Getting Around Athens
The best way to get around Athens is on foot and by metro; most of the city's major attractions are located within walking distance or a short metro ride of one another. In fact, renting a car is little more than a nuisance, as traffic is heavy and parking hard to find. When coming from Athens International Airport (ATH), located just 23 miles southeast, you can ride the metro's Line 3 or one of four EXPRESS airport buses. To get to Athens from other parts of Greece, plan on taking the train or one of the country's buses. And if you're arriving by ship from other Mediterranean destinations like Crete, Santorini or the Saronic Islands, you'll most likely dock in the port town of Piraeus, meaning you can take a short cab or metro ride to reach central Athens.
Central Athens is relatively easy to navigate on foot since most of the city's major sights sit near one another. Plus, downtown is home to an array of restaurants, shops and hotels. But to get to and from the airport and attractions like the National Archaeological Museum and the Benaki Museum, rely on one of Athens' public transportation options.
The city's three Urban Rail Transport S.A. metro lines run every four to 30 minutes from 5 or 5:30 a.m. to 12:20, 1 or 2:20 a.m. daily and make multiple stops in and around Athens. Line 1 operates between Piraeus and the northern suburb of Kifisia and offers the closest stop (Monastiraki metro station) to Ancient Agora, making this a great option for sightseers and cruise ship passengers. Line 2's route connects the suburbs of Peristeri and Elliniko and includes a stop at Akropole metro station, which sits within walking distance of the Acropolis, Plaka and the Acropolis Museum. And Line 3 travels to and from the western suburb of Egaleo and Athens International Airport, so travelers can use this route on arrival and departure days. This line and Line 2 also service Syntagma station, the most convenient metro stop for visiting sights like the Hellenic Parliament and the Benaki Museum.
To travel on the metro, tickets need to be purchased from any metro or tram station ticket office or an Automatic Ticket Issuing Machine before being stamped by ticket validation machines upon entry. Each ticket is subject to inspection while in metro stations, so visitors will need to hold onto tickets until completing their journeys. Flat Fare Tickets start at 1.40 euros (about $1.50) for 90 minutes of rides on any metro, tram and bus (excluding airport services). Daily and five-day passes are available as well, or travelers can purchase a three-day Tourist ticket for 22 euros (roughly $24); these tickets include 72 hours of unlimited rides downtown, plus round-trip metro or bus airport transfers.
Multiple downtown bus routes, plus four EXPRESS airport routes are available in Athens. Standard Flat Fare Tickets for rides within 90 minutes are 1.40 euros ($1.50) per person, while EXPRESS buses require separate tickets that cost 6 euros (less than $7) each. Tickets are sold in blue and yellow booths next to central bus stations (and by EXPRESS bus drivers) and must be validated on the bus.
Though cost-effective, the Athens Urban Transport Organisation S.A. (OASA)'s bus network can be confusing, unreliable and uncomfortable at times. Bus stops are often hidden away on side streets and lack route numbers on their main signs, so finding the right departure point can be a bit tricky. What's more, service schedules vary by route, and buses are commonly delayed and overcrowded. To decrease your chances of getting lost, consult the bus maps and schedules on OASA's planning website. Or, avoid these transit headaches altogether by walking or riding the metro.
Urban Rail Transport S.A. offers three tram lines that travel between downtown and coastal cities like Palaio Faliro, Moschato and Glyfada. All operate every 15 to 40 minutes starting at 5:30 a.m., with service ending at 12:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and at 2:30 a.m. on weekends. This mode of transportation is not as convenient for sightseeing as the city's metro but is worth considering if you plan on visiting the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the area's beaches. Basic Flat Fare Tickets cost 1.40 euros ($1.50) per person for 90 minutes of unlimited rides, and multi-day tickets can be purchased for 4.50 to 22 euros (roughly $5 to $24) each. You can buy passes at tram station ticket offices and from automatic ticket machines. Remember to validate your ticket on the tram platform before boarding.
If you prefer taxis, you might want to reserve one in advance – they're abundant but sometimes difficult to catch. When you get in, make sure the meter is set to "1" (the daytime rate); meters should only be set to "2" (the nighttime rate) when traveling between midnight and 5 a.m. or at any time outside the city limits. Taxi fees start at 3.16 euros (or less than $4) per ride, with an additional 0.46 euros ($0.50) added for each kilometer traveled – or approximately 0.77 euros (about $1) per mile. Extra charges apply for baggage and pick-ups from ports, bus terminals and rail stations. One-way airport transfers, which include all surcharges, cost 38 euros ($41) during the day and 54 euros ($58) at night. You can also get around Athens by using the Uber ride-sharing service. Note: Taxi drivers often pick up other people en route, but fares are not split. You (and your fellow passengers) are each responsible for paying the total fare minus any charges associated with drop-off detours for other riders.
It is best to avoid driving while in Athens. Downtown's winding, congested streets make driving here a bit difficult for visitors, parking is hard to come by (especially in the city center) and street signs throughout Greece list cities in Greek and distances in kilometers. Additionally, petrol prices and daily fees for car hires are expensive. Expect to pay 21 to 30 euros (about $23 to $32) per day to rent a car, plus approximately 1.50 euros for every liter of gas (or more than $6 per gallon). If you're set on having your own set of wheels, you can hire a vehicle from one of five car rental companies at the airport. You'll need to present an international driving permit, which you can buy from AAA and DMV.org, when picking up your vehicle.
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