Sailboats anchored at night, Piraeus

On a city break to Athens or off to an island? Take time to discover a portrait of Greece in miniature

If you don’t rush off to the islands, you quickly realise that Piraeus is not just the largest port in the eastern Med or a stop before and after your holidays in the Aegean. Piraeus is a destination in its own right. Three natural bays engulf it with the sea’s promise of freedom. Emblematic neoclassical buildings attract the eye amid commercial structures.

The hill of Kastela keeps a lookout from above. The charming inlets of Microlimano and Pasalimani contrast with the industrial district of Kaminia. Piraeus is a vibrant port inviting visitors to explore and discover its markets, bars, squares, malls, spice-filled bazaars, yacht marinas and gourmet restaurants, as well as the local hangouts where impromptu bouzouki evenings bring back the spirit of the fifties and sixties.

Piraeus encapsulates the history of Greece, stretching from the ancient ruins of the Long Walls, which reached Athens, telling tales of centuries of decline and rebirth, to the busy commerce of today. In fact, it mirrors the entire country; a blend of civilisations and peoples, joy and sadness, refugees and travellers, Olympiakos FC and Melina in "Never on Sunday."

What to do in Piraeus

Seaside promenade
Your ferry leaves in a few hours? Whether you’re on your way to an Aegean holiday or about to embark on a day trip  to the islands close to Athens, you have time enough to fall in love with Piraeus. The port-city’s tempo will carry you off with its insatiable enthusiasm. From Peiraiki to Freatida, the route follows the sea and is bordered with trees, flowers and shrubs. Benches beckon you to stop and enjoy the view. Another invitation comes from colourful Pasalimani, where lively bars and cafes can easily make you lose track of time. Careful you don’t miss the boat. Or should you wait for the next one?

Microlimano, an island on the mainland
You’ll feel as if you are already on holiday. Wooden decks over the water and the rocking masts of yachts set the stage. Microlimano’s restaurants offer unforgettable meals. The waiters may be in a hurry but they still crack jokes and wear smiles as they carry trays heaped with seafood; grilled octopus, shellfish and snapper, fried crayfish tails and other delicacies. Wine glitters in bottles and ouzo turns cloudy as ice cubes melt. Late at night, as the bar scene gets going at the edge of the picturesque harbour, it’s easy to believe that you’re already on your island.

Meet the grande dame of Piraeus
At Kastela, you’ll discover a new perspective, looking down on the coast from this elevated and elegant cluster of buildings on the hill; viewing Piraeus through the windows of 19th-century neoclassical mansions, restored and transformed into bistros, bars, cafes and restaurants. Climb through the alleyways and up the steps of the city’s most upper-class neighbourhood. At the top you’ll find the chapel of the Prophet Elijah, an incredible vantage point from which to survey the goings-on in the port.

Attica and the Argosaronic lie at your feet. Take a break for a coffee or a bite, or even bowling, and then a history lesson or two. You’re surrounded by temples carved into the rock and vestiges of fortification dating back to the Archaic period.

Architectural grandeur
Piraeus’ timeless architectural dowry is full of emblems of the 19th century, and the numerous sights and attractions will impress you. The Municipal Theatre, built in 1884, a symbol of Piraeus and one of the most important theatrical buildings in Greece; the Naval Academy, designed by the famous architect Ernst Ziller; the Hatzikyriakeio, built in 1897, and Piraeus Metro Station with its huge arched roof. This is where the train from Athens terminates. The line you have just ridden  was inaugurated by one of Greece’s most important historical figures of the last century, Eleftherios Venizelos, in 1930.

Shopping and more
Piraeus is famous for its market. Visit the main shopping mall in the triangle formed by Gounari, Ethikis Antistaseos and Akti Poseidonos streets. Buy fresh meat, fish and produce at the central market and go to Pasalimani where you’ll find even larger malls. As evening falls don’t forget to investigate Piraeus’s nightlife.

Images of Piraeus

Hidden gems of Piraeus

Gateway to antiquity
At the corner of Syntagmatos and Pylis, you’ll come across the remains of the once imposing entrance to Piraeus from Athens. The carriageway along the ancient Long Walls terminated right here.

Sunday flea market in Piraeus
Vinyl records, old coins, books – and much more besides – are on offer at the Sunday bazaar at the trolley terminus. This nostalgic environment, in which the cries of vendors assail your eyes and haggling is your passport to the next bargain, is just the thing for those who collect objects and experiences in equal measure.

Explore millennia of history in Piraeus’ museums. The Archaeological Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Municipal Gallery exhibit their treasures in attractive buildings and their courtyards. A surprise awaits you at the Archaeological Museum; in its grounds is  a Hellenistic period theatre reminiscent of the earlier Theatre of Dionysos at the foot of the Acropolis.

Battleship Averof
Invincible in its day, this flagship of the Greek Navy in the early 20th century has great sentimental value for Greeks. Docked at the Marina Trokadero, it is a floating museum awaiting your embarkation. Mothballed in 1952, it still feels as if it’s ready to sail.