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