You simply can’t avoid bumping into 2000-year-old ruins in central Athens, making sure the visitors from newer cultures feel humbled as they stroll along the streets. On the other hand, Athens is also regarded as the new Berlin due to beautifully crafted graffiti art on the city walls, often taking a stance on the economical downfall of Greece that started in 2008.
The Greek kitchen is another reason to visit Athens. The city is full of cafés serving delicious cakes and pastries, such as the traditional feta and spinach filo pie, Spanakopita. The aroma of grilled meat, fish and vegetables lingers in the air of Athens, constantly inviting you to spoil your taste buds.
Where to stay in Athens
Athens is a Metropolis, a Mother city, with 660 000 inhabitants living in the city area. The distance from the city center to the port side of Piraeus is 8 kilometers. However, most of the key historical attractions of Athens are located right in the city center, which makes it the most convenient place for your accommodation. The city center is mainly limited in the areas of Monastiraki, Plaka and Psiri.
Psiri has the best selection of restaurants, bars and hotels to offer in the city center. Psiri is the center of Athens nightlife where the night doesn't end before the sun has come out again. Especially the Kolokotroni street with its side streets has some of the most popular bars in town. The area is very atmospheric when the darkness falls and the street lamps illuminate the narrow streets and squares.
The proximity to Monastiraki makes it a nice option as the neighborhood is very central and has great connections with Monastiraki metro station.
Monastiraki is one of the most central neighborhoods of Athens. It's known for the historical landmarks, such as the Roman Agora and the Hadrian's Library. There's always buzz and bustle going on in Monastiraki as the metro station is a hub for various metro lines, connecting the city center with the airport and the Piraeus Port.
Right by the metro station you find the Monastiraki Flea Market, which is like a big bazaar rather than a traditional flea market. Monastiraki is a wonderful area for finding your accommodation in - you have a nice selection of hotels, local taverns, cafés and bars.
The neighborhood of Plaka is located by the feet of Acropolis Hill. Plaka is like a small village inside a big city - it's a network of narrow residential alleys that often lead to square where the locals meet up to exchange the latest news. You'll also find many ceramic shops, antique stores and local taverns from those narrow streets.
Peaceful living is appreciated in Plaka, so that's a place to consider of if you like to stay far from the busy nightlife, yet stay in the city center. The streets of Plaka are often hilly, which is good to bear in mind if you have a wish to avoid physical strain.
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Things to do
The neighborhood of Plaka is located just beneath the Acropolis hill. The cobblestone streets are filled with artisan shops, cozy restaurants and picturesque small squares giving you the village feel inside a big city. Many of the archaeological sites are located in Plaka, such as the Roman Agora.
Taste Greek food
Be sure you plunge deep into the Greek kitchen and try as many local dishes as possible. Grilled meat, fish and vegetables come in countless ways. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers, kebabs made of pork, chicken or veal, Moussaka, Tzatziki... the list is endless.
Walk around National Garden
The National Garden in the city center offers a fresh escape from the busy street life of Athens. There are plenty of things to see both inside and around the garden. You can start the visit by the Greek Parliament where the guards, known as the Evzones, change guarding position every hour 24 hours a day. Every Sunday they wear their ceremonial uniforms on the changing of guards taking place at 11.00.
Continue behind the Parliament building down the Irodou Attikou street and walk past the Presidential Palace. Go inside the gardens and you’ll be surrounded with pine and palm trees. In the center of the garden, there is a home farm animal zoo. On the southeast corner you’ll find the ancient Panathenaic Stadium that’s been excavated and refurbished to host the first modern Olympic games in 1896.
On the south side you’ll find Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. To visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus you have to pay admission, but you get a nice glimpse on the ruins when standing next to Hadrian’s Arch.
The acropolis hill is the city’s most famous attraction and the symbol of the birth of European culture. The hill contains the remains of several ancient buildings, the most famous being the Parthenon.
The Parthenon is beautifully lit up at night offering a magnificent view from the surrounding city area. The ancient citadel has suffered a lot of damage in earthquakes and attacks throughout the centuries, and it is constantly under restoration.
Yet, the view from the hill is amazing. Despite the great number of visitors especially in the summer, it’s a must-visit attraction if you visit Athens.
Port of Piraeus
Piraeus is the biggest passenger harbor in Europe gives a nice contrast to the temples and excavation sites. In the center you often forget that Athens is located right by the sea, just a 15-minute metro ride away from central Athens. The harbor front is full of restaurants and cafés where to enjoy a lunch at a terrace and gaze on the countless ferries and hydrofoils sailing away from the harbor.
The tall limestone hill is located basically in the center of Athens. The 277-meter-tall hill is of course a bit of a climb, but the view from the top is worth it. You’ll see Acropolis hill below and the ships at Piraeus in the horizon. The sunset at Mount Lycabettus is guaranteed to give you great memories and photos.
Things to do for families
While the city’s famous attractions are probably more appealing to adults than children, there’s plenty of fun to be discovered for the whole family. Once in a while it’s good to put the kids first, and a visit to the zoo, for example, might be more appreciated by kids than ancient ruins.
Eugenides Foundation – Planetarium & Science and Technology Center
Since the Greeks have developed the foundations for western science, why not pay a visit to a science center in Athens? The center, which is situated some 5 kilometers away from the Syntagma square, contains two parts; the Planetarium, and the Science and Technology Center.
Via interactive gadgets and experiments, the Science and Technology Center introduces different scientific disciplines, such as mathematics, chemistry and physics to its visitors. The Planetarium is regarded as one the leading planetariums in Europe, but what really stands out is the 278-seat amphitheater running astronomical shows continuously.
Allou Fun Park
Athens’ very own fun park, Allou, provides absolute fun for the whole family. Enjoy the roller coaster, free fall, rafting ride and many other games of the park. Allou is situated some 6 kilometers away from the very center of the city.
Attica Zoological Park
Attica Zoological Park near the airport is open every day of the year. The 350 animal species occupying the zoo range from dolphins to crocodiles, providing plenty to watch for everyone’s taste.
Beaches in Athens
Athens is rarely regarded as a beach destination. This perception is wrong, as there are beaches even within the city area, easily reached by tram. During the summer months, taking a refreshing dip by the beach is recommendable variation to spending time in the hot center of Athens. And what’s more, the European Environment Agency has graded the state of the bathing waters as excellent.
Athens Riviera contains various types of beaches ranging from wide beach stretches to protected coves. The beaches closest to the center are best suited for taking a quick swim, but if you have more time on your hands, you should head off to Glyfada or Vouliagmeni beaches farther away.
The public beaches of Athens Riviera are free of charge, while the private ones require an entrance fee. The private beaches have better services, such as changing rooms, water sports possibilities, life guards and restaurant services. Entrance fees range from about 4 to 6 euros, often with discounts for children.
Votsalakia Beach (Piraeus)
Votsalakia Beach in the port city of Piraeus is a popular beach among the locals, especially since it’s situated just 10 kilometers away from the center. To get there, take the metro and change to a local bus at Piraeus, or just take a taxi all the way. The beachline drops off sharply, and as such the beach is not the best choice for families with children.
Edem (Palaio Faliro)
Edem Beach in the district of Palaio Faliro, situated just 7,5 kilometers away from the Syntagma square, is the closest beach to the center of Athens. The wide beach stretch is popular due to its vicinity of the center as well as its accessibility. The tram lines T4 and T5 operate all the way to the beach directly from Syntagma.
The beaches of Alimos contain several private beach clubs; Beach Club Alimos and Bolivar Beach Bar are the ones best known. Beach Club Alimos is popular among families, as it contains a play area in the sea dedicated for children.
Alimos Beaches are in tip-top shape and the shoreline is conveniently shallow. Thus they are a match for families with children.
Situated about a 45-minute tram ride away from central Athens, the glamorous Glyfada area attracts fashion conscious Athenians for shopping, partying and spending time on the beach. The center of Glyfada around Esperidon Square is the mecca of designer shops. The restaurant and bar selection in Glyfada is among the best in Athens. Everything from trendy drink bars to fusion kitchen restaurants, burger joints and sushi carts stand in line one after the other.
There are both public and private beaches in the area. Next to the 18-hole Glyfada Golf Club, there’s a public beach which is not worth much attention.
Instead, the paid but affordable Asteras Glyfada Beach further down the beach boulevard is a safe bet for families. You can wade hundreds of meters in the water before the water gets deep. Admission is about 5 euros on weekdays and 7 euros on weekends.
Balux Seaside Pool on the southern end of Glyfada is a better fit for adults than children. Balux is a high-end beach club concept for idling on the beach or by the pool on a beanbag, while enjoying drinks and lounge music. To get in to Balux Seaside Pool, the entrance fee is about 8 euros.
Vouliagmeni, which is situated 20 kilometers away from the very center, provides a fantastic setting for a great day on the beach. The area contains several excellent beaches, such as Akti Vouliagmeni Beach, which is well suited for families due to the surrounding large, sheltered bay. There are also plenty of activities on offer for children.
Vouliagmeni is also the home of the most exclusive beach club of the Riviera, Astir Beach, where you can easily bump into international celebrities. Its 18-euro entrance fee is the highest of the Riviera, but the other clubs are no match for Astir Beach.
Shopping in Athens
With regards to prices and choice, Athens is an excellent city for shopping – so do leave some space in your luggage when packing at home. Shops are open mainly from Monday to Saturday between 9 A.M. and 9 P.M. Shops are generally closed on Sundays.
Although there are many clusters of shops in Athens, a casual shopper should start off with the Ermou street, the most recognized shopping street in Athens. The long pedestrian street commences from the bottom end of the Syntagma Square, also containing the best selection of shops. In addition to international clothing brands, there’s an endless list of other brands well represented in the area. These include the likes of Swarovski and Swatch.
The largest shopping center of Greece, Attica City Link, is situated just a couple of hundred meters northwestwards from the Syntagma Square, between the streets of Omonoia and Stadiou.
For souvenirs, you should head off to the streets of Plaka or the Flea market in Monastiraki. Although it is called a flea market, most items are not second hand. But what it really has in common with flea markets, is the wide selection of products – there’s anything and everything on offer. If not for anything special, you should visit the Flea market just out of curiosity.
What to bring as gifts from Athens?
The same problem all over again – What to bring home as gifts from Athens?
- Olive oil products – Hygiene and beauty products made out of olive oil have been used in Greece since the ancient times. These products are sold all over the city.
- Komboloi – Greek worry beads. The beads are moved back and forth along a string to relieve stress. It is often used as a decoration or an amulet.
- Greek coffee – The aroma and taste of the strong Greek coffee are unique.
Prices in Athens
Prices of restaurant and hotel services in Greece are below the average of European Union prices.
Below, there are some examples of restaurant and hotel prices in Athens. Costs of hotel rooms are median prices at Booking.com.
Pizza in restaurant
Steak in restaurant
33 cl beer in restaurant
Hotel room, 3-4* (April)
Hotel room, 3-4* (July)
How to get to Athens city centre from the airport
Athens International Airport - Eleftherios Venizelos is located some 30 kilometers away from the center of Athens. Besides taxi, you can take a metro or a bus into the city centre, which both are very easy to do in Athens.
The line number 3, direction Aghia Marina, is the fastest way into the city center. The journey takes approx. 40 minutes and costs 10 EUR per person. There are clear indications in the arrival hall (”bus”, “trains”) to the bridge that connects the airport building and the metro/train station. You can buy tickets from a vending machine or ticket counter, where you can pay by credit/debit card. The metro runs every 30 minutes, 7 days a week from 6.30a.m. to 11.30p.m.
Use the bus x95 to travel between the Airport and Syntagma Square. The journey takes from 45 minutes to 1 hour and costs 6 EUR per person. The buses operate 7 days a week and 24 hours. The bus leaves right at the terminal building, opposite of the Novotel Hotel. The bus from the city center to the Athens Airport leaves from Othonos-street at southern side of the Syntagma Square. Next to the bus stop, there is a ticket booth to buy tickets by cash or credit/debit card.
Weather in Athens
Winter: The winter months from December to February are often rainy, the average temperatures ranging between 5-15°C.
Spring: From March to May, the raining stops, and the sun is out often. The average temperature in March climbs up to 15-20°C, but in May, the average is already at 20 °C.
Summer: From June to August, the sunshine is pretty much guaranteed. The temperature climbs constantly up to 30°C and over.
Autumn: September is still a warm month and the temperature stays clearly above 20 °C. In mid-October, the weather cools down to 20°C and it starts to rain more often. In November, the temperature is already around 15°C.
Text: Ville Ryynänen
Photos: Ville Ryynänen, GNTO & Adobe Stock
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