When we were getting ready to visit Greece, people told us to avoid Piraeus, the suburb of Athens with the country’s largest port. They described it as dingy and seedy and said that there is nothing there except for the port. We were told that the proper procedure for negotiating Piraeus if you wanted to take a ferry from there was to get into and out of Piraeus as fast as possible.
We scanned through our travel guides and they seemed to agree. You only go to Piraeus to get onto or off of a ferry.
Another friend told us that Piraeus used to be a lovely place to sit at a streetside taberna and watch the sailboats come and go from the marina – but that it has had a long, sad decline since those halcyon days.
Our last day of our trip we wanted to spend the day on Aegina island, so we planned to take the Metro to Piraeus and hop onto the ferry but when we got to the Metro station at Syngrou-Fix before the crack of dawn, it was roped off and locked up without any explanation. We ran to the next station at Syntagma in order to catch a train to Piraeus in time for our ferry but when we got to the second Metro station, we found it similarly locked and roped off.
By this time there were a few people moving in town, so we asked someone why the Metro was closed and she responded in broken English, “There is a grave today.” We didn’t understand what that meant and we couldn’t get any more info out of her, so we hailed a taxi.
That turned out to be an adventure because we had run out of Euros and he didn’t have a card reader so he took us to Piraeus in exchange for us putting about 10 Euro of gasoline in his taxi.
When we got to Piraeus Port and went to the ticket office we found out what “Today is a grave” meant. It meant that there was a transportation strike that day. No buses, no Metro, AND NO FERRIES!
We could have taken a cab back to central Athens, but we’d already done a couple of days in Athens and didn’t have anything else planned there so we were basically stuck in Piraeus for the day. We decided to take it as an adventure so I whipped out Google Maps and found a nearby Bread Factory where we could get some coffee and plot our day.
It turned out to be a huge, astounding bakery with everything from croissant to cakes to baklava and everything sweet or savory in-between! We sat and pored over the map of Piraeus and located the three essentials for a great adventure – a beach, a museum, and a taberna!
The beach we went to was Beach Freatida, a small, stony public beach right next to the marina on the southeast shore of the peninsula opposite the port. We stopped at a mini mart and bought a couple of bottles of local beer to drink at the beach and had a lovely morning sunning and swimming and looking out into the Saronic Gulf.
After we’d gotten our fill of Beach Freatida, we started back toward the museum that we’d located, The Archaeological Museum of Piraeus, and what we found was a total surprise!
In this little port town that we’d been warned about we stumbled across the coolest museum we saw in all of Greece! The museum has extensive collections of funerary monuments but the most amazing exhibit are the bronzes – 3-meter tall bronze statues of Apollo, Artemis, and Athena, some as old as 4th century BC in largely-pristine condition!
The story goes that when Sulla was tyrant in Rome around 86AD, he set out to destroy Piraeus. but someone had the foresight to take down the bronzes and hide them. And they must have hid them really well because they were not found for 2000 years until city workers in the 1950s dug them out from under a street intersection!
So now this little out-of-the way museum has a first-rate collection of beautiful 3-meter tall cult statues of Athena, Artemis, and Apollo! Check out these 2500-year old bronzes!
And here is a handful of the many other interesting exhibits at the Museum of Piraeus.
After we’d gotten our beach and our museum on, we wandered back toward the port until we stumbled upon a great little cafe in an alleyway named Terra Verde.
The proprietor was a Caribbean lady and the place was so new that they’d not had time to get menus printed, so we sat while she told us about all the different things that she could make. We wound up sharing a Greek salad and a dish of curried chicken and a couple of beers.
So, the upshot of all that is that all the pros are totally wrong when they say there is nothing to Piraeus. Piraeus is a lovely little town with everything you need for a great day-adventure if you like beaching, museums, or good food!