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more questions about pickpocketing in Athens

I will be in Athens in a few weeks at the end of a two week trip. I had planned to take the metro from the airport after dropping off a rental car. I still may but the recent posts on pickpocketing on that route have given me pause. I understand that the bus is a good alternative. The only problem for us is our place is a little ways away.

Questions:

  1. Is the problem of pick pocketing confined to this route from the airport? Would there be the same risk taking the metro from central Athens to the airport? How about taking a metro after arriving on the bus in Syntagma Square to get to where we are staying south of the Acropolis (as opposed to walking)?

  2. I think it is about a 20 minute walk from Syntagma Square to where we are staying south of the Acropolis. Would walking with suitcases make us a target?

Beth

Posted by
5740 posts

Is the problem of pick pocketing confined to this route from the airport?

Pickpocketing is universal. It's a problem where I live (in Seattle) and probably where you live (wherever that is). It's certainly not limited to any specific route.

Would walking with suitcases make us a target?

Yes. You are a tourist. Tourists are targets. But that's going to be obvious, with or without a suitcase.

Honestly, wherever you are, whatever you have with you, you need to be alert and aware of your surroundings. That's true in Athens and it's true in my home town and probably yours. If you are not alert and aware of what's happening around you, you can become a victim anywhere on any route. That doesn't mean you need to be paralyzed with fear, it means you need to be connected to the world around you. Yes, in some specific circumstances (on a packed metro platform, in a crowded train car, in any crowd where people are close up) you need to pay extra attention and watch for sneaky tricks, but just being aware and on the lookout is 98% of what's needed in almost any circumstances.

Use a money belt or similar device. Use common sense. Don't have valuable goodies (jewelry, cameras, phones, etc.) in someplace (like a backpack or slung over a chair nearby) that can be accessed by someone who is stealthy and skilled because the pickpockets are exactly that). That, plus an awareness of what's happening around you and the willingness to prevent someone from taking something from your grasp, is all you generally need, pretty much anywhere.

Posted by
3444 posts

Beth, in addition to the practical information that the previous contributor gave, I have to say that we felt totally comfortable in Athens both day and night. Probably more so than most places we've traveled to. It's all about common sense and awareness. Enjoy this amazing city.

Posted by
2891 posts

Oh Beth beth beth. We have worked SO hard to answer your queries and resolve your concerns ... and yet you manage to come up with yet another worry! As I recall, you're staying near the Acropolis Museum. I usually stay near there too -- look at this good map -- http://www.orangesmile.com/destinations/img/athens-map-big.jpg -- Hotel Phaedra, its at #79 box on map, 100 yards from the Lisikrates Monument (Lissikratous Street on this map). I always walk it to & from Syntagma, ( I don't "carry" a suitcase, I roll it) and I'm probably 20 years your senior. The X95 bus stops at Syntagma where X14 is on the map (that's an old number) ... I just walk along Amalias Avenue (gently downhill) to Across from Hadrian's Arch & turn in to the Plaka/Makrigianni area. I do the reverse going back. I have even done it ALONE at 2:30 AM, without worries ... You can take that wide pedestrian walkway along the side of the Acropolis. When you reach Amalia street it is brightly lit, always busy with traffic and pedestrians almost 24/7 -- at 2:30 people are still going IN to clubs (!). You will not be alone, I think you'll be with your spouse, and as I recall you said you are traveling with your "children" ( actually in their 20s, they're no longer children). Make them pull your rollaboard. And the exercise will do you all good! If you really don't feel like it, you can get a taxi from that area to Syntagma for €5 or so. But you should say to yourself, Janet is going to do this, and she's had a knee replacement, so I can do it too.

Posted by
1779 posts

I think Europe is safer than U.S. in most ways. Certainly, the risk of bodily harm is higher in U.S. than Europe. I would never walk alone at 2 am in any U.S. city. But it seems that the risk of petty thief is higher in Europe. I honestly never think about pick pocketing where I live (suburban Ft. Lauderdale) and never hear about anyone else around here or even friends in the city being pick pocketed. Perhaps there is more pick pocketing in Seattle than South Florida where I live. However, we don't have much public transportation which may be a factor. My sister who lives in Chicago proper was pick pocketed once on the El (metro train) when she first moved there from a small town. I have since been educated by her as to how to avoid being a target. And I never have been in all my visits over the years there--even traveling with a suitcase.

Janet, Glad to know that walking from Syntagma square is not problematic. That was what I was trying to find out. We are close to 73 on your map so a fair ways further. How long does your walk take you?

Beth

Posted by
1313 posts

Beth

The walk from Syntagma to square 73 would take me about 25 minutes if I was rolling luggage. It’s actually quite a pleasant walk as it’s along he side of the Acropolis.

Bus 230 runs from Syntagma to almost exactly square 73. There are four or five an hour during the day. The stop is on the downhill end of Syntagma from both the metro station and airport bus stop.

Alan

Posted by
4535 posts

There is an easy way to prevent being a victim of pickpocketing: keep your valuables secure. Sounds easy and it is. There are lots of different ways of doing that, but the key is to keep money/cards/passport in a location that pickpockets cannot access (at least without you being very aware of it). And since muggings are almost unheard of in western Europe, you don't have to worry about looking like a tourist or target (which you will no matter what you do).

Lots of people have lots of ways to keep their valuables secure. Choose the one or combos that you are most comfortable with. There is no perfect solution for everyone. Waist money belts are common, but can be uncomfortable and prevent you from accessing cash/cards for daily use. Secure travel purses (NOT normal purses that are easily opened) are great for women. Neck loop wallets work for men or women and can be accessed by you but not a thief. Belt loop wallets work for some men and can be easily accessed by you but not them. Some men carry travel bags that can have a secure pocket inside where they are safe and easily accessible by you but not them. Whenever using a bag or secure purse, always keep it looped cross over style and never remove it while sitting at cafes, restaurants or just wherever. They are only secure if they are on your person.

So pick one or more of the above, and then just enjoy your trip without worrying about the remote chance that you might encounter a pickpocket.

Just an FYI on what doesn't work: wallets in pockets (any pocket), regular purses, wallet inside a regular backpack/bag, and clutching your wallet or purse when you feel vulnerable (since pickpockets work on distraction, they are adept at getting you not to clutch).

Posted by
2891 posts

Beth, it takes me about 15 minutes from Syntagma to Hotel Phaedra, I think... I don't keep track of time when I'm busy enjoying the view. And maybe shorter at night since there's not as much to look at.

Here's the deal with pick-pocketing - based on my 12 trips (which have involved at least 20 stays in Athens). As far as I know, any pickpocketing instances reported on forums have involved only 3 locations... the Metro to/from the airport, the Metro to/from the port (both locations when people will be toting all their luggage & valuables), and in front of the Presidential palace during Changing of the Guards (the only time a crowd gathers & and people are distracted by the goings-on). I've never heard of someone rushing up on the street and snatching a purse or backpack off a tourist's shoulder (as has happened in Naples & some other major Italian cities).

As for security in Greece, here's been my no-worries procedure, once & for all (& I'm going to copy it for re-use on this constant question):
• IN TRANSIT - When coming into Greece, OR in transit to/from Athens on Metro, to get to ferry or plane & travel on those, when i've got everything with me. I have passport/cash/cc's etc in a Neck Pouch (I hate money belts because what woman needs MORE bulk around the waist!!!). I have change-purse & relevant ticket in a pocket zipped on inside of my SportSac daybag/purse, which I wear crosswise. Men can do neckpouch or moneybelt depending on how vain they are about their waistlines. Incidentally, I read that about 70% of Metro pickpocket reports involve pockets of men who swore 'I'd know if someone put their hand in my pocket."

• OTHERWISE - I stay in small family-run hotels, where cleaning staff is usually a niece or an auntie of the owner. I keep all that vital stuff in a concealed pocket in my big suitcase, which I lock. Have NEVER had any indication of anyone touch any of my things, in the more than 60+ hotel stays I've had. Walking around during the day, either in Athens or other mainland location or island, I do NOT carry my passport. NO need. Nervous Nellies can carry photocopies of 1st 2 pages if they wish. On nontravel days I carry in my pocket a small zipper-top nylon change purse, with the €€ I'd need for the day (+ my ATM card if I'm doing a withdrawal, or a Visa card if I'm making a CC purchase). Since it's fabric, it has a safety pin which I can attach inside my slacks pocket -- NOT to foil pickpockets, but because once when seated on an island bus, my change-purse fell out unnoticed ... fortunately, because of above policy, I was just out €15 & the cost of a new change-purse.

• PRECAUTIONS - I can be carefree because I'm A "belt PLUS suspenders" prudent person beforehand. I always have in my luggage • photocopy of 1st 2 pp of Passport • Contact info & account #s of all bank & credit cards •photocopies of reservation arrangements & confirmations • copy of travel med. insurance •emergency contact #s Of course I know that most of this info now can be stored on one's smart-phone... but on next trip I still will keep the "hard copy" because -- who has not had their phone battery die at an inopportune moment? Belt + suspenders = carefree traveler.

Posted by
33 posts

Like others have suggested, keep your money and important documents secure. And take along copies of your passports, credit cards, etc., too.

We just got back from the Heart of Greece Tour, which was fantastic, by the way. We did not have any issues with pickpocketing, but we didn't take the Metro, either. My husband still used his "hidden pocket" money belt, and I just kept one card and smaller bills with me in a small, cross-body anti-theft bag. Although we were aware pickpocketing is a big problem in Athens, we felt very safe throughout our trip.

However, on the day we checked out of our hotel, we overheard another couple checking in (for their Heart of Greece Tour) tell the desk clerk that they were just pickpocketed on the Metro coming from the airport. It sounded like they just got the husband's wallet. I felt really bad for them, especially since it was just the beginning of their trip. Fortunately, the wife still had her money and cards. But by the time they called their bank (still at the front desk), the thieves already tried charged $1000.

Posted by
1779 posts

Alan-- 25 minutes seems like a reasonable walk to me. I was guessing in that range so glad to confirm.

Douglas and others--what do you suggest for men on day to day basis? I carry my passport under my clothes when traveling and on a day to day basis use a very small cross body purse that has three pockets--one for my phone, one for a credit card and atm card, and one for cash. This has worked well for me traveling abroad, including Naples, Italy, and I bought my daughter a similar purse for our Greek trip. When we were in Italy, my husband stored everything but his phone under his clothes (but left passport in room) and generally put his phone in front pocket. Is there a better way? We both carry a small backpack but I don't put anything valuable in it. I think at times he has put his phone in it but not in the outside pocket as it become annoying to have it in his front pocket. Of course, storing money for the day under clothes means have to be careful not to automatically go into it when you have your passport with you. I have a colleague who did that in a store in Naples and somehow had her passport stolen.

Beth

Posted by
2891 posts

Beth you keep talking about Naples... where NO public area seems to be safe. As I told you, the pickpockets in Athens (which -- in a massive roundup a few years back, proved to be 99% illicit Albanian immigrants) focus on 3 places -- Metro to Airport, Metro to seaport, and crowds in front of Syntagma palace for guard-changing ritual. For walking around Athens, your husband can keep some minor cash in a pocket... and give his phone to YOU to keep in y our cute & safe body purse. As I keep saying, Greece is not Italy. you will NOT encounter street crime. And on the islands, relax totally. Safest places I've ever been.

Posted by
1313 posts

I agree with Janet. There clearly is a problem on the airport metro, although I’ve used it dozens of times without a problem, but we don’t want to get things out of proportion. Greece, including Athens, is still one of the safest countries in Europe as concerns street crime.

Alan

Posted by
1779 posts

I really wasn't trying to imply that Athens was like Naples--I was just trying to indicate that I did understand how to travel to avoid being pick pocketed. My questions were just to try to get the lay of the land in Athens, as they say, to make educated decisions. I had read that the crime rings were Albanian but in my mind that did not necessarily limit them to one metro run so I was simply asking.

I am interested in what men on this board do with their cell phones when touring. Do they put them in their front pocket as my husband did in Italy or have they found a better solution? (other than their wife carrying it!) My husband and I traveled BC (before children & before cellphones!) and have just begun to travel again in Europe.

Beth

Posted by
1199 posts

Beth, this is a newer version of what my husband and I carry. When we are in crowds, or have our luggage-backpacks on, we turn this to our front. With the zipper locks (which we rarely use), and turning it to the front, I feel completely safe with my stuff in it.
Also it is deceptively big. I can carry a small camera, phone, small guidebook (or pages of), and a rain jacket (its a lightweight model that packs small, but still!), passports, and small zippered money pouch. Because there are so many internal pockets, you can really secure things within. I keep passports in the internal zipped pocket, as well as keys in that pocket attached to the clip. The fabric has wire mesh, so can't be cut through. Yeah, it seems crazy but I liked using it so much the first time (2 years ago) that Ive used it since as my daily bag instead of a purse. Hubby just uses his when traveling
One downside, your back gets hot and can get a little sweaty, but my belly always got sweaty with the money-belt and I hated the feeling of that thing around my waist (back when I used one in the 90's)

https://www.ebags.com/product/pacsafe/vibe-150-anti-theft-crossbody-pack/333691?productid=10518384

Posted by
4535 posts

I personally use a belt loop wallet. Since I always wear a belt, it works perfect for me. The one I wear loops through a belt and hangs at my front side. There is an outside pocket, but I keep valuables inside where there are several layers of pockets. It is big enough to fit my phone easily.

I also carry a small day bag (one of the RS ones actually), and it could easily hold my money/cards/phone in an inside pocket if I wanted to.

Posted by
1779 posts

Thanks Jessica and Douglas for the ideas. Douglas--is a belt loop wallet different than a standard money belt? Do you wear it over or under your clothes?

Beth

Posted by
2891 posts

Beth, go to a travel store, OR look at it on Google or Amazon, and all will be explained. Here is my version -- It is a Flat zippered cloth envelope with loop on one end. You put your belt through trouser loops, as usual. Then, on the belt "Tongue" side, you undo it from the final pants loop & put the wallets loop on the belt, then buckle the belt. The Wallet then hangs down outside the trouser. You insert your passport, cash, cards etc. Now comes the fun part -- you swing it up, and tuck INSIDE the front of the trouser where it hangs lying flat, suspended by that loop. Needless to say, you don't reach for contents in public or it will look as if you are ahem ahem. Then in a shirt pocket or somewhere, you put the minimal cash or metro ticket you'll need for the travel.

Posted by
3444 posts

Beth, another resource to visualize. Take a look at RS online store for "Civita Hidden Pocket." This is my husbands favorite. As previously suggested this type of preventative can bring peace of mind. Comfortable and easy peasy!

Posted by
4535 posts

Janet describes one type, I have another that is similar but just hangs on the outside (like people used to carry cell phones). It's easy for me to access, but the inner pockets are secure from intruders.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Beth, I traveled in Athens literally days after their economic crisis in 2015 and had no issues. While there I did opt to walk from my hostel to catch a bus at 5 am to get to the ferries and did this solo. I did as one person mentioned above and wore my bag to my front with my valuables and locked it with a tsa approved lock. I felt this may have made me stand out but I also know I couldn't be pick pocketed from behind. Having met a girl in Rome who told me how transportation had shut down completely days before I was a little apprehensive about modes of transportation and desperate citizens upon arrival but did not encounter any troubles.
I took the x95 from the airport with my companion and we had no issues on there nor did we see anyone else have trouble. I feel that if at any point we were going to have issues it would have been during this tumultuous time for Greece and yet I walked the streets alone at night and never felt unsafe. I walked about an hour from my hostel to the acropolis one evening to catch a film at the outdoor theatre and wasn't really paranoid at all. Vigilant, yes. But paranoid, never. Buses did run frequently from Syntagma and that may be a quicker option to get where you are going. Good luck on your travels. Greece was amazing and I am planning my return as we speak!