Athens (Αθήνα, Athína, ) is the capital city of Greece with a metropolitan population of 3.7 million inhabitants. In many ways the birthplace of Classical Greece, and therefore of Western civilization.....
Athens was the host of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
Athens is big, brash and frenetic, but has a wonderful charm all of its own. All too often tourists' perceptions are clouded by the fact that they overnight in Athens on their way to or from the Greek islands, and so the extent of their Athens experience amounts to a quick view of the mostly grotty town of Piraeus, a cheap hotel, and maybe the Acropolis in scorching summer heat if they're lucky. Athens, however, has a lot more to offer....
Given that the Olympic Games took place in Athens in August 2004, much work was done in the months and years running up to the Games in order to brighten up Athens and give it a more efficient infrastructure. There were protests and some resentment of the cost and subsequent debt incurred.
Athens displays a bewildering mix of architectural styles from across the centuries and under many influences, making it a fascinating place to visit. A European Union-sponsored aims to help in Discovering Contemporary Architecture in Athens by means of multimedia presentation and guided walks.
Spring and late autumn are the best times to visit Athens. Summer can be extremely hot, compounded by humidity.... but you can be lucky! Winter is definitely low season, being somewhat chilly with the occasional rainy day, but also an ideal time to save money while enjoying the city without countless other travellers and tourists.
Athens has something of a reputation for being Europe's smog capital, the most polluted city on the continent.... While this was once true (and the memory dies hard), it is now quite undeserved. For the last decade or more, massive clean ups have been in force, older vehicles and buses were withdrawn from the roads, industries were moved out of the city centre and the Metro has been expanded. Whilst peak hour can still be a bit smoggy on the main roads, most days the skies are clear and azure blue.
The sprawling city is bounded on three sides by Mt Hymettos, Mt Parnitha and Mt Pendeli; whilst inside Athens are eight hills (one more than Rome!), 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.
Most things 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....
Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) is situated 27 km (17 miles) east of the city center at Spata. This well-appointed airport opened in 2001, raising the comfort levels of travelling to Athens and Greece by a phenomenal degree.
Athens airport is a major hub in the Aegean, Balkan and East Mediterranean regions. Delta and Olympic maintain non-stop flights from North America, while a large number of European carriers fly direct into Athens.
From the airport you can reach the city
It is advisable to grab a free copy of city transport map in the airport -- in the city, it helps a lot.
If you stay in Athens for a short time, consider leaving most luggage in a baggage storage. It is run by Pacific Travel, is located in the end of left-hand wing, arrivals level. Storage time differentiates between 6 / 12 / 18 / 24 / 36 hours, then x24hr; sizes vary to Small, Medium and Large. The only inconvenience is that same queue is for collecting and for leaving -- allow extra time before your flight. No automatic lockers found in the airport.
By regional coach
Regional coaches (KTEL) connect Athens to other cities in Greece.
Trains (OSE) connect Athens to other cities in Greece.
The new Athens Metro system, opened in 2001 and currently being extended, is a wonder to behold, and puts many better-known metro systems to shame. Many Metro stations resemble museums, as they exhibit artifacts found during excavations for the system. There are three lines:
The standard metro fare (as of January 2005) is €0.70 for trips between all stations expept the Airport. The standard fare to or from the Airport is €6, €10 for a return trip within 48 hours, €10 for a one-way trip for a group of 2 persons and €15 for a one-way trip for a group of 3 persons.
A day ticket of €2.90 will let you use all modes of transport and includes one trip to or from the Airport by bus only. A weekly ticket of €10 will let you use all modes of transport between all stations except the Airport.
The new combined ticket, introduced December 2004, costs €1 and is valid for all modes of transport for 1.5 hours between all stations except the Airport.
By suburban rail
The Suburban Railway (Proastiakos) began being built in 2002 and finished in 2004, starts from Larissis Station (OSE Main Line station and Metro station) and terminates at the International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos).
The new Athens Tram connects the city centre with the southern suburbs and has connections with the Metro lines. There are two tram lines:
Athens is served by a network of diesel buses and electric trolley buses run by the Athens Urban Transport Organisation. A standard bus ticket costs €0.45. Use the €2.90 day ticket to travel to or from the Airport.
Nightbuses were first introduced in Athens during the Olympic Games in 2004. As of January 2005 the nightbus routes are:
Expect to pay about 20 euro by taxi during the day, and 30-35 euro after midnight and before 5am. Note that taxi meters in Athens have two rates - rate 1 applies from 5am till midnight, and rate 2, the double rate, from midnight to 5am. Taxi fare fraud is not as widespread as it used to be, but it still happens, so make sure the rate is correct. 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.
Museums and Galleries
Given its antiquity and influence, Athens is full of museums and galleries. Here are a selection of 'must-sees' - district articles will hold additional possibilities....
Athens has a wide variety of accommodation options, from camping and hostels, right up to 5 star luxury hotels.
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 and catamaran services also take you to the Greek Islands.