Drinking Water and Toilets in Greece: What You Need to Know

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There’s a very important rule for using the bathroom in Greece: don’t flush your toilet paper. Find out why.


Ancient toilets in Greece Photo © iStock/JudyDillon

The most memorable travel adventures take many forms. Perhaps one of the most significant indicators that you’re out of your familiar surroundings can be the cultural differences in using toilets around the world.

Different set-ups can be down to factors like remote regions, a lack of infrastructure, or perhaps just doing things another way (which is what travel is all about, right?)

Adjusting to different types of conveniences can often be amusing, but tricky to get used to and sometimes a bit unsanitary. It helps to arm yourself with information in advance so that in your moment of need you’re prepared for what you’re getting into.

What's different about Greek toilets?

Greek sewage pipes are much narrower than US or British pipes, and therefore can’t handle paper or any other items as it will easily clog them. This is because the infrastructure and sewerage system are much older. In fact, the first-ever known flushing toilets were at the Palace of Knossos on Crete, which was built around 1700 BC. Of course, nationally things have been updated since then, but generally, pipes remain too narrow to handle any non-human waste.

Can I flush toilet paper in Greece?

No - the biggest thing to note is simply this: don’t flush toilet paper down the loo. You will find there are bins to the side of the toilet where you can dispose of your tissue instead. The bins tend to have lids and foot pedals and are emptied at least once daily, so it’s not as gruesome as it sounds. You will find there are signs in toilets everywhere to remind you of this, from hotel rooms to cafes and tourist hotspots.

Are toilets the same everywhere in Greece?

More modern hotels and developments in Greece have improved designs and sewage networks and might offer toilets with better flushing facilities, but obviously, it depends on where you go.

Greek blogger Vanessa Fou has traveled widely around her country and shares tips and advice for visitors on her website realgreekexperiences.com. She says toilets vary depending on the region and type of establishment you are visiting.

“Upmarket hotels, restaurants and airports will typically have clean and well-maintained toilets. The toilets in some local tavernas, coffee shops, bus stations and even ancient sites might not be as well-maintained,” she says. “It's always advisable to carry tissue with you, as sometimes toilet paper may have run out.”

It’s also a good tip to wrap your used toilet tissue with a few sheets of clean paper, to make just the clean paper waste visible which will be a bit less icky for you and everyone else who has to use or empty the bin.

But don’t freak out about the whole situation, it really isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Are there squat toilets in Greece?

Here’s another thing to think about that may cross your radar. It’s not very common, but something you might encounter in remote areas. Greece’s squat toilets are exactly as you imagine: a toilet without a toilet seat and bowl, and two panels to place your feet on either side of the hole.

Fou says you might find them at places such as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Meteora Monasteries – built in the 14th century and which dramatically teeter on the tops of cliffs and rock formations, so it’s entirely forgivable that the site’s toilets might not be the most modern.

If you do come across squat toilets, Fou’s advice for women is that the lower you squat, the better. Although it goes without saying that the area may not be as clean as you like and you should take extra care when wearing sandals or flip-flops.

Can I drink the tap water in Greece?

In general, Fou says hygiene standards can vary across popular tourist destinations.You can safely drink tap water in many areas of Greece,” she says.

“This includes the big cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki, most of the mainland and certain islands. On smaller islands, such as Santorini, tap water is not always drinkable, so you should drink bottled water.

“It's always best to ask the locals at each place you visit if it's safe to drink tap water.”

General hygiene for Greece

As with travel to any country, it helps to arm yourself with information so you know what you’re dealing with before you go. Greece has high standards of food safety and hygiene, but treating everything with a common-sense approach goes a long way.

Wash your hands regularly: after using the toilet, before eating food, after visiting food markets and so on. A little bottle of hand sanitizer is also a useful and easy item to carry around.

When eating out, be careful with food that may have been washed, like salads and fruits, when you’re not certain about water safety. The same goes for ice in drinks.

If, for whatever reason, you do need healthcare in Greece, remember that British and EU nationals are entitled to free care under the European Health Insurance Card. Australia, the US and other nations need to make sure they have travel insurance in place.

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