Athens – once a powerful civilization and empire, nowadays capitol of Greece and one of the world’s oldest city. The city is enchanting tourists with its over 3000 years of history but also with its romantic
Do you wonder how many days you need for exploring Athens? It obviously depends on your interests. If you are a history geek and want to tick off the list all archaeological sites and museums, then you really need at least a week. For those who wants to explore the city in a slow pace, visiting only main tourists attractions and enjoying nightlife, 3-4 days are absolutely enough.
From the airport to the city centre
It is very easy to travel from the airport to your hotel and you can choose between public transport, travel agencies and taxis. Bus X95 has a stop just outside the Arrivals. It is the cheapest way of transport which takes you to the Stygmata Square but journey time really depends on the traffic. Metro from the airport to Monastiraki takes 40 minutes and costs €10 per person but is unfortunately famous for pickpocketing so be extra cautious. The easiest, the fastest and the safest way to reach your hotel’s door is by taxi. The flat rate is €38, taxis are waiting just outside the Arrivals and the journey takes about 40 minutes. We travelled on Saturday and the traffic wasn’t that bad.
Where to stay
Athens has in offer plenty hotels suits every pocket but believe me, you make your life so much easier by staying in the heart of the city where everything is in walking distance. Kolonaki, Monastiraki but in particular beautiful Plaka are the best areas to stay. You will save money and a lot of time by avoiding commuting. We stayed in Sweet Home Hotel in Plaka and we couldn’t have picked better. It is a lovely, small, boutique hotel with very nice and helpful staff. It’s newly renovated and everything is spotless clean. Located just walking distance from almost every important attraction in the city was a huge advantage of our stay.
Athens city centre is a pleasure to explore on foot and we spent the whole three days wandering around until we couldn’t feel our legs. A large part of the historic centre has been converted into 3 – kilometres pedestrian zone leading to the major archaeological sites. It was our second time in Athens and revisiting some places allowed me to see them from different perspective. If you want to cover a lot bigger area or you are short on time, you can use the Hop on Hop off buses.
Syntagma Square is located in the very heart of the city, in front of the 19th centaury Old Royal Palace which is a house to a Greek Parliament these days. The square itself is a very important place for Athenians, from both – historical and social point of view. Lovely fountain and trees welcome tourists with much desired shade, especially in the summer. In front of the Parliament, Presidential Guards in their boots with pom poms and of course in a perfect synchronization, change guard every hour. It is without doubt, one of the biggest attractions so make sure your camera is ready. Syntagma Square is linked with pedestrians’ only Ermou Street which is a heaven to all shopaholics, so make sure you have an extra time allocated to explore some shops.
From Syntagma Square we walked through National Park to Olympian Zeus, where – at the ticket office – we had bought a single ticket to few archaeological sites (including Acropolis) so we could skip long queues at especially Acropolis ticket office. Olympian Zeus dates back 6th century BC and is one of the largest sites, close to Hadrian’s Arch which was once an entrance to the city. From there we took a walk along the sacred road towards the Acropolis.
The magnificent Acropolis Hill is visible from almost every part of the city, rising above the concrete jungle and dated back to 5th century BC. I highly recommend you to climb the hill to see the most important masterpieces – Parthenon Temple and Propylaea – the temple of Athena Nike. The panoramic view of the city is also worth seeing. This archaeological site is very crowded and exposed to the sun. The climb isn’t difficult but if you are visiting in a summer time, don’t forget to bring a water, hat and comfortable shoes. It was our second visit and we didn’t really spend too much time on the top - firstly, nothing has changed there since our last visit, secondly the storm came unexpectedly. As much as showcase of thunder lighting was spectacular, persisted rain turned into hailstones as big as a fist. Thankfully Acropolis Museum is located only 300 meters from Acropolis.
I am not a fan of museums but it was the best place to hide from the bad weather. This museum is a house to 4000 priceless, archaic and classical finds from the Acropolis sites. To fully enjoy the place at slow peace you really need to book a half day of your time. Entry fee is only €5 and there is also a restaurant but if you aren’t starving, you better omit this place. Staff there is very nice but food they serve is ferry-, airplane- or Ikea-like and it is ridiculously expensive. You can get way better quality dishes in nicer atmosphere just around the corner.
After visiting Acropolis Hill and the museum, sun came back and we cruised throughout beautiful, small streets of Anafiotika towards Ancient Agora. Anafiotika is the most romantic and picturesque neighbourhood of Plaka. Located directly under the north section of Acropolis, with whitewashed houses, strolling cats and beautiful flowers creates the impression of a Greek island.
In the late afternoon we finally reached the Ancient Agora archaeological site which was the heart of the ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial and social activity plus religious and cultural centre. It is a large green area with a number of ancient monuments scattered throughout the whole area and all trees and wildlife make you feel like being in a park. We exited Agora onto a street that leaded us to Monastiraki – the area of old Athens with narrow streets, lovely restaurants and the traditional bazaar (Flea Market) - and from there we took a walk to our hotel in Plaka.
Plaka is a core of the historical centre of Athens. The narrow labyrinth of streets is full of people day and night. You can find there taverns, cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. Good few restaurants offer a rooftop dining with the Acropolis view. Choosing a hotel in Plaka gave us opportunity to explore the whole area by day and also enjoy vibrant nightlife.
On the other day we visited Lycabettus Hill. It is the highest point in the centre of Athens where at 277 meters you can enjoy spectacular view of the city. It’s also considered the most romantic place for an evening dinner in the restaurant located at the very top. The easiest way to get to Lycabettus Hill is by taxi or public transport but nicer way is to walk there which gives you a chance to see different corners of the city. Our hotel was located 1.6 km away from the hill and we took a walk through Kolonaki – the high street residential area and premier shopping district with a very expensive boutiques, art galleries and pricey restaurants. Go there even if only for window shopping. Just have to warn you, the road is quite uphill and it’s getting steeper closer to the hill. To access the top of the Lycabettus Hill you can climb it or you can take a cable car which has a starting point at the end of Plutarch Street. Cable car operates from 9am to 1.30am every 30 minutes and a return ticket costs €7.50. You will find there a small, whitewashed Agios Georgios church dated back to 1870, restaurant Horizons of Lycabettus and Cafe-Lycabettus where we extended our stay at the hill’s top, enjoying coffee with view.
Athens has a fine range of eateries from traditional taverns to upmarket restaurants. Nightlife is also buzzing and warm summer nights are perfect for strolling around busy streets, having a dinner with Acropolis view or grabbing the drink in one of the many rooftop bars. Psiri area during past years evolved into a centre of the city’s nightlife with loud live music, restaurants, bars with DJs open till late. If you look for a fun night full of drinking and dancing, it is definitely place for you. For those who look for a more romantic atmosphere, I recommend small restaurants in Plaka close to Anafiotika area. Elaia Restaurant offers rooftop dinning with a stunning view of the city and Lycabettus Hill and also a partial view of Acropolis Hill. The restaurant is located very close to Acropolis hence its full view is just impossible from this distance. Great service, tasty traditional Greek food and magical views definitely create memorable atmosphere. Overall, restaurants in Plaka are aimed at tourists but most of them will not disappoint you.
On the first evening we had a dinner in the centre of the busiest street in Plaka, in a restaurant which I don’t even remember name off but the service was excellent, food was really good and I highly recommend this kind of places for all who like people watching. From our few days of dining around, and many good restaurants visited, one place stood out – Maiardpos Restaurant in Monastiraki. I attached a photo with its name because I can’t write in Greek. Don’t expect an elegant restaurant because it is a small place but make sure to get a table on the rooftop. The view of Acropolis Hill at night is magnificent, waiters were the most funny guys we met and created very family-like atmosphere. Food was tasty and very reasonable priced considering that we were in the centre of Athens with the most desirable view in front of us. Many hotels offer rooftop dining but don’t expect low prices. Restaurants recommended to me by an Athenian girl – Dionysos in Thisseio, Kuzina in Monastiraki and non touristy Greek restaurant Mavro Provato – give them a try if you are around.
We only scratched the surface of what you can do and see in Athens during our 3 days visit but our intention was a romantic gateway and we really enjoyed ourselves.