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Driving in Greece – what are the rules?

Driving is a great way to get around Greece and many of its islands and beautiful villages. Here’s what to check, for you and your car, before you drive there.

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Centuries of history, great beaches and coastlines, winding mountainous roads and bustling towns and cities: Greece has lots going for it if you’re planning a holiday there. And getting around by car is a good way to enjoy the country – and its many islands, dotted around the magical Aegean Sea.

Forget long, boring motorways and characterless A-roads – driving in Greece can be a fantastic and exciting experience in which you can take in stunning scenery, breath-taking coastal roads and sleepy villages steeped in history and mystique.

And while much of Greece has a laid-back, rustic feel to it, the main cities, such as Athens, Thessaloniki and Petraeus, are vibrant business hubs with commerce and industry to match. Its main industry is, perhaps not surprisingly, tourism – followed by shipping and industrial products manufacture.

So Greece could well be at or near the top of your list for a holiday and it’s certainly well worth a look if you love touring by car. It’s not all plain-sailing though – many of Greece’s more rural roads can be rough and pot-holed and some are known to be affected by flooding or sand storms, whipped up by the coastal winds. Local drivers often drive down the middle of these roads too, mindful of grazing sheep, uneven road surfaces and rocks fallen in a landslide. 

If you are one of many UK motorists who is considering Greek climes for a vacation this year, you’ll need some careful organisation before going there. Flying in and hiring a vehicle is good option as there are many companies willing to rent you a vehicle – of varying qualities and conditions.

Driving in Greece is a completely different experience from doing so in the UK. And that isn’t just because the Greeks drive on a different side of the road from us. 

It’s much more than that and planning a driving holiday or using a car on business while in the country, requires careful planning and a good understanding of what you can and can’t do behind the wheel there. 

This isn’t just for your safety and convenience. Getting on the wrong side of the Greek police can result in several types of penalty including fines, car towing or the removal of your number plates so that you have to go and retrieve them from a local police station.

So it’s well worth spending some time planning your trip, and making sure you have everything in place for your south eastern European excursion.

In this guide, The Car Expert looks at the most important elements to consider when planning to drive in Greece, and we’ve also included a handy checklist. As each journey is unique, always check that you have everything covered for your particular visit.

Keep right

Like all of continental Europe and the vast majority of countries around the world, Greece drives on the right side of the road with local cars being left-hand drive (in other words, the opposite of the UK).

Right-hand-drive cars are legal, so you can drive your own car down from the UK, but it’s less convenient for things like toll booths, parking gates or drive-through restaurants.

Licence requirements

You must be 18 years or over to drive in Greece and you should hold a full UK driving licence. Just the licence card will do, as the paper counterpart is no longer a requirement.

An international driving permit is recognised by the Greek authorities, but it’s not a requirement.

Whether you are renting or using your own vehicle, always carry your personal ID or passport with you too.

Taking your own car to Greece

If you are using your own car, you’ll need to prove that you have insurance cover so take your certificate with you (but you don’t need a European ‘green card’). You must also carry with you documents that show the identity of the car, such as a V5 ‘logbook’. 

The vehicle’s ‘home country’ must be shown on it. Most people today have the ‘UK’ letters and the Union Flag incorporated into their vehicle’s number plates but if you don’t have this, you must affix a ‘UK’ sticker to the rear of the vehicle. The ‘GB’ badge is no longer allowed, even within European ‘golden stars’ and the same goes for country badges such as the English, Scottish or Welsh flags.

It’s legal to drive your UK-registered, right-hand drive car in Greece, but remember that you have to drive on the opposite side of the road.

You’ll also need to adjust your headlight beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. Many modern cars allow you to do this from the dashboard, while older cars will require anti-dazzle stickers to be fitted to the headlights. These are available from car parts stores or travel shops at the ferry terminal.

Speed limits

As with most countries in the world, Greece uses the metric system for speed and distance. That means distances on road signs are shown in kilometres rather than miles, and speed limits are shown in kilometres (km/h) rather than miles (mph). 

In any built-up area the limit is 50km/h (equivalent to 31mph), while on open roads outside of urban areas the limit rises to between 90km/h (56mph) and 110km/h (68mph), so keep an eye out for local roadside signage.

Motorways have a usual 130km/h (81mph) top speed, but this can also vary locally.

Speeding fines differ greatly depending on the speed that drivers are caught. For going up to 20km/h over the limit, fines start at €40; up to 30km/h over it’s €100 and if you’re stopped going more than 30km/h over the speed limit there are fines of €350. Greek police do not collect on-the-spot fines.

You can also be disqualified from driving if the authorities feel you have broken even more serious laws.

You are not allowed any kind of speed camera or radar detection equipment when driving on Greek roads and there’s a possible €2,000 fine if you’re caught. Likewise, if your satnav unit shows where speed cameras are sited, you must de-activate this function as it’s illegal.

It’s said that Greek drivers tend to be on the fast side and have a more relaxed attitude to speed limits. Don’t be tempted to be drawn into their way of driving – it’s always best to abide by all local laws and stay on the right side of the traffic police.

Don’t use a mobile phone while driving either, unless it’s completely hands-free. There are fines of up to €100 if you’re caught.

Blood alcohol limit

Obviously, we don’t recommend any drinking of alcohol if you are going to drive, but it’s worth knowing the limits. The drink drive limit is 0.5g/l (also shown 0.05%). For new drivers with less than three years’ experience, the limit is 0.2g/l (0.02%).

The police take a hard line on drink driving, so be careful even when you are getting behind the wheel ‘the next morning’. For comparison, the limit is 0.8 g/l (0.08%) in England and Wales, so the Greek limit is only just over half that.

The Greek police can ask you take a random breath test at any time if they suspect you have been drinking. There’s also a saliva test for those suspected of being under the influence of drugs. If you refuse to do either of these, the authorities can fine you, confiscate your licence or even impose a prison sentence.

What to carry in the car

There are several things you’ll need in your vehicle while motoring through Greece, both for your safety and to ensure you’re within the law, should you be stopped for a check. These include a warning triangle, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. All of these are compulsory requirements for every vehicle. Carrying a reflective jacket in the car is not compulsory but it’s still a good idea in case you break down on a major route or when visibility is reduced. 

You don’t have to carry spare bulbs for your headlamps, but the police do insist that you have beam deflectors (or the ability to manually adjust your lights) to avoid dazzling other road users. 

Specialist suppliers, such as motoring organisations, sell ‘European driving kits’ for around £25, which contain everything you are likely to need for a continental road trip, and it’s well worth considering one. 

Seatbelts

Seatbelt rules are the same as in the UK: if your car has them, they must be worn. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure everyone is buckled up and there’s a €350 fine for not wearing one. 

Children under 12 years old and less than 135 cm in height must be in an approved child seat in the front or back of the car. Infants under three years must be in a suitable child restraint and those between three and 11 must be in an appropriate child seat for their size. 

Driving

Keep to the right-hand lane (the inside lane) as much as possible, and only overtake on the left. 

Overtake only when you are sure it is safe to do so, but never attempt to pass someone if you are approaching a railway crossing or if a vehicle ahead of you has stopped for an emergency or safety reason. If you are flashed from behind it probably means someone wants to pass you. It’s best to let them go.

Greek drivers often flash their lights coming towards you if there is a hazard ahead, so keep a lookout for that.

Priority is usually given to vehicles approaching you from the right, but look for road signs which might indicate something different. Outside urban areas and on major routes, traffic on the main road has priority over anyone intending to turn out of a side or lesser road at an intersection.

Traffic signals are red, amber and green and follow a similar pattern to the UK. Some cities though, use a flashing amber light for drivers to proceed with caution. Some Greek islands have no traffic lights at all so you should be extremely vigilant when pulling up at an intersection and be ready to let local drivers through first if necessary.

Pedestrian lights have only red and green. Where there is a pedestrian crossing with no lights, it is unlikely that local drivers will stop to let people cross. Bear that in mind if you have cars behind you as you approach a crossing – they probably won’t be expecting you to slow up.

If you are towing a trailer or caravan ensure that your car and the rig don’t exceed 18 metres in length, four metres in height and 2.55 metres in width. Make sure you can see clearly behind you with the use of two wide rear-view mirrors. 

Road signs

Most directional road signs in Greece are in two languages – Greek and English. The Greek names usually come first followed by the English but occasionally the Greek and English directions might be on two separate signs. In rural areas you might find names written with only the Greek alphabet.

Don’t always expect the English translation to be exactly as you know it – ‘Athens’, for example, could well be shown as ‘Athina’, ‘Pireaus’ could be ‘Piraus’, and there are many others.

Fuel availability

Petrol, diesel, and LPG (Autogas) are widely available throughout the country, and most roads have signs showing the distance to the nearest stations. Some filling areas will accept credit cards but others might only take cash so be prepared. There are no automatic, card-operated pumps in Greece – instead you’ll find many filling stations fully serviced with operators ready to help you.

Service areas do operate along Greek motorways but these are not as plentiful as you might find in some European countries, so don’t let your fuel tank run down too low.

There are two types of diesel available. One is called ‘Diesel’ and is suitable for vehicles such as tractors. But if you have a passenger car you should look for a more refined version – called ‘Diesel Premium’, ‘Diesel Super’ or ‘Diesel Ultimate’. It is illegal to carry spare fuel in a can inside your car

There are around 2,100 charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) throughout Greece, equating to arund 4,900 actual charge points.

Toll roads

As with many motorway networks in European countries, the roads are paid for with money collected through tolls. Most motorways have a levy to pay, as do the Rio-Antirrio Bridge and the Aktio-Preveza Tunnel.

The cost is based in which road you’re using and the distance you are travelling. Payment can be made by cash at a toll booth, credit card or using an on-board unit with a system known as GRITS (Greek Interoperable Tolling Systems). 

Parking

Some roads in mainland Greece and the islands can be congested which can make parking on a street very difficult. In large cities such as Athens, public parking areas are hard to find although some are for tourists only. Look for local signage before you pull up and leave your car anywhere. 

You must not park within five metres of an intersection, 15 metres of a level crossing, 15 metres of a bus or tram stop, three metres of a fire hydrant, five metres of a stop sign and five metres of a traffic light. Signs might also tell you which side of the road you can park, so check for these too.

Most city roads will have restrictions and fees to pay before parking. Much of the payment is collected using parking meters and can range from 30-minute stops to two hours. 

Wheel clamps are not used in Greece but illegally parked cars can be towed away by the police. There will be a fine to pay for a vehicle’s release plus costs for the towing.

Emergency number

In Greece as with most of Europe, you can dial 112 and make contact with emergency services such as fire, ambulance or police, 24 hours a day. Operators will speak English, French and other European languages.

Checklist

Must haves:

  • Driving licence
  • Passport
  • Vehicle insurance
  • MOT certificate
  • V5 or vehicle ID
  • UK sticker or number plate markings
  • Warning triangle
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Headlamp beam deflectors

Options:

  • Hi-viz jackets
  • Spare bulb kit
  • Screen wash
  • Bottled water
  • Map or satnav
  • Phone power bank
  • Torch
  • Fuel can


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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.