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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greece on a budget

Tips for budget tourism in Greece

Every year millions of people choose Greece as their holiday destination. The aim of this article is to give advice to independent travellers who wish to spend some time in Greece and the Greek islands on a budget. Of course, if you prefer, there are always the cheap package holidays on some of the larger Greek islands. Some of these packages are known amongst the locals as ‘bracelet tourism’ due to the fact that guests from those hotels, included in the package holiday, are required to wear coloured plastic bracelets in order to have free access to the bars, tavernas, and restaurants within the hotel.

However, for the independent traveller, there are many ways to save money during your summer holiday in Greece if you just follow some simple rules regarding transport, accommodation, eating, drinking and shopping.

The first point to make is that small islands and islands off the beaten track are usually cheaper than the more touristy islands where the bracelet tourism exists.

Travel is probably one of the major expenses on your holiday, especially air travel. Many Greek islands now have their own airports with some of the larger ones having several charter flights a day arriving from many parts of Europe. If your holiday island is a small one with a tiny airport offering only one or two flights a day, you will probably find it cheaper to fly to a neighbouring island that has a larger airport and then taking a boat to your holiday destination. Pre-book your flights as soon as details are available (usually around December) so that you can pick the best-price dates to travel. Waiting to book tickets until a few weeks before you intend to go is much more expensive and can sometimes be double or triple the price than pre-booking months ahead.

Sea transport is another area where the fares can vary considerably. The slower ferry boats, as a rule, are cheaper than the faster forms of sea travel, such as hydrofoils. Ferry boats offer many levels of tickets, first class, second class and economy (or deck) class, a number of what is known as ‘aircraft seats’ and finally many levels of cabin. The economy /deck class is the cheapest ticket price and each deck provides plenty of seating, cafes and, one some ferries, even swimming pools.

If your intention is to travel around the islands during the peak season, i.e. mid-August, it is strongly recommended that you pre-book your ferry tickets before you arrive as tickets sell out very quickly during this period. Be aware however that ferries are weather-sensitive. If winds are too high they cannot leave. However, you will always be able to take the next available ferry or have a full refund if you decide to follow alternative plans.

Taxis are generally very cheap throughout Greece. Many islands have fixed fares to popular destinations and their tariffs are displayed at the taxi stations. All taxis have meters and you should know that there is always an extra small charge to and from airports, as well as a small charge for carrying luggage. Also, the rate increases on public holidays. To ensure you stay within your budget, it is a good idea to ask the driver how much the fare will be to your destination before you commence your journey. However, the standard prices throughout Greece, with the exception of Athens and other big cities, are as follows: starting price on hailing the taxi is 1.05 euros, and then the cost is 87 cents per kilometre. An extra 3 euros is added for transport to and from airports, whereas to and from ports is 95 cents. 35 cents is charged for each piece of luggage. If a taxi is waiting for you the charge is 9.60 per hour.

Many islands have a good public bus service and the cost of this is very cheap,

Renting cars or motor scooters is another good way to get around. There are always bargains to be found here, especially out of peak season it is always a good idea to bargain around the initial price because prices can often be negotiated, especially if you intend to have the vehicle for a week or more. Smaller cars are cheaper than jeeps, four wheel drives or bigger saloon cars. The same applies to bikes.
The average cost of petrol (unleaded 95) is 1.077 euros per litre. (June 2009) and be aware that the wearing of crash helmets is mandatory throughout Greece, although you will see many Greeks ignoring this rule. However, for your own safety and to avoid having to pay on-the-spot fines if you are stopped by the police, every bike hire shop will also rent you a crash helmet for a minimal cost. Many places also hire out push bikes and in the flatter islands this is another good way to see some of the less accessible places. Finally, of course, if you enjoy walking there is no cheaper, or in my opinion, better way to explore Greece. Much of the mainland and many of the islands have walking maps and clearly marked trails to help you get around. The European walking route of E4 paths is identified by yellow and black striped poles and paint daubs on rocks. Where these are sparse look out for rock cairns left by other hikers. A map is essential for less-used routes. Make sure you have good footwear, a hat and some water. The spring or autumn are the ideal times to do this – when the weather is not at its full summer heat and the flowers or fruit are in abundance.

The second major cost of your holiday will be accommodation. Obviously visiting Greece out of high season is cheaper. The best time therefore to visit in the summer is during May & June or September. Everything is cheaper then and the weather is still beautiful without the heat of high summer. Self-catering accommodation is always a good choice for people travelling on a budget. On landing at any port throughout Greece you will always find people holding notices advertising their studios, apartments or rooms to rent. Rooms will be as varied as their landladies and landlord but you will be pleasantly surprised at the overall high standard of facilities at such low prices , with en-suite bathrooms (showers rather than baths), balconies and washing lines to peg out your washing. Cooking facilities are crucial for the budget-conscious traveller and ‘studio apartments’ often have compact and well-equipped kitchens that gives you the opportunity to make your own breakfast, light meals and drinks which leaves you money to spend on other things. At the very least a studio will provide a gaz ring to brew coffee on, and a frying pan or saucepan. It’s amazing how creative you can be with fresh local vegetables and a few eggs! Consequently, most of these self-catering places do not offer breakfast. A large proportion of accommodation is self-catering today and you should expect to pay perhaps around 5 euros per night more than if you were staying in a basic ‘room’. However, you will easily save the extra cost in one night of home cooking. If you pick a room attached to a taverna, you will be expected to eat there so, for any stop of more than a day, independent rooms are a more economical option.

Most of the hotels, on the other hand, include breakfast in their prices.

The following are some tips to help you find cheap accommodation. If you are travelling out of high season you can always bargain for cheaper prices from those people waiting at the port with rooms or studios to rent. This also applies to hotel rooms. However this is not really recommended during the high season as most places, or certainly the best places, are fully booked in advance during this time. Thus, if you can only travel in July or August it is essential to look on-line as most of the accommodation now have their own web pages with emails and telephone contact numbers. It is still worth trying to bargain prices even in July or August as hoteliers would rather have all their rooms full, even at a reduced cost, than keep them empty trying to get the best price. When agreeing a price make sure that this is the final price as some places charge extra if you use air-conditioning. Most of the official municipality web sites throughout Greece include lists of all available registered accommodation with contact details.

Eating out is a treat that you will want even if you are on a budget. Look for tavernas and cafes that are located in the back streets. These are generally cheaper than the seafront places although you will find good value here too if you look to see where the locals are eating and drinking. All tavernas offer a good selection of starters and salads as well as main dishes and a filling and cheap meal can be had by choosing a selection of starters and/or salads only. Fish can be quite expensive, especially first and second class fish. Try instead marithas (whitebait), squid, sword fish or mackerel which are much cheaper and very filling. Alcohol generally is cheaper in Greece than most European countries. House wines, served in metal carafes are cheaper than bottles, with the exception of the Greek Retsina which is very good value, although an acquired taste. Spirits are a little more expensive but the measures are extremely generous and one ‘short’ could easily last you all evening.

Although you can find pizza everywhere in Greece as a takeaway option, a cheaper and much more authentic Greek fast food experience is souvlaki. Souvlaki bars can be seen everywhere and provide an extremely cheap and tasty meal when you feel you need to ‘pull your horns in a bit’. In the large mainland cities and bigger islands you will see fast-food chains such as ‘Goodies’ and ‘Everest’. Goodies is a very good fast-food chain offering authentic Greek dishes as well as hamburgers and cheeseburgers at great prices. Everest sells pies, pastries and cakes and is perfect for breakfast and snacks.

Shopping is better value away from the main tourist areas. Although mini markets and the peripteros (kiosks) are great for when you run out of essentials at inconvenient times, the larger supermarkets have the best prices. Vegetables and fruit are cheaper in markets or shops that specialise in these products than they are at supermarkets. Be aware that many items are sold by weight – even a slice of cheese can be more than you realise. State your price first. Local wine from the barrel is cheaper than buying bottles if you can find it. Average prices for wine from the barrel is about 1.50 euros for 0,75 litres or a bottle of dry red Apelia or Kampas (1,5 L for 3,60 - 3,90 euro) . Buy freshly ground coffees by the spoonful and small packs of individual teabags. Toiletries can be quite expensive in Greece, this includes things like suntan cream and insect repellent. It is worth always looking for bargains in your home country and bringing these with you in your luggage,

Finally, a few words of Greek make a difference. Showing respect and cultural interest opens doors everywhere. Even if you are not fluent, learn a few courtesies and the response you will get from the hospitable Greeks will ensure your holiday is one to remember.


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