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Once you've been in Athens for a couple of days you will begin to embrace the various ways of getting around in Athens. Firstly, there is the tram. This is a service linking the central point of Parliament square / Syntagma Square with the beach areas along the coast, local residential areas and some of the local markets. There are 5 lines in total with line 3 operating exclusively along the seafront promenade from the glitzy shopping and eating areas to an area presently being built in preperation for new hotels. All other lines run from Syntagma Square just above the underground station.
It's well worth noting here that the tram costs just 1.40 EUR for unlimited travel in 90 minutes. Within that time you could easily reach the locals market then the large and amazingly cheap 'Eurospar' supermarket and onto the beach for a cool drink!
An insider tip would definitely also be that the tram route is by far the cheapest, spotlessley clean and quick way to access the city centre and beach so if you choose a hotel en route, you would be very well placed for all Athens has to offer.
Next is the underground. It can be troublesome to navigate the system as the layout isn't the best although the system is very quick and costs just 1.40 EUR for an Adult single to all areas except the airport which is 8.00 EUR.
The underground is similar to the system in the UK. It can get quite hot and crowded so not good for carrying shopping. There are escalators and lifts at the end of each platform but do consider that the line linking Syntagma Square to Omonia Square is 3 levels down and very popular with the locals at rush hour.
Nevertheless, it is superb for getting to areas such as the 'bartering' or 'haggling' shopping district of Monistiraki and hopping quickly between main points in the city centre.
A major benefit of both the tram and the underground is that there are both automated ticket machines and staff who speak English. Operating times are 05:00 - midnight.
You can also select a private tours / transfer company such for your transfer needs from airports, ports, hotels, marinas etc. to and from Athens. Visit this link for additional info.
Next are the taxis. There are two types (both yellow in colour). Firstly, radio taxis are similar to minicabs in principle. You call them, they arrive. They have company logo's on the drivers door and will never stop in the street unless you have booked them. They do charge a premium presently of around 3.00 EUR upon arrival and the cars are usually luxury and relatavely new. Drivers do try to speak English but don't expect to have a conversation with them. They are ideal for lots of shopping and to / from the airport or if you need a guaranteed destination very quickly.
The second type of taxi is the more common, the street taxi. These are taxis which you flag down in the same way you would with a bus in the UK. However, they choose whether to stop or not and will often already have a passenger. You shout your general destination to the driver and they choose whether to accept you as a customer or not. This does take some getting used to. Also note that sometimes they will pick up other passengers on their way which could make for good conversation with a local!
Do not use these with lots of shopping bags as the cabs will stop and block all traffic in the road which causes a lot of tooting horns behind you.
Taxis are a complete law unto themselves and will switch lanes without indicating, basically just pushing in. Few people wear seat belts in Athens city centre and there is usually under 1 car space between you and the vehicle behind you at all times.
You may be wondering what benefit these taxis are by now - well, they're a lot cheaper. Yes, these cabs are older, yes the drivers hardly speak English and you must not take it personally if they just drive away from you when you give your destination, it's just their culture and gets to be quite a game of wits after the first few times.
For a reliable ride try the new app TaxiBeat (Ios/Android) which lets you select and rate drivers ensuring you don't pay too much and not being driven around in circles.
One important note is regarding Athens Airport. Some travel agencies charge 55.00 EUR at least for an airport transfer. This is not nessesary as a cab will charge you around 35.00 EUR (this is a fixed fee mandaated by law) for the same journey from the airport to the city centre. The drivers have to pay a toll and the distance is well out of the city so expect to take about 45 minutes not counting any delay.
Athens doesn't have services with local drivers such as Uber, Hailo or Lyft for the time being. However there is a service, Athens Welcome Pickups, that connects local Athenians to pick you up from the airport, drive you to your destination and give you a meaningful introduction to the city. It costs €35 flat and the price is fixed and pre-paid. *Update: Normal cost for the transfer from Athens Airport to Athens City Center is now about 38-42 euros and there are more companies that will offer a pickup with a fixed price (e.g. you can check Athens Taxi Quality). On the picture below you can see the 2016 price-table for the main destinations within Attica:
Finally there are the buses and trolleybuses in Athens. Both allow cross ticketing from any of the public transport networks so if you have a metro ticket, you can use it on the buses in the city centre but be warned, their destination is purely in greek and unless you have studied a bus guide you may well find them very confusing.
So, to recap. You have the Tram, Underground, Radio Taxi, Street Taxi, Bus and Trolleybus! All competing for space in a crowded city, it made for a fascinating and visibly unco-ordinated competition around Athens. I would personally advise the tram wherever possible. It's clean, passes some good hotels, amazing shops, markets and of course the beach.
Rental cars in Athens are not recommended if you plan to use it only in the city. Athens is a city of 4 million people with over 1.3 million cars alone. The law of the road is to basically get there quicker than anyone else. Expect everyone to fail to observe road markings, run lights, speed and use their horn if you are a split second late moving off from a junction or red light. You should though rent a car to visti Sounio (60 minutes drive from the center) where you will find the Temple of Posidon and a beautiful beach. Generally there are great places to visit around Athens and you should definitely rent a car and visit them.
That said, if you decide to rent a car, there are independant local such as Kosmos Rent a Car as well as big multinationals, such as Hertz, Avis, Budget, Sixt, Thrifty and Eurodollar car hire operators who tend to be a little more competitive and willing to haggle to a point over rates.
If you feel you can cope with this, try parking! On street parking is free and Athens drivers are experts at getting as many vehicles on one road as one can. You will need supreme power steering and a small but robust car to make it worthwhile in Athens. Remember the maximum level of damage cover and avoid peak periods. Fuel costs at the time of writing is about 1.6 EUR per litre.
Parking is restricted at the main attractions so the Acropolis, Kallimarmaro etc will be difficult to access.
One alternative to all this however is to park your car along the tram route, especially around the cross over areas where line 3 operates. This will give you a form of park and ride where you can get around Athens by public transport yet avoid the pure stress fo the driving experience in the city centre.