Athens: Venizelos Airport
The Matt Barrett Way to Arrive in Athens
Most people who arrive in Athens will get a cab or public transport and go right into the city to get rid of their bags and recuperate from their flight. But that is not what I do. If you are arriving in the morning or early afternoon there is plenty of time to go to your hotel but the best way to recuperate is to go to the beach. So what I do is contact George the Famous Taxi Driver and arrange a transfer but tell him we don't want to go right into Athens. We want to go to the beach. I pack my bathing suit where it is easy to get to and we head for a nice little beach near the airport. Daskaleio is very close and has a Greek island feel to it, plus there is a nice little fish taverna called Litsa's which is a good introduction to Greek food, in particular fresh fish. You will be surprised at how good you feel after a nice swim, a good meal and a glass of ouzo. You can always see the Acropolis later when you are up for it. And take a look at the photo. Wouldn't you like this to be your first impression of Greece?
Hotels Near the Airport
The Airport's Airport Sofitel, is classified as a four star international standard and lies within walking distance from the Main Terminal Building. The hotel comprises 346 rooms, incorporating en suite bathrooms, radio and television units and refrigerators. Restaurants include a snack and breakfast restaurant and a panoramic restaurant. Additionally, a conference room and meeting rooms with computers, facsimiles and assistance, make the hotel a great business center in the heart of the Airport. Hotel quests can enjoy a health and fitness center, a covered swimming pool, steam and sauna rooms and hair and beauty treatment.
Many people who are just passing through and are looking for a hotel for one night near the airport gasp when they see the prices at the Airport Sofitel. They shouldn't because you can't get any more convenient since all you have to do is walk out of the terminal and cross a small parking lot and you are in the lobby. Sure hanging outat the airport when you could be wandering around the Plaka may seem kind of boring but with restaurants, satelite TV and a nice big IKEA down the street you can find something to do besides sleep between flights.
For those looking for something cheaper and less airport-like there is the Hotel Les Amis in Vari, just 12 kilometers away. But this is not a recommendation, just a fact. For more comfort stay downtown at the Attalos and splurge on a taxi in the morning which may cost you about 10 euros more than a taxi from Vari.
The Holiday Inn Attika Avenue is a 5 minute taxi ride or a few minutes on the metro and is in the price range of the Sofitel. They also advertise a free shuttle to and from the airport. If you want to book these hotels for a night without going through a travel agency you can use the above links. If you are working with a Greek travel agency you can book through them as well.
The nearest coastal hotel to the airport is the Sea Sight Boutique Hotel on the beach at Porto Rafti which is a seaside town east of Athens. It will take you about twenty minutes to get there and it only has 11 rooms so you may want to book it now. Getting in and out of Athens will take you about an hour or so by taxi or bus. The Mare Nostrum Hotel Thalasso is a large 4 star resort hotel that is even closer and overlooks the beach in Vravrona Bay. Otherwise if these are beyond your budget the 2-star Minavra Hotel and Villa Orion Hotel in Voula are across Posidonas Ave from the beach and right on the X96 bus line that goes between the airport and the ferry port of Pireaus as are the two non-smoking Parthenis Hotel and the Plaza Hotel. These hotels are also close to bus stops to Athens and Glyfada as well as the coastal tram. If you want to really splurge than go to the The Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort and be right on the beach and you may not even feel the need to go to the islands and you will still be within an hour of downtown Athens by bus, though if you can afford to stay here you will probably not mind the price of a taxi or limo.
The Avra Hotel in Rafina is now advertised as the Avra Airport Hotel and it is closer to the airport than Athens, maybe a 20 minute taxi ride on a good day but a taxi won't be much cheaper than one from central Athens and if you are using a transfer it will cost more. What makes it convenient is that you can stay there overnight and the ferries to many of the Cyclades leave from there. But don't be fooled into staying here because they include the word 'Airport' in the name of the hotel. They might as well call it the Avra Eiffel Tower Hotel.
If staying close to the airport is important then splurge on the Airport Sofitel which is right at the airport. It is cleaner, better, well-run and you will save at least 100 euros in taxis you would have taken back and forth to the city. To save 10 minutes by staying at the Avra, Ammos or Les Amis is the worst option between the choice of staying at the airport, 'near' the airport, or in downtown Athens.
As I said before I would rather be in the Plaka or downtown, unless you don't have much time and getting back and forth to Athens seems too much of an inconvenience. If you do the math you will discover that if you stay at a centrally located hotel like the Hotel Attalos, and take a taxi to the airport, it should still cost you less than staying at the Sofitel or the Holiday Inn. You can also walk 5 minutes to the Monastiraki metro station and spend a whole lot less.
For a listing of recommended hotels see Hotels in Athens
Note: A street taxi driver will sometimes ask you where you are staying and then tell you this is not a good hotel and convince you to let him take you somewhere else. This is not because you have been booked in a bad hotel but because he is paid to bring customers to a certain hotel and he is paid by the head. (It is called in Greek kamaki which means harpoon.) They do the same thing with restaurants. This does not mean he is taking you to a bad hotel or that it is any worse than the hotel you planned on staying at. But it is a hotel he works for.
Changing Money in Athens
In case you have not figured it out yet Greece uses Euros. If you were able to change money in the states, then there is no point in hanging out in the airport when Athens awaits you so move on out. I usually only change about $100 in JFK. If you are using a pre-arranged taxi transfer you won't even need to change any money until you get into the city. If you didn't change money in the states, don't worry. You can change it at the airport. If there are two of you, one can change money while the other gets the luggage. The rates seem pretty much the same whether you are in the airport or downtown. I usually change $100 for starters and check rates at banks and currency exchange stores when I get to the city. There is even a currency exchange in the baggage carousel area and several once you get through customs. Most people use ATM machines now and those in Athens and the islands have instructions in English and are easy to use. They accept VISA, Mastercard and AMEX.
When you get to downtown Athens you can change money at the banks and money changing shops around Syntagma and the Plaka. The rates are usually posted at each location along with commission rates. Check the daily newspapers: Athens News, USA Today, and International Herald Tribune for the official rates too. See Tom Mazarakis Greek Money Tips
According to Tom...
You will always get a better exchange rate here in Greece over what you will get in the U.S. But, of course, the commission that banks charge usually wipes out that difference, unless you exchange over $3,000.00 each time you go to the bank. On the other hand, if you buy Euros traveler's checks, then the bank will charge you a fee for cashing them. It's all a "lose-lose" situation. The only way to beat them is to come to Greece with cash US Dollars and exchange them for Euros at "Cambios" that often do not charge any commission. These exchange offices usually post lower exchange rates than most banks, but the fact that they don't charge a commission more than compensates for the slightly lower exchange rate. Note that not all "Cambios" are "commission free". The ones at the airport all charge hefty commissions. You will find the "no-commission" exchange offices in the center of Athens and in most major tourist destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini.
American banks charge their customers rather hefty fees for the privilege of using their Visa or Mastercards for the purpose of making cash advances through ATM machines in Greece. This is why you should avoid making many withdrawals of small cash amounts like you may do at home. It is best if you make a relatively large cash withdrawal of about Euros 1000 in one ATM transaction rather than 10 withdrawals of Euros 100 a pop! You must remember that you typically are charged an "International Withdrawal Service Fee" by your bank and then the local Greek bank charges an additional local service fee on top of that.
This tip comes from a reader: When traveling from the US, you can get a visa/atm card from AAA. You "put money down" on it and you use it as a regular credit card. When used at an ATM, you recieve local currency. There is the usual ATM charges, but it much less than trying to exchange money. Also, it is not tied to your bank account or other credit cards.
As for other methods of money carrying according to Tom Mazarakis, the Greece Guru's Guru on the subject of debit cards "I believe that most North American debit cards will work in Greece. However, you absolutely MUST inform your bank of the fact that you will be traveling to Greece and that you would like to be able to make use of your debit card in Greece. Some debit cards will not work in Greece at all, but in any case, most North American banks have a default setting for all their debit cards that blocks "International Usage". This is done so as to protect their customers from international fraud. The bank must remove this block from your account so that you will be able to use the card."
The Greek Islands: To Fly or Not to Fly
If you are trying to decide whether to fly straight through to the islands or take a ferry to the islands the next day this may help you. You will need at least 3 hours between your arrival in Greece and your island departure. This is not because the airport is large or confusing. It isn't. Once you walk out of international arrivals it is a 5 minute walk to domestic departures. But you have to plan for the possibility that your flight may be delayed, in which case you may miss your island flight and then you will need a hotel in Athens for that night and you may be charged a cancellation fee for your hotel on the island. (Using a Greek Travel agency to book hotels and flights will be helpful in this situation because then you just phone them, explain what happened, and they find you a hotel in Athens and hopefully convince the island hotel that it was not your fault that you missed the flight to the island.)
Keep in mind that if you are coming from the USA after a 10 hour flight you may not want to hang out at the airport for 2 hours or more and then take another flight, even if it is just an hour. You may want to go into Athens and spend the first night there and take a ferry the next day to the island when you feel like a human being again.
Once you are in Athens it is easier to take a ferry to an island then it is to fly, mainly because you don't have to go all the way back top the airport and go through the lines and check-in situations that are required of flying. If you are going to Mykonos for example it is a 30 minute
flight. But it may take you an hour
and a half to get to the airport if
traffic is bad, plus you need to be
there an hour before your flight to
check in. Then provided there are no
delays when you land in Mykonos you
have to get into town or wherever your
hotel is which will take another 30
minutes including getting your bags.
Total time: Three and a half
So...if you are making a connecting flight
to the island on the day you arrive
from Greece then make sure you have plenty
of time between flights in case you
are delayed. But if you are planning
to spend the first day or so in Athens
take ferries or highspeeds.
Or what some people do is arrange a taxi transfer and combine it with a tour of Athens that leaves you at the ferry. Then you just put your luggage in the trunk and visit the sites of Athens, have a late lunch and then catch your ferry. I recommend booking a cabin.
Another valuable piece of advice is to save the Athens portion of your trip for the end. That way you give yourself a buffer to protect you against missing your flight home in case your ferry is delayed due to weather or a strike. (It happens). You can spend that first night in Athens and see the Acropolis and then save your shopping, museums, and other archaeological sites in and around Athens for the last 2 or 3 days of your trip. I suggest at least two nights in Athens at the end. Three nights if you plan to visit Delphi or other destinations on the mainland.
Meeting in Athens at the Airport
If you are looking for a meeting place for friends and family arriving on a later flight the perfect spot is the Kafeneo, the cafe just to the right of the exit when you leave the international baggage claim. Its just across from the Greek National Tourist Organization's Desk where you can get ferry schedules and free brochures on the islands and other destinations in Greece. You can get free maps too. Another place to meet which is more pleasant, especially if you have a long wait, is the Olive Tree Restaurant which is by the McDonalds, up the escalator from the main shopping area. There is a wireless cafe next door and the food at the Olive Tree is surprisingly good.
There is a lot of info here and some of it may be confusing so if you have any questions just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Arriving in Athens:
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