Greece Travel Health: How to Stay Safe

Required vaccinations, standards of medical facilities, mosquitoes and scorpions – these are some of the health risks to be aware of before you go to Greece.


People swim and sunbath at Agios Yiannis (Ai Yiannis) beach Photo © iStock/vasiliki

You’d have to be pretty unlucky to get stung by a scorpion while traveling in Greece, but it pays to be prepared. You can get stung, bitten, burnt, squished, smashed, and all but asphyxiated in Greece, by mosquitoes, scorpions, the sun, scooters, the sea and Athens' often terrible pollution.

Here's what to look out for on your trip to Greece.

Vaccinations for Greece

There are no required vaccinations for travel to Greece but as with most destinations, make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date.

Medical treatment in Greece

As with most countries, the standard of medical facilities can vary depending on where you are traveling. In Greece, public hospitals are underfunded, putting a strain on nursing services and resources, which means they can be crowded and sometimes there is a poor standard of hygiene. However, in the major cities care tends to be of a high standard and you are likely to encounter English-speaking staff.

Private medical facilities are available but are expensive and payment is usually required up front. The emergency number in Greece is 112, and operators will speak English, Greek, and French. If you need an ambulance, it's best to use private medical facilities or take a taxi as response times for the public ambulance service have been reported to be lengthy and unreliable.

Pharmacies tend to be good quality in terms of service, information and medications. 

Mosquitoes and scorpions

Serious mosquito-borne illness is rare in Greece, but take some insect repellant for your comfort.

There are scorpions throughout Greece, including Athens. The greatest danger is from accidentally turning over a rock and stepping on one, but they also come inside buildings. Always check your shoes and clothing before wearing, shake out bags, and keep them closed  in case a scorpion decides to have a snooze in your belongings.

Generally, scorpion stings are only life-threatening for those who are highly allergic. 

If you are stung by a scorpion:

  • Don't panic.
  • Wash the area gently with soap and water.
  • Put a cold compress (ice in a cloth) on the wound.
  • If you feel tingling in the extremities, or get blurry vision or rapid eye movement, or hyperactivity, go to a hospital regardless. There's no way of gauging the severity of the sting, or your reaction to it. Seek medical help, just in case.

Sun safety in Greece

Greece gets hot in summer. Athens holds the record for the hottest temperature recorded in Europe – a stifling 118 F (48 C). If you're from somewhere with a little less sunshine, you could get sunburnt very easily.

Put on sunscreen 15 minutes before venturing outside, and re-apply every couple of hours (more often if you're swimming). Wear a hat, and drink plenty of water (sorry, ouzo doesn't count) to prevent dehydration. If possible, try to avoid activities during the hottest part of the day between 11am and 2pm.

The hot temperatures and lack of rain make Greece susceptible to wildfires which can move quickly. If one breaks out in your area get some information on what danger it may pose – ask the locals or drop into the police station.

A couple of handy tips to know about fire behavior:

  • Wildfire follows the wind direction, so if you smell smoke it could be coming in your direction.
  • Fire burns uphill regardless of wind direction, if there's a blaze in a valley below you, pay close attention to the fire's movement.

If you fear the fire could come your way, leave as early as possible.

Motor scooter safety in Greece

Hiring a motor scooter is a great way to get around on the islands. But dusty, narrow, winding, poorly-lit roads are not the place to learn to ride.

Inexperienced riders are often involved in accidents, and rarely wear proper protective clothing. If you do plan to hire a scooter, you will need a valid drivers license and you must wear a helmet. 

Quad bikes are particularly dangerous. Their center of gravity is different from a two-wheeled bike, and can easily throw the rider off at a sharp turn. It's quite common for the quad bike to then run over the rider, or tip over and trap the rider underneath. 

Beach safety in Greece

Take care when swimming. Don't get too close to the rocky outcrops and cliff faces, as waves can smash you against the rocks, and the barnacles and oysters attached to them are razor sharp.

Greeks haven't caught the litigation bug like many others, and still believe you need to look out for your own safety, and that it's your fault if you get into trouble. Consequently, very few beaches have a lifeguard on duty, so swim within your capabilities. If you're not sure if a beach is safe for swimming or not, ask a local.

Occasionally a swarm of jellyfish will drift into the water off popular beaches. There were several instances of mass jellyfish stingings in Europe last year. Again only the extremely allergic will find this life-threatening.

Watch out for small craft and motorboats near to shore. Not all, but some, skippers seem to believe it's the responsibility of the swimmer to get out of the way of their boat. Don't argue the point – a spinning propeller will win every time.

You're in danger of having your breath taken away by the beauty of Zakynthos Island. Photo credit: iStock/rusm

Air pollution in Greece

In addition to being hot in summer, Athens is notorious for its air pollution. The World Health Organisation has also identified Koropi, Ioannina, Koropi, Lykovrisi and Lykovrisi as having poor air quality.

Heavy traffic, low-grade fuels, and poor environmental planning contribute to bringing the smog to lethal levels. One in 12 deaths in Greece is associated with air pollution. Around 7,200 people died in 2015 from health issues related to air pollution. Authorities in Athens have pledged to ban the use of diesel vehicles in the capital area by 2025.

Asthmatics, or those with respiratory illnesses, should avoid Athens in July and August, the worst months for pollution. If you find yourself in Athens on any heavily polluted day, stay indoors as much as possible. Make sure you pack the medications you  need to make breathing easier while traveling.

Have you had any nasty encounters?

Had an encounter with something nasty and bitey in Greece? We'd love to hear about it, leave your comment below.

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  • Anna said

    Cops ... and their teargas! You should add this species to your list. Heard they have started to use rubber bullets now.

  • barbara kerstetter said

    This is also generally true of the scorpions. They little creatures are all over the islands and even in Athens. The greatest danger is accidentally turning over a rock and stepping on one, but they do make their way inside wear shoes when walking! i wasting ov kos as i waked along the beach!

  • Wildman said

    What species is the Scorpion?

  • june Hadfield said

    Returned ftom kefalonia last night 8th october. Travelling as a passenger in car with window down something flew into the car few minutes later got a voilent pain under my breast. Two incisions and a red rash. Did not see insect had to stop car take off my top snd swimsuit it is still sore snd painfully itching.

  • Hilary Ramsden said

    Hi, a builder working here (Lesvos) got a scorpion sting this morning on his hand and a friend came around (a homeopath) and has suggested keeping his hand in very hot water for a while to relieve the pain....I'll let you know results...

  • Dimitrakis said

    Greece is among one of the safest places anywhere with little threat besides using common sense to stay away from the sun and wear a hat. Nor have I heard of 118 degree weather often although the high 90s are common but it is a beautiful dry heat, not humid to match the breathtaking dark blue skies.

    Greece is the most beautiful place on earth and it is very, very safe in every conceivable way imaginable. It is other nations where the animals there can do you harm, not Greece.

  • πιστες αθηνα said

    hi thanks for the information and posts :)

  • Anonymous said

    Im currently in Greece and I took a nap today in my hotel and when I woke up I had a tick looking bug in/on my back. The lady at the front desk said it wasn’t a tick but she didn’t know what it was

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