Late in 2008 a new bus arrived in Athens. Bright, shiny and red, with an open air second story, the bus looked a bit like it took at wrong turn at London Bridge and ended up at Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament building. My Athenian friends quickly balked at the buses, “they’re a rip-off”, “eighteen euro to ride around Athens? Why not just take the metro if you don’t want to walk?” “Why not just take the Happy Train?” “It’ll be just like the old Bus 400 – it’ll get halfway around the circle and stop running!”
I decided to reserve judgment, preferring to wait and see how smoothly the bus ran, and what kind of feedback I got from visitors who used it. After all, as much as I am all about walking, I know that it is not an option (and not the best option) for everyone. In the middle of the summer Athens is sunny and hot, families toting around several young children with toddlers and people with physical challenges need a choice in how they maneuver the city center. And those who might prefer transport but want to stay above ground to see the sites as they move from place to place would certainly find this bus useful. A well run, efficient and professional sightseeing bus would be a welcome addition to the city center. (And of course, a bus which can transport 40 or 50 passengers thereby replacing the congestion and emissions of 10 or more taxis is an environmentally smart idea.)
Now that we’ve had a couple of seasons with these buses, I’ve watched smiling visitors board and disembark and it seems like it is going well. They appear to run on schedule, and the pre-recorded commentary, in multiple languages, is a nice and simple overview. The buses don’t replace the wealth of knowledge provided by a licensed tour guide, but as any mom with small kids in tow can tell you, most youngsters don’t have the attention span for that type of tour anyway. And as an ex-pat who has hosted guests of all ages and physical abilities in my adopted city, I can tell you that not everyone wants to explore the sites on foot. And truth be told, plenty of folks like the idea of an “overview” before they set out on foot to explore. So in short, I think the bus works and is a nice addition.
The wheelchair accessible Athens sightseeing bus operates every 30 minutes, year round (except on November 17, December 25 and January 1) and the circle tour takes 90 minutes if you don’t hop off. The bright red, bilingual bus stops are well marked and easy to spot, and clearly posted with the schedule, both for summer months and winter months.
The bus does not run through the Plaka or on any pedestrian streets – that you’ll have to navigate on your own.
Tickets , available online, are 15 – 18 euro for adults and 8 euro for children and are valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase. This is handy if you arrive in the afternoon and want an overview, you can take the full 90 minute tour, save your ticket and, depending on where you are staying, board the next morning to get across the center to start exploring with the Acropolis, Keramikos or the National Archeological Museum, working your way back, without missing the sites as you would traveling under the city. (And besides, the metro itself is another great “tour” to take with the kids – great for cooling off from the summer sun, with just enough archeology and art to feel like you are still in this amazing ancient city, but not enough to bore the kids … “Maaaahhhm, another pile of rocks? Oh no!”)