Greece reopens for tourism with new measures
Updated: May 24
Greece is a country that knows a thing or 200 about a crisis: in days of yore you'd have Athenians reciting poetry and celebrating Dionysus one day and Spartans hurling spears at your wine jug the next. And krisis, after all, comes from the ancient Greek word for decision (it came with a k, but involved no Kardashians).
The coronavirus pandemic has thrust the world into crisis and Greece—a country whose economy is dependent on tourism—is being forced to make some decisions. Here's one, and not without controversy: according to the Kathimerini newspaper, quoting Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis, "Tourists will be allowed to enter Greece without taking a coronavirus test or remaining in quarantine when international flights restart on July 1, but health officials will conduct spot tests when required."
In the meantime, the mandatory 14-day quarantine for international arrivals introduced earlier is likely to extend into June.
While Greece has fared better than many of its European neighbors in the pandemic, it has come at a hefty price after a lengthy lockdown—and a comprehensive one, unlike the geographically piecemeal approach taken in, say, China—brought everything in the economy to a standstill except the ancient ruins. Well maybe even those, because the archaeological sites didn't open again until May 18 (and guess what, unlike you and me they haven't aged a bit!) Enter the paradox: Greece needs visitors but with the gradual easing of restrictions needs to put health concerns front and center. (Summoning Asclepius!) So travel is going to look different this year: goodbye relaxation, hello (heavy sigh) regimentation.
The year-round hotels that have been closed for all of April and May are set to reopen June 1. That basically means city hotels. Seasonal hotels—the kinds of resorts that draw tourists to popular island spots like Mykonos, Santorini and Crete—were slated to follow by opening on July 1, though that may happen two weeks earlier, i.e. June 15. But if you're already dreaming hangrily of those famously endless (but crowded) Greek hotel buffet breakfasts? Not happening! (If only 'breakfast at McDonalds!' could be a thing in Europe, but sadly not yet).
There's also the likelihood of hotel staff leaving clean towels and sheets outside your room, meaning guests would have to make up their own rooms. (Well, that's one way to work in some morning exercise.)
Expect social distancing protocols to be in effect everywhere from check-in to normally packed museums to all organized beaches.
As recently as December, there was talk of charging admission to see the famous sunsets in Oia, in Santorini. That's (fortunately) not happening.
Flights from the U.S.A. to Greece
As of June 15 flights from an authorized group of 20 countries, which include Israel and Cyprus and even China but not the United States, will hopefully be able to fly to Athens' international airport. International flights to other Greek airports should hopefully follow on two weeks later—in practical terms this means direct flights to Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete and maybe Corfu. All airports that are jam-packed in a normal summer, but likely won't be at capacity this one.
Now, according to the U.S. Embassy in Athens, "There are no direct flights between Greece and the United States until July. Contact the airline directly to confirm the flight dates."
American: Chicago-Athens starts in July. No Philadelphia-Athens flights for the season.
Delta: JFK-Athens starts in July .
Emirates: Newark-Athens starts July 1.
United: No Newark-Athens flights for the season.
American Airlines was supposed to resume its non-stop service from Chicago O'Hare to Athens on June 4. That's (unfortunately) not happening.
Do note that American Airlines had initially slated its Chicago-Athens flights to resume June 4. Once they realized that the United States was not on the list of the first 20 countries allowed to send tourists to Greece, they probably pushed that back. While one can assume that the U.S. will be included in the "come on down!" list from July 1, given the current evolving situation both stateside and globally, one can also safely assume that things are still very much subject to change.
The Embassy is only authorized to report what is known, which is useful but also of limited utility when it comes to planning travel. Check with your airline or for alternate flight possibilities (for Greece and elsewhere) feel free to drop us a line.
Ferries to the Greek islands
Unlike many European countries that rely heavily on trains for tourists to get around in the summer season, in Greece it's all about the sea, and that means ferries. Access to the island for both Greek visitors and foreign travelers should get going again by June or before. According to the the U.S. Embassy, "unrestricted Travel by Ferry to and from the Islands Begins May 25: Masks are required (cloth recommended). Passengers must complete a health status questionnaire and submit to a temperature check prior to boarding for trips longer than 30 minutes." The questionnaire should be available at the ports.
Greek ferries, which vary in size from mini to mammoth, will only be permitted operate at 50 percent capacity and there will likely be a requirement that there be one empty seat next to each passenger in some sections.
And remember that thing where everyone gathered by the big boat's exit as it pulls into port, excited to set off on their island adventures? Well, it's likely that that kind of formerly annoying but innocuous overcrowding will be a thing of the past. You can expect the process of both embarkation and disembarkation to involve more logistics and to take more time.
BOTTOM LINES: AVOID EXPEDIA.COM LIKE THE PLAGUE
Your eagerly awaited Big Fat Greek Summer doesn't have to go straight to Greek bummer, but with the gradual lifting of restrictions just expect a different kind of trip than in the past. Once you jump through these hoops—assuming you even feel like getting out of bed at this point—you should be good to go, but there's one big BUT. Given the unpredictable nature of everything right now, minimize what you spend in advance. That means avoiding making flight or hotel bookings with the OTA's—the online travel agencies like Expedia—like you would avoid the plague.
If for any reason at all your airline cancels your flight and you booked on Expedia, you will likely have a very tough time getting a refund. Based on our experience, we would avoid American Airlines altogether—they don't play nice—but for a flight on Delta, for example, book it directly at Delta.com (and they didn't pay us to say that).
Ditto for hotels, because everywhere now hotels are operating in a very uncertain climate. Book directly—hotel owners have a better idea of what the situation is like on the ground and they'll be grateful too because it means they don't have to pay out a commission to some big corporation in Amsterdam or Seattle. You will be doing your hosts a favor by booking with the hotels directly. By the way, did somebody say Grecotel? Oh yes, we did! We love their Mykonos Blu resort, and still dream of Corfu.
Another helpful hint? Sometimes the best way to secure a good deal is with a good old-fashioned phone call. We've noted a few of our Greek hotel favorites here.