Anyone looking today at the official Olympic website, www.Athens2004.com, will be told that 174 days remain before the start of the Games. If you then click on airline websites, it is clear that - even six months before the event - fares are sky-high and availability scarce.

Anyone looking today at the official Olympic website, www.Athens2004.com, will be told that 174 days remain before the start of the Games. If you then click on airline websites, it is clear that - even six months before the event - fares are sky-high and availability scarce.

The original no-frills airline, easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyJet.com) is applying the highest fares it has ever charged in its eight-year history. Fly from Gatwick on the day of the opening ceremony, 13 August, and back from Athens on the last day, 29 August, and you will pay £516 return. On the routes linking Gatwick and Luton with Athens, there are plenty of takers even at these fares: "We're selling out fast", says easyJet's Bryony Duncan-Smith.

Olympic Airlines (0870 606 0640; www.olympicairlines.com) is selling returns from Heathrow at £565, while fares on British Airways (0870 8509 850; www.ba.com) rise as high as £861 return - more than six times higher than its normal lowest fare.

You can save money if you change planes en route. The lowest fare with the online agency Opodo ( www.opodo.co.uk), is £391 return on the Romanian airline, Tarom, from Heathrow via Bucharest. Next best is Air France (0845 359 1000; www.airfrance.co.uk) via Paris, at £500.

Anyone keen to reach Athens for the Games without spending a fortune could fly on Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) from Stansted to Bari in south-east Italy, on which flights are widely available at £91 return, and travel by ferry either from Bari or nearby Brindisi to Patras, and onwards by train to the Greek capital.

An alternative is to fly to Venice, and take a ship from there. Why not travel all the way by train? One reason: availability. "Everything's going to be solid", warns Dave Gunning of Trainseurope (0900 195 0101). The fare between London to Athens via Italy is in the range of £300-£350 return. But a big problem is a lack of Europe-wide agreement about when reservations open. Eurostar allows people to book up to three months in advance, while Italian Railways has a maximum of two months.

Even if you manage to get there, will you find anywhere to stay? The experience of Sydney in 2000 suggests that you might. So widespread was the belief that Australia's largest city was completely full for the games that most potential visitors stayed away, leaving hotels at all levels with unsold rooms.



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