GPS Navigation in Greece

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This page contains practical advice about navigating with a GPS device in Greece. As always, we rely our own experience to help other travelers make informed decisions and planning, so this is not a comprehensive review of all available GPS options.

We will present two options: a Garmin Nuvi dedicated GPS device, and free phone maps installed on a smartphone with cellular data activated. For the latter option, we use an iPhone so we'll relay our everyday experience of both Google Maps and the native Apple Map app.

The maps have become so detailed and reliable that we would not travel without a GPS map in Greece any longer. In fact, we rarely ever use paper maps any more and we haven't missed them much.

Using a Dedicated GPS Device

There are several benefits of using a dedicated GPS device - like the Garmin Nuvi we've used for the past 5 years. First, they work without reliance on mobile data networks, so if you find yourself in remote areas where your cellphone gets zero reception, your navigator will work without a problem.

Another major advantage of the dedicated navigator is their durability. They were specifically designed to be attached to the windshield of a vehicle, and therefore they can keep ticking no matter how much the relentless sun beats down on them. In our mind, this is the major advantage of our Nuvi over our cellphone maps.

There have been times in Greece where keeping the iPhone on the windshield for over an hour resulted in the device shutting down with a warning that it had reached excessive temperatures.

The drawbacks include that you have to lug around yet another device (besides the all important cellphone), and that you should buy the updated maps just about every other year at the substantial cost of about $100.

Using Google Maps and Apple Maps on iPhone

From our everyday use, both Google Maps and the native iPhone Maps apps work amazingly well in Greece.

The maps are accurate, svelte, and give clear and precise turn by turn directions to just about anywhere. We have used them to get to some remote villages and the maps delivered every time.

There are many advantages to using either one of the two major map apps. They are both free for the moment, and they are already included in your cellphone that probably goes everywhere you go.

With Google Maps you can even do your planning on a desktop computer to take advantage of a larger screen: Once you "star" a place on your computer it will be available in your cellphone app so you can get directions to it. Apple has a similar feature where you can send your directions from your desktop to your iPhone.

We've done many tests where we asked both apps for directions to the same place and we cannot say that one device is more accurate than the other. They both delivered us exactly where we wanted to be with accuracy in the vast majority of cases.

Where Apple maps lag years behind Google Maps is in content. For examble, in a search for museums in Corfu town during our stay there, Google maps found each one accurately and gave us not only directions through town, but also reviews, photos, and phone numbers to call for more info. Apple's maps on the other hand failed to find a single museum on a direct name search, and only seems to work when you input direct addresses in the search field.

In both apps the default maps are quick to load and clean to read, but the satellite views load very slowly unless you are in an urban area with 3G or 4G data connection.

Even though both these wonderful apps are free, there are a couple of major reasons why you might want to consider a dedicated GPS device instead.

The aforementioned heat problem can damage your smart phone and that's something that might end up being more expensive in the end. These phones were not designed to be glued to the windshield for hours on end and the heat can damage them.

You can remedy the problem by not attaching your cellphone to the windshield where the sun can reach boiling temperatures. We found it possible to attach it high near the rear view mirror, but this makes it a bit harder to see without taking your eyes off the road.

Another option is to use it only as a voice navigator, without viewing the map, but we've found it impossible not to glance at the maps every once in a while. Taking your eyes off the road to pick up your cellphone from the shade can be extremely dangerous in Greece so if you go the "voice only" option, let the non-drivers handle the phone when you need to see the map.

The biggest drawback of the map apps is that you need to maintain a cellular data connection at all times otherwise the maps can't connect to their servers. The maps themselves use surprisingly little cellular data. In our tests using Maps apps almost every day, we found that they didn't use more than 100 MB, so even a plan with modest cellular data allocation would be sufficient.

Be aware that even minimal usage can be very costly if you are using roaming data. If you plan to use your cellphone as a navigation device in Greece a far cheaper option is to purchase a plan from one of the Greek mobile companies (a plan with 500 MB per month would be sufficient for navigation and minimal internet usage). If you do opt for a contract (instead of a pre-paid plan), make sure you can cancel it before you leave Greece. Often these contracts have a minimum duration, something that might make the pre-paid plans a better choice.

How reliable are these GPS directions?

In our own every day use, we've found that the Nuvi and Google Maps were reliable, and very useful. Apple Maps worked fine most of the time, but there were more cases where it could not find an exact address.

In 2016 we used Google maps on an iphone daily in Athens, in the Cyclades, and in the Peloponnese, and it delivered us to our destination with accuracy every time. Even when we took the wrong turn by mistake, Google maps immediately re-routed us through the next best route. We noted that the directions tend to take you what a local might consider a "longer way", but if you don't know the area you would never notice.

Over the past five years, and through constant and use of the maps, the only notable issue we've had was in 2015 when both Google map and Apple map guided us to the wrong part of town, hours away from where we needed to be, and one time when Google maps stopped giving turn by turn directions at one point (deleting and re-installing the App fixed the issue).

Conclusion

For our own travel, and after trying several options for the last few years, we use the Google Maps app on our iPhone exclusively now, after we purchase a Greek Sim card and a pre-paid plan for our unlocked iPhone.

The app has been very reliable with very few times when it could not deliver the info we needed. We use it while driving for turn-by-turn directions, and we use it when we plan visits to local attractions to find their location, to read reviews, and to get more contact information for each.

It uses relatively little cellular data and we found that a 500 MB data plan on a prepaid Cosmote phone card lasted us more than a month (we used cellular data for both map navigation and modest internet usage - checking our email periodically, and even reading a few web sites when needed). For a free app, it's an immense value, and it has changed the way we travel.

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