Home of the modern Olympics and a fiery football scene, Athens has staged several European finals but its clubs have only been involved in one. Nearly five decades after Ferenc Puskás led Panathinaikos out at Wembley for the 1971 European Cup Final against Ajax, no other club from the Greek capital, not even wealthy, dominant Olympiacos, has followed in his footsteps.
Leaving the original 1896 Olympic Stadium as a public monument to sport, a century later the Greeks built a sports arena capable of hosting the Games: the Olympic Stadium.
Or rather rebuilt, as the modern-day Olympic Stadium was opened here in 1982. Two of the Athens’ top clubs had been using the large, all-seated, two-tiered Olympiako as their home ground. One of them, AEK, nearly went under in 2012-13, but have come back up the hard way after dropping down to the third as amateurs. AEK’s revival and return to the Super League in 2015 re-established the Big Three. AEK’s title win of 2018, after 24 years, broke the near 20-year hegemony of Olympiacos, champions 19 times since 1997.
AEK are the only ones left in Olympic Stadium. Derby games with Panathinaikos and Olympiacos almost fill half the 69,000 capacity of this white elephant of an arena – for AEK’s home games with provincial opposition, crowds can be counted in four figures.
In 2013, AEK announced plans for a new stadium at their old stomping ground of Nea Filadelfia. The club are now owned by one of the richest men in Greece, Dimitris Melissanidis, his money made in fuel and betting. A display of the future Hagia Sofia was revealed in November 2015, church, barber shop, shoe shop, sauna and all. The Hellenic theme echoes the history of AEK themselves, formed by Greek refugees from Constantinople.
After a long-term residency at the Olympic Stadium, Panathinaikos are back at their old stomping ground of Ambelokipi, north of Athens city centre. Even the Greek national side have moved out, preferring to play at the Karaiskakis, contemporary home of dominant club Olympiacos. Located down in the port of Piraeus, this impressive stadium was also completely rebuilt for the 2004 Games (and used, by the way, in 1896).
Little Atromitos are based in Peristeri, western Athens. The Greek Cup runners-up in 2011 also earned consecutive play-off places in the league from 2012 to 2014. Their subsequent performances in the Europa League were not without merit either, an honourable defeat to Newcastle followed by away-goals exit to AZ Alkmaar.
Panionios represent Nea Smyrni and are perennially found mid-table in the Greek league. Meanwhile venerable Apollon, founded in 1891, gained promotion from the second flight to the Super League in 2013, but went straight back down in 2014. In May 2018, the attendance at Apollon’s Giorgios Kamaras Stadium in Rizoupoli was inflated to 12,000, many of the spectators AEK fans eager to see their club lift the Super League trophy after 24 years. As the nearest metro station is Perissos, close to where the new AEK stadium is taking shape, they didn’t have to travel too far.
Athens International Airport is 20km (12 miles) east of the city, 30km (19 miles) by road. From the airport, the Athens metro blue line 3 links to central Syntagma station (every 30mins, journey time 40mins). A single journey into town, with an Ath.enaTicket or Ath.enaCard (both rechargeable but the card requires an initial top-up fee of €4.50), is €10. This includes one onward journey from Syntagma, overall validity 90min. For a three-day pass with two airport transfers, there and back, it’s €22.
These tickets are also valid for the suburban rail line from the airport, seven stops/25min to Neratziotissa by the Olympic Stadium. Express bus No.X95 to Syntagma takes at least 70min but at €6 is cheaper than the metro.
A taxi from the airport into town has a flat rate of €38, €54 between midnight-5am.
Around town, a single journey valid for 90min is €1.40, a 24hr ticket is €4.50, both using the Ath.enaTicket or Ath.enaCard. For a cab journey across town, contact Taxi Athens (+30 211 800 9110).
Surprisingly, there are few hotels around the Olympic Stadium.
Conveniently located by focal Syntagma Square, Electra has is one of two business-friendly and spa-equipped establishments under the same umbrella – the Electra Palace is also close, with marble-tiled bathrooms and a rooftop pool.
The Best Western group has five hotels around the city, including the Candia, near the train station, with its panoramic rooftop pool. Also near the station, the neat Delta and stylish Neos Olympos, a 1938 original since renovated, are in the affordable bracket. The Athens Lotus is a four-star with two-star prices on booking sites.
For something funky, contemporary yet also within walking distance of the bar life of Psirri, AthenStyle is a decent choice.
In Piraeus, there’s little near Olympiacos but the Piraeus City has decent doubles near the port for €60-€70.
The hub of Athens’ nightlife scene is in Psyrrí, the other side of Ermou from Plaka. With its classic images of cinematic Athens, Old Fashioned (Miaouli 16) is typical of the genre. Nearby on Pl Iroon, Beertime offers any number of ales. Across Ermou in Plaka, in the shadow of the Acropolis, venues include the James Joyce pub.
On the other side of the Acropolis, the Athens Sports Bar at Veikou 3A is a small spot that attracts backpackers from the adjoining hostel. Greek soccer shirts complement the many Australian football ones. The evening-only Diver beer restaurant at Sintagmatarchou Davaki 65 in Kallithea, provides hundreds of types of draught and bottled options just off main Leof El Venizlous south of the city centre.
In summer, the action moves down to the beach at Glyfada along the Apollo coast. There, Molly Malone’s shows TV sport.
In the same family, O’Connell’s provides TV sports, Guinness, Kilkenny and pub grub near the port in Piraeus.