Editor’s note: A version of this article was previously published on June 8, 2020, and was updated on July 8, 2020, in light of the EU travel ban.
Greece is ready to accept travelers again, and its deft management of the COVID-19 crises should put it at the top of places to consider visiting this summer. As of this week, Greece counted fewer than 3,000 coronavirus infections and just 180 deaths, nearly the lowest per capita rate in Europe.
Few would have expected a country going through a decade of debt to set such an admirable precedent in pandemic management. Greece’s outperformance can be attributed to a combination of causes, but the country’s drive and efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus leap out. Greece promptly shut down areas of public life that could be avenues for transmissions and quarantined all arriving travelers for two weeks. And until the beginning of May, Greek citizens stayed at home dutifully with a collective motivation: to shield Greece’s megalithic industry, the sacred Greek summer.
Now, Greece looks set to be one of the smartest travel choices of the summer, especially if you explore Greek destinations you never knew existed. Here’s what to expect when traveling to Greece and experts’ advice on where to go.
Yes, the Greek summer of 2020 will be different — but it can still be stupendous.
Greek travel experts are optimistic.
We spoke with Tina Kyriaki, founder of Alternative Athens, a local organization offering travel experiences in the heart of which are discovery and human relationships.
Kyriaki and her team say they are ready to welcome visitors from all parts of the world, but she isn’t delusional. She is aware that this summer will be shorter, with the majority of international tourists not expected to arrive in Greece before August.
“We, like all businesses around us, have adapted to the new conditions and are well prepared to attend to travelers. Greece is an ideal post-pandemic destination not only because the spread of coronavirus is contained but also because it has so many places where crowding can be avoided without having to compromise natural beauty, variety of activities, and fresh food and hospitable locals,” said Kyriaki.
We asked Kyriaki if she can identify a positive in the COVID-19 crisis, and she sounded genuinely hopeful. “Travelers will benefit from more humane travel experiences with smaller groups and higher quality services. Also, sought-after cities, especially in Europe, will now have time to recover from the detriments of over-tourism.”
“It is a rare opportunity for someone to visit Greece this summer because they will encounter a uniquely relaxed and undisturbed experience,” said Kyriaki.
Who can travel to Greece
Greece is gradually opening to international flights following a three-tier policy. Currently and until June 15, flights from the EU with passengers undertaking essential travel are allowed into Athens International Airport. Travelers are tested for coronavirus upon arrival and are placed free-of-charge at a designated hotel for one night. If the test is negative, they are required to self-quarantine for seven days. If the test is positive, passengers will undergo a two-week-long quarantine under supervision.
On June 15 the Thessaloniki Airport will start welcoming international flights as well. Between June 15 and June 30, passengers coming from high-risk airports (including Heathrow, Gatwick, and Ontario) will be tested upon arrival, following an overnight stay at a designated hotel and the already mentioned quarantine protocol. Comers from airports that aren’t on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s list are subject to random tests upon arrival.
From July 1 onwards, international flights are allowed into all Greek airports, and visitors are subject to random tests upon arrival. It’s not yet clarified, but additional restrictions regarding arrivals from certain airports may be implemented.
Traveling to and from Greece
As part of the European Union, Greece adheres to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) responsible for a risk-free, end-to-end journey. Not every traveler is an adept organizer, but this is a time when there’s an urgent appeal for planning. This is not a time to arrive at the airport at the last minute. To avoid inconveniences during an already stressful attempt, you are required to arrive at the airport with enough time to spare since the current procedures are out of the ordinary. You are strongly advised to complete the statement of health before checking-in, have enough face masks for the time spent at each airport and the entire flight or flights, and limit your movements in the airport and the cabin.
At the Athens International Airport
We spoke with a representative from the Athens International Airport to obtain the latest and most accurate information, and the numbers we were shown speak louder than words. In May 2019, 2.3 million people passed through Athens’ airport, whereas this year, the number is as low as 84,000. Yet, the goal is for people to get back to air traveling and for the aviation industry to reestablish itself as one that offers safe, high-quality services.
Athens International Airport, which has been selected by EASA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control for its airport hygiene pilot program, meticulously observes the rules concerning hand washing, sanitizing, using face masks, and physically distancing. If you worry about hygiene standards, bear in mind that entrance in the building is permitted to ticketed passengers only, the use of face masks is obligatory, over 300 sanitization spots are available at the airport’s premises, and the air conditioning system is filtered and maintained regularly. Enhanced aircraft disinfection for mitigating risks of coronavirus transmission is applied on aircrafts operating from high-risk airports.
Remember that sanitizers and hand gels are exempt from the liquids’ regulation and are allowed in hand luggage even if the container is over 100 milliliters. Also, as part of preventive measures, airline lounges are currently closed. For more information regarding the airports’ operations, you can call Greece’s 24-hour line on +30 210 3530000.
Public transport in Athens
All public means of transport (buses, metro, suburban rail, and national buses) are currently operating. To encourage commuters to continue using public transport, the cost of transportation in Athens has been reduced, and the lower prices will be valid until the end of October. For example, the standard 90-minute ticket valid for all means has dropped from 1.40 to 1.20 euros. The 24-hour ticket now costs 4.10 euros, and the five-day ticket costs only 8.20 euros. The airport metro ticket is one euro cheaper than before the coronavirus outbreak, bringing the price down to nine euros, and the return airport metro ticket has dropped to 16 euros from 18.
Travel to the islands by ship
Currently, Greek shipping companies operate with 50 percent of their capacity, a measure that’s expected to be in place until the end of June. From the 85 ships, only 35 are operational with sporadic routes to the islands, but the number of routes will rise depending on the demand.
If you are planning to board a ship, you should keep in mind that health workers will measure your temperature before boarding, you will have to fill out a form with your personal information, and keep the 60-inch distance at all times in the vessel. If you book a cabin, note that only one person is allowed per cabin unless you travel with first-degree relatives.
Αrchaeological sites and museums are open
The Acropolis, Ancient Roman Agora, Temple of Poseidon, Site of Olympia, Mycenae, Theatre of Epidaurus, Delphi, Delos Unesco World Heritage, Palace of Knossos, and over 200 more Greek archaeological sites are fully operational at the time of writing.
Archaeological sites are open to visitors from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM following the necessary hygiene measures. Museums, such as the Acropolis Museum, will open from June 15 along with spa services and thermal baths in water springs in Loutraki, Ikaria, and Edipsos.
Greece’s little-known, hidden destinations without crowds
In his blog, The Greek Traveller, travel journalist and cartographer Antonis Iordanoglou talks about two Greeces: the touristy and authentic Greece.
“The ongoing pandemic will profoundly affect people’s travel behaviors, especially this summer. Safety and hygiene factors will determine holiday destinations, and unlike previous years, popular islands will not monopolize the summer scene. Perhaps the ‘other’ Greece, where the fear of a COVID-19 outbreak will not be as prevailing pops at the top of travelers’ preferences,” Iordanoglou said.
But where is this real Greece that so many of us don’t know? Iordanoglou suggests forgetting places where we arrive by boat or plane. “Take the road and head inland!” he suggested.
Iordanoglou also recommended seaside destinations along Greece’s westerly shores a few hours’ drive north of Athens, saying, “Along the coast of Epirus, from Astakos to Preveza and from Preveza to Sivota, you will encounter wonderful sandy beaches, whose charm lies in being away from cosmopolitan hubs. On the way are comfortable guest houses, local taverns, and a wealth of natural beauty.”
Another lesser-known place to enjoy Greek beaches is due east of Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, along the upper reaches of the Aegean Sea. “The pristine coast of Thrace, from Abdera to Maronea [are] reminisces of Greece of the 1950s,” said Iordanoglou.
“It will be a bizarre summer of physical distancing. However, the essence of Greek hospitality will be present. So, come with your heart open to experience a different yet captivating Greece,” said Iordanoglou, when asked about advice to give international travelers thinking of visiting Greece this summer. He added, “Allow yourself to go beyond the stereotypes of your travel guide, and search for those elements that most tourists have ignored over time. This summer, extroversion, beach parties, and holiday acquaintances may be sparse, but the situation favors introspection, discovery, and reflection.”