Exploring Greece like a Muslim! 😉
When we think of Greece, usually the first things that come to mind are philosophy, ancient history, the colour blue and Zorbas. Don’t get me wrong all of the above are totally valid, but Greece is so much more than this.
A country with thousands of years of history located at the crossroads of East and West, Greece has so much more to offer to its visitors than the cliche experience. So today I want to take you on a journey of my best places to visit in Greece and some tips on a truly local experience.
One of the questions I receive from those Muslims planning to travel to Greece is, how Muslim-friendly is it? In one short sentence, I always say very!
Greeks are super hospitable and even when they don’t agree with the choice of your attire they will never express it directly to you. But if you are looking for travel or disapproving glances or even being forbidden in certain places, then know you will not find this in Greece.
What Greece is really good at is tourism, so no matter where you go it’s in their blood to treat you kindly and with respect. The country is beautiful and they certainly want to showcase it in the best light possible.
With many low-cost airlines and charter options available from Europe and the rest of the world, there is no better time to visit Greece than now and for a truly amazing experience of what Greece is all about I highly recommend visiting the places below.
Exploring the city
Every trip to Greece should start with the capital of Athens. Athens has always been a top destination amongst tourists, even though in the last few years the economical crisis has affected the lives of the locals in this historical and beautiful city, it is one of the most well-known cities in the world and still millions of tourists visit yearly. The history and the contribution of the philosophers who thrived there during ancient times still affect, even today, many aspects of our lives.
The most interesting thing about the capital of Greece is the fact that it is one of the oldest cities in the world with records of over 3,000 years. Athens is widely known as the cradle of the Western Civilisation, as it contributed to the development of the theatre, philosophy and mostly the birth of democracy. Throughout the country’s history, Athens has played a major role in many political and cosmopolitical events and your trip to this stunning city will only re-affirm that.
Exploring Natural wonders
Once you have explored Athens I would highly recommend to rent a car and drive up to the breathtaking Meteora. This one is an unusual recommendation for a Muslim-friendly experience but after all, we are talking about experiences here.
Meteora is a truly inspiring and has a sensational setting of overwhelming rock formations, but one must also be prepared to expect that this trip is much more than merely visiting an exquisite landscape. It is a pilgrimage to a holy place for all Christians around the world and a true testament to human willpower. Meteora has become a preservation park for the 2000-year-old Christian Orthodox creed. Millions of visitors of all faiths visit every year this awe-inspiring location to admire nature and humanity. Small monk sanctuaries have been carved into the stones and for years monks have been living there bringing food and other necessities via ropes and climbing the rocks.
For me a trip to Meteora is a once in a lifetime experience like no others no matter what your faith is, it is not difficult to admire this city and natural beauty.
Once you have spent a day or two in Meteora and Kalabaka area you can drive back to Athens return your rental and start your trip to the famous blue waters of the Aegean.
Exploring Stunning Islands
My recommendation for a local experience is to take a ferry from Piraeus port to one of my favourite destinations in the country with breathtaking views and still unspoilt natural beauty. To the small island of Sifnos. The whole island is a mere 73 square meters and you can drive from one side to the other in less than 30 minutes, however, the views on top of the mountain are truly stunning. The island is mostly inhabited all year around with locals and there are few accommodation options. I truly love the beautiful natural scenery and the peace this location offers. Unlike other Greek islands here you can truly relax and enjoy fresh food and local authentic hospitality.
If you are more adventurous I would recommend renting a scooter or bike to explore the island, it is much smaller so you can take it almost “off road” for the best views of the island and the Aegean sea. Of course for a family hiring a car will be the best and safest option.
Best hotels in Sifno can be found here
After you have visited Sifnos you can take a ferry to the most famous Greek island of all, Santorini. I know you were dying for a recommendation of visiting Santorini and enjoying the caldera views, after all who wouldn’t like to visit an active volcano island. During the summer there are several ferries connecting Sifnos with Santorini and they only take 2,5 hours to reach this truly stunning island.
Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption in the 16th century that destroyed the earliest settlements on the island including the Minoan civilisation in Crete. Today it has created the geological caldera (crater); a giant central rectangular lagoon, which is surrounded by 300m high steep cliffs on three sides. Santorini is the best place to actually enjoy the most stunning sunset views and of course, take the necessary photos as well.
It has a naturally stunning beach; the red beach, as it’s known giving you a glimpse of the volcanic rock formations that have been created throughout the years. There are plenty of hotels from where you can enjoy the caldera views as well as the rest of this beautiful island.
You can also rent a car to explore further inland if you wish or you can use the public transport available, please note that you might have to wait in the summer heat for the bus to arrive.
On your return way from Santorini, you can either take a flight with one of the many airlines available or you can also enjoy a ferry ride back to Piraeus in Athens and enjoy sightseeing some of the other famous islands like Paros and Mykonos.
Local Tips for Enjoying Greece
Halal Food Options:
Athens is a big city and halal isn’t a problem. There is a large immigrant community in Athens and some places in the city centre also serve halal food. Many however cannot be found online.
A really good halal restaurant in Athens is Aladdin Kebab House, where Turkish and Middle Eastern food is served, Avenue Amfitheas 104 & Areos 88 Palaio Faliro. While there make sure you try the very famous Greek souvlaki.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the majority of the islands and inland exploration. There are not many halal food options available. But if you are not too fussed about eating meat while you are on the islands then you can enjoy the fish and you can find plenty of food options around. The Mediterranean cuisine is healthy and light and offers delicious meals with fresh vegetables as well as fish dishes. You will definitely not miss not finding halal meat.
Greece is majority Christian country and while you will not have a problem finding a church in every corner, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a mosque or interfaith facility. In Athens, there are still discussions for a large mosque construction but until this is completed you can visit the two unofficial mosques, Al Salam Mosque (Galaxia 9, Athens 117 45, Greece) and the Athinais Cultural Centre (Kastorias 34, Athens, Greece).
Prayer options will not be available for you while exploring inland or the Greek islands. Although there are no facilities, locals are always happy to accommodate you if you need to pray outside somewhere, just ask for a quiet place. One of my favourite things to do while out and about in Greece is to actually carry with me my travel prayer mat and just pray in nature. There is no better place to connect and admire what Allah swt has created for us. Imagine all the places testifying on the day of Judgment about you praying there.
The best way to explore Athens is on foot or by public transport. You can use the metro where a ticket costs 1,5euro for 90 minutes trip duration across all modes of transportation. If you are travelling inland you can either rent a car for convenience and flexibility or you can use the train and coach services, both are cheap and reliable. Please note that if you are driving to Meteora from Athens you will go through tolls so keep some extra spare cash for that.
Exploring the islands especially during the summer is best by local ferries and speedboats, as only major islands have airports. Ferries are used by locals and tourists alike since they are affordable and give you the opportunity to sightsee other islands and locations before reaching your destination. There are several companies and ferries a day from Piraeus to the biggest and most popular Greek islands. You can find ferry timetables at greekferries.gr
No matter where you go, I can guarantee you that Greece will offer you an amazing hospitable experience like no other.
Plus you might be lucky enough to pick some Zorbas moves and Greek works while in the country.
Here is one for you to start: Pame Ellada (Let’s visit Greece)
This post was first published in the Rihaal magazine, make sure you check out this new publication here.