Imagine never again being able to slide into the sea and float among the choppy waves, tasting salt water in your mouth and feeling the sun on your back.

For people with mobility issues – from being fully dependent on a wheelchair to get around to needing assistance like a walker or crutches – the sea can be a hard place to access. On the way to the waves, beaches will often have stairs, or pebbles, or long stretches of soft sand (which is hard going even for the physically fit!).  

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One of the most popular summer destinations in Europe, Greece is about to change that with a pledge to make 287 beaches across the country fully accessible to people with mobility challenges. Over 100 beaches in Greece are already wheelchair-friendly.

As well as investing in the Greek-designed Seatrac system to access the water, the government will also introduce better parking, changing rooms, toilet facilities and wheelchair-accessible bars at beaches. Part of the funding for the project is coming from the European Union.

A “beach wheels” chair on a beach in Greece
Greece has pledged to make hundreds of its beaches accessible to those with mobility issues © Tatiana Makotra / Shutterstock

Everyone should be able to access the sea

“Equal access to the sea is an inalienable human right,” tourism minister Vassilis Kikilias said at a press conference in Greece last week, according to Greek Reporter. Now “people with disabilities and people with limited mobility can engage in activities such as swimming that contribute to their physical and mental health,” he explained.

It’s not just people with disabilities who need better beachside facilities: children in strollers, the elderly and pregnant women are among the visitors who will benefit from better accessibility infrastructure such as ramps and better paving in Greece. 

“It’s great that Greece is rolling this out,” says accessible-travel advocate and former accessible-travel manager for Lonely Planet Martin Heng. “Seaside destinations with improved accessibility will not only see more international tourists, they’ll also enjoy a huge jump in revenue from local visitors with access needs and their families.”

Greece has made one of its most iconic sites wheelchair-friendly

With a built environment dating back millennia, many of the incredible landscapes and islands of Greece are still difficult to navigate. Since it hosted the 2004 Olympics and Paralympics, however, Greece has been legislating for better access for all. From wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms and restaurants to added ramps at the World Heritage–listed Acropolis (despite some consternation from archaeology purists), things are changing here.

A ramp for wheelchairs leads to the water at a beach in Heraklion, Crete, Greece
Greece’s Seatrac system will convey those who use wheelchairs safely to the water © GP PHOTOTRENDS / Shutterstock

Ferries can accommodate travelers with mobility challenges

Ferries around Greece are now adapted for wheelchairs, making traveling between islands entirely possible no matter your mobility status. And on the island of Crete, Hania was awarded a “special mention” in the European Commission’s Access City Awards in 2020 for work done to improve accessibility, from widening pavements to improving public transport and parking availability.

But there’s more to be done in the world of aviation

The last piece in the puzzle, of course, is getting to Greece. Disability advocates are still fighting a long battle to see airplanes able to accommodate wheelchairs; currently, only a handful of larger jets have an accessible toilet, accessed via an aisle chair. 

Travelers’ own wheelchairs must be checked in as luggage (with the relatively high risk of being damaged in transit). Smaller aircraft can’t even accommodate large power wheelchairs, which rules out many destinations altogether. For more on the best in accessible travel, check out Lonely Planet’s online resources, compiled and authored by Heng.

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