Athens! When I landed, I have to admit to feeling a frisson of excitement. It was my first visit to the city which essentially sparked the beginning of the western world as we know it, and I couldn’t wait to get my eyes on some of the sights that I already felt I knew so well.
As luck would have it, I arrived in the middle of the night and had an aisle seat, so my first sight of Athens was a glow of orange glimpsed between the head and shoulders of my fellow passengers. Not exactly the first impression I had hoped for.
All that excitement about exploring the cradle of civilisation was then put on hold after I discovered that the cradle of civilisation came with some rather fine beaches. I guess if you’re going to opine on the nature of life, and fire up democracy, you might as well do it with a cocktail and a magnificent view of a sunset.
Finally, I got to the end of this introduction, and got into Athens proper. Based on my explorations, here are some experiences you shouldn’t skip out on when visiting Athens for one day!
1 Day in Athens
1. The Acropolis
So you basically can’t visit Athens without visiting the Acropolis. As it sits on a rocky outcrop above the centre of the city, it’s pretty hard to to miss when wandering, but spending some time actually up here is highly recommended.
The most recognisable part is of course the famous Parthenon, which is the pillared building in the middle, but the whole ancient citadel is worthy of your time, from the open air auditorium to the smaller temples. Plus the view of Athens and surrounding area is pretty good, if not quite as good as the view suggested lower down this page.
It was built around 2,500 years ago, and started life as a temple, evolving over time as various empires came and went. You can find out more at the Wikipedia page and save me from massacring actual knowledge in the name of a pithy blog post.
I visited in April, when the temperatures were pleasant and the crowds weren’t intense. Be aware that in summer this place gets very hot, with temperatures pushing forty degrees, and serious hordes of people, which can leave you not exactly impressed, as happened to my friend Amanda from A Dangerous Business.
If you can, visit in the cooler hours, perhaps earlier in the morning before the rush. Bring water – it’s going to be thirsty work!
Ticket wise you can get a ticket for €12 which gives you single entry to the Acropolis as well as five other attractions in Athens, which is an excellent bargain. To save queuing, you could buy this ticket package at any of the other locations which are likely to be less busy than the Acropolis. Check out this guide to getting tickets to Athens historical sites from a fellow blogger for more detailed information on what that covers.
For even more information, including advice on getting here, up to date opening hours, and days when it’s free to visit, see the Athens24 website entry here.
2. The Markets (and taking Tours with Locals)
Athens has some excellent markets to explore, with the highlight being the Athens Central Market. This has everything from piles of colourful spices and olives (of course!) through to the rather graphic meat market. The latter might not go down well if you’re sensitive to learning where those bits of meat actually come from!
I did a food walking tour with Dopios, who offer local experts to show you around, and our tour included access to a number of shops and the sampling of local foods, as well of course as the tour of the above markets. Certainly recommended.
Another tour I did was through the excellent “This is MY Athens” programme. This is an initiative of the Athens tourism board, and matches up visitors with locals for free tours of the city based specifically around your interests. It’s a fantastic way to get a truly local insight to life, and I highly recommend setting that up in advance via the portal, here.
3. The National Archaeological Museum
Ah, museums. To be honest, I’m not normally a big fan, unless they are of the variety that involve a lot of buttons you can press with lights that light up upon the pressing of those buttons.
Add this to the fact that Athens is basically one giant living outdoor museum, and, well, maybe I’m not the best person to give museum advice. Even if I did somehow end up in around five of the things during my time there.
One that stood out though was the National Archaeological Museum, which makes sense, as it’s the largest museum in Greece, and the most popular of all of Athens’ museums.
The display that particularly caught my eye, amongst the many incredible items on display ranging from 2,000 year old statues to frescoes from the islands, was the Antikythera mechanism. This is the oldest known mechanical computer, which I thought was pretty cool. Find all the information you need on visiting, from pricing and opening hours, on the official website, here.
4. Mount Lycabettus
The problem with going to famous locations with a view like the Acropolis, is that whilst the views are indeed marvellous, they are missing that vital iconic bit of landscape that would signal immediately where they are. Take a picture of Athens from the Acropolis, and your friends back home will probably have no idea where you were.
Unless they’ve been to Greece themselves, of course. But you get my point.
Much like Paris therefore, where the best view in my mind is actually from Montmartre and includes the Iron Lady, the best view of Athens is one that includes the Acropolis. And for that, you need to head up Mount Lycabettus.
This is the highest point in Athens, although at 277 metres above sea level, isn’t a terribly taxing climb. If it sounds taxing though, then there is a funicular which will whisk you to the top in no time at all.
The views from the top are magnificent, from the mountains around Athens to the sea, and the city filled plains in between. No doubt experienced best at sunset or sunrise for photography, rather than the middle of the afternoon timing I ended up with, but the view is wonderful at any time of day.
5. The cafe culture
Athens has an amazing cafe / bar culture. At any time of the day or night, we found locals and tourists spilling out into squares and alleyways, usually drinking coffee concoctions, including the Greek version of frappe. Coffee appears to be the lifeblood upon which your average Greek person survives.
A couple of places which seemed particularly popular were the squares and streets around Kerameikos station (also the LGBT friendly part of town), and the Plaka area.
The Plaka area is the historic centre of Athens, filled with winding back streets, steep staircases, taverns, cafes and restaurants. You’ll find happy crowds of people enjoying the scene and knocking back a frappe or two, all in the shadow of the Acropolis. Suffice to say – this is an excellent spot to explore or just to soak it all in from a table as the world wanders by.
Some hints for Athens
Getting there and around
Athens is easy to get to by air, with multiple airlines offering flights from Europe and beyond. There are also recently re-opened train services in and out of Greece, as well a ferry port which services multiple destinations.
If you arrive by air, the airport has both bus and rail links into the city, with prices in the region of €5 for the bus and €8 for the train.
A taxi from the airport is a fixed fee, at the time of writing this was around €35 in the day and €50 at night (after midnight) – make sure the price includes the toll and any other fees when planning your trip.
There are also private hire companies. If you arrive late you might be able to negotiate a deal with a limo driver to take you into town for a fixed fee as they also want to get home – I did this and got my own limo all the way down to Vougliameni 1am for €50.
Getting around Athens is very easy. A lot of the city is walkable, although in the heat of the summer this might not be an enjoyable experience. Depending on how many of you there are, your best options are likely to be a taxi, which are very reasonably priced, or the relatively recently (2001) opened metro, which costs €1.40 for 90 minutes of travel. You can also get a one day pass for €4 for 24 hours of travel. Note that neither of these metro options include the trip to the airport.
Where to stay in Athens
For my first few nights in Athens I had the pleasure of being hosted by The Margi Hotel in collaboration with luxury travel portal Destsetters, which was in a wonderful location on the Athens Riviera, some kilometres south of town.
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit away from the hustle and bustle of town and near some lovely beaches, with quite superb on site fine dining, then I can certainly recommend them.
Otherwise, Athens itself has no shortage of properties to meet every need. Check out our current favourites for finding the best deals –
- Our current favorite way to find the best deals on accommodation is with HotelsCombined. These guys let you search over 100 booking sites at once, including booking.com, Agoda and TravelPony, and nearly always get the best price. Try them and see!
- Alternatively, if you prefer an apartment or more of a hosted stay, then I recommend AirBnB. I’ve tried all the others, and AirBnB consistently has the most options for locations around the world. Plus, if you’ve never used them before, you’ll get a $25 discount on your first booking with this link!
And that’s it for Athens. Have you visited this city? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below!