Travel Guide: Gluten-Free Greece
Gluten-Free Greek Food
The Greek diet is full of simple, fresh foods. In some ways, it is easy to maintain a gluten-free diet in Greece. You can enjoy the majority of Greek food, like fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, feta cheese, and the ubiquitous Greek salad.
…but be careful with the traditional Greek salad in Crete, as barley rusk is a common ingredient in the salad there.
Those of us with celiac disease need an added degree of caution because those naturally gluten-free foods still have a risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing foods.
We were in Greece on an Adventures by Disney vacation, and our excellent Greek tour guide lamented that there was still little awareness in Greece regarding celiac disease.
The following tips will help reduce your risk of an accidental glutening on your dream vacation in Greece:
- Research Greek restaurants in advance using local celiac Facebook groups for your specific destinations and the Find Me Gluten Free App, which has free and premium versions. Use the code GOGLUTENFREELY to get $5 off the premium version of Find Me Gluten Free.
- Bring a few copies of this free gluten-free restaurant card. When possible, present your dining card directly to a chef. Most restaurants are small and busy. When speaking to the chef personally is not possible, send your dining card to the kitchen via your server.
- Dine early. Greeks eat dinner very late at night. If you show up for dinner at 7 pm, you will find a less rushed staff and kitchen, more able to safely accommodate you.
- If you plan to dine at your hotel, communicate your dietary needs via email in advance.
- Order simple meals. Greek salads, grilled seafood and meat, and grilled fresh vegetables, all generously dripping with Greek extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, are your safest choices. For dessert, order fresh fruit and Greek yogurt.
- Ask for clean silverware if necessary. In small restaurants, the silverware is frequently brought to the table in the bread basket and under the bread!
My dining recommendations are based on my own experiences. Staff, ownership, and gluten-free protocols can change. Please, always talk to staff at each location, explain you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, share your Greek gluten-free restaurant card, and ask about cross-contamination risks for each item you order.
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Athens: Gluten-Free Restaurants
Greek Stories, Makrigianni 19-21, Athina 117 42, Greece: This gem is (secretly) 100% gluten-free. Although Greek Stories doesn’t advertise as gluten-free, not a single item on the menu contains gluten. The restaurant is packed nightly with gluten-eaters who never know the difference. I spoke with the owner and was impressed with their safety measures, including getting outside training and inspections of their gluten-free kitchen.
So much to love! Greek Stories is conveniently located right outside the Acropolis Museum. It provides a great opportunity to try traditional Greek recipes that you may not otherwise be able to try: moussaka (which typically has wheat in the béchamel sauce), souvlaki with pita, a side dish of fried cheese croquettes, and baklava. No one would blame you if you ate every meal here!
Arcadia, Makrigianni 23-27, Athina 117 42, Greece: Just a couple doors down from Greek Stories, and with the same ownership is Arcadia. This restaurant is not dedicated gluten-free, but understands cross-contamination and caters to celiac diners. Arcadia has a lot of gluten-free options including fried calamari in a dedicated fryer, dolmades, pasta, and house-made bread.
Avocado, Nikis 30, Syntagma 10557, Athens: This vegan restaurant is about a five-minute walk from either Syntagma Square or from the Plaka neighborhood (known for shopping). They were very knowledgeable about gluten-free and cross-contamination measures. All of the salads, juices, and smoothies are gluten-free, and the pasta dishes have the option to be made gluten-free. Warning, the wheat-free option for pizzas uses oat flour. Everything was fresh and delicious.
Acropol Restaurant, Pl. Filomousou Eterias 3, Athina 105 58, Greece: Located in the Plaka neighborhood. Miss E and I safely ate a lunch of Greek salad, dolmades, and grilled meat and vegetables. The highlight was the entertainment. We were dining with our Adventures by Disney tour group, so we enjoyed prearranged live music and dancers, who invited us to join in the traditional dances. The Acropol Restaurant website lists live music and dancing as regular offerings, depending on the season.
Le Greche, Mitropoleos 16, Athina 105 63, Greece: Perfect place to stop for gelato! They have individually wrapped gluten-free cones, and all of the gluten-free flavors (which were all but a few) are labeled on the board. They were happy to get a clean scooper and scoop from an untouched portion of gelato for us.
Athens: Things to Do
Electric Bike Tour: On the day of our arrival, we booked a same-day, guided e-bike tour with Bike Me Up. This tour is a great overview and orientation to the capital city and would be particularly valuable at the beginning of your time in Athens. Riding over ancient marble roads through an archaeological park is surreal and an absolute highlight. Outside of the islands, which are in their own spectacular category, you will take in some of the best views in Greece on this e-bike tour. Vangelis, the guide and owner, far exceeds the average bike tour guide, with his knowledge and gift for storytelling. For our ride, Vengelis’ 11-year-old son was his assistant, and he quickly befriended my children.
Acropolis: Just as blue-domed, white-washed buildings are the quintessential image of the Greek Islands, the Acropolis is the postcard picture of Athens. Acropolis simply means “high city”. This high location means you will get beautiful views of the Acropolis wherever you are in the city. Likewise, European travel-author, Rick Steves likes to joke that you can see half of all Greeks from the Acropolis.
This collection of ancient buildings is a must-see while in Athens! As with most ancient sites, you will better understand what you are seeing when you go with a guide. Rick Steves has a free audio tour of the Acropolis, along with three other audio tours of Athens: Ancient Agora, Athens City Walk, and National Archaeological Museum Tour. While I was already on a guided tour with Adventures by Disney and did not take this particular audio tour by Rick Steves, I have taken many of his other audio tours.
I also personally used and recommend Rick Steve’s Greece guidebook for our free time while in Athens. You can order a copy from Amazon or borrow it from your local library.
Mars Hill (Areopagus Hill): To see this important biblical site associated with the Apostle Paul, stop by either before or after visiting the Acropolis. It is free and located near the Acropolis ticket office.
Acropolis Museum: The world-class Acropolis Museum of ancient Greece houses over 3,000 ancient artifacts from the Acropolis. Once you have seen the ancient ruins for context, this museum adds depth to your visit. Architecturally, the Acropolis Museum impressively showcases the Acropolis itself through a wall of windows. It is a unique archaeological treat to be able to view a large collection of artifacts while simultaneously taking in their ancient home.
National Archaeological Museum: This treasure trove of Greek artifacts provides insight into Greek history, art, and mythology. Perfect for any Percy Jackson fan. This museum is better understood with the assistance of a local guide or an audio tour. Rick Steves has a free, audio tour.
Panathenaic Stadium: This white marble stadium, as you see it today, hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896, but the site’s history as a stadium goes back to ancient Greek times. If you head through the athlete’s tunnel, which is itself a cool experience, you will discover a mini-museum highlighting the history of modern Olympic games.
Changing of the Guard: Every hour, daily, you can see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, right outside Parliament. The most elaborate changing of the guard ceremony is held on Sundays at 11 am.
We stayed at the Hotel Electra Metropolis in Athens. The location is within walking distance of just about everything you will want to see in Athens, the service is excellent, and the rooftop restaurant offers stunning views. Unfortunately, Miss E and I had a serious gluten exposure at the hotel rooftop restaurant, which I discuss at length near the end of this post. While it may have been an anomaly and we previously had several meals there without issue, I cannot give my recommendation for celiacs to stay at the Hotel Electra Metropolis.
Half-Day Trip: Athens to Sounion
We took a half-day trip south of Athens to Cape Sounion, home to the Temple of Poseidon, built in 44 B.C. It was about a 90-minute, relaxing drive along the coast each way. We enjoyed hearing stories of Greek mythology and exploring the ancient ruins of the white marble temple with impressive views of the sea. CJ managed to take in a bit of rock climbing.
Kastelorizo, Vari 166 72, Greece: On our drive back to Athens, we stopped at Kastelorizo for a lunch of feta, fresh fish, and vegetables. As with most of our meals in Greece, we found that simple dishes with fresh ingredients, which are the foundation of Greek cuisine, were the safest gluten-free options.
Santorini: Gluten-Free Restaurants
Melitini, Oia 847 02, Greece: With authentic Greek tapas, sunset views from the rooftop terrace, and the kind of gluten-free bread that makes you ask twice if it’s really gluten-free, Melitini was among the best restaurants we enjoyed in Greece and is a must-visit if you are in Oia. And Oia is a must-visit if you are in Santorini. The staff at this casual restaurant was so knowledgeable and gluten-free items were noted on the menu. Miss E and I split an order of the best gluten-free bread we had in Greece, tzatziki, fried cheese, and lentil salad. We were staying on the other side of Santorini but were we staying in Oia, we would have returned.
Ouzeri, Thera 847 00, Greece: The food here was excellent, and we were well accommodated. Miss E and I chose octopus and stuffed tomatoes for appetizers, along with two entrees to share: a vegetarian chickpea stew and chicken with a delicious cream sauce and fries, followed by a dessert of yogurt and honey. Ouzeri does not have a caldera view from its patio, so take a break mid-dinner to walk outside and catch the famous Santorini sunset.
Captain John’s Taverna in Thirasia (a small satellite island of Santorini): You’ll need a boat to get to this family-run taverna in a small fishing village, but it is worth a stop if you are otherwise on a caldera boat excursion. You really are a world away, where you will likely see more cats and donkeys than people. We enjoyed a Greek salad, grilled veggies, and swordfish with french fries, followed by another wonderful yogurt dessert.
La Scala, Marinatou, Thira 847 00, Greece: This restaurant was a serendipitous discovery after I had mistakingly made a reservation at a well-researched restaurant on the other side of Santorini. With hungry children, it would take too long to get there, so after the staff at La Scala passed my cross-contamination questions with flying colors, I enjoyed a safe and simple meal of Caprese salad and grilled vegetables. The staff was very accommodating and the sunset view was stunning.
There are more gelaterias on Santorini, but we personally tried two:
Lolitas Gelato, Oia 84702 Santorini: No gluten-free cones here, only cups.
Zotos Gelateria, Gold Street, Thira 84700, Greece: They have gluten-free cones!
Santorini: Things to Do
Koutsogiannopoulos Wine Museum: This family-owned winery has been in business since 1660. With our Adventures by Disney group, we were served a buffet lunch where Miss E and I were safely accommodated with a meal of fresh, local ingredients, and there was wine tasting (for the adults) followed by the traditional “stomping of the grapes”, which was a blast! We also toured the underground wine museum with equipment and displays depicting centuries of wine-making. While this was a tour group experience, wine tasting and museum tours can be booked without a tour, and the website indicates you should contact them directly for information about grape stomping.
Oia: When you think of Santorini or even Greece, this is the picturesque scene that comes to mind… “Greek-blue” domes and whitewashed houses carved into the cliffside village overlooking the caldera. Take photos and post them on Instagram. You will be in good company, as we spotted many a photo shoot, you know, the ones with the “flying dress”. When you’re done, visit Melitini for a fabulous meal.
A word of caution, Oia is one of the places where you will note significant crowds during high season. We visited Santorini in mid-June, and just one cruise ship brought in large numbers of people from 10 am-5 pm. According to our guides, the summer months of July and August are much more impacted, and they have seen as many as five cruise ships in the port at once.
Pirate Ship Tour of the Caldera: This day was the highlight of my time in Santorini. Adventures by Disney chartered a boat for a day they call “Cruisin’ the Caldera”. A caldera is a volcanic crater formed after an eruption. In Santorini’s case, most of this caldera is underwater. This memorable excursion included stops for a hike on a volcanic island, swimming in natural springs, lunch at Captain John’s in a fishing village on the island of Thirasia, and taking in the blue-domed vistas of Oia.
Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean sea.Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
Nea Kameni Volcano Hike: Pictures of this uninhabited, volcanic island in the middle of the caldera do not do it justice. As you hike, the lunar landscape is constantly eclipsed by views of the Aegean Sea at every turn. Nea Kameni was the most peaceful volcano hike I have ever experienced. Its location at the center of the caldera is the perfect place to learn about the fascinating, geological history of Santorini, which some speculate inspired the legend of Atlantis.
Palea Kameni Swimming & Natural Springs: Our pirate ship took us from our hike on Nea Kameni to Palea Kameni, a neighboring islet in the caldera. You’ll want a dark swimsuit for this adventure. I was so excited to jump in and swim to the natural springs that I forgot to take off my shorts, which now bear the rust color stain of the mud and minerals in the hot springs. It was worth the ruined shorts. Our swim in the springs was relaxing and fun, as we muddied ourselves up to enjoy the purported therapeutic benefits… or really, we just wanted to play in the mud!
The Archaeological Site of Akrotiri: Around the 17th century BC, a volcanic eruption buried this Minoan Bronze Age settlement on Santorini in ash. The same ash that buried the settlement, preserved it, along with its frescoes and pottery. Interestingly, no uninterred human remains were found, indicating the inhabitants had time to evacuate.
Akrotiri was an important historical link to other destinations on our trip, Knossos in Crete and Pompeii in Italy. When we later toured the Palace of Knossos on the Island of Crete, we had a more connected understanding of the Minoan civilization.
We followed our trip to Greece with an Amalfi Coast getaway that included a visit to Pompeii. The comparison to Pompeii is obvious. Both sites were buried and preserved by volcanic ash. Compared to Pompeii though, the age of the Minoan Settlement is staggering, approximately 1700 years older than Pompei. It would have been almost as ancient to the Pompeians, as the city of Pompeii is to us today.
Santorini: Where to Stay
We stayed at the Majestic Hotel, about a 10-minute, caldera-view walk from the heart of Fira, where you will find no shortage of affordable souvenir shopping and restaurants. The hotel pools were lovely and the restaurant staff took excellent care of us with a daily, gluten-free breakfast. I especially enjoyed the sea views with the sunset out one window and the sunrise out another window, from our family suite.
While I have zero complaints about the Majestic Hotel and would recommend it, staying in a cave hotel in Oia would be a bucket list experience. Plus, you’d be close enough to walk to Melitini every day!
Crete: Gluten-Free Restaurants
Ta Kymata, Plaka, Schisma Elountas 720 53, Greece: In Plaka, across Mirabello Bay from Spinalonga, is a small row of waterfront restaurants. After reading the historical novel The Island by Victoria Hislop, it was a treat to gaze at the island of Spinalonga from the small fishing village of Plaka, as both were important settings in the book.
We selected our fish and waited for the chef to grill it, while we enjoyed the view. Lunch consisted of a salad, tzatziki, french fries, and our fish, with lemon. After lunch, we spent a little more time enjoying the translucent water of the bay, skipping rocks, and shopping for souvenirs.
Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort: We spent each breakfast at our hotel, the Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort. Every morning, we were served a plate of prepackaged bread, cake and cereal, and whatever we wished from the back. Miss E would typically request fresh fruit, eggs, and bacon. I always opted for Greek yogurt, honey, walnuts, and fruit. It was so wonderful, I never strayed from this perfect breakfast.
We also had a few other meals on-site, including an amazing buffet (with music and dancing) for our last night. At the buffet, we discussed what was safe with the chef and grabbed our food before everyone else. The chef also brought us a gluten-free lemon dessert straight from the kitchen.
Throughout our stay, the chefs were knowledgeable and available to talk personally. One chef called to let me know he had made a special trip to the store and was carefully preparing a pre-packaged pizza for Miss E to eat while the other kids had pizza during what Adventures by Disney calls “Junior Adventurers Night”.
We discovered that the prepackaged gluten-free, vanilla cake offered every morning at breakfast makes an excellent dessert with yogurt, honey, and fruit. As an adult, I was quite content to eat fresh fruit and fabulous authentic Greek yogurt for most desserts, while my fellow travelers left each meal talking about being overstuffed after an indulgent dessert. Miss E, however, loved that the simple pre-packaged cake easily upgraded her dessert.
Yacht Club at Elounda Mare Relais & Chateaux Hotel Elounda, Schisma Elountas 720 53, Greece: One evening, we shuttled over to Porto Elonda Resort’s sister property, Elounda Mare Relais & Chateaux Hotel, for dinner at the Yacht Club. Once again, we were spoiled with a sea view. The restaurant earned bonus points immediately when the server brought out gluten-free bread with olives and dip. My husband and I shared a wonderful “Greek salad Yacht Club” and an adventurous stuffed squid starter. For the main course, Dave ordered beef fillet with potato puree and I ordered grilled fish because fish in Greece had yet to disappoint. I finished with a scoop of mango sorbet.
Juice Bar at the Palace of Knossos, Feidi 8, Iraklio 714 09, Greece: After your visit to the Palace of Knossos, there is an onsite juice bar that serves refreshing, all-fruit juices.
Delfys Taverna at Arolithos Traditional Cretan Village, 11th km of the Old National Road Heraklion, Rethymnon Area Servili Tylissou, Iraklio 715 00, Greece: Our lunch here was part of a full experience in the Arolithos Traditional Cretan Village. We had a wonderful outdoor lunch after the restaurant passed my cross-contamination questions. The kids made tzatziki (Greek yogurt and cucumber dip) to go with our meal.
Crete: Things to Do
Spinalonga: This tiny, uninhabited island off the coast of Crete was once home to a leper colony and the site of an old Venetian fortress. The history of the island comes to life in the book The Island by Victoria Hislop, which is available on Amazon, or you can buy a signed copy from a shop in Plaka, the town just across the water from Spinalonga. I highly recommend reading this historical novel before your visit to Spinalonga. It will make it easier to imagine what life was like for the people who called this island home from 1903 to 1957.
The Palace of Knossos: The Palace of Knossos was the political center of Minoan society and is important for its window into Minoan civilization (c. 3500 BC – c. 1100 BC) and its ties to Greek mythology, as well as into the Mycaneans who followed the Minoans. My children, who are at the age where you study Ancient History, were able to make connections between what they are learning in school and the ancient Minoan sites we saw in Crete (Palace of Knossos) and Santorini (Akrotiri). As with Akrotiri, the age alone of this archaeological site is impactful. After our tour, we cooled off with fresh-squeezed juice from the onsite juice bar.
Arolithos: This recreated, traditional Creten village transports you back to a simpler time in Crete. There are rooms onsite, but we visited for just a few hours. After tzatziki-making and a wonderful lunch at Delfys Tavern, we made kombolói (“worry beads”) to take home as souvenirs… the centuries-old precursor to a fidget toy.
Bizariano/Kato Karouzana: For a present-day, Creten village experience, our visit to Bizariano was unmatched. The curtain was pulled back on local life. While the details of our experience were organized by Adventures by Disney and would admittedly be hard to replicate exactly on your own, there is a similar tour to the same village available on Viator (note, the Viator version includes breadmaking) or you could reach out directly via the village website to inquire about options. For me, this getaway was a highlight.
Our tour included cheese-making, raki and raw nut tasting, a walking tour led by the mayor, local honey tasting, coffee-making, and a visit with some donkeys. A few people in our group made cheese pies outdoors, while I watched from a safe distance.
Our meal was “complicated”. While the planned meal was naturally gluten-free, it had been sealed in an outdoor oven with a paste made of flour. The mayor ran back to his house to bring Miss E and me an alternative lunch of stuffed roasted vegetables. If you visit Kato Karouzana, I would not count on that lovely gesture and would plan to pack a lunch.
Crete: Where to Stay
Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort: This was my favorite of all our hotels in Greece. We visited the world-class Six Senses Spa with a beautiful indoor/outdoor pool, enjoyed several celiac-safe meals prepared by knowledgeable chefs, and swam (more like floated) in the salty Aegean Sea at the resort’s private beach. The resort offers water sports, and we indulged in kayaking, stand-up paddle boards, jet skis, tubing, and flyboarding! I recommend this hotel without reservation.
Prior to our trip to Greece, I communicated with both Adventures by Disney and each hotel regarding our dietary needs around celiac disease. After enjoying several meals, including daily breakfast, at the Electra Metropolis Hotel in Athens without incident, we ordered dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant for our last night in Athens.
As with every meal, I spoke with a chef about celiac disease and cross-contamination. We ate the following dishes family-style: gluten-free bread, beet salad, penne pasta, grilled fish and vegetables, and fruit. I believe Miss E had only the fruit and pasta.
Both of us had a violent reaction to our dinner that started 1-2 hours after eating and lasted for several hours.
It hit Miss E first, and when my stomach started to cramp in warning, I was overwhelmed with the crushing thought that I would not be able to take care of my sick daughter. My husband took over, and she was in good hands. The hours that followed were spent mostly on the bathroom floor, as I heard the hotel maid come in and out, exclaiming in Greek every time. I can only imagine what she was saying.
By morning, we were both exhausted but well enough to fly to Santorini with our group.
While I was grateful we moved on with the group the next day and the rest of our vacation was not derailed, I also understand the seriousness of intestinal damage. Additionally, there was the shadow of lingering anxiety associated with eating for the rest of our trip.
Because we are very careful to follow best practices when dining out or traveling with celiac disease, these accidental gluten exposures are rare for us. However, they are difficult setbacks that cause me to reevaluate my philosophy on gluten-free travel and experiencing life with celiac disease.
As celiacs, we all make challenging decisions regarding attending social events, traveling, 100% gluten-free households or not, oats, certified gluten-free or just no gluten ingredients… These are not simple choices, as we factor in mental health, social connection, finances, physical health, and risk.
For me, and for Miss E (based on regular conversations), the benefits of traveling far outweigh the risks. So we research, plan, bring snacks, talk to chefs, and continue exploring our world and getting to know the beautiful people and cultures in it.
Best Greece Travel Itinerary
The Adventures by Disney 10-Day Greece Itinerary was pretty perfect. But, without the logistical genius of Disney or a similar tour provider, it would be challenging to fit in such a packed agenda. I would make the following tweaks to the itinerary, allowing enough time to visit all of the important and popular spots in Santorini.
For a fabulous, on-your-own, 10-day itinerary, I recommend 3 days in Athens (including the arrival day and traveling to Santorini by ferry or plane), 3 full days in Santorini, and 4 days in Crete.
If you have time for a more lengthy vacation, you could add extra days after Athens exploring the Peloponnese on mainland Greece, additional days in Crete to get to know more of the island, or…
I personally would add another Greek island at the end. As our vacation progressed, we moved on from the more crowded and popular destinations like Athens and Oia to a secluded corner of Crete, and I felt progressively more relaxed. A few extra days exploring a quiet island and floating in the Aegean would be amazing.
Several locals on our trip mentioned where they liked to vacation, and they all named a different Greek island. No one named another country. The takeaway… there is no shortage of beautiful Greek islands where you can get away.
From Athens International Airport ( Eleftherios Venizelos), there are several daily direct flights on Aegean Air that will get you quickly to a Greek island. Our flight from Athens to Santorini was less than an hour. But after you fly to your first island, the rest of your Greek island hopping will be by ferry. Our ferry from Santorini to Crete was quick and comfortable
This family vacation to Greece was memorable and magical. We had a peek into some of the best places in Greece, historical sites, beautiful beaches, the oldest cities, sparkling turquoise waters, small villages, healthy meals from the land and sea, and the lively culture. Nikos Kazantzakis was right… and I wish you all the happiness of sailing the Aegean Sea.
Planning a Grand Tour of Europe? Check out: Gluten-Free Europe: 14 Tips for Your Dream Vacation.