The Athens hop-on hop-off Guide

How to explore Greece's capital city and neighbouring Piraeus in just a day or two... 

 

Athens hop-on hop-off bus tour, the Parthenon and Acropolis

Visit Athens and you’ll be reminded that you’re in the country where poetry, music, architecture, medicine, law and politics were all created in ancient times. Greece is also full of mythology, and you’ll find evidence of that, too, when you explore this age-old city.

 

Spreading out from the foot of the magnificent Acropolis, Athens is a bustling, vibrant city, full of reminders of a bygone era. You’ll see it in the columns of the once massive Temple of Olympian Zeus, in the impressive ruins of Hadrian’s Arch, the exquisite marble Panathenaic Stadium, the 6th Century Theatre of Dionysos and the 2nd Century Odeon of Herode Atticus.

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The modern part of the city is a striking contrast to the remains of Greece’s glorious past, but it’s a joy to explore nonetheless, with lots of great shopping, fascinating museums, great nightlife and traditional tavernas...

 

One recommended way to explore Athens’ many fascinating sights, both ancient and modern, is by taking a Hop On Hop Off bus tour.  This comprehensive sightseeing tour has been divided into two separate routes, in order to make the city easier to explore – the Red Route is a 90-minute tour which takes you through Athens’ history, while the Blue Route of Piraeus covers 11 different stops, mostly around Piraeus, and can be interchanged with the red route near the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

 

Just hop off the bus when you want to explore a sight, then hop on again until you find something else you’d like to see in-depth.

 

How much does it cost?

At the time of writing the combined tour (both red and blue routes) cost US$ 29 for and adult and US$ 12 for a child (6-12).

 

The ticket is valid for 24 hours and includes as many hop on, hop off stops as you wish to make. To orientate yourself in the city, you can also take the entire 90-minute Red Route or 70-minute Blue Route tour in one go, or a combination of both, which takes 2 hours 40 minutes. This will orientate you on either or both of the routes, and then you can hop on and off as you please, once you’ve chosen the places you want to visit.

 

FYI: You can buy a ticket for the Red Route ONLY at a slightly reduced rate of US$ 23.50 for an adult and US$ 10.5 for a child, but it really makes sense to fork out a few more bucks and get a ticket that cover both routes.

 

Departure times 

Red Route – Athens Tour: Departs from Syntagma Square Terminal every 30 minutes from 9am to 7.30pm. Tour takes 90 minutes from start to finish.

Blue RoutePiraeus Tour: Departs from Akti Miaouli near the Cruise Ship Terminal every 30 minutes, from 8.20am to 7:15pm in summer. Tour takes 70 minutes from start to finish.

 

Places to see and things to do along the route

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A) The Athens Tour (Red route): From Syntagma Square Terminal to Kotzia Square – 15 stops

 

1. Your tour starts from bustling Syntagma Square, in the centre of Athens. The square is lined with luxury hotels, and it’s also home to the Parliament Building where you can watch the colourful hourly changing of the guards' ceremony.

 

2. Hop off at the Melina Merkouri Cultural Centre to explore this fascinating historic area, which comes alive at night with its many restaurants, bars and tavernas. The Cultural Centre itself has a fascinating permanent exhibition, a recreation of a street in Athens in 1900, with houses, shops and a coffee house. You can also visit the Haridimos shadow puppet museum, located in the basement.

 

A short and nice video guide of "the Plaka" and Anafiotika,

in Athens, by Rick Steves

The Plaka is located right under the Acropolis. If you visit during the day, you can take a look at the beautifully restored houses in the Anafiotika quarter, which is a maze of narrow streets with brightly coloured pots of flowers decorating the rooftops and balconies. You can also visit the 17th Century church of St George of the Rock, as well as the 19th Century church, Agios Simeon.

 

3. Hop off at the next point and visit the New Acropolis Museum, which contains a fine collection of the original marbles and sculptures that used to be in the Acropolis. The museum, which opened in 2009, displays over 4,000 treasures, including artifacts, statues, sculptures and other objects. You can also see ongoing excavations in the lower levels of the museum – one of these is an ancient Athenian area, complete with baths, shops, workshops and houses. Another worth seeing is an early Christian settlement.

 

4. Your next hop point, at the fascinating Acropolis and Parthenon, is sure to be a highlight of your visit to Athens. Rising dramatically over the city, the Acropolis is a sacred rock on which ancient Greek temples were built from as early as 5,000BC and onwards. Nearby you’ll find the Parthenon, the largest Doric temple every built in Greece, and the only one to be created from Pentelic marble.

 

Drag yourself away from the ruins to enjoy the magnificent view of the city and the surrounding temples below. The best time to visit here is in the late afternoon, after 5pm. The light is spectacular and it’s also not as crowded.

 

This is also where you can interchange with the Blue Route (It is same as point No. 7 along the Blue Route – see details below)

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5. Hop off the bus at the next stop to explore the magnificent Temple of Zeus, which took over 700 years to build. There are 15 of the original 104 Corinthian columns remaining, plus one that collapsed in 1852. The temple was built in the 6th Century BC and dedicated to the cult of Olympian Zeus. It was only completed in AD131 by Hadrian.

 

A glimpse of the National Garden in Athens

6. The next hop off point is at the city’s National Gardens, once the Royal gardens. Designed by Queen Amalia, they are a lush oasis, with their winding paths and ornamental ponds. Also here are the Roman Baths which extend into the Gardens - these were built in the 3rd Century AD, destroyed and then rebuilt in the 5th and 6th Centuries.

 

7. You’ll find lots of interest at your next hop off point, the popular Benaki Museum. Here you can see an excellent collection of around 20,000 works of art, some dating from Neolithic, while others are more modern, and come from the 20th Century. Two rooms are dedicated to pieces taken from Northern Greek mansions, including ancient Greek bronzes, gold cups and rare early Christian textiles. The folk art collection is also a treat.

 

8. Next hop off point is at the Panathenaic Stadium, an imposing marble stadium where the first Olympic Games were held, in 1896. The stadium actually dates back much further – it’s built on the site of the original stadium which was used for Panathenaic athletic competitions in the 4th Century BC. In those days, the stadium held 50,000 spectators at a time.

 

9. The bus stops once again in the National Gardens.  This is the same hop off point as number 6, above.

 

10. Hop on or off at Athens’ National Library, located in a lovely neoclassical building. Look out for the corridor leading to the reading room, which has a row of Doric columns on both sides and a glass ceiling; it’s quite spectacular. This building is one of three designed by the Danish architect, Theophil Freiherr von Hansen – the other buildings two are the University and the Academy.

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11. At the next stop, hop off to visit the magnificent National Archaeological Museum, one of the most important museums in Greece, and one of the top 10 museums in the world. You’ll find an unrivalled collection of artifacts uncovered from archaeological sites, including the Mycenaean Collection of gold masks, cups, dishes and jewellery and a stunning collection of Cycladic figurines, which are among the earliest known Greek sculptures ever found – they were created around 2,000BC. The museum also houses the Stathatos Gallery, with stunning exhibits from the middle Bronze Age to the post-Byzantine era, and the Egyptian Art Collection, which covers more than 3,000 years from the predynastic period to Roman times. One of the  greatest treasures on display is a collection of Greek vases and frescoes from the island of Santorini.

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12. Hop off the bus at the next point to explore Athen’s oldest square, Omonoia Square, which is home to a number of fast-food restaurants and cafes, as well as the National Theatre and the Larissa Station. If you go down to the Metro station underneath the square you’ll find see some old photographs of Omonia Square.

 

13. Hop off at peaceful Karaiskaki Square, where you’ll find a number of hotels as well as the city’s central police station.

 

14. Thession Station is the next hop off point along the route. You’ll find some good cafes and tavernas in this area, including some with great rooftop views of the Acropolis.

 

15. Last stop on the Red route is at Kotzia Square in the city centre. The City Hall and the National Bank of Greece are both located here, plus a number of buildings that were built at the beginning of the 20th Century. Kotzia Square is located in Athens’ best shopping area, and one of the city’s most popular pedestrian shopping streets, Eolou Street, is also found here.

 

B) The Piraeus Tour (Blue route): From Cruise Ship Terminal to Municipal Theatre – 12 stops

 

Hop off the bus at stop number 4 on the Red Route outside the Acropolis and Parthenon. From here, you can take a bus to explore Piraeus on the Blue Route. This route is a round trip and stops at two points twice, on either side of the road – you can hop off at the Marriot at point 6 or point 9, as well as get on and off the bus at the Planetarium at points 5 and 10.

 

A short video of the port city of Piraeus

Piraeus has been Athens’ port for over 2,500 years. It’s Athens's major trade port and also the place where tourists embark on boats to visit the islands. The port itself has a number of attractions worth exploring, and on the Blue Route you will be able to hop on and off to visit some of them.

 

1. The Blue Route starts at Akti Miaouli, next to the Cruise ship terminal's main gate. This is the entrance to Athens port, the largest harbour in Europe. Here, cruise ships dock so that their passengers can explore Athens, and also pick up passengers to take them to the beautiful Greek islands.

 

2. The first place on the route that you can hop off is at Lion's Gate, which is the Cruise Ship Terminal 2nd Gate.

 

3. Hop off at this point on the route to explore the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus, where you will find stunning antiquities from Piraeus and southern Greece, including items from a Minoan sanctuary on Kythira. Look out for the four larger-than-life statues on display; one of these is a life-sized statue of Apollo. Also on display are foundations and remaining statues from a small temple of the Mother of the Gods. And in the museum’s grounds you’ll find the remains of a theatre built in the 2nd Century BC.

 

4. The bus stops opposite the Mistral Hotel in pretty Mikrolimano Harbour, whose name means “Little Harbour”. This marina for sailing boats and motor boats is full of some excellent bars and clubs. By day you can enjoy excellent Greek food or fresh fish and seafood at one of the many restaurants and tavernas.

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5. Hop off here to explore the Planetarium, located at the start of Syngrou Avenue. It’s the largest and most technologically advanced digital planetarium in the world, and offers 3D virtual journeys to the galaxy, IMAX movies plus a number of high-tech attractions.

 

6. Your next hop off point is at the Mariott Hotel, along Syngrou Avenue, which is full of excellent nightclubs. The closer you get to the sea, the more luxurious the area becomes. It’s the Athenian Riviera, a lovely seaside area boasting beautiful beaches, plush nightclubs and excellent hotels.

 

A short visit to the Acropolis Museum

7. You can hop off at this stop to visit the excellent New Acropolis Museumsee stop number 3 of the red route above, for details.

 

8. The next stop is at the Acropolis and the Parthenon, which is where you can interchange with the Red Route. Both red and blue route buses stop on the roundabout at the top of the pedestrian street.

 

9. The next stop where you can hop off is at the Mariott Hotel, which is actually the same as point No. 6 of the Blue Route above (only on the other side of the street).

 

10. You can hop off the bus here to explore the Planetarium. Again, this is actually the same as point No. 5 of the Blue Route above (only on the other side of the street).

 

11. The bus stops in Filonos Street to let you explore some fascinating museums in the area, including the Municipal Gallery of Piraeus, housed in the old post office, which contains a number of art treasures. There’s also the Hellenic Maritime Museum, where you can find out about Greece’s maritime history and naval traditions and the Museum of the Electric Railway, celebrating Athens’ underground railway and the history of its light railway trains.

 

12. The last stop on the Blue Route is at the 19th Century Municipal Theatre on Korai Square. This old theatre has hosted a number of important performances and it also houses the History Archives of the City of Piraeus and the P. Aravantinos Museum of Stage Designing.

 

And here is something that is well worth knowing about: Taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is one the best ways to explore any large city, as it saves you lots of precious holiday time and takes you EXACTLY to those places you really want to visit... (Not to mention the great views you can enjoy from the open top...). We have dozens of free "Hop on hop off guides" that cover quite a few cities across the world, including SingaporeHong KongSydney,  MelbourneAucklandShanghai  and many other destinations..... Simply click here to see them in a webpage format (with embeded videos), or here, to view and download them as eBooks (PDF format).

 

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