Information about Greece

Greece is a country in southeastern Europe that forms the southern extremity of the Balkans. It is bordered by the Ionian, Mediterranean, and Aegean seas on the west, south, and east, and on the north by Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Greece encompasses many island groups, including the Ionian Islands to the west and the Sporades and Cyclades to the east, as well as the larger islands of Crete, Lesbos, Rhodes, Samos, Samothrace, Chios and Lemnos, which lie within sight of the Turkish coast. The name Greece is derived from the Latin name Graeci, applied to a people who lived in ancient times in the northwest part of the country.

Greece is predominantly an agricultural country, although less than one-third of its area is cultivated. The country is self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs, and agricultural products make up most of Greece’s exports. Tourism is well developed and is economically important.

Modern Greece came into being in 1830, following a war of independence against Ottoman Turkey. Initially much smaller than it is today, Greece acquired additional territory from Turkey as a result of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and the Balkan Wars (1912-13).


Greece is a mountainous country, with flat land restricted to many small coastal plains. The mountains, which form part of the Alpine system, generally stretch from northwest to southeast. They are highest and most rugged in the northwest, where the Gr‡mmos Mountains rise to 2,519 m (8,265 ft) and the Pindus (P’ndhos) to over 2,285 m (7,500 ft), although the highest mountain in the country (Mount Olympus; 2,919 m/9,576 ft) is in east central Greece. The mountains are interrupted by the long, narrow Gulf of Corinth, which almost cuts off southern GreeceÑthe PeloponnesusÑfrom the rest of the peninsula. But the mountains continue south of the gulf and terminate in the three headlands of southern Greece.

The mountain ranges, extending in the same direction, are continued offshore, and their highest portions appear as the chains and groups of islands that dot the Aegean. The Cyclades continue the eastern ranges toward the Turkish mainland, and Crete and Rhodes are continuations of the more westerly ranges. Both mountains and islands are composed of sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone and sandstone, most of which were deposited during the Mesozoic Era (230 to 65 million years ago). Only near the northern boundary of Greece are igneous rocks significant in the landscape. The largest plains are those of Macedonia, Thessaly, and Thrace, all of which border the Aegean Sea.

The soils of Greece, as Plato noted more than 2,000 years ago, are thin and poor, and over much of the country the bare rock shows at the surface. The only good soils are on the small coastal lowlands. These are mainly alluvial soils, but their productivity is greatly reduced by the long summer drought.


The climate of Greece is typically Mediterranean. Summers are long, hot, and dry. The average temperature in July is 26.7 C (80 F), in Athens, the capital, but is much lower in the mountains. Winters are mild; the average January temperature is 9.2  C (48.5 F). Winter temperatures are also much lower in the interior; in mountain valleys averages are close to freezing, and prolonged frosts may occur. Snow is not uncommon away from the coasts. Precipitation varies greatly. In Athens it averages 394 mm (16 in) annually, but it is much higher away from the east coast and rises to more than 1,200 mm (47 in) in the higher mountains. In all parts of the country rainfall is seasonal, most of it coming in late fall and winter. Only in Macedonia and Thrace is there a significant summer rainfall; almost no rain falls in the rest of the country.


Few rivers exist in peninsular Greece; all are small, and most dry up in the summer. Only those rivers which rise farther north in the Balkan Peninsula and flow through northern Greece to the seaÑthe Vardar and Struma, for exampleÑhave any significant summer discharge. The small size and seasonal character of most rivers is the primary reason for the limited use of irrigation. Of the several lakes within the mountainsÑmany of them in northern GreeceÑmost occupy basins that were formed by the dissolution of limestone.


Naturally occurring vegetation is adapted to the climate and consists largely of xerophytes, which are plants that are able to withstand the summer drought by the storage of water. Spring is the primary growing season, and flowering plants make a brilliant show during this time, before withering under the summer heat. The mountains are mostly clothed with a relatively dense scrub brush (called maquis). Evergreen forests may once have covered much of the land but have been largely destroyed in southern Greece. Extensive forest is found only in the mountains of northwestern Greece, where large stands of fir occur. About 19% of the total area is forested.


Greece is poorly endowed with minerals and fuel. Although some lignite (a soft coal) is produced, no economically significant coal deposits exist. Oil has been found in northwestern Greece and on the floor of the Aegean Sea. The Pinos oil field, off the island of Th‡sos, has been producing petroleum since 1981. Reserves of hydroelectric power are slight because of the small size and seasonal flow of most rivers. Iron ore and bauxite are the most important mineral resources; bauxite is quarried to the north of the Gulf of Corinth, and most of it is exported. Small amounts of pyrites (used in making sulfuric acid), lead, zinc, magnesite, manganese, chrome, and silver are also mined. In most cases the ore is exported for smelting elsewhere.

As an antidote to the usual gushing Greek holiday and travel brochures we offer a more prosaic peek at holidays in Greece and travel in the Greek islands with unbiased reports and independent guides to the best Greek beaches. Our Popular islands list those in greatest demand. They usually have their own airport and plenty of tourist attractions.

The Peaceful islands tend to be off the main tourist trail and, while some have larger airports, others may need a ferry journey to reach them. The Sleepy islands are well off the tourist track and may only be reached by ferry, with some a considerable distance from the nearest large airport. Our Offbeat islands are mainly for those seeking a more remote and authentic holidays in Greece.


Ethnic Groups, Language, and Religion

The present population is derived mainly from the inhabitants of ancient Greece, but there has been a strong infusion of Slavic and Turkish blood. Greek is spoken by about 97% of the population. The modern language is derived from classical Greek of Attica and Ionia and exists today in two forms. The popular, or demotic, form has evolved naturally and has incorporated Slavic, Turkish, and Italian words. The Katharevousa, “pure,” form of Greek has resulted from a conscious attempt to revive ancient Greek. The latter had been taught in the schools and used by the civil service and church until its official demise in 1976 in favor of the demotic form.

The non-Greek population includes a small Albanian community close to the Albanian frontier in the northwest; some Macedonian and Bulgarian Slavs near the northern frontier; and a few Turks, who remained after the exchange of population of 1923. Small communities of Vlachs, a seminomadic people who speak a Romance language, live in the northern mountains.

After World War I, Greece and Bulgaria agreed to exchange their ethnic minorities; about 92,000 Bulgarians left Greece for Bulgaria, and 46,000 Greeks emigrated from Bulgaria to Greece. In 1922 a large-scale exodus of Greeks from Anatolia, followed by a more orderly exchange of populations, occurred. In all, about 1,500,000 refugees came to Greece, and about 800,000 Turks were transferred from Greece to Turkey. Although the settlement of the newcomers presented great difficulties, the country eventually benefited from the resulting increase in economic productivity.

More than 95% of the population belongs to the Greek Orthodox church, which is the established religion of the country. In 1987 the Socialist-controlled parliament enacted legislation confiscating most of the church’s land and placing its other property (except for the self-governing monastic territory of Mount Athos) under lay control.

Demography and Education

Greece is one of the least urbanized countries in Europe and has only two large cities, Athens (with its contiguous port city of Piraeus) and Salonika (Thessalon’ki). Most Greek cities are smallÑeven the well-known city of Corinth had only 28,900 people in 1991. The population has grown rapidly during the past century. Many rural areas have become overpopulated, and there has been a large migration, especially to the United States. Temporary migration by men to work in northern Europe is also common.

Education is free and compulsory until the age of 15, with provision for further secondary education in high schools or in gymnasiums. The literacy rate is slightly below the European average.


The cultural history of Greece goes back to the artists, historians, philosophers, playwrights, and poets of ancient times. Classical Greek culture was probably the greatest formative influence in the development of European civilization. Greek cultural traditions continued through the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods and reemerged in modern forms after the centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire. See separate articles on Byzantine art and architecture; Byzantine music; Greek architecture; Greek art; Greek literature, ancient; Greek literature, modern; and Greek music.


Until 1973, Greece was a constitutional monarchy, but in that year the military junta then in power proclaimed a republic. Democratic rule was restored the following year. Under the republican constitution adopted in 1975, Greece is governed by a prime minister and a cabinet responsible to the 300-member unicameral legislature whose members are elected by universal adult suffrage to 4-year terms. The president, whose duties are largely ceremonial, is chosen for a 5-year term by the legislature.

For purposes of local administration the country is divided into 13 regions, each subdivided into nomoi (“departments”). The nomo’ are divided into municipalities or local administrative areas. A 1997 local government reform sharply reduced the number of municipalities.

Economic activity

Little economic growth occurred during the long period of Turkish rule (1456Ð1830), and when Greece gained independence in 1830, it was a backward, peasant country with no industry above the level of rural crafts. Athens was little more than a large village. Economic growth was slow in the 19th century

. Greece offered little scope for industrial development, having only scanty resources in metals and solid fuels. Economic development began following World War II and was assisted by foreign aid from the United States. Greece became a member of the European Community (now the European Union, or EU) in 1981.

A continuing problem for Greece is its large public debt. This is in part caused by a costly defense establishment related to the country’s chronic strained relations with Turkey. Inability to reduce the public debt resulted in Greece being excluded from the initial phase of the EU single-currency system in 1999, but the country was finally able to join in 2001 (see euro). Greece’s entry into the EU Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in 1998 was accompanied by a 14% devaluation of its currency, the drachma.

Agriculture and Fishing

Agriculture continues to be the most important economic activity. Farming is typically carried on by peasants, who cultivate holdings that are uneconomically small, using old-fashioned, if not primitive, methods. In remote areas plows similar to those represented on classical Greek vases continue to be used. The average size of holdings is less than one ha (2.5 acres), although as some peasants forsake the land, others are able to acquire larger holdings.

A land redistribution program instituted in the late 1950s has also enlarged some holdings. The primary agricultural products are wheat; fruit, such as grapes, olives, and citrus fruit; and industrial crops, such as cotton and tobacco. Greece is generally self-sufficient in bread grains, and large amounts of tobacco and dried grapes (raisins and sultanas) are exported. Rice is grown in some damp deltaic regions, but Greek agriculture in general suffers from a shortage of water during the growing season.

Animal rearing is restricted by a shortage of grass and fodder. Sheep and goats, which can subsist on the coarse grass of the hills, are by far the most numerous farm stock; there are few cattle. Cheese is made from sheep’s and goats’ milk.

Fishing is important around the coast of Greece. Among the fish caught are tunny and octopus, considered a delicacy.


Manufacturing is largely related to domestic agricultural production. It includes canning and drying fruit; wine making and distilling; and tobacco preparation. All these activities are carried out in small units of production. Most factory industries are found near the two large cities, Athens and Salonika. Cement, fertilizers, simple chemical products, and china and glass are made for the domestic market. A small aluminum industry exists, and petroleum refining is important.

Unregulated development in the Athens metropolitan area, which contains about one-third of the population, has contributed to a severe air pollution problem.

Transportation and Trade

Greece has only a skeletal railroad system, which focuses on Athens. The capital city has a subway system, which underwent a major expansion in the 1990s. The main roads that link Athens with the principal provincial centers are well built, and more than 80% of the road system is surfaced. A canal, used by small ships, cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth, linking the Ionian Sea with the Aegean. Greece has a large fleet of merchant ships and tankers that contribute to Greece’s balance of payments but have little relationship to the country’s foreign trade.

Greece has a small volume of foreign trade. Exports consist mainly of fruit, alcoholic drinks, and tobacco. Imports include fuel and manufactured goods. In the 1990s the value of imports has been more than double that of exports, creating a large balance-of-payments deficit. Most foreign trade is with other members of the EU.


Although modern Greece has been an independent state only since 1830, the country has a long and distinguished history. Ancient Greece largely provided the foundations of Western civilization. Early civilizations emerged in the Greek world in the second millennium © and were centered first in Crete and then in Mycenae (see Aegean civilization). Little is known of the following several centuries; the Iliad and the Odyssey, ascribed to Homer, probably date from this period, however.

By the 6th century BC, the Greek world around the Aegean Sea comprised several hundred small, autonomous city-states. Most were little more than village communities, but all tried, within the limits of their resources, to build temples and marketplaces and to create an urban civilization.

Such larger cities as Athens and Corinth succeeded in establishing a highly ordered civilization, and in the 5th century BC, Athens came to dominate the Greek world (see Athens, ancient). This dominance was possible, at least in part, because the territory of Athens was larger and more populous than that of its rivals, and in part because of the prestige and power Athens had earned by successfully resisting Persian invasions. The city-states were weak, however, because they were small and because of their wrangling. In 338 bc they were all overcome by the large and powerful state of Macedonia.

The Hellenistic period, as the age of Macedonian domination is called, was followed by the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 ©. Greece, divided into the provinces of Epirus, Achaea, and Macedonia, remained part of the Roman Empire until the empire’s collapse.

Greece’s great period of artistic achievement was in the 5th century BC, but literary and architectural creativity continued, albeit on a less exalted plane, throughout the Hellenistic period. The Romans themselves showed a deep appreciation of the Greek achievement. (See  Ancient Greece).

About Greece and the Greek islands

Greece is a state in southern Europe, including the lower part of the Balkan Peninsula, the Ionian and Aegean archipelagos and the island of Crete. It borders with Albania, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the nort and with Turkey to the east. Greece it is bathed on the West by the Ionian Sea, on the East by the Aegean sea. The greek islands occupies 1/5 of the entire surface.

Greece like the other states of the Balkan region, it does not represent a homogeneous geographical unit, but a set of minor regional units, albeit not very differentiated.Due to the presence of numerous islands and the marked peninsular nature of the continental part, it is an eminently maritime country. The coasts are very jagged and therefore acquire a very remarkable linear development. The Ionian coast is irregular, with deep inlets, coastal plains and lagoons.

The eastern coasts, facing the Aegean Sea, rocky and steep, have a rather regular trend, excluding the Chalkidiki Peninsula. From the Gulf of Volos, through the Tríkeri channel, a real inland sea develops between Euboea and the mainland, which constitutes an excellent communication route between the northern and southern Greece, that continues westward through the Saronic Gulf and the isthmus of Corinth, cut by the canal of the same name which connects the Aegean and Ionian seas more directly.

Discover the historical Sites of the Greek Gods

Greece is awash with ancient sites that fire the imagination, stir the soul and blow your mind with their sheer immensity. Worship of the all-powerful Olympian gods, aided by the availability of slave labour in ancient times, led to the construction of vast and magnificent temples, sanctuaries and statues on a scale that this world is unlikely to ever witness again.

Wars, earthquakes and various other natural and manmade disasters have tragically led to the destruction of many of these great architectural wonders. But there are still enough remains of Classical Greece to attract eager hordes of visitors from all corners of the globe. You don’t have to be a history or archaeology buff to fall under the spell of these ancient sites where mythology and mystery ooze from the ruins of once-mighty structures fit for the gods.

The Acropolis must be the most famous ancient monument in the world, towering over the Greek capital and still awesome in its majesty despite centuries of damage and the swarms of tourists who simply can’t get enough of it. A trip up to the Parthenon is one of those “must do” visits on the itinerary of any self-respecting tourist passing through Athens. Amid the smog, traffic chaos and modern urban sprawl of the capital, the temple of the goddess Athena beckons irresistibly from practically every corner of this huge city.

The ruins of Apollo’s temple at Delphi, 178 kilometres north west of Athens, are located in one of the most breathtaking mountain settings in Greece – a place believed by the ancient Greeks to be the navel of the earth. Kings, generals and ordinary pilgrims once journeyed here from all over the ancient world to hear the pronouncements of the mysterious Delphic oracle who spoke on behalf of Apollo from her fume-filled cavern.

Meteora in the north western corner of Thessaly has got to be the main contender for the most stunning location of all. Medieval monasteries perch impossibly on shafts of cylindrical rock – an awe-inspiring sight that graces the cover of many a Greek guidebook and wowed moviegoers in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

Mount Olympus in Thessaly was the mythical home of Zeus and his fellow gods and if you happen to be there when one of the area’s frequent thunderbolts strike you might be forgiven for thinking they’re still around. Each summer this beautiful national park attracts thousands of hikers hell-bent on reaching the summit of the highest peak in Greece.

Mount Olympus may have been the home of the gods but it was at Olympia in the Peloponnese that they first pitted their might against mortals in the first Olympic games. Strolling along the track where the athletes competed in the first games in 776 BC is an extraordinarily moving experience.

Popular day excursions from Athens include the archaeological site of Ancient Corinth. Epidaurus, where Greek dramas are still performed in the remarkably well-preserved 4th century BC amphitheatre, is also within easy reach of the capital.

One of the most important archaeological sites in Greece is the island of Delos in the centre of the Aegean Sea. This was the reputed birthplace of Zeus’ twin children Apollo and Artemis and the whole island is a fascinating outdoor museum of temples, shrines and sanctuaries.

 Greek way of life

Visitors to the Greek islands will soon notice that the Greek way of life is quite different from that at home. The first hint will probably be the relaxed Greek attitude to timekeeping. They have a motto – do tomorrow what you can do today – and this easygoing approach to life fits in well with the tourist on holiday.

The unhurried Greek seems to enjoy life and this is nowhere more apparent than at the regular religious festivals when a whole island can turn out to enjoy the street celebrations. Greeks are also very hospitable, especially to strangers.  They have a word for it ‘filoxenia’, althoughit means more than just being friendly.

Literally, it means ‘love of strangers’ and it may result in getting invited to a Greek fam ily celebration and being offered the best food and wine in the house. Greeks ,take great pride in generosity to strangers and it is what can define a Greek island holiday. If you don’t have cash to pay for a taverna meal you will be told to ‘pay tomorrow’; if it rains (unusual) you may be offered an umbrella to return when you are next passing.

Family is also very important to Greek culture.  Sons usually stay at home until they are married. Mothers tend to dote on sons, especially when they are young. Men rarely help with the running of the home and many will be found in the local cafe, especially early in the morning before going to work.

The climate plays its part too. Days start early before it gets too hot and afternoons can be taken up with a siesta from 2pm – 5pm. Greeks will often return to work from 5pm – 8pm. They also eat late – usually after 10pm – and families with children can often be seen enjoying a taverna meal after midnight. In this way the Greeks manage to pack two days into one.

Cost of living for tourists

Greece is no longer a really cheap country – the days of four people renting a house for £10 a week are gone, even on the most remote islands, and EU membership (since 1980) has brought the familiar pattern of spiraling food prices. Still, Greece remains a remarkably inexpensive place to stay in comparison with either Britain, the United States or Australia.
If you camp, hitch most of your transport and buy some of your own food in the shops it should be possible to manage on £4-£5 a day: whilst on £7-£10 a day you could actually be living very well.

Ferries to the islands – the main extra expense are still reasonable. A deck class ticket from Athens (Piraeus) to Chania on Crete will put you back under £50 and for less than that there are dozens of other accessible islands.

Buses and trains – the latter slightly cheaper – are also both extensive and cheap. Athens to Thessaloniki, probably the longest single journey you’d think of making. is only around £55 one way.

A room for two, On most islands, haggles down to around £35 a night; campsites a little more than £15 a person.. A solid taverna meal even with considerable quantities of wine should rarely work out above £15 a head.

When to come to Greece

The best time to come is either late spring (April-mid-June) or autumn (September-October).spring best of all when the countryside’s covered in a wealth of wild flowers and green unimaginable three months later.  Many tourists come in July and August which are also the hottest months  at this time of year is unbearably hot and stiflingly full, as are the boats and buseson all the main tourist routes.

Also in August the Meltemi, or sirocco, wind blows across rete and the Cyclades, although cooling it can become unpleasant, especially on Crete where it is often remorseless.

If you can only come in July or August you’l find Crete, Rhodes, Corfu and the more popular islands and resorts packed- you’d do better to try less well known islands (like Zante or Skyros, for example) and the cooler, less visited parts of the mainland (perhaps exploring western Greece instead of the Peloponnese). Where places differ radically in feel or climate depending on time of year the later sections point this out.