Go ahead and take that Greek vacation—just don’t expect it to be cheap

A feel-good holiday.
A feel-good holiday.
Image: AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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While Greece’s economy and government teeter on the edge of the abyss, many have suggested that the best way to help the floundering country—and get a bargain holiday to boot—is to take your tourism there. From the Guardian:

The weather is just as stunning as it ever was this time of year; the archaeological sites just as interesting; the beaches just as magical; the food just as heart-healthy. The prices are significantly cheaper than usual. It is one of those rare everybody-wins situations.

That advice should come with some caveats: Your pounds or dollars might buy you more feta, but it’s a good idea to bring enough foreign cash to cover your whole holiday, for example. And overall, a Greek holiday is still not the cheapest option in Europe.

Nevertheless, despite apocalyptic reports about deserted tourist destinations in Athens (“Nobody climbs up to the Acropolis anymore,” writes one Italian reporter of dubious credibility), things appear to be relatively OK, at least in the country’s tourism sector.

According to SETE (the association of Greek tourism enterprises) in the first quarter of 2015 there were more than 810,000 international arrivals in Greece, up by nearly 30% on last year; international arrivals were up by over 29% in Athens and by more than 22% in Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city. 

But while tourism seems to be doing well, even amid the current turmoil, previous instances of crisis in the region did impact the travel industry and it might do so again—so the call for tourists to keep the industry going could actually help the country.

The World Travel and Tourism Council‘s expects (pdf, p.5) the importance of tourism for Greece’s GDP will grow in 2015. Tourism’s contribution to the country’s GDP was over $32 billion, accounting for over 11% of the total 2014 GDP of $285 billion. The sector is projected to grow by 3.2% in 2015 to over $33 billion, while the general GDP is expected to further shrink, by -0.2%.

Tourism is expected to contribute (directly and indirectly) 727,000 jobs this year, 27,000 more than in 2014, which altogether puts Greece in 29th position in the world for importance of tourism to its economy.

However, none of this means traveling in Greece will get any cheaper, and at the moment a trip there isn’t particularly affordable, when compared with neighboring Croatia, Montenegro and Turkey, as well as with other southern European destinations, according to Numbeo, a database of living expenses around the world.


A round-trip flight from New York to Athens at the end of July, for instance, costs a minimum of $1,440 (for a reasonable travel schedule), which is slightly more than a flight to Rome or Barcelona. The same goes for flights from London or Berlin.


An Airbnb rental in Athens is around €40-60 ($45-70) per night for late July to early August—again, a similar rate to Rome or Istanbul, while Madrid is cheaper. All seaside locations have higher prices in this time of the year, regardless of the country, and the prices in Greece seem to reflect the region’s average in popular destinations such as Mikonos.

Eating out

A mid-range meal for two in Athens is about $40, compared to $25 in Turkey, where a cheap meal costs exactly half the price of what it is in Athens. The prices are substantially the same in Madrid and Athens (food is slightly cheaper in the latter, drinks in the former) and marginally lower in Rome.


According to Lonely Planet, a mid-range holiday traveller in Greece should budget about $70-110 per day, transportation excluded. Options such as Croatia, Turkey and Portugal are all slightly cheaper—although none of them arguably needs tourists’ money as much as Greece right now.


For people actually living in Greece, the picture is far grimmer. Greeks have the lowest purchasing power in Europe, as their monthly average disposable salary (an estimated € 684.66 after tax) is not sufficient to cover the cost of living.

When compared to other capitals, the local purchasing power of Athens is 29.5% lower than Rome, 42.8% lower than Madrid, and 34.7% lower than London. Athenians have less than half the local purchasing power of people living in Berlin and about half that of Parisians, and they are doing much worse even than residents of New York and Hong Kong, which are considered the world’s most expensive cities.