I personally find Athens to be one of the safest capital cities in the world. Here's my thoughts and answers to the is Athens safe question, along with essential travel tips.
The Speed of Bad News
“Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws. The Hingefreel people of Arkintoofle Minor did try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn't work particularly well and were so extremely unwelcome whenever they arrived anywhere that there wasn't really any point in being there.”
Mostly Harmless from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series
I thought I'd start this blog post with a quote from a book by Douglas Adams, one of my favourite authors. Although the book was published in the early 90s, it's never been truer, especially in the age of social media.
Images and headlines flash around the world in milliseconds. One person shares a post in a Facebook group, and suddenly a destination like Athens has been defined by that one experience.
I've noticed this happening with Athens in certain Facebook groups recently. Somebody posts that they've lost their wallet to a pickpocket or they've seen some homeless people, and all of a sudden Athens is “unsafe”.
That's why I decided to address the Is Athens Safe question with this blog post.
But first, what does that question even mean?
Is Athens Safe?
I always struggle to answer this question when asked, because I honestly don't know what the question means.
Is the person asking will they get murdered, is there gun crime, will they get mugged, are there pickpockets, will there be a civil war?
I've been living in Athens for nearly 5 years so far, and none of those things have happened to me.
My girlfriend's lived here most of her life, and none of those things have happened to her either.
Will they in the future?
I don't know.
The law of averages suggests the longer you live, the more things are likely to happen to you at some point I guess.
But from a personal point of view, I find Athens to be extremely safe.
So how true are the negative stories about Athens?
Let's put things into perspective
Right now, the majority of my readers are from the United States. As such, I thought I'd make a quick comparison between Greece and the United States in regards to the intentional homicide rate.
The following figures are drawn from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Homicide Statistics dataset. You can find a summary wikipage here, but of course check out the original sources cited on that page as well.
In 2016, the numbers were:
- 84 total homicides in Greece. Equating to 0.75 homicides per 100,000 people.
- 17,245 total homicides in the United States. Equating to 5.35 homicides per 100,000 people.
Based on homicides alone, the question shouldn't be is Greece safe, but HOW is Greece SO safe!
In fact, Greece is one of the safest countries in the world in regards to homicides.
This means that as a tourist in Athens, the odds are extraordinarily low in regards to homicide.
Thinking about it, more people from the States should probably consider emigrating to Greece because it's safer!
Petty Crime in Athens
Ok, lets assume when people are asking “is Athens safe“, they are referring to so called petty crime.
Pickpockets, bag snatching, theft from hotel rooms. That sort of thing.
Do these things happen in Athens?
Well, Athens has an urban population of 3 million people. It also receives approximately 6 million visitors each year.
It would be pretty unusual if it didn't happen!
So yes, it does happen.
But petty crime such as pick-pocketing is very far from being an epidemic.
At least as far as the anecdotal evidence of myself and girlfriend and our circle of friends and acquaintances goes.
And whilst I have no figures for this (I did spend a lot of time trying to find some!), I imagine that once again they will be considerably lower per capita when compared with the United States.
How to keep safe in Athens
So, whilst I think the chances of the average visitor to Athens being pick-pocketed or robbed are very low, it would be remiss of me not to offer some practical advice on how to keep safe in Athens.
These travel tips will help you avoid scams, let you know which areas to avoid at night, and inform you as to different scenarios where you should pay extra attention.
To be fair, you can apply them to any big city.
- Be aware of pickpockets on the metro. If you have a backpack, hold it in front of you rather than on your back.
- When you are in crowded areas (e.g. the Acropolis or a market), pay attention to people around you.
- Use a hidden wallet to hide your credit cards and bigger amounts of money.
- If your hotel has a safe, leave your passport and any unnecessary valuables there.
- Avoid badly lit areas at night.
Pretty standard stuff really.
Does this make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable?
Some areas in Athens, like Omonia, Metaxourgio or Exarhia, have a bad reputation for drug use. You might even see people shooting drugs. There's also a visible homeless presence.
Does this make the area unsafe for visitors? I don't think so, but you might. Therefore it might be best to avoid them at night, especially if you don't know where you are going.
Some people also find the amount of graffiti in Athens, specifically in those areas very intimidating – it makes the city seem unsafe. It's just spray paint on a wall though, it won't bite you!
Dates to be aware of
There are certain dates, especially the 17th November (Polytechnic Uprising anniversary) and the 6th December (Alexandros' Grigoropoulos death anniversary), where demonstrations and riots will start at certain areas of the city. It's something that happens like clockwork, and so easily avoided.
On those dates, keep clear of Exarhia, Omonia, Kaningos Square, and the area around Panepistimio metro.
Some metro stations and some main arteries from Syntagma Square usually remain closed on those dates, so be prepared.
On a tongue in cheek final note…
You might now be worried that Athens is too safe, and you won't have an exciting story to share.
Don't worry, I can help you out!
I've got a fun little post here called 28 awesome ways to get robbed the next time you travel.
That should spice things up a bit!!
Seriously though – Enjoy your time in Athens. Be aware but not paranoid. Be mindful but not on edge. And sign up for my free travel guides to Greece, which I'm sure you'll love!