Driving in Greece

Driving in Greece: Safety first

The roads in Greece vary in their quality and state of repair, with all major cities being connected by nice wide, multi-lane highways, and smaller cities being served by the narrow variety. To navigate to the most spectacular and remote locations you might have to negotiate through very narrow roads that might turn into gravel for large stretches of the trip often doubling the estimated time of arrival you calculated looking at the little red line on a map. Greece is a mountainous country and driving can yield spectacular views, but also it can be a cause for motion sickness. If you are traveling with small children make frequent stops and allow extra time to get to your destination.

Driving in Greece is not to be taken lightly. Greece has a very high accident rate compared to other European countries and much caution is advised. The most dangerous roads are the one lane roads which connect large cities and host large tractor trailers, small cars, older cars, and even smaller motorcycles, all driving at wide ranges of speed. Be extra careful when you pass slower vehicles and have to cross over to the opposite direction lane . There is no avoiding this maneuver on Greek roads especially if you are stuck behind a slow moving tractor trailer on a long uphill for the last 24 minutes. Maybe it's the pressure of 48 Greek drivers tailgating you cursing and waving frantically in your mirrors, maybe it's the need to get to where you are going sometime this century, or maybe it's your own latent Spartan warrior deep down inside who tends to awaken when you drive uphill behind a tractor trailer with 48 Greek drivers behind you, maybe all these reasons will compel you to forget all your ideas about defensive driving and pass the darn truck even if it is the last thing you would ever do.

Another dangerous maneuver in Greece is the dreaded left turn on any road. Chances are good that whoever follows behind you at double your speed is busy lighting a cigarette or fiddling with his stereo all while he is calculating the physics of passing you on the left without hitting the oncoming traffic and analyzing his trajectory to allow his wheels to avoid the two pot holes on the street. Naturally the last thing he has noticed is your left blinker that has been flashing frantically for 5oo meters, or your brake lights that you have been pumping frantically hoping that the driver behind you will notice and finally slow down. After driving in Greece for a long time I have come to the conclusion that turn signals fail in this way one time too often, so in addition to turning them on early, I extend my entire arm out the window pointing to the left for at least 200 meters. That seems to take care of the driver directly behind, but it has no effect on the ones behind him, but, hey, what's life without a little stress.

Drivers License

A European Union drivers license, or a USA drivers license is valid in Greece, and it should be accompanied by an International Driver's Permit.

The International Driving Permit is an official translation of your valid Drivers License into 10 different languages, and they are valid for one year from the date issued.

You can obtain an International Driving Permit from your local AAA for $10, or from ATAA. All you need is your valid US Drivers License, the completed application, two passport size photos (often taken on the spot at the AAA office), and you must be over 18 years old. You can go to your local AAA office, and the whole process takes about 10-15 minutes, or you can obtain your permit by mail.

While many online companies advertise that they can issue you an International Drivers Licence, beware that this is a scam. The only authorized organizations by the US State Department to issue International Driving Permits are the AAA and the ATAA.

I have been driving in Greece for years with my valid US Driver's License, and I have been stopped by traffic police numerous times. Never was I asked for an international drivers permit, and in every case my US drivers license was sufficient.

More information about International Driving Permits from the US Department of State

More information about US Citizens driving in Greece from the US Embassy in Athens

Road Signs

Road signs are easy to understand since they contain no text and most resemble European signs. Wearing seat belts is mandatory and at times police "blocks" are set-up to enforce the rule.

 

The Cars in Greece

The majority of the cars in Greece are new and well maintained thanks to a series of laws that gave people incentives to replace their old vehicles with new, more energy efficient ones. All cars are of the manual transmission variety, and if you are used to automatic transmissions, Greece might not be the place to begin fiddling with the stick.

 

Gas Stations in Greece

Gas stations in Greece are efficient and plentiful save for the most remote areas of Greece and offer a variety of services to the travelers, albeit, clean bathrooms is not often on the list of offerings. All gas stations offer unleaded fuel and close around 7:00 PM on weekdays, and for the whole day on Sundays.

By law, at least one gas station must remain open in each area at night and on Sundays. If you are driving in a town desperate for gas during a night or in the weekend, ask the locals to point you towards the one gas station that is open in the town. The gas in Greece is expensive and you should factor it into your budget because even with moderate driving it can be a major part of it (more about prices in Greece).

The majority of gas stations in Greece are "full service". Pull up to the pump, and within a few minutes someone will come to fill your tank with gas. Hand them the keys if the gas tank is locked, and tell them how much gas you wish to purchase. Very rarely the gas station attendant will provide more service than filling your tank, and you are not expected to leave a tip.

Every gas station offers a free air pump, water, and a squeegee for washing your windshield. The great majority of gas stations is attached to a mini market where you can buy auto accessories, food, drinks, or ice cream.

In large urban centers it is possible to find some self-service gas stations, but they are far and few in between.

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