Though modern Athens extends from the sea to the mountains, the city’s core, where most of the ancient sites cluster around the Acropolis, is compact and very walkable. Visitors without mobility issues on short visits may find they can get around the sights entirely on foot.
But if you want to explore Athens' outlying neighborhoods – or just rest for a bit – you’ll find transport in Athens is affordable and easy to navigate, particularly if you load a couple of key digital tools onto your smartphone. Whether you're headed for the airport or the Ancient Agora, here's a guide to the best ways to get around Athens.
Athens has a unified ticket system, so you can use the same ticket or pass on the metro, bus, tram and suburban rail system within the metro area (except metro trips to the airport). The Ath.ena ticket – ena means 'one' (unified, see?) – is a paper ticket sold at vending machines in metro stations, and you can load it with single rides or passes. Single rides cost €1.20/US$1.40, are valid for 90 minutes, and are discounted if you buy more than one. Timed passes cost €4.10/US$4.80 for 24 hours, or €8.20/US$9.60 for five days.
When buying multiple tickets, be careful with your calculations, as the ticket can be refilled only when it’s completely empty. Also note that the paper tickets issued for airport buses are not refillable. If you’re worried you might lose or damage a paper ticket (or just want a souvenir), buy the sturdier plastic Ath.ena Card from a booth in any metro station. These come preloaded with either 5 rides (€5.70/$6.70) or 11 rides (€12/$14.10), and they’re refillable whenever you like.
If you’re staying more than a month, consider a personalized Ath.ena Card; you’ll need to show your passport. Whatever kind of Ath.ena ticked you have, just tap in on the readers at metro turnstiles or by the doors on buses (and do this on every bus, even if you transfer within the 90-minute window). You’ll need to tap out of the metro, but not buses.
If you’re flying into Athens for a short visit, you might find the three-day tourist ticket useful. It’s a special Ath.ena Ticket that costs €20 ($23.45) and includes a round-trip metro fare for the airport (which would normally cost €18). But be careful with the return trip, as you must tap out at the airport within the 72-hour window.
The Athens metro is clean, frequent and cheap, with service from 5.30am to just past midnight daily. The system consists of three lines (red, blue and green) with major transfer points at Omonia, Syntagma and Monastiraki. Key stops include Acropoli (for the Acropolis east entrance and Acropolis Museum) and Thissio (for Kerameikos).
Line 3 (blue) connects Syntagma and the airport, but a special €18 return fare applies. Aside from the airport and Pireaus, most tourist destinations are in the center where the lines cross, so walking is almost always more efficient.
A local’s tip for riding the metro: It’s good etiquette (and makes life easier) if you start making your way toward the doors early, ideally right after the train has left the preceding stop.
Most of Athens is covered by a vast network of buses, running from 5am to midnight, with some very limited night services. The vehicles are tourist-friendly: screens show upcoming stops, and announcements are made in Greek and English.
There are no published maps of the bus routes, but all appear in Google Maps, so either install the app or plan your route via a web browser before you head out. A few express buses serve outlying destinations, such as the airport and Piraeus, and these cost more.
Slow but scenic, Athens' single tram line runs south from Syntagma to the seaside, where the route splits and goes east and west along the coast. The ride from the center to the nearest beach, passing the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center, is about 30 minutes.
Athens doesn't have a ride-sharing service, but conventional taxis are inexpensive and handy at night, when other public transport stops, though the night rate (effective after midnight, and on holidays) is about 60 percent higher than the day rate. The challenge for visitors is that many drivers speak very little English, and some, inevitably, are unscrupulous in their dealings with out-of-towners. Be aware that there are legitimate additional charges, such as for tolls, extra-large luggage and entry to the airport.
A local’s tip for taxi hailing: Wave your arm aggressively and shout the name of the neighborhood you’re headed to. At busy times, drivers will often take multiple passengers all headed the same direction. If you share, take note of the meter reading when you get in, then subtract that amount when you pay.
Another local’s tip for taxi hailing: The Beat app summons a licensed Athens taxi, gives an estimated price, and lets your driver know where you’re headed without a word. You have the option of paying with cash or a credit card.
Athens city planners are trying to expand the bike network, but sightseeing on two wheels is still difficult. Challenges include hills, reckless drivers, oblivious pedestrians and teeth-rattling cobbled streets. One longer cycle path does run to the seaside, however, so getting out of town is a breeze. Join a tour with Roll in Athens or rent an ebike from Solebike.
Realistically, most tourists won’t use TrainOSE’s proastiakos (regional rail) services, although there is a handy route from the airport to Piraeus. If you do end up taking a regional train, TrainOSE and Ath.ena tickets are interchangeable for journeys within Athens.
When you're up against traffic jams, narrow and pedestrianized streets and extremely limited parking, a car in Athens is more of a hindrance than an asset. Rental cars are a reasonable option for trips out of Athens, but for getting around downtown, ditch the rental at the airport if you can.
Accessible transportation in Athens
Unlike many poorly designed streets and entrances to sights in Athens, the city's transport system does actually meet EU accessibility standards. All metro stops have elevators, usually very well placed for direct access to ticket machines, offering easy transit down to platforms. This is also handy if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage.
Above ground, buses can 'kneel' to street level for wheelchair users and the mobility impaired, but overall, the metro is much easier to navigate than the bus system. For a taxi with full wheelchair support, contact G&K Services, which has a fleet of nine mini-vans with wheelchair lifts. For more resources, see the Lonely Planet guide to accessible travel, a free download.