Patission Street, Athens, Wednesday, 10.30 am Seven tourists pull up in front of the Technical University, their engines turned off, waiting for students on a school trip to the National Archaeological Museum. They are parked in a bus lane, right next to the “no stopping or parking” sign and under the cables that provide power to the capital’s trolley buses.
Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue, 11.00 am Surprisingly, there’s just one bus in front of the Panathenaic Stadium waiting, engine off, for the school children it has dropped off there. A welcome respite for the drivers who, in the peak tourist months, often find themselves confronted with rows of buses parked in front of the monument, aggravating the traffic congestion still further.
Kallirroi street, “Syngrou Fix” Metro station, 11.30 am Seven buses are parked in the right-hand lane. There are another three on Syngrou Avenue, in front of the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
On our way from Patission to the far south of the Municipality of Athens, we encountered one more parked-up tourist bus in Klafthmonos Square and three more on Philellinon Street. And this is on a winter’s morning at the deadest time of the year tourist-wise. Why has the unregulated stopping and parking of tourist buses in the center of Athens become the new normal and—more importantly—what can be done to improve the situation?

Like hundreds of cars

“Usually, one bus corresponds to three or four cars,” transport expert and associate professor at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) Konstantinos Kepapsoglou explains to To Vima. Given that as many as 100–150 coaches may be on the road in downtown Athens on peak days, in a worst case scenario, this imposes a traffic burden equal to that of 600 cars, Athens Tourist Office Association president Konstantinos Prachalis notes.
To bring the traffic in Athens back under control, Kepapsoglou stresses that a special parking area should have been set up away from the center, where bus drivers could wait until they are called to pick up tourists. “This was planned for 15 years ago, when the new Acropolis museum opened,” he recalls and continues: “Under that scheme, the buses would go down to Faliro to park and come back up to the center to pick up visitors.” But that didn’t happen in the end. However, in the NTUA professor’s opinion, an approach of this kind could offer a solution to the traffic chaos in central Athens. “Buses can’t just park on the street in front of the Panathenaic Stadium or beside Zappeion,” he clarifies.
The president of the Athens Tourist Office Association is also in favor of the Faliro solution. As he points out, given that Athens lacks the urban infrastructure of cities abroad, the solution could lie in making use of areas in southern Athens, like the car parks at the Tae Kwon Do and Peace and Friendship stadiums. “Adequate infrastructure would need to be provided there, so buses carrying tourists from Piraeus to the center of Athens can drop their passengers off in five minutes, then head to Faliro along Syngrou Avenue to park. This would allow the driver to rest instead of driving in endless circles along Panepistimiou and Stadiou streets,” says Prachalis, noting that Faliro is convenient because of its fast access to both Athens and the port of Piraeus.

The 11 drop-off / parking points

On 14 June 2023, the Municipality of Athens announced the creation of 11 drop-off & parking spaces for the exclusive use of tourist buses between 9 am and 6 pm. The aim was to organize the city’s traffic better, given that “the number of tourist buses has exceeded all precedents.” Specifically, the plan made sections of Ymittou, Thessalonikis, Stisikleous, Persefonis, Agias Annas, Hatzichristou, Theodorou Diligianni and Thermopylon streets available for coach use. In addition, the stretch of Athinon Avenue between Mitrodorou and Spyrou Patsi streets and areas within the car parks on Dionysos and at the Dora Stratou Theater. At the same time, parking on Amalias Avenue was prohibited.
Seven months later, however, and despite the fact that the peak tourist season is still a long way off, buses are still parked haphazardly in places other than those designated in the above plan. In addition, vehicles other than coaches are parked in some of the areas set aside for tourist bus use.

Infrastructure required

According to the president of the Athens Tourist Offices Association, the 11 designated points proved unfit for purpose, given the large number of buses entering the center of Athens. “When four or five cruise ships arrive at once, it takes 50–100 coaches to bus the tourists into the center. Then they drive in a huge convoy along Syngrou Avenue,” he notes. The existing infrastructure simply can’t cope with that number of vehicles.
Transport expert Kepapsoglou highlights another aspect of the problem: the fuel they consume driving to and from the parking point is another disincentive for tourist agencies to send buses out of the center. “There’s a cost involved in their waiting elsewhere.” He argues that we should be tolerant—to a degree—of the tourist buses in downtown Athens, especially in the summer months, given the “industrial” manner in which tourism operates in Greece. “But there should be limits,” he clarifies, citing as an example the congestion that coaches often cause in front of the Panathenaic Stadium. “We need to make the process of boarding and alighting easier for both tourists and drivers. But buses staying parked up for hours on central city routes, creating traffic problems, is an issue.”