Roads in Greece

Drivers encounter a wide variety of roads in Greece. The newly built highways are a joy to drive on for the most part. Athens is connected to other major cities in Greece via modern multi-lane closed highways, and all major towns in Greece are connected via the old interstate road system. Rural one-lane per direction roads in various states of repair connect the towns to smaller villages, and make-shift paved paths, and dirt roads allow drivers access to more remote parts of Greece.

Multi-Lane Highways

The last fifteen years have seen a frenzy of building infrastructure developments in Greece. Major highways have been constructed that connect Athens with Thessaloniki to the north, and Tripolis on the south. Although at certain points the highways is not as safe as it should be, driving on them is generally comfortable and fast.

A word of caution should be added here to warn foreign drivers of the dangers on these modern Greek highways. Although the speed limit is 120 Km/hour for the most part many Greek drivers violate it by a lot. If you stick to the speed limit you could find yourself the slowest car on the road.

The greatest danger in the Greek highways (and all paved roads in Greece) is the wide variation in moving speed between cars. While in other countries every driver sticks to a speed close to the speed limit, in Greece some cars fly at 40 and 50 Km/hour over the speed limit, and at the same time some cars move at speeds considerably less than this limit.

The result is extremely dangerous and unpredictable driving condition caused by driver behavior.

To make matters a bit more exciting, the speed limit fluctuates from place to place (not that Greek drivers pay any attention), and very often poor pavement conditions and erratic signage can present major hazards. Also, when roads converge into the highway traffic becomes unpredictable with drivers never trying to make space for merging traffic.

Some of the new highways are truly a joy to drive on, like the new Egnatia road that when completed will connect Igoumenitsa with the Alexandroupoli. Large parts of Egnatia have been available to traffic and have reduced the driving time between towns considerably, while at the same time they have made driving safer.

How should one drive on these highways? Very carefully! They seem safe and comfortable, so drivers tend to relax a bit more than they should.

Just keep in mind that the biggest hazard on Greek roads is the other drivers.

Old Interstate Highway system

The old interstate system connects most of Greece with paved roads, most built fifty years ago, that we could characterize as inadequate to meet today's traffic needs.

They consist of one lane per direction, with a line in the middle that separates cars that move in opposite directions at high speeds. To pass, a car has no choice but to enter the opposite traffic's lane. Many head-on collisions in Greece happen when passing cars misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic.

Driving on such roads is a real challenge and very demanding for the drivers. Trucks, motorbikes, older and newer cars, share the one lane at different speeds, and tailgating is very common as Greek drivers try to minimize the space they have to cover when they have the opportunity to pass a slow moving vehicle. Such opportunities are often short and risky, but the attempts at passing in the most impossible of situations are routine.

The emergency lane on these old roads is used by Greek drivers as a driving lane. So in essence, they are two-lane roads with the only peculiarity being that the emergency lane varies in width.

The old interstate system has another peculiarity not easily remedied. The roads go through the centers of large and small towns. If you want to drive from Nayplion to Korinth for instance, you will find yourself driving in the middle of Argos. The result is considerable delays as you have to go through traffic lights and traffic jams; not to mention that there is always a good chance of getting lost in a town.

Rural Roads

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Paved rural roads are usually in poor condition and, even though they are in constant repair by the local municipalities which they serve, they remain too narrow for today's driving needs. Much caution is advised as these roads host fast moving vehicles, tractors, and even livestock.

In very remote areas the roads are so narrow cars have to stop to let the oncoming traffic pass. Rail guards are usually not present and such roads often climb impossible passages through steep mountains. When traffic is heavy, these roads are very treacherous, but when you are the only one on the road, driving is a joy.

The pain of driving on these roads however is balanced by the chance of finding a pristine part of Greece, where the crowds don't venture.

Very often such roads take drivers through some of the most spectacular scenery of Greece. In a way, the joy of the landscapes is lost on closed highways where the scenery is often obscured, and it goes by the windows too fast to enjoy. Rural roads allow travelers to become one with their car, the road, and the landscape.

They offer the opportunity to derive pleasure not only by the destination, but also by the trip itself. At the right moment, they can transcend a mere trip to a rewarding voyage, and experienced travelers know that a journey can be a destination in itself.

An experienced traveler knows that a destination is often a mere excuse for a journey.

"Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean."

Konstantinos Kavafis, Ithaka


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