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100+ Surprising and fun facts about Greece

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100+ Surprising and fun facts about Greece

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Along with being one of our favorite countries to visit, Greece is also a thoroughly fascinating place to learn about.

With a long and rich history, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of interesting facts about Greece!

Cool. Strange. Insightful.

These 100+ fun facts about Greece are thought-provoking and spell-binding to read – whether you’re planning a trip to Greece or just want to learn more Greek facts.

Fun facts about Greece

Fun facts about Athens

1) The Acropolis almost became one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World”

Fun facts about Athens: The Acropolis almost became one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World."

Like Chichen Itza (the most famous ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula), the Acropolis was a leading contender in the 2007 “New 7 Wonders of the World” contest. But while Chichen Itza made the list, the Acropolis didn’t.

Still the Acropolis is fabulous to roam around when you’re in Athens – which is worth visiting.

Don’t just dash in and out of Athens on your way to the Greek Islands!

2) Athens is the oldest capital in Europe

It dates back to about 3,400 years ago.

3) It’s illegal to wear high heels

Who knew!

You can’t wear high heels in Greece when touring ancient historic sites like the Acropolis because you could “wound” the monuments. One of the quirkiest facts about Athens, don’t your think?

Do yourself and the monuments a favor, and wear proper travel sandals or shoes.

4) The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was in Athens

The temperature in Athens soared to a record-breaking 118.4 F (48 C) on July 10, 1977 – the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe.

Reminder: Spring and fall are more pleasant times for visiting Greece.

5) Athens was the first European Capital of Culture

Fun Athens facts: Athens was the first European Capital of Culture.

It was so named in 1985.

Subsequent capitals to be designated a European Capital of Culture include Porto, Portugal (2001), Matera, Italy (2019) and Rijeka, Croatia (2020).

6) One famous modern-day Athenian is Arianna Huffington

The co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post was born in Athens.

7) The presidential guards wear pom-poms on their shoes

Fun facts about Greece: The Evzones guards wear pom-poms on their shoes.

Called “Evzones,” these elite ceremonial guards wear a distinctive uniform, which includes a kilt, red cap and black pom-poms on their shoes.

The best time to watch the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square in Athens is on Sundays at 11:00 am, when there’s a “grand change.”

Cool facts about Santorini

8) Santorini is the only inhabited caldera in the world

Created after an explosive volcanic eruption in 1660 BC, the sickle-shaped island of Santorini is what’s left of the volcanic caldera.

Today, it’s the only volcano cauldron in the world where people live.

9) Santorini is an active volcano

Don’t worry (too much) though. Santorini is dormant (for now).

10) Santorini is the world’s most beautiful island

At least, that’s what many people think. Especially honeymooners – Santorini is one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations.

(We love Santorini, but we also think the islands of Mallorca and Kauai are just as beautiful, but in different ways.)

Facts about Santorini: Santorini is one of the world's most beautiful islands.

11) Santorini has red beaches

It has black sand beaches too.

12) Santorini was the lost city of Atlantis

Or so the legend goes…

13) People go ga-ga over Santorini’s sunsets

Fun facts about Santorini: Sunsets in Oia are famous.

The lovely white-washed village of Oia is famous for its blood-orange sunsets, drawing crowds of photographers and sunset worshippers.

14) There was no electricity on the island until 1960

Enough said…

15) Wine is more plentiful than water

Santorini gets so little rain that locals joke the island has more wine than water.

16) “Donkey taxis” are used to get to Fira

From the old port, there are 588 steps to get up to the capital of Fira.

You can take the cable car up or ride a Santorini donkey.

The donkey rides are controversial though, especially if you’re, ahem, overweight.

17) Santorini grows more than 100 varieties of grapes

Wow!

18) The hike from Fira to Oia is one of the world’s most beautiful

The 6-mile hike winds along cobbled lanes on the cliffs of Fira and Imerovigli, then across the spine of the island (where you get amazing ocean views on both sides), finally ending in Oia.

Avoid walking in the heat of the day; early morning or late afternoon are the best times to go.

19) Santorini wines are especially classy

The volcanic soil adds a classy, flinty flavor to Santorini wines.

20) Early Santorinians lived in cave houses

Today, some of the best boutique hotels in Santorini (like Ikies Traditional Houses) are cave hotels – but they’re much more luxurious digs than what the early residents carved out!

21) Santorini is full of stairs

Walking up and down in Santorini is like getting an outdoor stairmaster workout.

It’s about 350 to 400 steps from Oia village to Amoudi Bay down below. The climb from Imerovigli to Skaros Rock is about 300 steps.

Interesting facts about Mykonos

22) Few people actually live on Mykonos

Just over 10,000 people actually live on the island full-time.

But in summer, Mykonos reels in a whopping number of sun-seekers and holiday-goers.

More than 50,000 visitors stay on the island at any one time then, and the island sees between 150,000 and 250,000 visitors a year.

Facts about Mykonos: Not many people actually live on Mykonos, but it gets whopping numbers of visitors in summer.

23) Mykonos is miserable in winter

There’s a reason you don’t want to visit Mykonos in winter.

Temps drop, and the island gets very windy from November to March – which makes it bone-chilling cold! In fact, Mykonos’ “nickname” is the “Island of the Winds.”

24) Mykonos’ windmills are centuries old

Fun facts about Mykonos: There used to be 28 windmills. Now there are 16 old windmills.

There used to be 28 windmills all over the island, originally built by the Venetians during the 16th century.

The island’s gusty weather was perfect for operating windmills! They were mostly used to mill wheat for bread.

Today, there are only 16 old windmills still standing. Five of these windmills are perched high above the crashing waves of Little Venice in Mykonos town.

25) Mykonos was a popular pirate’s den

When pirates commanded the seas, they loved to hang out and drink in Little Venice.

26) Mykonos has as many churches as families

There are between 600 and 800 churches and chapels on Mykonos – which is said to result in one church or chapel per local family.

(Do the math, and “family” must include grandparents down to grandchildren. But whatever, this is still a lot of churches for an island only 33 square miles in size!)

27) “Petros the Pelican” is the island’s unique mascot

This is one of the cutest Greece facts: Mykonos’ town is home to the most famous pelican in the world, Petros, the island’s mascot.

Petros the Pelican is Mykonos' unique mascot.

The original Petros was a white pelican back in the 1950s, hurt and nursed back to health by a fisherman who found him. The pelican stayed on the island and was adopted by the locals.

Sadly, Petros was killed in a car accident in 1985.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis later donated a pelican to the Mykonians who missed Petros. Two other pelicans apparently also found their way to the island.

So today, the “Petros” you see could be one of several Mykonos pelicans.

When looking for Petros on a visit to Mykonos, we overlooked a tethered goat nearby, which decided to suddenly head-butt George. Thwack – ouch! Happy memories…

28) Mykonos is gay friendly

Gay sun worshippers especially love Paradise and Super Paradise beaches.

29) There’s superb diving at the shipwreck of Anna II

In 1995, the 200-foot cargo ship Anna II sank off the coast of Mykonos near Lia Beach. Resting on the sea floor at a depth of 82 feet, the wreck is in excellent condition.

The site has turned into a fantastic artificial reef, full of big colorful sponges – making it a great dive for scuba divers.

30) Cats are owned by everyone on Mykonos

Lots of cute kitties roam the streets of Mykonos town.

They don’t have “owners” and are fed and cared for by everyone.

31) Topless swimming is allowed everywhere on Mykonos

32) Doors and windows are painted specific colors

They’re painted blue, red or green.

In the past, the color depended on what you did for a living.

Sailors painted their shutters and doors blue. Green was for farmers. Everyone else painted their doors and windows red.

Interesting facts about Crete

33) The air on Crete has healing powers

At least, this is what Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” preached. It’s believed he sent the sick to Crete to get better.

34) Crete has two pink sand beaches

Facts about Crete: Balos Beach has pink sand.

Check out the beaches of Balos and Elafonissi – they have a pinkish color.

35) In Greek mythology, Zeus, the father of all Greek gods, was born on Crete

36) There are no harmful animals on Crete

You may see Kri Kri goats, rabbits and hedgehogs. But no dangerous animals.

Interesting facts about Crete: You may see goats, but no dangerous animals.

37) Cretans fire guns during weddings and other celebrations

Only in the air!

38) The minotaur lived in a labyrinth underneath the Palace of Knossos

Interesting facts about Crete: The minotaur lived in a labyrinth under the Palace of Knossos.

According to Greek myth, the creature (half-man and half-bull) was King Minos’ son.

The king’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, a prince from Athens, who killed the minotaur, after which the happy couple fled Crete.

39) Crete is the largest island in Greece

40) The island has some 50 gorges

Samaria Gorge – more than 10 miles long – is the longest gorge in Europe. Walking along the gorge is a beautiful hike.

41) Crete has heaps of “Blue Flag” beaches

Facts about Crete: Crete has 115 Blue Flag beaches.

A “Blue Flag” beach is one that’s extremely clean with clear water.

Crete has 115 “Blue Flag” beaches. Little wonder that the island is a hot spot for European beachgoers!

Interesting Greek facts about other places in the country

42) The island of Chios is one of the best places for scuba diving in Greece

The underwater reef formations are especially fantastic!

You can swim through sea caves, dive along fabulous rocky walls (like the Great Wall) and explore underwater ship wrecks.

43) The movie “Mama Mia” was filmed in Skiathos and Skopelos

Fun Greek facts: The Greek island of Skiathos was used for filming the movie "Mama Mia."

The port where Sophie’s three fathers meet for the first time is the old port on Skiathos.

Skopelos was used to film most of the outdoor beach and town scenes (Kastani Beach was the main beach location).

44) Greece has over 6,000 islands

Or 5,000. Or 1,200 islands. Depending on what source you look at.

The number of inhabited islands is between 166 and 227, again, depending on the source.

45) Wild dolphins frolic around Alonissos

The island is part of the National Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades – the largest marine protected area in Europe.

46) Rhodes has millions of butterflies

The Valley of Butterflies on the island of Rhodes is home to the only natural forest of Oriental Sweetgum trees, which attracts breeding Jersey tiger moths.

At the end of the wet season in May, you can see spectacular clouds of these moths and other butterflies.

47) The name “Rhodes” means “rose”

And, yes, Rhodes has a lot of roses!

48) Samothrace boasts stunning waterfalls

Had you heard of Samothrace before? No? Well, that’s because it’s one of the most non-touristy Greek islands.

Samothrace is a place for hikers and nature lovers.

49) Anthony Bourdain spent a lot of time on Naxos

Not a party island, Naxos is known for its delicious food.

50) You can hike mining caves on the island of Serifos

51) The famous statue of Aphrodite was discovered on Milos in 1820

Venus de Milo, Louvre

The beautiful marble statue of “Aphrodite of Milos” (also known as “Venus de Milo”) can now be seen in the Louvre.

52) The movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” was filmed on Kefalonia

53) Corfu is the greenest island

It is nick-named Greece’s “Emerald Isle” and is home to more than 3 million olive trees.

54) People on Corfu drink kumquat liqueur

Kumquats (a small orange sour-tasting fruit) were introduced to Corfu in 1860.

Fun facts about Corfu: The people drink kumquat liqueur.

Now nearly every garden in Corfu has a kumquat tree.

The kumquat liqueur isn’t made anywhere else in Greece.

55) James Bond gambled at Achilleion Palace

One of the main tourist attractions on Corfu, the Achilleion Palace was built by the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in the late 19th century.

It was turned into a casino for the James Bond movie, “For Your Eyes Only.”

56) The chic island of Hydra is car-free

No automobiles are allowed. Donkeys are the main form of transportation.

57) At Meteora, monks live in monasteries perched on towering rock pinnacles

Meteora

One of the most unique places in Greece, Meteora is riddled with 14th century monasteries, built by monks searching out spiritual isolation.

In the past, ropes and baskets had to be used to haul up the monks from the ground. You can visit some of these monasteries today.

58) Nafplio is Greece’s playground for the rich and famous

The beautiful seaport town on the Peloponnese Peninsula was also the first capital of modern Greece.

59) Alexander the Great was buried at Philippi

Or not. There’s speculation that a tomb found in the ancient ruins of Philippi might be his.

But experts say the bones found there are probably those of Alexander’s mother or wife. (Alexander died in Babylon, today Iraq).

60) Katapola has great fish restaurants

Charming little fish tavernas line the sleepy harbor at Katapola.

61) Tom Hanks has a home on Antiparos

Known to love Greece, actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson are said to own a summer home on Antiparos, a bohemian Greek island with several nude beaches.

62) Levitha is possibly the smallest inhabited Greek island

It’s hard to say exactly which is the “smallest inhabited” island, because there are tiny islands that are privately owned.

But Levitha is only four square miles in size and inhabited by one single family. They run a tavern for yachters who occasionally drop anchor there.

63) Shipwreck Cove is insta-perfect!

On the island of Zakynthos, Shipwreck Cove (or Navagio Beach) is one of the best Zakynthos beaches – and one of the most photographed spots in Greece!

A large rusted shipwreck rests on the beach.

Shipwreck Cove, Zakynthos

Fun facts about Greek people

64) Greeks are happy people

One of the most heart-warming facts about Greece is that, despite their economic hardships, Greeks have the lowest suicide rate in the European Union.

65) Greeks on Ikaria live to be very old

Fun facts about Greek people: They're happy, and on the island of Ikaria, they live into their 90s.

One in three people on this Greek island off the Turkish coast live into their 90s.

And they have quality lives too – they enjoy much lower rates of heart disease, dementia and cancer than Americans and Canadians.

66) Over 90% of Greeks are Greek Orthodox

67) Cleopatra was actually Greek, not Egyptian

While she was born in Egypt, Cleopatra was the last of the Macedonian Greek dynasty which ruled Egypt for nearly three centuries after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC.

68) Everyone gets two birthdays in Greece

And your “name day” is more important in (mostly Greek Orthodox) Greece than your real birthday.

Each day of the year is dedicated to a saint, and most people are named after saints. So your “name day” is the day of that saint’s celebration.

You’re typically invited out to a taverna for a drink or dinner on your name day.

69) Many Hollywood celebrities are Greek

Jennifer Aniston, Tina Fey, Billy Zane, Elizabeth Perkins and Nia Vardalos (of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame) are all of Greek heritage.

70) Albert Einstein was more interested in the Greeks than in science

He once famously said: “How can any educated person stay away from the Greeks? I have always been far more interested in them than in science.”

Charming facts about Greek culture, food and wine

71) Ouzo is magic

Okay, not exactly. But this anise-flavored liquor, which Greeks drink with appetizers, has a magical quality – it turns from clear to milky white when water or ice is added to it.

And it performs its happiness-inducing magic very quickly if you drink a glass (or two) of ouzo!

72) The color blue can repel evil

It was believed that the color of sky-blue could ward off evil spirits.

This is why you see doors, church cupolas, fences and window shutters in Greece painted this rich blue color.

73) Greek wine is really good!

Greek wine used to get a bad rap. But the country has upped its game recently.

We’ve drunk some surprisingly good Santorini wines on our visits to the island. So go ahead – give Greek wine another chance.

74) Greeks love their olive oil

They each consume five gallons of olive oil. Greece is the world’s largest producer of virgin olive oil.

75) The 1931 Greek movie “Daphnis and Chloe” showed the first nude scene in European cinema

76) Greeks are fashionably late

Ferry schedules are more of a “guideline,” and showing up 30 minutes after the agreed time for social occasions is fashionably on time.

77) Digging up dead bodies is common

Cemeteries are crowded. So it’s common to only keep the body underground for three to five years.

After that, the body is dug up and the bones are kept in an ossuary.

78) Greeks love to dance

Fun facts about Greece: There are up to 10,000 traditional Greek dances.

Dancing is a very old tradition in Greece.

It’s estimated there are 10,000 traditional Greek dances that come from all regions in Greece.

79) Tipping isn’t common in Greece

But taxi drivers expect to be tipped by tourists.

80) Leprosy was a ground for divorcing your spouse until 1983

81) Greeks are very proud

They’re proud to be Greek. Indeed, they’re prouder of their national identity than any of their European counterparts.

82) Greek coffee is unique

Interesting Greek facts: Greek coffee is unique, where the grinds are very fine, almost like flour.

The coffee grinds are extremely fine, almost like flour, and the coffee tastes a little like espresso. Sugar is often added in the brewing.

Want a little coffee with your sugar? Ask for “Vary Glykos,” which uses 2 teaspoons of coffee to 3 teaspoons of sugar.

Greek coffee is drunk morning, noon and night, and is usually served with a glass of water.

83) The Greek language is one of the oldest languages still spoken today

84) Backgammon is extremely popular in Greece

You often see Greeks, young and old, playing games at cafés. A backgammon game makes a good souvenir to bring home.

Other great souvenirs include honey, Karagiozis (shadow puppets) and olive oil soaps.

85) Greek yogurt in Greece is way better than Greek yogurt back home

Deliciously thick and creamy, it’s often eaten at breakfast, drizzled with honey on top and finished off with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.

86) The “OK” sign is considered rude in Greece

Oops! Don’t use it – the sign is a sexual insult.

Interesting Greek facts: The "OK" sign is an insult.

Fun facts about ancient Greece

87) Athens was the birthplace of democracy

All free male citizens were expected to vote.

88) Ancient Greeks used pee to whiten their teeth

This is one of the strangest Greek facts. But it’s true – there were many unusual uses for urine in the past!

89) Ancient Greeks ate dinner lying on their sides

The men would recline on their left elbows and use their right hands to eat and drink.

Comfy!

90) One-third of the population of classical Athens were slaves

From the 5th to the 3rd centuries BC, slaves in classical Athens worked as artisans, helped out in households and toiled in factories and on farms.

It’s believed that slaves in Athens were treated a little better than slaves in other Greek cities.

91) Ancient Greeks exercised nude in public

The Greek word “gymnasion” means “school for naked exercise.” Male athletes in sporting events also competed in the buff.

92) In ancient Greece, cutting or uprooting an olive tree was a crime

The penalty was death!

Olive tree

93) The ancient Greeks invented the yo-yo

Dolls are considered to be the oldest toys in the world – the yo-yo is believed to be the second oldest toy.

94) “Alexander the Great” was Greek

Born in Pella, Macedonia, the great explorer tamed an enormous wild horse at age 12 (which became his battle companion), was tutored by Aristotle and headed a vast empire.

95) Jury trials had 500 jury members

Juries for the ancient court of Athens were very large. A lot larger than the standard 6 to 12 jury members today!

96) Red lipstick meant a “lady of the night”

Indeed, one of the most interesting facts about ancient Greece is that prostitutes could be punished if they didn’t wear red lipstick.

This was to distinguish them from non-“working girls,” who were discouraged from wearing lipstick.

97) Ancient Spartans drank blood

To keep their vigor up, they drank a black broth of boiled pig’s legs, blood, salt and vinegar.

98) Salt was as good as money

Ancient Greeks often bought slaves with salt, leading to the saying: “not worth his salt.”

99) A unibrow was a sign of intelligence

Having a unibrow meant you were intelligent in ancient Greece, and it was considered beautiful on a woman.

Many ladies who didn’t have one would close the gap between their two eyebrows using kohl or other make-up.

100) Throwing an apple was a way of saying “I love you

It was sometimes used to propose marriage too.

If the lady caught the apple, it meant she accepted the marriage proposal.

101) The word “music” derives from the Muses

Fun facts about ancient Greece:

The nine Muses, Zeus’ daughters, were goddesses of the arts in Greek mythology.

The Greek word mousike originally referred to any of the arts they governed (poetry, lyric songs, etc.), but later came to mean composing melodies – and music.

102) Most people today would be “idiots” in ancient Greece

The word “idiot” in ancient Greece referred to a private citizen (someone who wasn’t a politician or didn’t get involved in public affairs).

Over time, it came to mean a “layman” or unskilled worker, and eventually evolved to mean someone who is stupid.

Interesting Greek facts

Hey, you made it to the end! Which of these fun facts about Greece did you like the most? (You can comment below.)

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About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Christel

Saturday 9th of May 2020

I love Greece, people are amazing over there. Hope to go back soon...

Janice and George

Saturday 9th of May 2020

We love Greece too, and hope it won't be too long before we can return! Itching to visit some of those really off-the-beaten-path Greek islands :-).

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