Athens is a city where people should depend on the public transportation network of express and local buses, trams, metro, electric railways and trolleys — if there are yellow ones still being used, you must experience the jerking sardine effect! It’s cheap, relatively reliable unless there’s a strike or riot and saves you the stress of mapping, navigating and being lost in the labyrinth of one-way sometimes mountainous streets upon which 150,000 cars are added every year — of which 20 percent are more than 15 years old — and with the EU’s most dangerous drivers at the wheel.
Should that not frighten you and you like an adventure, that’s a good thing because capital’s roads were designed for 430,000 cars, but are actually accommodating 2.4 million. This explains why people get creative when parking in Athens.
If you must drive, be aware of restrictions imposed on driving into the center of Athens in which the last digit of the license plate number corresponds to odd and even days of the calendar you’re allowed to enter during business hours up to 20:00, except on Sundays and the month of August when the restriction is lifted. See “Athens Ring” for details.
A stiff fine applies if you’re caught at any of several checkpoints around the city. Police know the backroads and shortcuts also, in case you think you’re clever. See the current list of fines at, “Fines for parking and moving violations in Greece.”
Photo from the Associated Press, 2004
Visitors to Greece
Visitors and temporary residents of Greece who plan to drive should secure the necessary documents to avoid being denied car rental or fined/detained by police.
EU citizens: If you’re an EU citizen, the license from your home country is perfectly fine as long as it hasn’t expired.
Americans: If you have a valid American license, an International Driving Permit (IDP) from one of two issuing authorities in Canada and the USA — AAA or AATA — is necessary and must be secured before leaving home by downloading the online form and submitting it in person or by mail. An IDP is not an international driver’s license; it is essentially a translation of your normal license, which is the reason it requires no tests, is only good while you’re a tourist and costs a mere $15.
Be aware that there are fraudulent and fake ads regarding similar types of IDPs from places other than AAA or AATA, and the Greek Automobile Association (ELPA) is not authorized to issue IDPs.
Car rental agencies should ask for both a valid unexpired driver’s license and an IDP before renting scooters or vehicles; those who do not are bending and breaking the law.
Canadians: If are a Canadian citizen visiting Greece, the Embassy recommends securing an IDP. Click here to view eligibility requirements and download the application.
Other non-EU citizens: Check with your embassy before leaving home.
Non-Greek residents of Greece
Driving and purchasing a scooter, motorcycle or vehicle in Greece carry rules different than if you are a tourist or temporary resident.
EU citizens: If you’re an EU citizen, the license from your home country is perfectly fine as long as it hasn’t expired. You can also convert it, however there are no additional benefits. See, “Converting to a Greek driver’s license.”
American citizens: If you are an American living in Greece, you must swap for a Greek driver’s license and are allowed to do so without the time and expense of completing hours of theory classes, practical lessons and passing a driving test.
Should you purchase a vehicle in Greece, you are required to present a Greek driver’s license. If you somehow slip through the cracks or purchase a vehicle from a private party, a Greek driver’s license will be requested when you register your vehicle. If you have plans to do this, see “Converting to a Greek driver’s license.”
Operation or purchase of a scooter (depending on CCs) or motorcycle requires you have the appropriate class license. Using your car/vehicle driver’s license is technically not legal, and police will assess a penalty or detain you if caught.
Other non-EU citizens: If you are a citizen from Australia, Japan, South Africa and South Korea now living in Greece, you also have the option to swap for a Greek driver’s license. See “Converting to a Greek driver’s license.”
Should your country not be listed above, you must acquire a Greek driver’s license the normal way by signing up and paying for theory classes at a driving school, take hours of practical driving lessons, then pass a test.
The Transport Ministry promised to provide special booklets for those who are illiterate, have learning disabilities or otherwise cannot understand the Greek language.
Greek citizens/dual Greek citizens
If you are a Greek citizen without a driver’s license from another country, and are looking to secure a Greek driver’s license for the first time, it involves a minimum of 21 theory classes and 20 practical driving lessons that cost more than 1,000 euros…unless of course, you have connections and money to bribe someone instead. See, “How to get a driver’s license as a Greek citizen” for more details.
Should you be a dual Greek citizen with a non-EU country listed above, you could technically convert the license from your homeland to a Greek license. See “Converting to a Greek driver’s license.”
As of January 2009, new drivers are expected to pass a test on ‘eco-driving’ measures that can help conserve fuel, save money and reduce emissions by 10 to 25 percent. See “Eco-driving measures for 2009.”
All EU member states have different rules and regulations regarding driver’s licenses. It is wrong to assume that somewhere else is the same as Greece. See “How to get EU citizenship, passports, driver’s licenses, visas, permits…” for more details.
Rules of the road
1. Wear your seat belt: You’ll need it, and it is the law
2. Obey road signs
3. Lines on the road are (unfortunately) a suggestion
4. Pedestrians are supposed to have right-of-way, but you’ll be cursed if you follow this
5. Don’t let other drivers intimidate you (not really a rule, but more advice)
* Gas stations are usually closed by sundown and on Sundays
* Price is by the liter and not the gallon (of course) and very expensive
* All are usually full service and you are not required to tip