Money & costs
Prices have rocketed since the adoption of the euro in 2002 and, although they appear to be levelling off, Greece is no longer the cheap country it once was. While tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants continue to deliver hearty meals for low prices, eating out anywhere more upmarket has become a pricey venture. Accommodation has also skyrocketed, making many of the budget options not really worth the price and many of the midrange options appearing much more worthwhile.
A rock-bottom daily budget for a solo traveller is about €50. This would mean buses, staying in youth hostels or camping, and only occasionally eating in restaurants or taking ferries. Allow €100 per day if you want your own room and plan to eat out, travel about and see the sights. If you want comfortable rooms and restaurants all the way, you will need closer to €150 per day. These budgets are for individuals travelling in high season (mid-June to August). Couples sharing a room can get by on less.
Your money will go much further if you travel during the quieter months of May to June and September to October. Particularly on the islands, accommodation is a lot cheaper outside high season. You will also be able to negotiate better deals if you stay a few days. Families can achieve considerable savings by looking for self-catering apartments and shopping for food and drink at supermarkets and local produce markets. Travelling by boat can also save money as children under five board for free and you can save a night’s accommodation.
In restaurants a service charge is normally included in the bill and while a tip is not expected (as it is in North America), it is always appreciated and should be left if the service has been good. Taxi drivers normally expect you to round up the fare, while bellhops who help you with your luggage to your hotel room or stewards on ferries who take you to your cabin normally expect a small gratuity of between €1 and €3.
Greece has been using the euro currency since the beginning of 2002, exactly one year after the Greek drachma (dr) went into the euro-currency basket, fixed at a rate of 340.75 dr to €1.
There are eight euro coins, in denominations of two and one euros, then 50, 20, 10, five, two and one cents, and six notes: €5, €10, €20, €50, €100 and €200.
ATMs are to be found in every town large enough to support a bank – and certainly in all the tourist areas. If you’ve got MasterCard or Visa/Access, there are plenty of places to withdraw money. Cirrus and Maestro users can make withdrawals in all major towns and tourist areas.
Automated foreign exchange machines are common in major tourist areas. They take all the major European currencies, Australian and US dollars and Japanese yen, and are useful in an emergency. Note that they charge a hefty commission, though.
Nothing beats cash for convenience – or for risk. If you lose cash, it’s gone for good and very few travel insurers will come to your rescue. Those that will normally limit the amount to approximately US$300. It’s best to carry no more cash than you need for the next few days, which means working out your likely needs whenever you change travellers cheques or withdraw cash.
It’s also a good idea to set aside a small amount of cash, say US$100, as an emergency stash.
Note that Greek shopkeepers and small business owners have a perennial problem with small change. They rarely have any! If buying small items it is better to tender coin or small denomination notes as the seller will inevitably never have any change.
The great advantage of credit cards is that they allow you to pay for major items without carrying around great wads of cash. Credit cards are now an accepted part of the commercial scene in Greece just about everywhere. They can be used to pay for a wide range of goods and services such as meals (in better restaurants) and accommodation, car hire and souvenirs.
The main credit cards are MasterCard, Visa (Access in the UK) and Eurocard, all of which are widely accepted in Greece. They can also be used as cash cards to draw cash from the ATMs of affiliated Greek banks in the same way as at home. Daily withdrawal limits are set by the issuing bank. Cash advances are given in local currency only. Credit cards can be used to pay for accommodation in all the smarter hotels. Some C-class hotels will accept credit cards, but D- and E-class hotels rarely do.
The main charge cards are American Express and Diners Club, which are widely accepted in tourist areas but unheard of elsewhere.
The main reason to carry travellers cheques rather than cash is the protection they offer against theft. They are, however, losing popularity as more and more travellers opt to put their money in a bank at home and withdraw it at ATMs as they go.
American Express, Visa and Thomas Cook cheques are all widely accepted and have efficient replacement policies. Maintaining a record of the cheque numbers and recording when you use them is vital when it comes to replacing lost cheques – keep this separate from the cheques themselves. US dollars are a good currency to use.