“As well as exploring the ancient culture and architecture, we did a local food and wine tour, and even a guided bike tour, where we experienced urban Athens. We absolutely loved this fantastic city – what a way to start our cruising vacation!”
Get ready for a cruise vacation like no other by looking at cruise options starting from the Port of Piraeus which is the main sea port of Athens, capital of Greece. A cruise from Athens is the perfect way for you to see the very best of the Mediterranean without all the hassle of many short flights, island hopping, or packing and unpacking your suitcase between different destinations.
All you need is one international airfare to and from Athens.
We have the ultimate 2 day guide to make your vacation unforgettable. Explore this vibrant city before starting your cruise from Athens and plan out some amazing excursions while you’re there. Make sure that this is not just your port stop, but an adventure worth remembering.
Athens – the vibrant capital of Greece
Athens is one of the most historically rich cities in Europe, and a visit to this ancient city will leave you feeling like you have travelled back through time. The city has much more than just historical buildings that make it so amazing though; it also has a vibrant atmosphere and fantastic food!
In this article we take a look at how to explore the city before starting your cruise from Athens with a 2-day guide including travel info, tips and itineraries. Immerse yourself in ancient Greek culture as you explore iconic landmarks including the ancient citadel Acropolis of Athens, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.
Visiting Athens, you will discover an exciting mix of old and new, with modern buildings alongside centuries-old ones. It is quite easy to find your way around (pick up a street map from your hotel concierge). Between the main avenues are an orderly grid of small and narrow side streets. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this lively city before you cruise from Athens and the port of Piraeus.
Transport options to and from Athens International Airport
Here are the transport options you have to get from Athens International Airport – officially called Athens Eleftherios Venizelos – to your city center hotel:
Airport Shuttle Buses
If you are traveling on a budget and want to save some money – Athens has an excellent bus system, which can take you anywhere in the city center. The bus is the cheapest option but the trip can take up to 60 minutes, depending on traffic conditions in Athens.
Syntagma Square is the most central stop in the city. Purchase tickets at the airport. Alternatively buy them onboard the bus but you will need cash to do this. The fare is 6 euros per person and half price for children under 18 years old.
A taxi will cost you about €50 and takes approximately 40 minutes. This is the most expensive option however you don’t have to carry your luggage and you will get door-to-door service straight to your hotel. If you are 4 people travelling together then this will be the most convenient option as well as being the best value for money.
Be sure to take a taxi from the official taxi rank outside of the arrivals terminal. It’s clearly signposted. Never take a taxi from someone who approaches you offering you a journey.
Another alternative is the metro station that will give you easy access to the city centre by train. You can travel from Athens airport to Athens City Center (Syntagma).
The trains depart the airport train station frequently. Follow the signs to the train station. It is located adjacent to the airport and is reached by an elevated walkway. A single ticket costs €10 per person.
Where to stay in Athens
Hotel options are endless, making it difficult to choose the perfect one. We have narrowed it down and picked out some of our favorites to help you. We have included top-rated hotels as well as those that are more affordable so there is something for everyone.
Our recommendation is that you stay in a hotel that is at least 4-star standard. This way you will get a good standard of room, convenient amenities and good service such as helping with booking of taxis and a concierge that can advise on local transport and provide city maps etc. Here are our choices:
The Zillers Athens Boutique Hotel
The Zillers offers 10 good-sized rooms. It is located just 10 minuters walk from The Acropolis and 5 minutes from Syntagmas Square, the central square in Athens where you find Parliament House. You can check-in from 3pm and you can even pre-book transport from the airport before you leave home simply by emailing the hotel.
Lotus Center Apartments
If you prefer apartment living then choose the Lotus Center Apartments. These great standard apartments are located in the neighborhood of Monastiraki and have a roof-top garden with stunning views of The Acropolis.
If you walk from Plaka towards the National Gardens you will find the bright white 37-room hotel InnAthens. The hotel is located on a quiet pedestrian street with many shops and restaurants, yet still within walking distance of the Acropolis. The hotels central, open-air atrium is a perfect place to sit and enjoy breakfast before you start your day. A short walk away is Ermou Street, the main shopping street in Athens where you find many of your familiar branded high street names.
The Stanley Hotel
What we love about The Stanley Hotel is their roof-top terrace with pool. With views all around it’s the perfect place for a sunset dip. Expect all the modern facilities you want from a 4-star hotel at The Stanley. It’s a good location, walking distance to many of the main sights.
The Novotel Athens is a well-known hotel in the city center, with easy access to all of the major tourist attractions and local businesses. They have a wonderful roof-top garden, two restaurants and a great family policy where you can include 2 children under 16 in your room booking and they stay and eat breakfast free of charge.
Electra Hotel Athens
Located on Ermou Street, the Electra Athens is a great hotel. It is a short walk from Plaka on the main shopping street that leads to Monastiraki Square. It’s also walking distance to many major sights.
2 days in the city before you cruise from Athens
If we were your guides here is how we would spend 2 days in this extraordinary city.
Day 1: Classic Athens – the essential sights
The Acropolis in Athens is one of the most famous attractions in Greece and was once a fortress that saw many battles over its long history. Start out early and walk this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is surrounded by some of the most iconic buildings in all of Greece.
We highly recommend either starting or finishing your day at The Acropolis. This way you have a better chance of beating the heat and the crowds. So start here or turn this day on its head and finish with The Acropolis at sunset instead. Either way, the majesty of this place is undeniable.
Parthenon Temple, Erechtheion and The Temple of Athena Nike
The Acropolis or high city, was once a place of worship and is, of course, crowned by the famous Parthenon Temple. At the time of its creation in the 5th century BC, Athens was the icon of the golden age. The temple was dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena.
Walk the pathways of the Parthenon then make your way over to the north side of the Acropolis to Erechtheion, famous for its Porch of Caryatids. These are the 6 beautiful columns depicting maidens, carved in intricate detail of marble. Pass through the imposing entrance and you find yourself in the now ruined centre of one of the most important religious sites of ancient Greece.
After visiting Erechtheion, walk towards The Temple of Athena Nike. This temple was built 500 years before the Parthenon, and holds a central role in Athenian history. The temple was dedicated to Athena Nike (Athena Victorious), a goddess who helped Athens win their war against Sparta. She was seen as a protector of both democracy and civilization.
From the Theatre of Dionysos and Odeon of Herodes Atticus to Areopagus
While you are in the Acropolis you will see two theaters, first the Theatre of Dionysus and then Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
The Theatre of Dionysus contains a stage with seats for 12000 people. It was believed that there were five rows of seats divided into three sections on each side of the central aisle.
The Odeon has stunning views over Athens and it can be used as an amphitheater today.
About a 20 minute walk from the Acropolis, you will find the Areopagus. Areopagus is a hill covered in stone seats. It was the site of the first democratic parliament in Athens, Areopagus offers fantastic views especially if you are there at sunset. It can be a bit of a climb and the stones can get slippery so wear good walking shoes!
Hadrian’s Library and Monastiraki Square
From the Areopagus, we walked 20 minutes to Hadrian’s Library. Hadrian’s Library built in AD132 by the Roman emperor himself, was a gift to Athens. The streets from the Areopagus are dusty, hot and lined with street sellers and shops selling all kinds of souvenirs.
Just a short walk from Hadrian’s Library is Monastiraki Square. This is a popular tourist destination, and home to the historic Monastiraki Flea Market. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants around here. The Monastiraki Square metro station is close by with its central transport hub.
As with most areas in Athens, be extra vigilant regarding pick-pockets. They are very clever and you don’t want to be targeted. If you have luggage with you, for example if you are just arriving in the city, we would advise travelling by taxi instead.
From the Acropolis Museum to an evening in Plaka
End your sightseeing day with a visit to the Acropolis museum. Surrounded by crumbling neo-classical buildings and sizzling souvlaki stands, the Acropolis Museum is a must-see for any first time visitor. There are no entrance charges to this museum but you can hire an audio guide at €14. The Acropolis museum houses all the artifacts ever found on the Acropolis. Plus it has a lot of really cool interactive exhibitions.
By now you’ll be hungry. We walked into Plaka, the historic heart of Athens, and sat at one of the many traditional Greek taverns serving good food. The Plaka neighborhood has a village feeling and is a busy, colorful place with plenty of eateries and local craft shops.
Look around and you will find a mix of new tiny boutique hotels popping up where abandoned buildings once stood. And where once stood dusty, grubby Plaka eateries are now trendy cocktail bars and casual dinner venues with shady outdoor seating areas.
Day 2: Cape Sounion and Temple of Poseidon
On your second day get out of the city and visit Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon.
Today is the day we would recommend booking a guided tour with a trusted supplier such as Viator. That way you get both the transport pickup directly from your central Athens hotel, and an excellent local guide to teach you the historical significance about the sights you are about to see.
The drive to Cape Sounion takes just over an hour. Have your camera ready for fantastic views of the coastline along the Attic Peninsular. Perched on the headland are the remains of the Temple of Poseidon. You will have plenty of time to walk around the site if you book a half day tour. And you’ll be back in the center of Athens for a late lunch.
Beat the heat with a hop on, hop off bus tour or rent a bike
As you may have noticed we walked all over the city on this first day. But we were visiting in the fall, and not in high season. This means we beat the worst of the heat. Make no mistake, Athens can be very, very hot in the summer with immense crowds and long queues. If you do visit in high season we strongly advise starting early in the morning to beat the high temperatures and crowds, but also consider booking the hop on/hop off bus.
Use your hop on/hop off bus ticket to explore the area of Athens that you didn’t see on your first day. The bus route will take you around most of the major sights. You can choose your own itinerary at your own pace. And you will not be so exhausted.
Alternatively another fun way to cover more distance than walking is to hire bicycles. And better still, bike with a guide. It’s great fun and there are plenty of good bike paths to enjoy. Plus you get a guided tour of the streets and local life in Athens as well as seeing the tourist sights.
Síntagma Square, The Old Royal Palace & National Garden
At the end of the day, enjoy the peace and quiet with a walk through the National garden. The gardens close at 7pm but then you can head to Síntagma Square, just a short walk away. Síntagma Square sits below The Old Royal Palace, which houses the Hellenic Parliament.
The surrounding area is dotted with many cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal of souvlaki. Finish the evening with a quick visit to Le Greche for a double scoop of gelato or a Ekmek kataifi dessert!
How to get to the Port of Piraeus for your Cruise from Athens
Port of Piraeus is located about 15 kilometers southwest of central Athens. To reach your cruise from Athens from your central hotel you have the following options:
- Taxi: The average cost of a taxi is about 30 euros. The journey takes about 30 minutes depending upon traffic and road works. Your hotel can help you book a taxi to take you to the port. Book this in advance when you first check in. Show your driver the number of the port terminal you need to reach (this information is on your cruise ticket). And the name of your cruise line so they get you as close as possible to your cruise departure point.
- Private Transfer: If you are more than 4 people it could be cost effective to pre book a private transfer before you leave home. You can share the cost as this is the most expensive way to get from Athens city center to the port. Inform your driver of your pickup hotel and which port terminal your ship leaves from (this information is on your cruise ticket). And give them the name of your cruise line so they get you as close as possible to your cruise departure point.
- Metro: A train will take you from Athens center to the port for about 2 euros per person. Get on at Syntagma metro station. The journey time to the metro station at Port of Piraeus is about 20 minutes. When you arrive at the port metro stop, take a taxi to the cruise ship terminal (the walk is about 25 mins, very long if you have a lot of luggage).
- Bus: There are express buses that go straight from the center of Athens, Syntagma to the port. The journey time is about 40 minutes or longer and buses go about every 30 minutes. This is our least favored option as the buses can get crowded and stop very frequently along the way.