Source: Greek National Tourism Organisation

General Information


Capital: Athens
Official Languages: Greek
Ethnic Groups: 94% Greek
4% Albanian
2% Others
Government:  Unitary Parliamentary
Constitutional Republic
President: Karolos Papoulias
Prime Minister: Antonis Samaras
Legislature: Parliament
Area:   131.957 km2
Water%: 0.8669
Population: 10.815.197 (2011 cencus)
GDP (PPP): $280.796 billion (2012 estimate)
GDP per Capita: $25.061
Currency: Euro
Calling Code: +30
ISO 3166 Code: GR
Internet TLD: .gr

Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in Southeast Europe. Athens is the country’s capital and largest city (its urban area also including the municipality of  Piraeus. According to the 2011 census data, Greece’s population is slightly less than 11 million.

Greece is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa  has land borders with Albania, the Fyrom and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of mainland Greece, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world at 13,676 km (8,498 mi) in length, featuring a vast number of islands (approximately 1,400, of which 227 are inhabited), including Crete, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, and the Ionian Islands among others. Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains, of which Mount Olympus is the highest at 2,917 m (9,570 ft).

Modern Greece traces its roots to the civilization of ancient Greece, generally considered the cradle of Western civilization. As such, it is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature and historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy. This legacy is partly reflected in the seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Greece, ranking Greece 7tn in Europe and 13th in the world. The modern Greek state was established in 1830, following the Greek War of Independence.

Greece has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1981 and the eurozone since 2001, NATO since 1952, and is a founding member of the United Nations. Greece is a developed country with an advanced, high income of living and very high standard of living, , including the 21st highest quality of life as of 2010.

Official Holidays

Ø  1st of January-New Year’s Day

Ø  6th of January –Epiphany

Ø  18th of March – Ash Monday

Ø  25th of March –Independence Day

Ø  1st of May –Labour Day

Ø  3rd of May-Good Friday (Orthodox)

Ø  4th of May –Easter Saturday (Orthodox)

Ø  5th of May-Easter (Orthodox)

Ø  6th of May –Easter Monday

Ø  24th of June – Pentecost

Ø  15th of August –Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Ø  28th of October – National Day

Ø  25th of December – Christmas

Ø  26th of December-Boxing Day


Greece’s name differs in comparison with the names used for the country in other languages and cultures, just like the names of the Greeks. Although the Greeks call the country Hellas or Ellada (Greek: Ελλάς, Ελλάδα) and its official name is Hellenic Republic, in English the country is called Greece, which comes from Latin Graecia as used by the Romans and literally means ‘the land of the Greeks’, and derives from the Greek name Γραικός; however, the name Hellas is sometimes used in English too.

Geography and climate

Greece consists of a mountainous, peninsular mainland jutting out into the sea at the southern end of the Balkans, ending at the Peloponnese peninsula (separated from the mainland by the canal of the Isthmus of Corinth). Due to its highly indented coastline and numerous islands, Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world with13,676 km (8,498 mi); its land boundary is 1,160 km (721 mi). The country lies approximately between latitudes 34° and 42° N, and longitudes 19° and 30° E.

Greece features a vast number of islands, between 1,200 and 6,000, depending on the definition 227 of which are inhabited. Crete is the largest and most populous island; Euboea, separated from the mainland by the 60m-wide Euripus Strait, is the second largest, followed by Rhodes and Lesbos.
The Greek islands are traditionally grouped into the following clusters: The Argo-Saronic Islands in the Saronic gulf near Athens, the Cyclades, a large but dense collection occupying the central part of the Aegean Sea, the North Aegean islands, a loose grouping off the west coast of Turkey, the Dodecanese, another loose collection in the southeast between Crete and Turkey, the Sporades, a small tight group off the coast of Euboea, and the Ionian Islands, located to the west of the mainland in the Ionian Sea.

Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains or hills, making the country one of the most mountainous in Europe. Mount Olympus, the mythical abode of the Greek Gods, culminates at Mytikas peak 2,917 m (9,570 ft), the highest in the country. Western Greece contains a number of lakes and wetlands and is dominated by the Pindus mountain range. The Pindus, a continuation of the Dinaric Alps, reaches a maximum elevation of 2,637 m (8,652 ft) at Mt. Smolikas (the second-highest in Greece) and historically has been a significant barrier to east-west travel.

Northeastern Greece features another high-altitude mountain range, the Rhodope range, spreading across the region of East Macedonia and Thrace; this area is covered with vast, thick, ancient forests, including the famous Dadia forest in the Evros regional unit, in the far northeast of the country.
Extensive plains are primarily located in the regions of Thessaly, Central Macedonia and Thrace. They constitute key economic regions as they are among the few arable places in the country. Rare marine species such as the Pinniped Seals and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle live in the seas surrounding mainland Greece, while its dense forests are home to the endangered brown bear, the lynx, the Roe Deer and the Wild Goat.

The climate of Greece is primarily Mediterranean, featuring mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. This climate occurs at all coastal locations, including Athens, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, Crete, the Peloponnese and parts of the Sterea Ellada (Central Continental Greece) region. The Pindus mountain range strongly affects the climate of the country, as areas to the west of the range are considerably wetter on average (due to greater exposure to south-westerly systems bringing in moisture) than the areas lying to the east of the range (due to a rain shadow effect).

The mountainous areas of Northwestern Greece (parts of Epirus, Central Greece, Thessaly, Western Macedonia) as well as in the mountainous central parts of Peloponnese – including parts of the regional units of Achaea, Arcadia and Laconia – feature an Alpine climate with heavy snowfalls. The inland parts of northern Greece, in Central Macedonia and East Macedonia and Thrace feature a temperate climate with cold, damp winters and hot, dry summers with frequent thunderstorms. Snowfalls occur every year in the mountains and northern areas, and brief snowfalls are not unknown even in low-lying southern areas, such as Athens.

Phytogeographically, Greece belongs to the Boreal Kingdom and is shared between the East Mediterranean province of the Mediterranean Region and the Illyrian province of the Circumboreal Region. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature and the European Environment Agency, the territory of Greece can be subdivided into six ecoregions: the Illyrian deciduous forests, Pindus Mountains mixed forests, Balkan mixed forests, Rhodope montane mixed forests, Aegean and Western Turkey sclerophyllous and mixed forests and Crete Mediterranean forests.



Greece is a parliamentary republic. The nominal head of state is the President of the Republic, who is elected by the Parliament for a five-year term. The current Constitution was drawn up and adopted by the Fifth Revisionary Parliament of the Hellenes and entered into force in 1975 after the fall of the military junta of 1967–1974. It has been revised three times since, in 1986, 2001 and in 2008. The Constitution, which consists of 120 articles, provides for a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and grants extensive specific guarantees (further reinforced in 2001) of civil liberties and social rights. Women’s suffrage was guaranteed with a 1952 Constitutional amendment.

According to the Constitution, executive power is exercised by the President of the Republic and the Government. From the Constitutional amendment of 1986 the President’s duties were curtailed to a significant extent, and they are now largely ceremonial; most political power thus lies in the hands of the Prime Minister. The position of Prime Minister, Greece’s head of government, belongs to the current leader of the political party that can obtain a vote of confidence by the Parliament. The President of the Republic formally appoints the Prime Minister and, on his recommendation, appoints and dismisses the other members of the Cabinet.

Karolos Papoulias, President of the Hellenic Republic since 2005.


GDP per capita of the regions of Greece in 2008 according to Eurostat.

Greece’s economic growth between 1961 and 2010, compared with Eurozone average from 1996. Greece entered recession in 2009.


The economy of Greece is the 34th or 42nd largest in the world at $299 or $304billion by nominal gross domestic product or purchasing power parity (PPP) respectively, according to World Bank statistics for the year 2011. Additionally, Greece is the 15th largest economy in the 27-member European Union. In terms of per capita income, Greece is ranked 29th or 33rd in the world at $27,875 and $27,624 for nominal GDP and PPP respectively.

A developed country, with high standards of living, the economy of Greece mainly revolves around the service sector (85.0%) and industry (12.0%), while agriculture makes up 3.0% of the national economic output. Important Greek industries include tourism (with 14.9 millioninternational tourists in 2009, it is ranked as the 7th most visited country in the European Union] and 16th in the worldby the United Nations World Tourism Organization) and merchant shipping (at 16.2%of the world’s total capacity, the Greek merchant marine is the largest in the world), while the country is also a considerable agricultural producer (including fisheries) within the union. As the largest economy in the Balkans, Greece is also an important regional investor.

The Greek economy is classified as advanced and high-income. Greece was a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). In 1979 the accession of the country in the European Communities and the single market was signed, and the process was completed in 1982. In January 2001 Greece adopted the Euro as its currency, replacing the Greek drachma at an exchange rate of 340.75 drachma to the Euro. Greece is also a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and is ranked 31st on the KOF Globalization Index for 2010.

Eurozone entry

Greece entered the Eurozone in 2001.

Greece was accepted into the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union by the European Council on 19 June 2000, based on a number of criteria (inflation rate, budget deficit, public debt, long-term interest rates, exchange rate) using 1999 as the reference year.

Maritime industry

The shipping industry is a key element of Greek economic activity dating back to ancient times. Today, shipping is one of the country’s most important industries. It accounts for 4.5% of GDP, employs about 160,000 people (4% of the workforce), and represents 1/3 of the country’s trade deficit.

During the 1960s, the size of the Greek fleet nearly doubled, primarily through the investment undertaken by the shipping magnates, Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. The basis of the modern Greek maritime industry was formed after World War II when Greek shipping businessmen were able to amass surplus ships sold to them by the U.S. government through the Ship Sales Act of the 1940s.

According to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report in 2011, the Greek merchant navy is the largest in the world at 16.2% of the world’s total capacity, up from 15.96% in 2010. This is a drop from the equivalent number in 2006, which was 18.2%.The total tonnage of the country’s merchant fleet is 202 million dwt, ranked 1st in the world. In terms of total number of ships, the Greek Merchant Navy stands at 4th worldwide, with 3,150 ships (741 of which are registered in Greece whereas the rest 2,409 in other ports). In terms of ship categories, Greece ranks first in both tankers and dry bulk carriers, fourth in the number of containers, and fourth in other ships. However, today’s fleet roster is smaller than an all-time high of 5,000 ships in the late 1970s. Additionally, the total number of ships flying a Greek flag (includes non-Greek fleets) is 1,517, or 5.3% of the world’s dwt (ranked 5th).


An important percentage of Greece’s national income comes from tourism. Tourism funds 16% of the gross domestic products which also includes the Tourism Council and the London-Based World Travel. According to Eurostat statistics, Greece welcomed over 19.5 million tourists in 2009, which is an increase from the 17.7 million tourists it welcomed in 2007.

The vast majority of visitors in Greece in 2007 came from the European continent, numbering 12.7 million, while the most visitors from a single nationality were those from the United Kingdom, (2.6 million), followed closely by those from Germany (2.3 million). In 2010, the most visited region of Greece was that of Central Macedonia, with 18% of the country’s total tourist flow (amounting to 3.6 million tourists), followed by Attica with 2.6 million and the Peloponnese with 1.8 million, Northern Greece is the country’s most-visited geographical region, with 6.5 million tourists, while Central Greece is second with 6.3 million.

In 2010, Lonely Planet ranked Greece’s northern and second-largest city of Thessaloniki as the world’s fifth-best party town worldwide, comparable to other cities such as Dubai and Montreal. In 2011, Santorini was voted as “The World’s Best Island” in Travel + Leisure. Its neighboring island Mykonos, came in fifth in the European category.



Since the 1980s, the road and rail network of Greece has been significantly modernized. Important works include the A2 (Egnatia Odos) motorway, that connects northwestern Greece (Igoumenitsa) with northern and northeastern Greece (Kipoi); and the Rio–Antirrio bridge, the longest suspension cable bridge in Europe (2250 m or 7382 ft long), connecting the western Peloponnese from Rio (7 km or 4 mi from Patras) with Antirrio in Central Greece.

Important projects that are currently underway include, the conversion of the GR-8A, connecting Athens with Patras and further towards Pyrgos in the western Peloponnese, into a modernised motorway throughout its length (scheduled to be completed by 2014); upgrading unfinished sections of motorway on the A1, connecting Athens to Thessaloniki; and the construction of the Thessaloniki Metro.

The Athens Metropolitan Area in particular is served by some of the most modern and efficient transport infrastructure in Europe, such as the Athens International Airport, the privately run Attiki Odos motorway network and the expanded Athens Metro system.
Most of the Greek islands and many main cities of Greece are connected by air mainly from the two major Greek airlines, Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Maritime connections have been improved with modern high-speed craft, including hydrofoils and catamarans.

Railway connections play a somewhat lesser role in Greece than in many other European countries, but they too have also been expanded, with new suburban/commuter rail connections, serviced by Proastiakos around Athens, towards its airport, Kiato and Chalkida; around Thessaloniki, towards the cities of Larissa and Edessa; and around Patras. A modern intercity rail connection between Athens and Thessaloniki has also been established, while an upgrade to double lines in many parts of the 2,500 km (1,600 mi) network is underway. International railway lines connect Greek cities with the rest of Europe, the Balkans and Turkey, although as of 2011 they have been suspended, due to the financial crisis.


Modern, 100% digital, information and communication networks reach all areas. There are over 35.000 kilometers of fiber optics and an extensive open-wire network. Broadband internet availability is widespread in Greece: there were a total of 2,252,653 broadband connections as of early 2011, translating to 20% broadband penetration. According to 2012 ELSTAT data, 53,6% of the households used the internet regularly and of which 94,8% of them had broadband connection.

Internet cafés that provide net access, office applications and multiplayer gaming are also a common sight in the country, while mobile internet on 3G cellphone networks and Wi-Fi connections can be found almost everywhere. 3G mobile internet usage has been on a sharp increase in recent years, with a 340% increase between August 2011 and August 2012. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranks Greece among the top 30 countries with a highly developed information and communications infrastructure.

Science and technology

The General Secretariat for Research and Technology of the Ministry of Development is responsible for designing, implementing and supervising national research and technological policy. In 2003, public spending on research and development (R&D) was 456.37 million euros (12.6% increase from 2002). Total R&D spending (both public and private) as a percentage of GDP had increased considerably since the beginning of the past decade, from 0.38% in 1989, to 0.65% in 2001. R&D spending in Greece remained lower than the EU average of 1.93%, but, according to Research DC, based on OECD and Eurostat data, between 1990 and 1998, total R&D expenditure in Greece enjoyed the third-highest increase in Europe, after Finland and Ireland.

Because of its strategic location, qualified workforce and political and economic stability, many multinational companies such as Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola and Coca-Cola have their regional research and development headquarters in Greece.

Greece’s technology parks with incubator facilities include the Science and Technology Park of Crete (Heraklion), the Thessaloniki Technology Park, the Lavrio Technology Park and the Patras Science Park. Greece has been a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2005.[137] Cooperation between ESA and the Hellenic National Space Committee began in the early 1990s. In 1994 Greece and ESA signed their first cooperation agreement. Having formally applied for full membership in 2003, Greece became the ESA’s sixteenth member on 16 March 2005. As member of the ESA, Greece participates in the agency’s telecommunication and technology activities, and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security Initiative.


The official statistical body of Greece is the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT). According to the ELSTAT, Greece’s total population in 2011 was 10,815,197.
The birth rate in 2003 stood 9.5 per 1,000 inhabitants (14.5 per 1,000 in 1981). At the same time the mortality rate increased slightly from 8.9 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1981 to 9.6 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2003. In 2001, 16.71% of the population were 65 years old and older, 68.12% between the ages of 15 and 64 years old, and 15.18% were 14 years old and younger.

Greek society has also rapidly changed with the passage of time. Marriage rates kept falling from almost 71 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1981 until 2002, only to increase slightly in 2003 to 61 per 1,000 and then fall again to 51 in 2004. Divorce rates on the other hand, have seen an increase – from 191.2 per 1,000 marriages in 1991 to 239.5 per 1,000 marriages in 2004.


Almost two-thirds of the Greek people live in urban areas. Greece’s largest and most influential metropolitan centres are those of Athens and Thessaloniki, with metropolitan populations of approximately 4 million and 1 million inhabitants respectively. Other prominent cities with urban populations above 100,000 inhabitants include those of Patras, Heraklion, Larissa, Volos, Rhodes, Ioannina, Chania and Chalcis.

The table below lists the largest cities in Greece, by population contained in their respective contiguous built up urban areas; which are either made up of many municipalities, evident in the cases of Athens and Thessaloniki, or are contained within a larger single municipality, case evident in most of the smaller cities of the country. The results come from the population census that took place in Greece in May 2011.


Largest cities or towns of Greece
Hellenic Statistical Authority 2011 census
Rank City name Region Pop. Rank City name Region Pop.
1 Athens Attica 3,074,160 11 Agrinio West Greece 93,930 Patras
2 Thessaloniki C. Macedonia 790,824 12 Katerini C. Macedonia 86,170
3 Patras West Greece 214,580 13 Trikala Thessaly 80,900
4 Heraklion Crete 173,450 14 Serres C. Macedonia 76,240
5 Larissa Thessaly 163,380 15 Lamia Central Greece 74,720
6 Volos Thessaly 144,420 16 Alexandroupoli E. Macedonia/Thrace 72,750
7 Rhodes South Aegean 118,623 17 Kozani W. Macedonia 70,420
8 Ioannina Epirus 111,740 18 Kavala E. Macedonia/Thrace 70,360
9 Chania Crete 108,310 19 Kalamata Peloponnese 70,130
10 Chalcis Central Greece 102,420 20 Veria C. Macedonia 66,630

Hellenic Statistical Authority 2011 census


Throughout the 20th century, millions of Greeks migrated to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Germany, creating a thriving Greek diaspora. Net migration started to show positive numbers from the 1970s, but until the beginning of the 1990s, the main influx was that of returning Greek migrants.

In 1986 legal and unauthorized immigrants totaled approximately 90,000. A study from the Mediterranean Migration Observatory maintains that the 2001 census recorded 762,191 persons residing in Greece without Greek citizenship, constituting around 7% of total population. Of the non-citizen residents, 48,560 were EU or European Free Trade Association nationals and 17,426 were Cypriots with privileged status. The majority come from Eastern European countries: Albania (56%), Bulgaria (5%) and Romania (3%), while migrants from the former Soviet Union (Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, etc.) comprise 10% of the total. The greatest cluster of non-EU immigrant population are the larger urban centers, especially the Municipality of Athens, with 132,000 immigrants comprising 17% of the local population, and then Thessaloniki, with 27,000 immigrants reaching 7% of the local population. There is also a considerable number of co-ethnics that came from the Greek communities of Albania and the former Soviet Union.

Greece, together with Italy and Spain, faces a large influx of illegal immigrants trying to enter the EU. Illegal immigrants entering Greece mostly do so from the border with Turkey at the Evros River. As of 2012, the majority of illegal immigrants entering Greece came from Afghanistan, followed by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. The Cabinet has approved a draft law that would allow children born in Greece to immigrant parents to apply for Greek citizenship, so long as one of them has been living in the country legally for at least five consecutive years.


The first concrete evidence of the Greek language dates back to 15th century BC and the Linear B script which is associated with the Mycenaean Civilization. Greek was a widely spoken lingua franca in the Mediterranean world and beyond during Classical Antiquity, and would eventually become the official parlance of the Byzantine Empire.

During the 19th and 20th centuries there was a major dispute known as Greek language question, on whether the official language of Greece should be the archaic Katharevousa, created in the 19th century and used as the state and scholarly language, or the Dimotiki, the form of the Greek language which evolved naturally from Byzantine Greek and was the language of the people. The dispute was finally resolved in 1976, when Dimotiki was made the only official variation of the Greek language, and Katharevousa fell to disuse.

Greece is today relatively homogeneous in linguistic terms, with a large majority of the native population using Greek as their first or only language. Among the Greek-speaking population, speakers of the distinctive Pontic dialect came to Greece from Asia Minor after the Greek genocide and constitute a sizable group.


Compulsory education in Greece comprises primary schools and gymnasium . Nursery schools) are popular but not compulsory. Kindergartens  are now compulsory for any child above 4 years of age. Children start primary school aged 6 and remain there for six years. Attendance at gymnasia starts at age 12 and last for three years.

Greece’s post-compulsory secondary education consists of two school types: unified upper secondary schools and technical–vocational educational schools. Post-compulsory secondary education also includes vocational training institutes which provide a formal but unclassified level of education. As they can accept both Gymnasio (lower secondary school) and Lykeio (upper secondary school) graduates, these institutes are not classified as offering a particular level of education.

According to the Framework Law (3549/2007), Public higher education “Highest Educational Institutions” (AEI)consists of two parallel sectors:the University sector (Universities,Polytechnics,Fine Arts Schools,the Open University) and the Technological sector  (TEI) and the School of Pedagogic and Technological Education). There are also State Non-University Tertiary Institutes offering vocationally oriented courses of shorter duration (2 to 3 years) which operate under the authority of other Ministries. Students are admitted to these Institutes according to their performance at national level examinations taking place after completion of the third grade of Lykeio.

Additionally, students over twenty-two years old may be admitted to the Hellenic Open University through a form of lottery. The Capodistrian University of Athens is the oldest university in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Greek education system also provides special kindergartens, primary and secondary schools for people with special needs or difficulties in learning. Specialist gymnasia and high schools offering musical, theological and physical education also exist.


The Greek healthcare system is universal and is ranked as one of the best in the world. In a 2000 World Health Organization report it was ranked 14th in the overall assessment and 11th at quality of service, surpassing countries such as the United Kingdom (18th) and Germany (25th)In 2010, there were 138 hospitals with 31,000 beds in the country, but on 1 July 2011, the Ministry for Health and Social Solidarity announced its plans to decrease the number to 77 hospitals with 36,035 beds, as a necessary reform to reduce expenses and further enhance healthcare standards. Greece’s healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP were 9.6% in 2007 according to a 2011 OECD report, just above the OECD average of 9.5%.The country has the largest number of doctors-to-population ratio of any OECD country.

Life expectancy in Greece is 80.3 years, above the OECD average of 79.5.and among the highest in the world. The same OECD report showed that Greece had the largest percentage of adult daily smokers of any of the 34 OECD members. The country’s obesity rate is 18.1%, which is above the OECD average of 15.1% but considerably below the American rate of 27.7%. In 2008, Greece had the highest rate of perceived good health in the OECD, at 98.5%.Infant mortality is one of the lowest in the developed world with a rate of 3.1 deaths per 1,000 live births.


The culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, beginning in Mycenaean Greece and continuing most notably into Classical Greece, through the influence of the Roman Empire and its Greek Eastern continuation, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

Other cultures and nations, such as the Latin and Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Genoese Republic, and the British Empire have also left their influence on modern Greek culture, although historians credit the Greek War of Independence with revitalising Greece and giving birth to a single, cohesive entity of its multi-faceted culture.

Useful Links for Tourism in Greece