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Rent a car in Greece

Not sure how you should get around Greece? Here’s help deciding whether renting a car in Greece is right for your trip or whether it is better to rely on other forms of transportation during your trip to Greece.

Car rental reservations

Most of the online travel companies offer car rental in Greece. You can check aggregators, such as Kayak, which publishes the prices of many US car rental companies operating in Greece, or you can search almost any of the major travel booking engines. You can also book through the US-based websites for many of the major car rental agencies operating in Greece, such as Budget, Avis, and Hertz. This is usually cheaper than going to the national sites for these same companies in Greece.

Rent a car at the airport

Renting airports in Greece, as it happens everywhere, will generally be more expensive, although this may not be the case if you have booked in advance. Driving to Athens is relatively easy, but it can be confusing for first-time travelers to Greece. You may prefer to rent from your hotel in Athens or from a local agency. This also applies to Thessaloniki. On the smaller islands, car rental agencies can only be located at the airport, so you will end up renting them independently.

Is it a good idea to rent a car?

Driving in Greece may seem more stressful than driving in the US, but this depends on what you are used to. One constant is that “main” urban streets are often surprisingly narrow and complicated, and signage may be absent or small enough to get lost. Outside of cities, roads can be winding and steep, with lots of curves. But if you really want to experience Greece, especially in the continental places, having your own rental car is almost essential. There are so many “minor” archaeological sites that buses will zoom right next to them.

Your alternative is to hire a car and driver, but expect to pay hundreds a day and more for this type of service.

Gas in Greece is expensive. Fortunately, most rental cars have been selected for good mileage, but the costs can still add up quickly. And remember, most of the major highways in Greece are toll roads that can easily add 20 or 30 euros to a trip, on top of gas prices.

Gas stations can be quite separate in Greece, and are often closed on Sundays and public holidays, especially outside of large tourist areas. Don’t pass by if you’re below a quarter tank, stop and fill it up. Ask your hotel where an open station is if you know you need gasoline on Sundays.

Most of the service stations have full service. Gas is ‘venzeena’ in Greek and diesel is conveniently ‘DEEzel’. “Fill it up,” which is usually what you’ll want to do, is “Yemeestee to, parakahlo.” “Yemiste” is useful in another context: it means “stuffed” and also applies to stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes.

Driving at night in Greece can be challenging. Many roads are dimly lit and the usual problems – narrowness, curves, steep slopes, unfamiliar routes – all take on a menacing new quality in the dark. Try to reach your destination well before sunset.

What to rent

If you are using your rental car primarily to get out of a hub, visit country sites around a town or city, then fly from there, or take a bus, ferry, or train, you can get away with a small car as you won’t be carrying all your gear with you for night trips. But if you have multiple people, all with full baggage allowances, it may be nearly impossible to fit everyone in one vehicle comfortably. Take a look at the trunk before signing the final documents. Nobody likes to see the beautiful Greek landscape on top of the suitcase on your lap.

Book ahead for automatics

Greece still loves the gearbox and most rental cars will be manual gearbox. This can be difficult to learn or remember when combined with Greece’s winding mountain roads and narrow urban streets. But you will pay more to have an automatic transmission, and even if you reserve one in advance as numbers are limited, you may not get your preference once you are at the car rental agency counter.

Ferry on the Greek island

Many car rental agencies in Greece, especially those on smaller islands, do not want you to take their cars to a ferry. First, there is the risk that you could damage it by maneuvering in the tight area (or be damaged by someone else doing the same), and secondly, they like to keep their cars on their home island.

In practice, many people rent cars and happily take them to the Greek ferries without mentioning their plans to the car rental agency, but if something happens, it is one more attack on you.

Remember that not all Greek ferries take cars anyway and limited spaces may require advance reservations.

If you plan to drive a Greek rental car across a national border, that is a completely different situation and you will need to clarify this beforehand with the car rental agency. Also, if you know that you are planning strenuous driving on a lot of mountain roads or dirt roads – more than a typical tourist in the area would attempt – bring that up. You may be given a more powerful or more reliable car or you may be urged to upgrade to a more appropriate vehicle.

Bargains

In the United States, you can find cheaper car rental agencies that use less-than-immaculate vehicles. This is also true in Greece, but they are usually not advertising and the average traveler will not find them. What will happen is that by asking questions, your hotel will know of a “cheaper” car rental agency, often one that will come directly to the hotel to enroll the renters. Be careful in these situations and pay special attention to the pre-rental car inspection – write everything down.

Combining car rental and rail passes

As of this writing, this option is not very good in Greece as train traffic has been severely reduced. The good news is that Greece’s national train system is expected to go into private hands. If this happens, train service should improve and international connections should resume. (Right now, the border crossings are by bus. You can take a Greek train near the border, get off, hop on a bus, cross, and then take a train into the adjacent nation).

Get additional insurance

Additional auto rental insurance fees can add significantly to your bill. But your home country auto insurance may or may not cover you abroad. Find out for sure before relying on this. Also, some credit cards give you additional car rental insurance coverage if you book the car rental with that specific card. Find out if this is a benefit you have.

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