Greece is more than feta cheese, old buildings, and Mamma Mia. For a relatively small country, the number of fun facts about it is humongous! We have made a compilation of the 27 we found the most interesting to spark your appetite for Greece even more - be prepared to be surprised about some of them!
We’re getting off to a good start, eh? We have decided to hit you with one of the most shocking facts first. But yes, you read it correctly - Greece is not, in truth, called Greece.
The official name of the country is the Hellenic Republic. The locals tend to simply call it Hellas - but it’s uncommon to find a Greek who would call their homeland the way we do. The name Greece originates from the Latin word “Graecia”, which was the term the Romans used to describe the Greek people after they’d conquered the territory.
You see now why Greeks prefer to avoid this term these days.
Over 3000 years old, Athens is the proud owner of the title of the oldest capital in Europe. Its considerable age also makes it the oldest still inhabited city on the continent. Its rich history, therefore, makes it an incredibly inspiring place to live.
All right, we have to admit one thing - the city of Athens hasn’t always been the capital of Greece. After the country regained its independence from the Turkish in 1821, the capital was briefly moved to Nafplio. But only for some 7 years, so compared to the 3000 when Athens held that function, we think we can all agree that it was nothing more than a tiny blip on the cards of history!
That’s right, prepare for walking uphill because Greece is a pretty mountainous country! If you’re a fan of hiking, this news probably makes you very happy. If not… well, remember that every time you climb a hill, you can then happily roll right off it!
The hilly landscape also offers incredible views - many of the ancient ruins in Athens are located on tops of hills, so imagine standing in a place that’s thousands of years old, soaked through with history, while at the same time looking down at the gleaming white city below and the sea stretching out as far as the eye can see. Not a bad vision, is it?
What an original idea for the great 18th birthday, isn’t it? A trip to Greece, and one UNESCO World Heritage Site visited for each year of one’s life. That’s definitely something to think about, if anyone who has yet to officially become an adult is reading this.
The sites include (but are not limited to): the Acropolis, the Old Town of Corfu, Mount Athos, and the archaeological site of Delphi. Visit this blog to find the full list!
The number 200 is a rough estimation. Some sources claim it’s 170, while others argue it’s actually 227. Personally, we unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to confirm that in person yet, so we’re playing it safe and rounding it up to 200. If any of you have or will find that out, let us know!
Still, 6000 is quite an impressive number, wouldn’t you say? Again, you might also come across the number 1200, depending on the minimal size of land a particular source takes into consideration in order to classify it as an island. Some of them are really small and therefore don’t make it to certain lists, but if you ask us, if it’s a piece of land and it’s surrounded by water, then no matter its size, we say it’s an island!
It seems like coming to a mutual agreement about certain aspects of Greece is very difficult. Sources also argue between 250 and 300 sunny days in a year, but we’re going to be optimists and assume the latter! That translates to 85% of the year being sunny. Yay!
If you (like me) are powered by solar energy, then relocating to Greece might just be the way to go. I’m definitely considering it right now.
The still-in-use part is quite important here. Of course, you will find mentions of languages much older than ancient Greek, but you might find it difficult to come across most of them being spoken today.
It’s also essential to point out that it is considered the oldest written language - that means one with its own alphabet and proof in the form of ancient scripts, not just a verbal one. In fact, the word “alphabet” originates from the ancient Greek one. Alpha, beta… and so on.
While we’re still on the topic of languages and words originating from other words, you may be surprised by how much Greek there actually is in English! You have all probably heard about the significant influence of French on English- but we bet you didn’t realise how many of the words you use today find their origin in this ancient language.
Remember your parents force-shovelling cereal into you as a child, claiming breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you can’t skip it, no matter how much you protest?
Well, in Greece, it’s parents force-feeding their rebellious children souvlaki for lunch. The Greek lunchtime also rolls around a bit later than in the Western European culture - around 3:00 - 3:30 pm. Imagine waiting this long for your lunch break!
As with most topics concerning Greece, there is controversy concerning this one as well. Some choose to believe this timeless toy originates from China, but there is proof in the form of ancient Greek vases depicting figures playing with a yo-yo that makes others believe it’s actually the Greeks who are responsible for its invention in 500 BC.
It’s also worth pointing out that early versions of a yo-yo could be found in Egypt as well, but regardless of who holds the “all rights reserved” sign over the yo-yo, it’s safe to say that the citizens of ancient Greece already enjoyed it.
Maybe sacred isn’t the best word to describe it, but in ancient Greece, blue was said to ward off evil spirits. That’s why so many doors and shutters are painted the beautiful, iconic colour!
You may also be familiar with the evil eye - the blue pendant that’s said to protect against evil forces or, as we’d say it today, bad vibes.
One of Greece’s islands, Ikaria, is one of the world’s 5 Blue Zones. What are Blue Zones?
They’re places where longevity is the biggest, and there are only 5 of them in the whole world! The citizens of Ikaria owe their exceptional health and considerable lifespans to the great climate, balanced diet, and the amount of time spent outdoors - something the Greeks like doing, and no wonder with such weather!
Sea lovers - did you hear that? Due to the compact size of the country and its island nature, the sea is never too far away! Even if you were to live as deep into inland Greece as possible, you’d still be pretty close to the coastline.
We’ve all engaged in the fight of the superiority of Christmas over Easter at least once in our lives. In Western European culture, it’s the winter holidays that are widely celebrated by most.
Since 98% of Greeks are Greek Orthodox, their religious values may differ slightly. In this religion, it’s the resurrection of Christ - not his birth - that marks the biggest event of the religious calendar, so Easter is celebrated with extra excitement.
It’s not as much as waving your palm open, but showing the five spread fingers with the palm facing out is generally a no-no in Greece. This gesture is called a moutza and dates back to Byzantine times.
Of course, Greeks probably realise that most tourists have no idea about it and that seeing them waving is not actually an open insult. But it’s one of those cultural quirks that are worth knowing before visiting the country.
Black or green? No matter which ones you prefer, you’ll find a variety of both colours in Greece! Olives are a common snack there, and are included in many of the local dishes. No wonder then that Greece is the 3rd biggest importer of olives in the world.
The appreciation for this tiny delicacy dates back to the ancient times, when olive trees were considered sacred and therefore were planted literally everywhere and treated with the utmost respect.
It’s actually a very old superstition that sounds worse than it really is. Long, long ago spitting was believed to ward off evil spirits. Nowadays people don’t tend to believe in those anymore, but the tradition somehow held.
Only now, it’s not as much literal spitting (for the most part) but rather making the “tfu tfu” sound. As Greeks are said to be a quite superstitious nation, this practice can still sometimes be spotted at weddings or the birth of a child - all in good faith, the action is supposed to bring good luck.
No, it’s not just Zorba. The relaxed Greek lifestyle finds its reflection in their appreciation for a good time. Nothing expresses joy more than dancing, so the Greeks have made sure they have a variety of those - one for every mood, you could say!
Almost exactly, in fact, as last year (2021) marked the 200th anniversary of the country liberating itself from under the Turkish rule in 1821.
We have all learnt about ancient Greece at school, no matter where we’re from. The aspect of its more recent history, although equally important, remains unmentioned for the most part, so it’s good to be aware of this event, so important for the Greeks.
We do all know that Greece used to be ruled by kings in the ancient times - if only by being familiar with the myths about King Oedipus (the one who married his own mother), King Minos (the one with the Minotaurus), or King Midas (the one whose touch turned everything gold).
But we feel like it’s a less commonly known fact that the monarchy wasn’t abolished in Greece until 1973! King Constantine II was the last one to rule on the throne of Hellas - now his role is divided between President and Prime Minister.
This one might be our personal favourite. Even though tipping is not a common practice in Greece, the restaurant staff don’t seem to hold a grudge. Their appreciation for Xenia - the ancient rule teaching that hospitality is sacred - makes them happy to provide guests with a little extra.
Of course, don’t expect a huge dessert if you didn’t pay for it - it will mostly be something symbolic, like aromatic dried fruits or a homemade Greek yoghurt. It’s the gesture that matters, after all!
Now, we’re not exactly sure how this particular piece of data was established, but it doesn’t seem impossible (at least to us). 12kg of feta cheese a year translates into 1kg consumed every month - even in the rest of Europe, feta cheese comes in packages of 200g, so it’s roughly 5 such packages a month.
It’s definitely how much of this work of art I personally consume every summer with various salads. So, given the Greeks’ appreciation for this delicacy (one we fully support!), we’d say this data is not over the top.
The Greeks’ appreciation for spending time outside finds its reflection in the way they consume their meals as well. With such beautiful weather, it would be a sin to hide in murky restaurants, so many prefer to just grab something on the go from a street vendor and eat is enjoying the sun.
The most famous dishes of this type include souvlaki or gyros - but there’s also a huge variety of vegetarian and even vegan dishes in Greek cuisine!
The collection of ancient marble sculptures known as the Parthenon Marbles that used to decorate the temple aren’t in there anymore. In fact, they are even no longer in Greece!
They are… in the British Museum, London, UK. Surprised? Yeah, we were, too.
This is actually quite a touchy subject for the Greek people. The famous marbles ended up across the Channel after Lord Elgin had decided to take them there back in 1812. Over 200 years later, the Greeks are still upset (and rightfully so!), petitioning for getting them back, but sadly to no avail so far.
This adorable species is generally considered one of the most commonly distributed species of bears in the world, but it is sadly highly endangered in Western, Central, and Southern Europe.
Lots of specimens can be found in North America or in Syberia, but in most parts of Europe, they’re not doing so well. That’s why the estimated number of 450 brown bears living in Greece is quite substantial and makes us very, very happy.
Right now, a unibrow is not exactly a feature most of us would proudly exhibit. It seems like the current beauty standards differ from those of the past, though, because sporting a thick, bushy unibrow would have made you THE MAN (or THE WOMAN) in ancient Greece.
People used to believe that this original trait is a sign of intelligence. So, ladies and gentlemen, maybe it’s time to help this trend get reborn and save ourselves the excruciating pain (and the money) of eyebrow plucking?
This beautiful Greek island didn’t use to be considered as peaceful as it is today. Apparently, at some point in the past, it served as a notorious hangout spot for pirates. They would pop up there every once in a while and party hard in-between their adventures.
Don’t worry, though, we promise it’s completely safe nowadays!
We hope we have spiked your interest in Greece with this article! Which fun fact did you find the most surprising? Maybe there are some others you know about that we didn’t mention?
All of those quirky facts make Greece a fascinating place to live. It’s full of curiosities that are just waiting to be discovered - and you can do it by relocating to Greece now!