One positive legacy of the Athens 2004 Olympics is the vastly improved public transport system. The sleek Athens Metro has finally persuaded car-crazy Athenians to use public transport. There are trams connecting the city centre with the coastal suburbs, and ring roads to ease congestion for commuters.
Traffic is still a big problem in Athens, though. Luckily, the city centre is small enough to get around easily on foot. Walking is actually the best way to explore the ancient monuments and historic centre. Be aware that zebra crossings are purely decorative and drivers often run red lights – so take extra care when crossing the road.
For public transport enquiries, call the Athens Urban Transport Organisation (OASA) on 185. (You’ve got about a 50-50 chance that the operator will speak English). You’re probably better off calling the Tourist Police on 171, a 24-hour helpline with multi-lingual staff.
Fast, spotless, and dirt cheap – riding on the Athens Metro (www.ametro.gr) is like travelling to another country. The Metro network operates 5.30am-midnight (2am on Fri & Sat). New Metro lines are under construction, but the three-line network already covers the city centre and many outlying suburbs. A flat fare costs just €1 (50c for students and pensioners; children under six travel free) and is valid for 90 minutes on all Metro lines. A 24-hour day pass costs €3 and is valid on all forms of public transport. A 7-day ticket is €10. Tickets can be bought at machines or ticket offices in all stations. You must validate your ticket at the machines before you access the platforms.
Rarely crowded and super fast, the Suburban Railway (Proastiakos; www.proastiakos.gr; +30 210 527 2000) is great for getting to and from the airport. The journey time is 35 minutes to the city centre (Syntagma Square). It’s also useful for day trips out of town. It goes all the way West to Corinth and will eventually connect with Halkida to the East. Ticket prices vary depending on how far you’re going.
Bus and trolley-bus tickets cost €1. They’re only available from OASA booths near main bus stations or kiosks. You must validate your ticket on board the bus. Using the bus is not the easiest way to get around. Most bus drivers don’t speak English and it can be hard to figure out where to get off, especially in rush hour traffic jams. (See www.oasa.gr for detailed bus routes and schedules).
Two tram lines (www.tramsa.gr) link downtown Athens to the coastal suburbs of Faliro, Glyfada and Voula. So you can be at the city’s Blue Flag beaches in about 30-40 minutes from Syntagma Square (The terminal is on Amalias Avenue, opposite Parliament). Tram No. 4 runs from Syntagma to Neo Faliro. Tram No. 3 runs along the coast from Paleo Faliro to Voula. Tram No. 5 goes from Syntagma to Voula. The tram operates between 5am and 1am, 24 hours at weekends. Tickets cost €1 (concessions 50c). There are automatic ticket machines at all tram stops.
Greek taxis are among the cheapest in Europe, but that means swindling tourists is regarded as fair game. The minimum fare is €3. Rates switch to ‘double tariff’ between midnight and 5am. Double tariff also applies outside the city limits. A small surcharge also applies for a few days on and around national holidays (Easter, Christmas). All taxis are obliged by law to use a running meter – if the driver doesn’t switch it on when you get in, ask him to. There’s a surcharge of €3.50 for taxi rides to and from the airport or port. Tips aren’t expected, but one or two euros is standard (provided you haven’t been ripped off, of course).
You can pre-book a mini-cab (known as radio taxis in Athens) for an extra charge of €5.
Ikaros +30 210 515 2800
Europe +30 210 502 9764.
Express +30 210 994 3000.
A few years ago, you’d never see anyone brave enough to get on a bike in Athens. With its traffic-clogged roads and steep hills, it’s not a city designed for cyclists. But more and more Athenians are taking up the challenge. The archaeological park circling the Acropolis is one place that’s a joy to explore on two wheels. You can rent bikes from Athens by Bike (Ayias Theklas 18, Psyrri; +30 2130 423 922; www.athensbybike.com)
From the centre of town, you can get to Piraeus port by taking Metro Line 1, the 24hr 040 bus from Syntagma (Filellinon St) or the 049 route from Omonia. From here boats and hydrofoils depart to most Greek islands.
For detailed information on complex ferry timetables, contact the Piraeus Port Authority (+30 210 422 6000) – but good luck getting through to them.
Lavrion Port Authority +30 22920 25249
Rafina Port Authority +30 22940 22300
ANEK (210 419 7420/www.anek.gr)
Blue Star Ferries (210 891 9800 /www.bluestarferries.com/intro.htm)
Hellas Flying Dolphins (210 419 9000; 210 419 9200; www.dolphins.gr)
Minoan Lines (210 414 5700/www.minoan.gr)
Superfast Ferries (210 8919000/www.superfast.gr)
If you’re planning to travel by boat in August, book your tickets well in advance. You’ll be competing with most of the population of Athens for seats on the most popular ferry routes.