Athens can be intimidating for a first-time visitor, partly because the language and alphabet are so unfamiliar for non-Greek speakers, and the busy urban environment can take some getting used to. But the city has a warm culture and thriving tourism industry that helps visitors quickly get settled in and find their feet.
Athens is in a basin facing the sea and surrounded by hills and mountains. It has dry, hot summers, with average temperatures in July and August well over 90 degrees. During the hottest months, many locals leave for summer playgrounds on the nearby islands to enjoy balmy beaches and escape the stifling heat of the city. Relaxing in sidewalk cafes with a frappe and playing backgammon is a staple of daily life, and cafe culture has been an important aspect of surviving hot summers for centuries.
Neighborhoods of Athens are highly walkable, but there are also a variety of local transport options to help you get around.
Metro and Bus Lines
The Athens Metro is fast and reliable, with trains running every at least 30 minutes every day from 6:30 am to 11:30 pm, and faster during rush hours. At 40 minutes, it’s the fastest public transport option to get to the city from the airport, and to and from the port of Piraeus for departures from Athens to the Aegean Islands. For transport within neighborhoods, Athens has many frequently-running bus lines. Adult bus and metro fares range from 1.40€ for 90 minutes to €4.50 for 24 hours, with a 9€ flat fare for 5 days travel. Metro tickets are also good on local busses.
Public transit to and from the airport is a separate fare not included in a conventional metro or bus ticket. Express busses to and from the airport take a little over an hour, and cost 6€ each way. Metro tickets to or from the airport cost 10€ each way. Athens offers a special “tourist ticket” for 22€, which includes transport by metro or bus to and from the airport and unlimited local metro or bus travel for 3 days. If you are only planning to stay for a weekend, the tourist ticket is the easiest way to manage local transport.
Public transit fares are managed with an Ath.ena Card, which works like an Oyster card or the transit passes in many cities. The reusable, rechargable card is tapped to the card reader at a metro turnstile or on a pad on the bus, and that initial “check-in” starts the 90 minute, 24-hour, or 3-day time limit attributed to the fare. Make sure you “check out” when exiting public transit.
Taxis are abundant in Athens, but be wary of taxi scams. Fare to and from the airport to the inner city is fixed at 38€ during the day and 54€ at night, regardless of how many passengers, luggage, etc. Make sure your taxi has the external “taxi” light on and the meter running properly. Uber is also available in Athens.
Greek schoolchildren are taught English in schools, so most Greek people under 40 will speak English, and people involved in the tourist industry will speak a few other languages as well. You don’t need to plan for a big language barrier, but picking up a few polite Greek words is always appreciated by the locals.
The Greeks were among the first people in the world to develop indoor plumbing, but the system is ancient and the pipes are very small. For that reason, in most places in Greece, you cannot flush used toilet paper down the toilet, but instead discard it in a small bin beside the toilet. In rural areas, you may encounter some even more ancient squatting-type toilets. It isn’t a bad idea to travel with some disinfecting wipes if you aren’t accustomed to these kinds of facilities.
ATMs are plentiful, and easy to find with English signage. The currency is the Euro. Most daily transactions are done in cash, so don’t expect to be able to pay with a card in a restaurant, taxi, or small shop.
The Greek people are warm and receptive to tourists, and have a special pride for showing off their country and culture. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The culture can also be fairly relaxed about time, so it’s not unusual for busses, ferries, and events to be late. Instead of planning a rigorous schedule, try to emulate the locals and take your time, which will ease frustrations and help you enjoy yourself more. A visit to Athens is truly unforgettable, and it’s best to try to savor every moment.