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Athens is quickly moving towards becoming one of Europe’s most exciting, alternative and contemporary cities. This Athens travel guide shows you how, where and why Greece’s capital city is worth more than a brief visit.
Travel to Athens is about understanding how misunderstood Greece’s capital is. People cite initial disappointment in finding a city whose grittiness and edginess doesn’t meet the expectation of a city entirely coated in gleaming, classical Greek architecture.
Yet, to visit Athens is to see a reinvented city beyond its ancient and troubled past. While its classical highlights are a historical must-see, getting to know the city deeper will give you a better understanding and overall experience.
Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, steeped in over 3,400 years of history. It’s where modern-day life as we know it started – seen as the cradle of civilisation, the birthplace of philosophy and where democracy ignited.
It’s a city that has been continuously occupied, destroyed, rebuilt and reinvented.
- Athens Travel and the Greek Debt Crisis
- Why Visit Athens Now?
- How to Get to Athens – Getting There and Away
- Getting Around Athens
- Things To Do in Athens – Sightseeing Guide
- How to See Athens – Tours and Experiences
- Active Ways to See Athens
- Where to Stay in Athens
- Easy to Reach Greek Islands from Athens
- Travel Athens: Inspiration and Further Information
- Planning a Trip to Athens? Pin It!
Athens Travel and the Greek Debt Crisis
More recently, economic turmoil blighted Greece and its capital. So much so it’s branded by it. We all heard about it and watched it happen; we wondered if it was ok to visit and if our holiday investment was worth it. In reality, people never gave up on visiting Greece, contrary to what was heard or advised.
Athens remains pivotal to its recovery and is home to a startup generation and artistic regeneration – a space that is changing, thriving and carving its mark as an emerging European hotspot.
In 2013, as the ‘crisis’ was still in flow, nearly 18 million people visited the country, and 2.6 million travellers visited the city of Athens. With a total country population of around 10 million people, that’s a lot of visitors to a tiny nation that needed the support.
Just as it has happened many times before, what’s happening here now is a revival. Greece is a fighter, and Athens is at the helm.
Athens needs travellers. Greece needs travellers.
Why Visit Athens Now?
Not everything is as black and white as we think when we hear something negative about a destination, leading to the question: is Athens worth visiting? Having the time to dig a little deeper uncovers a whole new side.
Athens is quickly moving towards becoming one of Europe’s most exciting and lively contemporary cities.
So when you plan to visit, factor in more than a 24-hour stay that crams in an Athens highlights list based on a handful of ancient sites.
The historical Athens attractions are a must, but the character of the city and how it has evolved is also notable.
After living there for two years, I pulled together this Athens travel guide to encourage more in-depth travel. It’s a checklist of what to see and do and how to get around. It’s about local knowledge and pride, of people happy to show you their city so that you can get the most out of a stay here.
With the aid of the distinct hospitality that Greek people are known for and are very proud of, Athens and Greece are more open to your visit than ever before.
How to Get to Athens – Getting There and Away
Flights to Athens
While it’s sometimes necessary to travel via Europe’s budget airlines, I’ve also flown to and from the UK and domestically in Greece with its national carrier, Aegean Airlines. Aegean is a little more expensive than the budget airlines you love to hate, but you pay for comfort and an overall (much) better service.
Internal flights from Athens to Thessaloniki and nearby islands such as Skyros and Santorini start from around €29 each way, which beats hours on a ferry for a similar price. Of course, use Athens as a city base to visit the hotspots of Greece, as many do, but don’t neglect it. Give yourself time on either side of a mainland or island adventure to see the city in depth.
Athens Airport to Athens City Centre Transport
The Athens Metro get you to the very centre for €10
The Athens metro is well-signposted at the airport. If you are curious like me, you can stare out the window for over 15 stops – it’s the same line (Blue Line 3) that takes you to the Monastiraki stop. Note: A special airport travel ticket is required.
The X95 bus takes you to Syntagma Square for €6
The bus is a cheaper option for a longer and more city-view journey. The bus stop is right outside the arrivals hall – follow the signs.
A taxi to and from the airport to the centre of Athens is €35
A handy cost to split if you are sharing, carrying lots of luggage, arriving late at night or are averse to taking metros. However, the taxi drivers in Athens can be a force to be reckoned with if you are just a margin outside of the boundaries they deem the city centre.
Book a ride with a local with Welcome Pickups for €40.
If you want a taxi journey that’s a bit more insightful and helpful, try this service. It’s similar to a standard taxi, but with an Athenian touch – ask questions, get recommendations and make an instant buddy in the city (all drivers are verified). You can download the app on the website, making finding and contacting your driver easier. You can also book day trips, multi-trip stops and sightseeing experiences.
Getting Around Athens
Athens’ public transport is not an extensive network like London, Berlin or Tokyo, but it’s still a modern mass transit system. It connects a city of over three million people! You can choose between the metro, inter-city buses, trolley-buses and trams and the overground suburban railway network (TrainOSE).
Athens is a walkable city with the main sights in a close circuit. However, if you wish to factor in neighbourhood exploration, beaches, or need to escape the exhaustion in the summer months, the Athens transport system provides quick and easy access.
Athens has three metro lines connecting you to the city’s far reaches, including the airport at one end and the coastal areas and port of Piraeus (for island ferry connections) at the other. It’s one of the cleanest, efficient and easy to use metros I’ve ever used. For a historical ride, the Green Line (1) is the oldest, established in 1869.
- Line 1 (Green): Kifisia to Piraeus
- Connects the suburb of Kifisia in the north with the Port of Piraeus in the south, passing through Monastiraki.
- Line 2 (Red): Anthoupoli to Elinike
- Connects the northern suburban area of Anthoupoli with coastal Eliniko in the south, passing through Syntagma and Akropoli.
- Line 3 (Blue): Aghia Marina to Athens Airport
- Connects the site of the church of Agia Marina in the west to the airport in the east, passing through Doukissis Plakentias – a northern suburb of Athens.
Athens Transport Tickets and Prices
You can purchase Ath.ena tickets for €1.20 for a single fare up to 90-minutes, €5.70 for a bundle of five tickets, €4.10 for a 24-hour pass and €8.20 for a five-day ticket.
Note: You can also use these tickets on the metro, buses, trolley-buses, trams and Suburban railway (excluding airport journeys which are subject to a separate charge).
Taking a Taxi in Athens
Athens has plenty of yellow taxis, yet it is not devoid of game-playing, rip-off taxi drivers much like every other city. I had no issues most of the time and always insisted on using the metre.
The introduction of the Beat taxi app in Athens (essentially the city’s version of Uber) provides a more reliable service that’s better value for money and peace of mind. Some of my best conversations have come from these drivers, too – some real characters with great stories to tell.
Things To Do in Athens – Sightseeing Guide
See Ancient Athens
There is no way you can miss climbing the scared elevated rock of the Acropolis, with its stunning modern museum and the surrounding archaeological areas. The ancient structure of the Parthenon may gloriously sit atop this hill overlooking the city as a reminder of it.
The archaeological sites of Athens are undoubtedly the main draw of the city. A €20 combo-ticket gets you into the following seven areas:
- Acropolis of Athens (including north and south Slopes)
- Ancient Agora of Athens (including Ancient Agora of Athens Museum)
- Roman Agora of Athens
- Hadrian’s Library
- Kerameikos (including Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos)
- Aristotle’s School – Lykeion Archaeological Site
Get tickets. ► Combo ticket for seven sites, with skip the line access.
Book a tour ► Two-hour guided tour of the Acropolis, with skip the line entry.
Athenian history is still present outside of the city centre fringes. If you don’t have enough time to travel around neighbouring small towns and villages from Athens, such as Delphi or Nafplio, but want a taste of the stunning coastline and historical monuments not far from the capital, consider a trip to the 440 BC hilltop Temple of Poseidon.
Located on Cape Sounion, Poseidon was constructed by the same Athenian who also rebuilt the Parthenon temple in Athens, so it’s one way to connect the history of Athenian rulers and architectural feats alongside the coastline. Doable as a half-day trip from Athens, it’s easiest to travel the coastal road by bus to the Poseidon Temple, as this step by step guide shows.
Experience Local Athens
The layers of myth and legend, history and culture, antiquity and knowledge are intertwined with today’s entrepreneurial, cultural and artistic renaissance, transforming Athens and the rest of the country.
You’ll better get to grips with modern life in Athens by spending some time visiting its varying neighbourhoods. Switch from the pedestrianised areas of Thissio with its café culture, the bustling Monastiraki and its flea market, upmarket and trendy Kolonaki and Psiri, edgy and anarchist Exarcheia and the residential, nightlife pumping Gizi.
READ MORE ► Guide to Athens Neighbourhoods.
Book a tour ► Two-hour alternative Athens tour. See a few sites and viewpoints that only locals know.
Explore Modern Athens
Creative enterprise is what makes modern-day, alternative Athens. Artistic transformations are happening all over the city, from the masses of street art to the contemporary art museum is getting a massive facelift.
The ‘Re-think’ Athens project revives the city centre with proposed green spaces, boulevards and urban squares. Shells of old hotels have been artistically restyled. Greek cuisine has been reinvented without losing traditions. Younger generations lost to the brain drain have moved home to form startups to help their fledgling city. And when the sun goes down, Athens continues its gritty vibe with a bustling nightlife you might not have expected.
READ MORE ► The Creative Transformation of Athens. Rebuilding a City in Crisis.
READ MORE ► Three Days in Athens. The Misunderstood Modern Metropolis.
How to See Athens – Tours and Experiences
You can visit Athens on a deeper level through walks and experiences to uncover more of the local life and perspective.
Street Art in Athens
Athens is said to have the largest collection of city street art globally, and here it is nearly everywhere you look, emerging in the early 1990s as a social-political voice. And while some unsightly ‘tagging’ graffiti dons some spaces, the most detailed designs and messages are found mainly within the Exarchia, Monastiraki and Psirri neighbourhoods.
However, there’s a lot to learn about the Greek street art scene and being introduced to the critical artworks on a street art tour, with one of the artists, is the best way to learn the stories behind the movement in the city. It is also an insightful means of understanding Athens’s modern face and complexities.
READ MORE ► Street Art in Athens – Visual Representations of Greece
The Athens Riviera
There is still the chance to live the island life without boarding a ferry for those who don’t have the time to venture out to the famous Greek islands. The 40-mile stretch of scenic coastline along the Saronic Gulf, known as the ‘Athens Riviera’, is just 25 minutes away from the city’s centre.
The coastal areas of Glyfada, Voula, Alimos, Agia Marina and Cape Sounion are towns accessible by metro or car. They teem with life in sea view restaurants, coastal walks, and their beaches.
Hire your skipper with Incredible, who will take you out on the water and cruise alongside the stunning Athens coastline – a city surrounded by sea.
READ MORE ► Visiting the Athens Riviera – Swap the City for the Saronic Gulf.
Book a trip ► Athens Riviera sunset sailing cruise. Want to join a small group rather than hire a private skipper? This four-hour cruise includes scenic swim and snorkelling spots and wine at sundown.
Traditional Greek Food Tour in Athens
Even the least discerning food enthusiasts will quickly love Greek cuisine. Fresh and straightforward ingredients mark out the Greek favourites everyone knows and loves – Souvlaki, moussaka, Greek salads, feta cheese, yoghurt and honey, olives, Cretan cuisine and sweet treats like the loukoumades Greek doughnuts.
In Athens, you can hop between third-generation food stores, restaurants offering traditional foods and cooking methods, and locally recommended eateries and hangouts. With more Tavernas, historical kitchens and food stores than you can even keep up with, it’s hard to know where to sample the best Greek food in Athens.
So I turned to global food experts, Culinary Backstreets, for a tour around Athen’s much-loved eateries and its best-kept secrets.
This tour wasn’t just about sampling Greek food but about learning the cooking methods, stories and cultures behind traditional eateries and family businesses, from the famous fishmongers’ market and locally recommended eateries to favoured local hangouts and secret spots.
Athens Wine Scene
While Greece isn’t known for its wine, the wine scene in Athens has grown over the past years in an attempt to highlight homegrown varieties to international wine lovers. Whether you want to savour the finest Greek wines (or try a selection of worldwide finds), the opening of wine bars in the centre of town – mainly in Syntagma – is a testament to the growing trend.
The following bars are three of the most well-established bars in town, each with their unique décor, vibe and offering, mixing wine tasting with accompanying savoury Greek snacks. Attending these establishments to sample the best Greek wines is a must for any wine enthusiast.
- By the Glass
- This modern bar has a swanky vibe, set by the mood of its two-tone red and black décor. As by the name, the vast wine selection is available by the glass and also hosts wine classes and private parties.
- A quiet alley off the busy Ermou shopping street hosts this cosy establishment with an extensive and exclusive Greek wine selection. One of the city’s most well-known and loved, the two owners and its staff love to impart their wine knowledge and will see you try more than you had initially planned.
- The Guardian named this wine bar one of ‘Athens Best Bites’, and it is one of the city’s younger establishments. Found on Voulis street, it has a more relaxed atmosphere and attracts the younger crowd. Specifically, Oinoscent is known for having some of the best snacks to accompany your wine, especially the traditional rusk-like bread.
Nightlife in Athens
Athens at night is pumping and choosing what bars to visit and in what areas can be overwhelming. You’ll only scratch the surface on a single visit to the city. Here’s a pick of my favourite bars to start.
- Six Dogs
- Enter a basement that turns into a huge bar and outdoor garden space, and you’ll find yourself within what has become one of Athens’ most popular and much-loved bars and gig spaces. It’s even busy on Sunday afternoons, where locals congregate for coffee and a chilled hangout.
- Drunk Sinatra
- 60’s style class, with a modern and funky vibe, right in the historical centre of Athens. Dine all day and drink all night.
- A colourful café and bistro by day and a bustling club bar by night, this place draws in the crowds from laid-back socialites to the party crowd.
Athens Walking Tours
I’ve probably engaged in walking tours in nearly every city I’ve visited, alongside my general wanderings once I have my bearings.
Walking tours with local experts always give me a good sense of navigation and knowledge beyond the guidebooks. I’ve worked with Athens Insiders on many occasions – from orientation walks to an afternoon filled with wine tasting, alongside a tailor-made neighbourhood tour around Kolonaki and Exarchia.
You can customise a walking tour based offers your interests, such as food, history, photography or even something specific like yoga or choose from the already extensive portfolio. Natalie, Anthia and Alex are an outstanding and dedicated team of people who love their city, and I can’t recommend them enough.
READ MORE ► Best Athens Walking Tours
READ MORE ► See Athens Like a Local
Traditional Greek Dancing in Athens
The merriment of music and dance often accompanies excellent food – the Greeks are known for it. Most people know the sound of the famous Greek Bouzouki musical guitar-like instrument, and many more are keen to learn the ‘Zorbas’ dance that accompanies its catchy and well-remembered tunes.
Tavernas are typically not without a traditional musician or a stereo blasting old songs that get the Greek people up – during and after dining. Look out for announcements at local eateries for Bouzouki-Zorba nights, where tourists are welcome to join in and learn with the locals or follow the sound.
Active Ways to See Athens
From bike rides and hidden walking tours, Segway and motorised scooters, Athens can be seen with a bit of adrenalin and action. Who needs the hop-on-hop-off bus when you can stroll and glide by its back streets, parks and hidden treasures?
Athens by Bike
Athens is a great city to explore on wheels with grid-like streets and long avenues connected by squares.
Book ► A 3-hour e-bike tour of historical Athens, combining ancient and modern neighbourhoods and monuments.
Book ► A 2-hour sunset bike tour of Athens, riding through the city and stopping at ancient sites and elevated viewpoints.
Segway in Athens
Ramp up the speed and cover more ground in Athens leisurely by Segway.
Book ► A 3-hour segway tour of the best of Athens’ landmarks. Cover more ground with a knowledgeable local guide.
Athens by Sea and Sport
An Olympic legacy city by the sea, Athens should also be seen from its shores and its sporting venues.
Book ► A Kayaking tour to Cape Sounion. Start your trip in Athens and make your way along the Athens Riveria coastline for an alternative view of the city.
Book ► Olympic games practice at the Athens Panathenaic stadium. Try classic sporting techniques and take a race in the world’s first modern sport’s stadium.
Where to Stay in Athens
Hostels in Athens
City Circus has been the most recommended hostel by traveller friends. A four-story 20th-century mansion turned boutique hostel in the funky Psirri neighbourhood; it’s known for its alternative vibe and great city views from its balconies and rooftop hangouts. Prices from €30.
Athens Backpackers is also highly rated, with dorms and private rooms and a prime Akropolis view rooftop bar. It’s located in the Makrigianni neighbourhood, on the fringes of the local hip area of Koukaki and a short walk to Monastiraki. See below for an overview of its studio room offering – prices from €20.
Selina Athens Theatrou is a colourful and slick hostel located a little north of Psiri and a short walk from the former silk factory turned artistically revived neighbourhood of Metaxourgeio. Part of the well established Selina hostel franchise, the Athens site boasts a bar and a rooftop terrace with more expansive elevated views of the city. Being slightly removed from the centre has its upsides – prices from €40.
Budget Hotels in Athens
Alexandros Hotel is located on a quieter side street right next to all the action of Mavilli Square. An elegant hotel so centrally located offers excellent value for money with spacious rooms and an extensive breakfast buffet. It’s also only a five-minute walk to the metro station – prices start from €70.
Athens Boutique Hotels
Grecotel Pallas Athena hotel is one of my top choices not just because I stayed there on my first visit to Athens with a fantastic group of friends but also because it’s bold and artistic. This art-boutique hotel in the very centre of the city (close to the Monastiraki and Acropolis metro stations) is awash with bold colour, glamorous design features from the flooring patterns to the decor, funky furniture and rooms that each come with their distinct artistic flairs – like wall paintings of smurfs, spiderman, forests and volcanos. It’s no wonder it has become a popular setting for fashion shoots and art exhibits. Prices start from €110.
Athens Hotels With a View
BED in Athens is a minimalistic design hotel located in the cool Psiri area that connects with Monastiraki. It also has a rooftop bar with views of the Acropolis, perfect for sunset. Prices start from €80.
Evripides Hotel nearby has a very similar offering, and what it doesn’t match in sleek decor, it makes up for with stunning terrace views. Prices from €60.
The Athens Gate Hotel is easy to pass by from the outside, shrouded by the traffic of bustling Syngrou Road, but the appeal lies in the concealed panoramic views of some of the city’s most-loved ancient sites. Located directly opposite the grounds of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, pick one of the rooms with a balcony view of Hadrian’s Arch and the gleaming temple columns, and awake to the golden hues of the city that all visitors chase. The dining terrace on the 8th floor beats this view. The sweeping canvas starts with Filopappou Hill before reaching the Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill, accompanied by a great range of continental morning treats or dinner or a glass of wine to watch the city’s ancient hilltops glow at sundown. Prices start from €95.
Studio Apartments in Athens
For those looking for something more homely, open-plan and with self-catering facilities, check out Athens Backpackers and Studios. I lived here for a month while looking for my rental apartment, and there are a few options to choose from whether you are solo or with the family – the largest studios have enough space for six people.
Not only is the building minutes from the Acropolis metro, the main historical sites, and the old neighbourhood of Plaka, it’s part of a more expansive hostel set-up. The neighbouring hostel building just around the corner gives you access to a bar and a cafe, laundry facilities, and free weekly events where you can meet other travellers. Prices start from around €55.
Live With Locals in Athens
One of the ways I got to know different neighbourhoods and meet Athenians was by using platforms like Airbnb in Athens, where I could rent a spare room for around 20 Euros a night. I would deliberately pick a new area each time since the people you stay with give great local recommendations and tips or invite you out with their friends.
Towards the end of one summer, I lived with three girlfriends in a shared apartment on Athens’ main shopping street, Ermou and close to Athens’s lively bar and restaurant ‘squares’. An enormous, four-bedroom apartment costs around £1,000 for the entire week, averaging £35 a night each – a centrally-located apartment for the same price as a night in a hotel.
Easy to Reach Greek Islands from Athens
Athens isn’t just about being locked into a busy metropolis either. You also can hit the beach and enjoy some coastal time close by in Attica – the broader region surrounding Athens.
Hydra, Poros and Egina
For those limited on time to spend cruising to the larger islands hours away, you can visit the three Saronic Islands of Hydra, Poros and Egina in a one day tour. The islands – each with their unique architecture, history and microcosm of culture – are a two-three hour ferry ride away from the port of Athens. While each deserves a day or two of your time, hopping between them is an accessible ‘Outer Athens’ day excursion.
For those looking for an overnight island, you can even overnight on the island of Kea – the Athenian getaway secret.
READ MORE: The Little-Known Greek Island of Kea
Travel Athens: Inspiration and Further Information
A comprehensive Greek tourism resource for further information on travel in Athens and throughout Greece to help plan your trips in and around the country.
The official site for the city of Athens, ‘This is Athens’, has event listings alongside comprehensive travel and accommodation guides. You can also apply online for a “This Is My Athens” personal ‘greeter’ to show you around town.
Athens on Instagram
I get a lot of inspiration and tips from locals who post on Instagram. In particular, I follow the #igers_Athens hashtag for some alternative finds and urban insights.
Planning a Trip to Athens? Pin It!
I compiled this Athens travel blog with on-the-ground knowledge from two years of living in the Greek capital. Any of its descriptions used on other sites and blogs without attribution is not information authorised by myself for use.