Renting A Car In Athens

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Athens is a large sprawling coastal city and capital of Greece on the Mediterranean, offering lazy days on the beach when you have had your fill of sightseeing. It is one of the world’s oldest cities, its history spanning 3400 years. Millions of people flock to Athens each year to visit the ancient Acropolis and Parthenon, which tower over the city. There is plenty to do in Athens to warrant a stay of longer than just a couple of days. For a start, there are more than 80 museums, historical sites and superb Greek and international tavernas and restaurants. Both the historic district and the new parts of the city are a shopaholics’ paradise, and the surrounding mountains offer hiking opportunities.

If you are staying in Athens, should you rent a car to get about? If you are mainly interested in the historical sites, they are housed close together and you can easily visit them on foot. There is also a very good public transportation system, including trains, underground, buses, and trams but you may like the independence of having your own wheels. If so, there are plenty of car hire companies to choose from both in the city and in Athens El. Venizelos airport. Here’s everything you need to know about car rental in Athens. 

Car Rental In Athens

Best Athens Car Rental

hand handing over key with car rental contract on the table
Everything you need to know about car rental in Athens.

When booking your Athens car rental online, use Discover Cars to find the best deal. The site searches international corporations and local companies to list cars that suit your circumstances.

Driving In Athens – An Overview

It can be challenging driving in Athens as it’s a very busy city and it can be difficult to find somewhere to park.

Car parks are few and far between.

It’s not a good idea to park illegally as the police can take your number plates and you will have to pay a hefty fine to get them back.

In general, the police are strict and are happy to hand out fines for something simple as smoking in the car (yes, it’s illegal) to something serious as being over the limit.

Late at night, they can set up roadblocks to breathalyse drivers so if you want to enjoy a few drinks, leave the car at the hotel. The legal limit to drive is low, just 0,50 mg, so it is better not to drink at all.

Greek drivers can be aggressive and often don’t follow the rules of the road. Greeks don’t like traffic lights and will often go through as the orange turns to red.

This can be dangerous if you stop with a car behind you speeding up to jump the lights you could be involved in a nasty crash and a very angry Greek confronting you.

Zebra crossings aren’t generally adhered to, and Greeks won’t stop for pedestrians. Again, you could stop when you see a person stepping on the crossing but the car behind you was not prepared to stop. Again, you could be involved in an accident.

It is better to drive slowly to avoid such occurrences. Better to have an irate Greek behind you than a crashed car.

Beware of motorcyclists as they are a popular mode of transport and you will find that they may even overtake you on the inside and go through red lights.

There’s always a lot of traffic in Athens but, as with everywhere, there are rush hours. Many Greeks work from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. so expect the times before and after these hours to be busy.

Afternoons can be quieter when many Greeks take a siesta.

Avoid driving on the evening before a holiday weekend and on the last evening of the weekend as many people leave the city to visit family in the country or on the islands.

The good news is that August is pretty quiet in Athens as many Athenians take their holidays during this month and leave the city.

Another bit of good news is that the road signs are in both Greek and English so you shouldn’t get lost, especially if one person in the car navigates.

Car Rental Requirements

athens car rental vector
There are times when renting a car in Athens makes sense.

So, you’ve decided to brave the streets of Athens and have decided to rent a car.

There are many car rental companies to choose from, from big international companies to Greek-based companies.

It is always a good idea to research online before you come to Greece to see what different companies offer.

The most important requirements if you want to rent a car in Greece are that you are 21 years old or over and that you have had a driving licence for at least one year.

Some companies will add a surcharge if you are under 25 and others won’t rent a car to someone over 70.

It is a good idea to book your car rental before coming to Greece to ensure that you get the car you want.

It also makes life much easier, meaning you will get your car quicker.

This is particularly useful if you are picking up your car at the airport. After a long flight, you won’t want to hang around the airport filling in forms.

When you get to the rental desk, you will have to present your driver’s licence, passport, and credit card. Debit cards are generally not accepted.

If you haven’t got an EU driving licence, you will need an International Driver’s Permit, which is easily obtained online.

If you have a child under four, ensure that you order a child seat as they are mandatory. And remember that children under ten have to sit in the back. Everybody has to wear a seatbelt. It’s definitely not worth the fines for breaking any of these rules.

Car Rental Insurance

car rental athens greece
Renting a car in Athens is only for the brave.

As in most countries, you have to have insurance to drive a car and standard insurance is usually included in the rental price.

This includes theft protection and third-party liability but there is usually a deductible which is the amount payable by the renter.

This can be hefty, so make sure it is an amount you can afford or a cheap break can turn into a holiday that breaks the bank.

Insurance companies have their own deductibles and these may vary from car to car. You will probably find that the deductible is bigger for a luxury car than for a budget model.

You can take out extended insurance, which will cost you more.

  • The first level is CDW or collision damage waiver, which covers the bodywork of the car in case of an accident. There is usually a deductible which again can vary.
  • SCDW or super collision waiver, is similar to CDW but it has a reduced deductible.
  • FDW or full damage waiver doesn’t have a deductible, so the car rental company will pay all the bills but be aware that it is only the bodywork that is covered. Look at the small print and see what isn’t covered. Things like wheels, windows, and the engine usually aren’t covered. Taking out extra insurance will put your cost up quite a bit but it might be worth it in the long run.

Car Rental Restrictions

aerial view of athens city centre.
If you’re looking for the best car rental deals in Athens, you’ll find a lot of competition.

When renting a car, make sure that there are no hidden charges and restrictions.

If you plan to pick up the car in one place and drop it off at another, ask if this will cost more.

More often than not, it does.

Some rental companies impose mileage limitations so make sure that you are getting unlimited mileage if you plan to use the car a lot.

If you go over the mileage limitation, charges can be high.

There may be geographical restrictions, so check the small print.

You might not be able to take the car off the mainland to one of the islands or you may not be insured to drive on roads not intended for passenger cars.

Be aware that if you have an accident and you are found to have alcohol or drugs in your system, your insurance will be null and void.

Rules Of The Road

In Greece, cars drive on the right so this may take some getting used to if you come from a country that drives on the left.

If you are driving in Athens, the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour (30 mph) but when you leave Athens and go on an open road, the limit is 80 kph (50 mph), while on the highways, it is 100 kph (74 mph).

Most petrol stations are open from 7 am until 7 p.m. However, during the summer, you may find petrol stations open later in the evening.

If there are double lines in the middle of the road, it means ‘no passing’.

However, you will find that a lot of Greeks ignore this and you may be surprised by a car coming towards you.

Don’t do this yourself as if the police catch you, you will get a large fine.

If you drive on the highway, it is an unwritten rule of the road to move over to the shoulder if someone wants to overtake you.

You will have a very irate Greek behind you if you don’t.

If there is a three-lane highway, the middle lane is for overtaking.

Now comes the hard part, some unwritten rules that the Greeks have made up!

If someone flashes their lights at you, it means that they are coming through. This is the opposite of what it is in many other countries.

In addition, when you see a car put on its hazards, it means that anything could happen!

They could even be stopping to have a chat with the driver on the other side of the road, not allowing you to move on!

How Safe Is It To Drive In Athens?

Athens is not the safest place to drive but this shouldn’t put you off if you want to hire a car, especially if you also want to explore outside the city as well.

Just remember that Greece has one of the highest accident rates in Europe.

However, I have been driving in Greece for 23 years and have escaped accidents apart from losing a wing mirror a couple of times.

I will say that Athens is not the place for a timid driver.

Be assertive and concentrate at all times, especially in reading the actions of other drivers, and you should be fine.

A tip is to hire a bigger car than you would typically rent. If you drive an SUV, for example, you will find that other drivers will give you more room.

The Best Car Rental Companies In Athens

There are a lot of car rental companies in Athens so it can be overwhelming when trying to choose whom to go with.

Of course, price is an important factor, as is insurance coverage. I have chosen a few companies which I feel are worth looking at, however, a great way to find the right car for you is to use Discover Cars to find the best deal.

The site searches international corporations and local companies to list cars that suit your circumstances.


Sixt is an international company and in Athens, you can hire a car both at the airport and in the city.

They have a fleet of high-class newer cars.

There is a good variety of cars so you should be able to find one to suit you.

They stock mini cars, economy, comfort, full-size, minivans, passenger vans, and SUVs.

Their fleet consists of top brands such as Mercedes, Audi, and VW. If you want an economy car, you might get a VW Polo or Peugeot 107.

If you want to travel to the islands, you can take your rental car but you will have to pay for extra insurance coverage.

Still, this is a good option as you won’t have to worry about hiring a car at each island and you can drive to the port without having to look for transportation.

Kosmos Car Rental

Kosmos Car Rental is a Greek company that operates throughout the country.

They have been in the business for 26 years, which has provided them with considerable knowledge in the business of renting cars.

In Athens, you can hire a car in the city, the airport, or the port of Piraeus, which gives you versatility.

They provide anything from budget to luxury cars. You can even hire convertibles and limousines. In addition, they have SUVs and automatic cars if you aren’t used to gear-change cars.

The staff are very friendly and know all there is to know about Athens, making it a good idea to go with a Greek-based company.


Avis is an international car rental company and is well-represented in Athens.

They have five locations there: Athens airport, Athens City Centre, Chalandri, Metamorfosi and the port of Piraeus.

Avis has a wide range of cars, including economy, family, convertibles, SUVs, and people carriers.

Some of their cars are automatic and have GPS.

They offer breakdown cover as well.

If you are hiring a car between November and March, you can also hire snow chains.

There is a Customer Loyalty Programme which offers excellent rewards such as free upgrades and free additional drivers.

Avis is open 24 hours a day seven days a week, so you can return your car whenever you want.

Scams To Look Out For

You need to stand firm to avoid car rental price-boosting tactics as car rental employees are trained to hard-sell extras like upgrades and insurance.

#1 If you have ordered a small car and they say that they haven’t got one despite your reservation, hold your ground until you get an upgrade for free.

#2 Always check the rental car for dents and other problems and make sure that these are marked on your contract. You don’t want to pay for damage you aren’t responsible for. Also, look out for overcharging for minor repairs or car damage claims submitted long after you have returned the car.

#3 Don’t buy petrol from the rental company at a ‘reduced price’. It is usually only cents less than the petrol station down the road and if you don’t use it up, the rental company can sell it to the next unsuspecting customer.

Would You Want To Rent A Car In Athens?

As we have said, driving in Athens is not for the faint-hearted as it’s a busy city and the Greeks are aggressive drivers.

It is also challenging to park, although some hotels do have car parks.

You need to be good at parallel parking because if you find a parking spot, you will probably have to squeeze into a tight space.

Although the street signs are in English and Greek, they are often obscured, covered in graffiti, or twisted. Because of this, it is usually best to hire a car with GPS.

There are a lot of one-way streets in Athens so if you miss your turn, you might be driving for an hour searching for your destination.

If your main reason for visiting Athens is to see the historical sites and museums, it isn’t really necessary to rent a car as most of the historic sites are within walking distance.

There is an excellent public transport system if you want to see other parts of Athens. However, if you want to explore outside the city centre, for example, visiting the beach or mountains, then a car would be useful.

There are beltways over the city that can take you out in a hurry to such places as the Riviera and Piraeus and these are easier to negotiate.

Differences Driving in Athens Compared To Cities In the UK and the US

If you are from the US, you might find it a bit easier as you will be driving on the same side of the road. However, if you are from countries such as the UK or Australia, it will take a little getting used to driving on the right.

Gear-change cars are the norm, although some companies do have a few automatic cars on their books.

This could be challenging for US drivers who are used to driving automatics, although gear-change is common in the UK.

If you are from the US, you will be used to yellow diamond warning signs, while in Greece and the rest of Europe, they are triangular signs with a red border.

At traffic lights in the US, you are allowed to turn right if there is no upcoming traffic, even if the lights are red.

However, you have to stop at red lights in Athens and all over Europe whether there is upcoming traffic or not.

To make it more confusing, you will find that motorbikes and cyclists often ignore red lights, so beware.

The most significant difference between driving in US, UK and Australian cities compared to Athens is that the drivers are more aggressive in Greece, and they break the rules.

As long as you know this, you should be fine! 

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Irena Nieslony was born in Windsor, England but now lives on the island of Crete, Greece, in a small village called Modi near the city of Chania. She has visited 32 countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Her favourite country is Tanzania as she loves wildlife and was lucky enough to see ‘The Big Five”. She also loves Egypt, as ancient history intrigues her, the southern states of the US and the cities of Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans for music. She has a B.A. Honours degree in English and Drama from Westfield College, University of London. She has writing for over 13 years and has 13 novels, 7 short stories, and thousands of articles published.