Like many ports that list a famous city for the port when they really stop in a smaller less known place, when ships stop in Athens they actually dock in Piraeus. Our local taxi driver pronounced it Peer-ray. None of the other locals said the city’s name so we don’t know if it was just him or if they all say that. Nobody else we met pronounced it that way, but then again none of them were Greek. The European portion of our cruise on the Carnival Vista started there, but our adventures began before ever reaching the port. We flew into Paris with plans of staying a couple nights there and seeing the sights. When we got there Greece was threatening an air traffic controller strike that would close down the airport in Athens for four days. With our flight to Athens cancelled along with all other flights for the day we planned to leave, we got a last minute flight and left Paris the morning after we arrived without seeing anything other than the local area near our hotel. The strike got called off, but our original flight remained cancelled and getting another that day may have been impossible so we were glad that we left when we did to insure we made it to the ship in time for our cruise.
Arriving in Greece a day early we had no hotel booked for the night, but we had the taxi drop us off at Faros 1 in Piraeus. We had a room booked there for the next two nights and hoped we could add that night on. If not we figured we could find something in one of the other hotels nearby. They had one room available and other than the very noisy all-night bar across the street it’s a great hotel at quite an affordable price.
There are 3 different companies that have hop on, hop off bus tours you can take around Piraeus and into Athens. Along with that at least two of them have little tour trains that go around the port area with stops both near the cruise ship docks and in the more touristy area by the fancy yacht marina where the streets are lined with shops and restaurants. From our hotel it was just a short walk past a beautiful and very Greek church to the waterfront and the stop by the cruise ship docks, where there also were people offering private taxi tours to Athens. The hop on hop off bus tickets are good for two days plus if that bus company operates one of the little trains it includes that too. The taxi tour costs more for just for a few hours, but goes some places where buses can’t.
Athens has quite a variety of historic sites, the most famous being the acropolis which sits prominently on a hilltop overlooking the city. The acropolis has several ruins, most of which were under renovation when we were there. The most famous ruin, the Parthenon looms large over the other less well known temples. It’s amazing how ancient people were able to construct such monumental buildings that last for centuries while modern man with all our technology makes things that don’t last.
The enormous columns are made from smaller sections stacked on top of each other. Perhaps not the best idea since some have fallen, but something that was do-able for their time without any machinery to lift heavy full-sized columns intact.
Changing of the guards is a well-known thing in London, but Athens has their own version of it. We happened to see their guards on a Sunday, which is when they wear their official white uniforms. They guard the monument of the unknown soldier and the presidential mansion and stand completely still except when performing official maneuvers.
While the port area doesn’t have such spectacular ruins, it does have things to see and do including a maritime museum and a seaside walkway through the more touristy area of the town. A lot of people come to Piraeus to catch ferries out to Santorini and other islands.
The marina is quite interesting in the contrast between boats so tiny they almost look like toys and megamillion dollar yachts. There’s also a row of run down fishing boats with the owners on board selling the day’s catch to passers by. There are a lot of shops and cafes in the port area too.
The walkway along the waterfront goes way beyond the marina. People can take a pretty long waterfront walk from the marina nearly to the port area. Much of what looked like a former park was fenced off, perhaps getting excavated for ancient ruins or something. It had a big sign, but it was all in Greek. Once past the fenced off area there are still places on the shoreline where people can sit and enjoy the view or go down to the water to swim.
There were little yellow guys painted on the sidewalk on the main road by our hotel. At the corners they had arrows pointing anyone following the little guys on across to the other side of the street heading toward the marina. Zea Marina with all the yachts, not the cruise ship or ferry ports.
Along the way there’s a museum with a sign outside saying it is a town walk going past a variety of sites to see, something like Boston’s Freedom Trail. The trail was well marked until it got to the marina area where a key corner had a turn in the path and no marker. From there it was pretty easy to pick the trail back up and follow it on through the sidewalk cafes and tourist booths and shops until all of a sudden it ended with a partially worn away arrow pointing to a left turn. Funny how it was well marked everywhere you go straight and not so much at turns. Beyond that faint arrow there were no more markers and a couple blocks up the streets and sidewalks were all dug up undergoing some sort of construction so any markers that once had been there were gone leaving no way to follow the route any farther by sidewalk markers unless they repaint the little yellow guys after finishing the construction.
People stayed all over the Athens area prior to the cruise. We met someone who found a bayview suite for cheap in the touristy marina area. Others stayed near the port as we did, and some stayed in Athens. Hotels in that area generally don’t have shuttles, free or otherwise so getting to the port on cruise day is up to each person. Most go by taxi. While the cruise dock was within walking distance of our hotel, it was pretty far to go with luggage. It was also raining that morning so we took a taxi. Some friends staying in Athens made use of the free second day the hop on hop off bus offered and used that as transportation to the port – which would not have worked for us since the cruise port was the closest stop to our hotel.
The cruise ship port in Piraeus has several terminals and quite a few docks. The little train that goes around Piraeus stops in the same place near one terminal where the hop on hop off buses stop. The marina is within walking distance, but it’s a long walk. Taking the train is quicker and an easier way to find it if that is what someone on a port stop there wanted to do, though most would likely go to Athens instead.
Greece is a nice place to visit and quite affordable. We found food, hotels, and transportation cheaper there than anywhere else we went this trip. Even after adding in their 24% sales tax things still cost less there than elsewhere. Not everyone in Greece speaks English, but we were always able to find at least one person who did.