Athens has suffered some adverse publicity of late but remains a great place to visit at any time of year. If you are planning any kind of holiday in Greece, it’s very much worthwhile making its capital city part of your plans because there are so many things to do and see here which sum Greece up perfectly. The Plaka with its bars and restaurants, the Parthenon with its majestic views of the city and the Mediterranean beyond, the Omonia district, the central district and Piraeus, where you will catch your ferry on to the Greek Islands. Hotels are inexpensive, the people are friendly, the food excellent, and that’s without mentioning the almost guaranteed sunshine at most times of the year.
The banning of cars from central Athens has made visiting much more pleasant, with dramatic reductions in smog and congestion. Spend at least two days here before moving on and whatever you do, book tickets in advance to see opera or concert performances at the amphitheatre below the Parthenon, it’s just a magical experience.
Getting to Athens
From the UK, the only realistic option is by plane, so we would recommend either Easyjet from London Gatwick which has a comfortable 09:00 departure or BA from Heathrow who have two flights a day. From UK regional airports a good alternative is KLM who fly via Amsterdam.
If you are planning a visit to Athens from Italy or one of the Greek Islands take a look at our Greek Ferry Guide for ways to complete your journey by surface travel.
Greece is part of the Schengen group of countries so if you have a Schengen visa you won’t need to get a Greek visa.
Arriving in Athens
Getting into town is quick and easy using the famously militant Athens cabs, At €35 during the day and €50 at night it’s certainly not the cheapest way of getting to your hotel but it’s certainly the easiest. You should not have to pay more than the flat fare.
Athens International Airport has access to the Metro on line 3. It usually costs €6 single and €10 return.
Four main bus services connect the airport with Athens, X93 takes you to Kiffisson Coach Station, X95 goes to Syntagma, X96 take you to Piraeus and X97 will drop you off at Dafni Metro Station.
For currency exchange there’s an Alpha Bank where you can change money if needed or a cash point to get some Euro’s. Try to carry as little cash as necessary to minimise the chance of losing it. Paying by Debit Card usually saves you money in the long run.
Getting around Athens
Use the Athens Metro. Its relatively cheap, easy to use and above all it has air conditioning. If your hotel is in the centre of town you can probably get away without using public transport at all unless you venture down to Piraeus. A single ticket costs about 80 cents. There are travel concessions for over 65’s and under 16’s.
Things to do in Athens
Acropolis & the Parthenon
The Parthenon is one of those posts on European tourist pilgrimage route. It has to be visited. Yes, it’s quite a climb but the views are spectacular and you’ll probably spend a couple of hours up there admiring the distant Mediterranean and the backdrop of the mountains over the city. The rest of the Acropolis is pretty impressive too. The Parthenon was built in 478BC making it the oldest surviving building of classical Greece. You can see the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum in London, which came from the Parthenon – an issue of bitter debate.
Known as “the neighbourhood of the Gods” owing to its position at the foot of the Acropolis with its archaeological sites, the Plaka is the oldest part of Athens with a labyrinth of little streets and neo-classical architecture. The greatest benefit is the complete absence of cars – the streets are just too small, making walking around particularly enjoyable thus it attracts thousands of tourists every day.
Enjoy the numerous bars and restaurants playing live music along the hill, and the great food on offer. You will walk through the Plaka to reach the Acropolis so take some extra time to visit a few of the museums in the Plaka like the new Jewish Museum, the Music of Greek Folk Art, and the Athens University Museum.
Herodes Atticus Odeon
Another must-see on the hill of the Acropolis. It can be enjoyed in the evenings by booking a ticket for a theatrical, classical music or operatic performance which happens on often in the summer. You can visit it during the day, but to be there on a balmy evening with the lights and the atmosphere of a full house is something else. There are no bad seats, but there are only 5000 which sell out quickly so buy them at the box office.
The Greek National Archaeological Museum
See some of the most important artefacts from the classical Greek period making it one of the world’s most important museums. It is in the Exarcheia district, about 45 minutes walk from Syntagma Square. Entry is 7 Euro, concessions 3 Euro, EU Students under 19 are allowed in for free. Opening times are 08:30 – 15:00 in the week (Tuesday – Sunday) but it opens late on Monday to close at 20:00. For full details of the museum with news of galleries visit the website at www.namuseum.gr
Now that you’ve visited the Acropolis to get a taste of cityscapes, try Mount Lycabettus to get even higher. This time use the funicular railway from Kolonaki. As an added incentive there’s an open-air theatre at the top. You’ll find yourself at 908 feet (233m) above sea level.
The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
This temple is at least an hour away from Athens so the only realistic way of reaching it is by a hired car or by joining a coach tour. You’ll see why it was chosen to worship the sea – its elevation over the Mediterranean is simply perfect, its sunsets really breathtaking. Lord Byron wrote some graffiti (a Greek word, by the way) here when he visited, see if you can find it. Try visiting this link for more details on how to get out there.
It is highly likely you’ll go through Piraeus en route to the Islands but visiting for the day is educational. It has a great atmosphere, making it feel like another town separate from Athens itself. The best view of Piraeus though is from the back of the ferry heading towards the next stage of your holiday.
The Agora-Athens Central Market
Most European cities have a large market but this one is really special. Really atmospheric, it also serves as a gateway to the Athens Chinatown and the main pedestrian shopping district of Eolou Street. You’ll find the prices and the quality of the produce here impressive, not to mention the neo-classical building it’s housed in. If you’re into markets, you can also visit the Monastiraki Flea Market. There’s a real buzz but also lots of pickpockets so beware.
Where to stay
An ideal location for the Plaka and the major tourist sites of Athens, the Hotel Parthenon is just 150 metres from the Acropolis metro station and provides easy access to all other major attractions, shops, theatres, museums, pulsating nightlife and everything that the Greek capital has to offer.
****St George Lycabettus
Set on Lycabettus Hill in Athens’ chic Kolonaki district, and boasting stunning views of the Acropolis, the St George Lycabettus is renowned as one of Athens’ most glamorous hotels.
***** Grande Bretagne Hotel
The Hotel Grande Bretagne has always been considered Athens’ top hotel, due mostly to its prestigious position in the centre of Athens, close to the Parliament and Constitution Square. Recently restored, this grand hotel built in 1872 has remained loyal to its original ethos of top quality service. Now part of the Starwood Hotels chain.