Cruising From Athens
When you combine a rich mix of millennia-old buildings, steeped in the ancient lore of the gods, together with such modern pursuits as shopping and dining, Athens can be one of the most attraction-filled places you can visit during your cruise.
The Avid Cruiser’s guide to Athens will help you get the most of your time in the capital of Greece, plus we’ll show you how to get to and from your ship in Piraeus.
Signifying how this city is still developing, right near the Parliament building is a display of ruins discovered when the subway system was being built for the 2004 Olympics. Ho hum, just another ancient site – not really. Despite the subway, this is one of the most walkable of major cites, with something exciting pretty much wherever you turn in the main section of town.
If the cruise is starting or ending in Piraeus, the port for Athens, visitors will be using the new airport, about 45 minutes from downtown (without traffic).
It’s a well-designed airport, and lines for customs and immigration are relatively efficient. Departing for the airport from Athens, let the hotel provide the best time to leave to avoid a last-minute anxiety attack.
If Athens is a port of call, the ship will be docking in Piraeus and you’ll have a plethora of sightseeing options. It’s about a half hour from the port city (which does get congested) to the main part of Athens.
Unless you have days to spare, it’s impossible to walk to Athens from the port, but many cruise lines offer a free shuttle to the heart of downtown. Then, visitors can walk around and return when they want.
Once in the middle of the old section of Athens it’s very easy to walk around and visit the main attractions. Trains and busses also connect the city center and the port.
It’s also possible to combine a shore excursion with transportation into Athens. There are many options offered by each line, ranging from drive-bys of the important sites to those that give you a chance to walk around and see things up close, especially the Acropolis, home of the Parthenon.
You need at least two full days to get any real feeling for all that Athens has to offer, and even this amount of timeisn’t enough. If only one day is available, it pays to concentrate on the main attractions.
First and foremost is the famous Parthenon, built on a hillside right in the middle of Athens. It’s a semi-steep walk up but it has to be done to get the full impact.
The Acropolis, the main building, is truly amazing for all of its size and grandeur from when it was built starting is 438BC. They are still renovating it so there are cranes around as well as lots of tourists.
To get the full impact it’s important to have a guide or read the modestly-priced guide available virtually everywhere. Nearby are the Theatre of Dionysos and the Ancient Agora.
Not far away are Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Parliament (with the colorful changing of the guard ceremony every hour).
The Plaka, that Greek mix of shops and restaurants is virtually adjacent to the Roman Market or the Acropolis (you can dine outdoors staring up at it during the day or at night when it’s wonderfully illuminated). The shops are a mix of the tacky on up to some wonderful jewelry and cotton clothing. It’s not a place for dramatic bargaining but prices are pretty good.
There’s a lot to choose from when Athens/Piraeus is a port of call. Excursions can range from a three-hour drive-by tour on up to a full day tour with walking guide and multiple attractions.
There are also tours than get outside of Athens to some beautiful coastal cities and even as far afield as the Corinth Canal (one of the most dramatic ship passageways). Tour prices in Athens seem to be relatively low-priced compared to other major cities. If Athens is a pre or post hotel stay, the cruise line might offer something or you can get in touch with www.athensguide.org or, for private tours, contact Stat Hellas.
WHO GOES HERE/INFO
Every cruise line that goes to the Mediterranean goes to Athens/Piraeus. And the season is getting longer and longer (I was there this past October 16-19, and the weather was gorgeous).
Once there, it’s easy to change currency at hotels, banks etc. Get a free copy of the Attica Department Store city map – it’s in English and extremely easy to follow.
Art Sbarsky originally wrote this story for VacationAgent in 2007.
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