It is a cruel irony that at the very moment when Greece needs more visitors, many are choosing to stay away. But are they right or wrong? Let's look at some of the pros and cons of visiting Greece right now.
Is It a Good Time to Visit Greece?
Already rocked by economic constraints and austerity measures, in 2016 Greece needs its tourists more than ever. Recent events have given rise to a dramatic increase in the numbers of economic migrants and refugees from war-torn Syria arriving by makeshift boat to the islands of Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Samos from nearby Turkey. On March 20, the EU and Turkey reached a compromise, with Turkey agreeing to take back anyone who illegally crosses into Greece after that date as part of a one-in/one-out proposal wherein Europe agrees to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for each refugee sent back to Turkey. Whether this will ease the pressure on the affected Greek islands remains to be seen.
The political situation on the borders with Turkey and Macedonia is being carefully monitored by several embassies - including the U.S. State Department and U.K. Foreign Office - and none have yet reported specific risks to overseas nationals visiting these regions. Visitors can head for Greece without fear; it is still safe to travel around this beautiful country and tourists are not targets of violence. Certainly the quirky white-washed beauty of the island towns and their pocket-sized sandy beaches has not been diminished, and the wow-factor of the great classical sights at Cape Sounion, Delphi, Olympia and Epidaurus remains intact.
Due to the financial conditions imposed in 2015 by the ailing European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank on Greece, some museums have shortened opening hours and lightning strikes have taken place in Athens and Thessaloniki, but for the most part very little of the day-to-day issues of living with austerity measures affects overseas visitors. ATMs are functioning and there are no cash restraints on visitors, credit cards work - although small businesses on the islands are unlikely to accept them - shops have food in them and the Acropolis is still very much standing.
Reasons to Visit Greece Now
Greek hospitality has always been second to none, and now its people are even more welcoming, so happy are they to see the tourists who help maintain their livelihoods. Go to Greece now, and you'll be supporting its people - travel and tourism make up 16.5 percent of the national GDP.
Visiting Greece in 2016 also means some incredible deals can be found as prices come down to attract more people into the country. Prices before the economic crisis were lower in Greece than most of Europe and now, despite VAT increases, the country offers its visitors even better value. And fewer tourists equals crowd-free sightseeing at the big pullers like Knossos, Olympia and Meteora.
So spread the message: Greece is open for business, thank you very much.
Where Should You Go in Greece?
Here are some bucket list ideas of where to go in Greece now.
Athens is the great springboard to Greek adventures, overlooked by the Acropolis, the cradle of Western democracy and a city that has survived far worse than a little financial inconvenience. No visit to Greece would be complete without a couple of days in this gritty yet historic city. There are plenty of bespoke guided tours which take in the Acropolis, smart new Acropolis Museum, Agora and National Archaeological Museum. And no other city in the world has free museums in its metro stations; head for Syntagma to see a cross-section of ancient civilizations behind glass in the station's ticket hall. The city can be explored by Trikke, Segway, foot and bike; or see it from above by helicopter or from offshore by luxury yacht. Visitors can sample olives and stuffed dolmas in the food markets, dine in tavernas and bar hop in buzzing Plaka.
With the lively capital city of Heraklion, a sprinkling of Venetian architecture, fabulous foodie markets in Chania, the Minoan settlement at Knossos and historic vineyards, Crete is the perfect destination for keen sightseers. With available activities including scuba diving, gorge walking, cycling and jeep safaris in the White Mountains, the island is one of the most popular destinations in the Aegean.
Perhaps the best-known group of Greek islands, the Cyclades in the Aegean include party-mad Mykonos, with its extravagant nightlife, nudist beaches, cute little villages and landmark windmills; beautiful Santorini, where rugged volcanic terrain meets sophisticated cultural life and expensive art galleries; and UNESCO-listed Delos, in classical times a thriving trading city and now a windswept but awesomely beautiful ruin, accessible only by guided tour from Mykonos.
The Dodecanese in the eastern Aegean include islands such as Rhodes, Karpathos, Nisyros, Patmos and Tilos; they are located in the sunniest corner of Greece and, unlike Kos, are not affected by the migrant crisis. Lovely Rhodes is a medieval treasure trove blessed with ancient palaces, fortified castles and the fabled Valley of the Butterflies as well as sandy beaches and cozy waterfront villages. The other islands of the archipelago all have a laid-back vibe perfect for family beach vacations in the sun.
Off the west coast of Greece, the Ionian Islands include cosmopolitan Corfu, which has it all: a Venetian Old Town, pristine beaches at Nissaki and Agios Gordios, historic palaces at Achillion, ages-old seaside villages and a party reputation in resorts like Kavos and Gouvia, which cater to a young, clubbing crowd. The smaller neighboring isle of Cephalonia is famed for its child-friendly beaches and Zakynthos for Greece's most photographed spot at Shipwreck Beach.