By Briana Seftel
Athens is the perfect mix of ancient and modern. You can stand under the Acropolis one minute, then see some of Europe’s most striking street art just a few miles away. Get to know thyself in Greece’s impressive capital with this helpful guide!
What to Know
Known as the cradle of Western civilization, Athens is Europe’s oldest and most historic capital where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle laid the foundation of democracy. No matter where you look, you’ll be confronted by the monuments of Ancient Greece. But that doesn’t mean Athens is for history lovers only. With a thriving street art scene, innovative restaurants and fabulous shopping, Athens is a thoroughly modern city with a renewed outlook.
When to Go
Athens has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, mild winters. May to September are the busiest times to visit, with many travelers using Athens as a starting point to visit islands like Santorini and Mykonos. Summer can get very hot, so if you decide to visit during this time, drink lots of water. Winter can be a pleasant time to visit, with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures.
How to Get Around
In Athens, all of the main sites are located relatively close to each other, so if you really want to get the most out of your trip, walk! Fortunately, you’ll find pedestrian-only areas like Plaka, the Commercial Triangle (the area bounded by Omonia, Syntagma, and Monastiraki squares) and Kolonaki. Athens also has a clean and efficient metro system limited to three lines (blue, red, and green) with about 20 stops on each line. Taxis are notoriously difficult to catch, but ride sharing apps like Uber are very affordable and drivers are readily available.
Where to Eat
Athens’ dining scene is constantly evolving and growing. Within the city, you’ll find everything from typical Greek street food like gyro to classic American diner fare. You’ll also find a coffee shop on practically every corner; order a frappe, a frothy and sweet iced coffee that’s perfect on a hot day. Greeks love to linger over meals, so sit back and enjoy the experience!
- Kostas Pentelis 5, Athina 105 57 Phone: +30 21 0322 8502
- Takis Bakery Misaraliotou 14, Athina 117 42 Phone: +30 21 0923 0052
- Meliartos Ermou 65, Athina 105 63 Phone: +30 21 6700 3113
- Psaras Tavern Erotokritou 12, Athina 105 56 Phone: +30 21 0321 8734
- Filippou Xenokratous 19, Athina 106 75 Phone: +30 21 0721 6390
- Papadakis Fokilidou 15, Athina 106 73 Phone: +30 21 0360 8621
- Klimataria Pl. Theatrou 2, Athina 105 52 Phone: +30 21 0321 6629
- Stani Marikas Kotopouli 10, Athina 104 32 Phone: +30 21 0523 3637
- Lukumades Aiolou 21, Athina 105 51 Phone: +30 21 0321 0880
What to See
Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
A visit to these two attractions is worth the plane ticket alone. Perched high above the city, the Acropolis (literally meaning “high city”) is the epitome of Ancient Greece. Built in the 5th century BC, the Acropolis was a temple complex dedicated to the goddess Athena with the Parthenon as the centerpiece. Below this astonishing site is the Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009 and showcasing all of the important finds excavated from the Acropolis.
Get to know a more intimate Athens in Plaka, known as the "Neighborhood of the Gods.” Leave your map behind as you stroll the charming cobblestone streets of this picturesque neighborhood where you can buy locally made souvenirs and bite into a hot gyro or souvlaki. At the top of Plaka is Anafiotika, a village built in the 19th century by the people from the island of Anafi.
At the foot of the Acropolis is the Ancient Agora, a sprawling marketplace that was the social, political and commercial hub of Ancient Greece. Here, Socrates spoke of his ideals to Athenians and a range of goods passed through the busy streets. Today, visitors can stroll through the shady ruins to notable sites like the Temple of Hephaestus, the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos and the Church of the Holy Apostles.
When you need a break from ancient ruins, head to Athens’ National Garden. Commissioned by the first Queen of Greece, Queen Amalia, in 1838, the gardens are home to hundreds of native plant species as well as a small zoo, duck pond, botanical museum, children's library, playground and coffee shop. The best part? It's free to visit!
National Archaeology Museum
Admire Greek art through the ages at the National Archaeology Museum. Founded at the end of the 19th century, the museum holds the largest collection of antiquities in Greece. Spend a couple hours admiring the mesmerizing collections including the bronze statue of Poseidon (or is it Zeus?) and the golden mask of Agamemnon.
Tips and Tricks
Spending only a day or two in Athens? Purchase a hop-on/hop-off bus pass to see major sights with ease.
Head underground to admire works of art and ancient artifacts in Athens’ metro stations like Syntagma Square and Panepistimio.
Hike up Lykavittos Hill ("Hill of Wolves") for great views of the city.
Learning a few words in Greek like kalimera (“good morning”) and efxaristo (“thank you”) will go a long way.
Take a ferry or high-speed hydrofoil from Piraeus port to the island of Hydra in the Saronic Gulf. Blissfully vehicle free, the only mode of transportation on the island are donkeys! From its beautiful harbor surrounded by rocky hills, explore the winding lanes of this idyllic island that was once a naval power. Since the 1960s, Hydra has been a retreat for artists and celebrities.
A two-hour drive brings you to ancient Delphi, perched at the foot of Mount Parnassos. Once known as the center of the world, Delphi was the site of the Oracle of Apollo, the god of the sun. As the legend goes, Zeus sent two eagles out from the ends of the universe where they met in Delphi. Today, this UNESCO site is one of the most popular historic sites in Greece.
You don’t have to take an 8-hour ferry to Santorini to enjoy coastal Greece. Just outside of the city are the southern suburbs of Athens known as the Athens Riviera. This stunning stretch of coastline is home to five-star resorts, spas, esplanades and plenty of great beaches. At the tip of the Riviera is Cape Sounion, where you can discover the Temple of Poseidon. This ancient site is where Aegeus, king of Athens, jumped to his death after mistakenly believing he lost Theseus, his only son.