A lot of people told me they didn’t like Athens. “Skip it”. “Athens is dirty”. “Only to fly in and out”. BUT – I know myself, and I like bigger cities, so I thought I would give it a try anyway. I only spent about 3 days there total, but I didn’t see Athens as just a stop on the way out AT ALL. To be honest, I actually really liked it.
Plenty of rooftops (I’m at sucker for a view), so much history, great food, much cheaper than the overcrowded islands, and so liveable. I may be bias, because I only spent time in certain areas of the city (and it is a huge city), but other than my heat stroke pass out moment - I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Athens!
I am fairly certain that most of you are flying into Athens. If you are coming overland somehow, great for you, and I am sure you don’t need my travel recommendations because that is one hell of a road trip.
ARRIVING IN ATHENS:
Athens airport is about 40 minutes from the city center. There are trains, buses, taxis and ubers. The taxi/uber rate is a flat rate during the day (5am-midnight = 38 euros). But if you are like us, arriving in the middle of the night, the rate is a bit higher (midnight-5am = 54 euros).
The trains are a cheaper option, running every 30 minutes from the airport to Syntagma station from 6:30am -11:30am. Take Metro Line 3.
The buses are 24 express buses, but a little confusing, so do your research here. We tried to take a bus and ended up at the Port instead of the city center, so in the end we had to take a taxi anyway.
The best way to get around Athens is with your own two feet. Or, when you are outside of walking range, take an Uber. They were extremely cheap and always close. If you are renting a car, you can rent from either the city center or the Airport.
If you are in the city center, most of the car rental companies have offices on Syngrou Avenue. We actually got a car same day when we rented, during the busiest time of the year (August), so booking ahead is at your discretion. Or perhaps if you are a bigger group, book the vehicle ahead. We were just two people, so we didn’t care what size car we got.
TIP: Remember to get an International Drivers License ahead of time. We did NOT have the International License so we had to walk shop to shop until we found a place that would rent a car to us without one. We finally did find a company that would rent to us anyway, but paid a premium to rent a car without the International Drivers License.
You can get it your IDL in about 2 hours online HERE: https://www.e-ita.org/idp/greece/
WHERE TO STAY:
We chose to stay in Monastiraki as it is close to the Acropolis and all other attractions we were interested in. I would recommend this area for first time Athens visitors and also for those who don’t want to travel far and wide to see the sites. Other notable areas, which are also great to explore are Psyri and Plaka. There are also lots of bigger hotels near the Syntagma Square, but I prefer the smaller, more artsy areas.
We used Airbnb both times in Athens, but in the same area! They were very reasonably priced, even in high season.
TIP: If you are traveling to Athens in the summer, get a hotel or Airbnb with a pool. I didn’t think it was necessary as we were Island hopping after and thought we could manage without one. Not my best call. It would’ve been so nice to splash in a pool after a long, hot, day of sightseeing.
THINGS TO DO:
1. Arrive and Relax
Most often you took a long flight from home to get to Greece, so first step should be to unwind. Wander the streets, grab a Greek salad, some wine, and spend a day getting to know your bearings.
2. Walking Tour
I am a big fan of walking tours upon arrival, especially if you are traveling solo, as you can get a tiny glimpse of the area and history to start your adventure. I also use this opportunity to ask someone (the guide) who actually lives there about best restaurants, areas, bars, etc. Most are “free” by donation, so you are essentially paying for a starter kit to the city.
I recommend: https://www.athens-free-tour.com
If you aren’t taking a walking tour, definitely go out and explore the different neighbourhoods on your own anyway. Areas to explore: Psyri (up and coming hipster vibe), Monastiraki (most popular, near the Acropolis), Plaka (cute cobblestone alleys).
3. Visit the Acropolis
This is a must, of course. A vital part of the history that cannot be missed. When I was researching Athens, I read that is best to go to the Acropolis early in the morning or late at night. I decided to ignore everything I read, and went at 2pm instead. Big mistake. It was 35 degrees (95 degrees F), middle of the day, dry, and hot. I thought I was living my best life, instead I gave myself heat stroke and had red face for many hours after. But, whether you listen to the advice or not, you still have to go.
TIP: Other than going in the morning or at night, remember to bring water or a water bottle. They don’t have any water bottles for sale when you actually ENTER the Acropolis, and if you are like me, and traveling in August, you will need water. Another great idea – go just before sunset and explore then watch the sunset from up top!
4. Day trip
Day tripping from Athens is a great option because there are so many amazing sites nearby.
- Corinth (1 hour away)
- Delphi (2.5 hours away)
- Epidaurus (2 hours away)
- Meteoria (4 hours away)
- Couleur Locale (amazing rooftop with sunset view)
- A for Athens (another rooftop)
- Bandiera (amazing food)
What I’d do differently next time:
Rented a place with a pool. Explored more outside of the Monastraki. Went to the Acropolis at sunset instead of midday.
- You’ll do lots of walking here, so make sure you have comfortable shoes.
- Be prepared to eat a bit later than normal.
Back to all other travel guides, click here.
Need help mapping out your trip to Greece? See my suggested Greece itineraries.