Named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athens is the oldest, and maybe liveliest, capital in Europe. The urban city area features a bit more than 4 million residents, according to the latest census in 2011; however, every true Athenian will insist that the capital boasts half of Greece’s total population (which is about 11 million people).
- I Modern Olympic Games
- II Architecture
- III Weather in Athens
- IV Orientation
- V Get in
- VI Getting around
- VII Syntagma-Panepistimio-Kolonaki
- VIII Sightseeing in Athensedit
- IX Akropolis-Plaka-Monastiraki
- X Psiri-Thision-Keramikos
- XI Excharcheia-Patision Str.-Metaksourgio
- XII Go next
Athens is often considered as an one-day stop-over, before starting island hopping; however, while summers in Athens can be a nightmare due to the combination of high temperatures, air pollution and severe lack of greenery, it is still worth a few days on its own. Balancing between European elegance and Balkan temperament, the Greek capital reveals its true self through lazy walks among ancient ruins, people watching during a typical Athenian half-day-long coffee and endless bar hopping until dawn.
The first pre-historic settlements were constructed in 3000 BC around the hill of Acropolis. According to legend the King of Athens, Theseus, unified the ten tribes of early Athens into one kingdom in around 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 BCE, social unrest had become widespread, and the Areopagus appointed Draco to draft a strict new law code (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).
In the 5th century BCE, Athens reached the peak of its fame. It was the most powerful Greek city-state, and the center of Greek cultural life, hosting perhaps the greatest cultural advances in all of human history. Fields of study like science, philosophy, history, and medicine were developed for the first time by Athenian scholars in this period, known as Athens’ “golden age”.
Later on, Athens became part of the Macedonian empire under Alexander, and still later part of the Roman empire. While it was no longer politically significant, its intellectual reputation gave it a special status until, in the year 529, Emperor Justinian ordered Athens’ academies to be closed, and the empire’s intellectual center moved to Constantinople.
Athens was thriving and prosperous during the Crusades, actually benefiting from the Italian trade during this period, however this fruitful period was short-lived, as Greece suffered badly under the Ottoman Empire, only to recover in the 19th century as the capital of independent Greece. In modern times, the Athens urban area has grown to a population of 3 million. Athens has turned into a large and bustling city, but as a result it also suffers from congestion, pollution, and poverty.
Modern Olympic Games
Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. While most of the sporting venues were outside of the city – 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 Archaeological Sites (which connects the city’s classical-era ruins and monuments to each other through a network of friendly pedestrianized streets) and the restoration of the picturesque neoclassical Thissio and Pláka districts.
The ancient Olympic Games took place in Olympia from 776 BCE to 394 AD. It is a lengthy day trip from Athens to visit Olympia, but quite interesting.
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 new found remarkable prosperity, large scale projects began to slowly regenerate the city and undo some of the damage 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.
Weather in Athens
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 tourists.
Whilst peak traffic hour can be a bit smoggy on the main roads, on most sunny days the skies are azure blue. The main reason attributed for the pollution of Athens is because the city is enclosed by mountains in a basin which does not allow the smog to leave. The government’s ban on diesel vehicles within Athens and the early 1990s initiatives to improve car emissions have greatly contributed to better atmospheric conditions in the basin.
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 (signposted in Greek and English) now melt 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 is the ancient high city of Athens, a prominent plateaued rock perched high above the modern city with commanding views and an amazing array of ancient architecture, mostly from the Classical period of Ancient Greece, the most famous of which is the Parthenon. A visit to Athens is not complete without visiting the Acropolis; hundreds of tourists each day accordingly make the pilgrimage.
Gentrified during the 1990s and now very popular with tourists, Plaka is a charming historic district at the foot of the Acropolis, with its restored 19th-century neoclassical homes, pedestrianized streets, shops and restaurants, and picturesque ruins from the city’s Roman era. Thissio, to the west side of the Acropolis, is very similar and now houses many restaurants and cafes. Between the two is Monastiraki, a very bohemian district increasingly popular with tourists, with stores selling a variety of items including antiques, cookware, souvenirs, arts and crafts, movie posters, punk culture, funky clothing, and pretty much anything you can think of. Another part of Plaka is Anafiotika and is on the northernmost place. There you will find the first university of Athens before it was relocated in central Athens. Its an oasis of calm and quietness, and there are many green spaces which are part of the green space of Acropolis.
Plaka’s boundaries are not precisely defined. Clear borders are the Ancient Agora and Plateia Monastiraki on the west, the Acropolis and Dhionysiou Areopayitou street on the south, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Leoforos Amalias on the south-east, and the west part of Mitropoleos street, up to the cathedral on the north (but Mitropoleos street and Leoforos Amalias, though boundaries, shouldn’t be considered part of Plaka, since they have a modern and fairly non-descript atmosphere). The north-eastern and eastern boundaries are a bit less well defined, but if you’re south of Apollonos street and west of Nikis street you’ll probably feel like you’re still in Plaka.
Syntagma Square is named after the Greek constitution (syntagma) that was proclaimed from the balcony of the royal palace that overlooks the square on 3 September 1843. The former palace has housed the Greek parliament since 1935.
Syntagma Square is a good point from which to begin your orientation in the city, and has been beautified within the last few years ago, and the manic Athenian traffic has been re-routed. it contains cafes, restaurants, fast food outlets, a new metro stop, airline offices.. The square serves as an occasional rallying place for demonstrations and public celebrations.
Omonia Square (Plateia Omonias) is the centre of Athens, and is composed of the actual square together with the surrounding streets, open areas and assemblage of grand buildings that include banks and offices. The neighbouring area of Exarcheia (Εξάρχεια) to the north, dominated by the Athens Polytechnic and its famous band of anarchists, is a bohemian district with lots of bars and clubs visited by students, intellectuals and people who are into alternative culture. Kolonaki is near Lykavittos Hill. The district’s borders are not very sharply defined; it covers the south and southeast slopes of Lykavettos Hill north of Vassilisis Sofias Avenue. Kolonaki is the posh area of central Athens. Traditionally the home of the in-town rich, it’s the location of a number of foreign embassies and several prominent archaeological schools, including The American School and The British School. It also has the city’s greatest concentration of trendy fashion boutiques, and many, mostly upscale, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Travel by plane to Athens
Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. American, Air Canada, Delta, Emirates, and United maintain non-stop flights from North America (some are only seasonal), while a large number of European carriers fly direct into Athens.
Opened in 2001 as part of the infrastructure improvements in preparation for the Olympics, and is allegedly now one of the more attractive and efficient major European airports, though some old Athenian hands say they miss the messy atmosphere of the old Hellenikon. The airport has the usual array of food stands, duty-free shops, lounges, and other airport services. Free Wi-Fi is limited to 45 min. Luggage storage, run by Pacific Travel, can be found in the end of left-hand wing, arrivals level. Storage time varies from 6 to 36 hr, no automatic lockers. There is also a locker facility at Syntagma Square, central Athens (Leaveyourluggage.gr). | Opened in 2001 as part of the infrastructure improvements in preparation for the Olympics, and is allegedly now one of the more attractive and efficient major European airports, though some old Athenian hands say they miss the messy atmosphere of the old Hellenikon. The airport has the usual array of food stands, duty-free shops, lounges, and other airport services. Free Wi-Fi is limited to 45 min. Luggage storage, run by Pacific Travel, can be found in the end of left-hand wing, arrivals level. Storage time varies from 6 to 36 hr, no automatic lockers.
There is a tourist information office in Arrivals, they can provide information about Greek ferries.
There is also a small museum on the top floor with an interesting history on Athens, and a space for temporary exhibits.
- By Metro to the town center, €10 one way. 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 central Syntagma and Monastiráki stations. Metro riders must change trains at Doukisis Plakentias station.
- At the airport, both metro trains and suburban trains pass from the same platform. If you are travelling to the city centre, you should take the metro trains.
- 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 €200. The ticket inspectors are rigorous and won’t hesitate to call for police assistance if you start to object.
- Not all Metro trains from Athens 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 via change at Ano Liossia Station. Suburban trains are not as fast as the metro trains. A change at Ano Liossia to Line 2 (red) can take you to The Omónia and Syntagma stations; trains to Northern Greece and the Peloponnese depart from nearby Larissis station. Or change at Doukissis Plakentias to Line 3 (blue) of the metro to get to Monastiraki and Syntagma stations.
- By express bus: X93 to Kifissos Coach Station, X95 to Syntagma Square (Lines 2 and 3), X96 to Piraeus Port (Line 1) and X97 to Elliniko metro station (Line 2) for €6.00. It takes 45 min to 1½ hr depending on traffic. Buses, unlike Metro, operate 24 hours a day. When leaving to the airport early from Syntagma (before the metro opens), tickets can be bought at a kiosk next to the bus stop.
- By local bus: an unnamed bus departs frequently in front of the Sofitel Hotel to Koropi metro station (€1.80, 15 min). From there you can take the metro to Athens (€1.40). According to the metro website the ride is €10 but as of late 2017 the station official confirmed that it is only €1.40. You can also take local bus 308 from Koropi metro for the same price.
- By taxi: if you take a taxi be careful. Taxi rides to the centre cost €38 during the day and €50 during the night. Ask if the price includes toll costs.
- By metro: Athen’s metro includes three lines, the green, the blue and the red; the underground network is not yet efficiently developed, but does cover most of the city’s points of interest. Tickets cost 1.40 euros, are valid for 90 minutes and can also be used in buses and trolley buses. The blue line links to Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, but a special 8-euro ticket is required. The metro runs between 5am and 12am from Sunday to Thursday and from 5am to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.
- By bus/trolley: Athens feature a comprehensive bus and trolley-bus network. Time schedules usually depend on the route, however most buses run between 5.30am and 12am. A few 24-hour routes are available, including X95 between Syntagma Square and the airport.
- By tram: The tram was introduced to Athenians in 2004 and was fashioned in order to link the city center with the Olympic facilities in southeastern suburbs, which were not served by metro; it is still the most comfortable way to get to the southeastern suburbs, given that you are not in a hurry.
- By taxi: Taxis are still quite inexpensive compared to other European capitals. A fixed price is set for rides from the airport to the city center: a 35-euro tariff on day shift (from 5am to 12am) and a 50-euro tariff on night shift.
Travel by bus to Athens
Regional coaches (KTEL) connect Athens to other cities in Greece. The fleet of buses has been upgraded, which makes the journey friendly 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, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, so it’s advisable to ask on both the bus and the train companies about the available options.
Several travel agencies offer bus service between Tirana and Athens, also stopping at several other cities in Albania. Cost is usually €30 between Albania and Athens (same cost regardless of the city in Albania).
- Alb Trans, +30 210 520 21 85, firstname.lastname@example.org, €25, http://www.albtrans.net stops in the following cities: Tirana, Durres, Kavaje, Rrogozhine, Lushnje, Berat, Fier, Ballsh, Krasta, Memaliaj, Tepelene, Athens.
- Albatrans, albatrans.com.al, email@example.com, +355 42 259 204, €30
- top-lines.al, Albania: +355 42233050 firstname.lastname@example.org, Greece: +30 2105203350-1 email@example.com
- Papadakis Bros S.A., +30 210 52 02 551-3 (Athens), +355 42 22 41 03 (Tirana)
- Osumi Travel, 210 52 49 268 (Athens), 42 2255 491-2272 644 (Tirana), €30, or €25 between Gjirokaster and Athens, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Alvavel, +355 0422 34629 (Tirana), +355 0542 42476 (Elbasan), +355 0822 42847 (Korca), +355 0522 34446 (Durres), +30 210 5222436 (Athens), €30
Travel by train to Athens
The national rail service, Trainose, connects Athens to other cities in Greece, however the national railroad system is limited compared to other European countries, in effect having only two lines. One goes south to the Pelopponese. The other goes 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.
There are two types 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 one hour at most, but the ticket will be almost twice the price. ‘Intercity’ tends to be more reliable, yet more ‘bumpy’ than the normal train. As of late 2014 there are international trains to Belgrade, Serbia and Sofia, Bulgaria via Thessaloniki.
Travel by boat to Athens
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 cruise passengers to the Metro station providing access to central Athens; walking distances can vary considerably.
Cruise passengers on larger ships usually reach the main cruise terminal by port shuttle bus; otherwise, it can be a non-trivial walk. Smaller ships (e.g., 1200 or fewer passengers) may dock near the terminal…an easy walk. From the terminal, pedestrians face a safe, level walk of over a mile to the Piraeus Metro station; taxis are readily available to go there, but are not inexpensive.
Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds since the year 2000. The simple €1.40 (“integrated”) 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 60 minutes, and you can also get a €4 ticket valid for 24 hours, or a 3-day “tourist” ticket for €20 that includes one round-trip to the airport.
The Athens Metro is efficient and attractive, and generally the only friendly way to get around Athens. Many metro stations (i.e. Syntagma) exhibit artifacts found during construction. Eating and drinking is forbidden in the metro system. During rush hour, it can become very crowded. There are three lines:
- Line : Piraeus – Kifissia, connects the port of Piraeus and the northern suburbs of Athens (Kifisia station) via the city centre. 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.
- Line : Anthoupoli – Elliniko connects western and southern Athens via Athens centre.
- Line : Aghia Marina – Doukissis Plakentias – Airport connects the western suburbs with the eastern 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 €1.40 (as of June 2016) for trips between all stations except the Airport line, east of Doukissis Plakentias. This allows travel with all means of public transport and unlimited transfers for 70 minutes.
A 24-hour ticket for all public transport in Athens, apart from the Airport line, costs €4.50. This needs to be validated only once, at the start of the first journey. The standard fare to or from the Airport is €10 (as of August 2016), €18 for a return trip within 48 hours, €14 for a one-way trip for a 2-person group and €20 for a one-way trip for a 3-person group.
There are often several entrances to the stations and often they go straight to the platform, so remember which entrance is for which. It is open from 05:00 to midnight.
By suburban railway
The Suburban Railway (Proastiakos by Trainose) is a new addition to Athens’s public transportations network. The line starts at Piraeus, passes through the main line train station (Larissis) in central Athens, and forks at Ano Liosia west to Corinth and Kiato and east towards the Airport.
The new Athens Tram connects the city centre with the southern suburbs and has connections with the metro lines. There are three tram lines:
- Line : Peace and Friendship Stadium – Asklipeio Voulas Hospital connects Faliro with the southern suburbs and runs along the coastal zone.
- Line : Syntagma – Peace and Friendship Stadium connects the city centre with Faliro.
- Line : Syntagma – Asklipeio Voulas Hospital connects the city centre with the coastal zone and the southern suburbs.
Ticket prices are the same with Athens Metro (€1.40 for 60 minutes)
Travel by bus to Athens
Athens is served by a network of diesel buses, natural gas buses and electric trolley buses run by the Athens Urban Transport Organisation. The integrated ticket costs €1.40 and allows for multiple trips within 70 minutes, including transfers to the Metro or Tram and it’s available in most kiosks. Trips to the Airport cost €5. If you tend to stay for more than a week then a weekly pass for €14 is the most cost-effective. 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. There are no arrival time signs in any of the stations.
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 €1.19, after which the meter ticks up at €0.34/km (“rate 1”) or €0.64/km (“rate 2”), with a minimum fare of €3.20. Rate 1 applies through Athens city limits, including the airport, while rate 2 applies outside the city and from midnight to 05:00. Legal extra charges apply for calling a taxi 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, drivers try to con with a set rate that is ridiculously high (e.g. €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.
Taxi drivers rarely obey the rules of the road. Expect that if you are leaving Athens on an early flight the driver will drive aggressively to get you there as quickly as possible.
Taxis are considered to be fairly cheap in Athens. Therefore, you can expect to share the ride during rush hours if you can find one, and at night after the Metro has shut down. If you hail a taxi which is already occupied (occupied taxis have a brightly lit TAXI sign on top of the car) the driver will ask where you want to go to before letting you in to join the other customers. Strikes by cabbies and public transit are common, so be prepared and watch the local news.
Travel to Athens by car
You can hire a car at the airport where most of the major international companies have a presence. There are also several large local companies which will deliver the car outside of the airport.
Travel by bicycle in Athens
Athens is not a friendly city for bicyclists, as it does not have many 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. But within the network of pedestrian streets in the historical city centre, rides are safe and can be quite enjoyable. A bike hire scheme is at its fledgling stages; its bike station is in Technopolis.
The “My City with a Bike” initiative, taken by the General Secretariat for the Youth and several NGOs, offers free conducted tours with free bikes every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 15:00 all year round except for the rainy days. Booking 10 days in advance is required, either by email (email@example.com) or phone (+30 8011 19 19 00).
With the exception of a few touristy streets, Athens is an incredibly unfriendly place to walk (compared to other Western cities). Athens’ horrendous traffic can make crossing the street in many areas a hair-raising proposition, and walking down many streets is an unfriendly experience of noise and pollution. Cars and motorbikes parked blocking the pavements (illegal but ubiquitous) can also make a stroll difficult. The humidity of summer is exhausting, and there are few parks to provide an escape from it. 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 walk around in.
However, several central streets have been pedestrianized. A mostly car-free archeological walk 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 there are many bars and clubs. Pleasant walking can also be had in Plaka, especially its upper reaches, and in much of Kolonaki. The National Garden can provide a welcome respite from the heat and noise of the city centre. Even in Plaka and Kolonaki, your walk is likely to be interrupted by loud motorcycles zooming down the narrow lanes, shattering the peace and making you worry about your safety. Wear comfortable shoes with good traction, and make sure that you leave home any high heels or similar shoes. Some sensitive archeological sites have banned heels because the pointed heels damage the soft, slippery marble that you’re walking on.
The surroundings of Syntagma Square, along with neighboring area of Panepistimio and fancy Kolonaki, form the hottest shopping district in downtown Athens. Ermou pedestrian is the most sauntered Greek shopping street, while Kolonaki is home to chic local boutiques and well-known international designer houses; elegant Athenians drink their espresso in nearby cafés and posh bars. Well-known attractions around the area include the Greek Parliament on Syntagma Square and nearby National Gardens, Benaki Museum on Queen Sofia’s Avenue and Zappion Megaron on Queen Amalia’s Avenue. The National Library, Academy of Athens and the former building of the University of Athens are located just across Panepistimio metro station. Plenty of local and international restaurants and dinners are scattered around the narrow streets besides Syntagma Square.
Sightseeing in Athensedit
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 among 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 among 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).
The Acropolis is, naturally, the most popular spot of the city, along with neighboring Plaka and Monastiraki. Crowds of tourists on sightseeing scout mingle with locals strolling up the hill on their leisure time. This area is packed in ancient sites, including the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylea and Ancient Agora. Dionysiou Aeropagitou pedestrian is ideal for rambling on a sunny day and will lead you right to the New Acropolis Museum, where the marbles from the excavations at the Acropolis are exhibited. Picturesque Plaka is located right on the foot of the Acropolis, featuring narrow backstreets and charming houses from the early 20th century. Monastiraki is known for its flea market, souvenir shops and traditional taverns; street artists and performers give shows at the weekends.
The Acropolis is open daily, 08:00-19:00 during summer, 08:00-17:00 during winter. Telephone: +30 210 3214172. The normal entrance price is €20. The price is discounted or free for many categories of individuals, such as under-18s and European university students. A €30 ticket can be purchased which also provides admission to various other Athens historic sites (Acropolis and Slopes, Kerameikos and its museum, Ancient Agora and its museum, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Olympieion, The Lyceum) within five days. If possible, arrive early to avoid heavy crowds, and summer heat when relevant. The queue to buy tickets can be very long – expect to wait more than an hour. If you can, buy tickets online, the ticket is then sent by email with a QR code which will be scanned at the entrance gate. There are also a limited number of free days for the public listed each year – check Acropolis’ website.
Entrance is from the west end of the Acropolis. From the Akropoli metro stop and New Acropolis Museum, walk west along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street and take the first right on to Theorias; from the Thissio metro stop west of Monastiraki, walk west to Apostolou Pavlou Street, turn left on it, and walk south to turn left on Theorias. From Plaka, you can walk south up steep Mnisikleous Street as far as you can go and turn right on Theorias. Following European regulations, disabled access to the Acropolis can be gained by means of special paths and a purpose-built lift on the north face of the hill, only for the use of those in wheelchairs.
A canteen with a wide range of food and drink is reached before you get to the ticket kiosk – but beware: refreshments are available only at exorbitant prices. You will definitely need a bottle of water with you in the hot summer, so either bring it with you or buy it from the kiosk on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, just outside the entrance. There are water fountains within the site, but the water isn’t always cold.
Guides can nearly always be found offering to show you around – at a price – at the point where tickets are checked. As an alternative, ask for the free leaflet published by the Archaeological Resources Fund, which includes a ground plan of the site and valuable information on the various monuments.
Additional historic sites and artifacts at the foot of the Acropolis are also included in the admission ticket.
This area is the capital’s hippest entertainment hub. Local youth overflows the trendy cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs around Psiri, Thision and Gazi (Keramikos), where partying stops with the first sunlight. By daylight a different facet of the area is revealed; don’t skip a visit to the ancient cemetery of Keramikos Archeological Site, along with the Archeological Museum where the artifacts from the excavations are exhibited.
Excharcheia and Metaksourgio are Athens’ alternative districts. Surrounded by university faculties, Excharcheia features an underground profile and has been the anarchists’ meeting point for more than 30 years. One of the capital’s liveliest districts, it houses countless tiny inexpensive cafes and bars; young boys and girls are also likely to hang out near the little square drinking canned beer. Metaksourgio on the other hand, has been through a major facelift the past few years; from a drug-addict rank, it is now evolving into one of the city’s hottest art-spots, with independent theaters, small galleries and sophisticated bars popping up every other week.
- 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 the main hubs for the Cyclades and the Dodecanese.
- The closest islands, suitable for a day trip from Piraeus, are 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 also an option to 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.
- Thessaloniki – tickets can be booked online in advance and the journey takes 5 hr. From here, you can travel onwards to North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
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