What it’s like visiting the Greek islands right now
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On 14 May, Greece reopened its borders to tourists. Now that the U.K. government’s travel ban has ended, you might be planning a summer holiday. While Greece is currently on the amber list, remember that if you’re fully vaccinated you do not need to self-isolate on your return from an amber country.
This essentially turns Greece into a green country if you are fully vaccinated.
Earlier this summer, I spent three weeks in Greece, a week each on the islands of Kos, Paros and Naxos. Here is what you can expect travelling to Greece right now.
I flew British Airways to Kos airport (KOS) — you can read about that experience here. To enter Greece from the United Kingdom, the European Union or the United States, you will need to present a Passenger Locator Form (PLF), completed no later than 11:59 p.m. (local time Greece) of the day before arriving in Greece, as well as one of the following:
- Negative COVID-19 PCR test, undertaken within the 72-hour period before arrival into Greece; or
- Proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test from an authorised laboratory, undertaken within the 48-hour period before the scheduled flight; or
- Proof of two COVID-19 vaccinations completed at least 14 days before travel. Acceptable vaccines are: Pfizer BioNtech, Moderna, Astra Zeneca/Oxford, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, Sinovac Biotech, Gamaleya (Sputnik), Cansino Biologics and Sinopharm; or
- A certificate of recovery from the COVID-19 virus infection issued by a public authority or a certified laboratory; or
- Proof that the traveller tested positive with COVID-19 in the past 30 to 180 days. This can be proved either by presenting a positive PCR molecular or an antigen test result performed by an authorised laboratory or a medical certificate confirming that the holder was tested positive with COVID-19 virus infection.
Children aged 12 and under are not required to provide any test, recovery or vaccination results.
It is critical you complete your Passenger Locator Form at least 24 hours before travel here. You will not be allowed to board your flight if you have not completed this in the required timeframe. Do not leave this until the day of travel. The form takes just a few minutes to complete and you will be emailed a QR code, which is easy to show and scan when asked.
On arrival in Greece, there was a normal immigration check and stamp of passports. Then, passengers proceeded to the baggage claim hall. Before collecting luggage, travellers were directed to a COVID-19-screening desk where the QR code from the PLF was scanned and the test, recovery or vaccination records were checked.
I did not print anything out to present on arrival in Greece and this did not cause any issues — everything could be easily read from my phone screen.
This was all very easy, pleasant and efficient, which was helped by so few passengers on the flight. I was out of the airport five minutes after leaving the aircraft with no checked bags.
What’s open and closed?
It was undoubtedly quiet on the three Greek islands I visited. It was still reasonably early in the season, even at the end of June. July and August are traditionally the busiest months of the year. I purposely avoided Santorini and Mykonos, which I expected to be the busiest Greek islands right now, and I’m glad I chose slightly quieter options.
Locals on the islands I visited admitted it was quieter than usual because of the pandemic. They did note it was busier than for the same month last year, as June 2020 was still so early in the pandemic, and more tourists stayed away amid so much uncertainty.
Possibly Greece’s most famous tourist attraction, the Acropolis, is still seeing far fewer tourists than normal for this time of year. Just don’t expect to have it all to yourself — there will still be some tourists there (visit the minute it opens in the morning to avoid as much of the crowds and heat as you can).
Kos is home to plenty of large, all-inclusive resorts and some had still not yet opened for the season in mid-June, suggesting a worrying short season this year as they will likely close again in September.
On Paros and Naxos, virtually all hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, beach clubs and other shops were open by the time I left in late June. Some were opening for the first time this year when I visited. COVID-19 rules dictate that venues like cafes and restaurants can operate at up to 85% capacity, and all guests must be seated while eating or drinking.
As it is now much later in the season you can expect everything to be open and busier.
I wasn’t seeking raging nightlife, but there are late-night bars open if that is what you are looking for. Patrons were encouraged to remain seated and staff provided table service.
There is currently a curfew in Zakynthos, and the Chania and Heraklion areas of Crete from 1 a.m. until 6 a.m. until 18 August.
The popular party island of Mykonos continues to flip-flop between imposing additional restrictions and then quickly removing them again. Earlier this month, music was banned on the island to dissuade socialising at the party capital of Greece. This was reversed within days following a sharp rise in travel cancellations to Mykonos that were thought to have been made because of the music ban.
Friends who just returned from Mykonos said that island is about as busy as it would normally be in August.
Are masks required in Greece?
There is no longer a legal requirement to wear a mask outdoors in Greece. With the hot weather, I ate every single meal outdoors in Greece and the end of the “masks outdoors” rule meant I could walk to an outdoor restaurant, sit down at a table and enjoy a meal of all that delicious Greek food all without wearing a mask at any time, as it was all outdoors.
If you visit the bathroom during your visit, you should wear a mask. Staff all wore masks, though some were lax with how carefully they covered their noses.
Inside supermarkets, airports, buses and trains, you are still required to wear a mask at all times. As it is very warm in Greece right now and air conditioning on buses is usually not switched on until the bus engine is, I would recommend boarding buses as late as practically possible, as it is uncomfortable sitting on a hot bus with a mask on before the air conditioning is switched on.
You must wear a mask on ferries between Greek islands during boarding and disembarkation, where you will be going into an enclosed space, but you are welcome to take your mask off for your journey when you are sitting outdoors.
Does it feel safe?
For me, it certainly did. With blazing hot sunshine every single day, I was outdoors for virtually all activities beyond sleeping and travelling. Many restaurants only have outdoor tables, so you are guaranteed to be seated outdoors in the fresh air. Hand sanitiser was absolutely everywhere, both at entrances to cafes and restaurants, as well as on most tables when I sat down to eat.
I carried a small bottle with me but rarely needed to use it because it was provided so frequently.
Other tourists were respectful and seemed to be there for the same reason I was — they had jumped through a few hoops to get there and were ready to enjoy a quiet, relaxing and respectful holiday.
If you want to avoid crowds, I would avoid the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, as they are currently busy. Perhaps not as busy as pre-covid times when August would see them absolutely packed with tourists, but if you want to experience the beauty of Greece without the crowds there are plenty of quieter options in Greece right now.
Some restaurants took the initiative to use the reduced patronage to socially space out tables several metres apart, while others crammed tables close together as they normally would.
The consensus seemed to be that if you are outdoors, there’s no real need to socially distance right now.
Remember, you will be spending most of your time outdoors in Greece right now anyway.
With all three islands being very quiet, accommodation prices were lower than usual due to more supply than demand.
Prices for food and drinks were the same as normal. With so many spare sunbeds, most operators were happy to provide beds at no cost, provided a drink or snack was purchased, which I thought was a very fair offer. I noticed on the last few days in late June that some sunbed operators were starting to charge a fixed amount for sunbeds and would expect this to increase as the crowds increase.
Compared with the United Kingdom, Greece is a very affordable destination.
While you might score a cheap flight into or out of Greece with the reduced demand, you can expect normal prices for travel within Greece, whether that is domestic flights, ferries, buses or taxis.
Are tourists welcome?
Absolutely. I interacted with dozens of locals over the three weeks I was in Greece and all were thrilled to see tourists returning and provided wonderful service. Interestingly, Greece has chosen to prioritise vaccinating local tourism staff this summer, so when the topic of conversation led to being jabbed, most locals I spoke to had already been fully vaccinated.
There were very few British tourists in Greece during my time there, an increasing number of Americans and plenty of German tourists, especially in Kos.
The majority of tourists in Paros and Naxos appeared to be Greek and then German, based on the language and accents I heard.
There are a number of wildfires currently burning across mainland Greece and several Greek islands. These have been caused as a result of the worst heat wave in 30 years and very dry conditions.
Some of the hardest-hit areas include Evia, the second-largest Greek island (after Crete), which is north of Athens, as well as mainland areas to the southeast and northwest of Athens. If you’re travelling to Athens, Evia or anywhere nearby you can expect poor air quality and the constant smell and sight of smoke.
Most of the popular tourist destination islands are well south of this area, so you may not notice the impact of the fires in these areas though with the unpredictable weather, more fires could break out across the country at any time.
Travellers should also note that the ongoing wildfire crisis can contribute to hazy skies and poor air quality far from the site of the actual fires. Frequent power disruptions (including at the airport) can also be attributed to the ongoing heat wave and the fires themselves.
Athens airport (ATH) was very busy when I left — both Priority Pass lounges in Terminal A were completely full and not allowing any additional passengers. If the country you are flying to requires a negative test for entry, such as the United Kingdom does, Athens airport has onsite lateral flow testing with results within 30 minutes.
The passengers checking in next to me on my British Airways flight to London (LHR) did not have the correct test to board their flight but were able to take a test on-site without prebooking and had no issues making it onto the flight.
You can expect check-in to take a little longer than usual because of the documentation required to enter some countries, though it was faster than I was expecting. Passport control and security were all a very normal experience — you must wear a mask at all times in the terminal building except when eating and drinking and this was strictly enforced.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Greece this month. The lack of crowds made it very easy to socially distance and I found the entry procedures fair and well-organised. I spent most of my time outdoors, so the limited times when I ducked into a shop to purchase some water or take a bus ride were fine to wear a mask despite the warm temperatures.
Every local person I interacted with was friendly and welcoming and I had fantastic service every day I was there. I’m already planning my next trip to Greece!
Featured image by George Papapostolou/Getty Images
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