Athens, an ancient city.
The capital of Greece is one of the most established centers of tourism in Europe, with thousands of visitors passing through on their way to visit the islands each year.
Athens surprised me.
Most people I know who’ve visited en route to the islands mentioned their disdain for the city. They made it sound sterile, like there wasn’t much to do, and like people weren’t welcoming.
After spending five days there, one of which was wholly dedicated to sightseeing, I have disagree with the advice I’d received to spend as little time in Athens as possible.
By skipping town so quickly, you miss out on experiencing what I believe is one of Europe’s hidden gems.
Central Athens is small, walkable and there’s plenty to discover beyond the historical sights. We found the city to be friendly, with a great cafe scene, gorgeous rooftop cafes, a lively taverna culture, and endless delicious eats.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in the Koukaki neighbourhood, as we had a few friends living there or close-by, and wanted to be near them for convenience of catching up.
Our Airbnb was directly above a metro station, which was one stop to the Acropolis (we walked). It was also about 45 minutes to the airport, with only one station change, so convenience on all fronts.
We loved the neighborhood- tons of cafes, restaurants and shops. Great for getting a residential feeling, but still being central in the city.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Mostly, we walked since we stuck to areas in our neighbourhood, Plaka or central Athens.
A couple of times, we took the subway. For our stay, we bought a six-ride public transit block (good for the bus or metro) and affordable at less than €9 for the entire block.
We did find the metro a bit confusing at times- station names are translated on Google maps, and not always the case in real life. However, pausing to look at maps, or asking the station attendant for help always put us on the right course.
We didn’t use taxis in Athens, but I’ve heard they can be an affordable way to get around.
From the airport, we took the metro both ways. Cheaper than a taxi with it just being two people each way, and so easy to use, it almost felt convenient. You can’t use block metro tickets to head to the airport- it requires a special ticket, which you can purchase at any of the in-station vending machines.
WHAT TO DO
With only a day to sightsee, we focused on a few key sights, rather than rush around and try to see and do too much.
Breakfast from a Greek Bakery
We were lucky enough to be staying above a 24-hour Greek bakery, Attika. We indulged in their bangin’ croissants, spanakopita, and fresh orange juice daily.
Visit the Acropolis
The ruins of the Acropolis date back to the 5th century BC, and are a must see when visiting Athens.
They were the thing I was the most excited about seeing, having read about them in history books as a kid.
Of all the structures found at the Acropolis, the Parthenon is the most well-known. A former-temple, the Parthenon is dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the city of Athens was named after.
Construction of the temple began in 447 BC and continued until 432 BC. As with many of the structures at the Acropolis, the Parthenon has suffered substantial damage over the years.
When I visited, much of it was covered in scaffolding. And, I’ve heard the same from others when they’ve visited in recent times.
Although the Parthenon is the most famous site at the Acropolis, there are a number of other ruins to visit, including the Theatre of Dionysus, the Propylaea, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.
Another spot to see is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a theatre dating back to the 2nd Century, which you can get a good view of from the Acropolis.
Around Athens, there are seemingly endless, incredible historic sites. We didn’t have time to visit any, aside from the Acropolis, but on a return visit, I’d love to see the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Aeropagus Hill with its stunning view of the Acropolis, and the Acropolis Museum.
Another spot high on my return visit list?
277 metres above sea level, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens.
Sometimes referred to as Mount Lycabettus, it’s a brilliant place to visit for sunset with breathtaking panoramic views of the whole city.
Getting up there is easy with a funicular that runs every 30 minutes between 9 am and 2:30 am.
The Lycabettus Hill funicular costs €5 for a one-way journey or €7 for a return trip. It runs at least once every 30 minutes between 9am and 2.30am.
Have Coffee at Kaya
The best lattes in the city. Full stop. This tiny shop, tucked inside an arcade, was jammed with locals both times we visited, and for good reason. Their coffee is excellent
Located at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Acropolis, Plaka feels more like it belongs on one of the Greek islands.
It’s a scenic and charming spot to visit, and is definitely one of the city’s hidden gems.
Wander the areas hidden streets, and pop into a charming taverna for lunch. We met friends at one of them, Yiasemi for a lunch of Greek salad, tzatziki and fresh lemonade.
Have a Coffee Pick-Me-Up at Handlebar
In need of a pick-me up before sunset drinks, we popped into Handlebar for flat whites. Instantly, we wished we’d come earlier in our visit for brunch. We dug the relaxed, hip vibe of the place, and their brunch menu looked stellar.
Watch the Sunset Behind the Acropolis
Next to each other, A is for Athens and MS Rooftop boast incredible views of the city below, and setting sun over the Acropolis.
We found MS to be a chiller environment than A, but A had a better (and more diverse) drink menu. No matter which you choose (we went to both on different nights), just make sure you put ‘watch the sunset behind the Acropolis’ on your Athens to-do list. It’s a gorgeous way to cap off a day in this historic city.
The only thing we did most nights was dinner for a reason- meals in Athens, and all of Greece, tend to be communal and drawn out.
We may have only spent one day sightseeing, but we did eat out a few times in Athens, which I’ve covered in the best places to eat and drink in Athens.
Our favourite place for a long, leisurely dinner was Lolos. This gem was another neighbourhood find.
We’re swayed by any place with a healthy distribution of locals milling about, and Lolos fit the bill for that. Everything we had here was ace- group consensus was that it was our best meal in Athens.
All up, we ordered fried cheese, tzatziki, Greek salad, fries with feta, plus fish and octopus.
Everything we had was fresh and delicious.
And, if you’re looking for a late night tipple, we enjoyed Noel and The Clumsies in central Athens.
Have you ever been to Athens? Did you enjoy the city, what would you recommend first time visitors do and see?
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