by SantoriniDave – Updated February, 2015
The Athens Travel Guide
- Best Time to Visit Athens
- Best Hotels in the Plaka
- Best Hotels in Syntagma
- Best Hotels in Kolonaki
- Best Hotels near the Beach
- Best Hotels for Families in Athens
- Cheap (but good) Hotels in Athens
- Best Airport Hotels
- Best Beaches near Athens
- The 5 Best Things To Do in Athens
- How to Book Hotels in Athens
- Airlines that Fly to Athens
- Athens to the Greek Islands
- Ferries – Buying Tickets in Athens
- Ferries – Departure Times
- Is Athens Safe for Tourists?
For the Greek islands high season is from late June until the end of August. For Athens it stretches significantly longer as it attracts more visitors that are there for the sights as much as the sun. So look for big crowds starting in late April and early May and lasting until late October or early November.
The best time to visit Athens (to do sightseeing) is from April to June, September, and October. If you plan on visiting the Greek Islands and spend time on a beach then the best times to visit are June and September – the weather is great but without the big crowds.
- Electra Palace Hotel – Awesome location in the Plaka. Fantastic rooftop pool with great views of the Acropolis. There’s also an indoor pool if you’re visiting in winter or need a break from the sun. The free buffet breakfast is very good. (Hotel phone: +30 21 0337 8000) • Reviews
- New Hotel – Fantastically trendy and fun hotel between the Plaka and Syntagma Square. (p.s. They have a pillow menu.) (Hotel phone: +30 21 0327 3000) • Reviews
- Ava Hotel Athens – Great hotel close to the Acropolis. All suites have kitchenettes. (Hotel phone: +30 21 0325 9000) • Reviews
- The Athens Gate Hotel – Large triples and connected rooms for families. The rooftop restaurant has wonderful views of the Parthenon and breakfast is free. (Hotel phone: +30-210 9238 302-3) • Reviews
- Hotel Grande Bretagne – A great hotel right on Syntagma Square. Hotel phone: +30 210 3330000 • Reviews
- King George – Like the Bretagne, this is one of Athens’ best hotels and located on Syntagma Square. Hotel phone:+30 21 0322 2210 • Reviews
- Hotel Athens Lycabettus – Good value hotel half-way between Syntagma Square and Kolonaki. Rooms are clean, most are small, but there are larger triple and family rooms. (Hotel phone: ) • Reviews
- Periscope Hotel – Located in the cafe-and-gallery neighborhood of Kolonaki and walking distance to Syntagma Square, the Plaka, and the Acropolis. A great pick for those who want to be close to everything but in a more authentic Athenian neighborhood. (Hotel phone: +30 21 0729 7200) • Reviews
- St. George Lycabettus Hotel – Up a steep hill (no walk here with luggage) and offering great views of Athens and the Acropolis the St. George is one of Athens’ most luxurious hotels. The rooftop restaurant is wonderful. (Hotel phone: ) • Reviews
- The Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort – Wonderful beaches, restaurants, pools and activities. Hotel phone: +30 21 0890 2000 • Reviews
- Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso – Luxurious hotel with huge pool, quiet secluded location, beautiful rooms. Hotel phone: +30 21 0891 1100• Reviews
- Palmyra Beach Hotel – Much cheaper than the luxury choices above. Good location and friendly vibe near the beach. Nice pool. (Hotel phone: +30 210 8981183) • Reviews
- Ava Hotel Athens – The service and amenities of a 5 star hotel with the friendliness of a family run B&B. A perfect location on a quiet street in the Plaka. Great breakfast and close to the Akropoli metro station. Some rooms have kitchenettes. (Hotel phone: +30 21 0325 9000) • Reviews
- Astor Hotel – Great location. A very good breakfast is included and served on the rooftop restaurant with amazing views of the Acropolis. Large triples and quads are available for families. Furnishings are bit dated but the hotel makes a good mid-range choice near Syntagma Square and its metro stop. (Hotel phone: +30 21 0335 1000) • Reviews
- The Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort – Located outside the city on its own private peninsula. Wonderful beaches, pools, restaurants, and activities. Hotel phone: +30 21 0890 2000 • Reviews
- Palmyra Beach Hotel – Good value hotel. 2-bedroom family rooms sleep 5. Nice pool and close to shopping, restaurants, and Glyfada beach. The tram to central Athens (30 minutes) is just outside the hotel. (Hotel phone: +30 210 8981183) • Reviews
- City Circus – Nice budget hotel/hostel with a large quadruple room perfect for families. Walking distance to the Plaka. (Hotel phone: +30 21 3023 7244) • Reviews
- Tropical Hotel – Budget hotel outside the city. Triples and family rooms available. Swimmable beaches are nearby. Easy access to airport and Piraeus ferries. Tram to central Athens is nearby. (Hotel phone: +30 21 0981 3993) • Reviews
Cheapzebra.com/Athens is pretty good at finding cheap hotels and last minute discounts. The best deals are not found at specific hotels but change depending on many factors (most notably whether a tour group is booked during your dates).
That said, here are 5 inexpensive hotels that are clean and good value.
- Exarchion Hotel – Exarchia – My favorite budget hotel in Athens. Located on a fun (and a little noisy) square with cafes and a great gyro shop just out the door. It’s close to National Archaeological Museum and a 15 minute walk to the Plaka.
- Athens Cypria Hotel – Syntagma Square
- Adrian Hotel – The Plaka
- Attalos Hotel – Monastiraki
- Plaka Hotel – The Plaka
- Athens International Youth Hostel – near Omonia
Q. What is the best hotel near the Athens airport?
To the south and east of Athens lies a string of beaches and beach towns that grow progressively nicer as you get away from the city. The Athens Tram runs all the way along the coast to Voula (where there’s a nice beach). If you’re going farther than that you’ll need to hop on a bus.
Most beaches require a fee to enter. In return you get nicely groomed sand, a snack or restaurant, sun chairs and umbrellas, and sometimes access to restrooms, showers, changing rooms, beach gear, and water slides. There are small beach coves that dot the coastline as well. They offer smaller crowds but with few or no amenities. If you’ve rent a car you can drive along the coast and stop where ever you see a patch of sand. It will usually involved scampering down from the road above on a footpath wondering where the heck you’re going.
- Kalamaki – The closest beach to Athens. Not the best beach but it’s decent. About 45 minutes by tram from Syntagma.
- Glyfada – Asteras Glyfada is family friendly with a children’s playground and watersports (cost: €7.50). Take the tram to Glyfada and walk along the coast to Asteras.
- Voula – Voula A beach is very family friendly with snack bar and water slide. Take the tram to the last stop and the beach is right there. (cost: €7).
- Vouliagmeni – Astir Beach is hip and very nice (cost: €15). Take the tram to Glyfada and then take bus 114 to Astir.
- Varkiza – One of the best beaches in the area complete with great sand, a water park, volleyball, and tennis (cost: €12.) Take the tram to Glyfada and then bus 116 to Varkiza.
- The Acropolis and Parthenon – If you only have time to visit one attraction in Athens this is it. The Acropolis Museum is a short walk down the hill from the Acropolis and is a good complement to the main site.
- Ancient Agora – Wander around the commercial and social hub of Ancient Athens. The Plaka and Monastiraki Flea Market are nearby and the 3 together make a good walking tour.
- Athens Central Market – Tired of the ancient sites? Here’s a loud chaotic taste of modern Athens. A fantastic collection of olives, cheeses, spices, oils, and meats. Also called Varvakios Agora.
- Mt. Lycabettus – The best views of Athens from the huge hill behind the Kolonaki district. Walk up or take the fun funicular tram to the summit.
- National Archaeological Museum – Greece’s best museum is a 20 minute walk from the central sites. This is a must-do attraction.
Booking.com/Athens is the best site for booking hotels in Athens. It’s reliable, easy to use, has the best rates, and offers free cancelation for most hotels.
If you’re visiting Athens between May and October you should book your hotel as soon as your plane tickets are booked – ideally at least 2 to 3 months in advance.
That said, many rooms are still available with little or no notice so there’s no need to panic if you’ve left it until the end. If you arrive without reservations and want to hunt for a place on your own then head for the Plaka (which has the highest concentration of hotels) and walk the streets popping into any place you see.
If you’re staying for longer than a week then renting an apartment or flat is a great idea. Flipkey.com/Athens is my favorite site though there are many good ones for renting vacation homes.
For flights from North America you’re best to search on Kayak.com but for flights within Europe you’re better to book through a discount airline like the ones listed below. These discount, or charter, airlines historically don’t appear in a Kayak search (but this is changing and for the summer of 2015 more and more of the discount airlines are appearing in Kayak searches). And these budget airlines only fly within Europe so they’re not of interest to travelers from the US or Canada – unless they’re planning to stop in Western Europe on their trip to Greece.
- Olympic Air – Flights from many European cities to Athens. Connecting flights to Greek islands available.
- Aegean Airlines – Flights from many European cities to Athens. Connecting flights to Greek islands available.
- EasyJet – The airline with the most flights to Athens from cities like Rome, Milan, Paris, London, and Manchester, as well as many more.
- Air Berlin – Flights from Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, many more German cities, Paris, and Copenhagen to Athens.
- FlyThomasCook – Flights from Manchester, London Gatwick, and Birmingham to Athens.
- Thomson Flights – Flights from Manchester, Birmingham, and London Gatwick, and more UK cities to Athens.
- Lauda Air – Flights from Vienna to Athens.
- NIKI – Flights from London, Paris, Copenhagen, Munich, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Vienna, and more European cities to Athens.
- Germanwings – Flights many European cities to Athens.
- TUI Fly – Flights from many German cities and Vienna to Athens.
- Transavia – Flights from Paris, Amsterdam, and many more European cities to Athens. to Santorini.
- Norwegian – Flights from Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen to Athens. Connecting flights to New York City.
- Meridiana – Flights from Rome, Milan, Verona, and Bologna to Athens.
- Condor Air – Flights from Dussledorf, Hamburg, Bonn/Cologne, Frankfurt, and Munich to Athens.
- Jetairfly – Flights from Brussels to Athens.
- Edelweiss Air – Flights from Zurich and Geneva to Athens.
- Air Baltic – Flights to Athens from Riga and other European capitals (though as of spring 2013 not showing many flights).
- Air – The quickest way to get to far flung islands like Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Samos, or Corfu. But for closer islands like Naxos, Paros, or Mykonos it can be quicker (when you consider getting to the airport, getting through security, and waiting for your plane) to take a ferry. Pretty much all islands are within one hour of Athens by air. Olympic Air has multiple flights every day to all the popular islands. Check the Olympic Air schedule. Aegean Air has a similar schedule with flights from Athens to all the Greek islands and also more flights from Thessaloniki. Check the Aegean Air schedule (pdf).
- Ferry – The most popular and authentic way of getting to the islands. Buying and planning ferry trips before arrival is tricky (see below) but doing it after arriving in Athens is easy. Ferries rarely sell out so you can purchase tickets a day or two before (or even the morning of), take the metro to the ferry terminal and hop on board. However, if you want a cabin or need to take your car you should book well in advance. See Also: Athens to Santorini by Ferry
- Bus – This is really bus and ferry – but if you buy a combo ticket the bus goes straight on board the ferry and you don’t have to deal with arranging the ferry portion of your ticket. Buses are primarily used for getting to the Ionian islands of Corfu, Kefallonia, Zakynthos, and Lefkada – as well as other cities on the mainland and Peloponnese. Travel times to the Ionian islands range from 6 to 10 hours. You can’t book bus tickets in advance so you need to go to the bus station and buy tickets. Buses are air conditioned but do not have toilets on board. There are stops about every 2 or 3 hours to have a snack and use the restroom. This is an old schedule of buses leaving from Athens. You’ll need to phone to find out the current schedule (Terminal A phone: 210 512 4910). In summer, show up at least 90 minutes in advance to ensure a ticket.
Q. Where do I buy ferry tickets in Athens?
If you’re arriving by plane into Athens and want to continue to Santorini by ferry you’re best to purchase ferry tickets at the airport. By booking right away it will give you the largest window of time before your ferry. If you’re planning to spend 2 nights or more in Athens then this should be plenty of time to ensure a seat on pretty much any ferry (high speed or catamaran) – as long as you don’t need a cabin or are taking a vehicle. The Aktina Travel Agency has a 24 hour desk on the arrivals floor at the airport that sells ferry tickets.
You can also buy tickets in the city. Travel agents that book ferry tickets are easy to find. But by waiting until you get into the city you’re losing a little bit of time. Maybe you go to your hotel, have a swim, grab a bite to eat, and then head out to buy your ferry tickets. By that time it’s evening and everything is closed. Now it’s the next morning before you’re buying them. Do it at the airport, get it done and out of the way – then no worries.
Lastly, you can buy tickets at the Athens port (Piraeus) just before you get on the ferry. Allow at least 2 hours to get to Piraeus, buy the tickets, and find your boat. It’s busy and a little chaotic around the port – especially in the morning when a majority of the ferries leave.
If you bought tickets in advance (on the internet) then you’ll likely have to pick them up in Piraeus. This is another reason why buying in advance is a pain. It’s essentially the same as buying in person but now you have to find the specific company as opposed to just buying from the first travel agency you see as you get to Piraeus. (Of course, you do have reserved seats or a cabin so that can be important – but as far as the hassle factor it’s probably worse having booked in advance.)
Pireaus is the main port for Athens. Below is a list of routes that leave from the port for the Greek islands in the Aegean. Ferries for Corfu and the Ionian islands leave from Patra and Igmoumenitsa. Ferries for the Sporades (Skiathos, Skopelos, and Skyros) leave from Rafina.
The best website for ferry schedules is gtp.gr. Most people will find themselves on either the Blue Star Ferries or the Hellenic Seaways Ferries. To book online go to Blue Star booking and Hellenic booking pages for each company.
The Highspeed ferries (e.g. Hellenic Seaways) will occasionally sell out during the months of July and August (and especially the week of August 15). The larger conventional ferries (e.g. Blue Star) very rarely sell out – though once again, the week of August 15 can see some fully booked ferries. Outside of these times it’s fine to buy your ticket the day before traveling or even the morning of travel.
The following ferry frequencies are for high season.
High Speed Ferry Services from Pireaus to Select Islands
Chania (Crete): 7.5hr/€36/daily
Folegandros: 3.5hr/€57/1-3 daily
Heraklion (Crete): 6.5hr/€40/daily
Hydra: 1.5hr/€26/8 daily
Ios: 3.5hr/€55/3 daily
Milos:: 2.5hr/€55/3 daily
Mykonos: 3 hr/€55/3 daily
Naxos: 4hr/€52/3 daily
Paros: 3hr/€50/6 daily
Poros: 1hr/€32/6 daily
Santorini: 5.5hr/€62/3 daily
Serifos: 2hr/€43/2 daily
Sifnos: 3hr/€50/3 daily
Spetses: 2hr/€35/6 daily
Syros: 2.5hr/€45/3 daily
Regular Ferry Services from Pireaus to Select Islands
Aegina: 1hr 10min/€10/hourly
Chania (Crete): 8.5hr/€27/daily
Folegandros: 7.5hr/€30/4 weekly
Heraklion (Crete): 8hr/€30/2 daily
Ios: 7hr/€33/5 daily
Milos: 7.5hr/€34/2 daily
Mykonos: 5.5hr/€32/2 daily
Naxos: 5.5hr/€31/5 daily
Paros: 4.5hr/€30/4 daily
Poros: 2.5hr/€13/3 daily
Santorini: 9 hr/€35/5 daily
Serifos: 5hr/€23/2 daily
Sifnos: 5.5hr/€31/5 daily
Syros: 4hr/€27/4 daly
The port is large and it can take a while to get from the metro station to where your ferry is boarding. Take a look at this map of the Pireaus port to get an idea. You’ll see the metro stop labeled Electric Railway Line 1 on the upper right side between E5 and E6. Ferries locations can change but as a general rule: E1 – Rhodes and the Dodecanese. E2 – Crete, Chios, Lesvos, Ikaria, Samos. E3 – Crete vehicle entrance. E6 and E7 – Cyclades and Rethymno. E8 – Saronic islands (Aegina, Hydra, Poros, Spetses, Salamis, and Angistri). E9 and E10 – Cyclades and Samos. E11 – Cruise terminal A. E12 – Cruise terminal B.
Athens is a big city and as such the usual advice for traveling abroad applies (be aware of what’s going on around you, put your money in a smart place, don’t fall for women who ask you into a bar to buy them a drink).
As for the riots and protests that periodically arise in the city – these are political rallies that are focused on the government. Tourists are almost never the target. The protests usually occur in the city center around Syntagma Square. They’re easily avoided. If you see a large crowd of chanting Greeks approaching, quietly move in another direction, and you should be fine.
Often when people ask, “Is it OK to travel to Athens?”, what they mean is, “Could my plans be compromised by a strike, protest, or riot?” And the answer to that is yes, it’s possible, but still not very likely.
The most likely threat to your travel plans would be a ferry strike that delays your trip to or from the islands. For this, the best remedy is to have a few days of extra travel time on either end of your trip. Ferries are more likely to be canceled due to windy weather than a strike or riot, but in either case, having an extra day or two (especially at the end of your trip) to rearrange your trip and ferry ride, should correct the problem.