Tuesday, August 11, 2020 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

Visiting the Greek Islands? Avoid These 5 Tourist Mistakes

Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with your family, the Greek islands are an ideal choice for your next holiday. The popular islands of Santorini and Mykonos in particular rely heavily on tourism, and are mostly English-speaking. The locals are incredibly welcoming and are quick to offer their knowledge to help you make the most of your stay. Just be sure to avoid these five common mistakes while on your trip.

MISTAKE #1: Drinking the Tap Water

For many, drinking water straight from the tap is akin to breathing air – it’s a daily practice that doesn’t involve any real thought. On the Greek islands, however, it’s definitely something to think about – and to avoid. While there are some exceptions to the rule, the general consensus is that tap water in Greece is not fit for drinking.

The tap water in Santorini, for example, comes from a desalination plant and isn’t potable. While it is safe for bathing in, it’s not recommended for drinking.

Fortunately, the islands are readily forthcoming about this, and it’s common practice for restaurants to offer you the option of still or sparkling water with your meal. You can also purchase bottled mineral water on the cheap at any convenience or grocery store.
Drinking The Tap Water
MISTAKE #2: Underestimating Driving Conditions

One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your Greek holiday is underestimating the treacherous driving conditions. Driving on the Greek islands is truly an experience like no other, testing the sanity of even the most competent drivers.

If you’re planning to drive while on your getaway, prepare yourself for the most literal of wild rides. In fact, it’s probably best if you start by taking everything you know about driving – rules of the road, proper communication, and safety precautions – and tossing it right out the window. You will likely not need it here. Speed limits are either non-existent or not enforced, locals whip around on their mopeds with reckless abandon, and accidents happen as frequently as running out of gas. So unless you’re looking to star in a low-budget rendition of The Fast and Furious franchise, stick with public transportation or hire a private driver.

If, however, you have a burning desire to get behind the wheel, be sure to get your international driving permit before traveling. There is an off-hand chance that you’ll be asked for it when renting a vehicle.
Underestimating Driving Conditions
MISTAKE #3: Throwing Toilet Paper in the Toilet

Although it may sound counterintuitive, throwing your toilet paper in the toilet is actually frowned upon on many of the Greek islands. The reasoning for this is simple: small sewage pipes. Unlike American plumbing which is typically 4 inches wide, ancient Greek plumbing is only 2 inches wide, making the pipes more susceptible to clogging.

Fortunately, the Greeks offer a simple solution: waste paper bins. Unless you hear otherwise, do the right thing and toss used paper in the bin, not in the toilet. You’ll be glad you did.
Throwing Toilet Paper In The Toilet
MISTAKE #4: Wearing High Heels

While islands such as Mykonos are renowned for a fashion-forward culture, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many high heels in their trendy shops, and for good reason. With narrow passageways and steep landscapes, the Greek islands are infamous for their uneven pavement. This makes walking in anything other than a flat-soled shoe incredibly challenging, even for the most experienced heel-wearers. So think twice before tossing those stilettos into your luggage and opt for a more practical alternative instead.

Don’t own anything but high heels? Not to worry. You can purchase flat, gladiator-style Greek sandals in any number of the island shops. A stylish and functional substitute, Greek sandals will help you navigate even the most unpredictable walkways with ease and confidence.

However, if you still can’t bring yourself to part with your precious pumps, take a small wedge heel instead. Your ankles will thank you later.
Wearing High Heels
MISTAKE #5: Drinking Too Much Ouzo

The expression “When in Rome,” should be used sparingly when it comes to drinking unfamiliar liquor in foreign countries. Ouzo is the perfect example. This anise-flavored aperitif is a major culprit for poor decisions and their accompanying hangovers, yet it has arguably made a name for itself on the Greek islands. The sheer novelty of the Ouzo experience appeals to many tourists, who seek it out to achieve the “full Greek experience.”

Those who aren’t immediately deterred by its intense black licorice flavoring may mistakenly drink it too quickly, thinking they are immune to its elusive effects. This is a common trap. With a high sugar content that delays feelings of drunkenness, Ouzo often lulls first-time drinkers into a false sense of “sober security,” only to strike hard shortly after. So while many Greeks swear by the stuff, just as many tourists come to regret it, so drink it slowly and in moderation, if at all.
Drinking Too Much Ouzo
All of this being said, you’d have to actively try to have a bad time in Greece. With just a bit of advance planning and a general awareness of your surroundings, you’ll be sure to enjoy the trip of a lifetime.


  1. Harriet
    December 7, 2017 - 12:01 am

    It sounds good to know the common mistakes people make during visits to the Greek islands. But then; I don’t buy the idea of not throwing waste paper into the toilet. That sounds unhygienic. However, anyone who’s set to tour the Greek Islands has no option than to follow their rules.

    • December 8, 2017 - 12:32 pm

      Hi Harriet,

      Yes, the toilet paper situation is not ideal, for sure. Although it is not strictly enforced everywhere, some places will crack down, and I’ve heard from a native Greek person that it is considered a big no-no on the islands. Fortunately, it’s a small price to pay for such a beautiful place! 🙂

  2. Helen E.
    December 7, 2017 - 9:34 am

    Thanks for the great tips! My family and I are planning a family vacation to Greece next year, so these will come in handy. The first tip about the drinking water surprised me. Since it gets so hot in Greece I just assumed that they’d make sure that drinking tap water wouldn’t be a problem. I guess it’s more complicated than that.

    • December 8, 2017 - 12:38 pm

      Hi Helen,

      I’m so glad you’re planning a trip to Greece! Admittedly, the water situation was my biggest qualm on the islands. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the bottled and sparkling varieties either, and found myself missing Poland Spring from back home. Then again, I am a bit of a water snob 😉 In any case, have a great time on your trip!

  3. Joseph
    December 7, 2017 - 10:22 am

    I was thinking of visiting Mykonos in the near future so these tips are very helpful. I had no idea their tap water is bad. I don’t drink it on a daily basis at home but I drink it so I wouldn’t have second guessed it and did the same there. As for ouzo, yeah, take it super slow otherwise you’ll have a bad awakening.

    • December 8, 2017 - 12:39 pm

      Haha, yes to the ouzo! Personally, the taste alone was enough to turn me away.

  4. Rachael Mills
    December 8, 2017 - 9:35 am

    This is surprising, I would never have pictured Greece as having a treacherous driving condition if not for reading this article.

    • December 8, 2017 - 12:41 pm

      Hi Rachael,

      Trust me, neither did I! My husband and I were planning to rent a car over there, but once we saw what it was like we ditched that plan and opted for public transportation instead!


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