Before you hit the road on your ultimate Greek vacation, it's important to understand the subtle differences between driving laws in Greece and in other countries, including the United States. Some things that might be allowed in other places, such as using your cell phone and even honking your horn, are discouraged and even illegal while driving in some places around Greece.
Fortunately, though, many of the rules and regulations that govern operating a motor vehicle are similar to those in the rest of the European Union, so once you understand Greek driving laws, you'll be ready to travel almost anywhere in the region.
Unless you're a member of the European Union, you'll need to acquire an International Driver's License (IDL) before you rent a car in Greece. If you plan to drive your own car, you need a valid registration and proof of internationally valid insurance (check beforehand with your insurance company) in addition to your IDL.
However, while operating a motor vehicle in Greece, a recognizable photo license is usually accepted by most police officers. State licenses from the United States have been readily accepted in the past, but we recommend having an IDL as a handy second form of identification anyway.
No matter where or what you drive, you need to be at least 18 years old to operate a motor vehicle in Greece. And if you have planned an extended trip to Greece and stay for more than six months, you'll need to follow the steps to convert your U.S. license to a Greek license in order to drive while you're abroad. Failure to obtain a Greek license even if you are there temporarily can result in stiff penalties.
Checklist for Driving in Greece
- An International Driver's License (required)
- Proof of insurance (required)
Rules of the Road
While many of the laws and regulations governing driving are the same in Greece as they are in much of the EU and the United States, Greek driving laws do have some slight variations.
- Using the horn: Technically, using your car horn is illegal in towns and urban areas except in the case of emergencies. However, on high mountain roads, make a short beep before going around a blind curve to alert any oncoming traffic of your presence.
- Parking: When in urban areas, parking is forbidden within 9 feet of a fire hydrant, 15 feet of an intersection, or 45 feet from a bus stop (though this may not be marked). In some areas, street parking requires the purchase of a ticket from a booth. These areas will usually be marked with signs posted in both English and Greek.
- Seat belts: Seat belts must be used by front-seat passengers. However, since Greece has a high accident rate, backseat riders may also want to buckle their seat belts.
- Children: Passengers under the age of 10 years old cannot sit in the front seat. Additionally, children under 3 years old are required to use a car seat.
- Speed limits: Typically, urban areas have speed limits of 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) while non-urban roads have a speed limit of 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour), and freeways and expressways have speed limits of up to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour).
- Toll roads: The two special roads (like freeways) called Ethniki Odos, the National Road, do require tolls, which vary depending on the type of vehicle and can be paid in cash or debit/credit card. There is also a Fast Pass system. Toll booths are also found on the main road running between Athens International Airport and the city center.
- Cell phones: It is illegal to use your cell phone while driving in Greece. Violators can be stopped and issued a fine. Periodic crackdowns are driving this point home.
- Roadside assistance: The Automobile and Touring Club of Greece (ELPA) offers coverage to members of AAA (Triple-A), CAA, and other similar assistance services, but any driver can contact them. For quick access to ELPA while in Greece, dial 104 or 154 on your phone (while not driving).
- Tickets: Moving violation and parking tickets are rather expensive, often costing hundreds of euros each.
- Driving side: Drive on the righthand side of the road as you would in the United States.
- In case of an emergency: For visitors to Greece, dial 112 for multi-language help. Dial 100 for Police, 166 for Fires, and 199 for ambulance service. For roadside service, dial 104 or 154 for ELPA.
Driving in the Middle of the Road
Driving in the middle of the road is very common in Greece, especially on narrow roads, and is not necessarily a bad idea if you are expecting to have to avoid a sudden obstruction such as rockfalls, grazing goats, or an unexpected parked car. However, when navigating sharp mountain turns, you will want to keep to the righthand side of the road and be sure to signal by honking before you make the curve.
Traffic Circles and Roundabouts
Traffic circles and roundabouts are standard in many European countries, but they may be new to many U.S. drivers. These circles serve as a kind of perpetual-motion intersection, keeping traffic flowing without the use of signal lights, which sounds more difficult than it actually is. Basically, traffic within the roundabout has the right of way, but you should slow down as you approach the circle and seamlessly merge into the flow without much of an issue.
Athens Restricted Area
Areas of central Athens and other major Greek cities restrict car access to reduce congestion, based on whether or not the car license plate ends in an odd or even number. While these restrictions do not apply to rental cars, you should be extra courteous to pedestrian traffic when driving in these areas of Athens since locals expect tourists to be the majority of drivers on the roads here.