or a particularly good state of repair.

If you have concerns about a car’s safety when you hire it, mention it immediately and see if you can get an alternative.

Manual v Automatic: Drive What You’re Used To

If you’re going to drive in Greece be aware that most rental cars are manual. Automatic car rental is available, generally on bigger cars. And since the driving experience will be different to what you’re used to it’s sensible to drive what you know.

Since there are fewer automatic rental cars make sure you book well in advance. Most car hire companies charge higher fees for automatics too.

Card Details

The only thing that makes me a bit nervous in terms of safety and security is that sometimes my card details are written down the old-fashioned way on a paper form.

I prefer to use companies that don’t take card details for any damages. Or ones that do so through a PDQ machine. That way I know my card details are safe.

Can You Drive in Greece with a Foreign Driver’s License?

If you have a driving license from the European Union it’s nice and easy and you can just use that if you’re renting a car in Greece.

UK, US and Australian Licenses

If you have a UK, US or Australian driver’s license you can also use that without anything else. However, the rules have changed since I’ve been in Greece. So there’s still a bit of confusion as to whether you also need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Rental car companies should accept your US, UK or Australian license. But I have heard that some places in Greece are still asking for the IDP. Every incidence I’ve heard of this has been about US driving licenses.

So, for the nominal cost, I think it might be worth getting an IDP if you’re coming from the US. Different to an International driver’s license, the permit basically translates your license. It’s something you can get online and you need to do it before you travel.

As I say, the car rental company shouldn’t ask for it. But if they mistakenly do it could avoid a big headache during your trip.

Other Countries

For other countries, check the travel section of your government’s website for up-to-date information.

Can You Drive a Foreign Car in Greece?

If you’re planning on driving to Greece with your own car you’ll need to check what’s required before you come. If you’re driving from the UK for example, you can have the vehicle in the country for 6 months before you need to worry about import tax.

My Greek Driving Tips and Driving Rules to Know

This post is designed to give you a flavour of driving in Greece based on my own experience. For specific details on traffic laws have a look at something official like this page of the RAC’s website.

With that in mind, my general experience of Greek drivers is that they’re impatient and don’t pay too much heed to driving laws. They do what they need to do to get where they want to go and always think they’re right.

That’s not carte blanche for you to do the same. Although I don’t often see police enforcing driving laws (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve EVER seen police enforcing traffic laws) it does happen. And fees can be hefty. Plus, you can get banned from driving.

The police don’t tend to tow your car they remove the number plates. Then you have to go to the police station and get them back.

Traffic in Athens on a demonstration day with police in attendance.

I found it interesting at Easter. The police released the number plates they were holding so banned drivers could travel back to their villages for the holiday.

Most Road Signs Are in Greek and English

Thankfully, in most places you’re likely to visit the road signs are in both Greek and Latin alphabets.

You’ll either see place names written in both alphabets on the same sign. Or at big junctions or roundabouts, I often see two signs. The first in Greek with a second just behind or below in Latin.

Note that some places have two names used interchangeably on signs, which can be confusing. For example, the village of Vivlos in Naxos is also known as Tripodes (three windmills).

On smaller roads and in more remote areas the signs will just be in Greek so know what to look for.

Watch Out for Vehicles on Both Sides

Driving in the middle lane seems to be a national pastime.

To be fair, in urban areas, it can be safer. There’s a lot going on at the side of the road with pedestrians stepping out, cars pulling out of hidden side streets, people opening doors of parked cars and motorcyclists doing all sorts of things.

But on the big roads out of town, it drives me nuts. You do need to really watch for people cutting you up on either side. Because even if you do the right thing and overtake a car on the left someone else will be cutting it up on the inside lane at the same time.

You don’t want to be broadsided as you come into the middle lane. So really check your blind spot before moving in front of the car you’re overtaking. And before moving into the inside lane.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Motorbikes

As I’ve mentioned, motorbikes/mopeds/scooters are a bit of a law unto themselves. They just don’t follow the rules of the road at all.

A high percentage of people don’t wear helmets. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wearing leathers even on proper motorbikes that are going really fast.

A few of the very many motorbikes in Spetses

Greeks and tourists are killed every day in accidents with bikes so don’t become a statistic. Or cause one.

Oh, and always assume there’s a bike nearby, probably about to cut you up on either side.

Approaching Pedestrian Crossings

There are zebra crossings in Greece but they’re not really used other than at the airport. In the UK, if a pedestrian steps onto the crossing you have to stop. That isn’t the case in Greece so anyone driving behind you probably won’t expect you to stop.

Keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to stop for a pedestrian who’s waiting at the side of the road. In my experience, it can be more dangerous to stop. If the driver behind you doesn’t go into the back of you they often pull out impatiently and overtake just as the pedestrian is passing.

Turning Right at Traffic Lights

Sometimes if you’re turning right at a set of traffic lights the lights will flash amber arrows. This means to turn with caution because there’s a pedestrian crossing with a green man showing.

You should turn with caution and give pedestrians right of way, even if no one else bothers.

Negotiating Roundabouts/Traffic Circles

I understand that there’s no hard and fast rule about what to do at roundabouts/traffic circles in Greece. So we revert back to the rule at junctions which is to give way to the right unless there are signs saying otherwise.

That means that technically you need to stop halfway around to give way to people entering the roundabout.

In my experience, it’s more common to give way to people coming from the left even when there’s no signage. So be cautious and read the situation as you approach it.

If you’re the one entering the roundabout and you have a yield or stop sign, then do follow those. If there’s not a sign be ready to go but also anticipate the other person not stopping.

Look Out for Signs at Junctions

In keeping with what I’ve just mentioned, I personally find that some stop signs at junctions, or roundabouts, are placed really far back. By the time you actually get to the junction, there’s nothing indicating who has right of way.

Since I don’t find junctions in Greece at all intuitive keep an eye out for signs on the approach. If you can’t see anything, you can look for the back of a stop sign in one of the other directions too.

There are quite hefty fines for running stop signs in Greece. So again, focus on what you’re doing when you’re in a new area and take your time. You’ll probably get beeped at but that’s better than causing an accident.

Hazard Lights as Indicators

I didn’t initially think to include this point because this happens a lot in the UK now. But I saw someone else said they found it unusual so have decided to mention it.

Often when someone puts on their hazard lights as they’re driving, they aren’t actually warning you of a hazard on the road.

Confusingly they’re using their hazard lights either in place of an indicator or to let you know they’re about to do a random manoeuvre.

I’m not sure why putting on your hazard lights is supposed to convey your intentions to turn left or right better than the particular indicator. It drives me nuts in the UK. Just tell me with one indicator, why make me guess?!

So usually, when someone does this, they’re pulling into the left or right side of the road. Alternatively, they’re going to make a U-turn or something like that.

Just be aware – because while you might think the person in front of you is slowing down to stop for whatever the hazard is – they often pull out wide to do whatever it is they’re going to do.

If someone puts on their hazard lights in front of you, slow down. Give yourself time to see what the driver is going to do because honestly, it could be anything.

Petrol/Gas Stations and Service Stations

On the motorways, there are petrol/gas stations at regular intervals. Usually they’re part of a service station with food and toilets. There are signs telling you how far it is to the next one.

Most of the islands have several petrol stations but note that some are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Some small islands, like Thirassia across from Santorini, don’t have petrol stations at all. So make sure you have enough petrol/gas if you’re taking a car across to an island like that.

Roadside Toilets

As well as service stations, there are fairly frequent laybys on the motorway with basic toilet facilities. They’re usually western toilets that in my experience have been clean with toilet paper and soap available.

If you’re on the islands, petrol stations normally have a toilet available for customers too.

Toll Roads

The Greek national road/motorway has tolls so be ready to pay those. The fees are usually under 3 euro but do vary from place to place.

You can pay by cash or card (not Diners or American Express). I pay through Apple Pay on my phone. If your bank charges you foreign charges for using your card then have cash ready. Although the toll booth attendants do appreciate change they always seem willing to change a note.

The toll booths stretch right across the road so you don’t need to worry about seeing them. Head for the booths with the inspector on the LED lights. Often the display is blue but it varies.

Alternatively, some toll areas have automatic booths. Those displays show cash and card symbols. Often they’re a yellowy/orange colour but again it varies in different regions.

The signs that look like radars coming off the car are for e-passes so avoid those.

Overall, Expect the Unexpected When Driving in Greece

I often come across someone parked up on the road to take a call. Or sometimes it’s a tourist who has stopped to take a picture of the magnificent view.

They don’t pull in, and they don’t seem to consider the consequences of stopping on a corner. Keep your wits about you and expect there to be some kind of hazard on every corner. (See my points on livestock and cats.)

Speed Limits in Greece

Like other countries, there are various speed limits in Greece. Here’s what you need to know.

Speed limits on the motorway: up to 130 km h. You’ll see signs where you need to slow down for things like tunnels and toll booths.

Speed limits in built-up areas are between 50 km h – 70 km h

Speed limits for main roads that are outside built-up areas vary between 90km/h and 110km/h

Speed limit signs are generally fairly obvious on big roads so look out for them at the side. In other areas, they aren’t obvious. Or there’s something to tell you the limit when you’re entering a built-up area but nothing to confirm when you’re through it.

What to Know About Driving in Athens, Greece

Like the rest of the country, Athens is full of impatient drivers who won’t hesitate to let you know it!

Mopeds and Motorbikes

One of the biggest issues is the sheer volume of motorbikes/scooters in central Athens. They nip in and out of the traffic, ignore traffic lights and all sorts of other things.

If you’re driving in Athens you really need to expect a motorbike or three to be coming up your wing – on either side – at any time.

You don’t see motorbikes with sidecars in Athens everyday!

Parking in Athens

Another tricky thing about driving in the capital is the lack of parking. Street parking is hard to find since so many Greeks own cars. You might get a parking space in a parking lot. But most of them aren’t very big and cars are really crammed in.

Public transport around the city is good. So use that or private transfers/taxis where you can be dropped off exactly where you need to be.

Alternatives to Driving in Athens

If you want a car for parts of your Greek trip before or after your stay in Athens then there are a few options.

Collect a Car from the Airport

The main road and motorway from Athens International Airport are good. You could collect a car from the airport and then head straight off, bypassing the city.

Rent from a Company that Will Drive You Out of the City

Some rental companies will meet you at their offices in the centre of Athens and then drive you out to the edge of the city. It’s a convenient way of getting out of town without the stress.

Driving in Athens is not my idea of fun

Take Public Transport Part Way

If your Greece vacation involves a road trip in the Peloponnese after Athens for example, you could pick up your rental car further along the journey. So maybe you get the bus to Corinth or even go all the way from Athens to Nafplion and then get your car there.

Some companies let you have different pickup and drop-off locations. So if you did this, you could still choose to drive straight back to Athens airport at the end of your trip.

Winter Driving in Greece

Driving on the Greek islands in winter can be a different experience. It’s less likely you’ll encounter snow than on the mainland. But there can be flooding or sand dunes blown across coastal roads.

Some dirt roads can be a bit treacherous in the winter when there’s been a lot of rain. It dislodges the loose scree and can make it hard for your car tires to get a purchase on the road. So take care.

Winter Tires

In 2022 a new law was introduced. Greek drivers need to have snow chains (or alternative) ready to use in adverse weather conditions between October and April. As I understand it, this doesn’t apply to rental cars. BUT rental companies need to provide them if you request them.

If you’re heading to the snowy areas in the north of the country, it’s probably a good idea to have chains. But make sure you know how to use them if they’re not going to be on the car all the time.

Driving on the Greek Islands

Congestion Can Be Bad in Summer

Lots of my photos of the island roads are from quiet times in the off-season. But in the peak months, congestion can be really bad on islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Paros and Andros. It’s especially bad around the ports when the ferries come in.

Although I like having a car to explore the islands, at the busiest times of the year it can be more of a hindrance, especially around the main tourist sights and towns. And by the time you’ve found parking you’re hot, stressed and have to walk quite a long way to where you’re going.

I try to give a bit more information about these things in my island guides.

Navigating Narrow Villages

One of the biggest things that seems to surprise tourists is the narrow roads, particularly through some villages.

Traditional Greek villages were built way before cars came into existence. Narrow roads that make for pretty Instagram pictures can also make for some hair-raising driving experiences.

Some towns and villages don’t actually have car access at all. Even whole islands like Hydra and Spetses ban cars. Others have had roads made that do accommodate modern cars, rather than donkeys. But vehicles can only just make it between the close buildings.

As ever, take your time going through narrow streets Be ready to pull in or reverse to let another car by. Many drivers will use their car horn to warn you that they’re coming through if you can’t see around the corner.

(I did read on the RAC website that this is illegal in urban places. I find that hilarious as drivers beeping their horns is one of the most prominent things here! To be fair, I have some road signs in Greece saying no horns to be used in the area but rarely.)

A one-way street in Naxos. This one’s not too narrow.

Try and Avoid Pot Holes

Main roads on the islands can be well maintained in some places and awful in others. Sometimes they abruptly end and turn onto a dirt track. Or they’re tarmacked the whole way but with huge holes all over the place.

I know in some places you can claim damages back from the island’s council if your car gets damaged from a pot hole. But it’s best to drive round them and avoid if you can. You don’t really want to spend time on your holiday changing car tires.

Dirt Roads

The state of island roads can also come as a shock to visitors. Gravel/dirt roads on the islands are not uncommon.

If you’re driving a manual car be ready to use your gears as breaks on these dirt roads. You don’t want to go spinning off anywhere, especially as there’s sometimes quite a drop at the side of the road.

Typical dirt road in Naxos

One place I stayed at showed me the road to the nearest beach. It was a single-lane dirt track with a sheer drop on one side (no guard rail). Going down wasn’t too bad but coming back up the car struggled a bit.

It was quite an incline and trying to get enough revs to get up the hill without spinning my wheels in the gravel was quite a challenge. I was drifting across the loose stones, which was a bit unnerving!

I had a similar experience when I turned off a road following a sign to another village around the mountain. It started off innocuously enough, but the cement soon turned into big and small loose stones.

Getting enough speed up to go over the bigger stones didn’t go well with the bits of loose gravel and the old wheels were spinning again.

The farmers in their pickup trucks with the big tyres had no problem. But those of us in nippy little cars without 4-wheel drive needed to turn around and get back onto the main road.

Check What’s Suitable for Your Rental Car

Be aware of the damage they can cause to the car and the challenges they bring to driving.

Sometimes the rental company will tell you about certain roads you can’t take the car down. In Andros, the roads to quite a few of the beaches are dirt. My car hire people said it was fine to drive on all but two of them with the type of car I got.

Let Others Pass You on Narrow Roads

People in Greece will drive up your backside whether you’re driving like a tourist taking in the sites or driving at normal speed. Either way, pull in and let them pass if they’re doing that. Don’t let your ego come into this. Keep yourself safe and let other people drive like idiots.

Be Aware When Passing Others

I’ve noticed that Greek people can be a bit stubborn sometimes. If you’re behind someone going really, really slowly and you try to overtake, they may pull across and sit in the middle of the road so you can’t pass.

Again, keep your ego out of things and put your safety first. If someone else is being silly, let them, and keep a safe distance back. Chances are they’re not travelling far and will soon pull off down a side lane.

Take Care on Sharp Bends on Mountain Roads

In hilly/mountainous areas you’ll find roads with wide bends and sharp turnings off to a smaller road. Sometimes the roads are quite narrow at the bends and there isn’t space for two vehicles at once. Or one of you needs to go wide so you can both fit.

Concentrate on what you’re doing. Often there’s a sharp drop on one side so keep a lookout and don’t get too close to the edge. Switch off the AC and radio and listen as well as look.

Sometimes you can hear something coming before you can see it, especially a fast motorbike or large lorry. When it’s really windy this isn’t so easy but it’s a tip that’s saved me more than once.

And big commercial vehicles do frequent even the island roads. There are a lot of quarries for things like marble and granite which are transported back and forth.

Use the Road Mirror If There Is One.

There are often mirrors on the road to help see round sharp turns and blind junctions. Use them if they’re there. If you see one it probably means that you need a bit of extra caution at that point too.

Expect to Encounter Livestock

On the islands, it’s also good to assume there will be a goat at every turn! It’s not unusual for goats or sheep on the islands to be wandering around on the side of the road. So look out for them.

You may well come across sheep and goat herds being shepherded along the road from one grazing site to another.

Donkeys and mules are still a form of transport in many places. In my experience, they don’t spook like a horse can but you still want to have some regard for their welfare.

Don’t rule out coming face to face with a bigger animal like a horse on the side of the road, either. It’s unlikely a horse will run into you. But look out for them because if their legs are tied together they won’t be able to run away from your car either.

(If you see an animal that is hobbled – front and back leg tied together – please take a photo, mark the location and inform the police. Hobbling is a horrible outdated farming method that’s illegal but still quite common in Greece.)

Beware of Cats Living on the Roadside

Wheelie bins/dumpsters are found along the main roads as well as in towns. Wherever there is food rubbish/garbage there are usually cats. Assume they’re around whenever you see a bin.

Where there is one cat there are usually more so look out for them darting out from somewhere. Cats tend to be particularly active at night so be extra careful when driving around in the evening.

Parking on Greek islands

Parking on Greek islands is pretty easy, you just stop where you like. And I’m only half joking. Technically there are rules, see the previous RAC link. But in my experience, you just park up wherever and however you like.

I would encourage you to have some common sense though. Both in terms of safety and what’s actually legal. Plus consider where you’re most likely to have both wing mirrors still attached when you return.

Parking in Tinos. No idea what was going on here.

And don’t take this as gospel because I haven’t been everywhere. But in my experience paid parking isn’t really a thing. The islands I’ve been to have all had plenty of free car parks with no time limits.

Quads and Scooters

Unless you regularly drive a motorbike I wouldn’t recommend renting a scooter in Greece. Even then I’m not sure I would. Accidents are common, no one wears leathers and you’re quite vulnerable amongst the Greek drivers.

And I’ve said many a time that I just really wouldn’t recommend renting an ATV/quad bike anywhere. I wrote a whole post about why to not rent an ATV in Santorini or any other island. Please have a read of it if you’re contemplating that as an option.

Ready to Drive in Greece?

Well, driving in Greece. How do you feel about it now? Hopefully, this hasn’t put you off. While you do need to be aware while driving, the island roads can also be very quiet. (Hence why people just abruptly stop to take pictures.)

I love driving through the country’s beautiful scenery and exploring places I’d have never seen without a car. So take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

If you need help with finding a car to hire try this car rental booking website. The initial price you see doesn’t include the various insurance option so make sure to click through and see the final price.

For more information about how to get about in Greece see this post about getting from Athens to Nafplion, this one about how to get around Santorini, this one about getting around in Mykonos and this one about driving in Naxos.

Driving In Greece as a Tourist: Practical Tips for First-Timers

Suzie Young

Suzie writes informative posts for solo, nervous or first-time travellers to Greece, Turkey and other countries on her 50-before-50 bucket list. She became a Greek resident in 2020 and intends to visit every inhabited island (13 down!).

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