Greece has reopened — but here’s why you should wait to go

Apr 23, 2021

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On a recent Monday, I was enjoying an uncommonly quiet afternoon working from my home in New York home when I got an urgent Slack message from my editor.

“Do you have a ‘go’ bag? We’d love someone to get on a plane tonight and head to Greece,” the message read.

As a travel reporter at TPG, this type of inquiry isn’t entirely uncommon. I’d taken spur-of-the-moment work trips to Miami and West Africa, for instance, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Putting aside my surprise, I hurried to pack a bag, look up flights and hotels and clean my apartment. I confirmed a sitter for my dog, Migo, located my passport and made sure I had my COVID-19 vaccination card. I was frazzled but almost ready to hop on a plane to Greece.

Just minutes later, however, the trip was put on pause (and not just because I didn’t have my suitcase packed).

Here’s why we cancelled the trip — and why you might want to wait to travel to Greece, too. (Note that England remains under lockdown where all non-essential travel is still restricted. Travel may be permitted again from 17 May at the earliest.)

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Greece is open, but …

Athens, Greece (Photo by Sven Hansche/Getty Images)

Residents of the United States, the European Union and the Schengen area are now permitted to enter Greece. But though the country is welcoming visitors, it doesn’t mean anything else in the country is open, as we quickly found out.

Greece remains under a pretty strict lockdown — in place until further notice — to fight the ongoing coronavirus threat. The nation has recorded more than 320,000 positive COVID-19 cases and nearly 10,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

Authorities announced a nationwide 24-hour movement lockdown, and a curfew is in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Travel outside is only permitted for essential reasons, such as urgent appointments or medical concerns, and people who have to travel outside must send an SMS message announcing their departure before leaving home.

Additionally, many businesses are still closed and activities are on hold; gatherings are banned; and restaurants are only open for delivery or takeout.

And even if I had been content to spend my first trip to Greece sitting at a hotel, ongoing testing requirements may have made the trip unfeasible.

(Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I’ve been fully vaccinated since March, which makes travelling slightly less restrictive and confusing during the pandemic.

All travellers over the age of 5, for example, must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test to enter Greece — unless you’ve been vaccinated and it’s been more than 14 days since your final dose.

However, I would have likely still needed a negative COVID-19 test to transit through certain countries en route to Greece.

For instance, I was initially looking at routing through Amsterdam (AMS). But travellers transiting through the Netherlands from high-risk countries (which includes the U.S.) must have a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

And with only four hours before I’d need to head to the airport for my flight, there simply wasn’t enough time to get a COVID-19 test — even a costly rapid PCR test.

There was also the added complication of trying to find a testing facility once in Greece, as travellers flying back to the U.S. still need to have a negative test taken within three days before departure.

Basically, I might have spent all my time in Greece under lockdown at a hotel and searching for a COVID-19 test.

Bottom line

Travellers are understandably excited about Greece’s reopening — myself included. But you’re planning to visit in the near future, know that you’ll have a hard time finding things to do beyond your hotel or resort.

Restaurants remain closed, except for takeout, and archaeological sites aren’t yet open. Not to mention the strict lockdown and curfew that remain in effect. I don’t know about you, but that could make for a pretty stressful Greek holiday.

While Greece is, technically, open to travellers, if you’re hoping to immerse yourself in Greek culture, you may want to put your trip on hold for a little while longer — until the lockdown is over.

Featured photo by George Papapostolou / Getty Images

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