From Athens by ferry to the Cyclades islands

Who doesn't know the Acropolis of Athens from television or school lessons? We usually prefer nature to the city and rarely take city breaks. But for some historically important cities, we like to make an exception. Feel free to read our experiences from Rome. But this is about our three-week trip through Greece. We booked a flight from Munich to Athens and visited the Greek capital right at the beginning of the trip. From the port of Athens – Piraeus – there are excellent and reliable connections by ferry to the islands of the Cyclades, which we then used for our island hopping on the Cyclades. The ferry is one of the most important means of transport in the country for Greece – as an island state. Athens is the starting point for ferry traffic to the islands of the Cyclades such as Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Tinos, Milos, and many more.

Arrival to Athens

From Germany you travel to Athens in the vast majority of cases probably by plane. Depending on where in Germany you are departing from, the flight to Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens takes a little more or less than two hours. The Athens airport is located east of the city, so from there you can either take a taxi to the city (about 25 €), the bus, Uber or the metro. The journey by car to the center takes about 45 minutes. The metro to the center costs 9€ and takes about 45 minutes.
Of course, you can also reach Athens by car via the Balkans or by car ferry from Italy. We have not yet had any experience with this.

Accommodation in Athens

We had chosen a hotel in the center of Athens – close to the famous Acropolis. For this we have chosen the district Psyrri.

Psyrri is considered the nightlife district of Athens with many bars, taverns and restaurants. Psysrri is very centrally located and is within walking distance of Monastiraki Square at the foot of the Acropolis. Here is also the beginning of the pedestrian zone with many great shops and cafes, restaurants and bars.
We had the best time at Ivis4 Boutique Hotel gewohnt, das uns sehr gut gefallen hat.

Food in Athens

As everywhere else, the restaurants in Athens near the major sights are significantly more expensive than off the beaten track. In order to compare the restaurant prices at a glance, we have invented the Tsatsiki index for us here. In the menus, Tsatsiki is always on the first page among the appetizers or cold appetizers and can therefore be found quickly without much leafing and every Greek tavern has Tsatsiki in the program. So we were able to quickly find out whether the restaurant is priced in our desired range. Of course, the portion sizes also vary, but the Tsatsiki index is only an indication and does not claim to be infallible. So far, the Tsatsiki index has never let us down. We had price ranges from €2.80 to €7.00.
Especially on weekends you should better book in the Athens restaurants, because then it gets really crowded.
In restaurants with a view, it is also common that guests who also eat food are allowed to take a seat in the first row and guests who only take cool drinks are transported to the second row.

Food tour in Athens

The best way to explore Athens culinarily before taking the ferry to one of the Cycladic islands is definitely a food tour with Athenian Tours [ad].

Our guide Tassos introduced us to the traditional food of the capital in a tour from 10:00 to 14:00. After meeting at the Syntagma metro station, we set off on an informative and above all fun tour with Tassos, who first took us to an artisan bakery where we could taste various traditional pastries with sweet or savoury fillings. I (Dominik) preferred the savoury version with spinach and cheese and Kathrin the sweetness with Sweet Cream.
Next, we got extremely tasty sesame rings – koulorades – at a street sale.

Afterwards, Tassos introduced us to the Greek coffee culture. We got strong mocha in a small copper carafe heated in hot sand.

At noon there were Greek specialties from the Attica region such as ham, salami, cheese, dried fruits, homemade chutney and tsipouro schnapps in the backyard of a specialty shop. So far, every single stop has convinced us that Greece has a lot to offer in culinary terms.

For dessert we had fresh sweet fruits from the market. Afterwards we strolled through the fish and meat market and admired the hustle and bustle. Afterwards we were able to taste different varieties of olives and were very surprised by the variety of tastes.

At the spice market came our highlight: caramelized peanuts with sesame and roasted pistachios, as you have never eaten them before.

At the end of the day there were souvlaki in the Pita and Loukoumades. Fully eaten and satisfied, we had to take a small nap in the hotel afterwards. Tassos was a great guide who showed us much more than just Greek food. We learned about the history of Athens and got a few insider tips on how to get them only from locals.

Acropolis Tour in Athens

We did a second tour with Athenian Tours – the big Acropolis tour with Alexia. This tour also takes about four hours and is super insightful and exciting.
It is simply incomprehensible what achievements were achieved here in Athens more than two millennia ago. You really feel transported to this time when Alexia tells like this. 

Finally, we go to the Acropolis Museum. This modern building is the most beautiful museum I have ever seen. A perfect combination of modern architectural style and preservation of historical elegance. Large stained glass windows allow a breathtaking view of the Acropolis. Really a great end to the successful tour.

In any case, remember to take a headgear with you, because the sun burns mercilessly in the summer and there is little shade on the most famous hill of the city. Comfortable shoes and water are also essential. On the Acropolis there is twice the possibility to refill drinking water. So take a bottle with you.

Getting around Athens

We mostly moved around Athens on foot. If the location of the property allows, we are happy to do soak up more of the city and its flair.
Otherwise, you have the opportunity to fall back on the well-known Hop on Hop off buses. There are various providers and the tickets are usually valid for two days. Athens also has a good metro network and the tickets are very cheap. The metro from the center (Monastiraki) to the port to Piraeus costs 1.20€ and takes about 20 minutes. Taxis are also a comfortable and reasonably cheap way to get around Athens. From the center to the port in Piraeus we paid 15€, which was significantly cheaper than with a transfer arranged by the hotel.

Island hopping: by ferry from Athens to the Cylcades

In addition to its extraordinary role as the spiritual center of antiquity and cosmopolitan city of the present, Athens is the starting point for all ferry traffic to the Greek islands. If you want to go to the Cyclades, the islands in the Ionian Sea, the Aegean Sea, the islands of the Dodecanese, the Sporades or other destinations on the mainland, the ferry is the most convenient and cheapest means of transport. In addition to the large ferries, there are also some providers of express ferries, which are usually much faster but also more expensive. So far, we have mostly travelled with the ships of Blue Star Ferries and have always been very satisfied. Especially the large car ferries are very stable in the water, so that you can enjoy your trip to the Greek islands without nausea even with a little more swell. Since in the Greek summer the sea is usually calm and the sun is shining, we recommend looking for a place on the large decks outside the stern.
Basically, there are three categories on board the ships. If you book Economy, you will look for a free place in the Economy area. Secure a seat quickly, otherwise you have to make do with the ground when the ship is fully booked. Then there is the Airseats category. These are large upholstered seats like in an airplane – only more comfortable and wider with more distance, which are assigned to you by seat number. Here the seat is also safe for you. The highest category is Business Class. For longer trips overnight, you can also book a sleeping cabin. We have not yet tested either Business Class or Cabins. On the ships you will also find several coffee and snack bars, as well as a restaurant. The coffee is excellent.

Ferry from Athens – Piraeus to Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos and Tinos

There are three ferry ports around Athens: the largest and most frequented port of Athens is Piraeus. Piraeus is relatively close to the center of Athens and can be reached by metro in about 20 minutes for 1.20€. From the port of Piraeus, ferries depart for all Greek islands. Usually the ferries rattle off several islands one after the other and then drive back the same route. The Blue Star ship "Naxos", for example, had the daily route Piraeus – Paros – Naxos – Santorini – Naxos – Paros – Piraeus in the summer of 2021. Of course you can also take the ferry from Athens – Piraeus to Mykonos via Syros and Tinos. The journey takes around four hours. The ferry from Athens to Santorini starts as mentioned in Piraeus and calls at Paros and Naxos before reaching Santorini. The ferry to Santorini takes a good six hours.

Ferry from Athens – Rafina to the Greek Islands

Also from the port in Athens – Rafina you can take the ferry to the popular islands of the Cyclades such as Mykonos, Paros, Naxos or Paros. You can also reach Tinos, Andros or the more distant islands such as Crete, Rhodes or Kos in the Dodecanese region by ferry from Rafina. Of course, availability varies depending on the season. Even though rafina ferry port is much further from the center of Athens than Piraeus, Rafina may be the better choice in many cases. With a 30-minute drive from the International Airport and proximity to the northern Cycladic islands such as Tinos, Rafina is a good place to do so.

Ferry from Athens – Lavrio to the Greek Islands

Lavrio is located far south of the Attica Peninsula – about 40 kilometers from Athens airport and about 60 kilometers from the city center. From Lavrio, ferries prefer to go to Kea, Kythnos, Serifos and Sifnos. But you can also easily reach other smaller islands from Lavrio.

Conclusion

For us, Athens with its lively city center and with its outstanding historical significance was an absolute highlight of our Greece trip. Also as a starting point for island hopping to the islands of the Cyclades, such as Paros, Naxos, Mykonos, Santorini, a city trip to Athens is perfect.

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