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Athens, Greece (ATH) International Airport: The Ultimate 5 to 9-Hour Layover & Transit Guide

Because of the toll COVID-19 took on the airline industry, flight schedules have been totally discombobulated in an attempt for airlines to stay afloat. You may find yourself, much like I do quite often as an airline pilot, facing extremely long layover times. And as a major hub, Athens International Airport (ATH) features a lot of them.

Last July, I found myself with a nine-hour layover here. Nine hours! But in the end, it was the best layover I could have asked for. In fact, I think I’ll book some more 9-hour layovers in the future…

And for those transiting in Europe on their way to the United States without the required 1-day Covid test completed, fret not. There are plenty of airport testing centers in Europe so you can meet the increasing number of COVID-19 test requirements – and most feature results in minutes!

Should I Stay in the Airport or Exit and Explore Athens?

It obviously depends how much time you have. Less than 5 hours and I’d consider staying put.

Nowadays, exiting the airport is an absolute breeze. Just make sure to have filled the Passenger Declaration Form online before your flight into Athens. There is a chance that they’ll “inspect” you for good health using a thermometer or even a rapid COVID test.

If you decide to stay at the airport, you still have options:

  • Acropolis Museum
    • Hosted in a specially-designed area of the Main Terminal Building
    • Display of artifacts on loan from the main Acropolis Museum downtown
    • Includes cast copies of the west Parthenon frieze and a cast copy of the Peplos Kore, one of the most beautiful votive offerings of the archaic
  • Exhibition of archaeological findings
    • Located on the second floor/departure level – near entrance 3
    • Contains 172 archaeological artifacts dating from the Neolithic and Early Helladic to the Post-Byzantine period
  • Airport Playground
    • Designed for children from 3 – 9 years old
  • Enjoy Greek food at one of the always-open restaurants such as Eat Greek

Luggage Drop In ATH

Luggage storage is available in Athens International Airport, making a day layover a breeze!

You might be thinking: well, what am I supposed to do with my bags? Lucky for you, there is a luggage storage facility located at the end of the terminal. It’s called Care4Bag and it’s located at arrivals hall next to gate one.

  • Costs vary between €5 and €11 per bag
  • Luggage storage in Athens is open from 0700 to 2300

Lounges in ATH

With priority pass select (automatically enrolled with several credit cards), you’ll have access to:

  • Non-Schengen (Hall A):
    • Skyserv Aristotle Onassis Lounge:
      • Directly across from A9
      • Open 0600-1800 daily
      • Includes alcholic drinks, soft drinks, snacks, and wi-fi
    • Goldair Handling Lounge:
      • Opposite gate A11
      • Open 0700-2200 Sunday-Thursday, 0700-2300 Friday
      • Includes alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, wi-fi. Buffet service is suspended for covid
  • Schengen (Hall B):
    • Skyserv Melina Merkouri Lounge:
      • Directly across from A9
      • Open 0600-1800 daily
      • Includes alcholic drinks, soft drinks, snacks, and wi-fi
    • Goldair Handling CIP Lounge:
      • Opposite gate B13
      • Open 0330-2000
      • Includes alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, but buffet service is suspended for covid

Where to Go From Athens International Airport

Unfortunately, Athens International Airport is not located directly next to downtown Athens. Well, maybe that’s a good thing – you might be “forced” to visit a gorgeous small nearby town or two.

If you have an 8 to 9-hour layover in Athens, you have plenty of time to head to downtown Athens.

5 to 7 hour layover in Athens

If you have a 5 to 7-hour layover in Athens, you have time to visit some wonderful nearby beach towns with great restaurants where you can catch some fresh air and maybe go for a quick swim.

Here are some ideas for a quick layover:

  • Vouliagmeni Beach
    • 21-minute taxi
    • Mooring Restaurant
  • Catch a bus and head straight to Rafina
  • Artemis Beach
    • 22-minute Taxi
  • Voula Beach
    • 22-minute taxi
    • 35-minute metro
  • Hit up some nearby wineries
    • Gikas Winery
    • Domaine Papagiannakos
    • Eklektikon
  • IKEA
    • Located at the shopping center ON the airport complex of Athens International Airport.
    • May be reached by express buses X93, X95, X96 and X97
    • Depart from the airport’s arrivals area, between exits 4 and 5
    • Ticket price: €5 each way

7 hour layover or longer: Let’s Go to Downtown Athens!

If this is your first-time visiting Athens, you will be positively stupefied by its beauty. If you’ve already been there, you will also be positively stupefied by its beauty.

Everyone recognizes this view of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Seeing it, even on a short layover in Athens, IS possible!
Everyone recognizes this view of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Seeing it, even on a short layover in Athens, IS possible!

In 3-5 hours, you have enough time to visit:

  • Greek markets
  • Roman and Greek Ruins
  • Ancient streets
  • The Acropolis – or – The National Archaeological Museum
  • A rooftop bar for dinner

Hopefully by the time you’re back at the airport, you’ll want to always book 5 to 9-hour layovers. 😊

Need for Speed

Step 1) Get downtown as efficiently as possible to maximize your time in this incredible city.

Quickest way to the Acropolis: Take the M3 train to Monastiraki and make your way through beautiful traditional neighborhoods with low-key Greek restaurants, markets, and old white homes lined along ancient Roman and Greek ruins.

  • The M3 train runs every thirty minutes most days, but once an hour on holidays.
  • The train takes 40 minutes. It’s located just in front of the airport – hard to miss.
  • Ticket price: €10-18 return (student discount available)
  • The train brings you about 15-30 minutes walking distance from the entrance of the Acropolis.

All Roads Lead to… Athens?

Step 2a) On the way to the Acropolis, take a walk through the history city’s center. You can walk up gorgeous staircases lined with boutique shops in the Anafiotika neighborhood, make a stop at a fine Greek restaurant, or take pictures at Metamatic, a typical 19th century Athenian courtyard-style café/art foundation http://theartfoundation.metamatic.gr/.

The alternative way to the Acropolis: Take the X95 bus to Syntagma and walk 25-50 minutes along the national garden or through town towards the acropolis.

  • The X95 bus runs every 20-40 minutes.
  • The bus takes 1 hour 10 minutes for a total transit time of 1h35m.
  • From Syntagma, you can also take the 230 bus or M2 metro to the Acropolis, but neither option saves any time over walking.

Syntagma is an incredibly gorgeous square, located right next to both a Hellenic Parliament AND the National Garden.

Time is Money- and so are taxis from ATH Airport to Downtown Athens

Step 2b) Either way you go, you’ll enjoy an incredibly scenic hike to the Acropolis:

  • Option 1: Walk through the national garden, stopping at the Zappeio Hall and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. From here, walk through the beautiful town of Plaka to the Acropolis.
  • Option 2: If you’re into shopping and markets, you won’t want to miss Ermou Street. It’s a kilometer and a half filled with beautiful markets, some dating centuries, the world-famous Church of Saint Eleftheria, and lovely cafés.

A quicker option is taking a taxi. This will be about €25-40 each way but takes less than half the time (25 minutes without traffic).

Step 3) Spend about 2 hours exploring the incredible, vibrant sights of the Acropolis!

  • € 20 in summer, €10 in winter (Nov 1 to Mar 31)
    • Student discount available

You Want me to Walk Some More?!

Step 4) On the way down from the Acropolis, take a traditional walking tour; stroll along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, a pedestrian road that connects the Acropolis and accompanying museum with the Plaka neighborhood. If you have time, this is where you can stop at the Acropolis Museum. On the way to Plaka, you’ll find additional ridiculously beautiful views of the Acropolis and downtown Athens. Continue down to the Thea Terrace location in the Central Hotel for a ridiculously amazing view on the Acropolis and really, really good food and drinks. If you’re short on time, you can skip this and head straight back to the airport. Don’t worry, there’s food there too!

View from the incredible Thea Terrace

Step 5) Time to head back! Here are 4 options to get you back to the airport in time for your next flight!:

  • Take the M2 (metro line 2) from from Acropoli to Monastiraki, then M3 (metro line 3) to the airport
  • Take the M2 (metro line 2) from Acropoli for Syntagma, then the X95 bus to the airport
  • Walk to Monastiraki or Syntagma and then take the M3 (metro line 3) or X95 bus, respectively, to the airport
  • Take a taxi back (€25-40) to ATH and reminisce on the amazing day you just had!

If you’re interested in more travel, these are the safest destinations you can visit with little-to-no quarantine.

Keep Exploring the World

3 Comments

  1. thanks alot of information

  2. Thanks for the info. I’m looking at having 6 hr layover overnight.
    Is there any places that are open 24/7?

    1. I’m not sure, especially with Covid-19. The Goldair CIP lounge opens at 03.30 if that interests you!

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