Athens– dominated by its history and ancient ruins is also referred as the cradle of Western Civilization. A city which is more then 2,500 year-old and a hotch-potch of concrete upon brick upon stone. Built around the famous Acropolis, a hilltop citadel along with the ancient Parthenon temple Athens has far more to offer than just an entry port to the start of your island hopping vacation.
In the last few years, the Greek capital has renewed it’s status as the European arts capital. Just a three-and-a-half-hour nonstop flight from London, travellers flock here for the hilltop views of ancient ruins, corridors filled with artists and award-winning restaurants and cocktail bars.
Welcome to Athens.
Best time to Go
Without a doubt everyone agrees that the best time to visit is Greece is spring and early summer (mid-Apr to mid-June) or autumn (Sept to mid-Oct). This way, you avoid the summer high season, with its inflated prices, hordes of tourists and high temperatures reaching upto 100°F/+40C. Weather during the spring and fall months is agreeable and sunshine is pretty much a guaranteed so our plan to travel in the last week of May was perfect.
Athens is well connected and the main entry point for most travellers. We used our very own British Airways to fly into the capital and a direct flight from Heathrow got us into the capital in just less then 4hrs. There are plenty of airlines flying into Athens so do your research and get the best deals.
Land into Athens International Airport and you have the option to hop on a train or use the metro, both convenient and cost effective ways to get into the city centre. The taxis are affordable generally travelling within the city but make sure to check prices hailing one from the airport as most of them charge a flat €40 into the city centre, not a bad deal when travelling with kids. Athens boasts of an impressive public transport network including metros, buses, trams, ferries and trains to help you get around the capital.
Where to Stay
When in Athens the desirable areas to stay in are the Plaka, Makrianni,Syntagma and Monastiraki. These all border the Acropolis and the archaeological park around it. Everything you need including shops, restaurants, the metro to the ferries, buses, taxis and nightlife is within walking distance.There are several hotels in the Plaka area between Syntagma Square and the Acropolis. It’s the quietest and most pleasant part of Athens. If you are looking for one of the larger ones and a bit out of the hustle and bustle then your option is Caravel.
Our hotel the Divani Caravel was the perfect choice, a short taxi ride away from the centre. The Divani Caravel is part of the Leading Hotels of the World so the quality was guaranteed and yes it did live up to it. It’s roof top Pool and bar had mesmorising views of the Acropolis. Large rooms and great service what else could you want. There is so much choice of accommodation that you should be able to find something within your budget quite easily in this city.
What to See
It’s hard to come to Athens and not see the ruins so why not start with the most famous one the Acrpopolis. Start your day early to beat the crowds and the midday sun which can get very strong and with limited shade it can get hottttt at the top of the hill. The doors open to the public at 8 a.m. in the summer, 8.30 a.m. in the winter, and is a short walk from the Akropoli metro station.
If you prefer the more touristy option, the hop on hop of bus is the perfect way to see this city. The Acropolis is the most striking and complete ancient Greek monumental complex still existing in our times. It is situated on a hill but it is not a steep climb so make sure you don’t miss this thinking of the climb.
Most city-states in ancient Greece had at their centre a rocky mound or hill where they built their important temples and where the people could retreat if under attack. The most famous acropolis is the one in Athens and a perfect example of this.
The Acropolis is home to one of the most famous buildings in the world and a UNESCO heritage site the Parthenon. The views from the hilltop are some of the best in the city, but the Parthenon is even more impressive up front or lit up at night. The tickets to the Acropolis including the North and South Sloped can be purchased quite easily at the ticket counter on the foot of the hill and costs €20 per adult and kids under 10 are free. If you have an EU student card then make sure to carry it as there are plenty of discounts and free entrance in Greece.
After our fix of Ancient Greek history it was time to refuel. You can easily spend half a day on the hill so depending on how much of a history buff you are plan your day accordingly. A leisurely walk down the hill and you are in the heart of the city Monsastiraki square. A relaxed lunch with some great views of the Acropolis and we were off to the Flea Market.
Monastiraki Flea Market is open seven days a week but if you are there on a Sunday morning make sure to visit, as this is when jewellery makers and artisans set up their stalls for the day. This is not an actual flea market but a collection of small shops a short walk from Monastiraki Square and Metro station.
Here you can buy almost everything from clothing, jewellery, leather goods, cheap souvenirs to antique marble Greek statues and traditional Greek products. If you are tired or shopping and this is not your style then enjoy one of the many cafes where you can stop for a refreshment and watch the people passing by. The msrket is more shops then just stalls selling a variety of goods and keeps you busy if you looking for your fix of holiday shopping. As you walk through the narrow lanes passing the shops of the Flea market you land into one of the main squares of Athens Monsastiraki square.
This is a unique blend of styles, eras and cultures, lively but firmly dedicated to trade and the reunion of people of Athens. Monastiraki was the site of one of the largest monasteries in Athens which was demolished during archaeological excavations in the nineteenth century with very little left of the original complex. It’s buzzing with people vendors and a great vide fills this square so make sure to visit.
The only church remained and ironically named ‘monastiráki’ or ‘little monastery’, which eventually gave the neighbourhood its name stands here and is small yet beautiful. This Square is lively through the day and night with some very classy rooftop bars which have breathtaking views of the city by the night mainly.
We visited the 360 cocktail bar and I would highly recommend this for a great evening with unparalleled views of the Acropolis light up. 360 Cocktail Bar.
Located under the Acropolis it is one of the oldest neighbourhood in Athens and Europe. Its beautiful pedestrian streets with traditional houses has a charm of its own and makes it the perfect place for a leisurely stroll. The main attractions in Plaka are the museums and the archeological sites but if you are after some authentic Greek food then there are some great restaurants around this area. Plaka is beautiful and gives you a real taste of Athens.
Roman & Ancient Agora
Located to the North side of the Acropolis is the famous The Roman and Ancient Agora, created to honour the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. This was the first commercial centre of Athens with large open patios surrounded by columns and a market area. Through the ages the Roman Agora, just like most of the monuments in Athens, was transformed with additions by the dominant cultures and religions.
The Ancient Agora of Athens harbours several notable ancient structures including the Temple of Haphaestus, the best preserved Classical Greek temple, and the Attalos Stoa. It was dedicated to Hephaestus, the ancient god of fire and Athena, goddess of pottery and crafts. According to the archeologists, the temple was built around 450 B.C.
It also offers an excellent view of the Acropolis.
Evening in Psirri
Psirri or Psyrri is a great place to spend an evening if you are in Athens. Until the early 90’s it had an ill reputation, but now it has become one of the most fashionable and trendy choices for entertainment, music, food and hospitality. The central square of Psyri is called Heroes Square.
Psirri is one of Athens’ main nightlife districts, packed with creative stores, quaint restaurants, picturesque cafés and bars where drinking and people-watching are the main activities. I was surprised how lively and late this city is with most of the outlets open till the wee hours of the morning. Some extraordinary musicians performing in the cafes and bars lay the perfect backdrop for a great night out.
Athens is loaded with great restaurants but nothing beats an authentic Gyros and Souvlaki from a local shop. There are some great places just off Monastiraki Square. Difference Between Gyro and Souvlaki. Gyro or gyros is a special Greek delicacy consisting of meat, onion, tomato and tzatziki sauce served with pita bread.
Souvlaki is also a Greek dish, but basically a fast food. It is prepared with small meat crumbs and grilled vegetables all prepared on a skewer wrapped up into a pita with French fries and sauce.
Yes, there are plenty of Gelato parlours dotted around the city and with the sun shining bright there is nothing better then a bit of indulgence with a scoop of gelato.
Venture off the tourist trail and discover a different side to Athens by taking a street art walking. Explore the city’s colourful local neighbourhoods and admire unique graffiti art and murals. This will give you a feel for yourself why Athens’ bold street art has made a name for itself worldwide.
Athens is the entry point into Greece for most travellers who normally come here to see the Acropolis and after spending anything from 2-3 nights head out to the Greek Islands. However post my visit one thing is for sure, don’t come here just for the ancient monuments or as an entry point into Greece there is much more to Athens. Despite the economic crises, contemporary Athens has so much more to offer, from an electric nightlife filled with urban-chic bars and cafés to some of the most fascinating and upmarket restaurants serving cuisines from all around the world. If you love fashion there is plenty here from small boutiques to mega malls. Athens is surely a great city and one that is making a mark on the map.
So come be a part Athens. Our next stop Mykanos.
- Take a break from sightseeing and relax in the shade in the National Gardens.
- Enjoy a snapshot of Greek history and culture and visit landmarks like the Acropolis.
- Make a wish in a fountain at Syntagma Square.
- Visit the Acropolis, the National Archeological Museum and Delphi, for free every first Sunday of the month (from November to March).
- Visit the daily change of the guards outside the Greek Parliament.
- Enjoy some of the best views of the city from Areopagous Hill .
- Take advantage of your youth (if you’re under 18 or an EU university student) and walk into any museum and archeological spot for free.
- Shop for some antiques, souvenirs at Monastiraki flea market.
- Pay tribute in one of the oldest churches in Greece, Kapnikarea church.
- Appreciate the graffiti art of the young artists on the street of Athens.
- Catch spectacular views of Piraeus port from the top of Lykavittos Hill.
- Relax in one of the many rooftop bars around Monastiraki Square.
- Walk the ancient streets around Syntagma, Ermou street,Aiolou street.
- Take a stroll around the marina of Flisvos Marina .
- Discover the historic streets of Plaka.
- Admire some of the finest Greek sculpture around the old Cemetery of Athens.
- Window shop around posh Kolonaki Square.
- Enjoy a Gelato in one of the many parlours dotted around Athens.
- Sample the night life of Psirri.
- Treat yourself to a Souvlaki.