A good mix of flights to Athens is now available from several different scheduled, budget and charter airlines. Whereas most of the Greek islands tend to only be served by charter flights on a seasonal basis, most flights to Athens operate year-round. Note that flying via Athens is the best way to get to other parts of Greece outside the main tourist season.
Budget flights to Athens
easyJet have been operating cheap flights to Athens from their hubs at both Luton and Gatwick for a number of years, but they have never expanded these routes to operate from outside London. There are two major factors which prevent budget airlines from offering more flights to Athens:
- The first is a simple question of distance - especially as operating flights there from a city such as Newcastle or Belfast adds even more to the journey time.
- The second reason is that the new international airport in Athens has been a very expensive facility to build (thus airlines are charged a hefty premium to use it), and there are no alternative budget airports currently available. The Greek government has been focusing its attention is on propping up struggling national carrier Olympic Airways, rather than trying to stimulate genuine competition - with Greece being one of the few EU members (and certainly by far the largest) not to have opened up to the likes of Ryanair (although some people will no doubt argue that this is a good thing).
In terms of scheduled flights, the one notable exception to the above is Glasgow. Budget airline Air Scotland is a trading name for "Greece Airways", who have operated flights from Glasgow to Athens for several years. More recently, Globepsan have announced flights from both Glasgow and London Stansted to Athens, finally stirring up this substantial market to some long overdue competition.
In addition to regular flights from London Heathrow to Athens offered by Olympic and British Airways, Olympic also offer a few flights from Manchester, but BA have stopped the Birmingham to Athens route. Regular connecting flight to Athens are available from various UK regional cities, either through London, or European hubs such as Paris and Amsterdam. Germany has always maintained strong air links with Greece, making Lufthansa's connections through Frankfurt or Munich a particularly popular option.
Athens has been positively rejuvenated by the experience of hosting the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. All of the city's classical delights remain, but newer ones now take their place alongside them. It's certainly easier to get about, thanks to new highways and pedestrian areas cutting a much-needed swathe through what was formerly one of the most grid-locked capital cities in Europe. The innovation of a coastal tram also makes getting to the beach a lot quicker. Still, this is a city best explored on foot, avoiding the jams, and best visited during the early summer months, before the all-conquering heat of August and September. Athens is a destination of attractions. It's impossible to come here and not visit such legendary locations as the Acropolis (taking in the Parthenon), the Temple of Zeus, or Plato's Academy (birthplace of the non-sexual relationship). All these venues have benefited from the improvement project the city embarked upon in the run up to the Olympics: the once-narrow pathways leading to the Acropolis, high on a hillside above the city, have been widened and repaved in recent years. A selection of bars and restaurants now line the route, hoping to lure hungry and thirsty tourists. The past inevitably dominates the city, as witnessed by the National Archaeological Museum, the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, and the Natural History Museum. But there are also quirkier afternoons out: Athens Zoo, for example, widely regarded as a shining example of committed, caring conservation; the shopping district of Monastiraki; the Central and flea markets; or the tropical sensation that is the National Garden, with its incongruous rainforests and the Zappio Palace. Concerts and plays are regularly staged in the city's handful of outdoor theatres (one more legacy of Athens' distant past) and the Olympic Stadium (a reminder of more recent triumphs). The old saying goes: beware of Greeks bearing gifts; but Athens is one Greek gift you'd be a fool to turn down.