View of the Athenian high street Ermou across Syntagma square in central Athens
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Athens city guide

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Faraway Worlds

Staff writers

Athens might first strike you as a city with a rough exterior, but it's definitely worth a visit. It's a place where history and modern life meet, offering more than just its famous ancient landmarks.

The city's history is a major draw. The Acropolis and Parthenon stand as proud reminders of ancient Greece, and there's a bunch of great museums like the Acropolis Museum that dig deep into this past. But Athens isn’t just about old stones. Neighborhoods like Psiri and Gazi are full of cool cafes and bars, and the city’s got a buzzing nightlife scene.

Shopping ranges from traditional markets in Plaka to high-end stores in Kolonaki, so there's something for everyone. Plus, Athens is a great starting point for day trips to places like Cape Sounion or for hopping on a ferry to explore the Greek islands.

In short, Athens is more than what meets the eye. It’s a city with layers – ancient yet alive, gritty but inviting. Whether you're into history, shopping, or just soaking up the local vibe, Athens has a lot to offer. Here's everything you need to know about visiting Greece's famous capital.

At a glance

Things to do in Athens

The Acropolis and more

As you may expect for a city with such a long history, there's a huge amount to do in Athens, including museums, art galleries, ancient sites, food tours and simply strolling through the streets.

A stay of 3-4 days is usually enough to explore the highlights. This should give you time to visit major historical sites and museums and also experience the local culture and cuisine. If you have more time, there's enough to do in Athens to fill a week or more easily.

If you're planning on visiting multiple sites, consider buying a combined ticket for €30. This allows entry to several sites including the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and others, and is valid for five consecutive days.

Here are some of the most popular things to do in Athens, along with a few other ideas.

Acropolis and Parthenon

These iconic symbols of ancient Greece offer incredible insights into the country's rich history and architecture. The Acropolis, a citadel perched high above Athens, is home to several ancient buildings, with the Parthenon being the most famous.

Practical Information: Open daily, with extended hours in the summer. Tickets and times need to be booked online, or you can join a tour. A standard entry ticket is around €20. A reduced rate of €10 is available for students outside the EU and for EU citizens aged over 65. Entry is free for children under 18 and students from EU countries.

Tip: Wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking on uneven surfaces. Early morning or late afternoon visits can avoid the crowds and the heat.

Read our guide to visiting the Acropolis

National Archaeological Museum

Home to one of the world's most extensive collections of Greek artifacts, the museum covers periods from prehistory to late antiquity. Allocate at least a few hours to explore. Guided tours are available for those interested in a more in-depth understanding.

Practical Information: The museum is open year-round but check for any seasonal variations in opening hours. Standard admission is around €12. Reduced admission of €6 is available for EU students and citizens over 65. Free for children under 18 and students from EU countries.

Tip: The museum often has free admission days, like March 6, April 18, May 18, the last weekend of September, and every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st.

Syntagma Square and Changing of the Guard

Syntagma Square is the heart of modern Athens. The ceremonial changing of the Evzones guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a unique spectacle.

Practical Information: The changing of the guard happens hourly, with a grander ceremony on Sundays at 11:00 AM.

Tip: Arrive at least 15 minutes early to get a good viewing spot, especially on Sundays.

Mount Lycabettus

The highest point in Athens, offering panoramic views of the city. The walk up to the summit offers several great photo ops otherwise take the cable car ride to the summit. Heading up the hill is a must-do for the stunning vistas, particularly at sunset.

Practical Information: The cable car operates daily and is a good option for those who prefer not to hike. It costs around €7.50 for a round trip.

Tip: Bring a camera for the sunset views. There’s a café at the top where you can enjoy a drink with a view.

Anafiotika neighborhood

A picturesque area on the slopes of the Acropolis, resembling a quaint island village with its whitewashed houses and narrow lanes. It's perfect for a leisurely stroll; keep your camera ready for charming street scenes - just be sure to respect the privacy of residents when taking photos.

Practical information: To reach Anafiotika, you can walk from the Plaka area towards the Acropolis. The neighborhood is accessible on foot through a maze of winding streets that lead up the slopes of the Acropolis. Look for the steps near the Church of Agios Georgios of the Rock (Ai Giorgis tou Vrachou) or follow the signs towards the Acropolis and veer into the smaller pathways when you see the characteristic Cycladic architecture.

Tip: Stop at one of the cafes for a frappe.

Kerameikos Cemetery:

An ancient cemetery and significant archaeological site, offering a quieter experience away from the usual tourist paths. Kerameikos is notable not only as a burial ground but also for its role in the development of Athenian society and culture. The site was bisected by the Eridanos River and contained the Dipylon Gate, the main entrance to the city, and the Sacred Gate, where the Sacred Way to Eleusis began.

Practical Information: Admission is about €8. Reduced rates may apply for students and seniors.

Ancient Agora

The Ancient Agora of Athens is a must-visit for its historical significance as the heart of public life in ancient Athens. This expansive site was the center of political, commercial, administrative, and social activity, where philosophers like Socrates and Plato once roamed.

  • Location: Northwest of the Acropolis, within walking distance from Monastiraki Square.

  • Highlights: The Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples, and the Stoa of Attalos, reconstructed to house the Agora Museum.

  • Practical Info: The entrance fee is around €10, with a reduced rate for students and seniors. The site is included in the combined ticket for Athens' archaeological sites.

Roman Forum (Roman Agora)

The Roman Forum, or Roman Agora, dates back to the 1st century B.C. and served as the commercial hub of ancient Athens. It's smaller than the Ancient Agora but holds significant historical value with notable ruins.

  • Location: East of the Ancient Agora.

  • Highlights: The Tower of the Winds, an octagonal Pentelic marble clocktower, is a notable feature, showcasing sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane.

  • Practical Info: Entry is included with the combined ticket for Athens' archaeological sites, or around €6 as a standalone ticket.

Other impressive ruins and churches

When visiting these sites, remember that respectful attire is advised, especially for churches and religious sites. For the most comprehensive experience, consider guided tours that can provide deeper insights into the historical context and significance of each site.

Temple of Olympian Zeus: One of the largest temples in the ancient world, dedicated to Zeus. It's located near Syntagma Square and is known for its colossal columns.

Hadrian's Library: Constructed by Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132 AD, it was once a cultural complex with a library, lecture halls, and a garden.

Kerameikos: Beyond the ancient cemetery, this area was part of ancient Athens' city walls and includes the Dipylon Gate and Sacred Gate.

Byzantine Churches: Athens has several well-preserved Byzantine churches. Notable ones include the 11th-century Church of the Holy Apostles in the Ancient Agora and the Kapnikarea Church on Ermou Street, right in the heart of modern Athens.

Daphni Monastery: A bit outside the city centre, this Byzantine monastery is famous for its stunning mosaics and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Museums and Art Galleries:

Benaki Museum of Greek Culture: Offers a comprehensive overview of Greek history and culture from prehistoric times to the modern era.

Museum of Cycladic Art: Dedicated to the study and promotion of ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, with a focus on Cycladic art from the 3rd millennium BC.

National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST): Hosts a collection of Greek and international contemporary art, offering a different perspective on modern cultural expressions.

Byzantine and Christian Museum: Houses one of the most important collections of Byzantine art, showcasing religious artifacts, icons, and textiles.

The Numismatic Museum: Offers a fascinating look into the history of currency, housed in the beautiful Ilion Melathron, the former home of Heinrich Schliemann.

Lesser-Known Attractions:

Philopappos Hill: For stunning views of the Acropolis without the crowds, a walk up Philopappos Hill at sunset is a must-do. It's also a great spot for a picnic.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center: A modern cultural hub offering a range of activities, beautiful gardens, and stunning architecture by Renzo Piano. It's a bit off the typical tourist path and offers a glimpse into contemporary Athens.

Electric Railway Museum: Located in the Piraeus station, this small museum showcases the history of Athens' electric railways, with artifacts dating back to the late 19th century.

The Pnyx: This ancient meeting place is where democracy was born. It's less crowded than other historical sites but offers a profound sense of history and impressive views of the city.

Unique Experiences

Athens Central Market (Varvakios Agora): Dive into the hustle and bustle of Athens' central market, where you can sample local delicacies, fresh produce, and experience the vibrant Greek market culture.

Athens Street Art Walking Tour: These tours explore the neighborhoods known for their street art, such as Psiri, Metaxourgeio, and Exarchia. Guides provide context about the artists and the political and social commentary behind the murals.

Open-Air Cinemas: During the summer months, enjoy a movie under the stars at one of Athens' charming open-air cinemas. This is a beloved local tradition. Tickets are usually 7-8 euros and there are open-air cinemas in 10 different locations around the city.

City passes

If you're planning on visiting multiple sites over a few days, it can be worth considering a city pass. Here are the main options in Athens

Athens City Pass: Entry to key attractions like the Acropolis and its museum, other archaeological sites, and various museums. Often includes skip-the-line access. Different types of Athens City Passes offer varying benefits and validities. Some versions include a hop-on hop-off bus tour and public transport options.

Athens Combo Ticket: Access to multiple historic sites such as the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Kerameikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and more. Valid for several days, allowing for flexible planning and multiple visits.This ticket can be a cost-effective choice for visitors interested in exploring Athens' ancient sites.

iVenture Athens Card: Entry to top attractions and a selection of tours and experiences in Athens. Offers options based on the number of attractions (3, 5, or 7) and includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Provides discounts at selected retailers and restaurants.

Tours and day trips

Organised tours can be a great way to learn more about the history of the city and gain a deeper insight into modern Athens. Each of these activities and tours offers a unique way to experience Athens, catering to different interests from history and architecture to food.

Day trips from Athens

If you want to escape from the city and explore further afield, there are several excellent day trips you can do from Athens. Here are a few of the most popular:

  • Delphi: Explore the ancient sanctuary and the oracle of Apollo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon: Enjoy stunning views of the Aegean Sea and visit the ancient temple dedicated to the god of the sea.

  • Aegina Island: A short ferry ride from Athens, this island offers beautiful beaches, a charming town, and the Temple of Aphaea.

  • Corinth: Discover the ancient city with its significant archaeological site and the famous Corinth Canal.

  • Mycenae and Epidaurus: Visit the archaeological sites of Mycenae, home to the legendary Agamemnon, and the ancient theater of Epidaurus, known for its remarkable acoustics.

Where to stay in Athens

Neighbourhoods and hotels

The Plaka district is a popular choice for tourists due to its central location and proximity to major attractions. Other central neighbourhoods with good hotel options are Psyri and Thissio. For a more luxurious stay, consider the Kolonaki and Syntagma areas. Or, if you're travelling on a budget, try Monastiraki and Exarchia.

Below is an overview of some good areas to stay in Athens, or read our full neighbourhood guide for more information.

Plaka

Plaka, nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, is an enchanting neighborhood with a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and colorful, neoclassical buildings. Its historical charm is palpable, with ancient Greek ruins casually dotting the area.

The area is known as the "Neighbourhood of the Gods" due to its proximity to the Acropolis. With many pedestrianized streets, it’s perfect for leisurely strolls. While it's become more tourist-centric over the years, with plenty of souvenir shops and cafes, Plaka retains a distinct charm and is a must-visit.

Plaka offers a range of mid-range to high-end accommodation options, some with rooftop pools and stunning views of the Acropolis.

Recommendation: The Palladian Home is notable for its comfortable rooms and exceptional views of the Acropolis, providing an immersive Athenian experience.

Syntagma

Syntagma, the most central area in Athens, buzzes with energy and is known for the Greek Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's a blend of political significance and commercial hustle.

The area is famous for the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a must-see spectacle. Nearby, the National Garden offers a tranquil escape. Ermou Street, akin to London's Oxford Circus, is a shopper’s paradise.

From the iconic five-star Grande Bretagne to budget-friendly options and boutique hotels, Syntagma caters to all.

Recommendation: The Pinnacle Athens Athens, a small yet luxurious hotel, offers a blend of comfort and convenience near Syntagma Square.

Kolonaki

Kolonaki is Athens' upscale quarter, radiating luxury and style. Known for its chic boutiques, grand houses, and trendy cafes, it's where the city's wealthy and fashionable congregate.

The district boasts luxury shopping, with a mix of international and top Greek designers. The area is also close to cultural sites like Lycabettus Hill, offering panoramic city views.

The neighborhood is home to stylish hotels with elegant interiors and rooftop terraces.

Recommendation: The Modernist stands out for its sleek design, city views, and relaxing rooftop terrace.

Psyri

Once known for its edgy reputation, Psyri has transformed into a trendy and lively district. It’s a magnet for night owls and the younger crowd, with its plethora of bars, clubs, and live music venues.

Iroon Square is the heart of Psyri’s nightlife. The area is also known for its culinary scene, with traditional tavernas and modern cafes. During the day, explore its markets and boutique stores.

The lodging options in Psyri range from chic boutique hotels to budget-friendly hostels.

Recommendation: The Foundry Suites, known for its stylish apartments and rooftop terrace, is an excellent choice for those who want to be close to the nightlife action.

What to eat in Athens

Gyros and more

One of the high points of any trip to Greece is the food, and Athens is no exception. Here are some of the traditional dishes you should try while you're in the city:

Souvlaki and Gyros: These are perhaps the most famous Greek fast foods, consisting of grilled meat (usually pork, chicken, or lamb) served either on a skewer (souvlaki) or in a pita wrap with toppings (gyros). They can be found at countless tavernas and street vendors throughout Athens. For a local favorite, head to "Kostas" in Plaka or "Bairaktaris" in Monastiraki.

Moussaka: This is a rich, layered casserole made with eggplants, minced meat, and béchamel sauce. A classic Greek dish, it's available in most traditional tavernas or try it at "To Kafeneio" in Plaka, renowned for its authentic Greek cuisine.

Dolmadakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves): These are grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, and herbs, often served with a lemony sauce. They are a common meze item (small dishes) in Greek cuisine. Try them at "Diodos Archaias Agoras," a restaurant near the Ancient Agora with a cozy ambience.

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie): This savoury pastry is made with flaky filo dough, spinach, feta cheese, and herbs. For a fresh, homemade spanakopita, visit Ariston Bakery near Syntagma Square, known for its excellent range of traditional Greek pies.

Loukoumades: These are Greek honey doughnuts, small, sweet, and deep-fried to golden perfection, often drizzled with honey and cinnamon or topped with chocolate. Lukumades" near Monastiraki offers these honey doughnuts with modern twists, like chocolate and ice cream toppings.

When to visit Athens

A seasonal guide

Athens's Mediterranean climate makes it a favourable destination year-round, but each season has its unique appeal. For cultural experiences and mild weather, spring and autumn are ideal, while summer can be hot and crowded. Winter offers a unique perspective of Athens with fewer crowds and festive charm.

Peak season (summer) typically has the highest accommodation and flight prices, while winter offers the best deals and discounts on hotels and tours. The shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) strike a balance between pleasant weather and reasonable prices.

Spring (March to May)

The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C. It's an ideal time for sightseeing and outdoor activities. Spring also sees fewer tourists, providing a more relaxed atmosphere for exploring.

  • Events: Look out for Greek Easter celebrations and the Athens Half Marathon.

  • Travel Tip: The blooming landscapes in spring are perfect for photography.

Summer (June to August)

Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures often above 30°C. However, it's a popular time to visit the Greek islands and peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and crowded attractions.

  • Events: Summer is rich in festivals like the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, offering theater, music, and dance.

  • Travel Tip: Plan visits to archaeological sites in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat.

Autumn (September to November)

The weather remains warm in early autumn but cools down by November. Temperatures range from 20°C to 30°C. Tourist numbers dwindle again, making it a great time to explore the city peacefully.

  • Events: The Athens International Film Festival and the Athens Marathon are highlights.

  • Travel Tip: Enjoy open-air cinemas and vibrant autumn colours in the National Gardens.

Winter (December to February)

Winters are mild and wet, with temperatures between 10°C and 15°C, and snow in Athens is extremely rare. Winter is the quietest season for tourism, and a great time to enjoy Athens’ indoor attractions, like museums and galleries, without the rush

  • Events: Christmas and New Year bring festive decorations and events. Don’t miss the Patras Carnival, one of Europe's biggest.

  • Travel Tip: From 1 November to 31 March is low season in Greece and archaeological sites and museums usually offer discounted tickets.

Getting around Athens

Public transport options

As a major city, Athens has a sophisticated public transport system, including the metro, buses, trolleys and trams. The central city is also very walkable, so if you're only visiting for a couple of weeks, getting around on foot is perfectly doable.

If you're spending longer in the capital or if you want to visit an attraction that's a bit further afield, the metro or bus is usually a good option.

Most public transport in Athens uses an integrated ticketing system. Always validate your ticket to avoid fines.

It can be busy during peak hours so try to avoid travelling between 7:30-9:30 AM and 5:00-7:00 PM when public transport can be crowded.

Ways to get around

Walking: If you're staying in a central neighbourhood (near Syntagma Square or the Acropolis), walking is a good way to see the city. Many of Athens' key attractions, especially in the historic centre, are within walking distance of each other. Comfortable shoes are a must. Summer days can be hot, so carry water and sunscreen.

Metro: The Athens Metro is efficient, clean, and punctual, with signs and announcements in both Greek and English. Three main lines (M1, M2, and M3) cover most of the city, including a direct connection to the airport. Tickets are available at stations, with options ranging from single-trip tickets to multi-day passes.

Buses, trams and Trolleys: An extensive network of buses and trolleys covers Athens and its suburbs, covering areas that are not accessible by the Metro. Keep in mind that buses and trolleys can be affected by traffic and are less frequent during weekends and evenings. they use the same ticketing system as the Metro, with validation required upon boarding.

Driving: Renting a car isn't recommended within the city due to traffic congestion, limited parking, and narrow streets. However, you may want to rent a car for for exploring beyond Athens.

Taxis: Taxis are easily available and relatively affordable. Ensure the meter is running to avoid overcharging. Ridesharing services like Uber operate in Athens, often providing an English-speaking driver.

Accessibility: The city is continuously improving its infrastructure for people with disabilities, but some areas, especially historic sites, might still pose challenges.

Useful apps

  • OASA Telematics: Developed by the Athens Urban Transport Organization, this app is specifically designed for the city's public transport system. Features real-time bus and trolley schedules, route planning, and the ability to locate the nearest bus stop.

  • Beat (formerly Taxibeat): A popular ride-hailing app in Greece, similar to Uber. Easy taxi booking, fare estimates, driver ratings, and the option to pay via the app or in cash.

Transport passes

  • Athens Transport Ticket: Various ticket options ranging from a 24-hour ticket to a 5-day ticket, covering unlimited travel on buses, trams, the metro, and suburban trains within the Athens area. Cost-effective for extensive use of public transportation, especially useful for exploring different parts of the city.

  • Athens City Pass: Free entry to many top attractions including the Acropolis and its museum, other archaeological sites, and numerous museums. It often includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour and optional public transport add-on.

Staying safe in Athens

Pickpockets, heatwaves and scams

Athens is about as safe as other capital cities in Europe. That said, there is some petty crime and things to watch out for when you visit.

Pickpocketing and scams

Petty thieves target built-up areas like the Parthenon and Monastiraki, often working in teams - one will distract a traveller before another steals any belongings. Squares known as pickpocket hangouts include Omonia, Exarcheia, Vathi, and Kolokotroni.

Taxi scams from Athens airport are one of the most common issues. Arrange your travel beforehand or make use of the modern metro system instead.

Protests

The large squares in Athens often hold local protests against Grecian politics. Syntagma Square is a popular demonstration area, but they can happen across the city.

It’s best to follow the latest advice from the government and simply avoid any large gatherings of people if you experience a rally. Conflicts with police are not usually violent, but tear gas can be used to disperse crowds.

Heat

Athens can also get very hot during summer with average temperatures of 30 °C, although temperatures of over 40°C are not uncommon. If you are visiting during this time of year, stay hydrated and consider staying inside during the hottest part of the day.

Nightlife

Alcohol adds a dimension of danger to any city, and although assault is uncommon in Greece, it unfortunately can still happen. It's best to avoid Omonia, Glyfada, Exarcheia, Vathi, or Kolokotroni squares at night-time.

Stick to touristy areas and avoid south-western Athens, as the bars and clubs here have ties to organised crime syndicates. Even small amounts of drugs can lead to heavy fines and tough prison sentences.

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Last Updated 6 February 2024

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