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Athens is an ancient city which has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years. During Greece’s “Golden Age,” between around 500 - 300 BC, it was the true leader of the western world, being the most advanced city culturally, intellectually and commercially. Athens was home to famous philosopers such as Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, and is known as the birthplace of democracy.
The beautiful city is named after Athena, its patron goddess, and its ancient origns are still very apparent. Its layout still centers around famous monuments such as the Acropolis, the Parthenon and Mount Lycabettus. Modern suburbs have covered the once-barren plains in all directions, and the city is now quite large and densly populated with around 5 million people. Athens has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it has a very cosmopolitan atmosphere as well as a strong sense of local culture. Since Greece joined the European Union, Athens has changed in terms of its government structure and become more modernized. The city is still a vibrant centre for the arts, as it was in ancient days, and there is a wonderful array of cultural activities to choose from, as well as some truly dazzling sights to see.
Athens has a Mediterranean climate, which means generally mild temperatures and a good deal of sun. The most rain falls between mid-October and mid-April, and is fairly uncommon in summer. Athens has a very dry climate compared with its other Mediterranean neighbours. Summer temperatures are very hot, and average around 32º C (89º F) during the day. Winters are mild, but the temperature does fall below freezing. Average temperatures for the winter are between 6º C (44º F) and 12º C (55º F). Snow falls occasionally, but is more common in the mountainous northern suburbs than in the city proper.
The national language of Greece is Greek, a language of ancient origin. The natives are proud to be speaking a variant of the region’s original language, dating back three and a half thousand years.
The majority of Greeks practice the Greek Orthodox religion, almost 97% of the entire population. Muslims make up the largest minority group, including about 1.5% of all Greeks. There is also a smattering of Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews.
Tips are sometimes included in restaurant bills, but not always. In any case, it is common practice to leave a few Euros (after a full meal, for example) if the service has been good, and a bit more if no service charge is included. If you were not satisfied with the service, however, do not feel obligated to tip. Generally, tips intended for your waiter are left on the tray provided, while tips for the bus boy are left on the table itself. Bus boys usually receive very poor pay, so unless the service has been particularly bad, it is nice to tip them up to a Euro.
Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped as a matter of course, but customers will often round up the bill a bit. If a driver goes out of his way to be helpful, however, a tip is appropriate.
Tip attendants in restrooms, coatchecks, etc. some small change.
Most goods you can purchase in Greece include a sales tax of 19%, though for food and beverages it is lower, about 9%. For visitors from outside of the EU, money spent on taxes can be partially reclaimed. Whether or not you are entitled to tax reimbursement depends on how much you spend in one place, what kind of items you purchase, and how long the items will stay in the country. More information can be obtained from individual shops or from Greek customs officials.
The country code for Greece is 30, and the local area code for Athens is 210. To dial Athens from abroad, dial 00 30 210 followed by the local number. Public telephones are well-distributed through the city of Athens, in booths and kiosks known as periptera. You have to pay with a telephone card, available from phone shops, magazine and cigarette shops, and OTE (Hellenic Telecommunications Organization) offices. OTE offices are the cheapest place to make calls, either local or long distance. Each office has a number of separate phone booths available. Greece has the highest percentage of mobile phone use in Europe and it is possible to rent a mobile phone during your stay. More information is available on this site: www.greecetravel.com/phones, or from local phone shops.
There are many internet cafés throughout the city, most of which are open late. These shops usually provide other communication services in addition to internet access, such as fax, phone and printer use. The cost for internet use is usually around € 2 - 3 per hour. Many hotels also provide internet access for their customers.
Store hours in Athens may seem strange and unpredictable to foreigners, as they tend to alternate from day to day. Some days stores close as early as 3 pm, while other days they are open in the evening. Typical opening times for many businesses in Athens are: Mon, Wed, Sat 8.30 am - 3 pm, and Tue, Thu, Fri 8.30 am - 2 pm and 5 pm - 8 pm. The largest stores, such as department stores remain open every weekday from about 8 am - 8 pm, though close earlier on Sat.
Banks are open Mon - Thu 8 am - 2 pm and Fri 8 am- 1.30 pm. Post offices are open from 7.30 am - 2 pm Mon - Fri.
On the following days, most shops will be closed, as well as banks and post offices. Public transportation may also be more limited.
1st January, New Years Day
6th January, Epiphany
Ash Monday, 41 days before Easter
25th March, Independence Day and the Feast of the Annunciation
Easter, from Good Friday through Easter Monday
1st May, Labour Day
Whit Monday, 50 days after Easter
15th August, Assumption of the Virgin
28th October, Rejection of Italian ultimatum in 1940
25th-26th December, Christmas
Greece has the lowest crime rate in all of Europe, and as far as large cities go, Athens is one of the safest in the world. Crimes do of course occur, however, and pickpocketing and petty thefts are not uncommon. As a tourist, it is also important to be on the lookout for scam artists, who will lure you into their bars or other establishments and then charge you outrageous prices for what you have eaten or drunk. The violent crime rate is extremely low, however, and taking basic precautions will make it unlikely that you are targeted by pickpockets or other petty criminals.
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