Information for Athens Visitors
Here are some links and tips for people visiting Athens. You can contribute to this document through pull requests on its GitHub repository.
Maps and Guides
From the Airport to downtown Athens (Syntagma Square)
Exit the airport building, cross the street, and use the connecting pedestrian bridge on the top level to reach the metro and suburban rail station. Purchase a metro ticket to Athens and board the metro train (blue line) going to Athens (Egaleo), not the suburban railway. Exit at Syntagma station. The last train leaves the airport at 23:30.
You can take an express bus X95 to Syntagma square (the last station).
Depending on the time of the day and the traffic a taxi should set you back by around 25 or 36€. You can also reserve a (more expensive) car transfer for about 52€ through this site.
Note that the official name of the Athens International Airport is "Eleftherios Venizelos", after a Greek politician of the early 20th century. You will often see it abbreviated as "El. Venizelos". Now you know this is not in Spanish.
Getting Around in Athens
Athens is a challenging city to get around, even for its hardened locals. If you thought New Yorkers are tough, think again.
The best way to get around is the underground (the metro). General information on the Athens metro can be found here. A map of the metro network in PDF format is also available here. The map is geographically accurate, which means that it gives you a sense of the real distances in Athens, but it lacks the elegance and the functionality of Harry Beck's maps.
Tram lines connect the Athens city centre with its southern suburbs. Trams are a convenient means for a pleasant visit to the seaside. Information on the tram can be found here. A map can be found here.
Buses and trolleybuses go about anywhere in the Athens metropolitan area. They are cheap, but they suffer from traffic jams, and they seldom follow the published schedule (when such exists). More information on buses can be found here and information on the routes can be found here.
Taxis are cheap by European and American standards, if you get a ride with an honest driver. Athenian taxi drivers are notorious for their rip-offs, charging foreigners and even unwary Athenians more than double the actual price, either by forgetting to use the meter, or by using a hacked device. The best is to ask a local how much a given ride would cost, so that you know you are being taken for a ride. If you want to complain, ask the driver to take you to the police. Sharing a taxicab (but not the fare) is common; just hail a (full) taxi and shout your destination to the taxi driver.
Renting a Car
All major rental agencies have offices in Athens, and there are many local companies as well. Driving is not recommended inside Athens, while parking around the area of the hotel is a nightmare. It is better to use rented vehicles for excursions only.
Things to Do
There are plenty of things to do and see in Athens; sightseeing alone will fill several days, the night life is vibrant, there are hundreds of cinemas and theatres, and there seems to be a restaurant and coffee shop around every corner. Some starting points:
- The Acropolis.
- The walk around Acropolis and the old city. It is possible to walk around Acropolis and the old city (Plaka), using a network of pedestrian ways. This can be a very nice experience, even serene if you do it in the dusk. It will take a few hours for the full walk.
- The National Archaeological Museum. The biggest collection of Greek Antiquities anywhere in the world. It is also worth visiting to get a close glimpse of the Antikythera mechanism.
- The Museum of Cycladic Art. Art from the Cyclades, the islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, dating a long time before the classical period. A modern, well designed museum, bang in the city centre. Cycladic art is abstract, like modern art in many ways.
- The Benaki Museum. An eclectic collection of Greek art, near the Museum of Cycladic Art. Its roof restaurant is one of the nicest settings to have dinner in Athens.
- The Byzantine Museum. The Byzantine Empire is the latest fashion in American and British history departments. The Byzantine Museum has a good collection, it is near the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Benaki Museum, and is housed on a fine example of byzantine architecture (contemporary).
- Museum of Popular Musical Instruments. This is in the old part of the city, and will give you an idea of traditional music styles and history.
If you do have some days to spare, you may want to visit a bit of Greece outside Athens (although Athenians will affirm that all Greece is Athens). Easy trips include:
- Sounion. (One of the proposed excursions.) The tip of the Attika peninsula, on the south-east of Athens. A temple to Poseidon, and a favorite destination for sunsets. Try to find Byron's graffiti among the ruins.
- Meteora. A set of monasteries on top of huge blocks of rock. They featured in the James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only".
- Delphi. The place of the famous oracle, on the foot of mount Parnassus.
- Mycenae, Epidaurus, Nafplio. Mycenae (Mikines) was the fortress of Agamemnon, the chief of the Greeks in the war against Troy. Epidavros is a marvelously preserved ancient theatre with unique acoustic in a fantastic setting. Donald Knuth lectured here. Nafplion is a city with a nice old town and dramatic fortresses, the capital of Greece from 1829 to 1834, and a place to sample wine from the Nemea region.
- Aegina, Hydra, Poros, Spetses. These islands are on the south of Athens, easily reachable by hydrofoil. Aegina was the first capital of the modern Greek state, in 1828-1829. Nafplion became capital next, and Greece lost the opportunity to have Manhattan in the Mediterranean. Hydra is a small island where cars are forbidden, a hotspot of the hippy movement in the 1960s. Poros is further south. Spetses is the most remote of all from Athens, but it offers the best beaches. It is also the setting of John Fowle's novel "The Magus".
- The islands in the Aegean and Ionian sea. Spring and autumn are the ideal times of the year for visiting the islands. By avoiding the peak tourist season you can enjoy even the most popular islands in (relative) peace. Some particularly nice islands to visit are: Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Rodos, Kerkyra, Milos, Skiathos and Patmos.
- Olympos If you enjoy trecking, May is a nice month to climb the highest mountain of Greece, the home of the ancient Greek gods, Olympos. Even in the summer, the weather is mild and pleasantly cool; if you're in a good physical condition, climbing to the peak isn't technically difficult, and the experience is truly unique. I wouldn't recommend attempting to conquer Olympos's peak in the winter, unless you're a very experienced mountaineer.
- Spring and Autumn in Greece is warm, but not too hot; maximum temperatures hover around 30 degrees Celsius. If you are interested in swimming, the conditions are fine, but remember but the water may feel a bit chilly at first. The summer is quite hot, temperatures can easilly reach 40 degrees Celsius. It very seldom rains in the summer; you can actually depend on it. In the winter the temperatures can be around 10–20 degrees Celsius, and on some years we even see some snow in the center of Athens.
Food and Fun
For eating, drinking, and getting merry, ask us. In general you should know that:
- Traditional Greek food is supposed to be very healthy, based exclusively on virgin olive oil. The best olive oil arguably comes from the south of the Peloponnese.
- You can often substitute a lunch or dinner with a snack you will eat on the way. Two tasty food types are pies and souvlaki. Pies come filled with cheese (tyropita), spinach (spanakopita), a sausage (loukanikopita), or other more exotic ingredients. Souvlaki, literally is a small spit. This is used for grilling small pre-cut meat pieces. You can order these plain (kalamaki); 2-3 of them and some fried potatoes can make a nice lunch. Alternatively, you can buy these wrapped in a fried patty (pita), which is also filled with tomatoes, fried potatoes, tzatziki (youghurt with garlic). One or two such pita-souvlaki can satisfy your hunger. Finally, you can ask the pita to be filled with gyros: meat pieces gradually roasted on a lateral spit and cut alongside it.
- Greek wine is generally good value. You will not find Robert Parker quality here, but for around 20 - 30€ you can get a pretty decent wine in a restaurant, and a very good wine in specialist shops. Greek wine producers are small by international standards, so there is not much export. The best wine growing regions are Nemea, in the Peloponnese, and Drama, in the north of Greece. If you are into wine, you could try the Greek varieties, like Agiorgitiko (Nemea, red), Xinomavro (Drama, red), Robola (Kefalonia, white), and others.
- As soon as the temperature reaches 20 degrees Celsius, Greeks instinctively reach for a "Frappe Coffee". Although you may find it in other parts of the world, the real Frappe is here. Drinking Frappe is a ceremony in Greece. The froth must be thick, and Greeks can easily spend two hours sipping from a single glass. Making the right Frappe is an art. The best Frappe in the world is served at the Lentzos coffee shop in the Pagrati district. Decent Frappe is also served at the Loubardiaris cafe near Akropolis.
Things for Geeks
- Both The Rough Guide and The Lonely Planet series are dependable for Athens and Greece in general.
- Foreign press is available at central kiosks.
- The Athens Voice free newspaper (available throughout the city every Thursday) has a few pages and listings in English
- The Odyssey magazine covers Greeks for expats.