A perfect day in Athens' port: a guide to Piraeus
Piraeus is the largest Mediterranean port in terms of passenger traffic and commercial activity, and most of Athens' visitors simply consider it a transit point to the Aegean islands. However, this city's versatile coastline and numerous cultural stops make it a destination in its own right. Porto Leone, as it was known for centuries, is well worth at least a day during your stay in Athens.
Although it can feel like a distant city once you’re there, Piraeus is just a half-hour ride on the 24-hour bus line 040 from Syntagma Square. Even faster is the (old) metro line 1, which will take you right to the heart of Piraeus' bustling harbour; plus, the beautiful terminal station built in the 1920s is an architectural gem worth a visit.
Start your sightseeing tour of the city before you even leave the building, in the small but fascinating Electric Railways Museum. After your visit, head to the centre of the city through the old market, which spreads into the lively little streets behind the station.
Sightseeing in Piraeus
While it might not have as many as Athens, Piraeus is home to a few fine museums that offer very compelling exhibits and don’t require the best part of a day to visit.
Those interested in naval history will find the compact Hellenic Maritime Museum – still the largest of its kind in Greece – a great opportunity to admire a fine collection of rare books, maps, flags and naval weaponry, as well as the entire fin of the legendary Greek submarine Papanikolis, the main outdoor exhibit.
And if you're still hungry for more antiquity after a few days in the capital, the small Piraeus Archaeological Museum will satisfy your appetite with its important bronze statues and an emphasis on the history of the city.
You can also spend your entire morning outdoors. A coastal walk from the metro station will take you along the harbour, past the lion statue at its entrance and the Naval Academy further down and onwards to Peiraiki and Zea Marina, finishing off at the picturesque Mikrolimano. The trip won't take you more than 2-3 hours and will reward you with a comprehensive flavour and feel of the city. On your way, you’ll come across various archaeological sites like parts of the ancient walls, Neosoikoi and the Roman antiquities of Terpsithea.
Where to eat lunch
After a busy morning discovering the delights of the port city, you’ll probably long for a seafood lunch accompanied by a few glasses of ouzo by the sea. And you’ll be absolutely right – this is an important element of Piraeus’ charm. You’ll be spoilt for choice, as Peiraiki coast is crammed with decent ouzeries.
If a sea view is not important, head to Margaro, a famous three-dish-menu fish tavern catering not only to locals, but also Athenian crowds flocking daily to enjoy its scrumptious deep-fried shrimp. Just make sure you allow for some waiting time for a table, especially during weekends.
The port's best shopping
After you have walked and savoured the long coast that surrounds the city, head inland to the commercial and social heart of Piraeus. All the streets between the harbour and Pasalimani (Zea) buzz with shops and cafes, but the centre of all activity is the pedestrian street Sotiros Dios, where large fashion chains and local boutique stores are lined up.
Dinner with a view
If you wish to splash out on an evening of fine dining in a magnificent setting, then Varoulko is your top choice in the city and one of the few Greek Michellin-starred restaurants. It's located in Mikrolimano, an area that offers a diverse selection of seaside restaurants – Istioploikos is a classic with a cosmopolitan feel and a stunning view of Kastella Hill.
For a more traditional dining experience, Refene is a nice little tavern located in a narrow alley (just off the busy centre) that overflows onto the pavement during the warm months of the year, and offers delicious mezedhes and homey Greek dishes, as well as occasional live Greek music.
Nightlife in Troumba
Like every other large port in the world, Piraeus had its own vibrant red light district located in the narrow backstreets of the harbour until the late 1960s. The area, locally known as Troumba, was cleaned up by law enforcement and became a business district that emptied after dark until a few years ago when new establishments started to open, turning the neighbourhood into an entertainment hotspot for young crowds from all over Athens. Beluga and Madamaare pillars of the area’s nightlife.
A few streets away, Che is a relatively new arrival with a South American theme, a large cool garden, sophisticated drinks and top guest DJs.
Finally, dozens of mainstream bar-restaurants are lined up along Zea, just opposite the array of mind-bogglingly luxurious yachts moored at the marina all year long.
Piraeus' culture stops
The imposing, recently renovated Municipal Theatre of Piraeus stands on the city’s central square and hosts top theatre, music and dance performances.
Veakio, an open-air theatre, is located on top of Kastella Hill; it has a spectacular sea view and hosts music concerts throughout the summer season. Information and tickets are available at the Municipal Theatre’s box office.
The city has its own outdoor cinema too, Cine Votsalakia. Enjoy a movie, popcorn and the sea breeze under the stars.
Last but not least, the city (and half of the country for that matter) is obsessed with its sports club, Olympiakos. If there is a game at Karaiskaki stadium during your stay and you can get your hands on tickets, don’t miss the opportunity. It is a top local cultural experience and a perfect way to conclude your Piraeus visit.