While many travelers flock to the Greek islands, so many pass through Athens as merely just a layover point, but it’s so much more than that! Athens is the vibrant capital of Greece, full of rich culture, history, and incredible food. With its ancient ruins and landmarks, warm Mediterranean spirit, and liveliness in every corner, Athens offers an unforgettable adventure for every traveler. Athens is my favorite European city as there are endless things to do, and all for an affordable price!
WHERE TO STAY IN ATHENS
As mentioned, most people travel to Athens as a layover point before making their way to the Greek Islands. Rather than using this city as just a layover point, fly into Athens and plan to spend 2-3 nights here before making your way to the islands, where you can choose a high speed ferry or a plane from Athens to reach your next destination. After experiencing multiple hotels in Athens, my favorite is Niche Hotel Athens. For starters, the location is superb as it is within just minutes walking distance from the Acropolis, Plaka, and incredible restaurants. The staff is so friendly and ready to help with any of your needs. As for the hotel itself, the room is divine with a large open concept shower and modern decor.
The best part of the hotel is the Stork Rooftop Bar Restaurant, which provides breathtaking views of the Acropolis, which is extra special when it’s lit up at night. The ceiling above the bar area is covered in greenery and warm lighting which adds to the magic and romance. The hotel is quite affordable for the luxury that it offers, and as previously mentioned, in an optimal location so you can make the most of your stay.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Visiting the Acropolis is an obvious recommendation as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an iconic symbol of Greece. If you’re visiting in the summer, I recommend visiting first thing in the morning at 8am or later in the evening around 6pm to beat the heat since there is no shade. You can buy tickets on arrival, however, reserving a tour is recommended to get the most out of your visit. While it is still impressive to see without a tour, there is a lot of interesting history that you are likely to miss without a guide. Regardless, the panoramic views of Athens from the Acropolis will leave you in awe! After spending a few hours in the sun at the Acropolis, cool down in the shade at the Acropolis museum, where you can see even more archaeological ruins and pieces of ancient history.
Another impressive site to see is the Ancient Agora, which was once a marketplace and the center of social life and politics in Athens. Here you’ll find impressive architecture, famous temples, and a museum with ancient artifacts. When booking your tickets, be sure to book the Acropolis and 6 Archaeological sites combo ticket which can be purchase ahead of time to access the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Temple of Zeus, Aristotle’s School, Hadrian’s Library, and Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery in addition to the Acropolis. Once you have your ticket, you are not confined to a specific time and just need to scan your ticket as you come up to each site.
One of my other favorite historic ancient Greek remains is the Panathenaic Stadium, which is home to the first modern Olympic Games hosted in 1896. This stadium is made of marble and just all around impressive looking. While you can buy tickets for a normal visit, the stadium allows tickets for morning jogging, between the hours of 7:30-9:00 am which is such a unique way to feel a part of history.
After getting a taste of ancient Greece from the archaeological sites, spend time getting lost in the neighborhood of Plaka, also known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods”. You’ll find dozens of quaint houses, charming shops, and winding streets that you can spend hours getting lost in. Athens has many similar souvenirs that islands like Santorini have, however, at a fraction of the cost so be sure to do your shopping here! Another part quintessential part of Athens is Monastiraki, which is a large square in the city with performers, local venders, and beautiful churches.
As you’re exploring the streets of Athens you’ll find endless options of traditional tavernas and cafes to enjoy an espresso freddo and gelato. My favorite gelato in Athens is DaVinci Gelato! Many of the restaurants in Athens have “traditional platters” to order, which consists of a tasting platter with the traditional and delicious Greek meals to try and share amongst 2 or a larger group.
After a long day (or two!) of walking around the vast city of Athens and learning about ancient Greece, the best way to end your day is with a cocktail at a rooftop bar to see the sunset and Acropolis views As mentioned earlier, Stork Rooftop Bar at Niche Hotel is one of my favorites, but others include A for Athens and 360 Cocktail Bar. If you’re looking for a fun place to party, Gazi is known to be a part of Athens with fun nightclubs and great music.
Athens is an enchanting city where ancient Greek history and the modern world intertwine harmoniously. Here you will find the most hospitable hotels, flavorful food, and remarkable architecture. This lively city puts a mark on your heart and leaves you wanting more. Before making your way to sunny Santorini or the parties of Mykonos, be sure to spend a few days in Athens taking in the most of Greek culture!