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The Travel Guide to Athens

Good to Know
Safety:
B
Budget:
$$$
When to go:
Apr–Jun, Sep–Oct
Average Costs
Basic
Baller
Dinners
$10
$100+
Drinks
$5
$15+
Hotel
$100
$300+

Welcome to Athens

Fact of the day: The birthplace of democracy, philosophy, western mythology, and theater are all the same place, and that place is still standing. Even better: relics of the nascent days of those ideas and industries are as plain to see as the modern life that now surrounds them. For a history lesson to be this photogenic feels like some kind of ruse, but in Athens, it’s real. 

Here, ancient ruins stand next to modern metro stations, graffitied walls contrast with shining marble statues, traditional tavernas compete with contemporary nightclubs, and the famous Acropolis where Plato and Socrates once stood towers over it all.  You’ll no doubt go on to explore Greece’s ultra-charming islands, but take your time in Athens. While some discount it as a busy, sometimes gritty, city that’s little more than a necessary stopover, it has thousands of years of history waiting to be explored. 

Who’ll Love Athens

Romantic getaways, solo travelers, and lovers of museums, mythology, archaeology, architecture, art, theater, and more

How to Budget for a Trip to Athens

A trip to Greece is considered a rare treat for many, but not because it has to be expensive. Athens falls pretty comfortably in the middle of what European cities cost for travelers; it’s not the cheapest and it’s not the steepest. 

A good hotel can cost as much as $250/night, but there are plenty of good options at or around the $100 price point, while vacation rentals can be as low as $50 per night. Greek food is fresh and flavorful, but it’s also simple, so $30-$50/day will cover no-fuss meals. Unsurprisingly, it’s the sights that will cost you—but don’t cut corners here, because it’s not every day you’ll find yourself with the chance to see the Parthenon (which costs around $22 to gain entry, as does the Acropolis).

Safety Considerations

News broadcasts might lead you to believe that Athens is in a near-constant state of unrest and upheaval, and while protests may be somewhat commonplace, crime rates are low. Greece is known for being one of the world’s most queer-friendly destinations, which is evident in the capital; it’s also so heavily frequented by international travelers that you’ll see a dazzling array of cultures and races on display with little to no accompanying discrimination. Likewise, it’s safe to be a solo female traveler here. Pickpocketing, however, is as common as it is in any big European city.

Weather in Athens

Athens has a southern Mediterranean climate, which means summers are hot and dry (and they seem to be getting hotter and drier, with forest fires occasionally springing up) and winters tend to be mild. Fall and winter can bring a bit of rain (and once in a blue moon, snow) but are generally pleasant. Summer highs range from 85-90° F, while winter highs tend to hover in the high 50s and low 60s. 

When to Visit Athens

The heat can be brutal from mid-June through August so unless you love to sizzle, skip the peak summer and visit in late May, early June, September, or early October, when weather in the city is lovely but you can still visit the islands. If you’re not planning to explore the islands, March, April, late October, and November offer the best combo of pleasant weather and low crowds. 

Money Saving Tips

Eat on the street. There’s plenty of tasty, cheap street food available in Athens ranging from souvlaki to falafel, hot dogs to tacos, and of course, the traditional Greek gyro. 

Look for free days. The Acropolis and other sites often offer free days throughout the year. For example, the Acropolis has free admission on March 6, April 18, May 18. October 28, and every first Sunday of the month from November through March. 

Buy a combo ticket. Admission to the Acropolis costs 20 euros, but for 10 euros more a combo ticket gives you admission to several more sites, including the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, Hadrian's Library, and the Roman Agora of Athens, for five days. 

What to See, Do, and Eat in Athens

The Top 10 Things to Do in Athens

looking up at the Acropolis from Athens below
  1. Visit the iconic Acropolis and its Parthenon, an architectural masterpiece if ever there was one
  2. Go to the Temple of Poseidon, a series of marble columns built in an effort to allow the god of the sea to guide sailors safely home
  3. See the ancient art on display at the National Archaeological Museum
  4. Spend an afternoon at the National Museum of Contemporary Art
  5. See the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, a mainstay of the cultural scene in Athens, with its opera house, National library, and plenty of ways to enjoy some time outdoors
  6. Catch a show at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus to see a show the way that Athenians would have also seen some live entertainment two millennia ago
  7. Stroll the streets of the Plaka neighborhood, a photogenic part of town with boutique and big-name shops
  8. Check out the Museum of Cycladic Art, a collection of ancient Greek and Cypriot antiquities
  9. Take the gondola (or walk) up to Lycabettus Hill to get amazing panoramic views of the city below
  10. Go to the Museum of the Ancient Agora, which houses all manner of precious and ancient artifacts

The Local Picks for Attractions and Activities in Athens

Monastiraki flea market
  1. Stroll through Anafiotika, possibly the most Instagrammable neighborhood in the city, full of narrow alleys that lead to beautiful terraces and white cubic houses with blue doors and windows 
  2. Unplug and de-stress at the beautiful Polis Hammam 
  3. Browse the shelves of Little Tree Books and then post up indoors or on the patio with a meal and a drink
  4. Visit the ultra-luxurious Astir Beach for a day of sunbathing
  5. Take a trip to the Monastiraki flea market, open daily but best visited on a Sunday for maximum people watching
  6. Take a stroll along the Athens Riviera and perhaps create your own informal progressive dinner at the region’s many restaurants and bars
  7. Learn to make authentic Greek food at the Greek Kitchen, which offers twice-daily, 4-hour-long classes 
  8. Snap some photos of Dromeas ("the runner”) by Carlos Varotsos, an incredible sculpture made building layer after layer of broken glass on top of one another to create the illusion of motion
  9. Take a walk down Pittaki Street in the evening, when the dozens of lamps strung above the walkway lend a cozy glow to the surrounds
  10. Spend time at the Botanical Museum of the National Garden

What to Eat & Drink in Athens

close up shot of mulitple mezze plates

All manner of Mediterranean cuisine relies on fresh, local ingredients, and when you combine that adherence to excellence with the culinary dynamism of a big city like Athens, you’re in a pretty great place to grab a bite to eat. Expect plenty of great street food (think gyros, naturally), traditional Greek cafes, and lots of trendy restaurants sure to excite anyone who’s passionate about trying something new with as many meals as possible.

  • Feyrouz is a casual, hidden restaurant in the historical city center serving vegetarian-friendly Lebanese cuisine (along with other, broader Mediterranean influences)
  • Momo makes for a delicious brunch in an industrial-style interior or in the secret garden out back
  • Yiasemi is an ideal, beautiful place to have a coffee, grab a little mezze, or order a full lunch
  • Mani Mani is a lovely, airy restaurant serving up Greek comfort food that’s satisfying and delicious
  • Anäna serves up quality coffee from a stylish little shop to fuel your day
  • The Clumsies is an internationally renowned cocktail bar that boasts a unique cocktail list full of Greek flavors, plus a good food menu
  • Spiti Bar offers an impressive array of cocktails to be enjoyed in the relaxed seating area (equally good for coffee and a snack) or in the swankier bar
  • Bobo the Wine Bar is a cozy spot to pair great food with wines that are offered up in an approachable manner

Where to Stay in Athens

Top Athens Neighborhoods for Visitors

quiet street in Athens

A funny thing about Athens is that some of the most touristic areas of town are also some of the most enjoyable to stay, so enjoyable, in fact, that many of them aren’t avoided by the locals. 

Case in point: Plaka, an extremely popular neck of the woods that’s also ultra charming and centrally located. If you prefer to live as much like an Athenian as possible while you’re here, check out Koukaki, which is much more relaxed but still convenient and full of traditional Greek dining options. Sticking to a strict budget? Look to Gazi. Splurging? Try Kolonaki.

Recommended Hotels in Athens

  • Hera Boutique Hotel (~$91/night): Classic rooms close to the Acropolis 
  • Periscope (~$106/night): Modern minimalism with a rooftop hot tub
  • Suites at Syngrou Fix (~$144/night): Nine-room, all-suite boutique hotel 
  • The Modernist (~$182/night): Modern luxury with hip touches (like Marshall speakers and smart TVs)

Getting Around in Athens

Public Transportation Options in Athens

A total of three metro lines to cover the entire sprawl of Athens may not seem like a lot, but a combination of rail rides and walking will get you to any number of destinations in short order. If you’re headed to the beach, ditch the metro in favor of the tram, but wherever you’re headed, getting there by road is rarely your best bet. Buses can feel overwhelming and aren’t particularly reliable; taxis are difficult to hail (there’s always Uber), and renting a car isn’t advised.

And while a city as hilly as Athens can be tough to navigate from a wheelchair, the metro offers plenty in the way of accessibility, as do many of the city’s most iconic attractions.

Athens Airports

The Athens International Airport (ATH), located about 12 miles from the city center, is Greece’s biggest and busiest international airport. It’s the base for Aegean Airlines, as well as a hub for Ryanair, Olympic Air, Volotea, and Sky Express.

How to Get to Athens from Athens International Airport (ATH)

Athens Airport is connected to the city via the subway. It’s one terminus of the Metro’s Line 3, or the blue line. It’s a roughly 40-minute trip and a ticket costs €9. Taxis from the airport to the city center take about 30 minutes and have fixed fares of €35 for day trips and €49 for night trips.

Where Else to Go from Athens   

Day Trips from Athens

ancient ruins at Corinth

Take an hour-long train southeast to Lake Vouliagmeni, a brackish body of water where you can enjoy serene, photogenic views, take a dip, and enjoy one of several lakefront restaurants.

Take a ~1.5-hour ferry from Piraeus in Athens to Hydra, a beautiful nearby island that feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Expect to swim, shop, eat, and generally stroll the day away.

Rent a car and drive an hour southwest to Corinth, where you’ll find the ancient ruins of this former city, along with gorgeous views of the Corinth Canal then head to the Saronic Gulf for a glorious place to swim.

Rent a car to drive 3.25 hours northwest to Lake Trichonida, another stunning natural attraction where you’ll also find the Temple of Apollo, a monument to the sun god.

Where Else to Visit from Athens

Hop on a plane or ferry to explore one or more of the gorgeous Greek Islands like romantic Santorini, lively Mykonos, or rugged Crete. 

Travel roughly five hours by train to the otherworldly Meteora rock formation, which serves as the foundation for six 14th-century monasteries, which currently house monks and are open for visitors to hike around and explore.

Take a 1.5-hour plane northeast to Istanbul and begin your epic trip to Turkey, and don’t miss the unique landscape of the Cappadocia region

Drive 3-4 hours west to the Peloponnese region, a peninsula with stunning beaches, mountaintop towns, and one of Greece’s top wine regions. 

Books, Movies, and TV Shows Set in Athens

Dozens of movies, from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to Mamma Mia, have been set in the Greek Islands, but far fewer have used Athens as a backdrop. For the best scenes of the capital, check out Dogtooth, The Two Faces of January, and My Life in Ruins

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