Is overtourism hurting Athens? Is the historic Greek capital so touristy, that you should reconsider your visit? Here is an Athenian’s opinion!
Overtourism in Athens
You may have read an article in Fodor’s recently, which advises against visiting Athens. The article mentions that Athens is suffering from overtourism, and it’s losing its unique, charming character.
The article has got me thinking. As an Athenian who’s been around since the mid-70s, I’ve seen the city change and evolve over the decades. Surely, a city “losing its character” is not exactly news?
Let’s have a look at what the article says, and my thoughts on overtourism in Athens.
The Impact of Overtourism on the Acropolis
The historic city of Athens is home to the world-famous Acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. According to the article, the amazing monument is currently experiencing damage, due to rising tourist numbers and insensitive construction.
Concrete paving on the Acropolis, initially meant to ease tourist traffic, has been a subject of hot debate. Concerns have been raised about whether the new construction is in line with international heritage preservation standards, and whether it’s actually causing damage to the site itself.
At the same time, queues to enter the Acropolis in summer 2023 were longer than ever. Combined with the heatwaves in July, this made it difficult for tourists to enjoy the iconic ancient site. This led to a new, timed-entry system for visitors to the Acropolis.
The system, which came into effect in September 2023, has not proved to be flawless so far. The large number of tourists, especially those interested in morning time slots, has resulted in long queues at the entrance.
Hopefully, this new Acropolis timed-entry system is going to be re-evaluated and perhaps modified, in order to ease the overtourism situation in the future.
The truth is, the Acropolis is everyone’s highlight when visiting Athens, and everyone considers it a must-see. This includes passengers coming off cruise ships, who only have a few hours to spend in Athens.
But it’s not the only tourist attraction worth seeing in the Greek capital! Here are 30 of the best things to do in Athens.
Overtourism alters Athens’s neighborhoods
According to the article, overtourism in Athens also has a negative impact on certain neighborhoods in the center of the city.
Although regulations exist to protect historic areas of the Greek capital, more and more buildings are becoming hotels and Airbnbs. Rooftops are being used to host new restaurants and bars. This leads to loss of local character and noise pollution in Athens.
On top of that, with rental prices going up, locals can no longer afford to live in the historic center. Neighborhoods such as Plaka, Koukaki, Thissio, and Psiri have experienced a significant rise in living costs. This is partly due to the increasing number of Airbnbs in those areas.
But this is not the first time that the neighborhoods in Athens are changing. In the past 200 years, the center of Athens has constantly been growing and evolving.
In the 1820s, after the Greek Independence War, Athens had no more than 10,000 residents. Today, almost 4 million people live in the Greek capital and the sprawling suburbs. None of this happened overnight – it’s been a gradual process.
Plus, I have to say – when I first visited New York City in 2003, I loved the rooftop bars, and wondered why they weren’t common in the Greek capital. I’m glad that, two decades down the road, there are plenty of rooftop bars in Athens.
And well, here’s one thing – as an Athenian, I love looking at the Acropolis from a distance. I take it for granted sometimes, like many other locals, but it’s a truly spectacular sight!
The impact of cruise ship tourism on Athens
Tina Kyriakis, founder of Alternative Athens, a company which runs several great tours of Athens, highlights another problem. In her opinion, tourist-oriented services are forcing out local life. This makes the city monothematic and reduces its unique appeal.
Indeed, as any Athenian will tell you, areas that were once mostly frequented by locals have lost some of their authenticity, as they cater more and more for tourists.
She also notes that the surge in cruise ship tourism is a particular issue. It leads to overcrowding, without contributing much to the city’s economy, as visitors only stay in Athens for a few hours.
Over the last years, many people have asked me how they can see “authentic Greece” if they visit on a cruise. In all honesty, this is very unlikely to happen. Can you expect to discover something unique as you are disembarking a ship along with thousands more people? I don’t think so!
Don’t get me wrong – you will totally enjoy your cruise around Greece! After all, you will see some of the most famous spots without worrying about the logistics. However, the so-called “authentic Greece” is far from the cruise ports.
So, is overtourism hurting Athens?
The Fodor’s article concludes that Athens is losing both its authenticity and its sustainability. This jeopardizes the future of one of the world’s most historically significant cities.
From my perspective as an Athenian, I agree to a certain extent. I have witnessed the changes in the past decade first-hand, and some of them have troubled me.
BUT, at the same time, Athens has been changing since I can remember myself. If you ask my father, who was born in 1940, he will tell you exactly the same. Athens is an ever-changing city, with an unbelievably long history.
In my opinion, Athens has changed much more rapidly in the last couple of decades than ever before. But doesn’t that apply to everything these days?
And yes, Athens is much more touristy than it was 20 years ago. But isn’t this the same with most cities in Europe, and in fact the world?
Let’s not forget that, in the last couple of decades, travel has become much easier than ever before. Faster planes, frequent and low-cost flights, and of course an abundance of easily accessible travel guides!
Overtourism is a growing issue worldwide, and Athens is no exception. The city is adapting to the demands of its visitors, and as a result, it’s losing some of its unique character.
But at the same time, tourism also brings many benefits to Athens. It stimulates economic growth, creates job opportunities in various sectors, and leads to infrastructural development, improving facilities for locals and visitors.
As an example, can you imagine Athens without the metro system? I definitely can’t. In fact, I almost can’t remember what it was like before the metro was constructed!
Sustainable tourism practices
The key is finding a balance between preserving the city’s authenticity and catering to tourists’ needs. Measures such as stricter regulations for construction and tourism activities can help mitigate the negative impact of overtourism on historic sites like the Acropolis.
Moreover, promoting alternative activities and lesser-known destinations and attractions might actually be more impactful in the long run.
The future lies in responsible and sustainable tourism practices. Ultimately, it’s up to both visitors and locals to ensure that Athens remains a vibrant, authentic, and sustainable destination. This way, Athens can continue to thrive without losing its soul.
In any case, don’t cross Athens off your list just yet! It’s a unique city where the ancient past meets the present, and there is so much to experience and discover.
And, if you want to avoid the crowds, you can always visit in the off-season. For example, here is a guide with what to expect Athens in November.
After all, Athens is a year-round destination, and it’s a lively, vibrant city which I’m happy to call home!