Driving in Greece is a great way to explore the country. This article includes driving laws, road rules and facts that will help you survive if you are planning to drive in Greece.
All you need to know to drive in Greece
If you want to get off the beaten track in Greece, the best way is to hire a car and drive yourself. This way you will be able to stop wherever you want, and experience small villages and places that you wouldn’t be able to reach on a bus or a train.
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. So? What should you do?
This guide to driving in Greece will lay out the basic rules of the road, and help you decide. Written by a local (Vanessa) and an expat (Dave), it offers both of our perspectives on traffic laws, parking rules, car horns and Greek drivers!
Do Greek drivers really drive like crazy?
This is one of the questions I get very often! When it comes to whether other drivers in Greece drive like crazy, you will probably get different answers, depending on who you ask.
Vanessa: I was born in Athens, and my memories go back to times when no one would wear seat belts. I am pretty used to the Greek roads and Greek driving style, including the crazy motorbikes speeding around Athens.
Dave, who is from the UK, has cycled and driven in many European and non-European countries. He has definitely formed an opinion about his fellow drivers in Greece.
To sum our thoughts up, we would say that no, Greeks don’t drive like crazy. However, they are not the most considerate or law-abiding drivers. You will need to pay full attention when driving in Greece.
Driving laws in Greece
Visitors planning to drive a vehicle in Greece should be familiar with the driving laws. Generally speaking, the Greek law is similar to the law of any EU country.
Here are some key regulations that you should be familiar with if you are planning to drive a car in Greece.
Greeks drive on the right hand side of the road
Greeks drive on the right hand side of the road. The vehicles have the steering wheel on the left.
If you have never driven on this 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 in Greece, especially if you are jetlagged.
Traffic lights in Greece
Like in most countries, Greek traffic lights have three colours: red, yellow (orange) and green. Pedestrian traffic lights only have red and green. In a couple of places in central Athens, Syntagma Square and close to Hadrian’s Arch, they even have a countdown timer.
As you will soon realize, it’s not uncommon for local drivers to go through with a yellow, or even a red light. When this happens, it’s also very common for other drivers to use a bunch of Greek swear words and gestures.
Even though fines are very high (700 euro for crossing a red light), you may occasionally see this happen, especially in Athens and Thessaloniki. Obviously, you should avoid doing the same by all means.
At the same time, if you are in the first car waiting for the traffic light to turn green, don’t assume that it’s fine to go immediately. 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.
Many areas of Greece, including islands like the Cyclades, have no traffic lights at all. Pay attention to the signs at any crossroads, and when in doubt just let the locals go first.
Pedestrian crossings 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.
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.
Road signs in Greece
Road signs in Greece look different to signs you may have seen in other countries. One thing that will be different is that names might be in two languages – Greek and English.
Sometimes, names are only in Greek, which can be really confusing for visitors. We suggest that you familiarize yourself with the Greek alphabet.
Another issue is that Greek names are sometimes translated into English in a way that you might not be familiar with.
For 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.
Vehicles coming from the right always have priority
By default, vehicles coming from the right always have priority in Greece, unless there is a traffic light or an octagonal Stop sign.
Somewhat confusingly, this also applies for roundabouts and traffic circles. The traffic entering the roundabout has priority, unless they have a Stop sign.
Once you are 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 inside the roundabout. However, that doesn’t mean that the other car will actually stop!
(Dave’s note – WHY WHY WHY are there stop signs at roundabouts in Greece. It just doesn’t make any sense!!)
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.
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 Greek 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 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.
You can pay the tolls by either card or cash – we recommend having some cash just in case. Many of the toll booths are reserved for pass holders, who are making use of the fast pass system. Μake sure that you go to the booth with the blue man.
What many Greeks as well as visitors find annoying, is that there are many toll booths along the way. The only thing you can do? Be patient, or avoid the main highways and opt for the secondary national roads.
Driving on the national roads in Greece
Alongside the main highways, Greece has an extensive network of national roads. These minor roads connect different areas of the country or the smaller towns.
If you want to avoid toll roads on your road trip, national roads can be an interesting alternative. 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.
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 aren’t feeling confident.
The speed limits on national roads generally vary from 90 το 110 km/h, but you should always pay attention to the red-and-white speed limit signs. If you are passing through a town or village, the speed limit is 50 km/h, unless otherwise stated.
Driving on the Greek islands and rural areas
This is where it all becomes fun – or scary, depending on what you are used to!
The roads on the islands and rural areas in Greece are in stark contrast with the modern, wide highways. Be prepared for driving on cliff sides, steep inclines, sharp turns, narrow roads, and many, many dirt roads.
When driving in rural areas, you may come across cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, chicken and even snakes. You are also likely to meet some stray Greek cats and dogs. It’s best to drive slowly, and enjoy the trip.
On many mountain roads, there may be a blind spot. It’s a good idea to beep your car horn softly, as a warning to any oncoming traffic.
Driving in Athens and other Greek cities
Driving in the urban areas in Greece can be a challenge for visitors, and we would generally advise against it. Athens and Thessaloniki in particular can get quite crazy in terms of traffic, especially on days when public transportation is on strike.
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.
In an attempt to reduce congestion, Athens has a system where car access is restricted in certain areas, known as daktylios. This is based on whether the car’s Greek license plates end in an odd or even number. Fortunately, rental cars are excluded from this system.
If you are visiting Thessaloniki, much of the city is walkable. You can also use the bus network, which is much less complex than the network in Athens.
If you are planning to rent a car in Athens, consider renting it from the Athens International Airport. Some companies in Athens can actually get one of their employees to drive you out of the city center, so ask if this is an option.
Google Maps in Greece
Google Maps generally work fine while driving in Greece. If you have an unlocked smartphone, you can get a Greek SIM card, and use Google Maps the whole time.
However, when driving on the islands, remember that a dirt road and a paved road don’t look all that different on your mobile phone’s screen!
If you ever find yourself on a dirt road, make sure your car rental agreement covers you for this. Otherwise, go back – or just leave the vehicle and continue on foot.
Use of mobile phones while driving
If you are using your mobile phone to read Google Maps, make sure you give it to the person sitting next to you! Using a mobile phone is only 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.
Holding your phone or using normal (as opposed to wireless) headphones while on hands-free mode is strictly prohibited. The fine for this is 100 euro, plus the police can take your license away for 60 days – which will definitely ruin your vacation.
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, street parking is allowed in Greece. In theory, there are several exceptions – for example, you will need to be at least 12 meters away from a bus stop, 5 meters from a fire hydrant and 20 meters from a traffic light. In practice, these are rarely enforced.
If you decide to drive in the bigger cities, be aware that parking 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 now and then
In 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 space. Athens is an exception, and you would be mad if you wanted to get to the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora or any of the other ancient sites in Athens in a rented car.
Parking in the Greek cities
Parking on residential streets is generally allowed in most Greek cities. Pedestrianized areas, such as the historic center in Athens, are usually closed to the traffic.
Finding a parking spot can be a challenge, especially in the bigger cities like Athens and Thessaloniki. An exception is August, when many locals leave for their holidays.
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.
Like mentioned earlier, 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 space, 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.
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.
Again, we suggest that you avoid doing what the locals do. Parking fines can be 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!
What to expect when you drive in Greece
To sum things up, here are some examples of driving behaviour that are common in Greece – but you should absolutely avoid:
- Changing lanes on a main road or three lane highway without using the indicators
- Going the opposite direction on a one-way street
- Going in reverse for a long distance
- Speeding up, rather than slowing down, when the traffic light turns orange
- Beeping at the car in front as soon as the light turns green
- Ignoring the STOP signs, or any other road signs
- Using your mobile phone while driving
- Going over the legal speed limits
- Parking on the pavement, a zebra crossing, an intersection, or close to a bus stop
- 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 in Greece.
Even though you will probably have one or all of these experiences, our advice is to stay away from such behaviour. Drive defensively, and in case of doubt, just let the locals go first. Better safe than sorry!
For an insight into why driving rules in Greece are only taken as guidelines by the locals, check this tonge-in-cheek post on Greek customs and Habits 🙂
Do I need an International Driver’s license for Greece?
Visitors who have a valid license from a European Union country do not need anything else to drive in Greece. This extends to Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland.
As of 5 November 2021, visitors with a valid driving license from the USA, Canada, Australia, UK and Gibraltar, no longer need an International Driver’s Licence to drive in Greece. (Here is the official law, in Greek).
If you have a driver’s license issued from another country, you will most likely need to issue an International Driving Permit in order to drive in Greece.
Although in practice some companies might let you hire a car without one, you wouldn’t be covered in case of an accident. So it’s extremely important to get your International License before your trip to Greece.
Hiring a car in Greece
As we have our own car, we have used rental cars in Greece only a few 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.
In order to hire a car in Greece you will need to have a valid driver’s license, 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.
All major companies accept credit cards, and they will usually require one to secure your booking. Depending on the company, the company might keep a certain amount from your card, and return it when you bring the car back.
DiscoverCars is an online platform where you can compare different car rental companies, and book a vehicle for your vacation. They offer very competitive prices, especially if you book in advance, so it’s worth checking them out.
Car rental options 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 might be available upon request, though your options will probably be limited.
All in all, choose a model that you feel comfortable driving. Always remember that a bigger car will difficult to navigate around the narrow island roads – more on this below.
Apart from regular cars, you will typically find options like 4WDs, ATVs / quads and various types of scooters. Quads are popular, but 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.
We actually damaged our own car when driving around some bad dirt roads on Milos island. Not a serious accident though – it was easy to repair.
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.
How much does a car hire cost on the Greek islands?
The cost of renting a car generally depends on the island, time of year, type of car and number of days you want it for. You should expect to pay about 40-50 euro a day if you are travelling in summer.
Hiring a car in Greece with children
According to Greek laws, children up to 12 years old should use a suitable child restraint. This should be placed in the back seat rather than the front seat.
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 appropriate child restraint at the time of booking, as otherwise you may not be able to find one.
Gas stations in Greece
Before you set off on a road trip, you’ll need to fill up with fuel. You will notice some providers that you will be familiar with, such as Shell or BP, and some others that you have never seen before, like Aegean.
Once you arrive at the gas station, there will be an employee who will fill your vehicle. Sometimes, you’ll need to go inside the store if you want to pay by card.
If you are taking a vehicle to remote areas, make sure you’ve filled up in advance of your trip. Some islands, like the off-the-beaten-track Donoussa, don’t even have a gas station!
Drinking and driving Greece – Driving alcohol limit Greece
The legal drink / driving limit in Greece is 0.5 gr of alcohol per liter of blood. In practice, this is no more than a large glass beer for men, and a bit less for women.
Surprisingly, this blood alcohol content is lower than the UK (except Scotland), Canada and some US States.
Overall, it’s best to avoid driving if you’ve had more than one alcoholic drink. And if you are taking a winery tour or other tour which includes drinks, just take a bus or a taxi afterwards.
Note that the legal drinking age in Greece is 18 – though, in all honesty, it’s not as strictly enforced as in many other countries.
Emergency numbers – Roadside 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.
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.
FAQs about driving in Greece
People planning to rent a car and drive in Greece often ask questions like these:
Is driving in Greece difficult?
Most visitors find that driving on the Greek highways is a breeze. Driving on the islands is fine, once you get used to the narrow streets and street parking. However, driving in the bigger cities like Athens can be a challenge, and it might be best 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 before your trip.
What documents do I need to drive in Greece?
This depends on where you are from. Driving licenses issued by all EU / EEA Member states are valid in Greece. As of November 2021, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and United States residents no longer need an International Driving Permit to drive in Greece.
Can I drive in Greece after Brexit?
People with a valid driver’s license from the UK can drive in Greece without the need for any further documentation.
Are Greek road signs in English?
Many of the road signs in Greece are in both Greek and English. However, sometimes you will only find signs in Greek.
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!
Should I use public transportation instead of driving?
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.
Can I bring my own car to Greece?
Generally speaking, you can bring your own car to Greece. You’ll need to bring the car’s valid registration paperwork, along with proof of internationally valid insurance.
Is driving in Greece safe?
Yes, driving in Greece is safe. However, if you are not used to narrow, winding mountain roads, you might find it challenging. Proceed with caution!
Also, have a look at this guide: Is Santorini safe and things to avoid.
More travel tips for Greece
If you found our article with driving tips for Greece helpful, you will probably like these other ones:
- What to pack for Greece for any season
- How to plan an island-hopping trip in the Cyclades
- How to tip in Greece
- Athens day trips
- How to get around Rhodes
- How to get around Kos
- How to get around Milos
- Useful words and phrases in Greek
- Athens to Thessaloniki by train
Hi! We are Vanessa and Dave, an Athenian and an expat living in Athens. We’ve been on many road trips around Greece, and have driven thousands of kilometres on highways, mountain roads and dirt roads on the islands. If you need any more tips on Greek driving, ask us a question right below, or get in touch on the Real Greek Experiences FB page and FB group.