HalalBooking guide to halal-friendly holidays in Greece
Greece is a country of boundless legacies: ancient myths, theatre, democracy, philosophy; the list is endless. However, hidden beneath this world-renowned legacy, buried deep, lie gems of Islamic history and heritage, making it a unique halal holiday of revelation.
It is also a country of boundless versatility: it has been the conqueror and the conquered. It protects a heritage of ancient wonders and contemporary architecture. It has always been a land of mixed cultural-religious roots with paganistic, Jewish, Orthodox Christian and even an Islamic presence.
And finally, it is a country of boundless nature: it comprises over 6000 islands, perfect for constant discovery and endless holidays, which renders Greece’s nature unparalleled. The coastline is 16,000 kilometres long, filled with relaxing Greek resorts, some offering exclusive access to private pools. 80% of the terrain is mountainous and hilly rendering it an ideal location for adventure-seekers and view lovers.
Places to visit in Greece
With over 6000 islands to explore and savour, it would be a challenge to distinguish them all, hence understanding what type of holiday you are after can help you decide which parts of Greece to visit. This sprawling country is made to be revisited again and again but some regions offer an easier access to halal-friendly holidays.
Athens is the most ancient city in Europe, the capital of Greece and the first European Capital of Culture. Modern buildings stand alongside architectural ancestors complementing the city's transitional and vibrant character. Athens is remembered for its mythical locations but is modern and metropolitan. As in most European capital cities, the Muslim community can be found nestled in many of its corners.
Glistening white and blue, Santorini is famous for its picture-perfect appearance. The varying altitude of the island allows a veritable view of mythical sunsets. Santorini is known for its unique holiday homes and HalalBooking showcases accommodation for all occasions, some even have their own private pools.
Corfu was one of the few islands not touched by the Ottomans due to the Venetian defence, creating a distinct culture of food and life. It is an island ideal for walkers with an array of winding paths and beach promenades but there is less Islamic heritage to discover. Corfu's proximity to Albania permits regular accessible ferry routes to Albania, perfect for more halal expeditions.
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
For those in search of easier access to halal holidays in Greece, the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace is home to a considerable population of Muslims. The Islamic history of the region is an amalgamation of Muslim groups who settled under the Ottoman Empire, withstood the religious exchanges of the 20th century’s nation-building and the newer migrant communities including Egyptians, Bangladeshis, and Somalis. This region is also filled with natural wonders for every taste. There is no limit of scenic views, which do not cease to please everyone.
Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece. Wander around the small cobbled streets to discover picturesque gems. The Muslim personality of Thessaloniki has almost vanished due to the population exchanges of the 20th century but the remnants remain and more recent Muslim migrants have begun reviving Islam in this city.
The Greek Islands are mostly grouped according to their geographic locations. These are some of the most popular, which you might want to explore.
The Dodecanese Islands are closer to Turkey than Greece, which has created an interesting split of interest and influence. Rhodes is the most prominent island of the group and has an accessible ferry route to the Turkish resort of Marmaris. Many of the other islands are also easily accessible by ferry from Turkey. These Islands are extremely well placed to cater for halal holidays due to the settled Muslim communities and regular influx of Turkish visitors.
Largely untouched by the Ottomans, the Ionian islands are found to the West of Greece and foster a strong Venetian Italian character, with less of a halal heritage. Classicists will recognise these Islands as the setting for the adventures of Odysseus and other epic heroes. The Ionian Islands are a hugely popular holiday destination, especially for European tourists.
The North-Eastern Aegean Islands lie in the Aegean sea between Greece and Turkey and are slightly less popular due to their location, although also easily accessible from Turkey. The distance between the isles themselves is also quite vast. These islands are all beautiful in their own singular way with quaint ports and mountainous skylines and perfect for quieter holidays.
Other Greek island groups include the Saronic Gulf Islands, Cyclades Islands which includes Mykonos and Santorini, and the Sporades Islands meaning ‘scattered islands’, which provide the origin of the word ‘sporadic’.
Mosques and prayer facilities in Greece
Eastern Macedonia, Thrace, and the Dodecanese have an abundance of places to pray and enjoy religious freedom. The mosques are often called by the Turkish word ‘Camii’ (pronounced Jamii similar to the Arabic Jami’aa). Places to pray in other regions of Greece are often hidden in buildings, garages, and information online can be misleading. A piece of good advice to follow, is to ask Muslim locals where they pray, when visiting halal restaurants or areas with dominant Muslim minorities.
Fethiye Mosque, Athens
On November 3rd, 2020 the authorities of Athens allowed the first official mosque. For decades, Athenian Muslims made do with adapted buildings to congregate and pray. Athens was the only capital in Europe with no official mosque but with the lobbying and hard work of many Greek Muslims, the Fethiye mosque has finally opened its doors.
New Temenos (Yeni Mosque), Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
This beautiful Ottoman mosque founded in 1585 allows worshippers to appreciate the distinctive architectural design developed in the Ottoman empire. Once you step in you’ll be transported to the elaborate interiors of the mosques in Istanbul.
Sunneh Mosque, Xanthi
A simple mosque that is still open for worshippers and has withstood the reconstruction and removal of minarets that a lot of other mosques in Greece experienced.
Ibrahim Pasha Mosque, Rhodes
This is the only original Ottoman mosque still functioning as a place of prayer in Rhodes. It is a beautiful capsule of Islamic history and worth the promenade through the old town.
Islamic heritage of Greece
The relationship between Greece and Islam has been tumultuous, to say the least. The majority of the mosques and Ottoman buildings have been repurposed and renovated by the Greek authorities for public use. However, this creates an interesting identity and opportunity to unearth Islamic gems hidden around the country.
Yeni Mosque (now an Exhibition Centre), Thessaloniki
Beginning its story as a mosque, then repurposed as the archeological Museum of Thessaloniki and now, the Yeni Mosque is an exhibition centre featuring Hellenistic history.
Suleyman Mosque (now a Museum), Rhodes
The first mosque of Rhodes was built to commemorate Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, in what was considered the golden age of the Ottoman Empire. It is now a museum and located outside the old Turkish bazaar.
Hafiz Ahmed Agha Library, Muslim Library, Rhodes
Once a centre of learning and a place to exchange ideas across the Ottoman Empire the library now has limited access for visitors. This library has preserved 2000 books in the official languages of the Ottoman Empire: Arabic, Persian and Turkish.
Benaki Museum, Athens
The Benaki family who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, donated more than 37,000 Islamic and Byzantine objects pre-World War 2 and it is considered to possess one of the most important Islamic museum collections in the world. Since then, the museum has accumulated a collection of many other foreign cultures to highlight the influence of multiculturalism on Greek identity.
Tzistarakis Mosque, (now a Museum of Greek Folk Art), Athens
Central to the Monastiraki square stands the old Tzistarakis Mosque. This Ottoman mosque now functions as the Museum of Greek Folk Art which has caused some controversy.
A little ode to the Turkish Bazaar of Istanbul, Bezesteni Market is a reminder of Ottoman history and an experience exploding with colourful trinkets and souvenirs. The market also sells local food goods, quality olive oil, and local snacks like pizza and feta sandwiches.
The Parthenon overlooks the city of Athens and has witnessed the ages pass by, from its vantage point. When visiting the Acropolis Museum, the Parthenon Gallery presents the story of the Parthenon including its years as a mosque under Ottoman rule.
Halal food and restaurants in Greece
Greek food has a global presence and the opportunity to try traditional dishes in their country of origin should not be missed!
Seafood is an iconic star in Greek food. There is an abundance of dishes such as the traditional hung out octopus, fresh fish grilled, fried, or baked, and Greek taramasalata (a dip made with fish).
Souvlaki or gyros, the halal Greek version of shish or döner kebab or shawarma is available at the Aladdin Kebap Restaurant and the Raja Jee Fast food, both in Athens. Do not assume that Turkish restaurants are always halal and always inquire about the sources of meat because pork is a big part of Greek cuisine.
Vegetarian food is also available, although you may need to search it out. If you can go without meat for your stay in Greece then besides your generic Greek salad you can find many choices: spanakorizo (spinach rice), kolokithokeftedes (vegetable koftas), vegetarian moussaka, dolma (vegetarian vine leaves, make sure to check they don’t contain any meat), tyropita (cheese pies), sagnaki, halloumi and feta (Greek cheese).
Halal restaurants can be found in different Greek cities which can offer peace of mind when eating out. Muslim minorities, such as the Bangladeshi community, often provide halal Indian restaurants, Middle Easterners provide halal Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine, which is often not dissimilar to Greek cuisine.