90% of residents in Greece speak Greek as their mother tongue, and the other 10% is made up of a real mix, including almost 2% Albanian, 1% Turkish, 1% Macedonian and more. Many people in popular tourist spots will speak enough English for your to be able to communicate well, but you may want to learn a few key phrases.
The Greeks represent about 90% of the population, and the remaining 10% is composed of Turks, Pomaks (assimilated to Turks in Thrace, but speaking a language related to Bulgarian), Gypsies, Albanians, Vlachs, Macedonians, Bulgarians and more.
Religion is a huge part of Greek culture, with a huge majority (98%) identifying as Orthodox Christian. Although there are some other religions in the country, the national holidays, culture, social structure etc are mostly based around Orthodox Christianity.
- March 25: anniversary of the uprising of 1821.
- October 28: Ohi Day or Oxi Day, which means No Day, commemorating the Greek rejection of the Italian Mussolini’s ultimatum of 1940, which requested free movement of the Italian army through Greece.
On these holidays, utilities, banks and shops are closed.
January 1: New Year.
January 6: Epiphany.
March 14: Shrove Monday.
March 25: Independence Day.
April 29: Good Friday.
April 30: Holy Saturday.
May 1: Easter / Labor Day.
May 2: Easter Monday.
19 June: Pentecost.
20 June: Whit Monday.
August 15: Assumption.
October 28: Ohi Day or Oxi Day
25 and 26 December: Christmas.
During the Easter period, the major sites and museums such as Delphi, Olympia, Mystras, Epidaurus, Mycenae etc align their opening schedule with those of the Acropolis, which tends to follow the below:
- Friday: closed until 12:00;
- Holy Saturday: open from 8:00 to 15:00;
- Easter Sunday: closed;
- Easter Monday: open from 8:00 to 15:00.
Greek history stretches back the start of civilisation, and is so complex that whole degrees, academic textbooks and epic poems are dedicated to it. The area that makes up the country now known as Greece has been inhabited for millennia (an estimate puts the first settlers here at around 4,000 BC, while some other academics put it at around 2,000 BC), but arguably the most famous and influential period is the Ancient Greek period, which spans from around 800 BC right to its domination to the Roman Empire in 146 BC. It includes the Classical period (480 BC – 323 BC) - which gave us the iconic columned buildings such as the Parthenon, and world-renowned philosophers and mathematicians such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle - and the Hellenistic period (323 BC – 146 BC), which starts with the death of Alexander the Great, and is marked by the expansion of the Greek power in Europe and beyond, and by progress in the arts, literature, theatre, architecture, music, mathematics, philosophy and science.
From 146 BC, Greece became part of the Roman Empire and the history of Greece aligns with the history of much of this area of Europe at that time, with Byzantium (Western Roman Empire) influence in the fourth century AD and then becomming part of the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
In 1821, Greece - with the help of Britain and France - begins the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, and finally in 1822 Greece declares its independence, and it has remained an independent country since.
The current constitution in Greece was created in 1975, and established a parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state. Legislative power is exercised by a single chamber, the Vouli (300 deputies elected for four years by national vote). The President of the Republic (elected for five years by the Vouli) has a representative role. The executive power belongs to the government. The Prime Minister has extensive powers, but justice is independent. The civil, political and human rights are guaranteed by the constitution. There is no separation of church and state.
- Plato (427-347). Plato is considered the founder of Western Philosophy, and is one of the most renown figures from Ancient Greece.
- The Venus de Milo (circa 100 BC). This one-armed statue is one of the most famous sculptures in the works. Presumed to be the figure of Aphrodite, it was discovered in 1820 by a Greek peasant in a Cycladic island and has since become one of the Louvre's star pieces.
- Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996) is one of the major poets of the twentieth century who won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979.
Tipping is not expected and is entirely at your discretion; you can leave a tip of around 10% if you enjoyed your dining experience at a restaurant, or give porters or drivers a Euro or two for great service.
If you want to indulge while you’re away, treat yourself to some local olive oil, honey and ouzo etc, or handicrafts - Greek artisans can make some exceptional Mediterrean items such as pottery, silver jewelry, embroidery and lace.
Fresh vegetables are typical of Greek cuisine and most heavy meals are accompanied by salad with light ingredients such as cucumber and tomato with feta cheese, all drizzled with olive oil. Other traditional dishes include tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic, mint, olive oil), moussaka (minced meat, aubergine tomato sauce, white sauce), and stuffed vine leaves. There is a lot of meat and seafood in the Greek diet, too, such as souvlaki (grilled pork or beef skewers) and meatballs, or fresh octopus and fish.
The national drink is ouzo, an aniseed-flavoured aperitif. You can also find some Greek wine in local restaurants and shops; Greek wine not incredibly well known in the rest of the world so you may be able to try some new flavours and grapes that you can’t find elsewhere.