As both Athenians and hosts, we do know the driving experience of Athens for both locals and travelers. Athens and Greece in general have similar driving rules as the rest of continental Europe and driving on mainland Greece is generally trouble-free and easy. If you are planning to use a rental car, we highly recommend spending some time reading this guide in detail.
Driving in Athens can be very challenging and difficult, especially in the city center. This applies to both novice and experienced drivers. Athens was not built for heavy road traffic and the city is encircled by three Mountains, which basically means there is just not much space to grow. Most residential and business buildings in the city do not have private parking spaces.
Most central roads and avenues can be considered very narrow by Western standards. Cloudkeys recommends that travelers should not use a car for a number of reasons apart from the challenging driving conditions we mention in this guide.
Athens Car Rental Options
There are many options to consider if you want to be using a rental car in Athens. For many travelers the ease of renting a car at the Airport and delivering it there before their return flight is considered the best option.
- Rent a car at the Athens Airport so you can deliver it before your flight back home
- Rent a car at the Port of Piraeus or at one of the ports of Rafina and Lavrio
- Use one of the car rental companies in the center of Athens – most are located near the Acropolis on the Syggrou Avenue
Read further down for our optimal recommendations on renting a car in Athens. Please note: electric cars are great but finding a charging spot may not be always easy, especially in remote areas.
Why Car Rentals are Not Recommended While Staying in Athens
Many travelers rent a car at the airport and park it at a private parking for the duration of their stay in Athens, then use it to visit other areas primarily in Mainland Greece, such as the Oracle in Delphi, Epidavros Ancient Theater, Kalamata, Stoupa, Monemvasia and Gytheio.
Why not save some money and rent a car when you need it! Cloudkeys does not recommend using a rental car while staying in Athens. You can save for your next holiday or use the spare cash for shopping or for a more special experience.
- All key ancient, cultural, and tourism sights are within walking distance and all travelers will enjoy these walks as the city is built next to ancient ruins in multiple areas.
- Taxis are quite cheap compared to many Western cities. Typical short journeys within the city should not cost more than 5-7 euros.
- Public transport has improved over the past decade. It is very easy to get around the city by bus, metro, trolley, or tram.
- Parking on public streets can be very challenging. Locals are used to parking in very narrow spaces on the streets.
Car Rental Agreement and Car Insurance
When renting a car use some common sense and avoid getting overcharged for something that is not your fault or if there is a road accident.
- Check the exterior and interior of the car thoroughly
- Report any damage or scratches that you notice to the car rental company representative
- Ask for any of the above faults to be included in your rental agreement
- Ask about insurance cover and what it includes
- Check gasoline/diesel tank levels and deliver the car with approximately the same level
- Take photos of the car exterior and interior
- Adding more drivers increases the car insurance premium
- Ask if they hold an amount on your card for damages, how much and for how long
Car Rental Money-Saving Tips
Although these are outside the purpose of this guide, some travelers find these helpful.
- Check if there is a surcharge for airport delivery or dropoff
- Booking a rental car a few weeks prior to your arrival is usually cheaper, just like flight prices
- Delivering your car at a different location than the pickup is expensive
- Avoid adding a GPS premium – use offline Google maps instead
- Obviously, peak season means higher prices
- Taking a car on ferries is quite expensive in Greece
International Driving Licenses
European Union driver licenses are valid in Greece. Drivers need to carry these along with the car paperwork at all times from traffic police.
US driver licenses are valid, along with all other countries that have signed the Vienna Convention. This applies to travelers staying less than 6 months in Greece. For longer stays, you need to convert your driving license. Please refer to the official information about Non-EU driving licenses available from the Government of Greece.
Athens Driving Tips
Based on the feedback we have received from guests, the following tips are important for a pleasant and safe driving experience in Athens and the rest of Greece.
- While driving in Greece most travelers mistake the right of way in roundabouts. Unless there is a stop sign, cars that enter the roundabout have right of way. So if you are driving in the roundabout you need to stop and let the traffic enter the roundabout first.
- The center of Athens has hundreds of very narrow streets that even locals are having difficulty using.
- Parking is a major problem in Athens. Forget about parking your rental car in the Acropolis or the Monastiraki areas, unless you plan to use a private (paid-for) car park. Chances are that private car parks are located in the city’s narrow streets, so some skill is required.
- There are certain junctions within the city where before or after the traffic lights the available lanes become more or less. This can be very frustrating for drivers who do now know the city well. A notable one is at Syntagma Square and another at the start of Mesogeion Avenue on the way to the Airport.
- Peak traffic congestion during weekdays is between 08:00-10:00 am.
- During the summer months, there is traffic congestion at all major avenues leading to the north-easter and the south coast of Athens.
- If you just have to drive to the Athens center, it is best advised to rent a small car. You will thank us later!
- When you park the car on any public street, ensure that there are no bags, electronics, money or other valuables left visible in the cabin of the car. Thieves do operate in various locations throughout the city.
All car rental companies are required to have the car insured for accidents or theft.
Parking in Athens
Finding spaces to park in the Athens city center can be a nearly impossible task. Some of our apartment guests have reported driving around for more than one hour to find a parking space. Depending on the location you are driving to, during the normal 09:00-17:00 business hours there are many locals driving and parking in the city for work. During peak traffic hours and especially on days when there is a public transport strike, even private parking garages are full.
In very central areas, parking is only possible for residents with a permit. In these areas parking for visitors is available only on the streets with a sign for visitors and for up to 3 hours, with each hour charged at one euro. Parking restrictions in those streets apply from 09:00-21:00. Outside these hours, parking is free.
Parking tickets are not available on the street. Some kiosks have parking cards on sale, but we highly recommend that you download the Athens Municipality’s “myAthensPass” app on your smartphone.
Remember our parking tip above, do not leave any bags or items in the cabin of the car visible to people walking next to your rental car.
Car Rental Trips from Athens
Apart from the many places to visit within the center of Athens, there are interesting sights and places to visit within a few hours’ drive.
The closest destinations are located within the Attica prefecture (with Athens as its capital). Most destinations are at most an hour’s drive away. During the summer months and especially on weekends, many Athenians are driving to the beaches of the Attica region. It is best advised to avoid driving these days as there can be heavy traffic jams and driving times can take much longer than anticipated.
Home to the famous Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounio is best to visit from early spring to late autumn. There are picturesque bays with sandy beaches and seaside tavernas serving both fresh fish. famous local recipes and barbecue grill. On the way to Sounio, we highly recommend visiting Lake Vouliagmeni and enjoying a coffee or a drink (non-alcoholic beer is on the menu for the driver). From the center of Athens, you can drive Syggrou Avenue (starts at the Temple of Olympian Zeus) and follow the signs to Faliro and Glyfada.
Located at the northeastern side of Attica, Marathonas is the starting point of the ancient Marathon route and where the modern Authentic Marathon starts in November. The roads around the lake are well worth driving around and there are archaeological sights and a great selection of traditional greek tavernas for lunch or dinner. From the center of Athens follow the signs to the Athens International Airport and enter Attiki Odos (there are road tolls to pay for using it) and then simply follow signs to Rafina (the second major port of Athens) and keep driving to Marathonas.
Home of the third largest Port of Athens, Lavrio was the silver mine of Ancient Athens, with which the local currency was minted.
Most of central and eastern Peloponnese is ideal for a day driving journey from Athens. We highly recommend stopping at the Corinth Canal bridge and walking for some breathtaking views of the canal.
This ancient city is essentially the entrance of the Peloponnese from Athens. There are many ancient sights to visit and of course the Ancient Corinth Museum. Corinth is approximately a 45-minute drive from Athens.
The first capital of the modern greek state, after the ottoman-rule ended with the revolution in 1821. Nafplion is one of the most picturesque cities in Greece, with its stone-paved old town and some key tourism sights. This is a highly recommended trip and an overnight stay is recommended too. Park at the port as most of the old town is not accessible by car.