Cultural Crossings – Immerse Yourself in Greek Island Traditions

From a lively nightlife to the volcanic beauty of Santorini, Greece offers many opportunities to experience authentic Greek culture. Embrace these island traditions to uncover the true spirit of the Mediterranean.

Time your trip to coincide with a religious festival to witness locals participating in candlelit processions and chanting. This is a perfect opportunity to learn about the role religion plays in daily Greek life.

1. Eat Greek Food

The Greeks take their food seriously, and it’s a physical display of love and hospitality. They are very proud of the fact that their restaurants serve traditional dishes, and they often claim that their food is “spitiko” (homemade).

If you want to experience a truly authentic dining experience in Greece, don’t order for yourself – instead, get some food “for the table,” or “galaktiko” in Greek. When you see a group of locals eating out, they usually share everything and help themselves from one another’s plates. Using forks and knives is considered somewhat silly, and the use of hands to pick up and eat is preferred.

Greek cuisine is full of mouth-watering delights, including moussaka (ground beef and eggplant layered with tomato sauce and bechamel) and pastitsio (baked pasta dish topped with ground beef). The irresistible desserts are also something to look forward to; try baklava, a pastry made from layers of butter and phyllo dough drenched in sweet syrup.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a staple of the Greek diet. Look for the first zucchinis and peas of the season, and try the local varieties of olives. For a quick snack, grab a koulouri – the standard circular bread of Greece, covered with sesame seeds. Unlike the tasteless supermarket versions, Greek koulouri is a real treat.

2. Take a Greek Sightseeing Tour

From a rocky citadel topped by the Parthenon to sandy beaches and awe-inspiring ruins, Greece is full of scenes you’ll want to remember forever. Be sure to bring a camera with a wide-angle lens so you can capture everything from cascades of sun-baked white buildings to verandahs hung with blooming bougainvillea and dramatic sea views.

Whether you’re savoring a fresh seafood lunch in Mykonos or wandering the narrow streets of Athens, you’ll feel immersed in Greek culture. If you’d like to see the country’s most famous historic sites with a Local Specialist, book a tour that includes transportation and accommodations. You can also explore a range of cultural activities including cooking classes and dance lessons.

For the best chance of avoiding crowds, take your tour in May/June or September/October, when the weather is still warm but the attractions are less crowded. This is particularly true for island hopping, which is best done from May to October when many businesses are open and flights between the mainland and islands are more frequent.

Alternatively, explore the archeological sites of Mycenae, where you can see Agamemnon’s Palace and the royal beehive tombs that Schliemann uncovered. Or visit Delphi with a Local Specialist to walk the Sacred Way once lined with offertory temples and hear how the ancients sought guidance from the Oracle.

3. Attend a Greek Festival

For one weekend, immerse yourself in the Greek culture. Attend a Greek festival and experience the sights, sounds, food, and dance. Known as “Greek Fests,” these annual celebrations are usually held to raise funds for the local Greek Orthodox church. They are intended for the general public and include authentic homemade foods, music and traditional dancing.

This year’s Greek Fest will be held from May 18 to 21 at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Piscataway, New Jersey. The event has been around for over 50 years and continues to attract thousands of visitors each year. You can try authentic dishes like stuffed grape leaves, pastitsio, and moussaka. You can also enjoy baklava and a variety of other sweets.

The highlight of any Greek festival is the music and dance. The traditional dances are a part of a rich cultural history that has been passed down through generations. These dances are a way to celebrate religious holidays and national events. They are also a way to show respect and solidarity with fellow community members.

The festival will also feature a Greek marketplace where you can buy handmade Greek artisan crafts and other items. There will be plenty of shopping opportunities for both the young and old at heart. Be sure to stop by the oud workshop hosted by QAIC and learn about this beautiful Syrian instrument.

4. Learn Greek

Learning Greek is a part of cultural crossings that can be a rewarding experience even if you don’t end up speaking fluently like a native. It will help you understand a part of the world that is fascinating and intriguing in its own right, and you can always use your language skills to communicate with friends and family back home.

Learning the alphabet and simple words is a good start, as well as familiarizing yourself with the Greek declensions (how adjectives agree with nouns in number, case, and gender). You’ll also need to learn the verb conjugations, which can be very complicated, especially the present tense (i.e., “I see a dog”) and the imperfect tense (i.e., the son buys a dog for his father).

If you are an auditory learner, listening to podcasts and music is a good way to practice your new vocabulary and phrases. You can also try reading out loud, watching Greek films and television shows, or listening to the audio versions of Greek newspapers and magazines.

A good course book is also an excellent resource for learning the Greek language. We recommend the Ellenika A and Taxidi sten Ellada 1 and 2 series with CDs, as they provide a solid foundation for beginners with clear text and illustrations. They also have a strong emphasis on grammar and use examples and exercises to help students practice.