City Highlight: Athens

Published on: Thursday, August 3, 2017
City Highlight: Athens - Acropolis in Athens with the parthenon in the distance

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As the historical capital of Europe, Athens offers a stunning range of rich history, savoury cuisine, and a tangible feeling of culture

As you wander through the winding streets and look up at glass and marble buildings framed against the sky, you will see and feel how time has layered itself here, each bygone age breathing quietly beneath the next.

Best time to go

Spring (March-May) is a great time to visit Athens, when warm weather and fewer tourists make for an affordable and pleasant trip. Temperatures hover around 20C, but since Athens is close to the windy Greek coast, keep in mind it can get chilly.

Summer (June-August) in Athens is a balance of pros and cons. Bolstered by the hugely popular Epidaurus Festival and a series of music festivals, the city celebrates drama throughout the ages. But attractions, shops, and the beaches are crowded with tourists. The weather can be hot and muggy with temperatures often hitting the 30s.

Autumn (September-November) is another ideal vacation period as the heatwaves dissipate and key attractions are less crowded. Look for deals on flights and hotel rooms. Bear in mind that the rainy season starts in late October so be sure to pack a raincoat with you.

Winter (December-February) in Athens is brisk and rainy, rather than particularly cold. With highs around 12C and overcast skies, your main draw might be the raucous Athens Carnival—a celebration that certainly needs to be experienced to be understood.

Getting around

The metro is the easiest way to get around Athens; it runs from 5:30am until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 2am on the weekend. Both the metro and tram connect downtown to the city’s coast, and if you prefer the slower scenic route, trams are a comfortable, air-conditioned way to hit the beach or find coastal nightlife. Athen’s bright yellow taxis are plentiful; fares are low by European standards and tipping is not necessary but welcome. For other tips on car hire and cycling, check out the getting around Athens guide.

Traditional Must-Sees

The Parthenon
No visit to Athens would be complete without a trek up to the Parthenon, the defining centrepiece of the city. Here, ancient Athens worshipped their city patron, the goddess of wisdom, Athena. On the walk up to the building, you will pass numerous impressive remnants of Graeco-Roman civilisation.

The Acropolis Museum
After visiting the Parthenon temple, walk a few minutes south to check out the nearby Acropolis museum, which stands like a vision of modernity and houses 4,000 different Acropolis monuments.
Website: www.theacropolismuseum.gr/

Plaka neighbourhood
This neighbourhood has been inhabited without interruption since antiquity. Wide-eyed visitors will spot art and architecture from the Byzantine period, Mosques from the Ottoman period, mansions from the Turkish occupation and the Neoclassical period, and the famed “Tower of the Winds” dating back to 1st century BC.

Athens Riviera
Those looking for more modern fun will enjoy the coastal Athens Riviera, where sun-soaked beaches and raucous nightlife abound.

The Athens National Garden
Greatest among the Athens gardens, this gorgeous green space contains more than 500 species of plants, animals, birds, and trees. Within its gates you will also find a botanical garden, a zoo, a children’s library, and a number of ancient statues and monuments.

For more ideas on key attractions, check out things to see in Athens.

Offbeat & quirky

Psyrri neighborhood
Conveniently close to Athens’ traditional bazaar in Monastiraki, this area has  a number of bars, tavernas, ouzeris, and clubs. But more notably, it offers some of the best street art in Athens, including a mural dedicated to Loukanikos, Athens’ famous riot dog.

The National Archaeological Museum
Although well-known as one of the leading museums in the world, displaying rare treasures dating from the Neolithic era to the Roman empire, there is one object at this museum that you must see in particular: the antikythera mechanism, a 2,000-year-old computer more complex than any built in the next millennium.

Travel tips

Must-try specialities:

  • Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves
  • Saganaki – a delicious fried cheese
  • Tomatokeftedes – tomato fritters
  • Spanakopita – spinach pie
  • Ouzo – an aniseed-based clear spirit
  • Raki – a sharp and fiery spirit made from distilled grapes
  • Restina – wine made with resin
  • Zythros – Greek beer

Tipping: Tipping etiquette is up for debate in Greece, but a gratuity of 12-15% is usually appropriated at restaurants.

Hotels in Athens

Athens has hundreds of hotels and hostels to cater for all tastes and budgets. In and around Syntagma Square (opposite the Parliament) is the most exclusive area; but also try Psirri, near Monastiraki, the heart of Athens’ alternative scene. Advance booking is highly recommended during summer months. See our Hotels in Athens guide for more information.

Nightlife in Athens

Gazi and Psirri are great neighbourhoods to have a drink when the sun goes down, while Kolonaki is home to upmarket and cosy bars. Check out our Nightlife in Athens guide for more info.

Visa requirements to Greece

At present, only British passport holders and EU citizens do not need to have a return ticket or show sufficient funds for your visit, in addition to the no visa requirement.  If you are from another country and not sure what’s required, then check out this Visa Requirements to Greece page.

Still need more info about Athens? The complete guide to Athens is just a click away.