Transportation guide for Athens, Greece (UPDATED 2014-09-01)

previous post listed all the transportation options for getting into and out of Athens. This part is strictly on getting around in Athens, i.e. transportation options within the Athens metropolitan area. Before getting into the details, a  warning and a valuable tip:
First, the warning / rule of caution: Pickpockets like to hang around in transport means, often in groups. Mind your bags, purses, etc. and keep them somewhere you can see them (not at your back) in a way that they cannot be snatched. I once saw a woman trying to open/grab a tourist's sports bag right in front of her eyes, as she was rushing out of the metro wagon. This may be an obvious, "all-weather" piece of advice, but when you travel in a foreign country you really don't want anything unfortunate like that happening and spoiling your vacation. 
Second, the tip: (you won't read this in any tourist guide but you will probably thank me for it): If you visit Athens in August ignore public transit (and everything I write below) and just get yourself a taxi-cab. Routes are traditionally curtailed during August, as many drivers and other personnel are on vacation, but this year (2013) things have really gotten out of hand. It's not unusual to wait 10-15 minutes for a Metro car and 30minutes or more for a bus or trolley (and then you have to wait for a connection once again...). Do yourself a favor and save your time and peace of mind by simply getting a cab. They're everywhere and if you're a group of 3-4 persons the price won't be much higher than the sum of the transit tickets. If you're alone and on a very tight budget consider walking, at least for part of your journey. [Check out my practical guide on walking in Athens].

Now, on to the various transport options for getting around in Athens:

2. Transportation guide for moving around in Athens
2.1 Athens Metro Network
2.2 Urban Buses and Trolley Buses
2.3 Tram
2.4 Taxis
2.5 Driving in Athens
2.6 Walking in Athens

Very briefly:
The ticket for most public transport options costs 1.40€ and can be used for 90 minutes, getting on and off in different transport means.

In detail:
2.1 Athens Metro Network
The Metro network has 3 lines. Green Line 1 (Piraeus – Kifissia), was the first line to operate, as a steam-powered train in 1869, and electricity-powered since 1904, albeit at a shorter length than today. Most of it is above the ground. After many years of works, Line 1 is again fully operational since Dec. 12, 2011.

Red Line 2 (Anthoupoli – Elliniko) and Blue Line 3 (Agia Marina - Doukissis Plakentias - Airport) started operating in the year 2000 and have expanded ever since. For this reason, sometimes Athenians refer to these lines as “the Metro” while old Line 1 is referred to as “to treno” (the train) or “o Elektrikos” (due to the fact that it was the first electricity powered train in Greece).

Hours of operation
First / last departure of the day for Line 1: 05.00. // 00:15
First / last departure of the day for Lines 2 & 3: 05:30 // aprox. midnight (detailed routes here)
On Friday and Saturday night, Lines 2 & 3 stay in operation for 2 more hours, till about 02:00am.
The last train of Line 3 going to the airport departs at around 11:00pm. Detailed schedule of trips to and from the Airport can be found here.

For the most current info on all Metro Lines go to: http://www.stasy.gr/

Tickets can be bought at counters in all stations or through "Automatic Ticket Vending Machines" that also return change (Directions in Greek, English). Tickets for the Proastiakos (suburban train) that goes to the airport (not part of the Metro system) can only be bought at Proastiakos stations (e.g Neratziotissa, Doukissis Plakentias, etc.).

The standard ticket is valid for 70 minutes and for all transport means (Metro, Buses, Tram, urban segment of the Proastiakos railway). You may transfer between lines (or to/from buses, trolley-buses and tram) with the same ticket within these 70 minutes.
You have to validate your ticket as you enter the corridors leading to the platforms. If the 90 minutes are about to expire and you still haven’t finished your journey but are inside a bus or metro wagon you have to re-validate your ticket, on the opposite site, in a validating machine and then continue the last leg of your journey.

Ticket prices
Standard 70-min ticket: 1.20€. You may buy a packet of 10 tickets which gives you an extra one for free (10+1). Reduced tariff 0.60€. Eligibility for reduced tariff: Seniors over 65 y.o. presenting a passport, children 7-12y.o., young people 13-18 y.o. presenting a passport, University students up to 25 y.o. presenting their University Student I.D. and a passport / National ID card.
Airport ticket: The only exception is that if you want to go beyond Doukissis Plakentias Station (towards the airport, in Line 3) the ticket costs 8€ (reduced tarrif: 4€). Discounts apply for airport return-tickets (14€) or combined ones for 2 or 3 persons (14€ and 20€ respectively).
24-Hour Ticket: This can be very useful if you intend to make many trips. You validate it the moment you first enter the Metro/ bus / tram and then it’s valid for the next 24 hours. It costs 4 €. The 24-hour ticket is not valid for getting to the airport (only up to Koropi Station) or to the far end (Varkiza - Saronida) of the E22 coastal bus line.
3-Day Tourist Ticket: The so-called tourist ticket can be bought at the airport ticket issuing office. It covers the cost of getting from/to the airport once and it is also valid for all other means of public transit for 72hrs. It costs 20 €. 
5-Day Ticket: It covers all transit means except for getting to/from the airport and line X-80. It costs 10€.
Montly Pass: It covers all transit means from the 1st to the last day of each calendar month. It can be bought 1-4 days in advance, in major transit stations / stops. It costs 30€. 45€ if you want it to include the airport line as well.
You may read the latest official info about all types of tickets here.

2.2 Urban Buses and Trolley Buses
The bus network is rather user-unfriendly for the non-local. I remember it took me quite some time to get used to it when I first came to live in Athens years ago. Schedule maps are hard to find and the ones printed behind bus stops are usually hard to read (I have 20-20 vision!). You may download some .pdf maps here or get a free printed map at the OASA (Transport company) info/ticket-kiosk at the airport, located outside the Arrivals, between Exits 4 and 5. There are signs next to bus stops with the names of all bus stops for each bus-route, but lately they are often coverd with stickers and, either way, are only in (capital) Greek letters. Asking the staff at your hotel for directions is not a bad idea.

Buses are colored blue or green. The green-colored ones are natural gas powered. Athens has one of the largest natural gas bus fleets in Europe.
You buy tickets before riding the bus, from the counter of a Metro station or at a kiosk and you validate the ticket in the small, orange machine-box inside the bus. You may enter from all bus doors (not just the front one, as the driver has nothing to do with you and your ticket). In case a controller asks you for the ticket you have to show it to them (validated) or you pay a fine 60 times the price of the ticket.

Ask a fellow passenger about where you need to get off (younger people mostly speak English …and older people usually know the bus stops by their name!).

Buses run from about 6.00am to 11.00pm / midnight, depending on the route.

Tickets: Same as Metro above. Cost: 1.20 €. Reduced Tariff: 0.60€
Express Airport Lines Ticket: The ticket for the special airport lines (see previous post Transportation directions for getting into Athens, Greece) costs 5€ (reduced: 2.50€)

Trolley-buses: As far as you're concerned there is no difference between buses and trolley-buses, except for their color, which is yellow with blue stripes. Sometimes they are covered all over with multi-colored ads, but you can't miss them. They have long metallic bars (which locals sometimes refer to as "the horns") touching the electric cables over them.

2.3 Tram
Inaugurated just in time for the 2004 Olympics, the tram hasn’t yet won the hearts of Athenians as it is kind of slow and limited. My biggest pet peeve is with the ridiculous names given by authorities to the tram lines / routes. Instead of sticking with simple, functional names like Athens – Faliro, Athens - Voula, etc. tram routes have been “baptized” with the names of ancient thinkers (Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides!) [eye-roll…]. Gimme a break people!

Pet peeves aside, the tram is a handy, albeit rather slow means for traveling from center Athens (Syntagma Square) to the southern and coastal suburbs of Nea Smyrni, Faliro, Alimos, Elliniko, Glyfada, Voula and to get to the coastal promenade that is popular with locals and tourists during the summer.

There are three tram lines:
Line 3 (yes, “three”) “Thucydides” : Faliro (Peace & Friendship Stadium) – Voula (Asclepeion Hospital)
Line 4 (yes, “four”) “Aristotle”: Athens (Syntagma Square) - Faliro (Peace & Friendship Stadium)
Line 5 (yes, “five”) “Plato”: Athens (Syntagma Square) - Voula (Asclepeion Hospital)
There are no lines 1 and 2....!!!
Hours of operation
First trip: 05:30, Last trip: 01:00. Friday and Saturday nights have an extended schedule in the winter (05:30- 02:30) and 24hr-service from June 1 to September 30.

Tickets and their use are the same with the Metro (see section 2.1 above)

2.4 Taxis
Fairly cheap compared to other west European countries, they are viewed and used as an alternative to public transportation. Drivers’ behavior not always proper (occasional instances of fraud, with foreign tourists as victims), especially since there’s a great number of “fake”, unlicensed “taxis” operating during the weekend. Watch the meter! During the day (till midnight) you should be charged by "Tariff 1". From midnight to 5.00am, and for out-of-city transportation you are charged by "Tariff 2". The meter starts at around 1.19€ and the minimum charge for short distances is 2.80€. Extra charge for heavy baggage (> 10kgs/piece), for calls/appointments and when departing from airports, ports, bus and rail stations or towards airports. Flat fare to get to the airport from Athens city center is 35 Euros during the day and 50 Euros at night. Check airport site for details and indicative charges for other destinations from airport to Greater Athens area, here.

2.5 Driving in Athens
Driving is on the right side of the road (like in the rest of the continent and the U.S.) and distances are in kilometers (1 kilometer = 0.6 miles, 1 mile = 1.6 kilometers). Most cars, including rented ones, have manual transmission (stick-shift). Ask your rent-a-car service beforehand about the possibility of getting a car with an automatic gear box.
Also, Athens has two ring limits (not to be confused with the Attiki Odos peripheral ring-road) which were instituted some 30 years ago for air pollution reasons. The one mostly of concern is the small ring (mikros daktylios). Cars with odd-numbered plates may enter the small ring on odd date week-days, while even-numbered ones may enter on even date week-days. On weekends, city centre is open to all.
I don’t want to freighten you but you should be very careful driving in Greece and, even more, in Athens. On the other hand, the Greek countryside is the best part of the country and having a car will greatly liberate you if you want to travel around. Here’s the situation concerning Athens: Most streets are narrow, with potholes as a bonus, cars parked everywhere except for main thoroughfares, often blocking the view in intersections. Drivers are stressed and aggressive, with little patience. Honking should be expected… I wouldn’t  recommend driving in Athens, but you can’t completely avoid it either if you plan on renting a car for your vacation in Greece. I've had friends from the US drive in Athens and they didn't have a problem, but be careful (i.e. expect the unexpected). Recently, the financial crisis has "removed" a good number of cars from Athens streets (and sidewalks...) as people are getting rid of their second or third family car.

Tips for driving in Athens:
-It is not unusual for Athenian drivers to “ignore” the yellow / orange light at intersections, so get the habit of looking both ahead and at your rear-view mirror when the light turns yellow. The driver behind you may not intend to stop!
-Also, expect to encounter drivers who do not use the turn light (blinker). Lots of them…
-Greeks use the alarm signal to tell the driver behind them that they intend to park, at an empty, in-street, parking spot. Make sure you leave enough room for the car ahead of you to back up and park if you see their alarm lights blinking.
-Parking spots are scarce: many are reserved for permanent residents (marked with blue lines) while some, mainly in the center, are paid parking spots (marked with white lines). You have to buy parking vouchers from kiosks, scratch the date and time you parked the car and place them under your windshield, at a visible spot.  Duration is for 3hrs maximum and 1hr = 1.00Euro voucher. Click here for details.

-It's best to make sure your hotel has a parking lot or a partnership with a garage if you intend to drive.
-Road signage and the quality of the road surface are just as bad (or good…) as most Greek drivers.
-US residents: You should always stop on the red light (no “turn on red”).

If you want to rent a car, many options are available, including at the airport and near ports.

2.6 Walking in Athens
Athens may not be the most pedestrian-friendly city in the world but progress has been made in the last 10-15 years with wider sidewalks in the main streets of the city center. The Plaka neighborhood, north-east of the Acropolis, is all pedestrianized since about 1980, making it a perennial favorite for tourists and locals alike. Before the 2004 Olympics, the former Dionysiou Areopagitou St. and Apostolou Pavlou St., below the Acropolis (on the southwest side) were turned into a major pedestrian walk that connects some of the city’s major archeological sites and provides some very nice views towards the Acropolis. However, as you get out of the city center and into the back streets, walking can be a pain if you are old or have mobility problems. You often need to get off and on the sidewalk as pavements are very narrow and sometimes occupied by cars / motorbikes and all kinds of… stuff. However, if your schedule permits you may get a truer glimpse of life in Athens by walking in these back streets and out of center neighborhoods. They lack the archeological findings or other sights that may appeal to tourists but they are often just as lively, or even more, than the city center.
When crossing the street:
a) Double-check that cars have actually stopped at the traffic light
b) All pedestrian crossings are marked as zebra tracks but they do not necessarily give pedestrians the right of way, nor are they acknowledged when they actually should be. Wait for the green light, and better be safe than sorry.
Also, see my practical advice for walking in Athens.

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