The temptation--especially for visitors heading to the islands--is to get through
Athens as quickly as possible. This is a mistake. To fully experience Athens is to
understand the essence of Greece: ancient monuments surviving in a sea of cement,
startling beauty amid squalor, tradition and modernity side by side. Athens is home to 4
million people--40% of Greece's population--and suffers from all the problems of a big
city, and then some: stifling heat and air pollution in summer; noisy traffic jams, and
characterless cement apartment blocks. But take the time to explore, and you will discover
pockets of incomparable charm. Athens is an intriguing crossroads, blending elements of
Middle Eastern and Western cultures. Underneath the confusion and modern clutter lies a
palpable Mediterranean warmth that can be most appealing.
ARRIVING & DEPARTING
Athens's Ellinikon Airport (Vasileos Georgiou B', West Terminal: tel.
01/969-9111; East Terminal: tel. 01/969-4111) is between Alimos and Glyfada on the
southwest coast of Attica, about 10 km (6 mi) from the city center. The west terminal
serves Olympic Airways international and domestic flights only; the east terminal
is used by all other international carriers.
Flying time to Athens is 8 hours from New York, 10 hours from Chicago, and 14 hours
from Los Angeles.
Greece's national airline, Olympic Airways (tel. 212/838-3600 or 800/223-1226
outside New York) flies nonstop to Athens from both the U.S. and Canada.
U.S. carriers flying nonstop to Athens include Delta (tel. 800/241-4141) and TWA
European national airlines that fly to Athens from the United States and Canada via
their major cities include Austrian Airlines (tel. 800/843-0002), Sabena Belgian
World Airlines (tel. 800/955-2000), Air France (tel. 800/237-2747), LOT
Polish Airlines (tel. 212/869-1074), Lufthansa (tel. 800/645-3880), British
Airways (tel. 800/247-9297), Virgin Atlantic (tel. 800/862-8621), KLM Royal
Dutch Airlines (tel. 800/777-5553), Alitalia (tel. 800/223-5730), TAP Air
Portugal (tel. 800/221-7370), Iberia Airlines (tel. 800/772-4642), and Swissair
(tel. 800/221-4750). Remember that these are connecting flights that include at least one
stop and may require a change of planes.
From the U.K.
Carriers serving Greece from the United Kingdom include British Airways (tel.
0181/897-4000 or 0345/222-111 outside London), Air UK (tel. 0345/666777 or
01293/535353), and Olympic Airways (tel. 0171/409-3400).
Olympic Airways (Syngrou 96, tel. 01/966-6666) has service between Athens and several
cities and islands. Reservations can be made by telephone daily from 7:30 AM to 9:30 PM.
All domestic and international Olympic Airways flights depart from the West Terminal (for
arrival and departure information, tel. 01/936-3363 through 01/936-3367). Other airlines
use the East Terminal (tel. 01/969-4466 or 01/969-4467).
BETWEEN THE AIRPORT & TOWN
Yellow-and-blue double-decker express buses connect the two airport terminals,
Constitution Square, Concord Square, and Piraeus. Between the terminals and Athens, the
express Bus 91 runs every 35 minutes 7 AM-12:30 AM. You can catch the bus to the airport
on Constitution Square or off Concord Square on Stadiou. From the terminals to Karaiskaki
Square in Piraeus, the express Bus 19 runs hourly 7 AM-11:10 PM. The night express buses
for both lines leave at irregular intervals; ask for a schedule from an EOT office (Greek
National Tourist Organization; tel. 01/322-2545, tel. 01/961-2722, or tel. 01/413-5716).
The fare is 160 dr., 200 dr. after 11:30 PM.
It's easier to take a taxi from the airport stands: about 1,800 dr. to Piraeus;
1000 dr. between terminals; 1,600 dr. to the center. The price goes up by about two-thirds
between midnight and 5 AM. If you want to arrive at your hotel in style, Yiannis
Yiannakopoulos Limousines (tel. 094/316-798) will pick you up at the airport and drop
you at your hotel or vice versa for 12,000 dr.
You can travel to Greece from the United Kingdom via Italy. The route operated by Eurolines
(52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU, tel. 0171/730-0202) takes four days of essentially
nonstop travel and begins at Victoria Coach Station (164 Buckingham Palace Rd.); luggage
space is severely restricted.
OSE buses (Greek Railway Organization; tel. 01/513-5768 or 01/513-5769) for
Albania, Bulgaria, and Turkey leave from Stathmos Peloponnisou railway station (between
Diliyianni and Leoforos Konstantinoupoleos, tel. 01/513-1601).
Travel by bus within Greece is inexpensive, usually comfortable, and relatively fast.
The journey between Athens and Thessaloniki takes roughly the same time as the train,
though the IC express train covers the distance 1 1/4 hours faster. To the Peloponnese,
however, buses are speedier than trains. Information and timetables are available at
tourist information offices. Make reservations at least one day before your planned trip,
earlier for holiday weekends.
Terminal A (at Kifissou 100, tel. 01/512-4910) is the arrival and departure
point for bus lines that serve parts of northern Greece, including Thessaloniki, Epirus,
and Macedonia, and the Peloponnese destinations of Epidaurus, Mycenae, and Corinth. Each
has its own phone number; EOT offices (Greek National Tourist Organization; tel.
01/322-2545, tel. 01/961-2722, or tel. 01/413-5716) distribute a list. Terminal B
(tel. 01/831-7153), serving Evia, eastern, and central Greece, including Delphi, is behind
Liossion 260, in a remote area northwest of Concord Square near the Tris Yefiris (Three
Bridges) district. Tickets for these buses are sold only at this terminal, so you should
call to book seats well in advance during high season or holidays.
From Terminal A, take Bus 51 to Concord Square; from Terminal B, take Bus 24 downtown.
To get to the stations, catch Bus 51 at Zinonos and Menandrou off Concord Square (for
Terminal A) and Bus 24 on Amalias in front of the National Gardens (Terminal B).
International buses drop their passengers off on the street, usually in the Concord or
Constitution Square areas or at the Peleponnisos train station.
The main highways going north and south link up in Athens; both are called Ethniki
Odos (the National Road). At the city limits, signs in English clearly mark the way to
both Constitution Square and Concord Square in the town center. Leaving Athens, routes to
the National Road are well marked; signs usually name Lamia for points north and Corinth
or Patras for points southwest. On the road map distributed by the EOT (Greek National
Tourist Organization; tel. 01/322-2545, tel. 01/961-2722, or tel. 01/413-5716), the
National Roads are yellow and are marked by European road numbers, although these are not
used on the roads themselves.
Beware: The highways are very slick when wet, and there are many fatal accidents. Avoid
driving in rain and on days preceding or following major holidays; Greece's car-accident
rate, one of the highest in the EC, escalates wildly during the mass migrations to and
from the city. The speed limit is 120 kph (74 mph) on the National Road, 90 kph (54 mph)
outside urban areas. From Athens to Thessaloniki, the distance is 515 km (309 mi); to
Kalamata, 257 km (154 mi); to Corinth, 84 km (50 mi); to Lamia, 214 km (128 mi); to
Patras, 218 km (131 mi); to Igoumenitsa, 472 km (283 mi).
Cruise ships and ferries to and from the Aegean islands dock at Piraeus (Port
Authority, Akti Mouli, tel. 01/422-6000 or 01/451-1311), the main port, 10 km (6 mi)
southwest of Athens. Ships for the Ionian islands sail from ports further west, including Patras
and Igoumenitsa. Connections from Piraeus are good. Travel agents and ship offices
in Athens and Piraeus have details. Timetables change very frequently, and boats may be
delayed by weather conditions, so your plans should be flexible. Buy your tickets two or
three days in advance, especially if you are traveling in summer or taking a car. Reserve
your return journey or continuation soon after you arrive.
From Piraeus, the quickest way to get into the town center, if you are traveling light,
is to walk to the metro station and take an electric train to Concord Square, a trip of
about 25 minutes (100 dr.). Those arriving by hydrofoil at the smaller Zea Marina
Harbor should take Bus 905 or Trolley 20 to the metro station. Alternatively, you can
take a taxi (if you find one), which may take longer owing to traffic, and will cost
around 1,300 dr.
The other main port is Rafina (Port, Port Authority, tel. 0294/22300), on the
eastern coast of Attica, where boats to and from Evia and some of the closer Cyclades
dock. Orange KTEL buses (tel. 01/821-0872) make the trip to Athens every half hour until
about 10 PM; they leave from the station slightly up the hill from the port and the fare
is 400 dr. The trip takes about one hour. It is difficult to find taxis to take you to
Athens (about 5,000 dr.).
Greek trains have a well-earned reputation for being slow and having a limited network.
The main line runs north from Athens to the former Yugoslavia, dividing into three lines
at Thessaloniki. The main line continues on to Belgrade, a second line goes east to the
Turkish border and Istanbul, and a third line heads northeast to Bulgaria. The Peloponnese
in the south is served by a narrow-gauge line dividing at Corinth into the Mycenae-Argos
route and Patras-Olympia-Kalamata.
The Greek Railway Organization (OSE) has two stations in Athens, side by side:
trains from the north and international trains arrive at, and depart from, Stathmos
Larissis (between Diliyianni and Leoforos Konstantinoupoleos, tel. 01/823-7741). Take
Trolley 1 from the terminal to Omonia Square; trains from the Peloponnese use the quaint Stathmos
Peloponnisou (between Diliyianni and Leoforos Konstantinoupoleos, tel. 01/513-1601)
next door. The café continues the station's striking art-nouveau motif, from its burgundy
ceiling with ornate moldings and antique-crystal-teardrop chandelier to its original
bronze gas lamps. Both stations have left-luggage service and snack bars. To Omonia and
Syntagma squares, take Bus 57.
The IC express service from the north is fast and reliable (Thessaloniki-Athens
takes 6 hours). Express service has also begun on the Athens-Patras line (about 4 hours).
On any train, it is best to travel first class, with a reserved seat, as the difference
between the first-class and tourist coaches can be vast: Without a seat reservation you
could end up standing or crouched among the baggage.
Since the station phones are almost always busy and agents often don't speak English,
it's easier to get information and tickets at a railway office downtown (Karolou 1, near
Concord Sq., tel. 01/524-0646 through 01/524-0648; Sina 6, tel. 01/362-4402 through 4406;
Filellinon 17, near Syntagma Sq., tel. 01/323-6747 and 01/323-6273). You may also call
(tel. 145) for a recorded departure timetable, in Greek, of trains within Greece; call
(tel. 147) for information on trains to Europe and Russia.
CUSTOMS & DUTIES
|You may bring into Greece duty-free: food
and beverages up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms); 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, or 50
cigars; 1 liter of alcoholic spirits or 2 liters of wine; and gift articles up to a total
of 51,000 dr. Foreign bank notes amounting to more than $2,500 must be declared for
reexport, but there are no restrictions on traveler's checks. Foreign visitors may take in
100,000 dr. in Greek currency and export up to 40,000 dr.
Only one per person of such
expensive portable items as cameras, camcorders, tape recorders and the like is permitted
into Greece. Sports equipment, such as bicycles and skis, is also limited to one (pair)
To bring in a dog or a cat, you need a health certificate issued by a veterinary
authority and validated by the Greek consulate and the appropriate medical authority (in
the U.S., the Department of Agriculture). It must state that your pet doesn't carry any
infectious diseases and that it received a rabies inoculation not more than 12 months (for
cats, six months) and not fewer than six days before arrival. Dogs must also have a
veterinary certificate that indicates they have been wormed against echinococcus.
The export of antiquities from Greece is forbidden. If any such articles are found in a
traveler's luggage, they will be confiscated and the individual will be liable for
prosecution. Reproductions of ancient works of art, some of very high quality, can be
purchased throughout Greece and may be exported freely.
DISABILITIES & ACCESSIBILITY
|The Hotel Inter-Continental
(reservations tel. 800/327-0200) has seven rooms specifically adapted for travelers with
disabilities (wider doors, handrails, storage space for wheelchair), and most public areas
|For auto accidents call the city police
(tel. 100). Tourist police (tel. 171). Fire (tel. 199). Ambulance
(tel. 166), though a taxi is often faster. For a doctor on call 2 PM-7 AM on Sunday and
holidays, dial 105 (in Greek).
Not all hospitals are open nightly; dial (tel. 106 in Greek) or check the
English-language Athens News, which lists emergency hospitals daily.
KAT Hospital (Nikis 2, Kifissia, tel. 01/801-4411 for accidents); Asklepion
Hospital (Vassileos Pavlou 1, Voula, tel. 01/895-8301 through 01/895-8305); Ygeia
(Er. Stavrou 4, Maroussi, tel. 01/682-7940). Children go to Aglaia Kyriakou Hospital
(Livadias and Thivon, Goudi, tel. 01/777-5610 and 01/778-3212) or Ayia Sofia Hospital
(Mikras Asias and Thivon, Goudi, tel. 01/777-1811 or 01/775-8010).
Call 107 for a Greek recording of pharmacies open on holidays or check the Athens
News. Each pharmacy posts a list of nearby establishments that are open during the
afternoon break or late at night. A conveniently located pharmacy where English is spoken
is Marinopoulos (Kanari 23, Kolonaki, tel. 01/361-3053). Thomas
(Papadiamantopoulou 6, near the Hilton Hotel and Holiday Inn, Ilissia, tel. 01/721-6101)
is another safe bet for convenience and spoken English.
United States: Vasilissis Sofias 91, tel. 01/721-2951. Canada: Gennadiou
4, tel. 01/725-4011. United Kingdom: Ploutarchou 1, tel. 01/723-6211.
|The Booknest (Folia Tou Bibliou,
Panepistimiou 25-29, near Syntagma, tel. 01/322-9560) has an ample selection of American
authors. Compendium (Nikis 28, near Syntagma, tel. 01/322-1248) has travel books,
books on Greece, one of Athens's few women's-studies sections, and used books. Go to Eleftheroudakis
for fiction, language guides, and coffee-table editions at the following locales: (Nikis
4, Syntagma Sq., tel. 01/322-9388); a newer larger store (Panepistimiou 17, tel.
01/331-4180); Athens Tower (Building A, Sinopis 2, tel. 01/770-8007); and in the Psychiko
shopping center (Kifissias 294, tel. 01/687-8350). There's also Kauffman (Stadiou
28, Center, tel. 01/322-2160), for a limited selection of American fiction, and Pantelides
(Amerikis 9-11, Syntagma Sq., tel. 01/362-3673). Worth a visit is Reymondos
(Voukourestiou 18, Center, tel. 01/364-8188).
At the Hellenic-American Union (Massalias
22, Exarchia) is the American Library (4th Floor, tel. 01/363-8114); the Greek
Library (7th Floor, tel. 01/362-9886) has a section of books in English on Greek
subjects. Also try the British Council Library (Kolonaki Sq. 17, tel. 01/364-5768).
The Gennadius Library, American School of Classical Studies (Soudias 61, Kolonaki,
tel. 01/721-0536) is also interesting.
Driving in Athens is not recommended unless you have nerves of steel. Red traffic
lights are frequently ignored, and it is not unusual to see motorists passing on hills and
while rounding corners. Driving is on the right, and although the vehicle on the right has
the right-of-way, don't expect this or any other driving rule to be obeyed. The speed
limit is 50 kph (31 mph) in town. Seat belts are compulsory, as are helmets for
motorcyclists, though many natives ignore the laws. In downtown Athens, do not drive in
the bus lanes marked by a yellow divider.
Unless you are a citizen of an EC country, you must have an international driver's
license. The Automobile and Touring Club of Greece, or ELPA (Athens Tower,
Messoghion 2-4, tel. 01/748-8800; in an emergency, tel. 104), no longer issues these, so
non-EC members should arrange for a license through their local automobile association.
ELPA can help with tourist information for drivers (tel. 174), and they assist tourists
with breakdowns free of charge if they belong to AAA or to ELPA; otherwise, there is a
The major car-rental companies represented in Greece are Avis (tel. 800/331-1084;
in Canada, 800/879-2847), Budget (tel. 800/527-0700; in the U.K., 0800/181181), Hertz
(tel. 800/654-3001; in Canada, 800/263-0600; in the U.K., 0345/555888), and National
InterRent (sometimes known as Europcar InterRent outside North America; tel.
800/227-3876; in the U.K., 0345/222-525). Rates in Greece begin at $33 a day and $163 a
week for an economy car with unlimited mileage. This does not include tax on car rentals,
which is 18% (13% on some islands).
Other companies operating in Athens include Thrifty (Syngrou 24, tel.
01/922-1211 through 1213 and 01/921-6000); Greece Rent-A-Car (Syngrou 7, tel.
01/924-9802 through 01/924-9804), which has weekly and monthly rates; Pappas Rent-A-Car
(Amalias 44, tel. 01/322-0087 and 01/323-4772); and Swift Car Rental (Nikis 21,
tel. 01/324-7855 and 324-7875).
PARKING & GASOLINE
Downtown parking spaces are hard to find--you can pay to use one of the few
temporary parking areas set up in vacant lots, but you're better off leaving your car in
the hotel garage and walking or taking a cab. Gas pumps and service stations are
everywhere, and lead-free gas is widely available. Be aware that many stations close at 7
|By Mass Transit
The price of public transportation has risen steeply in the last couple of years, but
it is still less than that in western European capitals. Riding during rush hours is
definitely not recommended. Upon boarding, validate your ticket in the orange canceling
machines at the front and back of buses and trolleys and in the stations of the electric
trains. Keep your tickets until you reach your destination, as inspectors occasionally pop
up to check that they have been canceled and validated. They are strict about fining
offenders, including tourists.
The Organization for Urban Public Transportation (Metsovou 15, tel. 185 or
01/883-6076), open Monday to Friday 8 to 2:30, one block north of the National
Archaeological Museum, answers questions about routes (usually only in Greek) and
distributes maps with street names in Greek.
BUS AND TROLLEY
Main bus stations are at Vasilissis Olgas next to Zappion hall, at Acadimias and Sina, and
at Kaningos Square. Bus and trolley tickets cost 75 dr. You may continue from a trunk line
(A1-A16) to a connecting bus on the same ticket, and the mini "shopping" buses
that serve the downtown historical triangle are free. No transfers are issued; monthly
passes are available. Tickets are sold in special booths at bus terminals and at selected periptera
(street kiosks). Buses run from the center to all suburbs and suburban beaches from 5
AM-midnight, and major routes have infrequent owl service. For suburbs farther north than
central Kifissia, you have to change there.
KTEL orange buses provide efficient bus service throughout the Attica basin. Most buses
to the east Attica coast, including those for Sounion (tel. 01/823-0179), fare
1,050 dr., and Marathon (tel. 01/821-0872), fare 650 dr., leave from the KTEL
terminal, Platia Aigyptou at the corner of Mavromateon and Leoforos Alexandras.
The one partially underground electric train line stretches from Piraeus to Kifissia,
northeast of the city's center, with 20 stops in between. It was constructed in 1868, one
of the earliest in Europe, and electrified in 1904. It is limited but functions well and
is very safe, even late at night. The trains run 5 AM-midnight and the fare is 75 dr. or
100 dr. depending on the distance. There are no special fares or day tickets for visitors.
Validate your ticket by stamping it in the orange machines at the entrance to the
Taxi rates here are still affordable compared to those in other European capitals. It
seems paradoxical that more than 17,000 taxis are on the streets of Athens, yet during
peak hours it's impossible to find an empty one. A taxi driver may pass you up because
it's not his day to enter the center of Athens. Taxis with passengers often operate
unofficially on the jitney system, indicating willingness to pick up others by blinking
their headlights. Would-be passengers shout their destination as the driver cruises past.
Radio taxis can be booked by your hotel (a good idea when taking an early morning
flight) with a surcharge of 300 dr. for immediate response and 400 dr. for an appointment
to come later. Some radio-taxi companies are: Aris (tel. 01/346-7137 or
01/346-7102); Ermis (tel. 01/411-5200); Enotita (tel. 01/645-9000); Kifissia
(tel. 01/801-8820 or 01/801-2270); Kosmos (tel. 01/420-7244, 01/420-7261, or
01/420-7247); Parthenon (tel. 01/581-1809); and Piraeus I (tel. 01/413-5888
Most taxi drivers are honest and hardworking, but a few con artists infiltrate the
ranks at the airports and near popular restaurants and clubs frequented by foreigners.
Make sure the driver turns on the meter and that the rate listed in the lower corner is 1,
the normal rate before midnight. Don't be alarmed if your driver picks up other passengers
(although protocol indicates he should ask your permission first). Each passenger pays
full fare for the distance he or she has traveled.
The fare begins at 200 dr., and even if you join other passengers, you must add this
charge to the final amount: note the fare on the meter when you get in an occupied taxi.
The rate is 58 dr. per kilometer, 113 dr. between midnight and 5 AM. Surcharges are made
for holidays (100 dr.), fares from, not to, the airport (300 dr.); fares from ports,
railway stations, and bus terminals (160 dr.); and for each bag weighing more than 10
kilograms (55 dr.). Waiting time is 2,000 dr. per hour.
Taxi drivers know the major central hotels, but if your hotel is less well known, show
the driver the address written in Greek and make note of the phone number and if possible
a nearby landmark. If all else fails, the driver can call from a periptero. Athens has
thousands of short side streets, and few taxi drivers have maps. If your driver gets lost
despite all precautions, use the time to practice answering personal questions gracefully.
Many travel agencies offer 4-hour morning bus tours (8,400 dr.), including a guided
tour of the Acropolis. Reservations can be made through most hotels or you can contact one
of the major travel agencies: American Express (Ermou 2, tel. 01/324-4975, fax
01/322-7893); Amphitrion Holidays (Karageorgi Servias 2, tel. 01/322-8884 through
8887, fax 01/323-0370; Deuteras Merachias 3, Piraeus, tel. 01/411-2045 through
01/411-2049, fax 01/417-0742; and Karageorgi Servias 4, tel. 01/323-0344, fax
01/323-1295); CHAT Tours (Stadiou 4, tel. 01/322-2886, fax 01/323-5770); Key
Tours (Kallirois 4, tel. 01/923-3166, fax 01/923-2008); Magic Bus (Filellinon
20, tel. 01/323-7471, fax 01/322-0219); Travel Plan (Christou Lada 9, tel.
01/323-8801 through 01/323-8804 and 01/324-0224/5, fax 01/322-2152); and Carolson
WagonLit (Karageorgi Servias 2, tel. 01/324-7196, fax 01/322-0397).
Major agencies can provide English-speaking guides. The Association of Guides
(Apollonas 9A, tel. 01/322-9705) provides licensed guides for individual or group tours,
starting at about 22,000 dr. including taxes for a 4-hour tour of the Acropolis and its
museum. It is advisable to arrange for a guide through a reliable agency; be sure to hire
one licensed by the EOT (Greek National Tourist Organization; tel. 01/322-2545, tel.
01/961-2722, or tel. 01/413-5716).
Athens by Night tours, offered by all agencies, are a convenient way to see some
of the evening entertainment, especially for single travelers who may not want to venture
out alone. For those interested in folk dancing, there is a 4-hour evening tour
(8,200 dr.) from April to October, which includes the Sound and Light Spectacle and a
performance of Dora Stratou folk dances. Another evening tour follows the Sound and Light
Spectacle with a dinner show at a Plaka taverna (11,300 dr.) Any travel agency can
arrange these tours, but go first to CHAT Tours (Stadiou 4, tel. 01/322-2886, fax
01/323-5770) for reliable and efficient service.
The Amphitrion Holidays agency (Karageorgi Servias 2, tel. 01/322-8884 through
8887, fax 01/323-0370; Deuteras Merachias 3, Piraeus, tel. 01/411-2045 through
01/411-2049, fax 01/417-0742; and Karageorgi Servias 4, tel. 01/323-0344, fax 01/323-1295)
specializes in educational and offbeat tours for individuals in Athens and elsewhere,
including island-hopping tours and treks in the Pindos mountains.
Most agencies offer excursions at about the same prices, but CHAT (Stadiou 4,
tel. 01/322-2886, fax 01/323-5770) is reputed to have the best service and guides. Taking
a half-day trip to the breathtaking Temple of Poseidon at Sounion avoids the hassle
of dealing with the crowded public buses or paying a great deal more for a taxi. The
6,400-dr. cost is well spent. A 1-day tour to Delphi with lunch costs 17,900 dr.
(15,900 dr. without lunch), but the 2-day tour (29,500 dr.) is far preferable. There's
also a 1-day tour to Mycenae and Epidauros (17,900 dr. with lunch). There's
a 2-day tour to ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Nauplion, and Epidaurus (29,500
dr. including half-board). A 3-day tour takes in both Delphi and the stunning monasteries
of Meteora with half-board in first-class hotels (73,000 dr.). A full-day cruise
from Piraeus, visiting three nearby islands--Aegina, Poros, and Hydra--costs around
16,000 dr. (including buffet lunch on the ship).
HOURS & HOLIDAYS
Banks are normally open Monday-Thursday 8-2, Friday 8-1:30. The Ionian Bank of Greece
(in the Athens Hilton, Vasilissis Sofias 46, tel. 01/722-1182) stays open Mon.-Fri. 8-2
and 3-9, and the National Bank of Greece (Syntagma Sq., tel. 01/323-6481) has weekend
hours for foreign exchange only (Sat. 9-3, Sun. 9-1). Hotels and tourist shops also will
cash traveler's checks on weekends.
Churches and Monasteries
There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to when churches and monasteries are open to the
public. The best time to find churches unlocked is during mass, especially on Sunday;
otherwise try from about 8 AM to noon and 5:30 to 7:30 on any day, unless where noted. The
hours for monasteries are dependent upon their keepers, but they are more likely to be
open in the morning to early afternoon.
Museums and Sites
The days and hours for museums and sites vary; they are usually open daily 8-3 except
one weekday (usually Monday), although in summer, depending on personnel available that
year, the hours are extended to as late as 7 PM. The Acropolis is open summer evenings
when there is a full moon. On major holidays, most sites and museums are closed; on minor
holidays they may have Sunday hours or close at 12:30. The Byzantine Museum, Kerameikos
cemetery, and Agora Museum are closed Monday; the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art is
closed Tuesday and Sunday. Admission to most museums and archaeological sites is free on
Sunday November through mid-March.
Nominally, shops are open Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday 9-3 (8:30-3 in summer);
Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 9-3 (8:30-3 in summer) and 5:30-8:30 (5:30-9 in summer).
Supermarkets are open Monday through Saturday 8-8. Be warned that shop hours are liable to
change at any moment. In tourist areas, shops are allowed to extend their hours; those in
Plaka, Athens's popular tourist bazaar, stay open until late into the night.
|Greek is the native language not only of
Greece but also of Cyprus, parts of Chicago, and Astoria, New York. Though it's a byword
for incomprehensible ("it was all Greek to me," says Casca in Shakespeare's Julius
Caesar), much of the difficulty for native English speakers lies in its different
alphabet. Not all the 24 Greek letters have precise English equivalents, and there is
usually more than one way to spell a Greek word in English. For instance, the letter delta
sounds like the English letters "dh", and the sound of the letter gamma
may be transliterated as a "g," "gh," or "y." Because of
this, the Greek for Holy Trinity might appear in English as Agia Triada, Aghia Triada,
Ayia Triada, or even (if the initial aspiration and the dh are used) Hagia Triadha.
It seems complicated, but don't let it throw you. With a little time spent learning the
alphabet and some basic phrases, you can acquire enough Greek to navigate--i.e., exchange
greetings, find a hotel room, and get from one town to another. Many Greeks know some
English, but will appreciate a two-way effort.
If you only have 15 minutes to learn
Greek, memorize the following: miláte angliká? (do you speak English?); den
katalavéno (I don't understand); parakaló (please/you're welcome); signómi
(excuse me), efharistó (thank you); pósso? (how much?); pou eéne ee
trápeza? (where is the bank?), ...ee toiléta? (...the toilet?), ...to
tahidromío? (...the post office?); kaliméra (good morning), kalispéra
(good evening), kaliníhta (good night).
|Post offices are generally open weekdays
8-2. The main post offices in Athens (Aeolou 100 and Syntagma Sq.) are open weekdays 7:30
AM-8 PM, Saturday 7:30-2, and Sunday 9-1:30. Airmail letters and postcards to North
America weighing up to 20 grams cost 150 dr.; 240 dr. for 50 grams (120 and 200 dr. to the
United Kingdom and Europe). If you are mailing a package, you must bring it open with your
wrapping materials to the post office so it can be inspected.
You can have your mail sent to the American Express office in Athens (Ermou 2, 10225
Athens). The service is free for cardholders or those with AmEx traveler's checks;
otherwise, there is a 400 dr. charge for each pickup. Any Greek post office will hold your
mail, if the address includes the words "poste restante," though you need
your passport to collect the letters. The address of the main Athens post office is Aeolou
100, 10200 Athens.
MONEY & EXPENSES
|The drachma (dr.) is the Greek unit of
currency. Bills are in denominations of 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, and 500 drachmas (100- and
50-drachma bills are going to be taken out of circulation). Coins are 100, 50, 20, 10, 5.
Although prices have risen since Greece joined the EC, Athens will seem inexpensive to
travelers from the U.S. and Great Britain. Though the price of eating in a restaurant has
increased over the past several years, it remains a bargain. Hotels are generally
reasonably priced, and the extra cost of accommodations in a luxury hotel, compared to an
average hotel, often seems unwarranted.
Transportation is a good deal in Greece. Bus and train tickets are inexpensive, though
renting a car is costly; there are relatively cheap--and slow--ferries to the islands, and
express boats and hydrofoils that cost more.
Some sample prices: admission to archaeological sites, 500 dr.-2,000 dr.; authentic
Greek sponge, 2,000 dr.; coffee, 400 dr.-700 dr.; beer (500 ml), 500 dr.-800 dr.;
Coca-Cola, 300 dr.; spinach pie, 250 dr.; taxi ride, about 1,700 dr. from the airport to
downtown Athens; local bus, 75 dr. in one zone; foreign newspaper, 400 dr.-700 dr.
Taxes are always included in the stated price, unless otherwise noted.
An 8% government tax, 4.5% local tax, and 1.2% stamp tax (total 13.7%) is added to the
bill, though usually the rate quoted to you will include the taxes. Ask.
Value-added tax, ranging from 8% to 36% is included in the cost of hotels, restaurant
meals, car rentals, and most consumer products. As an individual, you may get a VAT refund
on products worth 40,000 dr. or more bought in Greece from stores that have a tax-free
sticker in their window. The shop will give you an application, which you must fill out
and show at Greek Customs, along with the item to prove you are taking it out of the
country. Customs--at the airport or port--will stamp the paper, which you then must send
back to the shop. Within a month or so, they will refund your money through the Greek post
|Greek dress tends to be middle of the
road--you won't see patched jeans or expensive suits, though locals tend to dress
up for nightclubs and bouzoukia. In the summer bring lightweight, casual clothing and good
walking shoes. A light sweater or jacket is a must for cool evenings. There's no need for
rain gear in high summer, but don't forget sunglasses and a sun hat. Be prepared for
cooler weather and some rain in spring and fall, and in winter, add a warm coat.
attire is acceptable everywhere except in the most expensive restaurants in large cities,
but you should dress conservatively when visiting churches or monasteries. Some stricter
monasteries and churches will not admit improperly dressed men or women (men wearing
shorts and women in pants), though they often provide long skirts or some sort of draping
at the entrance. Revealing too much skin may lead to unwelcome harassment.
For dimly lit icons in churches, a small flashlight comes in handy. A pair of opera
glasses can greatly enhance the appreciation of an archaeological site or give the tourist
a better view of wall paintings in a church, for example.
To use your U.S.-purchased electric-powered equipment, bring a converter and an
adapter. The electrical current in Greece is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current
(AC); wall outlets take Continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.
PASSPORTS & VISAS
All U.S., Canadian, and U.K. citizens need only a valid passport to enter Greece for
stays of up to 90 days.
SAFETY & SECURITY
|Athens has a low crime rate, with serious
crimes rare, although the number of bank robberies has gone up in the last five years. You
will often see people sitting at cafés with their handbag carelessly dangling over
chairs, or women and elderly people walking home late at night. If you take the normal
precautions of carrying your money in a security pouch, and if you avoid isolated places
at night, you should have little problem. If you feel unsure about the safety of an area,
ask your hotel before setting out. For example, in the last few years, crime has gone up
around Omonia Square in Athens, because of the large transient population that congregates
In general, women traveling alone are safe in Greece, though Greek men will try
to talk to them, especially if they look foreign. It's best to do as the Greek women do,
and ignore the amorous overtures; responding will only be interpreted as a sign that
you're interested. If you feel threatened, don't hesitate to shout; this will be enough to
scare off most offenders. Greeks, especially in Athens, where people are out until all
hours, will usually come to your aid. One way to avoid unwanted advances is to try to
blend in with the Greeks: dress as they do, walk like you know where you're going, and
don't openly carry a map or a foreign newspaper. If you are taking a taxi at night, the
driver won't usually pick up a male passenger; if he does, he is obligated to ask your
|The country code for Greece is 30; the
city code for Athens is 01. For an AT&T long-distance operator, dial
00/800-1311; MCI, 00/800-1211; Sprint, 00/800-1411.
The Greek telephone
company, the OTE (pronounced "oh-tay"), has card phones virtually everywhere,
though some may not be in working order. Phone cards (up to 10,000 dr.) used for intercity
and overseas calls can be purchased at kiosks or the local OTE office. You can also make
calls from OTE offices, which tend to have limited hours, and from kiosks (a local call is
about 20 dr.) Avoid making calls from your hotel, where the surcharge can be quite hefty.
For any international call, you must first dial 00, then the country code (1 for the
U.S. and Canada, 44 for England). For long distance calls it's best to avoid the kiosk and
hotel phones and use the metered phones at the OTE offices or buy a calling card.
Doing business over the phone in Greece can be extremely frustrating--the lines always
seem to be busy, and English-speaking operators and clerks are few. You may also find
people too busy to address your problem--the independent-minded Greeks are not very
service-conscious. It is far better to develop a relationship with someone, for example a
travel agent, to get information about train schedules and the like, or to go in person
and ask for information face-to-face. Though OTE is updating its archaic phone system, it
may take you several attempts to get through. Try dialing slowly, and if you get a wrong
number, don't assume it's your mistake--the lines frequently get crossed. Don't discuss
highly sensitive matters on the phone; party lines are still a social hazard in Greece.
Local and international calls are cheaper in the evenings (after 10 or 11 PM, depending on
where you're calling, and on the weekends after 3 PM on Saturday).
Operators and Information
There are English-speaking operators on the International Exchange (tel. 161 and 162),
and recorded instructions in English, French, and German for making direct international
calls on tel. 169.
|How much to tip in Greece, especially at
restaurants, is confusing. By law a 15% service charge is figured into the price of a meal
(menus sometimes list entrées with and without service, to let you know their net
cost--not to imply you have a choice of how much to pay), so, technically, you don't have
to leave any additional tip. If the service was poor or the waiter rude (very unlikely),
you are not obligated to do so, but if the service was good, it's customary to reward it
by leaving 10% more. For taxis, round up the fare to the nearest 50 dr.
tip for maid service at your hotel will depend, of course, on the quality of the service,
the length of your stay, and the quality of the hotel. A service charge is included in the
price of the room, but you might consider leaving an additional 200 dr. per person per
night, or more for an extended stay. Porters, found only at the more expensive hotels,
should get 100 dr.-200 dr. per bag, and hatcheck persons would like the same amount. For
rest-room attendants 100 dr. is appropriate.
There are Greek National Tourist Organization (EOT) offices near Constitution
Square (Karageorgi Servias 2 in the National Bank of Greece, tel. 01/322-2545); at the
East Terminal of Ellinikon Airport (tel. 01/961-2722); and on the Piraeus Harbor (EOT
Building, 1st Floor, Zea Marina, tel. 01/413-5716.
The tourist police (Dimitrakopoulou 77, tel. 171) can answer questions in
English about transportation, steer you to an open pharmacy or doctor, and locate phone
numbers of hotels and restaurants.
Contact the EOT (Greek National Tourist Organization) at the addresses below.
IN THE U.S.
645 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022, tel. 212/421-5777, fax 212/826-6940; 611 W. 6th St.,
Suite 2198, Los Angeles, CA 90017, tel. 213/626-6696, fax 213/489-9744; 168 N. Michigan
Ave., Suite 600, Chicago, IL 60601, tel. 312/782-1084, fax 312/782-1091.
1233 Rue de la Montagne, Suite 101, Montréal, Québec H3G 1Z2, tel. 514/871-1535, fax
514/871-1498; 1300 Bay St., Toronto, Ontario M5R 3K8, tel. 416/968-2220, fax 416/968-6533.
IN THE U.K.
4 Conduit St., London W1R 0DJ, tel. 0171/734-5997.
American Express (Ermou 2, tel. 01/324-4975, fax 01/322-7893); Amphitrion
Holidays (Karageorgi Servias 2, tel. 01/322-8884 through 8887, fax 01/323-0370;
Deuteras Merachias 3, Piraeus, tel. 01/411-2045 through 01/411-2049, fax 01/417-0742; and
Karageorgi Servias 4, tel. 01/323-0344, fax 01/323-1295); CHAT Tours (Stadiou 4,
tel. 01/322-2886, fax 01/323-5770); Key Tours (Kallirois 4, tel. 01/923-3166, fax
01/923-2008); Magic Bus (Filellinon 20, tel. 01/323-7471, fax 01/322-0219); Travel
Plan (Christou Lada 9, tel. 01/323-8801 through 01/323-8804 and 01/324-0224/5, fax
01/322-2152); and Carolson WagonLit (Karageorgi Servias 2, tel. 01/324-7196, fax
Near Omonia, try Condor Travel (Stadiou 43, tel. 01/321-2453, fax 321-4296), and
Pharos Travel and Tourism (18 Triti Septemvriou, tel. 01/523-3403 and 01/523-6142,
fax 01/523-6261). In New York Pharos Travel and Tourism (230 W. 31st St., tel.
212/736-6070, fax 212/736-3921) can help you put together an independent tour at
WHEN TO GO
|The best time to visit Athens is late
spring and early fall. In May and June the days are warm, even hot, but dry, and the sea
water has been warmed by the sun. The evenings, which seem endless, are pleasant enough to
dine alfresco. For sightseeing or hitting the beach, this is the time. Athens is
relatively tourist-free in the spring, so if you don't like crowds, April and early May
are a good. Carnavali, just before Lent, and Greek Easter, with its religious processions,
lambs, and red eggs, are the highlights of the season.
September and October are a good
alternative to spring and early summer. Things begin to shut down in November, however,
and the winter chill and rains begin. Winter in Greece is deceptive. Any given day may not
be very cold. Snow is uncommon in Athens and to the south. But the cold is persistent, and
the level of heating you may be accustomed to is not usual in Greece. Over the course of a
few days you will feel chilled to the bone.
Toward the end of July and through August the temperatures climb, pushing the 100°F
(38°C) mark. In the south a dry, hot wind may blow across the Mediterranean from the
coast of Africa. The air quality in Athens, which is surrounded on all sides by mountains
(except in the direction of the harbor and oil refineries of Piraeus), can be unhealthy on
especially hot days, and air-conditioning is far from ubiquitous. Coincident with these
unfortunate climatic conditions is the peak of the tourist season. In August you should
flee Athens as soon as possible and head off the beaten path.
The average high and low temperatures for Athens are as follows: Jan.-April, 43-68°
(6-20°C); May-Sept., 61-91°F (16-33°C); Oct.-Dec., 46-75°F (8-24°C).
Festivals and Seasonal Events
The Greek calendar is filled with religious celebrations, cultural festivals, and civic
occasions. Those events with roots in Byzantine Greece are especially intriguing, as they
combine religious belief and national pride in a way unfamiliar to most Americans. Shops
may close early for local or national celebrations, and hotels may be booked during major
events. Verify the dates of events with the Greek National Tourist Organization (GNTO or
EOT; Festivals Box Office, 4 Stadiou St., Athens, tel. 01/322-1459 or 01/322-3111 ext.
Dec. 31: New Year's Eve is the occasion for carol singing by children and the
exchange of gifts.
Jan. 1: The Feast of Saint Basil marks the beginning of the New Year. A special
cake, the Vassilopita, is baked with a coin in it, which brings good luck to the
Jan. 6: Epiphany, the day for blessing the waters, is the occasion for an
official ceremony at Athens's harbor, Piraeus.
Mar. 25: Independence Day commemorates the call for independence in 1821 by
Germanos, the Metropolitan of Patras, which began the uprising in the Peloponnese that
eventually freed Greece from Ottoman rule. Today it is marked by parades of the armed
forces in Athens.
Apr. 17-19, 1998: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are the most
sacred days on the Orthodox calendar. The traditional candlelight funeral processions
staged throughout the country on Good Friday are very powerful to watch. Not only do they
attest to the strength of the participants' faith, but they link modern Greece with its
Byzantine roots, and the soldiers carrying the coffins illustrate the ties between church
and government. Processions to churches on the night of Holy Saturday are a memorable
sight. Following the midnight ceremony of the Resurrection, the congregations head
homeward to feast, with the traditional red-dyed eggs and mayiritsa soup. More
red-dyed eggs and roast lamb highlight the feasting on Easter Sunday. Seeing the rituals
of Holy Week makes you understand the depth of meaning that the Easter greeting Christos
aneste, "Christ is risen," and its response Alithos aneste, "He
has indeed risen," has for most Greeks.
May-Sept.: Folk dancing is performed at the amphitheater on Filopappou Hill in
SUMMER June-Sept.: The Athens Festival presents ancient
dramas, operas, music, and ballet performed by nationally and internationally famous
artists, in the 2nd-century Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the south slope of the Acropolis.
Mid-June-late Aug.: Lycabettus Theater presents a variety of performances in the
amphitheater on Lycabettus Hill overlooking Athens.
Aug.-Sept.: At the Aeschilia festival, ancient dramas are staged at the
archaeological site of Eleusis near Athens.