Athens

For other places with the same name, see Athens (disambiguation).

Athens (Greek: 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.


Understand

Old Athens

The first pre-historic settlements was 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 BC, 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 BC). During the Middle Ages, Athens experienced a decline, but re-emerged under Byzantian rule. 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.

Modern Olympic Games

Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. 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 Archaeological 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.

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.

Architecture

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 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.

Climate

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 let the smog 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.

Orientation

Hellenic Parliament by sunset.

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 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 Athenian 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 located on the northermost 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 the manic Athenian traffic has been re-routed. it contains cafes, restaurants, fast food outlets, a new metro stop, a 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 in Athens 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.

Get in

By plane

Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. American, Air Canada, United Airlines and Delta maintain non-stop flights from North America, while a large number of European carriers fly direct into Athens.

The airport

The new Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport 27 km (17 miles) east of the city centre, near the suburb of Spáta, 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 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.

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. To release a trolley a Euro coin needs to be inserted, 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.

There is free Wi-Fi in the airport, which is limited to 45 minutes, with no promise of security.

There are indoor glass purpose-built 'smoking rooms' inside the airport, both in the departure desk area and also for passengers on landing before luggage retrieval.

From the airport to the city

Be aware, recent strike activity has caused mayhem for tourists trying to get from the airport to Athens city centre. Combinations of local trains, buses, taxis and little old walking that take hours have been they way of the strike effected traveller to get to there accommodation in the city. So check before departure to see what the latest situation is.

From the airport you can reach the city:

At he 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 €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.

It is advisable to get a free copy of the city transport map in the airport – in the city it is extremely helpful.

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 such as Turkey, Bulgaria,Serbia, Macedonia and Albania, so it's advisable to ask on both the bus and the train companies about the available options.

There are two KTEL coach stations, one at Liosion (near Aghios Nikolaos station on the Green line) and the other at   Kifissou Avenue .

By train

The national rail service, Trainose, 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. 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.

By boat

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 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.

By bus from Albania

Several travel agencies offer bus service between Tirana and Athens, also stopping at several other cities in Albania. Cost is usually 30 EUR between Albania and Athens (same cost regardless of the city in Albania).

Alb Trans, 210 520 21 85, albtrans06@yahoo.com, 25 EUR, 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, info@albatrans.com.al, +355 42 259 204, 30 EUR

top-lines.al, Albania: +355 42233050 albtoplines@hotmail.com, Greece: 2105203350-1 toplines@otenet.gr

Papadakis Bros S.A., 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 EUR, or 25 EUR between Gjirokaster and Athens, osumitravel@live.com

Alvavel, 0422 34629 (Tirana), 0542 42476 (Elbasan), 0822 42847 (Korca), 0522 34446 (Durres), 210 5222436 (Athens), 30 EUR

Get around

Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds in the last ten years. The simple €1,20 ("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 70 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.

System map (2015)

By metro

A Line 2 train in Anthoupoli station

The Athens Metro opened in 1869 (Line 1) and in 2000 (Lines 2 & 3) which is 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). You are not allowed to consume food or drink in the metro system. During rush hour, it can become very crowded. There are three lines:

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 €1.20 (as of October 2015) 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 February 2016), €14 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 multiple 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 Athens, and forks at Ano Liosia west to Corinth and Kiato and east towards the Airport.

By tram

The new Athens Tram connects the city centre with the southern suburbs and has connections with the metro lines. There are three tram lines:

Ticket prices are the same with Athens Metro (€1,20 for 70 minutes)

By bus

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 €1.20 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. Note that there are not arrival time signs in any of the stations.

By taxi

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 surcharges 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.

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 the driver will 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 car) 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.

Plaka District in Athens

By bicycle

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 10:00 to 15:00 all year round except for the rainy days. Booking 10 days in advance is required, either by email (admin@anthropos.gr) or phone (8011 19 19 00).

On foot

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 centre. 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 pavements (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.

Talk

Please see this section at the country level for a full discussion

While Greek is the official language in Greece, many Athenians speak English and those in the tourist industry are likely to also speak French and German. Almost all signs are written in Greek and English.

See

Discounted entry to most attractions for students

As in the rest of Greece, students get heavily discounted entry to most tourist attractions in Athens. Present your ISIC international student card. The Acropolis and the main archaeological sites offer free entrance for students. Note, cards are examined and any out-of-date will be rejected.

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 Erechtheion at the Acropolis

Acropolis

The Acropolis of Athens was the ancient fortified town of Athens, dating back to the Late Bronze Age. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic role and the many iconic buildings of the Greek Classical age, among them the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike. The key landmark of Athens, visible from afar, Acropolis dominates the Athenian sky and symbolizes the foundation of modern culture and civilization. The main archaeological site is surrounded by a large public area, a plethora of trees with beautiful stone-paved paths, designed by the Greek architect Pikionis. Many portions of the site are undergoing major, needed renovations. Some views will be marred by scaffolding.

The Acropolis is open daily. Summer opening times: 08:00-19:00, Winter opening times: 08:00-15:00. Telephone: +30 210 3214172. The normal entrance price is €12. Concessions from that price are granted, as is free access to many categories of individuals, especially under-18s and European university students. This ticket also gives you entry to the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, and the nearby Theatre of Dionysus within four days. If possible, get there early to avoid heavy crowds, and summer heat when relevant. There are also a limited number of free days for the public listed each year - check the website

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. Acropolis is one of the world's most popular landmarks, so get there as early as possible to avoid heavy crowds, and summer heat when relevant.

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. An alternative will be a printed version of this article or 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.

Landmarks

The Tower of the Winds and the ruins of the Roman Forum
The Acropolis - birthplace of modern Western civilization.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian's Gate seen from the Acropolis
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the bottom of the Greek Parliament
Dafni monastery

Museums and Galleries

National Historical Museum (Old Parliament)
Averof ship museum

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 Museum of Cycladic Art 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 Museum of Cycladic Art

Arts and Culture

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.

Parks

In the National Gardens.

The hills of Athens provide also green space. The following hills

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.

Disabled Access

Most attractions in Athens offer free or discounted admission for disabled people living in the European Union (badge or card required). The discount is not advertised and you have to ask staff to get the information. You will also be offered assistance and lifts access if necessary.

Do

Vouliagmeni
Lake Vouliagmeni
Faliro Sports Pavilion Arena

Entertainment

Theatre 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.

Buy

Souvenir shop in Plaka.

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:

Eat

Traditional restaurants (sing.: taverna, pl.: tavernes) in the side streets of the Plaka district

For listings of specific restaurants, see the individual district sections, especially Kolonaki and Plaka.

At the end of Mitropoleos, just around the corner from the Metro station, is a trio of famous souvlaki shops Thanasis, Savvas and Bairaktaris (Μπαϊρακτάρης) which are, depending on who you ask, the Mecca or the Hades of souvlaki lovers. At any of the three, if you take a seat and ask for a souvlaki, you'll be served a plate with meat, pita and chips for around €9. But, if you ask cashier for a pita-souvlaki, you'll get the same stuff in a sandwich to take away for around €1.70.

Budget

Adrianou, which runs along the north side of the Acropolis from Thissio in the west to Plaka in the east, is packed with tavernas. Many are touristy and a little on the pricy side, so try to pick one that also has locals as customers. Expect to pay a little extra at any place that has views of the Acropolis.

Mid-range

Splurge

Kosher dining

Athens currently has only one kosher restaurant, Gostijo, a Sephardi restaurant located in Psiri.

Drink

Cafe in Kolonaki district

The Plateia Exarcheia square and nearby streets like Solomou have lots of clubs and bars. You don't have to be a left-leaning student to feel welcome.

Kolonaki Square (Plateia Kolonaki; its official name is Plateia Filikis Etaireias, but no one ever uses it) is bordered with cafes whose customers tend to be mature Athenian movers and shakers for whom the area is the traditional in-town home. Most of these cafes serve desserts and/or light meals as well as drinks, and most of them are expensive. They tend to be liveliest late at night. One of the best established, and most prestigious, is Lykovrisi. Not many foreigners visit these cafes, but the visitor may find they make for interesting people-watching.

Cafes

Clubbing & Night Life

Athens is famous for its vibrant nightlife. The Athenians like to party and will do so almost every night of the week. The choices are plenty and they appeal to all tastes and lifestyles. In general, things get started pretty late: after midnight for bars and clubbing and after 22:00 for dinner at the city's tavernas, Athens Restaurants and bar-restaurants.

Hip areas include Gazi, Psirri, Metaxourgio, Exarcheia, Monastiraki, Theseion and Kolonaki. Traditional Greek evenings can be spent in Plaka.

Until recently at Psirri, some of Athens' hottest clubs and bars were to be spotted. During recent years Gazi has seen some tremendous change. Most of the galleries, mainstream bars, restaurants, clubs and Greek nightclubs here (featuring live Greek pop singers), are trademarked by their industrial design as many of them are housed in remodelled—and once abandoned—factories. Gazi is one of the trendiest area of Athens nightlife. You can get there by metro line 3 at Kerameikos station.

Plaka - Monastiraki are two ancient, historic and all-time classic Athenian neighborhoods popular with visitors, they do not have many big dance clubs and bars, but offer lively, traditional places to enjoy Greek culture year-round as well as several rock and jazz clubs.

You will find plenty nightclubs with live Greek music along Syggrou Avenue and at the industrial strips of Iera Odos and Pireos Street in Gazi. In the summer months, the action moves to Poseidon Avenue and the coastal towns of Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni. Kolonaki is a staple dining and entertainment destination, catering to the city's urban working professionals who enjoy an after work cocktail at many of its bars that are open - and busy - until after midnight, even on weekdays. The clubs here are also very chic. Exarchia is where to go for smaller more bohemian style haunts that cater to artists and college students. At the foot of Strefi Hill is where you will find most of the bars and clubs, many of which play rock music. An alternative option of Athens nightlife.

Sleep

Grande Bretagne Hotel, one of the most luxurious in Athens.

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.

Camping

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge


Connect

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/4G/4G+/GPRS/GSM) covers the whole city. Also, public phones are found all over the city and phone cards are available from most kiosks.

Stay safe

NOTE:

Visitors should always carry their passport or identity documents. Especially if you may be perceived as an African, Asian, Middle Eastern, or Hispanic or other darker-complexion ethnicity. Such persons should be especially wary when encountering police and, if detained, demand to speak to their consulate immediately (a right all persons have under international law). (Updated January 2013)

While Athens is generally a safe city, there have been a huge number reports of pickpockets on the Metro (especially at the interchanges with the line from Airport), buses and in other crowded areas, including Plaka. You will notice that natives travel with their hands on their bags and pockets and keeping their bag in front rather than on their side or back, which unfortunately is not without reason. You will probably be warned about pickpockets by hotel staff and friendly waiters, but this may be too late. Be extremely cautious and divide all your documents, cards and money into different places. 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 tourists, 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 men then arrive claiming to be police, showing a badge (obviously a fake one). They ask if you were getting drugs from the other man 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 tourists boarding the Airport Express Bus in Piraeus, and at metro interchanges, is pickpocket gangs operating buses used by tourists. As the bus is boarding, a large group travelling 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 those 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 visitors 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.

A variation pn this on Metro and escalators is when a gang tries to block part of a group from exiting the train so that one or two members are left behind and separated, thus the group is split and distracted for them to steal valuables. The gang may also try to help/split the group into individual people by helping with the luggage or simply forcing themselves in between at the escalators. This way, the tourists are focused towards the person standing between them making sure he does not steal, while another gang member you may not have noticed before would be stealing items from the last person in the group on the escalator. It would be best to wear tight pocket pants with valuables in front. Carry all bags forward. Keep values out of reach or very low in the bag with a noisy plastic wrapper on the entrances to the bag, so anyone reaching in would make lots of noise, zip up everything and lock if possible, and avoid bags with smooth zips, so when the gang tries to open the zip, you would feel a movement.

Patission Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Athens

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 result in your car being damaged.

Rough areas

Athenians hold negative perceptions for the areas around Omonoia Square and locals advise you to avoid these areas late at night. Omonia is notorious for pickpockets and prostitutes, so keep an eye on your belongings.

There are many people who use drugs in the open even during the day and can be a harrowing site for those not used to it. It is strongly advised not to bring children here for too long. Particular places to avoid are roads right of the National Archaeological Museum and the south end of 3 September St.

There are many beggars and homeless people who walk around the streets asking for money or food. Often they use children as sympathy tools. Places to avoid are Vathis Square (can be populated by druggies using even at 17:00), the roads on the right of the National Archaeological Museum (almost a gathering place for the beggars of the city - the density is enormous) and the south end of 3 September Street.

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.

Cope

Embassies

Go next

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 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 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.

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