City Guide to Athens, Greece: Part 1 | Public Transportation
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Luckily, walking and public transportation are excellent means to get around Athens! Every city’s transportation network and system work a bit differently, so it always takes a bit of fumbling around to figure it out, or if you’re like us, you do your research ahead of time.
So, to hopefully make things easier for you, we’ve put together everything we researched ahead of time, the things we learned along the way, and a bunch of pictures to help you familiarize yourself with all things Athens public transportation.
First and Foremost
The bus and trolley network is managed by Oasa
The Metro and Tram is managed by Urban Rail Transport S.A.
The Suburban Railway is managed by Trainose
Types of Transportation
Athens has a very thorough network of public transportation, including metro, trams, buses, trolleys, and the Suburban Railway. Additionally, although we don’t cover it here, if you want to travel beyond Athens, Trainose has trains that will more than likely get you to where you want to go.
The metro system in Athens is more than a public transportation system; it’s a tourist attraction in and of itself. Line 1 (M1) has been in operation since 1869, making it the second oldest underground system in the world, second only to the London Underground (1863). It took nearly 150 years for the city to add additional lines, but in 2000 lines 2 and 3 were added. However, during the planning phase, the city knew that below the soil they’d be digging lay ancient antiquities that needed to be preserved. Therefore, the construction of the new metro lines became a massive project of archaeological excavations. In total, archaeologists uncovered more than 50,000 artifacts within 79,000 square meters (nearly 20 acres) of space! Many of these finds, as well as cross sections of the land displaying the layers of human life over the centuries are displayed in six Athens’ metro stations. We visited Syntagma Square and marveled at the beautiful display of artifacts dating as far back as the 7th century BCE, and were awed by the layers of earth displayed behind the glass that gave a unique look into the history of Athens. Details on the excavations work can be found on the Attiko Metro website.
When we were admiring the ancient artifacts, it was alarming that so many passengers walked quickly by without a second glance, but then we remembered that the metro station is a main artery of transportation in Athens and passengers have walked by these artifacts dozens or even hundreds of times. The metro connects the suburbs to city center, but also thoroughly covers downtown and the must see attractions and landmarks. It’s a great option for getting around and all lines operate from 5:30 am to 12:30 am, except for on Friday and Saturday when M2 and M3 run until 2:30 am. Plus, bus 500 is an hourly night bus that runs the same route as M1, stopping outside the metro stations, making it a great nighttime replacement to the M1. You can check timetables, first and last departures, trip duration, and frequency of trams on the Urban Rail Transport website (navigate the left sidebar menu to view each option under timetables).
Line 1 (M1), Kifisia to Piraeus (Green Line)
Line 2 (M2), Anthoupoli to Eliniko (Red Line)
Line 3 (M3), Airport to Douk. Plakentias to Aghia Marina (Blue Line)
The tram system started operation on the day before the 2004 Summer Olympics were held in Athens, and currently has three lines in operation. Our favorite thing about Athens’ trams are that you can take them to the beaches and travel along the coast! Trams operate seven days a week, from 5:30 am to 1 am Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 am to 2:30 am on Friday and Saturday. You can check timetables, first and last departures, trip duration, and frequency of trams on the Urban Rail Transport website (navigate the left sidebar menu to view each option under timetables).
Line 1 Syntagma to SEF – Links downtown Athens to the Peace and Friendship Stadium
Line 2 Syntagma to Voula – Links city center to the southern suburb of Voula
Line 3 Voula to SEF – Runs along the coast
Bus and Trolley
Bus and trolley routes cover Athens city and its suburbs, connecting passengers to their destinations as well as to the metro and tram lines. Operating hours and frequency not only differ by line, but also by the day of the week and the season. Generally, you can expect lines to run from 5 am to 12 am, however there are several 24 hour lines and four Airport Express Lines that operate 24 hours a day. You can find real time route information and timetables on the Telematics OASA website, or you can use Google Maps for transit directions on your mobile device.
The Suburban Railway, also known as Proastiakos, is part of the national Greek railway network. Only the trains from Piraeus to Acharnai Station (S.K.A.) and Magoula to Koropi station use the same 90 minute tickets that are valid on the Athens metro, tram, bus, and trolley network; all other destinations are priced based on distance. One of the most common routes is the train from Athens Airport to Kiato, which requires a special Airport Ticket. For more information on pricing, check the Trainose website.
Athens is transitioning to an electronic card ticket system, similar to the Oyster Card in London, and during our visit, we used both an electronic ticket and a paper ticket. The major difference between the two are how you validate your ticket.
Automatic Ticket Machines – They’re located at all metro, tram, and Suburban Railway stations. During our time in Athens, we found two types of machines, one for the older paper tickets and one for the newer electronic tickets. The machines that dispensed the older paper tickets had a limited selection of tickets available, usually only single journey tickets, and they only accepted coins. The machines that dispensed electronic tickets had a wide variety of tickets, including airport and day tickets. Plus, they accepted coins, bank notes, and credit cards. However, during our visit, the credit card payment option was out of order on every machine we attempted to use.
Ticket Offices – They’re located at many of the metro, tram, and Suburban Railway stations, and accept credit cards. A list of stations and operating hours can be found on the Urban Rail Transport website.
Ticket Booths – They’re located at most of the central bus stations, a list can be found on the OSY website.
Kiosks and Newsstands – Many kiosks and newsstands around Athens sell public transportation tickets.
Airport – Tickets can be purchased at the airport or from electronic ticket machines. To purchase them from the airport, exit door number three from the terminal lobby and cross the street, go up the elevator and cross the bridge to the metro and train station. To the right is the train station, to the left is the metro station, and in between the two are the ticket offices and automatic ticket machines. (Credit cards, including American Express, can be used at the ticket office.)
Types of Tickets
Single Ticket – It’s valid for 90 minutes on all modes of transportation (invalid on Airport Lines and line X80). Cost is €1.40.
Single Ticket for Line x80 – It’s valid for 90 minutes on all modes of transportation, including the express line X80 (invalid on Airport Lines). Cost is €4.50.
Daily Ticket – Valid for unlimited travel on all modes of transportation (invalid on Airport Lines and line X80) for 24 hours from its validation. Cost is €4.50.
5 Day Ticket – Valid for unlimited travel on all modes of transportation (invalid on Airport Lines and line X80) for five days from its validation. Cost is €9.00.
3 Day Tourist Ticket – Valid for unlimited travel on all modes of transportation for three days from its validation. Includes one journey to and from the airport. Cost is €22.00.
Travel Cards – Travel Cards can be purchased for unlimited travel on all modes of transportation for one, three, six, or twelve calendar months. To purchase a Travel Card, you’ll need a picture and a valid ID. For more information on purchasing a Travel Card and cost, download the Tickets and Travel Cards PDF.
Airport Tickets – Special tickets are required to take public transportation (M3 or Suburban Railway) to the airport. See below.
Before boarding a public transportation vehicle you must validate your ticket, and when in a metro station, once you pass the ticket barriers you’re required to have a validated ticket. Not doing so will result in a hefty fine if you’re asked to present your ticket to a ticket inspector. Fines are 60 times the cost of the ticket, or 200 times the cost if traveling to the airport. However, if you pay on the spot or within 10 days the fine is reduced 50%. On the other hand, if you take more than 60 days to pay the fine, the cost is increased by a multiple of five and it’s handed over to the Tax Office of Greece. More information can be found on the Urban Railways website or the OASA website.
Validating your ticket is fairly simple, but the process differs depending on if you have a paper ticket or a newer electronic ticket. You can tell the difference between the tickets by their size, if your ticket fits into the slot of the small rectangular validation machine that stamps tickets (pictured below), then you have a paper ticket. If your ticket is about half an inch too wide to fit in the slot, then it’s an electronic ticket. For clarity, here’s how to validate each type of ticket:
At each station there are small rectangular boxes, usually red or yellow, that will stamp your ticket for validation. Insert your ticket into the slot, making sure to use the arrow on the ticket as a guide to insert the ticket in the correct direction. Once you’ve inserted it completely, the machine will stamp your ticket and you can remove it.
Ticket ‘barriers’ are set up at all stations, although while paper tickets are still in use, the barriers aren’t active and you can freely walk through them. To validate your ticket, place it on the black pad located on top of the barrier. A digital screen will beep and show a green light, indicating that your ticket is valid.
Tip: If you’re still unsure how to validate your ticket, you can wait and watch as other people validate theirs to learn the process. However, don’t expect everyone to validate, as many people have monthly or annual passes and therefore don’t need to validate.
Public Transportation: To and From Athens Airport (ATH)
The airport is just over a 20 mile drive from city center, making public transportation one of the best options to get into downtown Athens. If you’ve decide to forgo renting a car and driving to and from the Athens Airport, you’ll have three public transportation possibilities:
Option 1: Athens Airport Express Bus
There are four express bus routes that go to and from the airport. Passengers are dropped off at departures and picked up at arrivals between exits four and five (doors in the terminal lobby are numbered). All buses run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, however the frequency varies depending on the season and time of day. Buses take a bit longer to get to the airport than the metro or the suburban railway because of street traffic.
Airport Express Bus Tickets
An Airport Express bus ticket is €6 and can be purchased at all metro stations and point of sales (shops, kiosks, newspaper stands, etc).
Airport Express Bus Lines
Χ93 – Kifissos KTEL Station to ATH Airport. Estimated one-way travel time is 65 minutes. Be sure to check route and timetables ahead of time.
Χ95 – Syntagma to ATH Airport. Estimated one-way travel time is 70 minutes. Be sure to check route and timetables ahead of time.
Χ96 – Port of Piraeus to ATH Airport. Estimated one-way travel time is 90 minutes. Be sure to check route and timetables ahead of time.
Χ97 – Eliniko Metro Station to ATH Airport. Estimated one-way travel time is 100 minutes. Be sure to check route and timetables ahead of time.
Option 2: Athens Metro (M3)
The metro M3 line runs from Athens Airport (ATH) to city center and back. Trains run every 30 minutes and operate seven days a week from 6:30 am (first arrival time at the airport) to 11:30 pm. If you’re traveling to the airport first thing in the morning, be sure to check when the M3 makes its first stop at your starting point, as the first train will arrive before 6:30 am. To get into city center, expect the metro to take about 40 minutes.
Metro Airport Ticket
Be sure to purchase the special airport ticket, which is valid for 90 minutes and allows transfers to all other types of travel (bus, trolley, trams, and Suburban Railway). Purchase the ticket that makes the most sense for your journey.
Single Metro Airport Ticket – It’s valid for one journey to or from the airport and costs €10.
Metro Airport Ticket for 2 People – It’s valid for one journey to or from the airport for two people and costs €18.
Metro Airport Ticket for 3 People – It’s valid for one journey to or from the airport for three people and costs €24.
Return Metro Airport Ticket – It’s valid for one journey to the airport and one journey from the airport, however they must be within 48 hours of each other. It costs €18.
3 Day Tourist Ticket – It’s valid for three full days of travel on all modes of transportation (metro, tram, bus, and trolley) and includes one journey from the airport and one return journey to the airport. It costs €22.
Option 3: The Suburban Railway
The Suburban Railway is operated by Trainose, and is known as Proastiakos. There are trains that run from Athens Airport (ATH) to Athens Central Railway Station, and Acharnai Railway Center on the Airport to Kiato line (also known as the Kiato to Airport line). From there you can connect to the National Railway Network or to the metro or bus network. Trains run every 15-25 minutes, seven days a week, from 5:26 am to 9:44 pm. Download a PDF of train timetables for more detailed train schedules. Tickets purchased for the Suburban Railway can also be used on the metro and bus. Tickets to or from the airport are €10.
Athens Public Transportation Tips
We found people to be overwhelmingly very kind and helpful in Athens! For example, we were having trouble interpreting the signs in a metro transfer station and weren’t sure where to go. So, we asked a security guard for help, and she not only told us, but walked us in the direction we needed to go. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
The OASA Telematics website offers route information (‘Line Information’), real-time bus and trolley information (‘Stop Information’), and a journey planner (‘Best Route’). When visiting the OASA website, be sure to select English in the upper right corner and then select the tool you’d like to use on the left side bar of the page.
Bicycles are allowed on public transportation, but be sure to check specific bike information ahead of time.
When using escalators to enter or exit a station, it’s common courtesy to stand to the right, allowing people who are walking up or down the escalator to pass on the left.
We found that not all doors on the metro open, but there’s usually a sticker on the window of the door that has a red outline of doors with a black ‘X’ through them if the doors are out of service. If you see this sticker on the doors in front of you, simply move up or down the metro car to the next set of doors.
Athens public transportation is clean, fast, and easy to use. Also, Athens is continuing to expand their system by extending metro line three and are also in the works of adding a fourth line, which is planned to have 30 stops. We highly recommend using all the modes of public transportation available since it’s easy and affordable. On the other hand, most of the tourist attractions, ruins, and popular neighborhoods are all centrally located in the middle of downtown. So, if you’re up for it, get the most of your experience in Athens and take a walk. From our experience, you can see the best of the best Athens has to offer in a day by walking, and if you have two to three days, you’ll know the city better than most other tourists by the end of your trip!