First-time comers to Greece usually get disoriented when faced with the chaos of Greek streets.
When not at a standstill, vehicles zoom this way and that, seemingly oblivious to traffic lanes, lights or regulations. Pedestrians walk in the road, seemingly oblivious to vehicles. Scooters ride on sidewalks, cars park anywhere, and if there’s a traffic code, no one seems to care.
So, how do I cross the street?
There’s only one answer to that: carefully.
Forget all you knew about traffic rules and regulations. It’s better to think of them as not applicable here. When in Greece, walk as people did before traffic lights and signs were invented: look left and right, double check, then cross the street only when you are certain it’s safe.
Do not trust zebra crossings – no driver stops there.
Traffic lights should not be trusted either; sure, vehicles are more likely to stop there, but do not rely on drivers doing so. Be wary, alert and ready to dash across the street when cars finally stop. Don’t forget to check for scooters too.
Crossing at random spots along the street is okay, as long as you follow the rules above. Sometimes it is unavoidable, as marked crossings may be parked over or blocked by other obstructions. No, no one will give you a fine.
Many Greeks cross the street when traffic is at a standstill. It’s a good option, provided you always make sure that vehicles have indeed stopped before crossing. Be mindful of scooters weaving between gridlocked cars. They may not see you when coming out suddenly from behind a vehicle, so check carefully before crossing each lane.
More walking tips
Pedestrians never have right of way; all rights belong to vehicles and pedestrians must yield at all times. Remember, if you don’t, it’s your bones against their bumper.
Be mindful of scooters on the sidewalk. Many drive for just a few meters until they find a parking spot, but some use sidewalks as a convenient detour during gridlocks. Always keep your eyes open and ears pricked for the sound of an engine revving just behind you. Be mindful of youngsters speeding just a few inches from you.
Pedestrianized streets are not free from motorized traffic. Police cars and motorcycles often drive along on patrol, but when they don’t, ordinary cars and bikes take their place.
Often you will find that walking on the sidewalk is simply impossible – parked vehicles, kiosks, trash cans and other obstructions may block your way. In such cases, there is no other option but to walk in the road. If possible, choose to walk against the traffic, to better check for coming vehicles. Keep as close to the side as possible, and be ready to wedge yourself between parked cars to make way for moving ones. Always walk single file.
Always hold children by the hand and keep them close to you at all times, especially younger ones.
Users of strollers will find most sidewalks all but impassable. If you can babywear, choose a sling (or other baby carrier) over a stroller at all times. If not, be warned that a great part of any route will be spent walking side-by-side with cars.
Greek sidewalks were never designed with wheelchairs in mind. Not all have access ramps and even those that do usually do not conform to standards. As you may need to spend quite some time on the road, make sure your wheelchair is visible. Use bright colors and reflective bands. For routes along busy roads, it is advisable to take a taxi.
If you decide to drive on Greek roads, you’d do well to remember that road users were not created equal: size matters and the bigger vehicles claim right of way. Challenge them at your peril.
Drive legally and carefully, but remember that other drivers may do neither.
The driver next to you may be talking on the phone, texting, arguing with a passenger or even falling asleep behind the wheel. Younger ones may be acting out a car-racing fantasy. A biker in front of you may fall after slipping on a wet patch of road. Use caution to protect yourself and others.
There is no guarantee that drivers at intersections will stop at the red light or at the stop signal. Be careful of those.
Turning without signaling is commonplace, as are unexpected U-turns, driving in the wrong lane, stopping without warning and more. Be mindful of what other drivers are doing around you.
Keep an eye for road signs but also for hazards such as potholes, road works, hairpin bends and the heavy truck coming right at you from the opposite lane.
And, please, do not take your eyes off the road to see a sight, however briefly. It’s better to signal and make a stop or even miss the sight altogether, rather than risk spending your vacation in a hospital – or worse.
Greek streets and roads take some getting used to. It is helpful to remember that this is a foreign country where people do things differently. If you remember that simple rule, you should adapt easily and be able to enjoy the experience. On the other hand, if you stick to the rules of your home country, and expect this one to conform to the same, you’ll find endess cause for frustration, not to mention putting yourself and others in danger.
Wishing you safe and enjoyable voyages.