Driving in Athens is not recommended unless you have nerves of steel; it can be unpleasant and even unsafe. It’s fairly easy to get around the city with a combination of public transportation and taxis; save driving for excursions out of town. Red traffic lights are frequently ignored, and motorists often pass other vehicles while driving on hills and while rounding corners. Driving is on the right, and although the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way, don’t expect this or any other driving rule to be obeyed. The speed limit is 50 kph (31 mph) in town. Traffic tends toward gridlock or heart-stopping speeding; parking in most parts of the city could qualify as an Olympic sport. Seat belts are compulsory, as are helmets for motorcyclists, though many natives ignore the laws. In downtown Athens do not drive in the bus lanes marked by a yellow divider; if caught, you may be fined.
Downtown parking spaces are hard to find, and the few downtown garages — including ones in vacant lots — are both expensive and perpetually full. The addition of parking meters and controlled parking zones at some point is expected to ease the situation in congested, high-traffic areas like Kolonaki, Syntagma, and Exarchia. Still, you’re better off leaving your car in the garage and walking or taking a cab. Gas pumps and service stations are everywhere, and lead-free gas is widely available. Be aware that all-night stations are few and far between.
A United States drivers license is valid in Greece, and it should be accompanied by an International Driving Permit. The International Driving Permit is an official translation of your valid Drivers License into 10 different languages, and it is valid for one year from the date issued. You can obtain an International Driving Permit from your local AAA office, or from ATAA. All you need is your valid US Drivers License, the completed application, two passport size photos (often taken on the spot at the AAA office), and you must be over 18 years old. You can go to your local AAA office, and the whole process takes about 10-15 minutes, or you can obtain your permit by mail.
While many online companies advertise that they can issue you an International Drivers License, beware that they are not valid. The only authorized organizations by the US State Department to issue International Driving Permits are the AAA and the ATAA.
AAA (American Automobile Association)
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32745-5063
The application is available online at www.aaa.com/vacation/idpapplc.html
American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA)
1151 E. Hillsdale Blvd
Foster City, CA 94404
In Greece you drive on the right, pass on the left, and yield right of way to vehicles approaching from the right except where otherwise posted. The maximum speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) on open roads, and 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph) in town, unless otherwise posted. Seat belts are required.
Greek drivers are notoriously reckless, often driving at ridiculously high speeds while blasting their horns at anyone who doesn’t react quickly enough to a green traffic signal or move onto the shoulder of the road to let them pass. Be warned, local motorcycle drivers often drive between lanes to pass cars and trucks at speed, on both the right and left. If you’re a nervous or timid driver you would be unwise to consider getting behind the wheel in Greece.