Europe > Greece > Athens
See: Why rent a car in Athens ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments
(All of these pages will look a lot nicer when they are tidied up later in the spring)
Your key questions for any destination:
Do I need a car in Athens?
Strictly speaking, there are very few travel destinations anywhere in the world where it's absolutely essential to rent a car in order to see the main points of interest.
That's why we give you loads of ratings scales from 1 to 10, rather than just yes or no answers!
- The need question is generally answered by looking at public transport (transit) options. Is it good enough for visitors who are happy to consider using it?
- How many public transport routes are there, and are they mainly rail or road (bus) based?
- Is public transport fast, frequent, safe, reliable and cheap?
- Does public transport actually take you to the places you'll probably want to see?
Is it worth hiring a car in Athens?
This question is usually more about value for money. For this, we look at Athens car hire options, and consider how rental costs compare with using transit.
How far are you likely to drive anyway, and how much might you expect to spend on fuel, road tolls, parking and any other charges. We compare Athens with other destinations locally and around the world.
This is obviously much more of an issue if you are planning a longer road trip than it is on a small island.
Should I rent a car in Athens?
This is basically a merging of the two questions. Everything else might be about giving certain facts about the costs of car rental or using public transport in Athens, but answering this question is very much a matter of opinion.
Athens might have famously tried to reduce its horrendous traffic problems by only allowing either order or even number plated cars to drive on any given day of the week, and the city also invested heavily in a metro system in the run-up to the 2004 Olympic Games. So is this somewhere that you even need to consider getting a hire car?
Please note that Carornocar.com is currently being revised and updated in preparation for the Summer 2022 (northern hemisphere) tourist season.
We do not intent to include detailed covid information, nor do we intend to suggest hiring a car, just because public transport might still have a mask requirement. Our advice will be based on the same criteria we've always used, ie whether or not you can get a better travel experience, or at least a better value one, by choosing not to hire a car.
Athens is in car rental price band: 2/10 (1 = cheapest car rental location)
General comment - based on price alone, is it worth renting a car in Athens?
Yes. Very cheap car rental by global standards.
Can you expect big swings in car rental prices in Athens between the peak and the off peak season?
8/10 (0 = stable prices)
Driving score: 5/10
Non car score:2/10
(0 = car hire not advised / 10 = rental car essential)
General comment -
This Athens car hire guide looks at whether or not to get a car either for a short break or for a slightly longer holiday involving travelling around between different places. For visitors from elsewhere in Europe, it can be just as easy to fly to one of the Greek islands and then to either stay locally or island hop without needing to get a car. Travellers from further afield will almost certainly head through or to Athens International airport.
This page is aimed at visitors who want to get out of the city of Athens.
Why? Visiting Athens using a hire car
Why do you need a car in Athens ?
Reasons why you should rent a car in Athens
- If you rent a hire car in Athens, you will be exempt from the restrictions for 40 days, which should be more than enough to explore the city and the local area.
- Meteora – the stunning monasteries of the Meteora region should be the highlight of any trip to Greece, and if you need a preview, just watch the closing scenes of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Naturally, given how these monasteries perched high on top of rocky promontories, this is a place to go hiking to take advantage of the rudimentary lift systems that operate in some of the monasteries.Yet there is still the small question of getting to Meteora. The train ride from Athens to Kalambaka goes through some pretty impressive scenery and over one or two great bridges, but there are only three trains each day, and only one of these is direct. So for even a brief excursion to Meteora by train, you will probably have to spend two nights there, whereas you could visit this area as part of a long day excursion in a hire car.
- Rattling railways – Greece could never really claim to be one of Europe’s great Railway destinations, given that the population is relatively sparse and the terrain is unforgiving, yet even on those lines that do remain open following budget cuts, service is slow and sporadic. Unless you are someone who loves train travel, sticking to the roads is going to be the easiest option.
- Central what? If you are going to travel from Athens by train, bear in mind that not all surface train services run through the main Athens station (often called Larissa station after its original name, and the name of the adjacent metro station).
There’s no direct metro connection from the airport to here either.Surface trains from the airport will take you to the new Athens Archarnes Railway Centre (SKA), which is being billed as a new “central” station, although it is out in the suburbs and has no metro station.
Trains from the airport continue from here towards Kiato on the Peloponnese peninuslar, but the line goes nowhere near central Athens.
- Peloponnese – there are lots of great driving opportunities around the Peloponnese peninsula, including the Corinth canal and the engineering marvel of the Rio-Antirio bridge to complement the natural splendours. I’d like to say that this is also a great area to explore by train, but sadly, the narrow gauge Peloponnese railways have fallen victim to Greek austerity cuts. There is little chance of them being reopened any time soon. You can at least take the train as far as Kiato, but from there you’d have to go to Patra and beyond by bus.
- Corinth canal – if there’s one particular piece of engineering which demonstrates Greek maritime prowess it must surely be the Corinth canal. Perhaps not as famous as its sticky Panamanian brother, nor anything like as timesaving, the Corinth canal still looks far more impressive than any other as it has been cut into its own deep but narrow canyon. This has been done without the need for any locks. Although there are hourly trains, and plenty of coach tours from Athens which will give you a view of the canal, visiting this location in a hire car will let you see things in your own time. You can also use the canal is the starting point for a driving tour around the Peloponnese.
- Rio Antirio bridge – this should be the highlight of any tour around the Peloponnese, or possibly of a circuit including the Peloponnese and Delphi on the other side. You can walk or cycle across the bridge and you can also get buses to and from Patra, but the most obvious way to appreciate it is still to drive.
Hopping between the different Greek islands in a hire car is always going to give you that little bit more flexibility than travelling as a foot passenger, although this flexibility does come at a cost.
At the end of the day, the decision whether or not to pick up a hire car in Athens might boil down to which islands you want to visit – for an island the size of Crete, a hire car is extremely useful, but most visitors to this island would fly direct into Heraklion or Chania. For medium-sized islands like Zakinthos (Zante) or Lesbos, then a hire car can be a benefit, whereas for the smaller islands like Santorini, you may well find that a hire car is more trouble than it is worth.Note that despite the need for ferry connections, it can be possible to get one way car rental deals between Athens and other Greek islands – budget for around £100 on top of the hire cost for one week.
Why not? Visiting Athens without a car
Why don't you need a car in Athens ?
Reasons to visit Athens without a car
- Odd and even Number plate rules – in 1982, Athens introduced a restriction banning cars from the city centre according to whether their number plates were odd or even. Since then, the number of cars in the city has grown fourfold. The legislation has had little effect, especially as some houses have got round the legislation by owning two cars, one with an odd and another with an even plate.
- Even with a 40 day exemption from the odd/even numberplate rule, driving on congested Athens city centre is still a nightmare.
- You still have to find somewhere to park.
- As with any major city, we would always advise walking or using public transport to visit all the major sites within Athens.
- Congestion in Athens is a city wide / all day problem – this isn’t just about the city centre, nor is it just about rush hour. Within the European Union (as of 2017 at least), only Bucharest and London have higher congestion levels than Athens – and we wouldn’t recommend trying to drive in either of those cities either!
- Athens Metro – in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics, Athens invested heavily in an underground system, and this itself was halted many times due to archaeological digs along the route. This has resulted in many displays in the major city centre stations, making this sleek and modern transport network a destination in its own right as well is a way of getting around.
The underground network is also supplemented by a network of local trains and buses. This includes the historic train link down to the port of Piraeus, where a lot of budget accommodation is available.
There is no obvious centre of the metro network, with a number of stations being on two lines. The natural social and cultural centre is the area around Syntagma Square, and its metro station is on lines 2 and 3. This is also where many urban bus routes congregate, and where the tram route from the coast terminates.
- Ancient treasures – need we go say any more? Athens is one of the most historic cities in the world and beyond the indelible impression the Parthenon is going to leave you from its perch at the top of the Acropolis, there are plenty of other places waiting to be explored well within the city boundaries and easy to reach on foot.
Beyond the Athens area without a car
- Further afield, there are plenty of places which can be visited on historical tours, or on day excursions by scheduled bus.
- Delphi is certainly well worth a visit, and once you get there, you will be walking around the main points of interest anyway, so there isn’t a huge time advantage in having a hire car. However, a group of people sharing a car might be better value. Allow around 3 hours each way by bus.
- Island hopping on foot – a hire car might give you a little bit more flexibility when you arrive on each island, but it is a deadweigh just sitting on the ferry, and a very expensive deadweight at that.
- Why fork out for the cost of a hire car and then for the cost of ferry passage on top, when you can just travel as a foot passenger on the ferry and use local buses for getting around each island? Even if you have to shell out for a few taxis, they are unlikely to break the bank on any of the smaller islands.
Ratings: How does Athens compare?
Is it worth hiring a car in Athens? TBC
This is based on a rough consideration of the costs of renting a car in Athens, and how this compares with the costs of using public transport. The answer to this varies hugely from one destination to the next, based on a wide range of factors. It's based on renting a car at the airport (TBC), and driving for an average of 2-3 hours on open roads on most days.
How does this compare if:
You are travelling:
Solo / As couple / small family / larger family / senior couple etc
Does car rental make sense on different budgets?
Do you need to hire a car in Athens? TBC
This is based strictly on whether or no we think it's possible to visit Athens (and the surrounding area) without using a car. Of the three key questions, this one is the most likely to be a "no".
Should you rent a car in Athens? TBC
This is a balance of all factors. Remember this is an answer to the question for people who are already asking it. That's why the answer might still be a "yes", even when public transport is good.
See global comparisons
Hiring | Driving | Parking
Trains | Buses | Local travel
Car hire basics:
Public transportation basics:
Regular bus services: YES
Coach (inter-city): YES
High Speed Rail:
Rail type (end stub / through / junction / hub):
As you start ....
Does Athens airport have a direct rail link?
(Yes - within terminal / adjacent / short walk) (Yes - bus transfer / other) No
Has our advice for Athens car rental changed over time, or has it been pretty constant?
2017 - 4
2019 - 8
2021 - 7
Average score - 7
Anyone simply thinking about taking a city break in Athens is very unlikely to even consider getting a hire car, but after a few days Athens can start to become quite overbearing on the novice visitor. So whether you get a hire car or not, there’s a good chance you’ll want to get out of the city, and unfortunately, public transport in Greece leaves a great deal to be desired. Should you rent a car in Athens, and then use it for a trip outside the city? This is really going to depend on where you are most interested in visiting from the long list of places mentioned above. Is it worth hiring a car in Athens just to use within the city – no, never, that bit should be clear enough! But you really don’t have to get far out of the city for public transport to become worth it.
For a country with such a rugged coastline and so many ancient treasures, there’s a good chance you’ll be happy to take things at a slower pace anyway. Yet getting a hire car in Athens is still going to take away a lot of the hassles of planning and executing a holiday when you are dealing with so many different transport companies, all of which operate from their own separate hubs in their own different ways. Public transport integration in Athens is very poor – whether you are trying to change from bus to metro, to get to the Peloponnese by train, or simply if you are trying to find the right berth for your onward sea connection in Piraeus, nothing is particularly well connected.
So even though a hire car in Athens remains strictly optional, if you are already considering getting one, then you will probably find it beneficial.
Useful Athens travel links:
- Athens metro & map
- Athens area car hire / transport map
Do you or don't you need a car in Athens ?