| ||INFORMATION STATION|
|Facts at a Glance|
| ||Full country name: Hellenic Republic|
Area: 131,944 sq km (51,458 sq mi)
Population: 10.3 million
Capital city: Athens (pop approx. 3.7 million)
People: 98% Greek with minorities of Albanians, Turks and Slavic-Macedonians
Religion: 98% Greek Orthodox, 1.3% Muslim, 0.7% other
Government: parliamentary republic
Prime Minister: Kostas Simitis
Greece lies at the southern extremity of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. To the north, it has borders with Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Bulgaria, and to the east it borders Turkey. The peninsula, which constitutes mainland Greece, is surrounded by more than 1400 islands, of which 169 are inhabited. The islands are divided into six groups: the Cyclades, the Ionians, the Dodecanese, the islands of the North-Eastern Aegean, the Sporades and the Saronic Gulf islands. The two largest islands, Crete and Evia, do not belong to any group. Roughly four-fifths of Greece is mountainous, with most land lying over 1500m (4920ft) above sea level. Epiros and Macedonia, in northern Greece, still have extensive forests, but goat grazing, felling and forest fires have seriously denuded the rest of the country.
Greece is endowed with a spectacular richness of flora - over 6000 species, some of which occur nowhere else, including more than 100 varieties of orchid. In spring, the Peloponnese and the mountains of Crete explode with the country's best show of wildflowers, including crocuses, anemones, irises, poppies, lilies, rock roses and cyclamens. Herbs, too, grow wild all over the Greek countryside - follow your nose and you'll find yourself standing knee-deep in wild oregano, basil and thyme.
Greeks are overly fond of hunting and fishing, resulting in the serious depletion of marine and bird life in some places. The human population that shares their mountain habitats considers wolves and bears pests rather than endangered species. Watching dolphins and porpoises as they follow the boats is one of the pleasures of island hopping, and the waters around Zakynthos and Kefallonia are home to the last large colony of sea turtles in Europe. The baby turtles, which are hatched on sandy beaches, now have to face not only natural hazards as they make their way out to sea, but also cars, discos and beach parties. The Mediterranean monk seal is the rarest of all the seal species and one of the six most endangered mammals in the world. Numbers have declined drastically in the last 100 years and the present population is 400, about half of which live in Greece.
Greece has mild wet winters and hot dry summers. Winter temperatures can be severe in the mountains, and even Athens can get viciously cold. Maximum temperatures on the islands hover around 30°C (87°F) in summer, but the heat is often tempered by the northerly wind known as the
| ||GDP: US$143 billion|
GDP per head: US$14,000
Annual growth: 3.5%
Major products/industries: tourism, shipping, food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal products, mining, petroleum products
Major trading partners: Germany, Italy, France, UK, USA
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: yes
|Facts for the Traveler|
| ||Visas: nationals of Australia, Canada, Cyprus, EU countries, the European principalities of Monaco and San Marino, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the USA and most South American countries are allowed to stay in Greece for up to three months without a visa; most others can enter Greece for up to two months without a visa; Greece will refuse entry to anyone whose passport indicates that, since November 1983, they have visited North Cyprus|
Health risks: sunburn, Typhus (rural areas from April to September), Lyme disease, Rabies; codeine, which is commonly found in headache preparations, is banned in Greece and you may face prosecution if you bring it into the country
Time: GMT/UTC +2; +3 during daylight saving time
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: metric
|Money & Costs|
| ||Currency:euro (EUR), formerly Drachma (dr)|
Budget: US$4-8Mid-range: US$8-20Top-end: US$20+
Budget: US$10-35 Mid-range: US$35-90Top-end: US$90+
Greece is no longer dirt cheap. A rock-bottom daily budget would be US$25 a day. You'd be hitching, staying in youth hostels or camping, staying away from bars, and only occasionally eating in restaurants or taking ferries. Allow at least US$50 per day if you want your own room, plan to eat out regularly, and intend to see all the sights. If you want a real vacation - comfortable rooms and good restaurants all the way - you will need closer to US$100 per day. Hotel rates vary enormously according to season - you can save as much as 30% if you travel outside high season (mid-June till end of August).
Banks exchange all major currencies in cash, travellers cheques or Eurocheques; the commission is lower for cash. Post offices exchange cash but not travellers cheques, and usually charge lower commissions than banks. Travel agencies and larger hotels change cash and travellers cheques but usually charge higher commissions than banks. Banknote exchange machines can be found in most tourist areas. All upmarket shops, restaurants and hotels accept credit cards. Visa, MasterCard (Access) and Eurocard are the most widely accepted. Most banks have ATMs where you can access your debit or credit account.
In restaurants the service charge is included in the bill but it is the custom to leave a small amount; rounding up the bill is usually sufficient. Likewise for taxis - a small gratuity is appreciated. Bargaining is not as widespread in Greece as it is further east. Prices in most shops are clearly marked and non-negotiable, but your haggling skills will come in handy at markets. It's always worth bargaining over the price of hotel rooms, especially if you are intending to stay a few days.
|When to Go|
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Greece. Conditions are perfect between Easter and mid-June - the weather is pleasantly warm in most places, but not too hot; beaches and ancient sites are relatively uncrowded; public transport operates on close to full schedules; and accommodation is cheaper and easier to find than in the mid-June to end of August high season. Conditions are once more ideal from the end of August until mid-October as the season winds down. Winter is pretty much a dead loss outside the major cities as most of the tourist infrastructure goes into hibernation from the middle of October till the beginning of April. This is slowly changing, however; on the most touristy islands, a few restaurants, hotels and bars remain open year-round.
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