There is a huge amount to see and do from Piraeus – the port for Athens, Greece but this is a short half day Cruise Port Guide. On our last visit to Athens we had limited time in port and I wanted to share with you what is possible, even in only a few hours.
We only had a short time in port because we were on a Repositioning Cruise from Civittavechia to Abu Dhabi and this was our last stop in Europe! Celebrity Constellation was leaving for Suez at 15.30 and the next port was Aquaba, Jordan three days away, so this was definitely not the day to get too foolhardy and be late back for the ship!! Our plan was to visit Lycabettus Hill – the tallest of the seven hills in Athens. Standing about 300 metres above sea level, it was somewhere we had seen (you can’t really miss it from almost anywhere in Athens) but had never actually visited.
Getting into Athens from Piraeus Port
Constellation berthed in Piraeus at Dock 12, it is a big port and Dock 12 is quite a way out so we took the free port shuttle as far as the Cruise terminal. From here we walked to the train station which is on the far side of the port.
The walk took about forty minutes. The station is easy to find, keep walking round the port and it is right by a large pedestrian bridge across the busy road – look for the big M for Metro.
At Piraeus Metro station there is a ticket office, automatic machines which take cards or cash and translate in English and a Pharmacy alongside the platform which might be handy to know! A whole day ticket for the metro system cost 4.50 Euro and covers you wherever you want to go – we only used it into Athens and back but still thought it excellent value. The ‘Metro’ at this point is actually an overground train so there is lots to see as it wizzes you into Central Athens. It took just over a quarter of an hour which is much faster and probably more reliable than a taxi or coach – Athens traffic can be truly AWFUL!
We changed at Monistraki Station and changed lines onto the ‘Blue’ line, where two stops in the ‘Airport’ direction brought us to the Syntagna Metro Station. There is a big park here and also the War Museum but we turned away from them and climbed up the hill to the the Kolonaki Teleferik Station. Its quite a climb up through a steep residential area and quite amazing that once you reach the ticket office you are really only at the base of Mount Lycabettus! The funicular is at the corner of Aristippou and Ploutarhiou Streets and it runs every 30 minutes. We had to wait a little and then we whizzed up to the top in a tunnel – originally cut through the rocks in the 1965. Metaxa Brandy sponsor a light show in the tunnel to celebrate its 50th Anniversary which was quite a fun addition to our journey to the top of Mount Lycabettus.
Here you are almost twice as high above Athens as the Acropolis so you are looking down at it and there are absolutely spectacular views of Athens. Also a nice cafe and the Orizontes restaurant which would be a superb place to have lunch (I would probably book ahead if you’re planning to do that…). It has a sunny terrace as well as an inside space and is just above just above the top station.
Climbing even higher we reached the Lookout Point and the bright white little 18th Century Agios Georgios – a chapel to Saint George – built on the site of an ancient temple to Zeus. You really do not want to miss either the inside of the church which is very beautiful calm and serene or the absolutely stunning view down to the Acropolis and even right back to the ship at Piraeus!
This is one of the joys of a repositioning cruise – because you are basically ‘out of season’ you tend to find places are less crowded than at other times of year and the air quality can be much better. When Athens is struggling with smog in August I suspect the views would be a lot more restricted! A map on your phone is quite helpful to work out what you are seeing – you should be able to spot the Parliament building and Syntagma Square. There is also a large amphitheatre on the hill which holds all sorts of international events and concerts – you might be lucky enough to spot something going on there too!
You could walk all the way back down the mountain and it looked as if it would be a very pleasant walk down through the pines although I couldn’t have walked up in a million years!!. If you choose that route there is a second church to visit Agios Isadoron – we decided to do the return trip by funicular to save time. You can buy a single or a return ticket from either end of the funicular so you don’t need to make a decision until you get to the top – our return cost 7 Euro each. From the bottom station we headed off to the right – intending to wind our way through the streets and reach the bottom of the hill by the Parliament building.
As we headed downwards we fell across what is probably one of Roman Athens’ most amazing feats of engineering – Hadrian’s Reservoir.
Built in 125AD, when Athens was part of the Roman Empire, by Emperor Hadrian -the same one who built the wall – he must have been quite the engineer! He planned it to meet Athens’ growing need for water and built it by constructing an 12 miles long aqueduct (an underground tunnel through solid rock) from Mount Parnitha, filling the reservoir dug at the base of Mount Lycabettus. It took 15 years to complete the work and the pipes, running down to the town from the reservoir, supplied water to the city for the next 1000 years! Apparently the water is blessed every year by a Greek Orthodox priest in a ceremony on January 6th, Epiphany and although it no longer supplies drinking water to the town the system still functions almost 2000 years after it was built which I think its pretty amazing!! The entrance to the reservoir is in Dexameni (Reservoir) Square, beneath the open-air Cinema Dexameni. The entrance to is behind bars – you can see the remains of the Roman pillars in front go it – there wasn’t any access inside the reservoir building but there are large viewing portals on the western walls that offer a great view inside. Apparently it is sometimes occasionally open for viewing.
We were really pleased to fall across this little piece of history so serendipitously and, having taken some pictures of the entrance, we were even more amazed to turn around and find this wonderful view of the Acropolis through what I suspect is the 2000 year old street back down to the town. I thought it was pretty cool that we just fell across such an amazing historical site completely by accident… if you’re looking for something interesting and unusual in Athens then see if you can find it too!
We walked back down the hill towards the Parliament Building where we came across the end of a demonstration which is a pretty common occurrence in Athens.
It all seemed relatively peaceful so we walked alongside the protesters down past the Parliament Building towards Syntagma (Constitution) Square. The Parliament Building is open for tours which take about and hour and a half – we walked round to the square to admire the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and to catch the ceremonial Changing of the Guard ceremony which takes place every hour.
These soldiers are called the Evzones – the Presidential Guard who also serve as the protectors of the monument. Dressed in traditional national uniform they remain stationary and respectfully silent for one hour before changing with the next guards – the hourly ceremony where they swop over is an unusual and dramatic display. An important ritual with a solemn meaning it is definitely worth seeing. Having avoided making any Monty Python jokes at all we walked down into Syntagma Square itself. There is an Museum hidden inside the Syntagma Metro Station – it features an archeological site that was uncovered in the building of the railway beneath, all protected behind behind glass wall panels.
We walked on down across Syntagma Square and through the street of the bustling Monastiraki area – literally meaning “Little monastery”. This is the old part of Athens, nestled below the Acropolis – a flea market area, full of tourist shops selling souvenirs and Greek delicacies. We grabbed a sandwich to eat on the train and then caught the metro at Monastraki Station back to Piraeus.
There is a Railway Museum actually inside the station if you have time in hand. You’ll find it facing the platforms at as you pull in – we had a peep inside and if you’re into trains you’ll definitely find it of interest!
We took a taxi straight back to the ship instead of walking – for investigative purposes only of course! It cost 4.00 Euro which seemed pretty good value! We were back on board by 2.30 having spent
about 5 hours on our little jaunt into town and back. Having started the day with almost no plan just a very strict time schedule we had had a lovely time and discovered a part of Athens that we really liked a lot!
I hope you enjoyed our account of our time in Athens. I hope it shows you what is possible if you strike out on your own. Friends who took a half day tour were stuck in traffic jams both into and out of Athens and saw very little of the city other than a short break for shopping in Monastraki and a drive to the base of Acropolis Hill. They didn’t feel it was good value.
I would love to hear what you do on your visit to Athens – it would be great if you commented below! If you find any of our information is out of date, or have anything that you think we should add, please let us know!
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