After its Olympics renovation, the subway
remains clean and easy to use.
Before my first trip to Greece, reports from some well-meaning
friends made Athens sound like a place to only skim across. They
claimed it was just another big city and only a launching pad for
many of Greece’s legendary islands. With the picturesque Santorini
looming in my mind, I approached Athens unenthusiastically.
After venturing out into the city’s lively streets, however, I
could not have disagreed more. I was surprised by a vibrant
metropolis, balancing old and new with a variety of attractions
that stood out as cutting edge or fantastically ancient, both
traditional and experimental food on every corner and Byzantine
priests strolling alongside young Greek hipsters.
I found the greatest surprise underneath Athens in its subways.
While the city’s walls are routinely a haven for spray paint, the
2004 Olympics renovation has remained, and local pride has kept the
underground spotless. With only three subway lines (blue, red and
green), travel is uncomplicated and makes Athens’ maze of streets
palatable. Better yet, the subways are fast, efficient and take
visitors to most parts of the city. For example, the red line’s
Acropolis Station is only minutes away from the station’s namesake
and the city’s most important historical site.
Here are a few of my favorite underground stops for agents to
pass along to visiting clients.
The Plaka one of Athens’ hippest areas
is easy to reach by subway.
Exiting Omonia Station is reminiscent of New York City. The area
teems with crowded streets, delicious gyros and good shopping. It
may be the most cosmopolitan area in Athens. While the
beautification of Omonia Square failed, it is still a perfect spot
for people watching, finding travel essentials and an orientating
landmark. There are a number of accommodations in the area,
including the five-star Classical Grand O Hotel and the four-star
While the stately Parliament Building and National Garden are to
the east of the station, the real experience lies to the west, just
past the traditional pistachio vendors, at the Plaka. The Plaka is
an explosion of souvenir stands that billow in all directions and
hawk everything from souvenir T-shirts to handcrafted bouzoukis (a
Greek instrument) and glass hookah pipes. After dark, the locals
enjoy the hip pubs and popular eateries, such as Ydria, for
reasonably priced patio dining.
Two stops away from the crowded streets of Omonia, Thesseion
Station finds another kind of crowd. Keramikos Cemetery is 2,000
years old and filled with Greece’s distant past. Beyond the burial
grounds is the site’s archeological museum. Within the burial
grounds, visitors may want to keep an eye out for Keramikos’ only
living residents, a family of turtles.
Kolonaki is a charming neighborhood with cafes and quaint shops. I
recommend taking Ploutarhou Street uphill to the Lycavittos
Funicular and then to St. George’s Church for the best views in
Athens. It is worth the exercise. On weekends, a flea market is
held halfway up the hill.
There are two other key subway stops savvy agents should know.
Piraeus is the end of the green line and a 25-minute ride from
Omonia Station. This end of the line finds the harbor of the
temperamental Aegean Sea and many of the famous Greek Islands. In
the opposite direction, on the blue line, is El. Venizelos, which
begins and ends 40 minutes from downtown at Athens International