Athens (Greek: Αθήνα, Athína), is the capital city of Greece with a registered metropolitan population of 3.7 million inhabitants, but indeed there are 5 million people estimated. It is in many ways the birthplace of Classical Greece, and therefore of Western civilization. The design of the city is marked by Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman civilizations. Today, greater Athens is by far the economic, political and cultural center of modern Greece, with nearly half of the country's population.
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 ones are: Acropolis, Areopagus, Hill of Philopappus, Observatory Hill (Muses Hill), Pnyx, Lykavittos (Lycabettus), Tourkovounia (Anchesmus)], the Acropolis and Lykavittos being the most prominent. These hills provide a refuge from the noise and commotion of the crowded city streets, offering amazing views down to Saronic Gulf, Athens' boundary with the Aegean Sea on its southern side. The streets of Athens (clearly signposted in Greek and English) now meld imperceptibly into Piraeus, the city's ancient (and still bustling) port.
Places of interest to travelers 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 and Thissio to the west, Kolonaki to the northeast and Omonia to the northwest.
The first pre-historic settlements were constructed in 3000 BC around the hill of Acropolis. The legend says that the King of Athens, Theseus unified the ten tribes of early Athens into one kingdom (c. 1230 BC). This process of synoikismos – bringing together in one home – created the largest and wealthiest state on the Greek mainland, but it also created a larger class of people excluded from political life by the nobility. By the 7th century BC, social unrest had become widespread, and the Areopagus appointed Draco to draft a strict new code of law (hence "draconian"). When this failed, they appointed Solon with a mandate to create a new constitution (594 BC). 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 Byzantine rule. Athens was thriving and prosperous during the Crusades, actually benefiting from the Italian trade during this period. However, this fruitful period was shortlived, as Athens suffered badly under the Ottoman Empire, only to recover in the 19th century as the capital of independent Greece.
Athens was just a small provincial village when it was chosen in the 1830s to serve as the national capital of the modern Greek State. Although it had a prestigious past, the city's political, economic, and cultural importance had declined over the centuries, leaving behind only its classical ruins as a reminder of better times. With the decision to move the national capital from Nafplio to Athens, architects and city planners were hired to build a new city next to the classical ruins, with grand neoclassical homes and public buildings, large city squares, green spaces, and wide avenues, making a conscious, decisive turn from the city's Ottoman past. The city regained its importance in Greek civilization, and by 1900 had evolved into a very attractive cosmopolitan city, with abundant neoclassical architecture harking to the nation's past.
The 20th century however, marked the rapid development of Athens. The city suffered minor damage during WWII, and suffered extensive urban planning in the decades that followed, as the nation rapidly industrialized and urbanized. In the 1960s and 1970s, many 19th century neoclassical buildings, often small and private, were demolished to make way for office buildings, often designed by great Greek architects. The city also expanded outward through rash development, particularly towards the west, as its population grew by absorbing job-seekers from the provinces. With the onset of the automobile, public officials reduced the city's public transportation services without foreseeing the traffic gridlock and smog that would menace the city by the 1980s.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city's reality led to a rude awakening among local and national officials and, coupled with the country's newfound remarkable prosperity, large scale projects began to slowly regenerate the city and undo some of the damages of recent decades. Over the course of the next 15 years, money was poured into new transportation infrastructure projects, the restoration of surviving neoclassical buildings, the gentrification of the city's historical center and the renovation of many former industrial areas and the city's coastline. The restoration of charming neoclassical buildings in the city's historical center has been accompanied by the construction of attractive post-modern buildings in newer districts; both of which have begun to improve the aesthetic essence of the city. Athens today is ever evolving, forging a brand new identity for the 21st century.
Athens 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 Archaelogical Sites -which connects the city's classical-era ruins and monuments to each other through a network of pleasant pedestrianized streets- and the restoration of the picturesque neoclassical Thissio and Pláka districts.
Athens first appears on the pages of history around 1400 B.C., at which time it was already a major cultural center of the Mycenaean civilization. The Acropolis and remnants of the Cyclopean Walls attest to its status as a Mycenaean fortress city. In 1200 B.C., many Mycenaean cities were destroyed and resettled by invading bands of Dorians, but Athenian tradition maintains that Athens escaped this fate and retained a "pure Ionian bloodline." Beginning as early as 900 B.C., Athens became a leading trade center within the Greek world, owing to its central location, possession of the heavily fortified Acropolis and its quick access to the sea.
By the beginning of the 6th Century B.C., the foundations of democratic reforms were laid in Athens by Solon, and full democracy was achieved by 508 B.C. under Cleisthenes. By this time also, the Athenian navy had grown large and powerful enough to assist the Ionian regions of Asia Minor in their rebellion against Persian rule, which lasted from 499 to 493 B.C. The revolt ultimately failed, however, and Athens' support of the rebels incensed King Darius of Persia to the point of launching an all-out invasion of Greece in 492 B.C. Athens and Sparta led a coalition of Greek city-states against the invaders and defeated them, but Athens was nonetheless sacked twice by the Persians before the war's end.
Following the Greco-Persian War, Athens entered the Golden Age of Athenian Democracy, during which time it was the clear cultural leader of the Greek world. Philosophy, drama, history-writing, artistry, and political reform all entered their "heyday." Athens also became the head of the Delian League, which began as an alliance to continue the fight against Persia, but soon became little more than a tool by which Athens promoted its own imperial ambitions. Sparta soon chafed at this situation, and the two cities — once allies, now rivals — fought the lengthy Peloponnesian War between 431 and 404 B.C. Athens was finally defeated by the militaristic Spartans, and though it remained an important city-state, it failed to become the center of a great empire.
In 338 B.C., Macedonia defeated an alliance of Greek city-states and conquered all Greece, including the city of Athens. Athens remained under Macedonian rule until the Romans defeated them in 197 B.C. While under Rome, Athens was a free city with a much-admired school system and received special favor from Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century A.D.
Athens passed from Roman to Byzantine rule when the empire split in Late Antiquity, declined during the Middle Ages and benefited from trade with Italy during the Crusades. In 1458, it fell to the Ottoman Empire and did not again become part of an independent Greece until 1832. In 1834, it became Greece's capital, and in 1896, it hosted the first modern Olympics. In 1922, after the Greco-Turkish War, many Ionian refugees flooded into Athens, and the city also grew exponentially during the 1950's and 60's. Today, it is a metropolis and a major world tourist attraction.
The weather in Athens is the kind of mediterranean found in many other coastal cities in southern Europe like Barcelona, Valencia and Palermo. The truth is though that the athenian weather may vary from area to area for reasons like it's influence from the urban heat island that is present in many metropolises around the world, it's distance from the sea and it's altitude (there are significant altitude variations within the greater city area). The affluent northern suburbs of Kifisia, Marousi, Nea Erythraia, Ekali, Dionysos, Thrakomakedones, Penteli (build on the foothills of Mount Penteli) are less affected by the urban heat island, have a heavy presence of trees and a high altitude (from 230 to 450 meters). This results in a template climate with colder winters and cooler summers than the city center. The southern suburbs (Glyfada, Alimos, Faliro, Kallithea, Elliniko and Moschato) and Pireaus also have cooler summers due to their proximity to the sea, in contrast with central Athens were summertime is very hot.
Winters in Athens are mild. However they tend to be colder than other cities at the same latitude like Palermo, Valencia or Calgiari and it the weather varies a bit from region to region (due to the differences in altitude and the urban heat island). In the central and southern areas of the city temperatures swings are usually between 5C - 15C (42F - 55F) (the nighttime lows are usually 2-3C on the coast than the city center) but it's not rare for temperatures to climb even higher for a few days (around 19-20C or high 60sF). In the city's northern and northwestern suburbs like Kifisia, Marousi, Nea Erythraia and Penteli nights are colder with temperatures usually hovering a few degrees above zero (or sometimes even below) and days are cooler. Prolonged cold periods are very rare but there may be 2-3 days per year when the mercury bottoms at freezing point even in the city center. Most precipitation falls in the form of rain (on moderate amounts). Snow does usually fall 1-3 times per year in the northern suburbs and, while some flurries may reach the central areas once or twice every winter, they are very rare in the southern and coastal areas. Major snowfalls are rare.
Spring is a quite pleasant time of the year and while the first weeks of March may still be cold, the weather becoming progressively warmer as days pass. It's not uncommon to see people in areas like Glyfada to walk with shorts and t-shirts in mid-April. The amount of rainfall falling in the city during these months is low (only 67 mm). In mid to late May the first heatwaves may hit Athens and raise the mercury above 30C (86F) for 1-2 days.
Summers in Athens are hot and almost completely dry (with the exception of a few thunderstorms in June). The heat is blistering especially in July and August (which share the exact same weather characteristics). Temperatures in the city center and the densely populated western suburbs frequently reach 35C (95F), this adding to the fact that the heat is trapped between buildings can make the atmosphere quite unpleasant at noon and during the afternoon. The northern suburbs usually remain 2-3C (6-7F) cooler than the rest of Athens while the southern areas benefit from the sea breeze and are the epicenter of the action with many beaches, coastal bars and clubs. Unfortunately, some public transport vehicles (metro, tram, bus and trolley cars) don't have air-condition, meaning that a ride with them may be unpleasant. During heatwaves the temperature may reach 40C (105F); in fact Athens recorded the highest temperature in Europe in 1977, a staggering 48C (118F).
Autumn Autumn is a season that varies significantly. While September and early October are usually considered an extension of the summer with 30C (85F) readings being seen even in the first week of October sometimes, November is quite cool and the rainiest month of the year. The beaches start to get less and less populated as schools start in mid-September, but early autumn is still a great time to go to the beach if you want to. Usually by late November the weather gets firmly cool/cold marking the beginning of winter.
Pollution: Pollution in Athens used to be a huge problem during the 1980s and 1990s and the city was frequently rated as one of the most polluted in the world. Due to being almost completely surrounded by mountains (Ymittos, Penteli, Parnitha and Aigaleo) the pollution was gets trapped above the city especially when there was stillness and during the winter when many homes burn wood in fireplaces to get warm. However, since then the city and greek goverment have made huge efforts to clean the atmosphere with the introduction of an extensive public transport system, newer and greener car vehicles and the removing heavily polluting factories outside the urban core. Athens' air purification was a big bet for the 2004 Olympic Games and was indeed successful. While there might be some hazy days the pollution era of Athens has passed for good since the dawn of the new milennium.
The Greeks virtually founded all of Western literature, and ancient Athens was the center of this literary activity from very early on, though Homer's epics Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod's poetic account of the Greek pantheon were written before Athens' rise to literary prominence.
The earliest example of a famous Athenian author is Thespis, an award-winning dramatist of the 6th Century B.C. who invented the style called Greek tragedy, but no clearly genuine example of his works survives. In the 5th Century B.C. came the Age of Pericles, wherein Athenian drama had its "heyday" and multitudes of new theaters were erected. The most famous dramatist of this era was Aeschylus, who introduced dialogue and character interaction to essentially create the modern idea of dramatic literature. Only seven out of dozens of his plays survive, including Agamemnon, The Persians, and Seven Against Thebes.
Other important ancient Greek writers of Athens include:
For those who would like something more modern to read that connects to Athens, consider any of the following:
Also well known is the Biblical account of St. Paul's visitation to Athens and his speech concerning their superstitious belief in every god, to the point they even erected an altar to "the unknown God," whom Paul then preaches to them. The sermon is recorded in Acts 17 and involves teaching on the doctrines of Creation and the Resurrection of Christ. The latter doctrine led to many scoffing and a few converting. This was the beginning of the church in Athens, which is still a Christian city to this day.
Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. Air Canada, American and Delta maintain non-stop flights from North America on a seasonal basis only, while a large number of European carriers fly directly into Athens. Since 2009 after the privatisation of the national airline Olympic Airlines there's no more overseas flights. If you want to fly to Athens during winter time from North-America you must connect somewhere in Europe. From June 2017, Scoot will start direct flights to Singapore and more other flights to Asia and Australia.
The new Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport  27 km (17 miles) east of the city center, near the suburb of Spáta, opened in 2001 as part of the infrastructure improvements in preparation for the Olympics when it became one of the more attractive and efficient major European airports. The airport has excellent public transit connections to the city (see below) and the usual array of food stands, duty-free shops, and other airport services.
There is a Tourist information station in Arrivals that will have the latest literature put out by the Tourist Information Department; this is useful for getting information of arranged local festivities in Athens and Attica. They will also have a printed brochure of Ferry information from Piraeus and other Attica ports.
There is also a small museum on the top floor that has an interesting history on Athens as well as a space put aside for temporary exhibits.
You are going to need euro coins if you want a trolley for your luggage; trolleys are available at the airport, you will find them in the baggage hall on arrival and they use coins the same way supermarket trolleys do. You insert your coin, and you get it back by placing the trolley back to its original position.
If you stay in Athens for a short time, consider leaving part of your luggage in a baggage storage. It is run by Care4Bag and is located in the end of left-hand wing, arrivals level. Storage time differentiates between 6 hours to 10 days 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. You can also store your luggage in Monastiraki station in the recently opened Athens Lockers-Left Luggage. There is also a locker facility at syntagma square Leaveyourluggage. Alternative you can use Baggagement that provides storage and same day luggage delivery from / to any place in Athens area.
If your schedule has you arriving on a long flight with some fatigue likely, you might use the decent Sofitel hotel at the airport, just a short walk from the arrivals hall. As a popular business hotel, you'd best reserve your room in-advance, and ask for a non-smoking room if important.
There is Free WiFi in the Airport, which is limited to 45 minutes, with no promise of security. However when your time is up you can just reconnect using the airports web portal
From the airport to the city
From the airport you can reach the city:
A private airport transfer can be also booked in advance. This service is especially convenient for large groups.
Athens doesn't have services with local drivers such as Uber, Hailo or Lyft for the time being. However, there is a service, Welcome Pickups, that enables local Athenians to pick you up from the airport, drive you to your destination and give you a meaningful introduction to the city or a quick tour. It costs €38 flat and the price is fixed and pre-paid. It is advisable to grab a free copy of 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, FYROM and Albania, so your best move will always be to ask on both the bus and the train companies about your available options.
The national, state owned, rail service, Trainose,  connects Athens to other cities in Greece. All services are via Athens railway station which is collocated with Larissa metro station. You should 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. Be advised that there are two kinds of train you can use; the cheaper night train, that stops in most stations from Athens to Thessaloniki and nearly makes the trip in 6-6.30 hours, and various day trains that make the trip in 4.25 hours. Both offer first and second class seats, a snack bar wagon and safe luggage transport (for a small extra fee, ideal if you are carrying a lot of them). Beds or international trains are no longer available, yet there are international bus lines operated by Trainose. Tickets are available in the company's site, where there are occasionally offers of tickets with extra discount.
The port of Piraeus is the main port of 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, docked near the recently expanded Terminal B, usually reach the main cruise Terminal A by port shuttle bus; otherwise, it can be a non-trivial walk. Smaller cruise ships (e.g., 1300 or fewer passengers) may dock near the Terminal A. From Terminal A, pedestrians face a safe, level walk north (harbor on your left) of over a mile to the Piraeus Metro station (look for the pedestrian overpass); taxis are readily available to go there, but are not inexpensive.
Public transport in Athens has improved by leaps and bounds in the last twenty years. Since the opening of the metro in January 2000 and the subsequent openings of Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in 2001, the suburban railway and the tram in 2004, the city has seen a significant reduction of time between distances and much of the main roads alleviated from heavy traffic jams. The regular €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 90 minutes, and you can also get a €4.50 ticket valid for 24 hours, a €9 weekly (5-day) ticket or a €22 tourist (3-day) ticket that also includes one Metro ride to the airport and one from the airport. Tickets can be topped up using touchscreen terminals at most/major stations and stops, such terminals can also issue refund of unused deposit. Terminals are designed to accept contactless card payment, but in many cases this is not functional. Always validate your ticket before entering any form of public transport.
The Athens Metro system , for almost 100 years consisted of only one, mostly overground, line connecting Pireaus, to the city center and the northern suburbs. However since the dawn of the new milennium the city has added two new lines (mainly as part of the preparation for the Olympics) that have been expanded ever since. Overall the three lines are:
Tickets: Metro uses the "integrated" ticket that costs €1.40 as of May 2016 (half price for seniors over 65 and youth under 18). Tickets can be purchased over manned booths or automated vending machines (some of which accept banknotes) in every station. You must validate your ticket prior to going to the platform. There currently are no turnstiles controlling access to the trains, so in theory you could try to ride for free, if however you're caught without a properly validated ticket you'll be asked to pay a hefty 60x the normal fare [currently €84]. Greece's latest economic misadventures have led into intensified inspections in a try to raise more cash; keep in mind that refusing to pay the fine on-the-spot guarantees that you will be escorted away to the nearest police station for a background check and potentially notify your home embassy.
From the moment of validating your €1.40 ticket, you can use it to ride any "Metro" train to every station (except the Airport) or any of the buses or tram (see below) for the next 90 minutes. It's perfectly fine to reverse direction of travel with the same ticket, as long as you are below the 90 minutes mark; if your last trip is expected to go beyond it, you must validate your ticket for a second and last time just before the mark. In more recent times, as a sign of solidarity to those most affected from the financial crisis, many Athenians elect to "drop" their still-good 90-minute tickets in convenient locations near the station entrance for the next person to pick. While you might feel tempted joining or trying to benefit from them, keep in mind that giving away or accepting an already-used ticket is illegal and you can get fined for fare evasion (see above) or station littering.
If you plan to do multiple trips within a day, it makes more sense to buy a 24-hour ticket (which again, works for all destinations except the airport) for €4.50. This needs to be validated only once, at the start of the first trip. The standard fare to or from the Airport is €10 (half price for seniors over 65 and youth under 18), €18 for a one-way trip for a 2-person group, and €24 for a one-way trip for a 3-person group.
Subway is daily from 05:30-00:30, except for Fridays and Saturdays when it runs until a bit past 02:00 but only in Lines 2 and 3. Riding late at night is very safe (stations and trains are heavily monitored and policed) but it's better to stay a bit cautious around the Omonoia, Victoria and Attiki stations.
By suburban rail
The Suburban Railway  (Proastiakos by Trainose) is a new addition to Athens's network that started operating in the early 2000s. The main line starts from Piraeus, passes through the central train station of Larissis in central Athens and ends up in Acharnai in the northwest, while the secondary line follows the layout of Attiki Odos from the aiport until Ano Losia. Keep in mind that you can go via suburban rail too to the neighbooring cities of Corinth and Chalkis.
The new Athens Tram was inagurated in 2004 . While the network is rather limited, it's very useful for tourists and residents who want to commute between the city center and the coastal areas. There are three tram lines:
The integrated ticket costs €1,40.
The trams run from a bit before 5:30 to around 00:30 on weekdays. Since March 2020 the operating hours are no longer extened to 2:00 AM during the weekends. Always check in your local station about the hours of the last and first tram as the system is quite complicated. The tram is a great way to get from the city center to the coastal areas and commute between them, including the beaches of Palaio Faliro, Alimos and Glyfada. Remember that the tram is quite slower and has many more stops than the metro, so if you are heading towards the East Athens Riviera (Alimos, Glyfada, Voula) it would be a good idea to continue through the red line of the metro until Syggrou - Fix and avoid taking the tram all the way from Syntagma. On the contrary, if you have time to spare the tram is much better for city viewing, so you should make that desision based mostly on your schedule. If you intend on going beyond Voula (Vouliagmeni, Varkiza, etc) avoid the tram entirely. Instead, ride the red metro line until the terminal station of Elliniko and then take the public bus or a taxi.
There is currently an expansion of the tram towards the center of Pireaus and the port but has been delayed multiple times with the scheduled completion now being in late 2020 or early 2021.
Athens is served by a network of diesel buses, natural gas buses and electric trolley buses run by the Athens Urban Transport Organisation . As of 1st September 2014, there is no bus-only ticket. The integrated ticket has costs €1.40 (€0.60 reduced). The Integrated ticket allows for multiple trips within 90 minutes and is available in most kiosks and all metro stations. Use a €6 ticket (€3 reduced) to travel to or from the airport, which can also be bought from the airport bus driver (airport-bound buses only). It is cheaper than the Metro airport ticket. If you tend to stay for more than a week then a weekly pass for €9 is the most cost-effective. It gives you unlimited rides on almost all public transit (bus, tram, train, subway) for 5 days. You only need to validate once, before first use. Buses will not stop unless you signal the driver by raising your arm.
Night buses. As of December 2019 the night bus routes are:
At the airport you can pick up a multitude of public transport maps, especially for buses, tram and trolleys that cover the whole of Athens, and parts of Attica like Sounio and other ports. These maps can be found in display stands. They are blue and marked with big Numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in different colors.
Canary yellow taxis are a common sight in Athens and are a reasonably priced way of getting around (if you can avoid the traffic jams). The starting fee is €1, after which the meter ticks up at €0.34/km ("rate 1") or €0.64/km ("rate 2"), with a minimum fare of €3.10. Rate 1 applies through Athens city limits, including the airport, while rate 2 applies outside the city and from midnight to 5 AM. Legal surcharges apply for calling a cab by radio (€1.60), trips to or from the airport (€3.20) and heavy bags (€0.32). Tipping is not necessary, although it's common to round up to the nearest full euro and let the driver keep the change.
Taxi fare fraud is not as widespread as it used to be, but it still happens, so insist on the meter and have a rough idea on how much you are going to pay beforehand. If in doubt you can always ask your hotel or a local, they will likely give you a fairly accurate guess. At busy tourist locations cab drivers can try and con you 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. Advise your cell phone (through Google Maps or Apple Maps) to see if the taxi driver makes too many unecessary turns to increase the fare.
Be aware that the taxi drivers rarely obey all of the rules of the road. Expect that if you are leaving Athens on an early flight, that the driver will likely drive aggressively to get you there as quickly as possible. Most of them are experienced drivers so accidents are rare.
Taxis are considered as fairly cheap in Athens. As such you can expect to share the ride during rush hours if you can find one, and at night after the Metro has shutdown. As such if you hail a taxi which is already occupied (Free Taxis have a brightly lit TAXI sign on top of the cab) the driver will ask where you want to go to before he will let you in to join the other customers. Strikes by cabbies and public transit are common so be prepared and watch the local news.
Driving a car in Athens can be a challenge for tourists. Many visitors to Athens have resembled the city's traffic with those of african cities. While this may be an exaggeration there is a grain of truth in it. Drivers are can be aggressive and reckless sometimes passing through intersections while the red light is on or driving drunk. Traffic jams are also a huge problem and can happen in major avenues and especially in the city center; sometimes even the highway connecting Pireaus with Kifisia can be absolutely packed with cars. Something important to note is that gas stations are not self-service in Greece like the states and other western European countries; you must wait with your car and let someone who works there serve you. While driving is not recommended, there are many international car rental companies in Athens like Hertz, Sixt, Europcar etc.
Athens is certainly not the best city to go around with a bicycle, as it does not have many bicycle lanes and the car drivers tend to drive quite aggressively. Nevertheless, the historical center offers quiet areas where you can bike to selected routes. Infrastructure plans for bike lanes have been announced and a new very good bike lane, from the city center to the Athens riviera is already in use. It starts from Thissio metro station, following the green metro line to the area of Faliro.
Athens offers some of the best and worst urban walking in Europe. Several major streets have been recently pedestrianized, and a mostly car-free archeological walk which starts at Vasilisis Amalias Street, passes in front of the New Acropolis Museum, Acropolis, Herodion Theatre, Thiseio (Apostolou Pavlou Str), Ermou Street and ends at the popular area of Kerameikos (Gkazi) where numerous bars and clubs are located. Pleasant walking can also be had in Plaka, especially its upper reaches, and in much of Kolonaki, and the National Garden can provide a welcome respite from the heat and noise of the city center. On the other hand, Athens' horrendous traffic can make crossing the street in many areas a hair-raising proposition, and even walking down many major streets can be an unpleasant experience of noise and pollution. Cars and motorbikes parked blocking the sidewalks (illegal but ubiquitous) can also make a stroll difficult. Fortunately, much of the traffic-plagued area of the city can be avoided by judicious use of the new Metro, which goes most places a visitor would want to see or to walk around in.
You can now visit the Acropolis, walk along the picturesque streets of Plaka or the hills around the Acropolis at your own pace, with i Pod Pocket tours audioguides. It’s informative and fun! They are available for rent at Athens Hilton Hotel, Sofitel Athens Airport, King George Palace and Baby Grand Hotel.
Athens City Pass
The Athens City Pass offers admission to Athens main sights, museums, tours and the public transport and features also further discounts. It covers a free and fast track entry to the Acropolis and a hop-on-hop-of bus tour around the city. The amount of sights included depends on the version (Mini, Classic and Complete) with Complete covering the highest amount of attractions of the three available options. The Athens City Pass Classic and Complete feature even a practical map and a travel brochure.
While Greek is the main language used in Athens, most Athenians speak English fluently and those in the tourist industry are likely to speak French and German too. Notices, menus and road signs are written in both English and Greek.
Museums and Galleries
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.
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.
Parnitha National Park has well-marked paths, gorges, springs, torrents and caves do the protected area. Hiking and mountain-biking in all four mountains remain popular outdoor activities for many residents of the city. The National Garden of Athens is a peaceful and beautiful park in the centre of Athens, where visitors can enjoy their walk and spend hours of relaxation. The Garden encloses luxuriant vegetation, plenty of flowers, some ancient ruins, two duck ponds and a tiny zoo, consisting of some parrots, ducks, geese, chicken, bunnies and goats. In addition, there is a children’s playground and a café as well. It's located between the Parliament and Zappeion buildings.The landmark Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianised, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of the Acropolis near Plaka, and finishes just beyond the Temple of Hephaestus in Thiseio. The route in its entirety provides visitors with views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city centre.The hills of Athens provide also green space. Lycabettus, Philopappos hill and the area around it including Pnyx and Ardettos hill are all planted with pines and other trees and they are more like small forests than typical urban parks. There is also Pedion tou Areos (Field of Mars) of 27.7 hectares near National Archaeological Museum which is currently under renovation.
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.
Athens is a city that offers the tourist a great variety of activities to take part in, many of them quite unique and memorable. While it would be nearly impossible to make a full list of things to do in Athens, we offer below a look at eight of the most popular options:
Theater and Performing Arts
While exploring ancient ruins and viewing the scenic beauty of Athens may take up a good deal of your vacation time, the city also offers a wide selection of shopping opportunities. In general, you will find a large number of quaint shops selling specialty items like antiques, museum reproductions, embroidery, folk art and Greek-style snacks and drinks to keep you "well fueled" as you continue to shop.
To make it easier to know where to go for what, here's a brief overview of places to shop while in Athens:
There are few things the Greeks are more famous for than their food, and Athens is considered one of the best places to find authentic Greek food. Tourists, as they wander from point to point, will want to stop and refresh themselves with some delicious Greek cuisine, but for many, the food itself is one of the main reasons for coming.
One "must-try" Greek menu item, so common it has been called the "Greek hamburger," is a souvlaki. Souvlakia are grilled kebabs of beef, lamb, pork or chicken that are wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, onions and lettuce. They are dipped in a yogurt flavored with garlic and cucumber called "tzatziki." Many of the best souvlaki shops in Athens are found along Mitropoleos Street. Gyros (ğyros, "turn") is often preferred instead of souvlaki, and it is made out of chopped pieces of chicken or pork.
Street foods of various kinds are also popular. Look for koulouri, a sesame-seed bread ring, galaktoboureko, a custard-filled pastry with icing on top and tyropitta, which are a kind of cheese pie. At a "psarotaverna," you will find all manner of seafood; at a "psistaria," you will encounter mostly grilled meats; "tavernas" give you an informal and inexpensive (but authentic) Greek meal; "estiatorion are the more expensive restaurants that serve full-course meals; and there are plenty of fast food and foreign cuisine places to eat as well. Finally, note that Greek food in general has an abundance of olive oil, fish, lamb and very distinctive spices.
A full-course Greek meal will begin with mezedes (hor d'oeuvres) both hot and cold, such as mashed eggplant, caviar spread, dolmadakia, meat/rice rolled up in grape leaves, and deep-fried squid or zucchini. Seldom is soup served as an appetizer, but some soups are full meals. Main dishes are usually casseroles, grilled fish, grilled meats or meat stews. Salads of vegetables or boiled dandelions will be served with the main dish, and vegetables will be cooked into the casseroles. Cheeses are served with bread, both regional cheeses and the more common feta, kasseri, graviera and manouri. For desert, look for baklava, a rich pastry with nuts and honey/syrup between the layers, kataifi, a delicate pastry with sweet syrup poured over it, or fresh fruits in the summertime. Also be sure to try Greek coffee and to specify you want bitter, sweet or semi-sweet when ordering.
Some of the most popular restaurants to try out in Athens include:
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 00:00 for bars and clubbing and after 21:00 for dinner at the city's tavernas, Athens Restaurants and bar-restaurants. Clubbing usually goes on past sunrise, but bars and clubs may choose to close earlier if they are low on customers.
Hip areas include Gazi, Psirri, Metaxourgio, Exarcheia, Monastiraki, Theseion and Kolonaki. Traditional Greek evenings can be spent in Plaka. A young group of locals have also started running a bar crawl through the most atmospheric areas in the city centre, stopping for drinks in a variety of neighborhoods combined with local ghost stories, called the Athens Ghost Crawl 
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 neighbourhoods 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 dictricts 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.
You will find in Athens accommodation choices of every type: luxury resorts, 5-star hotels, budget hotels and even campgrounds. As Athens is packed with tourist from May through October, we suggest you book as early as possible.
Some of the safest and most centrally located Athens neighborhoods to stay in include the following:
For luxury hotels and resorts in Athens, these are considered among the best:
Greeks generally value their internet connection greatly, and there are many free wireless hotspots across the city. Wi-Fi internet connection is available at Syntagma Square, Kotzia Square, and Theseion. Recently, free internet access became available to a number of metro stations in Athens: Syntagma, Panepistimio, Omonia, Piraeus, Nerantziotissa and Doukissis Plakentias and even more stations will be added soon. 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, while others will give you the password at the receipt.
Greece's mobile networks are second to none in terms of quality (one of the first countries to roll out LTE in Europe) and Athens is very densely covered. Prepaid connections from all major operators(Cosmote, Vodafone and Wind) are available in most stores and offer very reasonably priced voice and data packages; you will be asked to show a passport and have your details registered at the point of first purchase. Public phones are found all over the city and phone cards are available from most kiosks.
While Athens is generally a very safe city, there have been 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 split 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.
Sometimes groups of street urchins loiter around the ticket machines at metro stations near the Acropolis and may try to cancel your transaction and snatch the returned coins while pretending to assist you. Be aware and prepared to fend them off.
The "friendly stranger" bar scam has been reported from areas of central Athens frequented by travelers, including Omonia, Syntagma, and Plaka. Recently, there have been some reports of fraud. Usually, someone will stop you and ask for directions. A couple of other guys then show up claiming to be police, showing a badge (obviously a fake one). They ask if you were getting drugs from the other guy and then ask for your passport and wallet for verification. While you are busy trying to convince them that your passport is valid, one of them sneaks out some money from your wallet.
Another danger recently reported, especially by travelers boarding the Airport Express Bus in Piraeus X96, and at metro interchanges, is pickpocket gangs operating buses used by tourists. As the bus is boarding, a large group traveling together will divide itself in two, with half of them going on board and then stopping in the aisle to cause a jam-up among passengers trying to board through the door behind them, the other half then offering to help the jammed passengers lift their luggage on board. Just before the bus leaves, the half of this group on the bus gets off. Then, joining the other half outside the door, they all quickly disperse.
What has happened, of course, is that the passengers who were being "helped" with their luggage by some of this group were being pick-pocketed by others. The theft is particularly effective because it's directed at travelers who are leaving the country and are thus not likely to report it - many victims don't realize they've been robbed until they get to the airport or even until after they get on the plane. Some travelers have claimed that certain bus drivers are party to these crimes by neglecting to open the rear door of the bus for boarding passengers, thus ensuring a tighter and more confused crowd of jammed passengers trying to board through the center door, making the criminals' job easier.
A variation to 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.
You may also be approached by street vendors offering cell phones or other electronic devices at outrageously low prices. You are advised not to buy any of them: They are most likely either convincing fakes or stolen. If however you are in an urgent need for a phone and you do need to buy one from them, ask for the vendor to power on the phone and show you the menu screen. If the phone only shows the no-battery screen its likely to be fake; don't fall for it.
Athens is one of the most politically active 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, embassies and corporate targets during the night. It is unlikely that tourists or civilians would be hurt, as the anarchists usually are careful to damage only property and not people. Nonetheless, parking by a government building, police station, bank or in the entire area of Exarchia could get your car damaged. In addition, avoid wearing clothes with the Greek flag or carrying Greek flag or other Greek national insignia, especially if you look like local, since there are cases of anarchists attacking people because of that.
In addition, you should be aware that Athens has many stray dogs. Though the large dogs are almost always friendly, they may be alarming and unusual upon your first arriving into the city. Athenians feed and take care of them, and it is not unusual to see a shop owner offering plastic plates full of leftovers to the dogs on the street.*
Many Greeks are highly passionate about their sports clubs and there is hostility between the major football club fans. You should never wear a Panathinaikos t-shirt or hat in Piraeus greater area or an Olympiakos t-shirt or hat in the Ampelokipi, Zografou and Gyzi districts. It is advised to avoid wearing t-shirts or any other type of garments belonging to a Greek sport club in the first place.
Areas to be careful
While most Athenian neighboorhoods are perfectly safe and the city has a low crime rate compared to other European capitals, there are some areas of Athens that are sketchy and single-handedly raise considerably the city's total crime rate. The reason why this is emphasized, is because in contrast to other European cities, most degraded and sketchy areas in Athens are part of the city center and close to the touristy districts of Syntagma, Monastiraki, Plaka and Kerameikos, so it is quite easy to end up in them if you start wandering around. Here's a rundown of the neighboorhoods:
Embassies and consulates
In general most embassies and consulates are located either in the area around Syntagma or in the affluent neighborhood of Psychiko, which is to be found about 1 km north of the Panormou metro station (line 3).