Athens is where Ancient Greece meets with the modern Greek nation, a sprawling city that’s the historic, cultural and political heart of the nation. For many, Athens is also seen as the centre of western civilization, a place where philosophers debated life and politics, and where the ideals of democracy and liberty were first discussed.
It’s a truly historic destination, and in Athens, you’ll find iconic sights such as the Acropolis, and other Greek relics that date back thousands of years. But you’ll also find the remnants of the many other civilizations that sprung from Athens or conquered their way through, and there are influences abounding across the city from the likes of the Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans.
And when the sightseeing is over, you can gorge on some of the best Greek food in the country, you can dine out at excellent restaurants, or eat simply in the local taverns, and you can wash it all down with a fiery glass of Ouzo.
It’s a great city to explore, and to inspire your trip, here’s our ultimate travel guide to Athens.
This ultimate travel guide to Athens will show you all the most beautiful places in Athens, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Athens and things to do in Athens which will help you in planning a trip to Athens.
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How to get to Athens
Being the capital of Greece, and a thriving European city of almost 5 million people, Athens has great transport connections both domestically and internationally.
Athens Airport is the main gateway to the city if you’re flying in, and you’ll find there are regular flights here from all over the world. Aegean Airlines is the main Greek carrier, and they have the widest selection of destinations, ranging from European cities to Asian and North American destinations, while budget airlines like Ryanair and Easy Jet have cheap tickets from Athens, across the continent. The airport is connected to the city centre by a direct metro line, as well as regional train services and public bus lines.
Athens also has overland connections to other European cities, with bus connections north to the Balkans, and east towards Istanbul. There are also ferry connections across to all of the major Greek Islands from Athens, and it makes for an excellent transport hub if you are looking to explore more of the country.
What to expect in Athens
Athens is where the old meets the new, and while you can see the ruins of Ancient Greek civilizations everywhere, you’ll also appreciate the new infrastructure that was constructed around the time of the 2004 Olympics, which were held in the city, and that have since made it a much more pleasant place to travel to.
But Greece has also had its share of troubles, not least the financial crises and the heavy debts. For tourists that can mean low prices of course, but for locals, the hardships can be very apparent.
Greece is part of the European Union and the Schengen Zone, and the main currency in use is the Euro. It’s easy to find ATMs and money changers across the city. The main language is Greek, which is written in the Greek Alphabet, but being a cosmopolitan city, you’ll find that many different languages are spoken too, including English.
How to get around Athens
Athens has an extensive public transport system, and the buses, trams and metro are a convenient, and cost-effective way to get around the city.
You can purchase a convenient ticket that allows you to transfer between all public transport, be it bus or metro, within a set period, and if you are planning on seeing Athens in a weekend, then you can buy multi-day passes for use on public transport.
The metro has three lines, and where the metro doesn’t reach, the buses and trams will. Roads in Athens can be busy, particularly during rush hour, so it’s not advisable to rent a car for touring the city. Taxis are available across Athens, however, compared to public transport, costs are exceptionally high.
Athens isn’t always the easiest city to walk around, but you can enjoy a walking tour in certain areas, particularly in the archaeological zones.
The best time to visit Athens
Athens enjoys a lovely Mediterranean climate, and it can make for a great city break destination any time of the year, as the weather stays reasonably warm even in the dead of winter.
Summer, between May and September, sees incredibly high temperatures, and lots of sunlight, but while the weather is beautiful, the crowds in the city can be overwhelming. This is high season across Greece, and restaurants will be packed and there will be queues for the most famous tourist attractions. Of course, if you are visiting the rest of Greece and the islands, summer is still the best time for lounging on beaches and enjoying the sea.
If you want to avoid the crowds in Athens though, then it’s well worth visiting outside of the summer high season.
Things to do in Athens
The highlight of any trip to Athens is the chance to visit the famed Acropolis. This is a place that’s instantly recognizable, as the ruins of this Ancient Greek compound are an enduring symbol of the city.
The Acropolis consists of a multitude of different temples and ancient buildings, in various states of repair and preservation. This is the heart of Ancient Greece and the birthplace of Western Civilization.
The most iconic building within the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This glorious temple dates back to around 400 BC, but over the centuries it was destroyed and rebuilt before being excavated again in recent times.
This beautiful building served as a temple for the Greek civilizations that built it and worshiped here in Athens.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Zeus was the king of the Ancient Greek Gods, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus was dedicated to his power in the Acropolis.
The ruins have stood here for thousands of years, but the temple itself took almost 600 years to complete, not being completed until the Romans ruled over Athens.
The Acropolis Museum
While the Acropolis is a beautiful place to explore, it’s the history behind the temples and ruined buildings that makes this such a fascinating site to visit.
To learn more about the archaeological site, you’ll want to make sure you visit the Acropolis Museum, which houses the vast majority of artifacts that have been excavated from the ruins. Make sure to skip the line to make your visit easier.
Another famous archaeological site in Athens is the Agora, which is found by Market Hill. The Agora was the Ancient Greek public square, where you could find public meetings, gatherings, parties, social events and anything else of importance that occurred within ancient Athens.
The city’s more modern public space can be found at Syntagma Square, which is the central square in Athens.
The square is named after an iconic constitution, granted to the people by the king in the 19th century. Around the square, you can find the old Royal Palace which is now the seat of the Greek Parliament.
For incredible views over the city, then head to the top of the imposing hill known as Mount Lycabettus. This tall mound rises high above the city and forms an integral part of the local skyline when viewed from below. At the top, you have uninterrupted views across the city, out to sea and far out into the countryside.
You can ride a cable car to the summit, while you’ll also find restaurants with the best views in Athens waiting for you when you arrive.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
There are many ancient theatres and amphitheatres around the city, but one of the best to visit is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Dating back to 161 AD, this is a beautiful example of Greco-Roman architecture, and in recent decades it was heavily restored to its former glory.
In fact, the theatre is so well restored, that today it’s still in use as a concert and festival venue. The outdoor arena can hold thousands of people, and while you are in Athens, you’ll want to see if there are any performances scheduled.
What to Eat in Athens
Greece has a wonderful culinary scene, and in Athens, you can find some of the country’s best restaurants. Of course, when in Athens you can find traditional Greek dishes everywhere, and you’ll easily be able to dine out and enjoy classic dishes such as Mousaka or Greek Gyros – essentially doner kebabs – wherever you head to.
Greek food has a reputation for being fresh, yet oily, and you can gorge on enormous bowls of Greek salad, swimming in feta cheese and olive oil. At the local Tavernas, you’ll find inexpensive drinks, and plenty of rustic, homemade food, and especially an abundance of grilled meats and fish.
Where to stay in Athens
Budget – Budget travellers have lots of opportunities for cheap accommodation in Athens, and there are many hostels across the city. Some are located in dodgier parts of the city though, so be careful of the location when booking. Reputable hostels in Athens include the City Circus, which has a wonderful rooftop terrace, and Athens Style, which has a view of the Acropolis.
Mid-range – There are many mid-range hotels to be found across Athens, of varying quality and standards. You can search AirBnB for well-priced apartments in residential areas, for a more local experience.
Luxury – Athens has several luxury options, but one of the most iconic hotels to stay at during your stay in the city is the Grande Bretagne Hotel. This luxurious, five-star hotel is legendary in the upmarket travel circles, and you’ll find beautiful rooms, gourmet restaurants and spa facilities to enjoy if you can afford the price tag.
Tours to do in Athens
A great way to see explore the city is on a Walking tour Athens, where you can experience the best areas on foot. While Athens isn’t always the most pedestrian-friendly city, with a local guide leading you around, you can certainly find the best spots, and see the destination in a new light.
Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
But, if walking isn’t your thing, then look no further than booking onto a Hop on Hop off Bus Tour when you are visiting Athens. A ticket will give you access to the bus route across the city, and you can jump on and jump off at the best sights and attractions in Athens, while also learning more about the local history and culture along the way.
Greek food is quite simply excellent, and when you are in Athens, there’s no better place to learn more about the country’s glorious culinary scene than by joining a local cookery class.
Learn from local chefs how to prepare classic Greek dishes such as Mousaka, while learning about local culture in a hands-on and exciting environment.
Day trips from Athens
One of the best day trips from Athens is a journey south to Cape Sounion. Just an hour away from the Greek capital, you can find both a spectacular stretch of coastline and an ancient archaeological zone.
Cape Sounion is home to the Temple of Poseidon, a historic temple devoted to the god of the sea, which is thought to have been built around 400 BC by the ancient Greeks. The ruins of the temple look out over the Meditteranean and offer spectacular views of the surrounding islands.
Two hours drive away from Athens, you can find the equally historic archaeological site of Delphi. In fact, Delphi was perhaps the most important place in Greece, as the Ancient Greeks believed that this was the centre of the known world.
This was where the Oracle lived and was consulted for their wisdom in times of need, and at Delphi, you can find the ruins of an affluent, ancient city. There are temples, amphitheatres and much more waiting to be explored.
Athens is found close to the coastline, and while you’re in the city, it’s a great opportunity to take to the water and explore the nearby islands and scenery. Join a Catamaran Cruise to head along the coast, taking in the beautiful views and enjoying onboard drinks and food on a great day trip from Athens.
Recommended tours in Athens
- 4-Day Classical Greece Tour: Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora
- Athens Small-Group Food Tour
- Acropolis Walking Tour, Including Syntagma Square and Historical City Center
- Greek Small-Group Athens Cooking Class & Dinner
- Best of Athens Small-Group Tour: Hidden Athens Highlights, Gems and Greek Snacks
- Cape Sounion and Temple of Poseidon Half-Day Small-Group Tour from Athens
- Athens Highlights: a Mythological Tour
- Skip the Line Acropolis of Athens and New Acropolis Museum Tour
- Luxury Catamaran Cruise from Athens with Traditional Greek Meal and BBQ
- Viator Exclusive: Acropolis of Athens, New Acropolis Museum and Greek Dinner
- Private Tour: Athens City Highlights Including the Acropolis of Athens
- Skip the Line Acropolis of Athens Tour
- Skip the Line: Acropolis of Athens Afternoon Walking Tour
- Athens Full Day Private Tour
- Unique Sailing Experience from Athens to Agistri, Moni, and Aegina