Over the years, Greece has had occasional periods of unrest that have led travelers to wonder how safe the country is.
The bottom line: There are risks in traveling to Greece, including some unique to the country, but as of April 2020, the U.S. Department of State does not discourage American travelers from visiting the country and urges travelers to exercise normal precautions.
Concerns About Greece's Safety
Greece has been the site of many domestic terrorist attacks. In addition, the U.S. Department of State warns of the potential of transnational terrorist attacks in European countries. The warning indicates that all European countries are potentially vulnerable to terrorist attacks focused on public areas where tourists and locals may gather and provides detailed safety information to help tourists avoid becoming an opportunistic target.
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.
- Beware of violent anarchist groups. Some use university campuses as a refuge. They may join in with peaceful demonstrations which then turn violent.
As in many European cities, there are warnings about crimes targeting tourists. The U.S. Department of State urges caution in Greek cities as crimes like pick-pocketing and purse snatching are known to take place in tourist areas, on public transportation (especially the Metro), and in Thessaloniki shopping areas. Car break-ins have been reported and the U.S. Embassy has received reports of alcohol-related attacks targeting individual tourists at some holiday resorts and bars.
Be careful, also, of the dangerous and often homemade celebratory fireworks for Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations at midnight on Holy Saturday.
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 Embassy Row. Unfortunately, this also includes some of Athens' finest hotels.
University campuses: Violent anarchist groups have used campuses as a place of refuge and so the State Department warns that demonstrators frequently gather in the Polytechnic University region. The department also warns against going near Aristotle University.
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. If there are demonstrations and tear gas is used, that can affect the air quality of the immediate area. If the streets are filled with demonstrators, you can expect closures and transportation difficulties. Needless to say, sightseeing will be curtailed.
Spots For a Peaceful Trip in Greece
The large Greek cities are the most affected by demonstrations and strikes. Avoid the big cities 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 remain quiet. Nafplion, on the Peloponnese peninsula, is a pleasant town providing a good base for day trips to Corinth, Epidaurus 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 and 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 pricey international call. Enter your hotel numbers and other important numbers in your cell phone, 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. Keep your cell phone charged and have a backup power source.
- Travel light and smart. Dragging lots of luggage makes everything harder. Take half of what you think you'll need. 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.
- 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.
- Take enough medication with you for twice the length of your trip. Pack one amount in your luggage and one in your carry-on. 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 via the internet.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier for the American Embassy to locate you in an emergency.
- 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, which is 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. Keep tabs on things by reading English language newspapers, watching the local news station and asking questions at your hotel.
Travel Insurance and Trip Cancellation
If you become aware of unrest in Greek cities or develop concerns, you may decide to cancel your trip. Whether or not your travel insurance covers you if you cancel 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. And remember: Independence Day (March 25) and Nov. 17 often see protests in Greece.