Redolent with history and mythology, Athens is an affable city enlivened by bustling outdoor cafes, pedestrian streets that wind through the city's ancient sites and its fair share of urban eccentrics. If you get into the Athenian mindset, you'll enjoy one of the most laid-back and quirky European cities. In the center of the city the streets are filled with people all hours of the day and night. If you find yourself in a car in front of Syntagma... Read more...
Who’s been here?
Latest updates from our Athens travelers
Redolent with history and mythology, Athens is an affable city enlivened by bustling outdoor cafes, pedestrian streets that wind through the city's ancient sites and its fair share of urban eccentrics. If you get into the Athenian mindset, you'll enjoy one of the most laid-back and quirky European cities. In the center of the city the streets are filled with people all hours of the day and night. If you find yourself in a car in front of Syntagma Square (the main square of the city, where the Parliament is situated) on a Saturday night, most probably you will suffer long waiting hours because of the traffic jam!The locals love to go out, even on a weekday and you will never feel alone in this metropolis.Athens underwent a huge renovation in 2004, in order to present itself to the the visitors of the Olympic Games that were held here in the summer. A stroll in Dionysiou Areopagitou, the pedestrian zone that lies under the Acropolis, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport http://www.aia.gr is situated 27 km (17 miles) east of the city center, near the suburb of Spáta. This well-appointed airport opened in 2001, raising the comfort levels of travelling to Athens and Greece by a phenomenal degree, for travellers arriving from 'Euro-zone' countries. This means that you are going to need euro coins if you want a trolley for your luggage; trolleys are available at the airport and they use coins the same way supermarket trolleys do. You insert your coin, and you get it back by placing the trolley back to its original position-so, be advised, and make sure you carry the correct currency.
Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. Continental, Delta and Olympic maintain non-stop flights from North America, while a large number of European carriers fly direct into Athens.
From the airport you can reach the city by Metro to the city center for € 6. Group tickets (2 or 3 persons) are also available and they provide some discount (see below). The airport Metro line is an extension of Line 3 (blue line) that takes you to the downtown Syntagma and Monastiráki stations. Those taking the Metro from Athens to the airport should note that not all trains go to the airport; typically the airport trains run every half hour, while trains in the intervals don't go the whole route. Airport trains are indicated on the schedule and by an airplane logo on the front of the train, they are also announced by the signs on the metro platform. It's useful to go to the Metro station the day before, explain to the agent (most speak English) when you need to be at the airport, and ask what time you should catch the airport train from that station. It's possible but not necessary to buy your ticket in advance; buying in advance though means you won't risk missing your train if you find at the last minute you don't have change for the ticket machines and have to stand in a line to buy it from the agent. by suburban railway to Larissis Railway Station for € 6. Change from there to Line 2 of the subway that takes you to the downtown Omónia and Syntagma stations northern Greece and the Peloponnese, by train by bus: X92 to Kifissia, X93 to Kifissos Coach Station, X94 to Ethniki Amyna metro station (subway Line 3), X95 to Syntagma Square (subway Lines 2 and 3), X96 to Piraeus (subway Line 1) and X97 to Dafni metro station (subway Line 2) for €3.20. It takes 45 min to 1.5 hrs depending on traffic. Buses, unlike Metro, operate 24 hours a day. by taxi for € 30-35: If you take a taxi be careful. Make sure that the meter is switched on and shows tariff 1 (tariff 2 applies after midnight and is twice as expensive)
It is advisable to grab a free copy of city transport map in the airport – in the city, it helps a lot.
If you stay in Athens for a short time, consider leaving most luggage in a baggage storage. It is run by Pacific Travel http://www.pacifictravel.gr/baggage.html, is located in the end of left-hand wing, arrivals level. Storage time differentiates between 6 / 12 / 18 / 24 / 36 hours, then x24hr; sizes vary to Small, Medium and Large. The only inconvenience is that same queue is for collecting and for leaving – allow extra time before your flight. No automatic lockers found in the airport.
By regional coach
Regional coaches (KTEL) connect Athens to other cities in Greece. The fleet of buses has recently been upgraded, which makes the journey pleasant and safe. For some destinations one can also use the buses of the railroad company (OSE, see next paragraph) that might be international, but can also be used for in-country transport. At times there are collaborations with companies from adjacent countries (Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania) so your best move will always be to ask on both the bus and the train companies about your available options.
The national rail service, OSE, connects Athens to other cities in Greece-however, do not expect the diversity and complexity of railroads you usually find in other European countries; the national railroad system is poor in Greece, in effect having only two train lines. One goes south to the Pelopponese and the other to the north, connecting Athens with the second major city in Greece, Thessaloniki. From there the line continues further to the north and all the way to the east, passing through many other cities of northern Greece and eventually reaching Istanbul. Be advised that there are two kinds of train you can use; normal, slow, type of train equipped with beds, and the so called new 'Intercity' type which is more expensive because of a 'quality supplement fee' that grows with distance. For example, travelling from Athens to Thessaloniki by the 'Intercity' type will save you one hour at most, but the ticket will be almost double the price. 'Intercity' tends to be more reliable, yet more 'bumpy' than the normal train.
Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The €1 integrated (flat fare) ticket lets you travel on any means of transport — metro, suburban trains, trams, trolleybuses, buses — with unlimited transfers anywhere within Athens (except the airport line east of Doukissis Plakentias) for 90 minutes, and you can also get a €3 ticket valid for 24 hours or a €10 weekly ticket.
The new Athens Metro system, opened in 2001 and currently being extended, is a wonder to behold, and puts many better-known metro systems to shame. Many metro stations resemble museums, as they exhibit artifacts found during excavations for the system (i.e. Syntagma). Greeks are very proud about the new subway system, so do not even think about littering and by all means avoid any urge for graffiti-you will be intercepted by security at once. You are also not allowed to consume food or drink in the subway system. There are three lines:
Line 1 (Μ1 – ISAP): Piraeus – Kifissia connects the port of Piraeus and the northern suburbs of Athens via the city centre. Line 2 (M2 – Attiko Metro]): Agios Antonios – Agios Dimitrios connects western and southern Athens. Line 3 (M3 – ): Egaleo – Doukissis Plakentias – International Airport connects the south-western suburbs with the northern suburbs (Halandri and Doukissis Plakentias stations) and the International Airport.
Validate your ticket at the validation machines upon entering the station. The standard metro fare (as of January 2005) is €0.80 for trips between all stations except the Airport line east of Doukissis Plakentias. The standard fare to or from the Airport is €6, €10 for a return trip within 48 hours, €10 for a one-way trip for a group of 2 persons and €15 for a one-way trip for a group of 3 persons.
By suburban rail
The Suburban Railway http://www.proastiakos.gr/ (Proastiakos) is a new addition to Athens's network. The main line starts from Piraeus, passes through the main line train station of Larissis in Athens, and forks at Neratziotissa west to Kiato and Corinth and east towards the Airport.By tram
The new Athens Tram http://www.tramsa.gr/html/en/index.php connects the city centre with the southern suburbs and has connections with the metro lines. There are three tram lines:
Line 1 (T1): Syntagma – Palaio Faliro – Neo Faliro connects the city centre with the Peace and Friendship Stadium. Line 2 (T2): Syntagma – Palaio Faliro – Glyfada connects the city centre with the coastal zone. Line 3 (T3): Neo Faliro – Palaio Faliro – Glyfada runs along the coastal zone. A single ticket costs 60 cents.
Athens is served by a network of diesel buses, natural gas buses and electric trolley buses run by the Athens Urban Transport Organisation. A standard bus ticket costs €0.50. Use the €3.20 ticket to travel to or from the Airport.
Nightbuses. As of March 2006 the nightbus routes are: X14 Syntagma Square to Kifissia 11 Ano Patissia – Neo Pangrati – Nea Elvetia (trolley bus) 040 Piraeus to Syntagma Square 500 Piraeus – Kifissia (night only) X92, X93, X95, X96, X97 (the airport buses)
Canary yellow taxis are a common sight in Athens and are a reasonably priced way of getting around (if you can avoid the traffic jams). The starting fee is €1, after which the meter ticks up at €0.34/km ( rate 1 ) or €0.64/km ( rate 2 ), with a minimum fare of €2.65. Rate 1 applies through Athens city limits, including the airport, while rate 2 applies outside the city and from midnight to 5 AM. Legal surcharges apply for calling a cab by radio (€1.60), trips to or from the airport (€3.20) and heavy bags (€0.32). Tipping is not necessary, although it's common to round up to the nearest full euro.
Taxi fare fraud is not as widespread as it used to be, but it still happens, so insist on the meter and make sure the rate is correct. If you feel you have been overcharged, ask for a receipt (they are obliged to give one) and take the plate number, then phone the tourist police to report the driver on 171.
Be aware that the taxi drivers rarely obey all of the rules of the road. Expect that if you are leaving Athens on an early flight, that the driver will likely drive aggressively to get you there as quickly as possible.
Athens is certainly not the city to go around with a bicycle, as it has not any bicycle lanes and the car drivers tend to drive quite aggressively. Nevertheless (or maybe because of this) riding a bicycle in Athens has become lately some sort of a political (counter-)action, especially by young people with an alternative lifestyle. In general, tourists not familiar with the terrible athenian traffic are not advised to use a bicycle as a principal means of transport. Small rides are safe though in the long network of pedestrian streets around the Historical Centre of the city and can be quite enjoyable indeed.
The initiative My city with a bike taken by the General Secretariat for The Youth and several NGO's offers free conducted tours with free bikes every Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm all year round except for the rainy days. All you have to do is book 10 days in advance either by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (8011 19 19 00).
You can also rent a bike in heart of the town for 1hour or more and for many days low cost! go around Greece or islands etc.. at http://www.acropolis-bikes.gr
You can also rent a bike or join a conducted tour at http://www.pamevolta.gr
Athens offers some of the best and worst urban walking in Europe. Several major streets have been recently pedestrianized, and a mostly car-free archeological walk has been implemented connecting the Acropolis and nearby sites. Pleasant walking can also be had in Athens/Plaka Plaka, especially its upper reaches, and in much of Athens/Kolonaki Kolonaki, and the National Garden can provide a welcome respite from the heat and noise of the city center. On the other hand, Athens' horrendous traffic can make crossing the street in many areas a hair-raising proposition, and even walking down many major streets can be an unpleasant experience of noise and pollution. Cars and motorbikes parked blocking the sidewalks (illegal but ubiquitous) can also make walking unpleasant. Fortunately, much of the traffic-plagued area of the city can be avoided by judicious use of the new Metro, which goes most places a visitor would want to see or to walk around in.
You can now visit the Acropolis, walk along the picturesque streets of Plaka or the hills around the Acropolis at your own pace, with i Pod Pocket tours audioguides (www.pocket-tours.gr) http://www.pocket-tours.gr. It’s informative and fun! They are available for rent at Athens Hilton Hotel, Sofitel Athens Airport, King George Palace, Baby Grand Hotel and Profil Voyage, travel agency http://www.profilvoyages.gr
When to go
You can visit Athens all year around. In December and January the cold could be enough to prevent you from walking around the city. On the other hand, that can also happen in July and August because of the heat. Athens can go up to 40 degrees in summer. It's better to visit in autumn and spring. June is the ideal month because the heat is still something you can handle and the city is full of festivals and events.
The sprawling city is bounded on three sides by Mt Hymettos, Mt Parnitha and Mt Pendeli; whilst inside Athens are twelve hills [the seven historical are: Acropolis, Areopagus, Hill of Philopappus, Observatory Hill (Muses Hill), Pnyx, Lycabettus, Tourkovounia (Anchesmus)], the Acropolis and Lykavittos being the most prominent. These hills provide a refuge from the noise and commotion of the crowded city streets, offering amazing views down to Saronic Gulf, Athens' boundary with the Aegean Sea on its southern side. The streets of Athens (clearly signposted in Greek and English) now meld imperceptibly into Athens/Piraeus Piraeus, the city's ancient (and still bustling) port.
Most things of interest to travellers can be found within a relatively small area surrounding the city centre at Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos). This epicentre is surrounded by the districts of the Plaka to the south, Monastiraki to the west, Kolonaki to the east and Omonia to the north. Further afield is the port of Athens, the Piraeus.
the Athens/Acropolis Acropolis-the ancient high city of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city's goddess Athena Athens/Plaka Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio-charming historic districts at the foot of the Acropolis, with restored 19th century neoclassical homes, pedestrianized streets, shops and restaurants, and picturesque ruins from the city's Roman era Athens/Kifissia Kifissia-the northern part of Athens, rarely visited by tourists Nea Smyrni-at the southern part of Athens, a modern European district Athens/Kolonaki Kolonaki-upscale residential area with many cafes, boutiques and galleries Athens/Omonia Omonia and Exarheia-formerly seedy district home to Greece's students, anarchists and the National Archeaological Museum, now somewhat revitalized by the metro Athens/Pangrati and Mets Pangrati and Mets-these adjoining pleasant residential neighborhoods south of Lycabettos and east of the National Garden are not much frequented by tourists, but they do include a few hotels and a number of good traditional tavernas. Athens/Piraeus Piraeus-the ancient port of Athens, Piraeus is today an independent, heavily industrial municipality located southwest of Athens, whose modern-day port serves almost all of Attica's ferry connections to Crete and the Aegean Islands. Athens/Psiri Psiri-up and coming former industrial district, full of trendy or alternative restaurants, cafés, bars, and small shops Athens/Syntagma Square Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos)-dominated by the old Royal Palace, Syntagma Square is the business district of Athens, complete with major hotels, banks, restaurants and airline offices
Traffic can be stressful in Athens especially when hailing taxis during peak hour. Be wary of a small percentage of dishonest taxi drivers. And keep in mind that smaller museums and some tourist sights close early.
Health conditions in Athens are generally excellent and tap water is drinkable. The heat in summer can be stifling, so drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion, and wear sunscreen, sensible light clothing and a hat.
Like anywhere else, practise the usual precautions when it comes to safe sex; condoms are available at pharmacies and supermarkets.
Emergency phone number where you can also ask about hospitals:166
To appreciate Athens, it's important to be aware of the city's traumatic history. Unlike most capital cities, Athens' history is not one of continuous expansion; it is one characterised by glory, followed by decline and near annihilation, and then resurgence in the 19th century, when it became capital of independent Greece.
Accounts of Athens' early days are inextricably woven with mythology, making it difficult to be sure what really happened. We do know, though, that the hilltop site of the Acropolis, endowed with two copious springs, drew some of Greece's early Neolithic settlers. Later, with the rise of city-states, the Acropolis provided an ideal defensive position, and by 1400 BC, it had become a powerful Mycenaean city.
Around 1200 BC Greece fell into a long dark age, of which very little is known, but in the 8th-century BC a peaceful Athens became the artistic centre of Greece. Next came a period of social reform, followed by unrest and subsequent tyranny. Athens didn't shake off oppression until 510 BC, when Sparta stepped in to help. Following the defeat of the Persian Empire, Athens' power grew enormously. It established a confederacy on the island of Delos, demanding tributes from islands for protection against the Persians. The money was used to transform the city. This was Athens' golden age: monuments were built on the Acropolis, and drama and literature flourished. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; sculptors Pheidias and Myron; and historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon all lived at this time.
Sparta, however, wasn't prepared to play second fiddle, and increasing hostilities triggered the Peloponnesian Wars in 431BC. After 27 years of fighting, Sparta gained the upper hand, and Athens slid from its former glory. The century wasn't a total loss, as it did produce three of the west's greatest orators and philosophers: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Under Roman rule, Athens continued to be a major seat of learning, and Roman emperors graced the city with many grand buildings. After the subdivision of the Roman Empire into east and west, the city remained a cultural and intellectual centre until its schools of philosophy closed in 529 AD. Between 1200 and 1450, Athens was overrun by a motley crew of opportunists, including Franks, Catalans, Florentines and Venetians. The Turks invaded in 1453 and settled in for 400 years.
In the early stages of the War of Independence (1821-29), fierce street fighting saw the city change hands several times between Greek liberators and Turks. In 1834, Athens replaced Nafplio as the capital of independent Greece, and King Otho set about repairing the war-torn city. Bavarian architects created a city of imposing neoclassical buildings (most of which have since been demolished) and tree-lined boulevards.
The historical event which, more than any other, shaped the Athens of today was the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey that followed the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The population of Athens virtually doubled overnight, necessitating the hasty erection of concrete apartment blocks to house the newcomers.
Along with the rest of Greece, Athens suffered appallingly during the German occupation of WWII and in the civil war that followed. The expansion of Athens accelerated during the 1950s and 60s, when the country began the transition from an agricultural to an industrial nation. The colonels' junta (1967-74) tore down many crumbling old Turkish houses and the neoclassical buildings, all the while failing to tackle the infrastructure problems resulting from the rapid, chaotic growth of the city. By the end of the '80s the city had developed a sorry reputation as one of the most traffic-clogged and polluted in Europe.
Since the 1980s, fundamental changes have taken place, the most dramatic in the 1990s. Athens has a conspicuously wealthier society, though there are still major economic disparities and a rural-city divide. Greece is fast becoming part of the global economy, with a raft of foreign investments and privitisations shaking up its notoriously Kafka-esque public sector. Greece is also becoming a major economic player in the Balkans.
Authorities have embarked on an ambitious program to modernise the city, with key elements being the expansion of the road and metro networks and the new international airport at Spata. Confidence is riding high and billions have been poured into city development, and since pulling off an Olympic Games in 2004, Athens has regained some of its old glory.