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Backpacking in Greece:
Guide to Greece on a Budget

backpacking in greeceIf there is one thing I know it is how to go to Greece and survive on little money. Not that I do it very often anymore now that I am a responsible family man. But back in my youth, which lasted about 40 years, I used to come to Greece with about a thousand dollars and stay all summer. Times have changed and so has the economy and getting by for a whole summer on a thousand bucks is not that easy though some people can do it through a combination of finding a job that either pays you, feeds you, or gives you somewhere to stay for free or using your credit card and pretending that you are not really spending money.

I remember when I was a highschool student going to the American Community Schools of Athens, when summer vacation would come I would go to Mykonos with about one thousand drachma in my pocket which was about $30 then. We would sleep in caves or on the beach in those days when camping was free. Our meals would be fried potatoes, macaroni with tomato sauce, Greek salads and lots of bread dipped in olive oil. A meal would cost us fifteen drachma, about fifty cents and would include a bottle or carafe of wine, usually retsina. We would go to Mykonos town every night for Souflaki dinner at Alexis or one of the inexpensive tavernas by the windmills, hang out outside the popular bars which even then were beyond our means, and all chip in for a taxi back to Paradise beach. My 1000 drachma would last me about two weeks.

Times have changed and now people as poor as us can't afford the plane, ferry, train or bus to Greece. The book that was once called Greece on $5 A Day is probably up to about $50 or $100. But it is still a popular destination for backpackers and you can still get by cheaply. OK, not thirty dollars for two weeks and maybe not even thirty dollars as day but keep in mind that back in the old days we did not have credit cards and chances are that you do so no matter what, you won't starve and you won't be stuck begging on the streets of Athens for plane-fare home.

Athens on a Budget

The less time you spend in Athens the less money you will spend. Athens hotels are more expensive than most of the islands. There are a few C-category hotels that are reasonable, clean, friendly and located centrally and there are others that are none of those things. I recommend The Hotel Attalos which should cost about 35 euro per person as long as there are at least two of you (and cheaper in the off season when they run specials). This is where I stay when I am in Athens. The Hotel Cecil will cost about the same. The Adams Hotel is a little better located, being right smack in the middle of the Plaka, though it is not as high quality as the Attalos which for the money is a pretty good hotel. The Athens International Youth Hostel is on Victor Hugo Street near Omonia, not the best location but if you want to save money the place is clean and friendly even if the neighborhood is not.

If you are not a youth but still a backpacker you may be better off in a C-category hotel like those mentioned above or found at www.hotelsofgreece.com or www.athensguide.com/hotels.html or by visiting Booking.com's Athens Pages which has all sorts of inexpensive hotels.

You can compare hotel rates at various booking sites at www.hotelsofgreece.com/search

For places to eat you can see the restaurant section of my Athens Survival Guide and if you are on a serious budget you can make a meal out of a souvlaki or two which can be found just about anywhere. Tiropitas and spanakopitas (cheese and spinach pies) are my favorite meal when I want to fill up for less than $2. Yogurt is cheap, filling and healthy and unlike when I was young and came in one flavor (yogurt-flavor) you can get almost any kind of fruit yogurt that you will find in your home country. Of course now it has gone beyond healthy and is just another sugar filled desert (with helpful bacteria). There are some delicious fruit drinks you can find everywhere and they are delicious and filling. I don't know how good they are for you but they sure taste good. Try the peach and the pear, my favorites. Strawberry is pretty good too.

If you stay away from bars and do your drinking in cafes and inexpensive restaurants, your money will go a lot further too. See www.athensguide.com/restaurants.html The souvlaki shops down by Monastiraki are cheap and popular. The restaurants like Epirus in the Athens Central Market are better and even cheaper. The further you get from the tourist areas the less you will pay for a beer or anything else. In cafes the fancier the chairs and decor the more you will pay, but the good thing is that you can hang out as long as you like because that is what everyone does. The Peristeri on Patroou between Apollonos and Metropolis streets has been a travelers hangout since I was a kid. It is still pretty good and reasonably priced. The snack-bar ouzerie Kapni Kareas in a little alleyway by the famous church is a great place to eat and hear some good music at the same time. It's open only during the day. In Psiri The Naxos is inexpensive and authentic and the ouzerie Rebecca is a great place to hang out, drink and munch on some snacks. If it is full try any of the similar places around it.

Familiarize yourself with Athens by getting a street-map, preferably one with a metro-map on it too. Fantasy Travel sent me 1000 of them that you can get for the cost of postage and handling which is $2 from the USA and $3 from anywhere else by writing to GreeceTravel.com/102 Old Pittsboro Rd/Carrboro NC 27510. The Hotel Attalos provides one to all their customers for free.

There are trains and buses that get you to and from the airport. See www.athensguide.com/airport.html Taxis are cheap in Athens and if you have a 6am flight you might think about getting one in advance so you don't miss it. This can be arranged by the hotel concierge or you can go to www.greecetravel.com/taxi .

You have to see the Acropolis, no matter how much it costs so visit www.athensguide.com/acropolis.html

Don't stay in Pireaus thinking you will save time or money. If you stay somewhere near the metro you can get to Pireaus to catch the ferry for about a dollar and be there in less than 15 minutes.

All the info you need about Athens can be found at www.athensguide.com

Greek Ferries

If you are going to any of the Cyclades it is probably not necessary to have a cabin, unless you are taking the late boat to Santorini. Deck class tickets are cheap, usually no more than 15 euro to any of the Cyclades. You can buy them in Pireaus on your way to the boat, unless you are traveling the last Thursday or Friday of July, before everyone in Athens takes their August holiday. Same goes for the Thursday and Friday before Easter. Coming back the Monday-Wednesday after Easter and after the 15th of August is also tricky and you will want to get your tickets in advance. There is another holiday called Agios Pnevmatos which is the saint day of the Holy Spirit and similar to Memorial Day in the USA. It's a moveable feast that tales place sometime in June and people leave the city in droves and come back the same way after the three-day weekend so be forewarned. If you want a cabin or are planning to take the highspeed it is a good idea to book in advance through the agency that is booking your hotels. You can also try one of the ticket agencies in Athens a day or so before you leave but some of them will try to sell you packages you may not want and even tell you that the boat is full so they can send you somewhere else and book your hotels. If you need step by step instructions for getting on the metro to Pireaus and buying ferry tickets and going to an island see www.greektravel.com/lesson1

Greek Island-hopping

People still do this but it has lost a lot of its innocence. Instead of little old ladies greeting you at the ferry with crudely written signs for rooms there are hordes of people waving photos, postcards and yelling. Some are hotel owners or employees, others are professionals who get paid for every person they bring back. It can be an intimidating experience and you can wind up paying more than you planned, to be in a place you don't want to be. For this reason I think it is better if you know which islands you want to visit, to book through a travel agent in Athens and let them know what your budget is from the start. They give you your hotel vouchers and ferry tickets and you have relatively few hassles besides deciding where to eat and where to swim.

For those with sleeping bags and a tent there is a list of campsites in Greece at www.greecetravel.com/campsites. Most campsites in Greece and especially on the islands, are pretty nice with shaded areas to set up your tent, a cafe, a shop that they usually call a mini-market, a restaurant or bar and some have a disco-nightclub. Almost all of them are a few steps from the beach. (By the way if you are looking for The world famous Pink Palace in Corfu the most popular of the student hotel-camping-beach-party complexes Click Here)

C-category hotels can be found for almost any island at
www.hotelsofgreece.com and you can also get them through any of the agencies at www.greecetravel.com By nature they will first offer you the more expensive ones but if you tell them you are looking for budget accommodations right off the bat they won't waste their time or yours and let you know what are the best hotels for the money. In the off-season you can also get good deals at higher category hotels from the agencies, especially if they have commitment for the rooms because they will have paid for the rooms for the season and if it is empty they won't make any money on it but they have still paid for it. When you know which island you want to visit ask them which hotel they can give the best deals. Try Fantasy Travel who usually have several hotels on the popular islands. www.fantasytravelofgreece.com

Also check www.hotelsofgreece.com for apartments, rooms, and houses which are available on many islands as well as Booking.com's Greece Page.

Keep in mind that those islands you have heard of are usually those that everyone has heard of and prices can be higher. However there are more accommodations which means during the off-season and slow summers you can find deals that are comparable to the remote and inexpensive islands. Also keep in mind that just because you have never head of an island that does not mean it will be cheap. There are islands that few tourists visit that are holiday destinations of Athenians and the prices reflect this.

Aegean Thesaurus Travel on the island of Sifnos works with a number of C-catagory hotels on different islands, Athens and on the mainland. You can visit their website at www.greecetravel.com/aegean or you can use this form to request their rates for hotels on whatever islands you want to visit. be sure to mention in the comments section that you are looking for budget hotels.

For more information on the Greek Islands see www.greektravel.com/greekislands Most young people include Ios in their itineraries and also Santorini which is right next door so see www.greektravel.com/greekislands/ios and www.greektravel.com/greekislands/mykonos

Mainland Greece

There are buses in Athens that go pretty much everywhere though in some cases you may have to change to a local bus. You can even take buses to Corfu, Cefalonia, Zakynthos and Lefkada. Buses are clean and well kept and usually privately owned. Most have air-conditioning if not all of them.

The trains go north to Thessaloniki with a couple spurs that shoot off to Pelion and Meteora. The Peloponessos Train is a narrow gauge train that goes to Corinth, Tripolis, Kalamata, Patras and a few places in between. Train fare is inexpensive and you will find yourself accompanied by many Albanians, refugees, Gypsies and poor villagers and even a few back-packing tourists. The train stations for both the Peloponessos and the train to Northern Greece are easy to get to from Omonia. Walk down Agios Konstantinos Street and when you get to Kariaskakis Square take a right and walk a couple more blocks. The first station you will see is the Northern Greece line and the Peloponessos Line is behind it. You can also get the Peloponessos train from Pireaus which is very helpful if you are coming from or going to Patras and the Greece-Italy ferry boats, because you can by-pass Athens if you like. The Pireaus station is right next to the Metro Station across from the ferries.

You can find the bus routes to the terminals at www.athensguide.com/schedules/terminals.html You can find schedules and other helpful info at www.athensguide.com/schedules

Travel agents offer tours to many popular places on the mainland which are usually affordable. See Fantasy Travel's Organized Land Tours for an example
If you are traveling with three other people it is just as cheap to hire a taxi. See
www.greecetravel.com/taxi

These mainland pages should be helpful:
www.greecetravel.com/peloponessos
www.greecetravel.com/delphi
www.greecetravel.com/pelion
www.greecetravel.com/meteora
www.greecetravel.com/olympia

Packing for Greece

If you travel light you will be a lot happier. I use a small backpack that can fit in the overhead luggage on the flight over and it has wheels too. You don't need a lot of clothes because during the day you will be wearing shorts and a bathing suit and if you rinse them at night they will be dry by morning. The sun shines every day and you can wash your clothes and hang them out and they will be dry in a couple hours. You don't need a load of books because you are afraid you will be bored. Just bring one or two and you can jettison them when you finish and find another in the hotels because that is what everyone does. A good guidebook is helpful. Lonely Planet is what I use but equally good is Frommers, Fodors, or Rough Guide and I am not just saying this because these are the guidebooks that recommend my website. (well maybe I am but they are all good). You can order them through my books page

Getting to Greece

See www.greeceflights.com for inexpensive flights rom the USA. From the UK look for deals from Easyjet and Ryan-Air and check the travel ads for charter companies that are trying to fill seats and are offering good deals through bucket-shops. If you are coming from or through Europe by train just get to Brindisi, Italy and go deck on the ferry to Patras. That's the cheapest way to get to Greece. Then take the bus to Athens. It's faster than the train, but the train will take you all the way to Pireaus if you want to skip Athens and go straight to the islands.

All this information and more is covered in my Athens Survival Guide and at www.greecetravel.com and you can e-mail me for more info or specific questions.

Not to discourage you from striking out on your own and dealing with the ferries and buses and cheap hotels in search of an inexpensive holiday, but there are packages available which include hotels, ferries, transfers, tours and breakfast to some of the most popular islands in Greece for as low as 62 euro a day per person. For more info see www.greecetravel.com/budget-travel

Help Support Matt's Greece Travel Guides 
Do you enjoy using my site? Have you found it entertaining as well as useful? If so please show your appreciation by booking hotels through the travel agencies and the links found on my
Greek Travel Agents Page. The small comission I make on the bookings enable me to keep working and in most cases you won't find them any cheaper by searching elsewhere. You can also book at Booking.com's Greece Page and they give me a small percentage on each booking.