Athens (Αθήνα, Athína), is the capital city of Greece with a metropolitan population of 3.7 million inhabitants. It is in many ways the birthplace of Classical Greece, and therefore of Western civilization.
The first pre-historic settlements was constructed in 3000 BC around the hill of Acropolis. The legend says that the King of Athens, Theseus unified the ten tribes of early Athens into one kingdom (c. 1230 BC). This process of synoikismos – bringing together in one home – created the largest and wealthiest state on the Greek mainland, but it also created a larger class of people excluded from political life by the nobility. By the 7th century BC, social unrest had become widespread, and the Areopagus appointed Draco to draft a strict new lawcode (hence "draconian"). When this failed, they appointed Solon, with a mandate to create a new constitution (594). This was the great beginning of a new social revolution, which was the result of the democracy under Clisthenes (508 BC). During the Middle Ages, Athens experienced a decline, but re-emerged under Byzantian rule. Athens was thriving and prosperous during the Crusades, actually benefitting from the Italian trade during this period. However, this fruitful period was shortlived, as Greece suffered badly under the Ottoman Empire, only to recover in the 19th century as the capital of independent Greece.
Spring and late autumn are the best times to visit Athens. Summer can be extremely hot and dry during heatwaves, but this rarely happens. Winter is definitely low season, with the occasional rainy or snowy day, but also an ideal time to save money while enjoying the city without countless other travellers and tourists.
Whilst peak hour can still be a bit smoggy on the main roads, on most sunny days the skies are azure blue. The main bad impression of the pollution of Athens is given because Athens is enclosed by mountains and a basin is created which does not let the smog leave. However, the government's ban on diesel vehicles within Athens and the early 1990s motives to change the car fleet have greaty contributed to considerably better atmospheric conditions nowadays.
Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympic Games which, to the defiance of critics, were a spectacular success. While most of the sporting venues were located outside the city proper -in various locations throughout Attica- the entire urban area of Athens underwent major lasting changes that have improved the quality of life for visitors and residents alike. Aside from the excellent transportation infrastructure that was completed in time for the 2004 Olympics (from new freeways to light rail systems), the city's historic center underwent serious renovation. Most notable among the city's facelift projects are the Unification of Archaelogical Sites -which connects the city's classical-era ruins and monuments to each other through a network of pleasant pedestrianized streets- and the restoration of the picturesque neoclassical Thissio and Pláka districts.
Athens was just a small provincial village when it was chosen in the 1830s to serve as the national capital of the modern Greek State. Although it had a prestigious past, the city's political, economic, and cultural importance had declined over the centuries, leaving behind only its classical ruins as a reminder of better times. With the decision to move the national capital from Nafplio to Athens, architects and city planners were hired to build a new city next to the classical ruins, with grand neoclassical homes and public buildings, large city squares, green spaces, and wide avenues, making a conscious, decisive turn from the city's Ottoman past. The city regained its importance in Greek civilization, and by 1900 had evolved into a very attractive cosmopolitan city, with abundant neoclassical architecture harking to the nation's past.
The 20th century however, marked the rapid development of Athens. The city suffered minor damage during WWII, and suffered extensive urban planning in the decades that followed, as the nation rapidly industrialized and urbanized. In the 1960s and 1970s, many 19th century neoclassical buildings, often small and private, were demolished to make way for office buildings, often designed by great Greek architects. The city also expanded outward through rash development, particularly towards the west, as its population grew by absorbing job-seekers from the provinces. With the onset of the automobile, public officials reduced the city's public transportation services without foreseeing the traffic gridlock and smog that would menace the city by the 1980s.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city's reality led to a rude awakening among local and national officials and, coupled with the country's newfound remarkable prosperity, large scale projects began to slowly regenerate the city and undo some of the damages of recent decades. Over the course of the next 15 years, money was poured into new transportation infrastructure projects, the restoration of surviving neoclassical buildings, the gentrification of the city's historical center and the renovation of many former industrial areas and the city's coastline. The restoration of charming neoclassical buildings in the city's historical center has been accompanied by the construction of attractive post-modern buildings in newer districts; both of which have begun to improve the aesthetic essence of the city. Athens today is ever evolving, forging a brand new identity for the 21st century.
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.
The new Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport 27 km (17 miles) east of the city center, near the suburb of Spáta, opened in 2001 as part of the infrastructure improvements in preparation for the Olympics and is now one of the more attractive and efficient major European airports, though some old Athenian hands say they miss the "Port Said" atmosphere of the old Hellenikon. The airport has excellent public transit connections to the city (see below) and the usual array of food stands, duty-free shops, and other airport services.
There is a Tourist information station in Arrivals that will have the latest literature put out by the Tourist Information Department; this is useful for getting information of arranged local festivities in Athens and Attica. They will also have a printed brochure of Ferry information from Piraeus and other Attica ports.
There is also a small museum on the top floor that has an interesting history on Athens as well as a space put aside for temporary exhibits.
You are going to need euro coins if you want a trolley for your luggage; trolleys are available at the airport, you will find them in the baggage hall on arrival 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.
If you stay in Athens for a short time, consider leaving part of your luggage in a baggage storage. It is run by Pacific Travel , and is located in the end of left-hand wing, arrivals level. Storage time differentiates between 6 to 36 hours and sizes vary from small to large. The only inconvenience is that the same queue is used for collecting and for leaving – allow extra time before your flight. No automatic lockers can be found in the airport.
From the airport you can reach the city:
Don't forget to validate your ticket before going down to the platform and boarding a train (there are validation machines at the top of the escalators in the ticket hall). Failure to validate your ticket at the start of the journey can mean a fine of up to €120. The ticket inspectors are rigorous and won't hesitate to call for police assistance if you start to object.
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. You can also get this information at the airport metro station, which has a desk staffed most hours by someone who speaks English. 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 €3.60. 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 is extremely helpful.
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 such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and 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.
The port of Piraeus acts as the marine gateway to Athens, and is served by many ferries. Cruise ships also regularly visit, especially during warm months. Generally, pedestrian ferry users will be closer than cruisers to the Metro station providing access to Athens, though walking distances can be non-trivial. Cruise passengers usually reach the main cruise terminal by port shuttle bus. From there, they face a walk of well over a mile to the Metro station; taxis are readily available from the port terminal, and are not inexpensive.
Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The simple €1 ticket lets you travel on any means of transport — metro, suburban trains, trams, trolleybuses, buses — with unlimited transfers anywhere within Athens (except the metro airport line east of Doukissis Plakentias and the airport buses) 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 followed by a restoration of the old Line 1) 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 – ): Piraeus – Kifissia, connects the port of Piraeus and the northern suburbs of Athens via the city centre. Note that during 2010 there is major disruption at the use of this line due to renovation works of the train tracks. Make sure you are informed on which stations are closed. Be sure that you keep an eye on your personal stuff when using this line and be prepared for people getting in the train and asking for money. Note that line 1 is a rather old line (lines 2 & 3 are the new subway system of 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. Failure to do so will entail a hefty fine if you are caught by ticket inspectors. The standard metro fare is €1 for trips between all stations except the Airport line, east of Doukissis Plakentias. For €3, you can buy a 24-hour ticket for all public transport in Athens, apart from the Airport line. This needs to be validated only once, at the start of the first journey. 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 2-person group and €15 for a one-way trip for a 3-person group.
The Suburban Railway (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.
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 €1. It is called the Integrated ticket and allows for multiple trips within 90 minutes, and it's available in most kiosks. Use a €3.20 ticket to travel to or from the airport. If you tend to stay for more than a week then a weekly pass for €10 is the most economical. It gives you unlimited rides on almost all public transit (bus, tram, train, subway) for 7 days. You only need to validate once, before first use. Buses will not stop unless you signal the driver by raising your arm.
Night buses. As of March 2006 the night bus 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).
At the airport you can pick up a multitude of public transport maps, especially for buses, tram and trolleys that cover the whole of Athens, and parts of Attica like Sounio and other ports. These maps can be found in display stands. They are blue and marked with big Numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in different colors.
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. At busy tourist locations cab drivers can try and con you with a set rate that is ridiculously high (f.eex. 20€ for a short trip). In these cases it is best to find another and again insist on the charge shown on the meter. 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.
Taxis are considered as fairly cheap in Athens. As such you can expect to share the ride during rush hours if you can find one, and at night after the Metro has shutdown. As such if you hail a taxi which is already occupied (Free Taxis have a brightly lit TAXI sign on top of the cab) the driver will ask where you want to go to before he will let you in to join the other customers. Strikes by cabbies and public transit are common so be prepared and watch the local news.
Athens is certainly not the city to go around with a bicycle, as it does not have much 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 10AM to 3PM all year round except for the rainy days. All you have to do is book 10 days in advance either by email (email@example.com) or phone (8011 19 19 00).
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 which starts at Vasilisis Amalias Street, passes in front of the New Acropolis Museum, Acropolis, Herodion Theatre, Thiseio (Apostolou Pavlou Str), Ermou Street and ends at the popular area of Kerameikos (Gkazi) where numerous bars and clubs are located. Pleasant walking can also be had in Plaka, especially its upper reaches, and in much of 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 a stroll difficult. 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 . It’s informative and fun! They are available for rent at Athens Hilton Hotel, Sofitel Athens Airport, King George Palace and Baby Grand Hotel.
At first glance, Athens seems entirely to be composed of nasty, four- to six-story concrete buildings, lacking character and badly in need of a paint, but if you look beyond that, you will find little gems tucked in amongst the grey. The areas at the foot of the Acropolis, Anafiotika, Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio are home to many wonderful Neoclassical buildings, trendy and traditional cafes and shops, narrow winding streets, and incredible views of the Acropolis. Little Greek Orthodox churches are tucked in amongst the concrete, often in the most unexpected places. These are usually beautifully decorated with icons and brass fixtures inside, but make sure you're appropriately dressed (no short sleeves or bare legs is a good rule of thumb, as a mark of respect).
For the best views of Athens, head to the top of Lycavittos Hill. You can either walk from Kolonaki (the path starts 15 minutes from Evangelismos metro stop, and will take 30 minutes to talk up the winding, but paved and not steep, path) or you can take the funicular railway (3€ one-way, 6€ round trip) from the top of Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki. Either way, be sure to wear flat shoes, and bring lots of water in the summer! From the top you can see the whole city, the port of Piraeus and, on a clear day, the island of Aegina and the Peloponnese. Have a drink at the cafe there, and pay a visit to the chapel of St George.
If you're lucky enough to be in Athens for the Easter Weekend, you'll see the spectacular sight of hundreds of people making their candlelit way down the hill on Easter Saturday night as part of the Easter Vigil procession.
The Acropolis, a Unesco World Heritage Site, was the ancient fortified town of Athens, dating back to the Late Bronze Age, and the site of the best buildings of the Greek Classical age: the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike. If you attend a university in the European Union, bring your ID and you can enter for free. The normal entrance price is 12 euros. This ticket also gives you entry to the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, and the nearby Theatre of Dionysus. If possible, get there early to avoid heavy crowds, and summer heat when relevant.
The Ancient Agora— The site of the Ancient Agora in a very green space and a very beautiful view of the Acropolis. You will see the Temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved ancient Greek temple, the Attalos Stoa, the museum of the agora which is a reconstructed ancient building. From the agora you can walk towards Acropolis. Extension of the agora is the Roman Forum.
Syntagma Square— Check out the Parliament building and the newly-restored Grande Bretagne Hotel. Also, catch the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament every hour on the hour. Their uniforms and walking style is fun to see but make sure you don't stand on the wrong side of them if you want to take a picture. If you accidentally do so, they will knock their gun and, as they are not allowed to speak, someone else from the guard will kindly ask you to change position.
The Kerameikos— The site of the ancient cemetery of Athens. It also houses the Dipylon Gate, where the Panathenaic procession would begin. It has a museum showcasing many of the grave stele and other archaeological items found on the grounds.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus— Only the ruins remain today. The column that has fallen and can still be seen on pieces was brought down during a thunderstorm about a century ago. The 1896 Olympic Stadium and Hadrian's Arch are located nearby,
Panathinaiko Stadium— The stadium that housed the first modern day Olympic Games of 1896. Its an enormous, white, marble stadium, with a horseshoe configuration stadium.
Lycabettus Hill— A 200m hill bordering the Kolonaki district. You can reach the top by walking or by a funicular railway (small ticket charge). There is a cafe-restaurant with a great view of Athens towards the sea. From halfway up looking towards the sea there are astonishing views of the Parthenon with the blue of the sea glimpsed between its columns.
Because of its antiquity and influence, Athens is full of museums and galleries. The major ones are the National Archeological Museum near Omonia, the New Acropolis Museum by the Acropolis, the Benaki and Cycladic Art Museums in Kolonaki, the Agora Museum near Monastiraki, and the Kanellopoulos and Folk Art Museums in Plaka. Details of these and others will be found in the district sections.
The visual arts enjoy a big share in the Athenian cultural and everyday life. Next to big institutions such as the National Gallery and the Benaki Museum, a big number of small private galleries are spread within the city centre and the surrounding areas, hosting the works of contemporary visual and media artists. In recent years a number of bar galleries have sprung up, where you can have a drink or a coffee whilst visiting an exhibition.
The National Art Gallery is located at Michalakopoulou Street, close to Evangelismos metro station and is one of Greece's main art institutions and features paintings and works of art from some of Greece's and Europe's best from the 19th and 20th centuries. Emphasis is given to popular Greek contemporary artists including Giannis Tsarouchis, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (a.k.a. El Greco), Theodors Vrizakis, Nikolaos Kounelakis, Nikiforos Litras, Konstantinos Parthenis, Maleas, Giannis Moralis and others
The City of Athens Technopolis, an industrial museum of incomparable architecture - among the most interesting in the world, has been transformed into a multipurpose cultural space. The centre has assisted in the upgrading of a historic Athens district and the creation of yet another positive element in Athens' cultural identity. Technopolis is located at Peiraios Avenue & Persefonis Street, right next to the Kerameikos metro station (line 3).
Parnitha National Park has well-marked paths, gorges, springs, torrents and caves do the protected area. Hiking and mountain-biking in all four mountains remain popular outdoor activities for many residents of the city. The National Garden of Athens is a peaceful and beautiful park in the centre of Athens, where visitors can enjoy their walk and spend hours of relaxation. The Garden encloses luxuriant vegetation, plenty of flowers, some ancient ruins, two duck ponds and a small zoo. In addition, there is a children’s playground and a café as well. It's located between the Parliament and Zappeion buildings.The landmark Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianised, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of the Acropolis near Plaka, and finishes just beyond the Temple of Hephaestus in Thiseio. The route in its entirety provides visitors with views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city centre.The hills of Athens provide also green space. Lycabettus, Philopappos hill and the area around it including Pnyx and Ardettos hill are all planted with pines and other trees and they are more like small forests than typical urban parks. There is also Pedion tou Areos (Field of Mars) of 27.7 hectares near National Archaeological Museum which is currently under renovation.
Near Athens in Glyfada (50 min by tram from the center), there is the Sea Turtle Rescue Society Archelon. They are regularly looking for volunteers who are willing to work on their own costs and are able to take care of injured sea turtles.
Attend an event at the Athens and Epidaurus Festival . It runs during the summer and offers a wide spectrum of events covering almost every taste. Try to attend a performance at the ancient theater of Epidaurus -a truly unforgetable experience.
Every Sat/Sun you can join a free bike tour of the old area of Athens. To take part in this, you should contact the NGO Anthropos or call 210 8838914 but you can just turn up if you aren't able to contact them in advance. Groups meet at 10:40AM outside Thissio metro station.
If the weather is good, head out of town on buses A2, B2 or E22 from metro station Sygrou, or the tram from Syntagma to the beaches to the south of Athens. Just get off wherever the sea takes your fancy. Be aware though that beach-side cafes can hit you hard with prices of food and drinks. If you are the only person getting on the bus, be aware that you need to flag the bus down to get it to stop or it will just fly on by.
EasyCruise, Syngrou Avenue 362, Kallithea , 176 74 Athinai, phone +30 211 2116211. The infamous cheap flight company now runs a variety of cruises from Greece (Athens) to Turkey and surrounding islands such as Mykonos, Paros and Syros. For the classic enthusiast, their tour company visits Acropolis, Epidavros, Nemea, Mycenae, Corinth, Olympia and Delphi.
Theater and Performing Arts
Athens is home to 148 theatrical stages, more than any other city in the world, including the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, home to the Athens Festival, which runs from May to October each year. In addition to a large number of multiplexes, Athens plays host to a variety of romantic, open air garden cinemas. The city also supports a vast number of music venues, including the Athens Concert Hall, known as the "Mégaron Musikis", which attracts world-famous artists all year round.
For quick, decent and low-budget meals that do not fall into the commercialized fast food category, try a souvlaki' (pronounced soo- VLAH-kee), mainly grilled meat (pork, chicken, it's your choice) vegetables (tomato and onion slices) and greek 'tzatziki' (pronounced tzah-TZEE-khee) which is yogurt enriched with garlic and cucumber. All the above (often accompanied by french fries) are wrapped inside a thin slice of pan bread, named 'pita' (PEE-tah). Prices of 'souvlaki' vary according to the confidence and/or nerve of the cornershop owner, but usually you can get one from €1.70 to €2.20; add some soda, salad and french fries and you can have lunch for no more than €7 - if you ask for a take away, the price is considerably cheaper than if you sit at a table. You can get souvlaki just about everywhere, especially where tourists roam, though they are a bit more expensive in those regions. The best souvlaki stands in central Athens are both in Monastiraki, adjacent to each other and just off the main square in front of the Metro stop: Savvas at Mitropoleas 86-88 and O Thanasis at Mitropoleos 69.
If you're interested in a sandwich, cheese pie, spinach pie or the equivalent of a fast snack, try Grigoris (Γρηγόρης) or Everest, two chains of fast food to be found in most districts of Athens and the rest of Greece. Goody's is the Greek equivalent of Mac Donald's and offers a fair variety of tasty meals, including pasta, different salads, burgers etc.
For listings of specific restaurants, see the individual district sections, especially Kolonaki and Plaka.
Greeks love to socialize, and Athens buzzes long after its other European counterparts have laid their heads down to sleep. 8PM is the earliest most Greeks will consider going to eat out, and clubbers start to get ready at about midnight. Note that many Athens clubs relocate to the beach during the summer months. Cafes spill onto the streets and the sound of lively conversation is everywhere in the evenings.
Have a frappé, the delicious Greek version of cold coffee. Being a Greek invention, it is absolutely nothing like the frappé you find in other countries of the world. Served sweet, medium, or without sugar, with or without milk. Delicious with Bailey's too.
A 'club zone' is located in the coastal zone, running to the east- if you go there and you are lucky, you can actually get to listen to non-Greek music. There are also many clubs and pubs in the center of Athens.
Go to the Psyrrí area (Monastiraki or Thisseio stop, Lines 1 and 3 and Line 1 respectively) for a number of smart bars and small clubs. It is the area immediately north of Ermou street between these two metro stops.
The area north of Ermou street between Monastiraki and Syntagma has seen a considerably rise in the number and quality of bars during recent years. Aiolou and Kolokotroni streets both offer a fair variety of cafés and bars. Magazé, 6dogs, Booze and all the bars on Karytsi square (a small square at the end of Christou Lada street, behind Klafthmonos square on Stadiou avenue) can get very busy on Fridays and Saturdays, with visitors having their drinks even on the streets outside from spring through autumn, when the weather is nice.
The area around the Kerameikos station, called Gazi (Γκάζι, gas) has been the gay village of Athens for quite a few years. Since the opening of the metro station, in 2007, the neighbourhood has attracted all kinds of crowds. This is a home to dozens of bars, cafés and clubs, gay or not, as well as to small theatrical scenes, the latter one especially to the northeast of the area, towards Metaxourgeio.
Balux , Vassileos Georgiou B No. 58 Asteria, Glyfada,, Arguably one of the best bars in Athens for the specific style, to call it a bar is an understaement. Balux is large complex set right on the water in Glyfada, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city. It is open during the summer for swimming in the ocean or pool all day and turns into a lounge and full club at night. Where Athen's wealthy go to party.
Athens has a wide variety of accommodation options, from camping and hostels, right up to 5 star luxury hotels. For listings of specific hotels, see the individual district sections.
Although a huge city, Athens has relatively few shopping malls or large department stores; the small, family run shop still conquers all. Souvenirs are of course available everywhere that tourists go. Other shopping opportunities are antiques, museum reproductions, embroideries and other folk art goods, and Greek food and drink products. Here is an overview of the Athens shopping scene; detailed listings will be found on the relevant district pages:
Plaka is lined with souvenir shops, most of them selling cheap souvenir knick-nacks, though there are a few higher-quality shops here and there. Prices can be high for quality items.
Kolonaki is the upscale, hip, and artistic shopping area. Another is Kifissia.
For a more reasonable price tag, try Ermou Street, beside Syntagma Square. Turn right off Ermou at the MAC makeup shop and you'll find yourself on Aghiou Markou and other small streets which are home to incredibly cheap shoes, bags, jewellery, gifts, homewares, and so on.
The Mall at the Metro Station "Neratziotissa" (Line 1) is the biggest shopping mall in Athens with a large variety of shops, cafés and restaurants and, arguably, one of the most "hi tec" cinemas in the city.
The Golden Hall is a shopping mall at Kifissias avenue in Maroussi and includes shops with luxury brands, as well as luxury cafés, bars and restaurants.
The Athens Heart is a shopping mall close to the center of Athens.
Street vendors, with their wares laid out on blankets on the pavement, can be found in many places where tourists congregate, especially in Plaka and Monastiraki. Their goods are mostly forgeries, cheap knock-offs, and illegal CDs. These vendors are unlicensed, which is in violation of Greek law, and you may notice them vanishing as soon as a policeman is in sight, to reappear the instant the police have gone. They are best ignored. (This warning doesn't apply to vendors of fruit, nuts, etc. from street carts, who are usually legitimate.)
While Athens is generally a very safe city, there have been reports of pickpockets on the Metro and in other crowded areas. Street crime is rare; when it happens, it's most commonly purse-snatching from women walking away from banks and ATM machines.
The friendly stranger bar scam has been reported from areas of central Athens frequented by travelers, including Omonia, Syntagma, and Plaka. Recently, there have been some reports of fraud. Usually, someone will stop you and ask for directions. A couple of other guys then show up claiming to be police, showing a badge (obviously s fake one). They ask if you were getting drugs from the other guy and then ask for your passport and wallet for verification. While you are busy trying to convince them that your passport is valid, one of them sneaks out some money from your wallet.
Another danger recently reported, especially by travelers boarding the Airport Express Bus in Piraeus, is pickpocket gangs operating buses used by tourists. As the bus is boarding, a large group traveling together (who are reported often to be of various nationalities other than Greek) will divide itself in two, with half of them going on board and then stopping in the aisle to cause a jam-up among passengers trying to board through the door behind them, the other half then offering to help the jammed passengers lift their luggage on board. Just before the bus leaves, the half of this group on the bus gets off. Then, joining the other half outside the door, they all quickly disperse.
What has happened, of course, is that the passengers who were being "helped" with their luggage by some of this group were being pick-pocketed by others. The theft is particularly effective because it's directed at travelers who are leaving the country and are thus not likely to report it--many victims don't realize they've been robbed until they get to the airport or even until after they get on the plane. Some travelers have claimed that certain bus drivers are party to these crimes by neglecting to open the rear door of the bus for boarding passengers, thus ensuring a tighter and more confused crowd of jammed passengers trying to board through the center door, making the criminals' job easier.
Athenians hold negative perceptions for the areas from Omonoia Square to Karaiskaki Square and the area near Larissis train station (in the western areas of the city proper), and locals advise you to avoid these areas late at night.
The back streets of Piraeus are probably also places where its unwise to wander around late at night. More recently, Sofokleous Street (a major street south of Omonia), especially the western part near Pireos Street, has gotten a reputation for crime and drugs; some Athenians will advise you to avoid it even during the daytime. Some may also argue that wandering around the Zappeio gardens and the Pedion Areos parks at night time may not be wise.
Special care should be taken in crossing streets in Athens' chaotic traffic, even if you have the walk light.
Athens is one of the most political cities in Europe. Demonstrations and riots are common and accepted as part of everyday life and democracy by most Athenians. Keep abreast of news of demonstrations, and avoid them if you don't want to run the risk of being arrested or tear-gassed.
Anarchist and leftist groups often target police, government, and corporate targets during the night. It is unlikely that tourists would be hurt, as the anarchists usually take care to damage only property as opposed to people. Nonetheless, parking by a McDonald's, police station, or bank could get your car damaged.
In addition, you should be aware that Athens has many stray dogs. Though the dogs are usually friendly, they may be alarming and unusual upon your first arriving into the city. Athenians feed and take care of them, and it is not unusual to see a shop owner offering plastic plates full of leftovers to the dogs on the street.
The sprawling city is bounded on three sides by Mt Ymettos, 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 Piraeus, the city's ancient (and still bustling) port.
Places 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 Acropolis— The ancient "high city" of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city's goddess Athena.
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.
Kifissia— The northern part of Athens, rarely visited by tourists.
Nea Smyrni— The southern part of Athens, it is a modern European district.
Kolonaki— Upscale residential area with many cafes, boutiques and galleries.
Omonia and Exarheia— Formerly seedy district, it is now home to Greece's students, anarchists and the National Archeaological Museum, somewhat revitalized by the metro.
Pangrati and Mets— These adjoining pleasant residential neighborhoods south of Lycabettos and east of the National Garden are rarely frequented by tourists, but they do include a few hotels and a number of good traditional tavernas.
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.
Psiri— Former industrial district, now full of trendy and alternative restaurants, cafés, bars, and small shops.
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.
There are many free wireless hotspots across the city. Wi-Fi internet connection is available at Syntagma Square, Kotzia Square and Theseion. Alternatively, you can go to one of the many internet cafés located in the center of the city. Many bars, restaurants and cafes offer free wi-fi for their guests.
The mobile network (3G/GPRS/GSM) covers the whole city. Also, public phones are found all over the city and phone cards are available from most kiosks.
Piraeus, the harbour of Athens, and Rafina (on the east coast of Attica) are the departure points for a large number of ferry services to the Greek Islands and other destinations in the eastern Mediterranean, including ports in Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus. Fast hydrofoil, catamaran or helicopter services also take you to the Greek Islands. Italy is easily approached by boat from Patras (take a train or a bus to Patras).
The port of Lavrion in southern Attica is being increasingly developed as a ferry port, especially for (some) Cyclades routes. Rafina and, especially, Piraeus remain, however, the main hubs for the Cyclades and the Dodecanese.
The closest islands, suitable for a day trip from Piraeus, are located in the Argosaronic (or Saronic) gulf: Hydra, Aegina, Poros, Spetses and Salamina. Kea (also pronounced Tzia) is a very nearby destination, too, less than two hours from the port of Lavrio. If what you are thinking is an island further away from Piraeus, like Paros, Naxos, Ios, Santorini or any of the Dodecanese or Northern Aegean isles, you should probably consider with extra days off Athens because of their distance from the mainland. Flying is, ofcourse, also an option to many of the more distant islands.
Day trips to the Corinth Canal, the ancient theatre at Epidaurus and to the ancient sites of Olympia, Delphi and Mycenae are easy with a rental car. Other towns along the Peloponnese such as Nafplion are charming and worthwhile.
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