When traveling to a country with a broken & feeble economy and an assortment of other social issues, safety is something that is easily compromised. My response to that is Preparedness & Knowledge. If you are practicing Safe & Smart traveling practices, you are setting yourself up for a great adventure!
Athens is most compared to NYC, because it has the same dirt and grit. Bathrooms are yucky and graffiti everywhere. Subways lead little to be desired. Only difference is that Athens is taking on refugees from neighboring countries that are experiencing hard times, has historical ruins and everyone speaks Greek.
If you have traveled to New York City then you are aware that safety is an issue there as well. For instance, when I worked in Manhattan (summer of 2007), I was hit by a car that quickly drove off. Now my body didn't fly up into the air and I didn't lose my sneakers, but he clipped my knee and I fell onto the hood of his car bracing myself. He then drove off after giving me the bird. At another occasion, I was targeted by pick pockets on my way to work and almost had my phone stolen from me by what appeared to be a couple (but really two people working together). All this to say, safety is an issue here at home. In both of those instances I had my head in the clouds, which was a learning experience.
That summer was a huge learning curve for me, as I did many things that would now make me cringe. I got into a VAN - yes you read right, A FREAKING VAN to negotiate down a China Town purse. I mean STUPID!
All this to say, there are many precautions and ways to be safe and smart in any city, but here are some things to be aware of in Athens.
1.) DONT STAND OUT - Blend in as best you can. Don't speak much on the trains, because it highlights that you are a foreigner. People ride the trains on popular tourist stops looking for people that stand out.
- DONT BE THE LOUD & OBNOXIOUS AMERICAN! Save the laughter and giggles for your destination. If you don't, then you are begging to get ripped off!
- DONT BE FLASHY - Save the crazy clothes and jewelry for an island off the coast. Again, just blend into city life.
2.) FANNY PACKS NOT BACKPACKS - Fanny packs are what everyone uses in Athens and all around the world for that matter! With pickpockets looming, it is the safest place to stow your day's cash. Never carry anything in your back pockets. I got mine last minute at Walmart for $10.97 and it was AWESOME!
- What should I carry on me daily? A copy of your passport (Leave the original in your hotel safe). No more than 200 Euros. Phone and a battery pack is recommended. a small map of the day's adventures, just in case your phone goes out and data is not working.
3.) BE KNOWLEDGEABLE - KNOW WHERE THE US EMBASSY IS !!! This is your home away from home in the case something happens.
US Embassy is located on the northeast quad of Athens. Subway Train to Ambelokipi and walk south on Dim. Soutsou past the hospital on your right.
*****People are typically rude everywhere you go, so don't be offended. You are going to inconvenience them because there is a language barrier, which costs them time, so you will just get on their nerves*****
Taxi's are going to rip you off if you seem unsure of your destination. In my opinion you have more control if you ride the train, but if you are determined to Taxi everywhere then download the app: Taxibeat. This is a reputable service that prides themselves in trust.
AIRPORT Transfers - I recommend purchasing a transfer ahead of time so that you are all squared away once you arrive. If not, you will most likely be overcharged. I used the link below and would use them again, and they are in many cities worldwide!
I payed 75 Euro for my roundtrip transfer From the airport to the hotel. They met me with my name on a card and gave me the complete tourist lowdown on the city. They answered any questions and spoke english, which was nice after a long trip!
WELCOM PICKUPS - https://www.welcomepickups.com/
SUBWAY TRAINS - An all day unlimited pass is 4.50 Euro per person and anyone under 18 travels for free. You can also purchase a week's travel pass.
Good Metro stops for fun & exploring:
Monastiraki: Walk the market. You can venture from here to the Acropolis for a longer foot travel. You can also start here and walk to and through the Plaka.
Acropoli: A more direct stop for the Acropolis, but I much enjoyed taking the streets because you see more of the culture and other ruins along the way.
Syntagma: Syntagma Square has shopping, restaurants, and at the Parliament building. There is a changing of the guards every hour, on the hour. Riots & marches tend to happen here, so make sure you keep your distance if you notice picketing or people handing out material.
Things to See & Buy :
1.) Aeropagus Hill (Mars Hill) - Acts 17 Paul reasoned with the Greeks. This was my headlining activity, my must do! I had the best time hiking a hike that Paul did in his day. It brought the scriptures to life as my little family read them together. We brough back some rocks so not to forget the weight of that place. It was interesting people making out on the mountain, smoking weed, beer cans all over on what feels like Holy ground to me. It saddened me to think that maybe Paul is still sad for a place where he once ministered. This is a place that helped bring the Bible to life, and definitely a must!!
2.) Acropolis - Historical ruins of great proportion. It is mind blowing that these B.C. structures still stand!! You can see all 7 sites for 60 Euros per person, but it is a better deal to take the long walk up, because you walk right past them and get great pictures for free. Only pay for Acropolis tickets at 20 Euro per person. It is the headlining site anyways. There are bathrooms to the right and around the corner of the entrance gate and a little frozen drink stand if you are out there in the summer months.
3.) The Plaka - Walk through the original old town. Tiny streets with lots of history. Also a great place to eat!
4.) Monastiraki Market - I bought a pair of 100% Leather handmade sandals for 25 Euro. You can't buy anything like that here in the states for less than $80!!!!
Warning: There is alot of falic art everywhere... Giggling and making a big deal makes it obvious that its new to you, which says that you may good be a tourist target. So, reign in the googly eyes and hold back the 3rd grade giggles. ;)
5.) McDonalds - Crazy I know, but I always try it wherever I go. Not impressed with the Athens location, but still worth a taste. The ones in Asia are the best, but its kind of interesting to see the menu differences in different countries!
6.) Bakery - I think i went in a bakery about 3 times a day. It was a sinful trip, because I had an exorbitant amount of butter cookies, chocolate croissants, danishes donuts, specialty cakes and fresh breads. I don't in the least regret a single bite. Beneath Bakery in Omonoia station was grand and beautiful!
OBSERVATION : Cigarettes are everywhere - Inside & Outside. People give the term "chain smoker' a whole new meaning to me. They roll their own cigarettes at the table and light those unfiltered cig stix loud and proud. 7 out of 12 tables were consistently smoking throughout the course of their breakfast. Just an interesting thing I noticed, as it seems to be a European thing - Not just Greece.
So as you dream of all the places you could go, know that you can travel safely to all parts of the world as long as you use proper caution and practice smart traveling. For those looking to venture to Greece and the islands, just email me any questions you may have!
Here are some more pictures that highlight our Athens experience: