Dangers & Annoyances
During the financial crisis, crime has risen in Athens. But this is a rise from almost zero, and violent street crime remains relatively rare. Nonetheless, travellers should be alert. Stay aware of your surroundings at night, especially in streets southwest of Omonia, where prostitutes and junkies gather, as well as by the Mavromateon bus terminal, as the adjacent park is a rather grim homeless encampment.
Favoured hunting grounds are the metro, particularly the Piraeus–Kifisia line, and crowded streets around Omonia, Athinas and the Monastiraki Flea Market. Don't leave your phone out on restaurant tables, as it might be snatched.
- Athens taxi drivers have a reputation for mistreating foreigners. Their practices have improved, but stay alert. Most rip-offs involve taxis hired from ranks at major transit points, particularly the port of Piraeus. Avoid the drivers at the port exit; hail one off the street.
- All the usual tricks are deployed: failing to turn on the meter; setting the night rate (tariff set to '2' rather than '1') by day; claiming you gave them a smaller bill than you did; taking the longer route. (But understand that Athens' one-way streets may require some detours.)
- To make your destination clear and monitor the route, use the mobile app from Beat (www.thebeat.co/gr) or Taxiplon – you can pay in cash.
- Scammers usually target solo male travellers around Syntagma, Hadrian's Arch and the Acropolis. The patter: friendly Greek asks the time or asks you to take his photo, reveals that he's from out of town too (or he has a cousin in your home country) and suggests going to a bar. Soon some women appear, more drinks are ordered and the conman disappears, leaving the traveller with an exorbitant bill. (Or, more sophisticated, the conman stays and pays his half – and gets it back later.)
- Some bars have street touts who simply lure intoxicated males with talk of sex and present them with outrageous bills.
- Some bars and clubs serve what are locally known as bombes, adulterated drinks diluted with cheap illegal imports or methanol-based spirit substitutes. They leave you feeling decidedly low the next day.
Strikes & Demonstrations
Strikes and demonstrations can disrupt public transport and close sights and shops, but they are almost always announced at least several days, and sometimes weeks in advance. They usually begin or end at Syntagma Sq; steer clear. Check www.livingingreece.gr/strikes for the latest.
Athens Spotlighted (www.athenspotlighted.gr) This free card is available only at the airport information desk. It gives discounts at select shops, restaurants and a few sights.
European Youth Card (www.eyca.org) Available for anyone age 13 to 30. You don’t have to be a resident of Europe. It provides some significant discounts at sights and shops and on trains. Available from the website or travel agencies in Athens for €10.
International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isic.org) Entitles the holder to half-price admission to museums and ancient sites, and discounts at some budget hotels and hostels. Available from travel agencies in Athens. Applicants require documents proving their student status, a passport photo and €10. Available to students aged 12 to 30.
Seniors Card-carrying EU pensioners can claim a range of benefits such as reduced admission to ancient sites and museums, and discounts on bus and train fares.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
If you are using a foreign mobile phone in Greece, the only three-digit emergency number that works is the main one (112).
|Greece's country code||30|
|Police||100 or 210 770 5711|
|Tourist Police||171 or 210 920 0724|
- Eating and drinking Meals are commonly laid in the table centre and shared. Always accept a drink offer as it's a show of goodwill. Don’t insist on paying if invited out. In restaurants, service might feel slow; dining is a drawn-out experience and it's impolite to rush waitstaff.
- Photography In churches, avoid using a flash or photographing the main altar, which is considered taboo. At archaeological sites, using a tripod marks you as a professional and thereby requires special permissions.
- Places of worship If you visit churches, cover up with a shawl or long sleeves and a long skirt or trousers to show respect. Some places will deny admission if you're showing too much skin.
- Body language 'Yes' is a swing of the head and 'no' is a curt raising of the head or eyebrows, often accompanied by a 'ts' click-of-the-tongue sound.
Athens' gay and lesbian scene is lively and increasingly becoming an international drawcard. Athens Pride, held in June, has been an annual event since 2005; there's a march and a concert on Syntagma.
For nightlife, Gazi has become Athens' gay and lesbian hub. Gay and gay-friendly clubs around town are also in Plateia Agia Irinis, Metaxourgio and Exarhia. Check out www.athensinfoguide.com and www.athens-real.com.
Given the frequency of strikes in and around Athens, travel insurance is recommended. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you're already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Most hotels have internet access and wi-fi. Free wireless hot spots are at Syntagma, Thisio, Gazi and the port of Piraeus. Cosmote (Greece's main telecommunications company) maintains data hot spots; to log in, buy prepaid cards at Cosmote or Germanos stores.
Major banks have branches around Syntagma. ATMs are plentiful enough in commercial districts, but harder to find in more residential areas.
- Restaurants If a service charge is included, just round up the bill. If there's no service charge, leave 10% to 20%.
- Taxis Round up the fare by a couple of euros. There's a small fee for handling bags; this is an official charge, not a tip.
- Bellhops Bellhops in hotels and stewards on ferries expect a small gratuity of €1 to €3.
Some restaurants and bars scale back opening days in winter. Live-music bars without outdoor space usually shut for the whole summer. Businesses and shops typically close in the afternoon, though this is gradually becoming less common. Not much is open Sundays.
Banks 8.30am–2.30pm Monday to Thursday, 8am–2pm Friday
Bars 6pm–2am or 4am
Shops 8am–3pm Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; 8am–2.30pm & 5–8pm Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
All banks and shops and most museums and ancient sites close on public holidays.
Many ancient sites in Athens offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month, November to March.
National public holidays:
New Year's Day 1 January
Epiphany 6 January
First Monday in Lent February
Greek Independence Day 25 March
Orthodox Easter (Good Friday to Easter Monday) 26–29 April 2019, 17–20 April 2020, 30 April–3 May 2021, 22–25 April 2022
Labour Day (Protomagia) 1 May
Pentecost Monday (Agiou Pnevmatos) 50 days after Easter Sunday
Feast of the Assumption 15 August
Ohi Day 28 October
Christmas Day 25 December
St Stephen's Day 26 December
- Smoking Greece technically bans smoking in enclosed public places, but this often goes unheeded in bars. And certainly any outdoor seating will be well used by smokers, an estimated 40% of the adult population. Vaping is not yet common, but growing a bit more so.
Taxes & Refunds
Greece has some of the highest tax rates in Europe, largely due to its economic struggles. Value Added Tax (VAT) is 24% for most things, although food and medicine is 13% and books and newspapers are 6%. VAT is always included in the price unless otherwise stated.
Greece's country code is 30. Athens landline numbers begin with 21; mobile numbers begin with 6. Public phones allow international calls. Purchase phonecards at kiosks (periptera).
Mobile shops sell reasonably priced local SIM cards; you must show your passport to register the number. Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones. US/Canadian phones need to have a dual- or tri-band system.
- Public toilets are a rarity, except at the airport and bus and train stations. Cafes are the best option if you get caught short, but it's polite to buy something for the privilege.
- The Greek plumbing system can't handle toilet paper; apparently the pipes are too narrow and anything larger than a postage stamp seems to cause a problem. Toilet paper etc should be placed in the small bin provided next to every toilet.
EOT Free Athens map, current site hours and bus and train information.
Athens Airport Information Desk This 24-hour desk has Athens info, booklets and the free Athens Spotlighted discount card for restaurants and attractions.
Athens Contemporary Art Map (www.athensartmap.net) Download a PDF of art spaces and events; alternatively, pick up a paper copy at galleries and cafes around town.
EOT Has a desk at Athens Airport (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturday).
Travel with Children
Athens is short on playgrounds, but between ice cream and street musicians and stray cats, there's plenty to keep kids amused. It helps too that children are welcome everywhere, and at casual restaurants they're often encouraged to run off and play together while the adults eat.
Parks and Gardens
The shady National Gardens has a playground, duck pond and small (if somewhat dismal) zoo; immediately south, Zappeio Gardens also has an enclosed, shaded playground.
Attica Zoological Park has an expanding collection of big cats, birds, reptiles and other animals, including a monkey forest and 'Cheetahland'. It's near the airport. And when all else fails, Allou Fun Park & Kidom has thrill rides.
Museums and Spectacles
The Museum of Greek Children’s Art has a room set aside where children can learn about Ancient Greece. The Hellenic Children's Museum is a good place to meet Greek kids. Older children may like the War Museum, where they can climb into the cockpit of a WWII plane and other aircraft.
Escape the heat and amuse the kids with a virtual-reality tour of Ancient Greece at the Hellenic Cosmos (call ahead to arrange English translation), or explore the universe at the impressive Planetarium.
Cinema and Theatre
Younger children may enjoy Greece's traditional shadow-puppet tradition. Shows are in Greek, but slapstick, with lots of music. In summer, visit Theatro Skion Tasou Konsta; in winter, check the Melina Merkouri Cultural Centre and Figoures & Koukles.
An outdoor cinema makes even a Hollywood blockbuster special. Only films for the youngest kids are dubbed; everything else gets Greek subtitles. These open roughly May through October around the city; check www.athinorama.gr (in Greek) for schedules.
Accessibility has improved in Athens since the Paralympic Games in 2004, but marble and stepped alleys are challenging for wheelchairs. People who have visual or hearing impairments are also rarely catered to, though at least there are the basic tactile sidewalk strips.
Careful planning before you go can make a world of difference.
Sage Traveling (www.sagetraveling.com/athens-accessible-travel) Detailed specs on Athens, based on a wheelchair rider's experience.
Matt Barrett's Greece Guides (www.greecetravel.com/handicapped) Links to local articles, resorts and tour groups catering to tourists with physical disabilities.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
The large influx of refugees into Greece since 2015 has been handled largely by a network of Greek and international grassroots aid organisations, many of which rely on volunteer support. Typically a commitment of at least two weeks is preferred, but people with particular language or professional skills can often find shorter-term niches to help. Several Exarhia squats provide housing and social services.
A Drop in the Ocean (www.drapenihavet.no) Reliable organisation, based in Norway, working around Athens.
Project Elea (www.projectelea.org) Greek organisation supporting Eleonas camp.
GreeceVol.info (www.greecevol.info) Database of refugee projects and volunteer needs.