Cruise from Athens – the essential guide

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 love 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, the principal seaport of Athens, the capital of Greece. A cruise from Athens is the perfect way to see the best of the Mediterranean without 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 some fantastic excursions while you’re there. Make sure 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 visiting this ancient city will leave you feeling like you have traveled back through time. The city has more than just historical buildings that make it so fantastic; it also has a vibrant atmosphere and great food!

In this article, we 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, the 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 easy to find your way around (pick up a street map from your hotel concierge)—an orderly grid of small, narrow side streets are between the main avenues. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this lively city before your cruise from 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 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. Currently, the fare is 6 euros per person and half price for children under 18.

Taxi

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 get door-to-door service straight to your hotel. If you are four people traveling together, this will be the most convenient option and offer good value for money.

Be sure to take a taxi from the official taxi rank outside of the arrivals terminal. It’s signposted. Never take a cab from someone who approaches you offering you a journey.

Metro

Another alternative is the metro station that will give you easy access to the city center 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 some of our favorites to help you. We have included top-rated hotels and those that are more affordable, so there is something for everyone.

We recommend 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 services such as helping with booking 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 ten good-sized rooms. It is just a 10-minute 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 3 pm and 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 good standard apartments are located in the neighborhood of Monastiraki and have a roof-top garden with stunning views of The Acropolis.

Hotel InnAthens

Walking from Plaka towards the National Gardens, you will find the bright white 37-room hotel InnAthens. The hotel is on a quiet pedestrian street with many shops and restaurants, yet still within walking distance of the Acropolis. The hotel’s central, open-air atrium is perfect for sitting and enjoying 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

We love The Stanley Hotel’s rooftop terrace with a 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 central sights.

Novotel Athens

The Novotel Athens is a well-known city center hotel with easy access to all major tourist attractions and local shopping. They have a wonderful roof-top garden, two restaurants, and an excellent family policy where you can include two children under 16 in your room booking, and they stay and eat breakfast free of charge.

Electra Hotel Athens

Located on Ermou Street, Electra Athens is one of our favorite hotels in Athens. It is a short walk from Plaka on the main shopping street that leads to Monastiraki Square. It’s also within walking distance to many major sights.

Two days in the city before your cruise from Athens

Here are the best ways to spend two days in this extraordinary city, starting with the iconic Acropolis.

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 early and walk to this UNESCO World Heritage site, surrounded by some of the most iconic buildings in 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 was 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 six beautiful columns depicting maidens carved in the intricate detail of marble. Pass through the imposing entrance, and you find yourself in the now ruined center of one of ancient Greece’s most important religious sites.

After visiting Erechtheion, walk towards The Temple of Athena Nike. This temple was built 500 years before the Parthenon and is central to 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 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 five rows of seats were divided into three sections on each side of the central aisle.

The Odeon has stunning views over Athens and can be used as a theater 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. The Library, built in AD132 by the Roman emperor himself, was a gift to Athens. The streets of 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 popular tourist destination is home to the historic Monastiraki Flea Market. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants around here. The central transport hub of Monastiraki Square metro station is nearby.

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, when first arriving in the city, we advise traveling 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.

The museum houses all the artifacts ever found on the Acropolis, together with great interactive exhibitions. Book tickets before you leave home to avoid a long wait. Buy your tickets on the official Acropolis Museum website.

By now, you’ll be hungry. Walk into Plaka, the historic heart of Athens, and choose 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.

All around, you will find a mix of new tiny boutique hotels where abandoned buildings once stood. And where once stood dusty, grubby Plaka eateries are now trendy cocktail bars and casual dining 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.

We recommend booking a guided tour with a trusted supplier. That way, you get the transport pickup directly from your central Athens hotel and a local guide to teach you the historical significance of the sights you are about to see.

The drive to Cape Sounion takes just over an hour. Have your camera ready for fantastic coastline views 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

Athens can be very hot in the summer with immense crowds and long queues. If you visit in high season, we strongly advise starting early in the morning to beat the high temperatures and groups, but also consider booking the hop-on/hop-off bus.

Use your 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 itinerary at your own pace. And you will not be so exhausted.

Alternatively, renting bicycles is another fun way to cover more distance than walking. 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

Enjoy the peace with a walk through the National Garden. The gardens close at 7 pm, 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 has many cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a souvlaki meal. Finish the evening with a quick visit to Le Greche for a double scoop of gelato or an Ekmek kataifi dessert!

How to get to the Port of Piraeus for your Cruise from Athens

Port of Piraeus is located about 15 km 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 cab 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 four people, pre-booking a private transfer could be cost-effective 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 the 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, which is very long if you have a lot of luggage).
  • Bus: Express buses go straight from the center of Athens, Syntagma, to the port. The journey 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.

Need more tips on cruising? We’re here to help!

Package Cruise – Greek Isles from Athens

Cruise packing list essentials – our best tips

11 Top tips for booking a cruise and avoiding common mistakes

The 8 best cruise ships for families and kid-friendly cruises

Questions to ask to kick-start your planning

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..