Greece is the first foreign country where I’ve sat behind the wheel and taken to the roads in a rented car. I could have possibly picked up an easier country to start from.
From exhilarating views from the top of snaky mountain roads to flatlands with mountains in the view, Greece has a stunning landscape to drive through. Number one perk of having a car versus taking the bus: you can stop whenever to take in all the majesty of the Greek countryside. Then again, driving in the country where every other driver is a loose cannon and a wild card, driving can get scary sometimes, especially if you’re from the punctual, bureocratical Finland where pedestrians will wait for the lights to change to cross the road even when there are no cars in sight.
Thinking about renting a car in Greece? Do it, but you should be aware of a few small things first.
Other drivers on the road are crazy.
I guess “crazy” is sort of a strong word… But gosh dangit, in Finland we have this thing called traffic rules. When you get on the road in Greece with your car (or a motorcycle), it is best to assume that every other driver out there is a six-year-old who accidentally found out how to ignite a car. I don’t mean to say that all Greek people are bad drivers, but a lot of them are, and for your own safety it is best to keep your eyes peeled and your mind alert. Driving is easy anywhere. It’s everyone else in the traffic that you need to watch out for.
Greece is one of the countries with the highest road fatality rates in Europe. I was alerted to the reality of things within the first half hour on the road as I drove by a motorcyclist that had apparently crashed onto the back of a car. Accidents happen because a lot of the drivers are reckless; they don’t follow speed limits, they don’t use indicators, and they are eager to overtake you if you’re cruising two km/h slower than they do. I guess this is all related to the macho culture that is still very prominent in the country.
There might even be drivers out there that have never officially taken the driver’s test. From the current state of Greece we all know that they have some serious problems with corrupt politicians, and apparently bribery can even get you a driving licence
Before I left for my trip, I read few articles suggesting that I should adopt a similar aggressive driving style that my fellow Greek roadrunners practice – otherwise I would forever be stuck in junctions. I’d strongly advice against it. If in doubt, slow down. You will get a few frustrated honks from that car behind you before they impatiently overtake you from the shoulder side, (screw you, random driver who scared me with this trick) but you will get honked at no matter what. And most Greeks I met were friendly, wonderful people, and there will always be someone who will give you way if you look lost. I never thought anyone driving a Mercedes-Benz would be polite and give way to a nearly hysterical girl in a Smartcar, but in the land of insane drivers I even encountered that gem.
The national speed limit in Greece is 90 but the guy who was responsible for putting up road signs in the country must’ve been drunk or just paid way too little since a lot of times the driver will not be informed when the speed limit has changed. You’ll be doing 60 on a straight road, just minding the last speed sign you saw, while the Greek blast by with madness in their eyes. Apparently you’re back on the national speed limit, but how would you know when there was no signs advising it?
In Greece you drive as the road goes. If it’s a good road, you step on it; if it’s a curvy mountain road with imminent death on the other side, you step on it a little less. Speed limits seem to be more like suggestions to the local drivers and good ol’ law-abiding citizens like yours truly will receive dirty looks and blinks of wonder for going the assigned speed limit.
But what did they do to all those signs that they didn’t feel like putting up? They put them in other places, apparently. In junctions you will encounter clusters of road signs, sometimes giving mixed signals and you’ll just have to Sherlock Holmes which signs are meant for you. Such is life in Greece.
Watch out for animals!
From bees to cows to freaking tortoises crawling across the road, you will have to keep your eye out for animals of any kind. A few weeks ago I wrote about the stray animals in Greece, and oh man, they aren’t only a problem in the cities but also on the countryside. Cats will casually jog across main highways like they don’t even care, and quite often they get hit, unfortunately. In my opinion dogs are worse, though. Some of them will happily give way to you after they see you coming (or you lay a worried honk on them), but others will straight up attack the car. Wtf, stray dogs of Greece? I am trying not to run you over but apparently you’re suicidal or you just think you can really take on a Smartcar. Dogs, I’ve got some bad news for you.
If you’re an animal lover, brace yourself for the most gruesome roadkills you’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog severed in half before, and I don’t think I want to see that again.
Tuck in your side mirrors.
If you look at Greek cars, most of them are full of dents and scratches that are just not worth fixing because someone else would just bump your car again the next week. The streets in the cities are narrow and parking is tight, so it’s not impossible that someone would accidentally damage your parked car. Make sure your insurance covers damages done in these types of situations, otherwise you might get stuck up with a hefty bill.
In Greece I drove a Smartcar, and as ridiculously looking and laughably inefficient as they may be, I was happy I was driving a tiny car when I got to the towns. I didn’t drive in Athens – and I don’t think you should, either, since public transportation will take you anywhere – but especially on the mountains you can’t avoid driving through smaller towns. The most intense moments of my life were those ten minutes that I spent slowly sliding the Smartcar along the tiny high street of a resort just before Delphi. On most parts the parked cars, garbage bins and the general architecture made the two-way street suitable for just one car to go at the time, and when you passed them, you couldn’t put an inch between cars – that’s narrow the street was.
The Greek parking culture is one thing that makes driving in towns and cities even more, er, entertaining. Cars are parked everywhere and anywhere. Lots of people walk on the streets, making the traffic even more dangerous, because the sidewalks might be taken up by parked cars. This is also what’s to be expected if your accommodation has listed “free parking” under their facilities. Most of the time it will just mean parking on the street in front of the place. Oh, and don’t get alarmed by those flashing hazards – in Greece they seem to mean ‘hold on, I’ll just get a cup of coffee from that café over there, run to the store and chat to my friend about our families for a few hours!’
“Of all the roads you take in this life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” …But not when you’re driving a Smartcar.
Greece has got a lot of private roads, so if you move along the toll roads, the cost of your trip will soon hitch up to astronomical costs. The price of a single toll ranges approximately from 0,40 e to 3,80 e, but they quickly built up. A couple I met on Mount Olympus said that they had paid over 50 euros in toll fees to get from Athens to the mountain. Sure, the toll roads are in better condition than the public roads and therefore faster, but if you’re broke like me, you’ll rejoice to know that it is, indeed, possible to go around them.
Ben and I navigated using a GPS that was set up to not take us onto toll roads, and most of the time it did a wonderful job. However, if you can, check out the roads you’re going to take beforehand, or at least have the bravery to turn around and join a toll road for a while if things get salty. On our second day of driving, the GPS diverted us from the toll road onto a smaller road that took us through two puddles and a steep rise onto a road that didn’t exist. They were obviously still in the process of building a road there, and as soon as the GPS realised it, it suddenly decided to be lost like a sulking teenager that can’t admit that they were wrong. Luckily a Greek construction worker that didn’t speak a word of English pointed us out onto another puddly path that eventually led us back onto the road, but I will forever have nightmares about those scrunches that the mounts of earth caused as they scratched against the bottom of the car. On the way back we took the toll road around that point and ended up paying a hefty toll of 45 cents.
Greece is also a surprisingly mountainous country, which means you will most likely spend a lot of time on snaky, winding mountain roads. As handy as a Smartcar is in towns, it does not perform well on ascends; I burnt so much petrol pushing that car uphill on the second gear. At least going downhill is easier.
Roads on Greece are also not in great condition in all places. Even highways might be filled with spring-wrecking potholes and uneven ground, so that’s another thing to keep an eye out for on the road. You will find a lot of sharp turns as well, but mostly those were advertised very well with ample road signs.
Getting a car costs (duh)
The cost of petrol in Greece varies a little from place to place, but mostly it didn’t seem to be much cheaper than in Finland and I’d imagine in other European countries. Smartcar has got a really small tank, and even when it’s very efficient with it’s mileage, it does use a lot of petrol.
Insurancewise, I can’t recommend highly enough that you get the best possible cover that leaves you no excess for all the reasons I’ve mentioned in this post. Make sure that the insurance covers damages to a parked car as well as damage to the bottom of it, the windshield and the interior. Ask your rental provider for their insurance. I made the mistake of purchasing insurance through a third-party provider when I booked the car online and ended up paying 50 euros for an insurance that only would have covered damages in accidents on the roads.
It’s worth your while shopping around for the best deals because the rental prices vary hugely by car and by company. I booked through Goldcar and even though it’s impossible to judge their quality based on just one rental, I can’t complain at all. Their service was friendly, the insurance covered everything and their prices were notably cheaper than with some bigger brands. I paid around a hundred euros for a rental for a week with them, which I think is very reasonable.
Another thing to take into account are added fees that you have to pay on top of your rental price. Such fees include petrol deposit (which you get back if all goes well), second driver’s fee and young driver’s fee. Since Ben doesn’t have a licence and I’m only 22, we had to pay about five euros a day more. I noticed that this fee might vary between 5 and 12 euros per day, so if you’re under 25 and renting a car, you can save some serious money by booking with the right company.
Oh, and did I mention that young drivers only get the smaller, cheaper cars? Hence the Smartcar. I think I laughed out loud when I realised I would have to drive one around for a week. I think they’re ridiculous. (But I might have got a little bit attached to that loyal little beats by the end of the week…)
All in all, I highly recommend renting a car in Greece if you can. The experience of cruising through mountains and fields is liberating. Driving yourself means that you have the freedom to decide when to leave and where to go, deviate from the route and come back on it, stop for a lunch at a cute roadside restaurant or for a picture of a breathtaking landscape… As scary as it was at times, I feel like driving in Greece gave me a lot more confidence as a driver and actually made me better behind the wheel.
Have you got any experiences driving abroad? Are you a fan of roadtripping?