Is Athens safe? Knowing how safe the city to which you are traveling is, is of paramount importance.
Safety really is as high as you plan for it in any situation and being prudent with precautions is the way to go no matter where you travel in the world.
That said, some cities are objectively safer than others overall, so how does Athens rank when it comes to safety?
Staying Safe While in Athens
Athens is very safe
Athens is one of the safer cities you can visit. You won’t find it in any ‘dangerous cities’ list, and currently, Athens has been ranked safer than Memphis, Tennessee, Oakland, California, and London, UK.
Crime and criminality in Athens have been consistently ranked ‘low’ with most of the crimes perpetrated being petty, such as pickpocketing, petty scamming, and theft.
Terrorist incidents threat is generally considered ‘medium’, with most incidents being few and far between, and involving IEDs aimed at politicians and state officials, not civilians or tourists. However, it could be that an IED is placed in a location that tourists visit, though consistently if such a thing occurs, advance telephone warnings take place ahead of time as to the IED’s location.
Athens is also very safe for women solo travelers. Sexual assault and rape crimes are very low, and the culture generally does not allow for men to harass women, even though men generally can be forward with their flirting if the lady looks interested.
That said, there are things to look out for, and general precautions to take to ensure you have a trouble-free experience in Athens!
Pickpocketing is perhaps the most frequent crime in Athens, especially in areas where many people congregate or are forced to be in close quarters.
Especially in buses, the metro, tram, or trains, you should be extra vigilant. Don’t have your expensive belongings in full view, such as mobile phones, or expensive cameras and blogging equipment.
Invest in a slash-resistant bag with secure zippers and locks. Always be suspicious if a stranger tries to distract you for any reason- even if it’s a child. It’s likely that an accomplice will try to steal your valuables while you are interacting with the stranger.
Especially in areas where there are tourists, like outside archaeological sites or big squares such as the Agora, or Monastiraki Square, or outside the Acropolis, there are groups of pickpocketers who might target you.
However, pickpocketing is mostly a crime of opportunity- so the harder you make it look like they can successfully steal your stuff, the least likely you are to be targeted.
Scams to be aware of in Athens
Though you will be physically safe taking a taxi in Athens, you might be scammed if you’re not careful. Taxi drivers, especially the ones waiting to give you a lift from the airport to Athens, are notorious for attempting to scam their passengers. This is done either by not getting the meter running when they drive off, but earlier, or not at all. They may also try to take you to Athens from a roundabout way.
The best way to deal with that is to know the average prices for the trip you want, and the main roads you are going to be taking (google maps helps a lot with that).
For the taxi trip from the airport to Athens, the standard fare is 38 euro for daytime (from 5 am to midnight) and 54 euro for nighttime (midnight to 5 am.). The same goes for the reverse (from Athens to the airport).
A good way to avoid being scammed when you take taxis in Athens is to use a taxi app like BEAT to call one. The fare will be pre-announced in the app. Otherwise, if you do take a street taxi, make sure you know the route you will be taking and watch the meter.
Pubs and tavernas
Especially around the very touristy areas, pub, bar and taverna owners will be actively trying to invite you to eat or drink in their establishments. That isn’t by itself shady, it is part of the general culture.
What you should be aware of though is ‘too good’ sounding prices that they might entice you with and then not present you with a menu, telling you it is a special offer. That might land you with an exorbitant bill and threats if you refuse to pay. This has been reported to happen especially in the areas of Monastiraki and Syntagma.
Always check the menu prices (usually a menu will be on display at the entrance, but even if not, there will be one on the table), and if unrequested items arrive at your table, make sure they are on the house (ask directly, as often tavernas will give you a free dessert or beverage) or send them back. If they are not explicitly on the house, they will be on the tab!
Fortune tellers, flower and bracelet peddlers
Especially around Monastiraki Square and outside the Agora, there will be many peddlers that might accost you pretending to be giving you an item for free, or trying to chat you up by giving you an item for free. As soon as you take it though, they will demand money. The best way to go with these people is to firmly say “no” and walk away brusquely.
There are a lot of ATMs so you can withdraw money at your convenience. But be careful because some may have been tampered with. Always prefer to use ATMs that are connected to banks (the main bank outlets in Greece are Eurobank, Ethniki, Alpha, and Piraeus), and definitely do not use ATMs outside clubs or ones that look to be completely disconnected from any business and not in a department store or the like.
Know what to avoid in Athens to stay safe
Though most areas in Athens are safe, it is prudent to avoid certain parts of it at night (and sometimes even during the day).
Vathi and Omonoia are areas that have a very high crime rate, and it’s best to avoid them at all times. During the day, should you need to pass through there, do it with alertness and quickly.
Exarheia is a lovely artisan and boho area to visit during the day and in the afternoon. Several bookshops, cafes, and old-timey shops of all kinds will be found there. However, after nightfall and especially towards midnight, the area is associated with anarchists and rampant drug running, as well as spontaneous skirmishes with police, whereupon tear gas and Molotov cocktail bombs fly, so it’s best to avoid Exarheia then.
The hill of Philopappos is a great site to visit during the daytime, but avoid it after nightfall as a lot of muggings have been reported to take place there.
Safe places to explore and enjoy even during the night would be Kolonaki (right next to Exarheia), the historical center, and especially Plaka, Metaxourgio, and Psyrri.
Situations and dates
Greeks are very politically active people. Protests, demonstrations, and even spontaneous marches are semi-frequent. These are mostly peaceful, and tourists are never targeted or involved, but if police are ordered to disperse the protesters, it’s likely to get violent quickly. If you see a protest or demo going on, avoid it, or keep your distance. Follow orders by police and don’t try to engage in anything.
Keep track of whether there is a politically charged atmosphere (e.g. there is reporting in the news of a particularly controversial bill being passed by the parliament or some such thing) or announcements of demonstrations, protests, or strikes. A good site to keep track of any strikes or problems is http://www.apergia.gr/ which is in Greek, but a google translate of the site should be good enough.
Certain dates are very culturally and emotionally charged. Large demonstrations and marches, often followed by skirmishes with the police, are guaranteed to take place. These dates are:
November 17th, the anniversary of the Polytechnic Uprising
December 6th, the anniversary of the killing of a 15-year-old boy by a police officer
May 1st, or May Day
Lastly, some basic precautions
These would apply to any city you visit, so in brief, make sure that you:
- Don’t carry more than 20-30 euro in cash on your person. It’s good practice to keep it in a pocket so you won’t need to retrieve your wallet for small purchases.
- Keep a separate change pouch.
- Use credit or debit cards for bigger amounts.
- Don’t flash your wallet, money, or other valuables in public.
- Keep track of your passport, and always keep it in a secure pocket on your person.
- Don’t leave your belongings unattended, even to go to the bathroom.
- Don’t make it easy for anyone to run past where you are seated and swipe a phone from the table or purse from your chair.
- Keep your valuables in the safe provided in your hotel room.
- Never carry all your money with you.
- Invest in good travel insurance.
- Register with a government traveler’s protection program like the USA STEP program if your country provides it.