Essential Words And Phrases To Know Before Your Trip To Greece

So, you've finally booked your dream trip to Greece, congrats! To help you prepare, we've put together a guide of all the essential Greek phrases and vocabulary you'll need. The land of Freddo espresso, baklava, and feta awaits! Greece is a destination that, even before the pandemic, drew millions of visitors each year, according to World Data. This past summer, the Mediterranean country was one of the top destinations in a busy European summer season. Per the Greek Travel Pages, nearly 8 million tourists flocked to the country in the first six months of 2022, which doesn't even include the peak season in July and August. These two months are when Greeks return to their home islands, other Europeans head south for vacation, and international visitors flood the country and thus, are best to avoid for the most pleasant experience. Also, while most famous for its islands, don't forget the mainland is also worth visiting from the historic and beautiful Peloponnese Peninsula.

However, before you start packing your swimsuits, sunscreen, and flip-flops, it's a good idea to brush up on some basic Greek. As is the case in many European countries, English is well-understood. However, according to Polyglot Geek, for older Greeks, and especially once you get out of major cities or main islands like Santorini and Crete, English becomes less commonly understood and spoken. Thus, it's best to have a few words and phrases in your back pocket for emergencies or just to impress those you meet along the way.

Tips to help you pronounce Greek words

Both the modern and ancient versions of Greek are considered a Hellenic subdivision of Indo-European languages. This separation makes it a bit different from Germanic languages like English or Dutch and romance languages like French, Spanish, and Italian, particularly in how words are pronounced. According to ThoughtCo, the Greek alphabet has 24 letters, as opposed to the English language's 26. This is due to how Greek combines certain letters into single sounds, which can be helpful in understanding pronunciation. However, don't worry too much about learning the Greek alphabet as far as learning basic phrases. This article includes only the Latin spelling to make it simple.

The Greek language lacks the "sh" and "ch" sounds, as in the words "shoe" and "chuckle" respectively. Other helpful pronunciation tips to keep in mind are "B" is usually pronounced like "V", while "H," "I," and "Y" make a long "e" sound, like in "ZEE-bra." The "P" is usually pronounced "r" with a rolling sound. Additionally, remember that "Y" is usually a soft g, unless followed by i, e, or u and "T" and "z" are pronounced as a hard "j." Finally the combination of "Nt" is almost always pronounced as hard "d", somewhere between "d" and "ch."

Essential greetings in Greek

The first phrases you'll want to learn in any language are greetings, as it's how you start off pretty much any conversation. Not to mention, that's how people will be approaching you and you'll want to understand what they're saying! "Yassas" is the most common way to say "hello" in Greek. However, if you're greeting a friend or someone you know well, go ahead and feel free to use the less formal "ya" for saying hi to an individual, and "yassas" for groups. This is also used to express a more informal goodbye, similar to "ciao" in Italian. Alternatively, you can simply say "Antío sas" as another form of departure. 

Now, of course, maybe you want to be a bit more specific depending on the time of day. Also, it's a bit bizarre to say just "hi" while out for a morning walk, you'd want to say "good morning," right? In Greek, the first-half-of-the-day greeting is "Κalimera," typically used until mid-day. Then, after noon passes, you would use "Κalispera." It's similar to how "bonjour" is used in French for the morning or afternoon before switching to "bonsoir" for the afternoons and evenings. 

Other useful Greek phrases for travel

The most commonly known phrase to English speakers in Greek is "opa!" which, you may not know, means "oops!" Also good to know are "yes," which is "né," and "no," which is "ókhi" or "ochi." Be careful in your pronunciation and understanding of these two words, as your brain might interpret them as opposites. "Né" can easily be understood as "non" and "ochi" as "okay," which is why brushing up on some basic Greek before your trip is so important. 

If you want to take your conversations to the next level, it's good to learn "how are you?" which is "ti kánis?" in informal situations. For more formal conversations, use the pronounciation "ti kahn-ne-te." Now, if someone asks you this question, there's a variety of ways to answer. Common responses include: "fine" which is "karla, esi," "very well," which is "poli karla," and "okay," which is  "endaxi." Finally, it's always polite (more on that below) to ask about the other person's well-being. "Ke esí?" can be translated to "and you?"

According to Trip Savvy, many Greeks speak other languages, including English. So it's okay to admit your Greek isn't that great, they'll appreciate the effort. "Do you speak English?" is "Milate agglika."

How to be polite in Greek

Remember, anytime you travel, you are a guest in someone else's home. You wouldn't visit someone's house without being on your best behavior, right? Right. So, you'll want to learn how to express appreciation and respect in Greek. Some basics to get you through any interaction are "thank you," which is "efkharistó." In Greek, "please" and "you're welcome" are the same word — "parakaló." "Parakaló"  can also be used as a form of "sorry," however, it translates more to "pardon" or "I don't understand." If you want to give an apology that clearly means "I am sorry," it is best to use "signomi."

Greek culture is big on showing respect to elders, per Cultural Atlas, so you'll want to keep a few things in mind when interacting with those older than you. Above, we've already covered the different informal and formal ways of greeting someone, so always default to the formal option when greeting an elder or superior. According to Cultural Atlas, other ways of showing respect are not being too familiar upon meeting someone (Americans are often much friendlier in small talk) and making eye contact. If you can't tell someone's age or aren't sure how to act, respect is always a good default. Again, you are the guest and should maintain an appreciation for that fact throughout your trip!

Greek for ordering at restaurants and bars

Greece is known as an amazing food destination, and the country definitely deserves its reputation. From some of the best feta in the world to amazing seafood and coffee that rivals Italy (just don't mention that to the neighbors), you'll never go hungry in this country. According to Globe Trotter Girls, Greece is a top foodie destination in Europe. Thus, you'll probably be spending quite a bit of time at restaurants, cafes, and bars and it would be helpful to have some basic, relevant vocab. The best and most polite way to ask for something in a bakery or when ordering takeout is "could I have" or "boro na eho." Additionally, per Trip Savvy, if you don't know the word for something, it's okay to point to what you want. They'll understand, especially if you use at least a couple of words suggested here.

At a restaurant, you can ask "I would like to order please" which is "tha ithela na parageilo parakalo." At a bar or cafe, you slightly modify this to "I would like a glass of" or "tha ithela ena potiri." Common drink orders that may be helpful to know are "water" — "nero," "coffee" — "kafé," wine — "krasi," and "ouzo," which is a Greek liquor. If you'd like to ask for the bill, the word is "logariasmos," pronounced "logahreeas-MOSS." And finally, "cheers," which is always good to know wherever in the world you find yourself, is "geia mas!"

Directions in Greek

No matter how seasoned of a traveler you are, eventually, you're going to get a bit lost or need to find something. This can result in frustration, especially if you're traveling alone. However, if you know how to ask and understand directions in Greek, your trip will be a million times less stressful. Two must-know phrases are "how do I go to" or "pos pao sto," and "I am looking for" or "psahno ton." Additionally, "right" is "deksiá" and "left" is "aristerá."

More questions you may want a grasp of include: "Where is the...?" or "pou ine to...?", "how can I get to...?" or "pou pao sto...?", and "where do I find the...?" or "pou mporo na vro to...?"

It's also good to have some vocabulary for things you may be looking for, such as the airport — "aerodromio," "train station" — "stathmos trenou," "bus" — "leoforeio," and "taxi" —taxi." According to Greek Boston, the word for a grocery store in Greek is "supermarket." However, you might be looking for a more specific place to shop, like the pharmacy, ("farmakio"), bakery, ("fournos"), or bookshop, ("vivliopolei").

Phrases in Greek to help you at hotels

According to Polyglot Geek, many Greeks, including staff at hotels will know at least a bit of English. However, if you find yourself in the guesthouse run by an older Greek who maybe doesn't speak English or is shy to speak another language, you might want to know a few of the basics. No matter who you meet during your stay, learning the words below is a great start toward impressing the locals. 

First things first, "WiFi" is essential, for better or worse. The Greek word for internet is "diadíktio," although according to Greek Pod 101, "WiFi" is also widely understood. You can ask "do you have WiFi?" which is "Échete WiFi," and "what's the password," or "poios eínai o kodikós prósvasis WiFi?" Additionally, the elevator is "anelkystíras," and the stairs are "skáles."

You may also want assistance from the concierge or front desk with organizing transportation or understanding the hotel rules. If you'd like to ask if they can call a taxi, use "boreís na me kaléseis taxí?" Or, if you're unsure of the check-out time, ask "when is check out?" or "póte gínetai to check out?" Even if they don't completely understand what you're asking, Greeks are friendly and always willing to help, even if it takes a few extra hand gestures and guesses.

Helpful Greek terms for shopping trips

One of the best parts of any trip is indulging in a bit of retail therapy. Historically, Greece has been a cash society, which only intensified following the 2008 economic crisis when many Greeks began holding on to more hard cash, according to the Australian Financial Review. However, a 2019 report from the European Payments Council shows that the country is slowly moving towards cashless, although it will take a while for large-scale change. Thus, it's a good idea to always have some cash on you while shopping in Greece. Whether you're purchasing a new Mediterranean-inspired wardrobe or looking for souvenirs to bring home to friends and family, it's good to know a few phrases and words. 

To start, "how much is it?" is "pόso kostίzi." If you're shopping for clothes "can I try it on?" is always helpful. In Greek, this translates to "Boró na to dokimáso?" Since Greece is part of the eurozone, the euro is the currency used. In Greek, the word for "euro" is "Evró."

Vocabulary that may come in handy on a shopping trip includes "clothing" ("ta rooha"), "shirt" ("to lookamiso"), "pants," ("ta pantelonia"), and "dress" ("to forema"). Or, if it's a bit chilly out, you may be looking for a "coat" ("to palto"), a "jacket" ("i zaketa"), or a "sweater" ("to footer"). Additionally "socks" are "i kaltses" and "shoes" are "to papoutsia." It's also helpful to know different sizes; "small" is "mikró," "medium" is "mesaío," and "large" is "megálo."

Greek stray dogs and cats

This is admittedly niche vocabulary, but according to BBC News, after the financial crisis of 2008, many Greeks could sadly not afford to feed their pets. Thus, many became street animals. However, it's not a completely depressing story, as the communities really care for the animals. Most restaurants give leftovers to the strays and many people leave out pet food at night to feed their four-legged friends. So don't be surprised if you have a furry, wet-nosed buddy come up to you at lunch or if you see one napping at the local cafe. Most of these animals are friendly and are simply looking for a snack.So, while one of the lesser essential categories in this post, it can still be helpful to know "dog" or "skílos," and "cat" or "gáta."

You can also ask someone "does he/she belong to you?" by saying "sou aníkei?" If you'd like to help in the caregiving efforts, you may ask to give the animal food or water by saying "can I give them water?" or "boró na tous dóso neró?"

If you'd like to get to know your new acquaintance better you can ask someone "what's their name?" or "pós légontai?" And as a bonus, this question works for two-legged friends as well!

Greek words for the beach

Yes, the ruins, food, and cute stray dogs are all reason enough to visit Greece. However, the main reason you'll be heading over is likely the electric blue waters of the island's beaches. The country is home to some of the best beaches in Europe, so you will likely spend most of your time swimming and tanning along the shores. That's why it's important to have a grasp of a few relevant phrases and words.

The beach is "i paralia" and sun is "o ilios." Additionally, "I'm going to the beach" is "Pee-yen-o, sti, pa-ra-lia." Other words you may find helpful include "ocean," or "okee-arn-os," and the sea, or "i, tha-la-sar." Items you may find on the beach are seashells ("to kohili"), a sandcastle ("to castor ammoo"), a life guard ("o navagosóstis"), and a palm tree ("to finika"). The verb "swimming" in Greek is "kolimbi" and "suntan" is "to mavrisma."

All that time under the sun may prompt you to inquire about sunscreen, which in Greek is "anti-liako." Other items that may come up are beach towel ("pets-eta thal-arsis"), or sunglasses ("ya-la ili-ou"). You may also inquire about a hat ("kap-elo"), a swimsuit (to mayio"), or beach chair ("tin karekla paralia").

Greek words to know in case of emergencies

In general, Greece is a safe country, and the U.S. State Department gives the country a "1," which is the lowest rating for safety precautions, informing everyone to exercise typical safety caution. However, if you do find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, having a grasp of Greek words that could get you help is extremely beneficial. "Help" is "voitheia," but please note this should only be used in emergencies, as it has a more urgent connotation. 

If you want aid in a more relaxed form (no injuries or accidents involved), use "can you help me," which is "boreís na me voithíseis." You could also say "I don't feel well," or "Den niótho kalá" and "hospital" or "nosokomeío." If you need the police involved, the word is "astynomía." And don't forget the manners you learned earlier in this lesson — make sure to offer a genuine "efkharistó" to anyone that offers assistance. Basic Greek for travel can come in handy even in the worst of situations, which is why it's so important to know a few terms before heading to the islands for vacation.