When you were locked down during the height of the pandemic, what was the one place you dreamed of going? My dream was to be in southern and western Europe as it opened up, to experience firsthand what it was like to revive storefronts, reopen hotels, and welcome tourists back after a year of empty stalls and shuttered doors. As the news broke that Greece would welcome American travelers back on May 14, with Italy and Spain not far behind, the plan fell into place: I’d head to Greece as soon as I could enter the country, stay for a while to report on the ground, and then potentially head on to a second or third newly reopened country.
I arrived in Greece on May 16 — a month after my second Moderna shot. Here, I’ve outlined exactly what you can expect if you’re heading to Greece soon, and everything you need to know to plan a safe trip of your own.
How American Travelers Can Enter Greece
Greece is now open to U.S. travelers who are either vaccinated or have taken a PCR test and received a negative result within 72 hours of entering the country. Greece opened to Americans on May 14 with these conditions in place — also opening to Canadians and EU and Schengen countries, among others.
In addition to having your vaccine card (the actual card, not a photocopy) or proof of a negative PCR test, those heading to Greece also need to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before arriving.
The PLF is where things can get tricky. It needs to be filled out at least the day before you arrive in Greece — specifically, it should be submitted by 11:59 p.m. the day before arrival. On the day you are slated to arrive in Greece, you will get an email from the Hellenic Republic with a QR code that allows you entrance to the country. It will show up in your inbox at 12 a.m. on the day of your arrival, and you’ll need to show it at customs in Greece. If you have a layover en route to Greece, you will need to show your QR code before boarding the flight to Greece. If, however, your flight to Greece leaves the day before your actual arrival, you can just show the confirmation e-mail, because you’ll receive your QR code while in transit.
How to Fly to Greece Right Now
A number of airlines are expanding their non-stop routes to Greece this summer. Delta will resume daily flights from New York (JFK) to Athens at the end of May, and will add a non-stop from Atlanta beginning July 2. United is also set to expand their Grecian offerings, with a new direct flight from Washington Dulles airport to Athens, launching in July as well.
I flew to Athens on May 15 from JFK, which was well before the direct flights to Greece are set to launch. And because most of the EU hadn’t opened up, I needed to fly through a country already welcoming American travelers. I opted to fly Turkish Airlines, because a layover in Istanbul is easy to work with in terms of COVID-19 restrictions. Because I was allowed into Turkey (and didn’t need to take a PCR test because of my vaccine card), flying JFK to Istanbul (IST) to Athens was extremely straightforward, with all the COVID-related processes aligning nicely.
While the EU will, in fact, be open by the time many book their tickets to Greece (giving travelers more options in terms of where they can fly through), Turkish Airlines is still my top choice if you’re going to fly from the U.S. with a layover to Athens. I found the onboard experience particularly impressive — Turkish Airlines has some of the best tasting food in the friendly skies, their coach class is a cut above, and their business class is one of the best flight experiences from North America to Europe. Not only that, but the ease of flying through Istanbul without having to do additional paperwork and COVID-19 testing is appealing. The transfers within the Istanbul Airport were as quick and effective as the service on my flight. For New York travelers, Turkish Airlines just added a Newark gateway in May 2021.
What’s Open and Where Can You Stay in Greece?
I am in the midst of a month-long trip to Greece, starting in Athens (specifically, on the Athens Riviera) and venturing to a number of islands, including Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Ios, and Folegandros. Part of what I’m looking to find out is how much is really open right now — and how you can plan a worthwhile trip. On May 14, when the country reopened, restaurants, bars, and hotels in Greece threw open their doors and the country ended its ongoing lockdowns. It’s an exciting time to be in Greece — many locals are newly vaccinated and returning to restaurants and island destinations along with the foreign tourists trickling in. Regulations even for citizens of Greece only just lifted in May — their movements are no longer restricted, and even their retailers and museums are now open.
The main tourist destinations — Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, for example — are reopening very smoothly. In all three areas, you can find a number of hotels to stay in, book guided activities (whether a boat tour around Santorini’s caldera or a guided Acropolis of Athens tour), and dine out at plenty of restaurants. My recommendation would be to stay in a hotel, whether in Athens or the islands, because the staff can guide you to the attractions and restaurants that are open. While, of course, some of the hotels and restaurants in primary tourism hubs are still preparing for opening, most spots reopened the week of May 17 or May 23. You’ll find more than enough to do — and fewer crowds than you’d see in previous years.
The off-the-beaten path islands — like Milos, Ios, and Folegandros — are opening more tentatively. However, their hotels, restaurants, bars, beach clubs, and activities should be fully online by mid-June, if not sooner. Until then, you’re getting a more locals-only experience on the quieter islands, which is a privilege in its own right. Most Greeks I spoke to advised that I stay closer to town or the main port areas when visiting the smaller islands, because that’s where the most will be open. For example, in Milos, I’m staying in Adamantas, the main harbor town, in order to be walking distance to open restaurants and attractions.
Here, a selection of hotels — both on the mainland and various islands — that are open and fully functional. Not only do these hotels offer an exceptional experience, on-site restaurants, pools, and bars, but they can also set you up with activities, coordinate dinner reservations, and point you to what is or is not open in the area.
Four Seasons Astir Palace Athens
Tucked 20 minutes outside of Athens’ city center, you’ll find the Athens Riviera. And you have not seen the capital of Greece until you’ve experienced this slice of actual heaven nestled right on the water. The Four Seasons Astir Palace Athens is a resort that brings the best of Grecian waterfront culture to you. Their staff can send you on a tour of the nearby Acropolis of Athens or Temple of Poseidon, or make you reservations at the must-visit restaurants (some of which are right on the property, like Pelago and Mercato, both of which are designed by the legendary Martin Brudinski). The Four Seasons Astir Palace has three private beaches, an idyllic waterfront hangout area with two glistening pools, and a separate elevated infinity pool open to adults only. Visitors stopping through Athens for two days on the way to the Grecian islands have been known to cancel the rest of their trip in favor of staying longer on the Athens Riviera.
Andronis Luxury Suites
Have you ever wanted to live within the idyllic landscape of Santorini? Andronis Luxury Suites allows you to do just that. In fact, your suite is within one of the iconic white houses that Oia (and most of Santorini) is known for. If you’re easing back into travel, Andronis Luxury Suites is a great idea because you can enjoy the atmosphere and picturesque landscapes of Santorini without leaving your room. Book the Hephaestus suite so you can enjoy your very own plunge pool if you’d like to take a dip without using a communal pool area.
Grace Hotel, Auberge Resorts Collection
With a view over the iconic Skaros Rock and the expansive Aegean Sea, Grace Hotel is nestled into an Imerovigli cliff. Imerovigli is a town known for its picturesque white-washed homes and magnificent sunsets — and Grace Hotel offers unprecedented views of both, along with an infinity pool overlooking the water. Most of the hotel’s deluxe rooms and all the suites have heated plunge pools with caldera views, too.
CREDIT: COURTESY OF GABRIEL GOLDBERG
A new collection of luxury villas around the hidden gem medieval village of Pyrgos, Santorini Sky is the perfect option for those looking for private accommodations with personalized concierge service. The immaculate villas come with private plunge pools and/or Jacuzzis overlooking the island, and the staff will arrange anything from airport pickup or a car rental to dinner reservations and in-villa massages. The Sky Dome experience involves sunset wine in a clear bubble situated at Santorini’s highest peak for romance with the ultimate view.
Andronis Wellness Concept
In Imerovigli — also one of Santorini’s quieter towns — Adronis Wellness Concept has just 28 villas and suites. At this self-contained hotel, you’ll have perfect sunset views, an enviable infinity pool, and terrific caldera-facing dining at Throubi Restaurant. Imerovigli is centrally located, close to both Oia (the classically Instagrammable town with the white and blue houses and windmills) and Fira, Santorini’s capital. Privacy is sometimes hard to come by in Santorini, but Andronis Wellness Concept is a luxurious respite from the tourist bustle, often attracting Hollywood A-listers looking for a secluded retreat.
If you’re looking to island hop without trekking far, Ios is just a 45-minute ferry from Santorini. Ios is a smaller island, and while it’s known for its party scene, it’s also home to out-of-this-world beaches. Calilo is an intimate hotel, with just 30 suites — perfect for travelers who aren’t looking to be crammed into a space with too many people. The resort’s slow pace will help ease travelers’ re-entry anxiety and get them into full vacation mode.
Kalesma, a brand new hotel in Mykonos, opened its doors on May 20. The hotel has 25 suites and two villas, each with a waterfront view. Set on Ornos Bay and the Aegean Sea, guests will spend their evenings sipping on local Greek wines with a view and dining at Pere Ubu on property. If you’re looking for recommendations for what’s open in Mykonos, you are in the very best hands — the three hoteliers behind this property are all Mykonos locals, and the land Kalesma sits on has been in one owner’s family for more than 100 years. The property celebrates not just the vibrant Mykonos scene, but the history and long-standing traditions of this island.
The Wild Hotel
CREDIT: YIORGOS KORDAKIS/COURTESY OF WILD HOTEL
The Wild Hotel has all the charms of a boutique hotel with five-star amenities. Right on the beach, The Wild just reopened with redesigned suites and a new restaurant. The family behind Wild is known for their design talents — they own a number of high-end Grecian design companies — and as a result, the design of this hotel is impeccable. Each piece of furniture is curated by the Varveris family, and the hotel experience is as charming as the décor within.
You can now start booking your Corfu island retreat at Angsana, which officially opens June 15. The hotel is about six miles to Corfu town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the 159 rooms and 37 villas all feature a modern style of design that blends unexpectedly — but fluidly — with the tropical coastline. Angsana is Banyan Tree’s first European property, so the pool design is sure to be next level.
Tips for Planning Your Trip to Greece During the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
For traveling between the islands, you may have to take a ferry rather than a flight. Island hopping via direct flight — Milos to Santorini, Mykonos to Paros, and the like — may be more challenging because not every flight route has reopened. Many will be running by the height of the season (August), but the ferries are an excellent alternative and can get you to any island. The public ferries are easily bookable and less expensive, but tend to take longer. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, the private ferries (namely, Seajets) are still reasonably priced and will get you to your destination much faster.
As mentioned earlier, staying in a hotel — or in an Airbnb environment where you have open communication with your host — may be easier, because you’ll have someone to tell you what is and isn’t open. Tourism is opening up in a big way — not just in Greece but around the EU — but it will still take time before every restaurant, tour company, and activity is back up and running. Seeking advice from the locals who work at your hotel will help you find nearby restaurants and must-try tours that are open and eager to welcome you back to Greece after a challenging year.
If you are vaccinated and traveling to Greece, really all you need is your vaccine card and passport. (Though, remember, you aren’t considered a fully vaccinated traveler until at least 14 days after your vaccination course is completed.) Greece is currently accepting vaccinated U.S. travelers with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccines.
However, if you are not vaccinated and are heading to Greece, you need to present a negative PCR test for COVID-19, administered 72 hours before entering the country. You should also check, if you’re island hopping, on each area’s restrictions, because you may need to test again to enter other destinations. At the time of publishing, movement restrictions in Greece have ended, but it’s still worth checking in case circumstances and regulations change. What’s accepted on entry to Athens may not be what’s accepted when entering Mykonos — so do your research on each destination you’re hitting, or consider calling your hotels to ask in advance.
Whether or not you’re vaccinated, the Passenger Locator Form is required for entry to Greece. The timing of this form is tricky — because you have to fill it out at least the day before you arrive, but you won’t get the QR code until the day of your arrival. I’ve encountered more than one group of tourists whose trip was delayed by a day because they didn’t fill the form out correctly, so make sure to follow the instructions closely and keep all related emails from the Hellenic Republic.
When booking activities, remember pretty much everything you’d want to do could happen outside. Boat tours, hiking tours, winery visits, and evening cocktails can all happen outside in idyllic settings. I’m a vaccinated traveler who isn’t raring to get back to indoor dining or crowded, enclosed spaces, to be honest. And I found it easy to take advantage of everything the Athens Riviera and the islands have to offer — while spending time primarily outdoors in spacious areas. To avoid crowds, now is a great time to challenge yourself to find that one perfect Instagram shot without visiting the view point that draws a horde of people at sunset. Even visiting Santorini a few days into Greece’s reopening — when it felt like I had the island entirely to myself — there was a (small) crowd at the famous church in Oia, above Ammoudi Bay, where everyone takes a sunset picture. I skipped that experience and took my sunset shots in Imerovigli instead. Scroll through Instagram tags and places, or ask a local at your hotel, to find the best views with the fewest people.
Finally, always have a mask when you’re leaving your hotel room. You will need it to enter any establishment, whether indoors or outdoors, and wearing masks is required in public places. As American travelers start venturing abroad and reentering other countries, it’s important that we follow local mask-wearing rules and show businesses that we respect and will abide by their rules.