Driving in Greece

Driving in Greece is not to be taken lightly. Greece has a very high accident rate compared to other European countries and much caution is in order. If you plan to drive while in Greece, read our advice so you are prepared for a safe trip.

Driving in Greece

The roads in Greece vary widely in their quality and state of repair. Most major cities are connected by new wide, multi-lane highways (toll roads), while smaller cities are served by aging, narrow one-lane per direction roads.

To navigate to the most spectacular and remote locations you have to negotiate through very narrow roads, that sometimes turn into gravel patches that can double the estimated time of arrival to your destination.

Greece is a mountainous country and driving in its roads can yield spectacular views, but on smaller roads, it can also cause motion sickness. If you are driving in Greece with passengers prone to motion sickness, or with small children plan to make frequent stops along the way.

Driving in Athens is a different animal, so it has its own dedicated page

The Roads in Greece

The newly built highways are a joy to drive on, while the older road network that includes the so-called national roads will be a source of considerable stress.

The old “national road” network and rural roads connect smaller towns and villages, while narrow paved paths, and dirt roads provide access to more remote parts of Greece.

Multi-Lane Highways – Toll Roads

A network of newly built, European standards toll roads, will allow you travel comfortably and safely from Thessaloniki in Macedonia all the way to Kalamata in the Peloponnese.

The Ionia Odos will get you from Igoumenitsa in Epirus to Patra or border with Turkey in Thrace via the Egnatia Odos, while the Olympia Odos will allow you to drive from Patra to Athens in a couple of hours.

These roads will be the backbone of any trip that requires driving in Greece. They have rest stops and toilets at regular intervals, while their exits serve most major cities along the way.

The flat rate tolls are exceptionally high, so if you are on a budget expect to pay about €35-45 for a 300 km trip.

Old Interstate Highway System

The old interstate system connects most of Greece with paved roads that were built to meet the driving needs more than 50 years ago. They are in disparaging states of repair, and in general you will find them inadequate for today’s cars and density of traffic.

These roads consist of one lane per direction, with only the painted line in the middle to separates cars moving in opposite directions.

Driving on such roads is a real challenge and very demanding for the drivers.

The emergency lane on these old roads is used by Greek drivers as a driving lane, and they expect you do the same. Don’t be surprised if a tailgating car flashes their headlights frantically at you, expecting that you will move over to the emergency lane so they can pass you.

The old interstate system cuts through small towns and villages where you have the speed limit drops from 80 or 90 Km/hr to 50. This is where you will encounter the majority of police speed traps.

Rural Roads

When traffic is heavy, rural roads are very treacherous, but when you are the only one on the road, driving is a joy. Very often such roads will take you through some of the most spectacular scenery of Greece.

Rural roads are usually in poor condition, with fainted lines and unreliable signage.

Even though they are in constant repair by the local municipalities which they serve, they remain too narrow for today’s driving needs. You will need to be extra careful as these roads host fast moving vehicles, tractors, and even livestock.

In 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.

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. 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.

Like a famous poem stated:  “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

Small Town Streets

Driving through towns in Greece could be one of the most stressful part of your trip.

Small town (Argos, Larissa, Ioannina, Edessa, etc.)  streets were built way before cars began inundating them. So, if you drive into the heart of them after 9:00 am when business are open, you can reasonably expect to be stuck in major gridlock.

You will also find that locals are usually very aggressive drivers, intersections tend to be chaotic, and parking on the streets can be impossible to find.

The best approach is to avoid driving into the heart of small towns. Instead, park on a municipal or paid parking lot at the edge of town, and then proceed on foot.

If your map app gives you an option to choose a route that avoids such towns, take it even if it adds a few extra minutes to your trip.

Road Signs in Greece

Road signs are easy to understand since they contain no text and most resemble European signs.

Wearing seat belts is mandatory and at times police check points are setup to enforce the rule.

The vast majority of information and direction signs show the text in Greek and English, so you should have no problems finding your way around while driving in Greece.

Here is the list of all traffic signs in Greece with pictures.

Safety when Driving in Greece

Greece has a very high accident rate compared to other European countries Driving in Greece is not to be taken lightly.

The most dangerous roads are the one-lane roads which connect large cities. On these you will encounter a host large tractor trailers, small cars, older cars, and even smaller motorcycles, all driving at wide ranges of speed.

Driving in Greece, and especially in cities, is like a life-size Tetris game. Cars try to fill every available empty space at wildly different speeds. It would be fun if the consequences of failing were not so severe.

Safety While Driving on Toll Roads

If you have never driven in Greece, you should be extra careful even on these highways. Although the speed limit is anywhere between 100-130 Km/hour for the most part, many Greek drivers violate it by a lot.

Don’t be surprised if you drive sticking to the speed limit and find yourself the slowest car on the road, or if you see cars driving on the emergency lane at half the posted limit.

Despite that, new highways are truly a joy to drive on and your safest/fastest driving option, so whenever you get the chance, budget for the tolls and use them whenever as possible.

Driving on One-Lane Roads

Outside cities on one-late road (including the old “national roads”, you will often find yourself behind a much slower vehicle (truck, moped, farm tractor, etc) that you will need to pass.

In order to pass, you have to cross over to the opposite direction lane for a considerable amount of time. Naturally you have to avoid oncoming vehicles but also you should check your mirrors for drivers who are already passing you at a high rate of speed from your left.

This, and passing on blind curves, are the leading reasons for major head-on collisions in Greece. Be extra patient and avoid passing unless there is ample space and visibility.

You will also be frustrating by how common tailgating is. Many Greek drivers drive as close as possible to the vehicle in front of them so when the rare opportunity to pass arises, they can minimize their time on the opposite lane.

In theory, this makes sense (to the tailgaters), but it’s also a major cause of accidents. Whenever possible, ignore the tailgaters’ fiery gaze on your back and move as far to your right as possible to let them pass when you get the opportunity.

It goes without saying that you should exercise defensive driving at all times on these roads.

Night Driving

If you drive in Greece, and especially on rural roads, you will be surprised at the amount of vehicles that drive with inadequate–and often, non-existent–lighting.

We would advise to avoid driving at night on rural roads. If you must drive at night, be extra alert, and reduce speed to a minimum.

Turning Left when Driving in Greece

When you have to make a left turn and there is no dedicated left-turn lane, you will have to calculate not only the oncoming traffic, but you also the intent of the cars behind you.

As you turn on your blinker and slow down, look in your mirror for cars or motorcycles that close the distance at high speed. They might not have noticed your turn signal, and might have construed your reduction in speed as an opportunity to pass you from your left.

Turn on your blinker way ahead of time, and don’t be ashamed to extend your entire arm out the window pointing to the direction you are turning.

Sharing the Road with Motorcycles and Mopeds

Motorcycles and mopeds don’t stay on their lanes. Instead, they squeeze into any available space, and pass cars in front of them even in the presence of an oncoming vehicle as long as there is enough space to squeeze in.

They calculate if there is enough space on the fly, and with the assumption that the vehicle they pass has checked their mirror, and know they are passing.

It’s a high-risk maneuver that unfortunately is the cause of many serious accidents.

Be extra careful, and don’t veer from your lane. Always assume there is a motorcycle on your blind spot before you change directions!

Drivers License Requirements

Driving in Greece requires you hold a European Union drivers license, or a USA drivers license, which should be accompanied by an International Driver’s Permit.

The International Driving Permit is an official verification and translation of your valid Drivers License into 10 different languages, and they are valid for one year from the date issued.

In the USA, you may obtain an International Driving Permit from your local AAA for $10, or from ATAA. All you need is your valid US Drivers License, the completed application, two passport size photos (often taken on the spot at the AAA office for a fee), and you must be over 18 years old. The whole process takes about 10-15 minutes at your local AAA.

While many online companies advertise that they can issue you an International Drivers License, beware that this is a scam. The only authorized organizations by the US State Department to issue International Driving Permits are the AAA and the ATAA.

Having said that, we have been driving in Greece for years with a valid US Driver’s License, and we have been stopped by traffic police numerous times. Never did they aske for an international drivers permit, and in every case our US drivers license was sufficient (even when issuing a citation).

But in Greece you never know what mood the policeman is when they stop you, so carry an international driver’s license just in case. Not having one carries a fine of 200 Euro!

Speaking of fines, if you do get a ticket driving, you must pay it at the local tax office, which can be a major hustle.

Roundabouts

Absent other explicit signs, traffic entering a roundabout has the right of way in Greece.

The Stick-Shift

If you plan on driving in Greece you should be aware that the vast majority of cars are of the manual transmission variety, and if you are used to automatic transmissions, Greece might not be the place to begin fiddling with the stick.

But it is possible to rent a car with automatic transmission, so look for the option when you make your reservations.

Gas Stations in Greece

Gas stations in Greece are efficient and plentiful, save for the most remote areas of Greece.

They offer a variety of services to travelers, albeit, clean bathrooms is not often on the list of offerings.

All gas stations offer unleaded gas, and diesel and close around 7:00 PM on weekdays, and for the whole day on Sundays.

By law, at least one gas station must remain open in each area at night and on Sundays.

If you are driving in a town desperate for gas during a night or in the weekend, ask the locals to point you towards the one gas station that is open in the town.

Fuel in Greece is expensive and you should factor it into your budget because even with moderate driving it can be a major part of it.

If you are renting a car and have the option of a Diesel car, opt for it even if it costs a few euro more. The savings in fuel over gas-powered cars would be substantial.

The majority of gas stations in Greece are “full service”. Pull up to the pump, and within a few minutes someone will come to fill your tank with gas. Hand them the keys if the gas tank is locked, and tell them how much fuel you wish to purchase.

Very rarely the gas station attendant will provide more service than filling your tank (and rarely, washing our windshield), and you are not expected to leave a tip.

Every gas station offers a free air pump and water for your use.

The great majority of gas stations are attached to a mini market where you can buy auto accessories, water, food, drinks, and snacks.

In large urban centers it is possible to find some self-service gas stations, but they are far and few in between.

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