Athens, Greece has captured the hearts and imaginations of countless poets, philosophers, and adventurers throughout history, and now it has officially captured mine as well. My trip to Athens was more than just a trip; It was a pilgrimage to the heart of Western civilization, where history and mythology unite.
The bustling streets of Athens welcomed me with open arms. From the lively chatter of locals sipping coffee in interesting cafes to the rhythmic ringing of ouzo-filled glasses, Athens is a constant celebration!
In the hopes that more people can experience the magic of this place, I decided to write a guide with all my top recommendations – where to sleep, what to do, what to see, and more. So let’s get started!
A Bit About Athens
Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world with a rich history spanning 3,400 years. Home to Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, it was a center of philosophy and the arts.
Today, Athens remains the financial, political, cultural, and economic capital of Greece, and is home to the famous Acropolis and Parthenon.
When is the best time to visit Athens?
The best time to travel to Athens is from March to May or September to November. During these shoulder seasons, the weather is comfortable with clear skies and mild temperatures. Plus, there are fewer tourists during these months.
March-May: Considered springtime in Athens, this is one of the best times to travel. We were there in early April and the weather was lovely – just a bit chilly. There was still a lot of tourism happening, but not enough to make the experience uncomfortable.
June-August: As summer in Athens, this is not the best time to go if you want to escape the heat and crowds. Hotel prices may also be the highest during this period.
September-November: Autumn is another great time to visit Athens. It is similar to spring in terms of weather and also in terms of tourist density.
December-February: Athens has relatively mild winters, although December is its wettest month and perhaps not the most comfortable time to travel.
Getting to and from the Airport
Most Athens tourists will arrive via Athens International Airport (ATH). It is about 32 kilometers east and less than an hour from the city center.
On the Subway: We chose to take the subway from the airport. We never travel with a lot of luggage so the MRT ride is our preferred mode of transport. In Athens, the metro station is right across the street from the airport, and a one-way ticket costs around €10. If you are booking a round trip, then it costs €18 but the return ticket only has a validity of 48 hours.
By Bus: Costing around €6 each way, taking a bus is the cheapest way to get into the city. Bus X95 will drop you at Syntagma Square while X96 will take you to Piraeus Port. Tickets can be purchased from a small blue kiosk after leaving the terminal.
Pre-booked Shuttle: It’s more expensive but this is the most convenient way to get into the city from the airport, especially if you’re traveling with large luggage. Many people recommend Welcome Pickups which is a 24/7 taxi service that takes you into town for about 38 euros during normal business hours.
By Taxi: Taxi costs are equivalent to the shuttles, generally getting you into the city center at a rate of about €38.
Best Areas to Stay in Athens
From my experience – there are three convenient areas to stay in Athens.
There are separate neighborhoods in this downtown area, which I will describe in more detail below. My first recommendation is in the city center close to the Acropolis, the second is near the port of Piraeus, for those who take a ferry to the Greek islands, and the third is near Athens International Airport.
This is the perfect place for those traveling to Athens for the first time. Bringing you closer to historic sites, metro stations, and plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, staying here is all about convenience and ambiance.
In the downtown area of Athens, there are sub-neighborhoods within walking distance of each other, so in my opinion, it doesn’t matter where you choose to stay as long as it’s in that general area.
This is where we chose to stay. Just a short walk from the Acropolis, it is close to the most famous tourist attractions. We stayed in a lovely apartment we rented on Airbnb for just $35 a night.
There are plenty of shops and non-touristy restaurants in the area, and Acropoli MRT Station is minutes away. If the Acropolis is a priority, then this is a perfect location.
Plaka neighborhood is one of the oldest and most charming areas of Athens, characterized by narrow streets and historic buildings. It’s busier and more touristy than Kuaki but that didn’t bother us. It is a lovely place to stay and like Koukaki, very central. We spent a lot of time wandering around here.
Syntagma is the main square in Athens and one of the most important areas of the city. Located just north of the Plaka neighborhood, it is home to the Parliament building and is considered the seat of today’s Greek government.
There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars in the area, along with metro and bus stops taking you to key points in the city such as Athens Airport and Piraeus Port.
This was one of my favorite neighborhoods in central Athens. It’s near Monastiraki Square and feels like a more fashionable artistic side to Athens. There are plenty of cool neighborhood bars and restaurants here, as well as some amazing street art!
We didn’t spend that much time here, but if you like high-end shopping, then Kolonaki
is probably where you want to be. Located not far from Lycabettus Hill, you can find lots of luxury boutiques and luxury brands such as Gucci, Armani, Chanel, and Balenciaga.
Near Athens Airport / Rafina Port
If you are going to be in Athens for only one night to make a connection, then I recommend staying near the airport. Otherwise, Athens city center is at least 45 minutes away.
What to do in Athens? Travel Guide
Go to the Acropolis Museum
If you prefer not to take a guided tour of the Acropolis, then an alternative would be to visit the Acropolis Museum first. Located just south of the Acropolis, this modern building contains nearly 4,000 remains from the archaeological site.
If you have a special interest in the history of ancient Greece, then you may also want to check out the National Archaeological Museum. The Acropolis Museum contains artifacts from the archaeological site of the Acropolis, but remains from various excavation sites throughout Greece are displayed in the National Archaeological Museum.
Explore the Neighborhoods
There are plenty of interesting archaeological sites in Athens, surrounded by equally interesting neighborhoods such as Plaka, Monastiraki, and Psiri. I had fun just walking around and enjoying the atmosphere.
You can take the Athens metro to get from one neighborhood to another, but I think it’s better to walk. They are not that far from each other and walking will allow you to better soak up the scenes.
Watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
I didn’t get to see it in Athens, but changing the guard is always an interesting sight everywhere. The ceremony is performed with great precision and pride. In Athens, you can see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square. It’s free and takes place every day, and every hour on the hour. You can go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guard yourself or witness it as part of a guided tour.
Enjoy a Drink at a Rooftop bar in Monastiraki Square
The rooftop bars in Monastiraki are amazing because they offer some of the best views of the Acropolis. There were a few options to choose from but we went to 360 Cocktail Bar in Monastiraki Square. We were there at sunset and it’s just an amazing sight!
Take a Cooking Class
Every time we travel, we like to take classes. The way I see it, there’s no better way to learn about an unfamiliar culture or cuisine than to take a cooking class.
If you love cooking and want to learn more about Greek cuisine, then I recommend one of the cooking classes offered in Athens. It’s a really fun experience that allows you to connect with Greek culture in a fun way.
Check out the Street Art
One of the things that surprised me the most throughout Europe was the graffiti. It’s everywhere, but Athens had some of the best examples I’ve seen. The street art in the Psiri neighborhood, in particular, was amazing and I really recommend going there and just walking around the streets.
Top Athens Restaurants
Luckily we got to explore Athens quite a bit on a culinary level. Here are some of my recommendations for great restaurants:
Located in Plaka, To Kafeneio is a family-run Greek restaurant known for classic Mediterranean dishes, with their most famous being the keftedes me saltsa domata, or Greek meatballs in tomato sauce. The chef’s secret sauce is the star of the show, and in fact, it has become so famous in these areas that it is simply referred to as “The Sauce”. I also recommend ordering their salad – a delicious and fresh blend of tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and herbs, all served in a crispy bread bowl. So tasty! This restaurant is located down an alley in Plaka, and they offer outdoor seating.
I googled “the best souvlaki in Athens” and one of the places my search led me to was O Thanasis. They are located in Monastiraki and offer classic Greek food such as souvlaki, gyro, and moussaka. Another delicious dish they have on the menu is called Saganaki which is a kind of fried cheese made in a small pan. The restaurant is right next to Monastiraki Square.
Mikas Grill House
This restaurant is located near the airport so only eat here if you are staying in Paiania. We asked our AirBnB hostess for recommendations and she directed us here, where I got to eat some of the best lamb chops I have ever tasted. We also enjoyed the fries, tzatziki, and a crisp jug of white wine, all for about 25 euros. Mikas Grill House is located in Paiania.
How many days should you stay in Athens?
It depends – but if it’s your first time in the city, then staying here for just one day, as many plan to do, is a mistake. In my opinion, it is really doing a disservice to one of the oldest and most historically significant cities in the world to not stay for longer.
But, how long you stay in Athens depends on your level of interest in history and archaeological sites. I would recommend a minimum of 3 days.
Tips for Athens for the Traveler
#1. Purchase an eSIM for Greece
Stable and reliable internet access while abroad is so important. It allows you to navigate, convert currency easily, and search for the best souvlaki in Monastiraki, among many other things! Access to Google Maps alone makes this so necessary, ensuring a less stressful and much more enjoyable trip.
Most people are used to buying physical SIM cards in the destination country they are flying to, but you don’t need to do that anymore. This is great because Greece has become very expensive lately, and if you are traveling there for more than a week then the local cellular packages are relatively costly.
So, if you’re going on vacation and looking for a cost-effective internet solution, I recommend trying a Greece eSIM. Valid in more than 70 countries, eSIM packages start from just $5.
#2. Buy a Ticket Package for Attractions
If you are only interested in visiting the Acropolis, then you can simply get the basic ticket, giving you access to the Acropolis and the Theatre of Dionysus for €20. However, if you want to see more of the sights, be sure to purchase a ticket package to multiple landmarks.
#3. Beware of Pickpockets
Pickpocketing is a very common phenomenon in European cities, and unfortunately, Athens is one of them. A friend of mine had her passport stolen on the first day! She’s pretty sure it happened while riding the subway, so be especially vigilant while using transportation. I advise never putting things in your pockets and making sure your bag is always worn in the front.
#4. Beware of Scammers
There are scammers everywhere, and Athens is no exception. I’ve heard of people trying to put unwanted bracelets on people’s wrists only to charge an exorbitant price for them afterward, something like €20 for the most simple bracelet in the world. Many people also tried to communicate with us in Monastiraki Square and offered things like flowers – but these are all scams designed to get money out of you.
#5. Rent a car
We didn’t have a car with us for our last trip, but it’s something I plan on having for the next time. Sure, it’s easy to get around Greece and Europe by train, but if you want the maximum freedom, rent a car.