If you think you have seen it all, you are wrong. Driving in Athens is the ultimate experience even for the most experienced driver. If you come from a nice quiet small town with reasonable traffic, Athens will make you sweat. Don’t get scared though, it is possible and quite pleasant to drive in Athens if you follow some basic rules we will mention here.
So what’s so bad about traffic in Athens? Greeks do not respect any speed limit, so the average speed in Athens might get to 80 or even 100 km/h when the road is clear. Unfortunately for them and maybe good for you is that traffic jams often limit this speed to something more reasonable. So they drive very fast and they will most probably overtake you whenever possible. Athenians also change lanes all the times! They usually blink their lights, but all this is happening at the speed mentioned above, so it is extremely important to watch at all times what is happenning around you! Watch in front, behind, on the right, on the left. Use your mirrors all the time. If you do so, you will not be taken by surprise.
Traffic jams are really a big problem. As usually, they happen during the morning and during the evening, when people go to work or come back home. If possible, do not drive at these times, you will waste precious hours and gas. Athens has a good ring road. It’s not really a ring, it only surrounds Athens on the northern side, as the southern side is next to the sea. But even this ring road gets crowded, so it is not a solution. The worst time to drive is on Friday evenings, when Athenians leave the city. It may take hours to get out of Athens and many more hours in jams on the motorways. Athenians go to sleep very late, so it is common to see jams during late evening.
Athens is the home of motorcycles and scooters. In order to escape from traffic jams, many people drive two-wheel vehicles. As a car driver, you must be very careful, as they go very fast, go in front of you all the time and very often squeeze through your car and the cars next to you. Use your side mirrors all the time! These people don’t use safety helmets all the time, so you definitely want to be careful with them.
Most streets in Athens are narrow and one-way. This is good because you can usually park on both sides of such streets, generally for free. Athenians often park illegaly, but you won’t want to do this, as you might get fined.
You must be very bold when changing lanes. Only blinking your lights to signal this is not enough. You will have to squeeze between two cars, as drivers do not generally let you go between them if you don’t prove you really want to.
Be careful when stopping at traffic lights. Greeks usually pass on the yellow light, so slow down in advance to make them stop behing you. Otherwise you might get hit.
Parking is definitely a huge problem in Athens. The city simply has not enough parking spots for all cars. Because of this, drivers in the city center park illegaly a lot. This has improved somehow in the recent years, as the municipality has shown some interest in solving the problem by creating some parking spots and heavily fining those parking illegaly. Most one-way streets allow you to park for free on both sides. With some patience, you will find an empty place on these. Private parkings might be an alternative, but they are very rare in Athens. Be careful, if Athenians park illegaly, this doesn’t mean you may park next to them, it’s easy to get fined.
Here is more information on driving in Greece.