Athens, Greece

Guide for the rail traveller

Information

CurrencyEuro
Local languageGreek
Country Greece

Introduction

Modern Athens was born in 1834 and has been the capital of Greece ever since. It houses more than a third of the entire Greek population and attracts over three million visitors per year. Apart from the legendary buildings of the Acropolis, Athens is home to one of the best archeological museums in the world, countless Roman and Byzantine monuments and many areas of natural beauty. Furthermore for many visitors it is the gateway to one of Greece’s 1400 islands. Regular ferries can be boarded from the major port at Piraeus, which is just a 25 minute metro ride away from the city center.

Due to the city’s rapid growth in the last 50 years, extremely high temperatures in the summer and the often gridlocked streets, Athens does suffer from excessive levels of pollution. However, in preparation for the Olympic Games in 2004, efforts have been made by the Greek Government to reduce this, to improve the city’s infrastructure and to enhance tourism. The tourist season lasts from April to October, with the highest temperatures and levels of visitors in the months of July and August making good use of Athens’ countless tavernas, its markets and varied nightlife.

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Things to do

Not surprisingly the Acropolis (upper city) comes first for most visitors to Athens. It dominates the city’s skyline, and includes the Acropolis museum and four other sacred buildings, all dating back to the fifth century BC. The renowned Parthenon, to many a symbol of modern Western civilization is the largest building here. Built entirely from marble, the structure is particularly magnificent at sunset. The Temple of Athena Niki and the Erchtheion Temple can also be found here. To reach the Acropolis take the Monastiraki/Theseion metro.

The Agora (market) used to be the focus of Athens, not only as a bustling market but also the site for all the administrative, political and cultural buildings. Nowadays the Hephaisteion (Temple of Haephaistos), one of the most well preserved temples in Greece, dominates it.

The Plaka Quarter is the area below the Acropolis situated to the east of the Agora. It is heavily commercialized but nevertheless a pleasant area of Athens to be discovered on foot. Here you can enjoy several museums, busy tavernas and those all important souvenir shops!

The National Archeological Museum houses one of the finest collections of ancient Greek artifacts in the world and is well worth a visit. Guided tours in English are available but beware, during high season the crowds flock here!

Local transport

Athens’ recently built international airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) is located 27 kilometers northeast of the city, visit www.athensairport-2001.gr for further details.

The public transport system consists of buses, trolley buses, city center minibuses and the metro/electric trains. In general the service is cheap and extensive but often overcrowded. You can buy tickets at bus terminals and some street kiosks (periptera), make sure you validate your ticket in the orange machines which can be found at the metro stations and aboard the buses. The most frequently visited parts of the city and major attractions are all within walking distance of each other located around Syntagma (Constitution) Square. Consequently walking is the best way to enjoy most of the city’s sights.

Day Trips

If you want to escape the city, albeit for a day, visit Athens’ closest island Aigina (Aegina). It has a good beach and is easily accessible via the frequent ferries from Piraeus, the journey taking approximately 40 minutes. Alternatively the mountains surrounding Athens such as Mount Parnitha, about an hours drive north of the city, offer excellent opportunities for walking and, particularly in springtime for enjoying the flowers, wildlife and some fresh air!

For a half-day excursion with some spectacular views take the bus along the coastal road from Athens and head to the Temple of Poseidon situated on the tip of Cape Sounion. If you time it accordingly and catch the sunset, a breathtaking view over the Aegean awaits you.

Recommended places and events to visit in Athens

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