Is It Safe to Travel to Greece?

Despite periods of unrest, Greece remains relatively safe

Blue sea in summer, greek islands, Santorini
••• Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

 

Over the years, Greece has had occasional periods of unrest that have led travelers to wonder how safe the country is. 

The bottom line is: There are risks traveling to Greece, including some unique to the country, but the U.S. Department of State does not discourage American travelers from visiting the country. Still, the state department urges travelers to exercise caution and follow certain guidelines to decrease chances of danger.

While the decision to postpone or cancel your trip to Greece is a personal decision, here's some help to assess the pros and cons of traveling to Greece.

Concerns About Greece's Safety

Greece has been the site of domestic terrorist attacks, and the U.S. Department of State says it has reason to believe there are still active (and potentially plotting) terrorist groups in Greece.

Although all European countries could be subject to attack, the state department notes that Greece could be particularly vulnerable due to its coastline and islands, as well as open borders with Schengen zone countries. 

In addition, there has been a Greek financial crisis and related protests and strikes, plus uncertainty about the effect of the governing party.

The state department also notes the following safety concerns about Greece:

  • Strikes and demonstrations are common and they can escalate to violence. On Nov. 17 every year, you can expect to see demonstrations; this is the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising against the military regime.
  • Transportation strikes can affect your flights.
  • Also beware of violent anarchist groups.
  • There have been reported attacks on people who look like foreigners, especially people of African, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or Asian ethnicity. Even Greek authorities have detained black travelers as potential illegal immigrants. 
  • There have been crimes against tourists (such as theft) at busy areas and tourist destinations.
  • Be careful of the (dangerous and often homemade) celebratory fireworks for Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations at midnight on Holy Saturday. 

Does My Travel Insurance Allow Me to Cancel My Trip to Greece?

Whether or not your travel insurance will allow you to cancel your trip to Greece depends on your policy. Many travel insurers allow a cancellation if there is civil unrest in your destination or a region you must travel through. Contact your insurance company directly for details.

Note: If a protest or strike is predicted before you get on your plane, your travel insurance company may refuse to cover your expenses. Make sure you ask if the company excludes any planned incidents. Independence Day (March 25) and Nov. 17 often see protests in Greece. 

A Look at the Risks

Here are some of the risks you may encounter when you visit Greece.

Violence/injury: While TV images can be scary in times of unrest, Greece has a long "tradition" of vigorous civil protest. Usually, no one gets hurt and the violence is directed at property, not people.

Air quality: The police commonly use tear gas in an effort to control protesters.

Tear gas, by its very nature, tends to spread and remains in the atmosphere. Read more about how to limit your exposure if you are in an area that has tear gas in it. One key suggestion: Don't wear your contact lenses if you think you might be exposed to tear gas.

Setting cars or barricades on fire is also common during times of civil unrest. If you are elderly or suffer from asthma or other breathing difficulties in normal conditions, you should consider this factor carefully.

Boredom/disappointment: If the streets are filled with protesters, you can forget going sightseeing and shopping. Staying in your hotel room, however pleasant that room may be, is not what you are going to Greece to do.

Stressful inconvenience: Aside from not being able to get around easily, there may be other travel issues such as flights being canceled or over-booked, taxis being hard to find or get at your location, schedule or route changes, and so on.

Areas to Avoid in Greece

If there is rioting for any reason, these are the areas to avoid.

Downtown metropolitan areas

These areas are often the site of protests. In Athens, avoid the area around Syntagma Square, Panepistimou and the so-called Embassy Row. Unfortunately, this also includes some of Athens' finest signature hotels.

University campuses

Criminals have historically used campuses as refuge, because in the past, police could not pursue protesters onto campus grounds. However, that ban was repealed after reports of criminal activity. Still, the state department warns that demonstrators frequently gather in the Polytechnic University region. The department also warns against Arostotle University. 

Other areas

Other areas the state department warns against include: Exarchia, Omonia, Syntagma Square, Aristotle Square and the Kamara area in Thessaloniki.

Best Spots For a Peaceful Trip in Greece

Avoid any potential unrest and plan your trip to one of these more peaceful destinations: 

  • The Greek Islands
    Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos and Corfu are all good options. On the larger islands, such as Crete and Corfu, there may be some disturbances in the major towns in times of stress, but nothing like what you would experience in Athens or Thessaloniki. If it concerns you, choose a hotel outside of the city centers of Heraklion, Chania, Thessaloniki, Rhodes City and Corfu Town, though the last two are rarely involved in civil disturbances.
  • The Greek countryside
    Places with older populations and spots that are a bit out of the way are likely to be and remain quiet. Nafplion on the Peloponnese peninsula is a pleasant town without a large, unruly student population and it provides a good base for day trips to Corinth, Epidauros and even across the Rio-Antirio Bridge to Delphi.
  • A Greek Islands cruise
    A Greek cruise is a great option, as the ships have the ability to skip a port stop if there are any problems developing. You get the full benefit of sea and sun, and you have mobility in your favor.

Tips for a Safer, Easier Trip

Consider these tips when traveling to Greece:

  • Have a cell phone that works in Greece. Buy a pay-as-you-go phone there if necessary. An innkeeper trying to alert you to a situation may not want to make a pricy international call.
  • Enter your hotel numbers and other important numbers, like sightseeing locations and restaurants, so you can call and ask if they are open, if they are accessible or if there is an alternate route.
  • Travel light. Dragging lots of luggage makes everything harder. Take half of what you think you'll need. 
  • Want a real challenge? Pack light enough to avoid checking luggage. Buy a bag in Greece for souvenirs and check both on the way home.
  • Scale it down. Take the smaller camera. Tear out the chapter of the guidebook that you need or take a digital picture of it and avoid papers altogether.
  • Forget the shoulder bag. Use a small backpack; you may want one with a strong metal grid inside like some of these: Travel Gifts for the Paranoid Traveler.
  • Buy a good map before you go. And keep it with you. If you do find your route blocked, you'll have options and if you call someone for assistance, you can understand their directions better. The Athens map provided by the GNTO office at the airport is excellent, and it's free. A paper map is still the best way to orient yourself without endlessly zooming in or out on a small screen and using up what may be precious battery power. Use your cell phone or another device alongside the paper map for detail.
  • On medication? Have enough with you for twice the length of your trip. Pack one amount in your luggage and one in your carryon. Keep at least a day or two's supply on you in a small pill container.
  • Have a color copy of your passport with you and another copy in your luggage, along with extra copies of your itinerary. Email digital copies to an email account you can access on the internet.
  • Learn a few words of Greek and enough of the Greek alphabet to decipher street signs. It can warm your welcome and at the same time, help you stay on your route, crucial if you have to make last-minute changes.
  • Talk to the Greeks. They likely know what is going on and will be happy to tell you, share their opinions, their politics and their advice.

Plan Your Trip to Greece

Here are some resources to help you plan your trip to Greece: 

  • Find and compare flights to and around Greece: Athens and Other Greece Flights. The Greek airport code for Athens International Airport is ATH.
  • Find and compare prices on hotels in Greece and the Greek Islands. 
  • Book your day trips around Athens