Driving in Greece – Essential tips on Greek driving by a local

Driving in Greece is a great way to explore the country. These driving tips for Greece include rules, habits, hiring a car, what to expect and more!

Driving in Greece

If you want to get off the beaten track in Greece, the best way is to rent a vehicle. This way you will be able to stop wherever you want, take detours and experience small villages and places that you wouldn’t see on a bus or a train.

A car in Greece

You may have heard, however, that driving in Greece is dangerous, or that Greeks drive like crazy, and you should avoid it if you can.

This guide to driving in Greece, written by a local and an expat, will help you decide.

What type of driving license do I need for Greece?

Visitors who have a valid EU license do not need anything else to drive in Greece. This extends to Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland.

Taking a car in central Athens

However, if your license was not issued in the EU, you will have to get an International Driver’s License. This applies for visitors from the USA, Canada and Australia, among others.

Although technically you might be able to hire a car without the International Driver’s Permit, you wouldn’t be covered in case of an accident . So it’s extremely important to get your International Driver’s License before your trip to Greece.

Hiring a car in Greece

As we have our own car, we have only hired a car in Greece a couple of times. This was when it was cheaper to fly to an island and rent a car for a day, rather than bring our own car on the ferry from Piraeus.

View of Athens

In order to hire a car in Greece you will need to have a valid driver’s license, which was obtained at least a year ago. You will also need to be over 21 years old, or 25 for some types of cars. 

Some companies might also have an upper age limit, so you should check it out before you proceed.

In general, we suggest that you read each company’s policy very carefully before renting a car in Greece, including the fine print.

A credit card will be required to secure your booking. Depending on the company, a certain amount may be kept from your card, and returned when you bring the car back to the company.

What car rental options are there in Greece?

Stick shift cars are the norm in Greece. You will find a range of different makes and models, which differ in size and power. Automatic cars may be available upon request, though your options might be limited.

All in all, choose a model that you feel comfortable driving. Always remember that a very big car might be difficult to navigate around the narrow island roads – more on this below.

Rent an ATV / quad on the Greek islands

Apart from regular cars, you will typically find options like a 4WD, ATV / quad and various types of scooters. Quads are generally popular, just take your time to get used to them.

If you are planning to drive on dirt roads, make sure you rent an appropriate vehicle, like a 4WD. Otherwise, if you run into trouble, the insurance will be void and you will be charged.

I actually damaged my own car when driving around some bad dirt roads on Milos island. Nothing that couldn’t be repaired though.

Dirt roads on the Greek islands

Finally, if you are coming to Greece in winter and planning to drive in mountainous areas, you should have snow chains with you. These are required by law, so make sure your car rental company can provide them.

Hiring a car in Greece with children

According to Greek laws, children up to 12 years old should have a child’s seat. In addition, they aren’t allowed to sit in the front seat.

You can hire a beach buggy on the Cyclades

This might not make sense for some children, as children’s seats are designed up to a weight of 36kg / a height of 135cm. So if your child is under 12 years old and over those limits, check with the rental company.

Make sure you reserve the child’s seat at the time of booking, as otherwise you may not be able to find one.

What to know if you are driving a car in Greece

Here are a few things you should know if you are planning to drive a car in Greece.

Greeks drive on the right hand side of the road. If you have never driven on the right side of the road before, allow for some time to get used to it. It’s best to avoid a long itinerary on your first day.

The Greek highways are great

By default, vehicles coming from the right always have priority, unless there is a traffic light or an octagonal Stop sign. This also applies on roundabouts. The vehicle entering the roundabout has the right of way, unless they have a Stop sign.

If you are already in the roundabout and want to exit, turn your right indicator on, and move swiftly towards the exit. It might feel scary at first, but you will hopefully get used to it.

If the cars entering the roundabout to your right have a Stop sign, which is octagonal, you know that they need to stop and let you go first. You will need to be extra careful and spot the octagonal sign as you are driving inside the roundabout.

(Dave’s note – WHY WHY WHY are there stop signs at roundabouts in Greece. It just doesn’t make any sense!!)

Do Greeks really drive like crazy?

Depending on who you ask, you will probably get different answers. Vanessa was born here, and her memories go back to times when no one was wearing seat belts. She is pretty used to the Greek driving style, including the crazy motorbikes speeding around Athens.

A national road in the Peloponnese

Dave, on the other hand, has cycled and driven in many, many countries, and he has definitely formed an opinion about Greek drivers.

To sum our thoughts up, we would say that no, Greeks don’t drive like crazy. However, they are really not the most considerate drivers, and you need to pay full attention when driving in Greece.

Here are some examples of driving behaviour that are common in Greece:

  • Changing lanes on a main road or highway without using the indicators
  • Going the wrong way on a one-way street
  • Going in reverse for a long distance
  • Beeping at the car in front as soon as the light turns green
  • Parking on the pavement, a zebra crossing, an intersection, or anywhere for that matter
  • Talking on a mobile phone while driving
  • Going over the speed limit
  • Stopping in the middle of the street, even on a main road, without any warning. An example is when people stop to buy something from a shop or a kiosk

While all of the above are illegal, you might see one or more of these things happening while driving around Greece.

A dirt road in Milos island

Our advice is to stay away from such behaviour, however be prepared to have these experiences, possibly more than once. Drive defensively, and in case of doubt, just let the locals go first. Better safe than sorry!

For an insight into why laws in Greece are considered more like guidelines by the locals, check this somewhat humorous post on Greek customs and Habits!

Traffic lights in Greece

Like in most countries, traffic lights in Greece have three colours – red, yellow and green. Pedestrian traffic lights only have red and green, and in a couple of places in Athens there is even a countdown timer.

In terms of respecting the Greek traffic lights, it’s not uncommon for local drivers to go through with a yellow, or even a red light.

A tunnel on a Greek highway

Even though fines are very high, you may occasionally see this happen, especially in Athens and Thessaloniki. However, you should avoid it by all means.

At the same time, if you are the first car waiting for the traffic light to turn green, don’t assume that it’s fine to go as soon as it does.

It’s best to check right and left before you put your foot on the accelerator, as the driver on the other side might have just crossed a red light.

On many areas in the country, including islands like the Cyclades, you won’t see any traffic lights at all. Pay attention to the signs at any crossroads, and when in doubt just let the locals go first.

Cars vs pedestrians in Greece

With the exception of a few towns, like Trikala and Kalamata, drivers in Greece DO NOT STOP at the zebra crossings. We can’t stress this enough.

If you stop for a pedestrian to cross the street, you are seriously risking a bump at your rear. Greek drivers simply won’t stop for pedestrians. We are always surprised when they do.

Taxis in Athens, the Greek capital

In bigger cities, this may actually include traffic lights, especially when there is a right or left turn. You will often see that there will be a yellow flashing light for the driver, and a green light for the pedestrian.

In theory, this gives priority to the pedestrian, but in practice many drivers won’t stop and the car will go through first. If you are the pedestrian, it is probably best to wait patiently.

Last but not least – jay walking is supposed to be illegal. Sometimes though, it’s the only way to cross a street. Just be mindful of any cars or scooters.

Driving on the highways in Greece – Speed limits

In the past couple of decades, many of the highways in Greece have been rebuilt to very high standards. They are brand new, modern and safe.

A highway in Greece

By law, maximum speed on the highways is 130 km/hour, though many of the signs you will see show a speed limit of 120 km h.

In practice, you will very rarely have any issues with the police if you go slightly over the speed limit. That said, we recommend that you stick to the legal speed as shown on the signs.

Most of these amazing highways were constructed by a bunch of private companies. And here is the catch – they have tolls, which can be quite substantial.

Tolls on the highways in Greece

Tolls on the highways in Greece are not negligible. Αs an example, the tolls from Athens to Thessaloniki currently cost just over 31 euro, and the tolls from Athens to Kalamata cost about 14 euro.

The benefit of the high tolls is that you might find no traffic at all on the highways, especially if you are driving off season or on weekdays.

Tolls can be paid by either cash or card, however we recommend having some cash just in case. Note that most of the toll booths are reserved for pass holders. Μake sure that you go to the booth with the blue man.

Toll station on the Greek highways

What many visitors find annoying, is that there are many toll booths along the way. The only thing you can do? Be patient, or just avoid the main highways and opt for the secondary national roads.

Driving on the national roads in Greece

Alongside the main highways, you will find an extensive network of national roads in Greece. These minor roads connect different areas of the country or the smaller towns.

A regional road in Greece

If you want to avoid toll roads, national roads can be an interesting alternative for people on a road trip. You can see more of the country, and pass by scenic towns and villages.

Before you decide to venture out on the national roads, you should know that they can be a bit hit and miss. Some of them might be freshly paved, but some others may be in serious need of repairs.

A road in need of repairs

If you are driving at night, don’t expect these roads to be well-lit, or even lit at all. Make sure your front lights are good, or just avoid driving at night if you don’t feel like it!

The speed limit on national roads generally varies from 90 το 110 km h, but pay attention to the familiar red-and-white signs. If you are passing through a town or village, the speed limit is 50 km h, unless otherwise stated.

Driving on the islands and rural areas in Greece

This is where it all becomes fun – or scary, depending on what you are used to!

The roads on the islands and the rural areas in Greece are in stark contrast with the modern, wide highways.

If you want to drive around the islands or on mountainous areas, be prepared for steep inclines, sharp turns, narrow roads, driving on cliff sides and many, many dirt roads.

A cow on the street in Greece

On really narrow roads, you may have a blind spot. It’s a good idea to beep your horn slightly, in order to warn cars coming from the opposite direction.

While driving in rural areas, you may come across cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, chicken and even snakes! You are also likely to meet some Greek cats and dogs, not always accompanied by their masters.

Google maps generally work fine while driving in Greece. However, a dirt road and a paved road don’t look all that different on your mobile phone’s screen! 

If you find yourself on a dirt road, make sure your car rental agreement covers you. Otherwise, just leave the vehicle and go on foot.

Tip: If you are using your mobile to read Google Maps, make sure you leave this with the person sitting next to you! Using a mobile phone is allowed if a Bluetooth device is used, or in speaker mode, provided that the phone is placed in a special phone holder in the car. Hands-free mode while using headphones is not allowed.

Driving in Athens and other Greek cities

To be honest, we would advise against driving in the bigger cities in Greece. Athens and Thessaloniki in particular can get quite crazy in terms of traffic.

Apart from cars, vans, buses and trolleys, there are a number of two-wheeled vehicles such as motorbikes, motorcycles, vespas and mopeds. The latter often go in between car lanes, without any notice.

Congestion can also be pretty bad, especially on days when public transportation is on strike.

Driving in Athens Greece

While in Athens, it’s best to take the Athens metro or a taxi. If you are visiting Thessaloniki, most of the city is walkable. You can also use the bus network which is much less complex than the network in Athens.

If you need to rent a car in Athens or Thessaloniki, consider renting it from the airport. We’ve also heard that some companies in Athens can actually get one of their employees to drive you out of the centre!

Road signs in Greece

Depending on where you are from, chances are that road signs in Greece may look slightly different. One thing that will be different is that names might be in two languages – Greek and English.

A road sign on Andros island

Note that Greek names are sometimes translated into English in a way that you might not be familiar with.

As an example, every visitor knows the word “Athens”. However, you may see signs with the word “Athina”, which is actually what we call our capital. Similarly, Piraeus might also be Pireas, and so on.

If you are driving in rural areas, you will often find that everything is only in Greek. There’s only one suggestion – try and learn the Greek alphabet before your trip!

A road sign in the Peloponnese

Parking a rental car in Greece

Parking is something you should consider carefully when driving in Greece, as it varies a lot throughout the country.

Generally speaking, parking on the street is allowed in Greece. However, it might be regulated in certain areas, or you may even have to pay a small fee. Ask around for the latest information, as things tend to change.

Taxis in Athens

When it comes to smaller towns and villages, there are usually designated parking areas, often outside the village. If you are staying in one of those villages, ask your hotel owner for more details.

Many archaeological sites around Greece have their own parking areas. Athens is an exception, and you would be mad if you wanted to get to the Acropolis or the other ancient sites in Athens in a rented car.

Parking in the Greek cities

Parking can really be an issue in the bigger cities. We live in Athens and usually prefer the metro to go downtown!

Get a parking spot in central Athens or Thessaloniki can be a challenge. An exception is August, when many locals leave for their holidays.

Parking in Athens is easier with a small car

Other popular cities with huge parking problems are Chania and Heraklion in Crete. Getting a parking spot in the centre of Chania in August is next to impossible.

Overall, it’s best to avoid driving into the bigger cities, and exploring on foot instead. If you must have a car in the cities, try and book hotels or apartments with private parking, wherever possible.

When it comes to parking, don’t do like the Greeks!

With all that in mind, you will be surprised at the creativity, not to mention the nerve, of locals when it comes to parking spaces.

Cars parked on the pavement in Athens

You are likely to see vehicles parked literally everywhere – on the pavement, at a street corner, right underneath a “no parking” sign. You will often see cars with the hazard lights on, having stopped right in the middle of the street. This is Greece, after all!

In this case, it’s best to avoid doing what the locals do. Parking fines can be rather hefty, and they can be very confusing to deal with, as the parking ticket will be in Greek. Paying a fine may be a long process.

Our best advice – make sure that you are parking legally, and by all means avoid getting a fine!

Emergency numbers – Road assistance

While we hope you won’t need to use any emergency numbers while driving in Greece, it’s always best to have them available.

A mountain road in Epirus

The European Emergency Number, 112, is a unique number you can contact in all of the EU in case of emergency.

Alternative numbers you could use are 100 (police), 166 (ambulance service), 199 (fire brigade).

Make sure you ask your car rental company for any other numbers you can use in case of emergency.

Frequently asked questions about driving in Greece:

People planning to rent a car in Greece, often ask questions like these:

Is driving in Greece difficult?

Not all of Greece is the same! Most foreigners find that driving on the Greek highways is fine. The islands are also ok, as long as you get used to the narrow streets and parking outside the villages. Driving in the bigger cities like Athens can be a challenge, and most visitors prefer to avoid it.

Can tourists drive in Greece?

Yes, tourists can drive in Greece. Depending on where you are from, you might have to get an international driver’s license.

What driving license do I need for Greece?

This depends on where you are from. As an example, residents of the US, Canada or Australia will need to have an International Driving Permit. Driving licenses issued by all EU+ Member states are valid in Greece.

How much is it to rent a car on the Greek islands?

The cost of renting a car will generally depend on which island you are travelling to, on the time of year, on the type of car and on the number of days you want it for. You should expect to pay about 40-50 euro a day if you are travelling in summer.

Is there a drink drive limit in Greece?

The drink – drive limit in Greece is 0.5 gr per litre of blood, or 0.25 mg per litre of breath. This translates roughly to a large glass of beer for men, and less for women who tend to have smaller body weight. When in doubt, don’t drive!

Dirt roads on Milos island

Should I use public transportation instead?

Using public transportation might be more hassle-free, but you’ll have to skip places that you can only reach with a car. Plus, even though transportation strikes in Greece aren’t too frequent, they might affect part of your trip. If you have a valid driver’s license, you should consider renting a car and driving around Greece.

Driving in Greece – Your thoughts

Have you ever driven in Greece? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

Vanessa and Dave from Real Greek Experiences

Hi! We are Vanessa and Dave, an Athenian and an expat, and we live in Athens. We love exploring Greece by road, and we’ve driven thousands of kilometres on the mainland and the islands! If you have any questions, post them right below, or get in touch on the Real Greek Experiences FB page and FB group.

 

 

 

 

Essential tips for driving in Greece from a local

5 thoughts on “Driving in Greece – Essential tips on Greek driving by a local”

  1. Found this article to be very close to my own experience of driving in Greece 🙂

    Still, can’t wrap my head around why cars going in to a roundabout has right of way???
    It makes no sense.

    Reply
    • You are not alone, most foreigners can’t get this logic either! It makes sense to me as I learnt to drive here, but I can totally feel you!

      Reply

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