I am considering travelling to Greece to compete in the Athens Classic Marathon, but I do not speak any Greek.

I will be fine once I get to the hotel as the travel provider will be onsite and transfers to the start are included, and the hotel is within walking distance of the finish line. But I am concerned about getting through customs and getting to and from the airport to the hotel.

Will I have issues in customs, or are there English speaking staff available?

  • 2
    According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Greece, English is one of the four foreign languages most commonly studied in Greece. And this one tripsavvy.com/essential-things-to-know-about-greece-1526338 mentions that all school children start learning English in 3rd grade. You’ll have no problems.
    – Traveller
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 2:38
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    The only essential thing you need to know about Greek is that the word for "yes" sounds something like the English word "no", and the word for "no" sounds something like the English "O.K."
    – alephzero
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 12:42
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    I did it, no problems. don't worry, english and a smile is good enough.
    – Aganju
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 13:44
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    Talking to people is no problem - English of minimal proficiency is nearly ubiquitous. Taking a bus is harder: You have to be able to read the Greek alphabet and map what you see to the place you want to go before it goes whizzing past ...
    – davidbak
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 18:14
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    I'm Greek and I can tell you that almost everybody (and certainly all young people) speak English. It's like a second nature. Don't forget that most TV movies and serials are not dubbed so people grow up listening to English. And 99% of young people learn English as a foreign language (many also learn French and/or German). Being a polyglott is the most normal situation (it's a Greek word in the first place).
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 21:38

10 Answers 10


You'll manage. I speak from recent experience: I completed last year's Athens Classic Marathon (which incidentally led to this question, but I digress). Unlike you I didn't book via a travel provider but arranged everything myself; I've visited a couple of restaurants outside the city center and all waiters spoke decent English. I haven't spoken more than a handful of words in Greek (more or less the list in @Graham's answer). To clarify: that wouldn't have been necessary, but to me personally it adds to my holiday experience and it's a (very minor) sign of respect/appreciation.

Public transport (including the subway that connects the airport to the city center) has all its stations published in both the Greek and the Latin alphabet, so you don't even need to learn 24 new letters. The announcements in the subway are in Greek, then in English.

Enjoy the marathon (pro tip: the last 11 km are downhill and really easy compared to other marathons), and don't forget to enjoy Athens itself as well; the marathon is during low season, so most tourist attractions are half price and less than half as busy as otherwise. And the weather is still quite nice (compared to where I live, at least).


Millions of people per year visit Greece, and I'm willing to bet that a large portion of them do not speak any Greek. It's a very popular holiday destination for English speaking people. I can't imagine you would have much trouble at all1.

Immigration and customs should be no problem. Have the name of your hotel written down in the unlikely event you get a taxi driver who can't understand where you want to go.

1. Source: My wife visited Greece for a month many years ago without knowing a single word of Greek beforehand.

  • Or use Uber and you won't have even that issue. (On my last visit to Greece, admittedly 10+ years ago, the average cabbie did not speak much English at all.) Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 7:51
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    Uber in Athens is different from regular Uber. It's uber taxi. You use the uber app but a regular cab is called. Beware of this and follow greg advice and carry the name and street of your hotel and destinations written down. I had an issue in Athens as the cab driver didn't speak an ounce of English. Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 15:12
  • You may also find the place of your hotel on Google maps and just show it to the taxi driver.
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 13:48
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    @Michael Based on personal experience, I'd be a bit wary of using Google Maps for getting around Athens. It's not bad as long as you stick to main streets, but there are numerous places throughout the city that the map data Google has is somewhat dated. Last trip I took, it took me far longer than it should have the first night to get back to my hotel because Google maps was missing a number of side streets and trying to route me through a brick wall. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 18:52
  • @AustinHemmelgarn The suggestion was not to use gmap to find a route, but to show the taxi-driver where you want to end up. They will then do the route finding. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 9:35

am concerned about getting through customs and getting to and from the airport to the hotel. Will i have issues in customs, or are there english speaking staff available?

Living in Greece all my life I can assure you that, nope, you won't.

As a famous tourist destination almost all tourist related jobs here require some sort of proficiency in speaking English. In places like customs I believe you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't speak English.

Taxis might be more of a mixed bag but the metro is always an available and less expensive option with employees that are, again, required to be able to speak english.

Finally, you can always ask around if you need anything, the younger the person, the more likely they speak English.

Note, of course, all this applies to Athens. The further you get from any city the less likely you are to encounter people who will understand English.

  • So a three month old is more likely to speak English than a three year old?
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 4:48
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    @phoog Well, the gap between their Greek and English ability will be less. More seriously, I think that the intended meaning is obvious.
    – badjohn
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 8:33

You should not have problems.

My recent experience in Greece (mainly in Crete, off-season):

  • Athens airport: no problem, English is understood, signs are also in English, personnel speak English. There is no problem in customs (like most countries: it is not necessary to know local language).

  • Car rental: no problem: you will have documents in English, and people will speak at minimum basic English (with accent)

  • Taxi: no problem, but better to have the address written down (Latin characters are fine)

  • Restaurants: In a small one, they will find a way to communicate with you, usually using a son/daughter, or asking an local guest to help. They also have tourist menus (with images) or they show you what they can provide.

  • Tourist attraction: signs, entries, prices are displayed also in English (Euro currency), most people know enough English.

Most directions on streets are also in English.

You may want to learn Greek alphabet, but not necessary. You may not be able to read all signs (e.g. pharmacy, but logo will help).

You may lose some local chatting (because you do not know Greek, and locals will often not go much further than basic English), but this may not be a problem.

You may try also with Italian, German, French, or Spanish, especially with older people.

Note: I recommend Google Translator (with offline dictionary) on phone, just if you are curious about meaning of some words, and on restaurants ask for a WiFi: the English name of Greek specialties may not say much for us, but Google Image Search helps.

  • 1
    The only trouble I had in 10 days in greece was a small fast food gyro place. They didn't want to slow down their insanely fast gyro-making to try to communicate with my english-only self. Even so, I did eventually get my gyros.
    – stannius
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 17:13
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    The "In a small one, they will find a way to communicate with you, usually using a son/daughter, or asking an local guest to help" is so true in Greece (and many southern countries). The smaller the restaurant, the more probable. I had guests jumping in uninvited to help; One (in Italy) even forced me to taste his meal so I know what I am ordering. Fantastic experiences.
    – WoJ
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 13:04

A phrasebook will certainly help. So will "nee", "oki", "yassas", "efharisto" and "parakello" ("yes", "no", "hallo", "thank you", and either "please" or "you're welcome"). Whilst you can certainly expect most Greeks to speak English to a greater or lesser extent, it is profoundly rude to rock up in someone else's country without knowing even those basics. You'll get a much better response if you can at least say "yassas" in greeting before you ask "Do you speak English?"

That said, you should be fine with just English, especially in Athens.

Further afield, as with many places in the Mediterranean, it's very common to find German spoken as the dominant "tourist" language and fewer people speaking English. In Athens though you should be fine.


I have visited Athens twice on business. At the airport, everyone I dealt with spoke English reasonably enough. I had no problems at passport control, customs, etc. I had no problem getting a taxi and communicating with the driver - although I always carried with me a piece of paper with the address of the hotel.

Once in the city, again, I had no problem with transportation or restaurants - most restaurants either had a menu in English or someone who spoke reasonable English.

In short, no problem.


This is not an answer, but may be relevant:

In the days of phrasebooks, when somewhere really exotic and non-English, I would point to the phrase in the book, which also made for a lot of entertainment on all sides. These days you can do that with Google translate, then you all gather around and have a smile.


Took a holiday in Athens. The language was all Greek to me.

Had no issues being understood or understanding. Most restaurant menus are double language and there are many people who can speak English. If you go away from the touristy areas, you may find it is less easy to get by. But as long as you can get back to where you started, you're not going to starve.

Even on the subway/underground, the signs are clear and it is very easy to understand.


Fortunately, English is widely spoken in Greece and many people are bilingual. You'll find that the majority of signs, menus and other written materials in tourist areas are usually translated into English. However, it's recommended to learn a few key phrases in Greek before travelling - this will be greatly appreciated by locals who may not necessarily speak English fluently, and it will help make your journey more enjoyable.

Tourist Dictionaries There are a variety of resources available to help you learn basic Greek phrases, such as an online course or language learning app, or physical books and CDs. Additionally, many tourist areas offer pocket-sized translation dictionaries to visitors. Knowing a few words in the local language can be invaluable when asking for directions, ordering food or drinks in a restaurant, and engaging with locals. It's also polite to know the basic customs and traditions of the country you're visiting - for example, Greeks generally greet each other with two kisses on either cheek. Taking some time to familiarise yourself with these cultural nuances will help you have an authentic and enjoyable experience during your travels.

Use Language Learning Application There are also a number of language learning applications available, such as Duolingo and Babbel, that allow you to learn Greek phrases on the go. These apps usually come with interactive lessons and audio clips so you can practice your pronunciation, as well as games and quizzes to test your knowledge. They're great for brushing up on your language skills on the go, and you can even download the lessons for offline use so you don't need to worry about staying connected to WiFi.

Finally, it's important to remember that the Greek people are very friendly and accommodating, so don't be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck. With a little bit of preparation, travelling in Greece without knowing the language will be a breeze!

  • This is a very nicely written piece. Question: are you affiliated with Duolingo? You posted a link to their Twitter but not to the Twitter of Babbel (if they have any) The system thinks this is spam (advertisement for Duolingo) for that reason (I think) Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 14:41

I've been to Greece a few times.

Not all Greeks are super good in English but for the most of time in doesn't matter as gestures etc is understood - but you should always be friendly and take your time communicating.

If you're a citizen of the EU then you will have free roaming in Greece and you can then use Google Translate to make communication easier. If your phone provider doesn't provide free or cheap roaming in Greece then you might want to consider getting a Greek SIM card ASAP so that you can do translations and also use online maps.

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