Cycling Greece

Greek FlagCapital: Athens
Currency: Euro
Population: 10.7 million
Food: Donairs
Drink: Frappe ice coffee
Warning: Nasty sheepdogs

We covered northern Greece in September 2007, making our way east to the Turkish border.

The country is very hilly and hard work on bicycles but it also offers some great wild camping opportunities and we found the people very hospitable. The north is not touristy overall but the town of Meteora attracts many visitors with its monasteries on the top of stone pillars.

At the top!!Our tour started when we landed from Italy at the port town of Igoumenitsa. From there we made our way across the Katara pass, down to Meteora, around Mount Olympos then up the coast to Thessaloniki and along the water all the way to Kavala and Alexandroupoli before heading northeast to the border with Turkey. The ride along Mount Olympus is a must; beautiful views of the famous peak and a great downhill run to the sea if you are heading towards Thessaloniki. Meteora was also well worth a visit to see the monasteries, even if you do have to jostle with hundreds of other tourists.

route-greece.jpgThe roads were in decent condition for the most part although sometimes the heavy truck traffic and heat had worn grooves into the pavement. Occasionally we also found dirt roads, which were supposed to be hard packed, were actually in very bad shape and not rideable. Our map was a 1:500 000 scale map published by Road Editions. It covered the whole country and was generally pretty good. Distances were accurate. It did not, however, give indications of grading. Some small communities were not listed on the map.

A view with catsOUT THERE IN GREECE
Both our challenges and our pleasures in Greece came from the remote terrain. Wild camping was often necessary but no problem at all and very scenic. You can always pitch a tent on the grounds of the orthodox churches or sleep in the open air on the benches they have on covered outdoor terraces. There will be water in most church grounds. Just be discreet and respectful. On two occasions, we were invited to stay in people’s homes. We found it challenging to locate enough water and because of the mountainous terrain we had to allow more time than we would otherwise to cover a set distance. If wild camping isn’t your thing you may want to head for the more populated southern half of Greece where there are far more campsites and hotels.

13 Xμ/km of twists and turnsWATCH THE DOGS
Sheepdogs were another disagreeable aspect of going through rural Greece. We didn’t see any wild dogs but the sheepdogs can be very aggressive. Give any flocks of sheep a wide berth and if you are approached by dogs stop cycling – unless you are on a great downhill run of at least 30km/hour. Stand your ground and look tough. Don’t show fear. Shout back and motion like you are going to throw something at them. Pick up rocks to use as weapons. Use your bike as a shield and walk slowly past them. If the shepherd is around he can call the dogs off but sometimes he wanders away.

Greece isn’t the budget destination we remembered it as from our trip there a few years back. The campgrounds ran between €14-20 euros a night. We heard that you could get hotel rooms easily from €20-40 a night and this was probably true in more rural areas but in Thessaloniki we paid over the odds for city centre accomodation. A coffee or frappe ran anywhere between €1.20-2.50 each. You can get street food for €10-15 for two people (kebabs or souvlaki and drinks). Internet access was fairly cheap, with plenty of places offering it at €1 an hour.

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20 Responses to “Cycling Greece”

  1. cycleguy123 says:

    Hi there your trip sounded great, I’m thinking of doing something similar, what was the exact name of the road map you used?

    • friedel says:

      Hi. I don’t remember the name of the map. I remember we bought it in the first town we came to in Greece at a normal book store and it wasn’t very good! The smallest scale we could get was 1:100 000 000 or something in that range and normally we’d try to find a road atlas that showed roads on a scale of 1:500 000 at least but, we made it. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  2. Kasey says:

    Hey there! Im making quite the same trip by bicycle and wanted to know how you crossed the border between Greece and Turkey at Kipos in the south because its only the highway that crosses there.. if the border polic didnt care that you were on the highway with a bicycle, of if they fined you?

  3. marto says:

    Will do a similar trip, just a bit shorter only though:)
    Going from Istanbul via Thessaloniki to Volos. Can you tell me if there is any bigger hills mountains in this are, or more likely after Thessaloniki torwards the east? Is there a coastal route?

    Thanks a lot

  4. Kasey says:

    Be very careful leaving Istanbul… I was traveling eastward and actually took a bus into Istanbul because of weather and logistics, but was really glad once I saw the freeways outside of Istanbul..
    Rolling hills from Istanbul until Kesan… which is fine as long as you don’t have stormy weather with high winds making it really tough with consistent traffic since it’s the main road to Istanbul from Greece… Once you get to Greece I remember it being quite fine and managable to do 100 km by day.
    Good luck and enjoy!!

  5. marto says:

    So you are saying I should not ride a trackbike or is it fine? I am an experienced ride, don’t worry! Travelled a lot with a bike like that…

  6. marto says:

    that looks like a nice way into istanbul, but i am leaving from istanbul though ;)
    thought there is maybe a nice a scenic way along the ocean in turkey/greece… not too hilly, just one gear…

  7. Jumping Jack says:

    I’m planning a route very similar to yours (the same road up to Meteora). You say finding water was a challenge. I have heard that most villages have fountains. Did you find there were enough villages (or rather fountains)?

    • Friedel says:

      Hi Jack, yes, most villages had fountains but the villages weren’t always on the main road. It’s very mountainous, so what I remember is that towns were a little far apart (how you feel about this probably depends a lot of on how hot it is too), and a few times we’d want water but the village would be way down a hill into the valley, with a steep climb back to the main road.

  8. Jamie says:

    on sheep dogs, there are often not as bad as they may at first appear, and being aggressive and throwing stones is often not the best approach. I remember once approaching a group of about 5 who were barking and acting like they wanted to eat me. Instead of being aggressive I lay on the floor and said friendly things to them and they responded by whimpering and wagging their tails! You have to judge by the body language of the dog – deep down they are often quite scared of strange human beings, are are relieved when you show you are not a threat. Definitely get off the bike though – dog’s the world over seem to love having a go at bikes; stand your ground if their body landguage makes you scared of them (but not necessarily aggressively – seemingly aggressive dog’s often respond possitively if you appear confident but friendly, whereas a show of aggression makes them think you really are a threat, and that they must respond in kind) and don’t approach the sheep – it’s their job to protect the sheep, and they may see you as a threat to them

  9. Arion says:

    On Greek Sheep dogs (I suppose it will apply to other ones too)

    They are trained to defend the sheep from wolf and people that steal them, not to chase after threats. This is very important to know, they are trained NOT to chase, stay with the sheep all the time and their primary function is to start barking immediately to notify the shepherd.

    So the best strategy is to avoid the flock altogether, if you see one from afar just take a rest, sheepdogs will not harass people that are standing by. If you need to keep moving, just ride off and walk past. Do not look at them, do not make any moves towards the sheep just walk deliberately away from the sheep.

    If you fail to see the flock the dogs will start barking and will charge only of you are very close (20-40mt from the sheep). You’ll have to keep your cool and know that they will not chase something that runs AWAY from the sheep. Do not try to make friends with them; do not try to feed them. They are trained to see all this as a theat.
    If the shepherd is there, have no fear, they will not do nothing but bark.
    My expertise cycling in rural Greece is that sheep dogs are not really a problem, since they have a very predictable pattern of behavior. The problem is packs of stray dogs that usually fester small towns and villages. I have no advice on that, since I have not found something that works even 50% of the time.

  10. Paulina says:

    thanks for the info! I am planning a trip in September/ October this Year joning Sophia and Patras.
    I only have a road bike, is the quality of the roads that bad I won’t be able to make it?


  11. Cathy says:

    I’m on my way to a climbing vacation in Kalymnos but have rented a bike (mtn) in Athens for 2 days (rented from Athens by Bike). Thoughts were to ride to Hymettus one day and then ack the next. I really don’t know. I’d like to ride 50ish km one day and then another 50-ish km then next day. A circuitous route that takes me out one way and back in another. Any advice???

    THANK YOU!!!!

  12. Natasha says:

    As always your website is a gold mine of information. We were just wondering on our route to Turkey from Corfu when we came upon this post
    We’ll be there in December though, so hopefully wild camping won’t be to cold! Were you (or anyone reading this) ever here at this time of year?

    • Arion says:

      The most difficult part is from Igoumenitsa (across Corfu) to Salonika where you’ll have to cross the Pindus range and Vermio Mountain. There you’ll get snow and cold. Its 330km by the highway and my suggestion is to take it at least for the Ioannina – Grevena and Kozani-Veroia parts. Avoid at all cost to go by the Katara pass. Katara in Greek means “curse” and it lives up to its name every winder.

      After Salonika just stick to the roads close to highway and you’ll be ok. If you stay by the seaside, you’ll be dealing with night temperatures just above zero at the worst.
      Best of luck.

  13. Arion says:

    Yes that’s the E90, people here call it “Egnatia”. Ok theoretically cyclists are not supposed to use it. However, if they stop you they’ll just ask you to get off. Just tell them you got lost and you have no idea how to go to Salonika. Myself I have stopped getting in because they stopped me so many times they got to know me, and I have no more excuses… :)….
    Regarding tunnels… well there are 73 of them the vast majority are on the part Igoumenitsa – Veria. You are right to be afraid, but all of them have a shoulder that you could walk on. Its up to you. The weather so far is good, a lot of rains though, if it keep like this Katara will be just another long climb. Just ask the locals when you get there.

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