Tourism in Greece is a key element of the country’s economic activity and is one of the country’s most important sectors. Greece has been a major tourist destination and attraction in Europe since ancient times because of its rich culture and history, much of which is reflected in its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among the most numerous in Europe and the world, as well as its long coastline, numerous islands and beaches.
Greece attracted 26.5 million visitors in 2015 and is expected to attract 30 million in 2016. This makes Greece one of the most visited countries in Europe and the world, contributing 18 % to the country’s gross domestic product. The capital Athens as well as Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Corfu, Crete and Halkidiki are among the country’s top tourist destinations.
In recent years, Greece, in cooperation with other countries, has also promoted religious tourism and pilgrimages to regions with a significant historical religious presence, such as the monasteries of Meteora and Mount Athos.
Tourism in Greece dates back to antiquity. Cultural exchange took place between the Greek colonies of Magna Graeca and the young Roman Republic before Rome dominated the western Mediterranean. When Greece was annexed by the Roman Empire centuries later, the onset of cultural exchange between the two civilisations triggered large numbers of Romans visiting the famous centres of Greek philosophy and science such as Athens, Corinth and Thebes, also because Greece had become a province of the Roman Empire and Greeks were granted Roman citizenship.
Tourism in modern Greece began to flourish in the 1960s and 1970s with so-called mass tourism. During this period, projects to build hotels and other such facilities were carried out on a large scale and the country experienced an increase in the number of international tourists over the years. International events such as the 2004 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, both held in Athens, have contributed significantly to boosting tourism in the country, while major cultural facilities funded by the country, such as the new Acropolis Museum, have also contributed to the flow of tourists to the country. Thessaloniki was the European Youth Capital in 2014.
In 2009, the country received more than 19.3 million tourists, a significant increase from the 17.7 million tourists in 2008. The vast majority of tourists to the country came from the European Union (12.7 million), followed by those from the Americas (0.56 million), Asia (0.52 million), Oceania (0.1 million) and Africa (0.06 million). In 2007, more Britons visited the country than any other nationality, totalling 2.61 million people, or 15 per cent of the country’s tourists in that year alone. In addition, 2.3 million Germans, 1.8 million Albanians and 1.1 million Bulgarians visited the country that year. In 2007, 92.8 % of the total number of tourists in Greece came from European countries.
The most visited region in Greece is Central Macedonia, in the north of the country, close to some of the country’s most popular attractions, such as Halkidiki, Mount Olympus, Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, and the second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki. In 2009, Central Macedonia welcomed 3.6 million tourists, representing 18% of the total number of tourists visiting Greece that year, followed by Attica (2.6 million) and the Peloponnese (1.8 million). Northern Greece is the most visited region in the country with 6.5 million tourists, while Central Greece is in second place with 6.3 million.
According to a survey conducted in China in 2005, Greece was chosen as the preferred destination of the Chinese. In November 2006, Austria, like China, announced that Greece was the preferred destination of its citizens. In line with these observations, former Greek Tourism Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos announced the opening of an office of the Greek National Tourism Organisation in Shanghai by the end of 2010, and the GNTO currently operates two tourism offices in China, one in Shanghai and one in Beijing. It is estimated that Greece received more than 17.93 million tourists in 2013, a 10% increase over 2012. More than 22 million tourists visited Greece in 2014 and this number increased to 26 million visitors in 2015 and is expected to reach 28 million visitors in 2016, making Greece one of the most visited countries in Europe and the world. Tourism in Greece generally peaks between May and September, when about 75% of all tourist visits take place.
Arrivals by country
Most visitors who arrived in Greece at short notice in 2015 came from the following countries:
At the same time, tourism consumption has increased significantly since the beginning of the millennium, from US$17.7 billion in 2000 to US$29.6 billion in 2004. The number of jobs directly or indirectly related to the tourism sector was 659,719, accounting for 16.5 per cent of the country’s total employment that year.
As a developed country heavily dependent on tourism, Greece offers a wide variety of tourism facilities. The tourism infrastructure in Greece has been significantly improved since the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and continues to develop through a number of important projects, especially in areas where mass tourism is less developed.
Hotels and conference facilities
Conference tourism targeting academic, business or cultural markets is a cornerstone of Greek national tourism policy. Accordingly, the Greek government, with the support of local authorities, has offered lucrative cash grants, rental and employment subsidies, and tax breaks to establish new conference facilities and expand existing ones. In a recent report published in Meeting and Incentive Travel magazine, Greece ranked eighth in the world for conference accommodation. Figures from the Tourism Satellite Accounting Study, conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), forecast a global increase in business travel revenue to Greece from US$1.51 billion in 2001 to US$2.69 billion in 2011, up from US$1.18 billion in 1998.
According to the Greek Chamber of Hotels, the number of hotels in Greece is determined by classification (bed spaces):
There are 51 marinas in Greece with 14,661 berths offering services such as moorings, fuel, water and electricity, telephony and repairs. Some of the most developed and busy marinas in Greece are located just a few kilometres from the centre of Athens. The marinas of Alimos and Flisvos on the south coast of Athens have a total capacity of more than 1,800 boats.
Spas and hot springs
There are 752 thermal springs in Greece. Many of them have been classified as therapeutic by the National Institute for Geographical and Mineral Research.
There are several types of museums in the Hellenic Republic. Most of them are located in big cities like Athens, where the famous New Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum are located. In addition, there are a large number of galleries such as the National Gallery (Athens). There are also many museums in Thessaloniki, such as the Byzantine Museum. In total, there are about 150 museums nationwide that are easily accessible to tourists.
Archaeological sites and cities
- Acropolis of Rhodes: The Acropolis of Rhodes is an acropolis from the classical Greek period (5th-3rd century BC).
- Acropolis of Lindos: Natural citadel fortified successively by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Knights of St John and Ottomans.
- Ancient Thera: An ancient city located on a ridge of the steep and 360 m high Messavouno Mountain on the Greek island of Santorini.
- Abdera, Thrace: city-state on the Thracian coast, 17 km east-northeast of the mouth of the Nestos River, and almost opposite Thasos.
- Akrotiri (Santorini): A Bronze Age Minoan settlement on the Greek volcanic island of Santorini (Thera).
- Ambracia: Ruins of the ancient capital of Pyrrhus of Epirus in present-day Arta in Epirus.
- Amphipolis: An ancient city in the region of Macedonia, once inhabited by the Edoni people.
- Argos: Several ancient ruins, including the Heraion.
- Athens: The Greek capital has many archaeological sites, the most famous being the Acropolis and the ancient Agora of Athens.
- Bassae: An archaeological site in the north-eastern part of Messinia, Greece.
- Chalcis: on Euboea.
- Ancient Corinth: Ancient ruins near the modern city include the Temple of the Isthmus and the Temple of Apollo.
- Delos: Uninhabited island famous for its many archaeological sites, including the Stoivadeion, the Temple of the Delians, the Terrace of the Lions and the House of the Dolphins.
- Delphi: City in western Greece, with an important ancient theatre, the site of the oracle.
- Dion, Pieria: The sacred place of the ancient Macedonians. In Dion there is a large temple dedicated to Zeus, as well as a number of temples to Demeter and Isis.
- Dodona: The sanctuary of Dodona in Epirus was considered the oldest Hellenic oracle, probably dating back to the second millennium BC according to Herodotus.
- Eleusis: From 1700 BC to the 4th century AD, Eleusis was the site of the Mysteries of Eleusina or the Mysteries of Demeter and Korea.
- Elaea (Epirus): An ancient port city at the mouth of the river Acheron in Epirus.
- Epidaurus: the ancient theatre, now restored.
- Gitanae: Ruins of ancient Gitanae in Epirus.
- Kameiros: ancient town on the island of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese, Greece.
- Knossos: Archaeological site in Crete, famous for the ruins of the Minoan palace with bull motifs.
- Leibethra: An ancient city near Mount Olympus where Orpheus was buried by the Muses.
- Lycosura: A city in Arcadia, which Pausanias called the oldest city in the world.
- Meteors: Monasteries that are World Heritage Sites.
- Mycenae: During the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the main centres of Greek civilisation, a military stronghold that dominated much of southern Greece. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to Mycenae.
- Messina: Most of the area of ancient Messinia contains the ruins of the great classical city-state of Messinia, refounded by Epaminondas in 369 BC.
- Nekromanteion: The Nekromanteion was an ancient Greek temple of necromancy dedicated to Hades and Persephone.
- Nemea: In Greek mythology, Heracles defeated the lion of the mistress Hera, and this is where the games of Nemea were held in antiquity.
- Nicopolis: or Actia Nicopolis is an ancient city in Epirus founded in 31 BC by Octavian in commemoration of his victory over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium the year before.
- Olympia: Numerous ancient ruins, including the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Hera, the Palestra and the Leonidion.
- Olynthus: An ancient city of Chalkidiki.
- Nestor’s Palace: Nestor’s Palace is the main building of a larger settlement from the late Helladic period, which was probably surrounded by a fortified wall.
- Pella: Capital of ancient Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great and Philip II of Macedonia.
- Phaistos: a Bronze Age archaeological site in Faistos, a municipality in south-central Crete.
- Philippi: Founded by the king of Macedonia, Philip II, on the site of the Thasian colony of Krinides or Crenides.
- Sounion: The Temple of Poseidon.
- The temple complex of Samothrace: It is one of the most important Panhellenic sanctuaries and is located on the island of Samothrace.
- Syros:Neoclassical town of Hermoupolis…2 civilisations 2 religions living together harmoniously and peacefully. 2.5 hours by ferry from Piraeus…. a destination to visit 12 months a year…. Beautiful beaches, a classical theatre, a casino, a general hospital and many sights.
- Stagira (ancient city): Ruins of the ancient city known as the birthplace of Aristotle.
- Sparta: Near the modern city are ancient ruins, the most important of which is the tomb of Leonidas.
- Tiryns: A Mycenaean archaeological site near Argolis in the Peloponnese.
- Tegea: A colony in ancient Greece. Ancient Tegea was an important religious centre of ancient Greece, where the temple of Athena Alea was located.
- Thebes: An ancient city that once rivalled Athens and plays a role in Greek mythology.
- Thermopylae: Mainly known for the battle that took place there in 480 BC, in which a Greek force of probably 7,000 men (including the famous 300 Spartans) defeated a much larger Persian force estimated at 70,000-300,000 men under Xerxes.
- Thessaloniki: City with many historic buildings, some of them World Heritage Sites, including the Arch and Rotunda of Galerius, the Church of Panagia Chalkeon and the White Tower.
- Vergina: The Macedonian royal tombs and the ruins of the former Macedonian capital in the region of Macedonia, Greece. This is a World Heritage Site.
Ecotourism and skiing
In recent years, Greece has become a destination for ecotourism (including hiking, canoeing, caving and climbing). The main ski destinations in Greece are Arachova, Kalavryta, Karpenisi and Metsovo.
Promotion of Greek tourism
The government intends to promote winter tourism in Greece, which could potentially further increase international arrivals.
Tourism in Greece is managed by the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO), which has appointed Helena Paparizou, a famous Greek singer who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, as ambassador. Singer Sakis Rouvas, who represented Greece at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, is currently the Greek Tourism Ambassador. The new logo of the Greek National Tourism Organisation consists of nine circles symbolising the nine new types of tourism that need to be promoted in order to combat the seasonality of the tourism sector. The slogan of the new logo is “Greece, the real experience”, which shows that the marketing campaign is now aimed at experience seekers and not only at mass tourism.
The disadvantage of the new logo is that at first glance it cannot be associated with Greece. The ads on the ONTG website still focus on the sea, sun and sand triptych. However, the tourism campaign is undergoing a significant change, with city breaks and congress tourism being promoted as well as cultural and wellness tourism. It is expected that the impact of the new campaign will lead to an increase in tourism revenue. The name of the commercials is You in Greece.