Sunday, 27 March 2011

From the Port of Piraeus to the legendary Acropolis

At last you are reaching one of the busiest ports of the Mediterranean, Piraeus. You are about to disembark at the Athens Metropolitan area, only a few kilometers away from Acropolis. 

Athens is a lively city with numerous things to do. Still, you will be there for only a few hours, so you will need good navigation tips in order to get the best out of your day. Shore excursions are offered plenty by all cruise lines, thus you need to focus on what you really want to see and do in a city of nearly 4,5 million inhabitants. Otherwise, you can always skip the organized tours and trust your adventurous instincts, spending your time ashore solely following your will.

''The Parthenon''
Shore excursions: Well, if you are a first timer, you have no other choice than going for the legendary Acropolis. The Parthenon is standing on top of a hill in the centre of Athens for 2.500 years awaiting for the myriads of visitors to flock. However, since 2009, the symbol of classicism has a strong partner, the Acropolis Museum, located a few hundred meters away from the famous rock of Parthenon in a beautiful pedestrian area. Most of the packages combine these two, making life easier.

Of course, you won’t leave central Athens before stopping at Plaka, next to the Acropolis area. This is where the old city of Athens lies full of taverns and souvenir shops. There, you may be given the chance to buy some memorabilia and perhaps grab a souvlaki* before you are asked back to your coach.

In case you have been to Athens before and have wandered around Acropolis and Plaka, you are given a good alternative. You may choose the Cape Sounion tour and enjoy the scenic view of the Saronic Gulf before you reach the temple of Poseidon, built in the 5th century BC. However, keep in mind that this tour involves a three-hour aller-retour bus drive. In case of heavy traffic, which is not an unusual phenomenon in Athens, you will be left little time to walk on the steps where ancient Greeks used to pay their tribute to their God of the Seas.

''Cape Sounion''
Shore excursions undeniably cover your basic needs regarding your visit to Athens. Acropolis, its Museum, Plaka and Cape Sounion are included in the packages on offer and your guides will make their best to show you around. However, you should keep in mind that getting stuck with your coach in traffic is always a possibility that will cost you some of your valuable time ashore.

"Getting from the cruise port to the metro station of Piraeus"

Ashore alone: At a first glance, Piraeus seems like a chaotic place. That’s true, it’s a messy situation, but luckily there is nothing worth seeing in that port. You need a taxi ride to the nearest Metro station near the main port. Have in mind that taxis in the cruise dock sometimes aim at taking you directly to Acropolis, not to the nearest metro station. Clarify your destination before getting in. 
Otherwise, you can wait for bus no. 853 just outside the port -after you have grabbed a ticket at the nearest kiosk- that will leave just outside the Metro station.
By grabbing Metro Line 1* you will be driven to Thiseio or Monastiraki station. Getting off at Thiseio you can reach the entrance of Parthenon in 15-20 minutes having walked around the rock of Acropolis in a beautiful pedestrian area.
However, If you are in a hurry to catch all the glimpse of classicism in a day, you 'd better follow one of the first two options.

"From Thiseion station to the Acropolis and the Museum"

There is now also an alternative way to reach the center of Athens. The Hop on - Hop off buses (the yellow line costs 15 euros p.p. -8 euros for children- while the red one costs 22 euros p.p.-9 euros for children) stop just outside the cruise port giving you the chance to reach Athens passing through the seaside zone of Piraeus (aka Marina Zeas and Mikrolimano). The ride is beautiful but if you are in a hurry to catch up all the action around Akropolis and Plaka you should know that HOHO buses in Athens are not traffic free. Bear also in mind that major sights in the center of Athens are situated in a pedestrianized area, so buses cannot provide you any help to move around there.
However, if you have already been in Athens, the yellow or red open air buses give you the chance to see the city from a different perspective.
In case you want to skip Acropolis and go straight to the action, you may stop at Monastiraki station and then wander around the small streets of Plaka, the old town. Endless souvenir shops, taverns and crowded cafeterias are situated up the hillside of Acropolis. There, you can enjoy a coffee –you can order a frappe* or a Greek coffee*-, eat a souvlaki*, or stay longer to have a moussaka* along with tzatziki* and other Greek specialties.

It’ s no secret that going ashore by yourself, leaving the option of organized tours behind, as in many port destinations, saves you money and gives you freedom of choice. Safety conditions in the city are very good, but you should keep in mind that pickpockets tend to get some extras in metro stations and other queues. Most Greeks, especially those of young age, speak English so you can count on them in case you get disorientated or want some further info.

You may also discover that the streets are full of those yellow colored cars that we call taxis. They stop everywhere if they carry no passengers. All you have to do is ‘wave your hand’. They will be your saviors that will get you right to your cruise ship if you happen to realize you are late and have to get onboard timely before she sails. However, before getting in, ask for the final price. Some taxi drivers in Athens have a bad habit of overcharging tourists.Metro is by far the best way to move to and from the centre of the city. Getting a bus should be your last resort, when there is no other option to get to your destination.

*See glossary in alphabetical order.

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