Athens is the capital of Greece and its largest city, with a population exceeding 3 million. Thanks to its geo-strategic location and its role as a centre of finance, media, arts, international trade, culture, education and tourism it is Greece's truly global city. All of these serve to make it one of the biggest economic centres in southeastern Europe. The city's port of Piraeus is the largest passenger port in Europe and the third largest in the world.
The first signs of human activity in the area date back to the 11th-7th Millennium BC, whilst the recorded history stretches to 3400 years ago. By 1400 BC the Acropolis had become a powerful Mycenaean city. Along with Sparta, Athens defeated the Persians across a number of battles in the 5th Century BC. The decades that followed these became known as the Golden Age of Athenian democracy; in this time Athens developed into the leading city of Ancient Greece. The cultural achievements from this period are still fundamental to the foundations of Western civilisation. By the end of the Middle Ages the city had fallen under the control of the Ottoman Empire and entered a period of steady decline. The city re-emerged in the 19th Century as the capital of the newborn state of Greece. In 1892 it was the site of the first modern Olympic Games and it reprised the role in 2004, over 100 years later.
The heritage of the classical Athens is still evident throughout the city, represented by ancient monuments and works of art left behind. The most famous of all of these remains the Parthenon, considered a key achievement of early Western civilisation. Roman and Byzantine monuments also populate the city, as well as a smaller number of Ottoman monuments. Two of the city's monuments are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Acropolis of Athens and the medieval Daphni Monastery.
Athens' airport is located 27km to the east of the city centre and first opened in 2001. Now it is Greece's biggest airport and functions as the central hub of Aegean Airlines and its subsidiary Olympic Air. 13-16 million passengers pass through it annually, making Athens International the 31st busiest airport in Europe. The airport currently has two terminals: the Main Terminal, and the Satellite Terminal (accessible by a foot-tunnel from the Main Terminal). Non-Schengen flights depart from the latter.
Getting from Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport to the City Centre
Taxis are available outside exit #3. One to the city centre costs approximately €35 during the day (5:00 a.m.-midnight) and €50 during the night (midnight-5:00 a.m.) - these charge a flat rate.
It is a 40km drive from the airport to the city centre, and in ideal conditions without much traffic it should take about 30 minutes.
Athens' main station is located in the central quarter of Kolonos. The station is still colloquially referred to as "Larissa Station", one of two original stations that combined to make the modern day incarnation. Larissa Station is also the name of the Metro station there. Services from the station include several regional trains for Attica (the area around and including Athens) as well as some InterCity trains, primarily to Patras and Thessaloniki (Neós Stathmós). In the past it served as a terminal for some international routes, including a Berlin express departing from the original Anhalter Bahnhof.
Getting from Larissa Station/Athens Railway Station to the City Centre
Larissa metro station on Line 2 is located here - it's a just a short ride for 3 stops to Syntagma Square in the city centre.
It can be difficult to find a taxi during rush hour, but usually there should be one available outside the station.
Kifissos is one of the intercity KTEL bus terminals, the second is terminal B. Terminal A is located 7km northwest of Omonia and has departures to the Peloponnese cities, the Ionian cities and parts of western Greece.
Getting from Kifissos Bus Terminal/Bus Terminal A to the City Centre
Bus 051 goes to central Athens (from the junction of Zinonos and Menandrou, near Omonia) from the bus terminal every 15 minutes from 5:00 a.m. to midnight.
Greece's two main motorways begin in Athens: the A1/E75, which crosses through Athens' Urban Area from Piraeus, heading north towards Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki; and the A8/E94 heading west, towards Patras.
Athens' Metropolitan Area is served by the motorway network of the Attiki Odos toll-motorway.
Greece has an extensive road network, with motorways, dual carriageways with central barriers and two lane roads without a separating barrier. The road system connects all of mainland Greece.
In recent years Greek infrastructure has been heavily invested in, even extending to the construction of new motorways. Nevertheless, road conditions vary from one region to another. Surfaces may be uneven and sometimes roads may not be drained especially well. In rural areas, sharp turns are commonplace.
Unless otherwise indicated, speed limits are:
Public transport in Athens has improved greatly in the last decade and offers a good option for travelling around the city during the day. It consists of an extensive network of buses, metro, trolleybuses and tram lines.
Athens' metro system opened in 2001 and is made up of 3 lines (Green- Piraeus – Kifissia, Red Anthoupoli – Agios Dimitrios and Blue Egaleo – Doukissis Plakentias – International Airport). They run daily between 5:30 a.m. and midnight, except for on Fridays and Saturdays when they stay running until 2:00 a.m.
The suburban railway (Proastiakos serviced by Trainose) is a new addition to Athens' public transport network. The main line starts from Piraeus, passes through the Larissa Station in Athens, and splits at Neratziotissa, with one section heading west to Kiato and Corinth and the other going east towards the airport.
There are 3 tram lines in the city:
Public Transport Provider: OASA
People aged 65 and above or people below the age of 18 are entitled to use the Metro at a reduced fare, as long as they carry a valid form of ID. Children under the age of 6 travel for free. Students below the age of 25 also travel at a reduced fare, provided they are carrying a valid student ID.
Although not known as a particularly bike-friendly city - there are few bicycle lanes and car drivers tend to drive quite aggressively - cycling in Athens has become more popular in the last few years. In the long network of pedestrian streets around the historical centre of the city, rides can be really quite enjoyable.
Taxis are commonplace in the centre of Athens and actually provide a good option for getting around, given the low prices.
The starting fee is €1, after which the meter ticks up at €0.34/km ("rate 1") or €0.64/km ("rate 2"). A minimum fare of €3.10 applies. Rate 1 is used within Athens' city limits, including the airport, while rate 2 is used when travelling outside the city and from midnight to 5:00 a.m. Legal surcharges apply for calling a cab (€1.60), trips to or from the airport (€3.20) and particularly heavy bags (€0.32).
It is common that a taxi is shared with other passengers. According to the regulations, the driver should ask permission from the passenger before stopping for another customer, but this rarely happens.
To ease congestion in central Athens, there are certain restrictions on when cars may drive there. Restricted areas are marked by a particular sign: a yellow outline of central Athens with a red Δ in the centre. Cars with even registration plates (numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6 or 8) may only drive inside this area on even dates, while cars with registration numbers ending in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7 or 9) may only drive on odd dates.
These restrictions are not in place at weekends, public holidays or to rental cars and cars with foreign licence plates.
Parking spaces marked in blue are for resident permit-holders and spaces marked in yellow are for commercial use only. Short-term visitors can use the white spaces from 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. on weekends.
Parking tickets are necessary for the white short-stay spaces and can be bought at newsagents and other small shops. Tickets are valid for up to three hours, any fines incurred will be halved if paid within ten days.
Athens is a city of extremes in this regard, with some walks being entirely pleasant, and others being completely impossible. On the plus side there are a number of major streets that have been pedestrianised recently, whilst a walk around some of the major archeological sites is mostly free of traffic.
Greece's capital city is still clustered around the Acropolis at its ancient heart, but has plenty of modern attractions as well. It's home to one of the finest archaeological museums in the world and is full of ancient Greek sights, so anyone with a historical interest will find it hard to resist. Modern Athens offers fabulous food, trendy nightlife areas like Exarcheia and the markets of Monastiraki. If you want to party, dine or shop Athens has everything you need.
Athens is a haven for food, art, culture, and history. Walking the city is one of the best ways to experience its sights and attractions like a local. The best place to start walking around Athens is Syntagma Square, which is located right in the center of the city. At the top of Syntagma Square is the iconic Parliament Building, which was once the King's Palace. The square also leads to Ermou Street, the city's main shopping avenue that ends at Gazi, where nightlife comes alive at dusk. Parallel to Ermou Street is Metropolis Street, which hosts the largest and most elaborate cathedral in the city, situated next to another historic church built around 1050. For refreshments and food, nothing beats Aeolou Street and the Psiri neighborhood. These two areas of the city are lined with small cafes, bars, and restaurants serving everything from just coffee to vegetarian foods. These are the places to be when the hunger pangs hit. Along Aeolou Street is Dimarchos Square, which hosts the city hall and is a favorite for those who want to feed pigeons while relaxing.