The highlights of Greece’s main port and ferry hub, Piraeus, are the otherworldly rows of ferries, ships and hydrofoils filling its seemingly endless quays. Piraeus, 10km southwest of central Athens, is the biggest port in the Mediterranean (with more than 20 million passengers passing through annually), the hub of the Aegean ferry network, the centre of Greece’s maritime trade and the base for its large merchant navy. While technically a separate city, these days Piraeus virtually melds into the urban sprawl of Athens.
Central Piraeus is not a place where visitors choose to linger because it’s congested with traffic. Beyond its shipping offices, banks and public buildings, you find a jumble of pedestrian precincts, shopping strips and rather grungy areas. The most attractive quarter lies to the east around Zea Marina and touristy Mikrolimano harbour, which is lined with cafes, restaurants and bars.
Piraeus has been the port of Athens since classical times, when Themistocles transferred his Athenian fleet from the exposed port of Phaleron (modern Faliro) to the security of Piraeus in the 5th century BC. It was eventually overtaken by other ports, and during medieval and Turkish times, it diminished into a tiny fishing village. Its resurgence began in 1834 when Athens became the capital of independent Greece. To kill time, visit the Piraeus Archaeological Museum with its magnificent statue of Apollo, or the Hellenic Maritime Museum.