The capital of Greece is also the home of ancient world treasures, including the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and Hadrian’s Arch. Located near Greece’s southern tip, Athens is full of all the beauty that comes with troves of ruins and antiquities, many of them dating back to the 5th century BCE, which puts these current times into proper perspective. Athens has modern marvels as well, plus an inviting Mediterranean climate that lends itself to visiting any time of year.
But travelers who are considering booking a trip often find themselves wondering, “Is Athens safe to visit?”—especially in the years since Greece has hit hard economic times, and since Europe has seen terrorism spike.
Rest assured that Athens isn’t particularly dangerous. Crime statistics point toward the fact that it’s actually quite a safe city for travelers—Athens is not included on lengthy lists of the world’s most dangerous cities, and a 2019 crime index from Numbeo put the Greek capital at number 130 on the list, rating it safer than cities such as Tampa, Florida and Dublin, Ireland.
Still, there are certain things that travelers to Athens should keep in mind to ensure the safest possible visit.
Tips for Staying Safe in Athens
- Steer clear of the areas that are known to be dangerous in Athens, including the nightclubs of Glyfada Square, as well as the semi-frequent protests and demonstrations that happen near political centers.
- Stay vigilant for pickpockets and other petty thieves, since these are the most common crimes targeting travelers in Athens. Be especially cautious at crowded attractions, on public transportation, and in taxis, where drivers sometimes scam their passengers.
- Be aware that prostitution is legal in Athens—but that most of the city’s prostitutes operate outside the law, either because they are victims of human trafficking or because they don’t take the proper medical precautions. Do not partake, and stay away from the seedy areas where prostitution is rampant.
Safe Places—and Places to Avoid—in Athens
When keeping in mind areas to avoid in Athens, know that Omonia, Exarcheia, Vathi, and Kolokotroni Squares have high crime rates and should be avoided at night, if not altogether. These areas of Athens can be dangerous in part because they’re frequented by anarchist groups, as well as drug dealers and thieves—even children who are thieves. As for other areas of Athens to avoid, Monastiraki and near the railway stations of Larissa and Peloponissos are crime hot spots, while the nightclubs of Glyfada Square are associated with organized crime.
Protests are semi-common in Athens, especially at Syntagma Square, which tends to be the political center of things. Travelers should bear in mind that political protests can occur randomly and occasionally turn dangerous—so steer well clear. If you somehow find yourself near a large gathering, be extremely cautious, do not cross police lines, keep a low profile, and monitor local media for updates and instructions.
Travelers should also be aware of local scams in Monastiraki, Syntagma, and Glyfada; the main one involves luring tourists into a bar while promising special prices on cocktails. Instead, patrons are presented with an overly exorbitant tab for their beverages and threatened with violence if they refuse to pay. A couple of Athens bars where this type of extortion has been known to happen include Reina Bar and Hollywood Pub.
In addition to knowing the dangerous areas in Athens, it’s also good to know where the city’s safest places are. In northern Athens, the neighborhood of Kolononaki is safe even at night, and boasts high-end restaurants and art galleries. Metaxourgio, previously an impoverished neighborhood, has been gentrified and is now a popular and safe place to explore during the daytime, especially for lovers of the arts. In addition, Plaka and Psirri offer friendly cafes where you can get a lively taste of Greek life and culture.
How to Get Around Safely in Athens
The most prominent form of crime in Athens is, as you might guess, pickpocketing. By all accounts, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and other forms of petty theft are common, especially at crowded tourist attractions, nightlife destinations, and on buses and trains, where you should take extra care to guard your belongings. Be particularly vigilant if someone seems like they’re trying to distract you; meanwhile, someone else may be reaching into your purse. Keep your wallet in your front (not your back) pocket, and consider investing in a slash-resistant backpack with a reliable zipper.
When you’re out on the road, keep in mind that Greece has comparatively high rates of traffic fatalities, due mostly to drivers who are speeding, distracted, or simply not following the rules. Heavy traffic and obscured highway signs are additional problems that affect safety on Athens’ streets. Drive defensively—or not at all, if you can avoid it.
Be careful, too, if you’re planning to take taxis in Athens, as taxi scams are widespread here. Though Athens taxis are generally safe when it comes to your physical well-being, the same cannot be said for the safety of your cash. Athens’ taxi drivers, especially those who pick up from the airport, are notorious for gouging tourists, charging their passengers far more than they’re actually owed.
So whenever you get into a taxi in Athens, make sure that it’s licenced and official, that your driver turns on the meter when he starts driving (not before, and not never), that you and your driver have agreed on at least a ballpark range for the fare, that you know the directions to where you’re going (speak up if your driver starts to take a roundabout route), and that you’ll be willing to call the police if you’re being ripped off—this will usually get your taxi driver on the right path again.
Other Athens Scams and Safety Tips
As you make your way through Athens, there are other scams that travelers should be aware of to stay safe and away from crime: Refrain from buying the pirated and counterfeit items that are sold in droves on the streets of Central Athens and Thessaloniki—it’s illegal to buy these items in Greece, and it’s illegal to transport them into the United States. Don’t use ATMs in Athens unless they’re in a reputable hotel or bank, as a recent uptick in credit card skimming has been reported throughout Greece.
Though Athens provides a mostly safe environment for female travelers, women traveling here may find that men are more forward in Greece than in other countries. If you decline their advances, men will more often than not apologize and move along. Still, women should exercise some caution in Athens at night—especially in Monastiraki, Omonia, Psirri, Mextaxourgio, and any poorly lit place—and keep belongings close.
Prostitution in Athens
Prostitution is technically legal in Greece, starting at the age of 18. Legal sex workers must be registered and carry a medical card that needs to be updated every two weeks. However, there’s plenty of illegal prostitution here too; clients seeking escorts in Athens have reported seeing victims of sex trafficking and human slavery in brothels.
In recent years, Greece has become a destination point for women and children stolen from Eastern and Southern Europe, South Asia, Africa, and China, who are subjected to sex trafficking in unlicensed brothels along Solonos Street, Theatrou Square, and Evripidou Street. Keep in mind that many of these women (and men) don’t take the proper medical precautions—in short, it’s not worth the risk.