Athens doesn’t necessarily top the list when it comes to top destinations for a city break in Europe. The Greek capital not only has an exciting history but also impressive sights, an exciting nightlife and, last but not least, the famous Greek cuisine.
If you come to Athens, you should definitely not tick off one attraction after the other. You get to know the city much better by simply drifting through the chaos. Via bustling markets, through small cafes and taverns, through the narrow streets up to the gigantic Acropolis. And these eight highlights should not be missing on the tour of discovery.
Anafiotika – a Cycladic village in the capital
If you are looking for an authentic Greece feeling, you don’t necessarily have to go to one of the islands. In Athens, too, there is a holiday mood when you wander through the narrow streets of Anafiotika. The rocky district was built in the style of a Cycladic village, which is easy to recognize from the whitewashed terrace roof houses and the paths, some of which are paved with marble.
Striking in anafiotics are the many street cats that do not look like strays at all. This is because they are cherished, cared for and, last but not least, properly fed by the locals. By the way, anafiotics are only tolerated by the authorities. The informal settlement emerged in the 19th century due to the extreme housing shortage. It is only thanks to the support of the population that the beautiful quarter has not yet been demolished and rebuilt.
The Acropolis – the symbol of the city
Anyone who hikes up the mountain across Anafiotika cannot miss the Acropolis. Athens’ most famous landmark has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986 and has also been awarded the European Heritage Seal.
The former city fortress stands stoically on its rock at a height of 156 meters and looks back on an eventful history. In the Stone Age there was a ruler’s palace here, later a temple for earthly deities. 500 BC the Persians destroyed the facility and it took a while until the Pantheon was built in the same place. This was first converted into a church by Christians and after some time by the Ottomans into a mosque. It was not until the 19th century that Greece declared the Temple Mount an archaeological site and had all buildings that did not come from ancient times removed.
Admission to the Acropolis costs 20 euros. From April to August the facility is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., in September and October from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and from November to March from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (as of July 2020) .
Experience historical Plaka in Athens
Conveniently, the historic Plaka district is directly adjacent to Anafiotika and the Acropolis, so that the whole area can be explored on foot. Plaka is one of the oldest parts of Athens and a wonderful contrast to the modern city center. It houses the Frissiras Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Folk Art, among others. In its history, the Plaka changed from a residential area to a tavern district and the city’s political-literary hotspot. Today it is one of the most popular tourist areas. Among other things, visitors will find souvenir shops, nice cafes and restaurants with Greek cuisine.
Discover street art in Athens
Outside of the modern city center, Athens looks a bit shabby every now and then. The locals never tire of decorating the ugly walls with street art. The murals can actually be discovered in all older parts of Athens. From Plaka to Monastiraki to Psirri there are particularly many beautiful works of art.
A particularly famous motif can be seen in the Riga Palamidou corner of Sarri in Psirri. The “All Dogs go to Heaven” painting shows the dog Loukanikos, who was always at the forefront with the demonstrators during the riots from 2008 to 2009. After he presumably died of inhaled chemicals in 2014, three Athens street artists memorialized him.
Monastiraki Flea Market – Kitsch and Art for Everyone
There are many great flea markets in Athens – but only one that is definitely not to be missed. The Monastiraki flea market is open daily. Every Sunday, however, it is transformed into a lively bazaar, which the whole city feels to be using for shopping, bargaining and strolling. From souvenirs to handicrafts, Greek pastries, fashion and antiques, there is nothing here that is not there.
The Monastiraki Flea Market stretches from Monastiraki Square to Platia Avissinias and from Ermou Street to Adrianou Street. It is best to rummage in the morning, as the flea market stalls are already grazed in the afternoon. This is also a good opportunity for a late breakfast in one of the many cafes on the roadside. By the way, bargaining is a must at Athens’ flea markets. This is especially true for tourists, for whom the prices like to be screwed up again. About a third of the originally quoted price is realistic for an initial counter offer. From here you can meet somewhere in the middle.
The Monastiraki Flea Market is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. On Sundays it doesn’t start until – that’s by far the most important thing.
Greek Parliament – including changing of the guard
Athens is the cradle of democracy. A small cultural program should therefore not be missing – even if it is tempting to stroll relaxed through the bustling streets all day. Syntagma Square, also known as Constitution Square, is worth a visit. It is bordered at the top by the parliament building, which served as the royal palace until 1838 and as the residence of the Greek monarchs between 1836 and 1842.
A special spectacle is the ceremonial changing of the guard of the Greek President’s guard, which takes place here every hour. The elite soldiers (“Evzones”) are traditionally equipped with pointed shoes, pleated skirts and tights. On Sundays they even wear their holiday uniform and there is also a parade at eleven o’clock.
A trip to the sea – when it is so close
Although Athens is relatively close to the sea, there is no city beach and those who want to take a trip to the water should allow around an hour for the journey. But especially in the hot summer months, it is worth escaping the city for a day and enjoying a little cooling off. The beaches of Vouliagmeni, Vari, Saronida and Porto Rafti are particularly popular.
Asteras Beach in Glyfada, which can be reached by tram or the A2 bus (Kolymvitirio stop) from Syntagma Square, is relatively close by. For a fee there are loungers and parasols, as well as a cocktail bar, restaurants and a beach volleyball court. One of the most popular private beaches is Apollon Beach at the Divani Apollon Palace Resort. It can be reached in 25 minutes by taxi or in around 50 minutes by metro line 2 (Elliniko stop) or bus line 122 (Ag. Nikolaos stop). Including sun loungers, parasols and mineral water, entry costs 16 euros for one person and 24 euros for two people – a surcharge is required on weekends.
The city’s culinary hotspots
Greek cuisine is among the best in the world and if you don’t explore the capital from a culinary point of view, you are really missing out on a lot. If you want to try the traditionally made Greek coffee, you should pay a visit to the oldest café in town. The Orea Hellas (English: beautiful Greece) also serves typical Greek antipasti (“mezedakia”), which are often enjoyed with ouzo, raki, beer or wine.
Afterwards, refreshed, it goes to the famous Athens market hall (Varvakios Agora), which extends over the streets Athinas, Sofokleous, Euripidou and Aiolou. It houses the largest fresh fish market in Europe, but you can also buy spices, coffee, antipasti and sweet treats. Those who prefer to be cooked for can visit one of the many market pubs – the selection of fresh salads, starters and grilled foods is huge. Here, too, there is Greek coffee from the “Hovoli” coffee maker, which is traditionally prepared on hot sand.
Athens is shabby, full of smog. These are just some of the prejudices that unfortunately all too often discourage travelers from visiting Athens. In truth, Athens is one of the most vibrant and exciting capitals in Europe. Exciting sights, a lively culture, great food and diverse city districts – these are the ingredients that make a perfect city trip. And Athens has more than enough of that.
Practical tips for your Athens trip
How to get to the city? From Athens airport. Athens International Airport is located around 27 kilometers east of the city center. You can get to the city from the airport by metro, bus or taxi. The Metro offers the best price-performance ratio. The M3 line (the metro station is directly opposite the exit hall) takes around 40 minutes to get to the city center – a single journey costs ten euros for one and 18 euros for two. The cheapest alternative is the X95 express bus to Syntagma Square, which costs six euros. Depending on the volume of traffic, however, the journey often takes significantly longer.
When is the best time to go to Athens?
The best time to travel to Athens is spring, as early as March it is usually pleasantly warm. Even in the autumn months of October and November, the temperatures are just right for a city trip. The time from the end of June to September, on the other hand, is only suitable for die-hard people, as temperatures often rise to well over 30 degrees. It can get very cold at night all year round, so a jacket is recommended in the evening.
How many days do you need for Athens?
We recommend at least three full days for the duration of the city trip. Athens is a city for connoisseurs and culture lovers – stress is out of place here.
Which are the best museums in Athens?
The Greek capital offers a huge cultural offer. Some of the most exciting museums include the Acropolis Museum, Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, Museum of Cycladic Art, and the National Archaeological Museum.
Is it recommended to travel alone in Athens?
Athens is a safe city and highly recommended for solo travelers. Common sense is of course still required, because pickpockets are not uncommon, especially in markets and busy squares. Even after going out in the evening, a taxi to the hotel is recommended.
What’s the best way to get from A to B in Athens?
The quickest and cheapest way to get from A to B in Athens is by public transport. A single trip costs 1.40 euros – the ticket is 90 minutes and is valid on all means of transport. It will be cheaper for students, senior citizens, children and young people. Good alternatives are the day pass (4.50 euros) or the 3-day tourist ticket (22 euros), which also includes the airport transfer. Tickets are available at all metro and tram stations.
Do you recommend taking a taxi in Athens?
Taxi rides in Greece are also relatively cheap, half an hour’s journey costs around 20 euros. Here, however, caution is advised against rip-offs: In the taxi, the taximeter should always run at the daily rate (tariff 1). If the night tariff (tariff 2) is running, you pay twice as much. Contrary to what some black sheep claim, the price outside of Athens is not double the price.
Can you drink the tap water in Athens?
Yes, tap water is safe to drink in Athens. Nobody has to worry about hygiene in street food, etc.
How expensive is it to eat out in Athens?
In Athens, restaurant prices are around a third times cheaper than in Europe. It is almost impossible to catch a bad restaurant. A particularly large number of typical Greek restaurants are hidden in the winding streets of Plaka. In addition to the mezedakia mentioned above, popular dishes include gyros, souvlaki and sea bream. There are now vegetarian alternatives almost everywhere and the vegan scene is also growing.
Which restaurants in Athens are recommended?
The “Dinner in the Sky” is a very special experience. Guests can enjoy a 6-course menu with a view from 40 meters above the ground. The board is simply lifted with a crane. Traditional Greek food at good prices is available in the Kitsoula Tavern (Filikis Eterias 25). Vegetarians will also find something here. Another good alternative is the Sfika (Stratigou Kontouli 15). Fancy Greek wine? There is a great selection in the three Cinque Wine Bars.
Where to stay cheap in Athens?
There are lots of nice and cheap places to stay in the city. We recommend, for example, the lovingly furnished guest house The Frogs – the neoclassical building from the 19th century is only 300 meters from Monastiraki Square with its flea market. For travelers on a budget, the lovely Bedbox Hostel is not far away. If you want to treat yourself to a little luxury and prefer to live by the sea, stay at the Divani Apollon Palace. The resort not only offers a beautiful pool area and a private beach – there is also a daily free shuttle to the city center.