Let me start by saying that I absolutely loved Athens; from the food to the people, the history to the architecture – it was a great way to kick start my week in Greece in Winter. Before getting there, so many people had actually told me they didn’t enjoy Athens at all, and their advice was to get in and get out as soon as possible. I refused to buy into that mindset however, and didn’t want to get there thinking I wouldn’t like it. After all, everyone has different experiences when they travel! Maybe it was a mix of being there in Winter without the tourist crowds and heat, or the experiences and people I encountered, but I fell in love and really couldn’t fault the city. I already can’t wait to go back.
The majority of travellers will fly into Athens before heading out on their island hopping adventures. While I haven’t explored the islands myself (not yet anyway!), I highly suggest spending 2 full days in Athens to get to know the Greek history, food and culture!
Here is how I spent 2 full days in Athens:
I love food, I love history and I love learning about other cultures (I’m guessing most of you all do too!). So, I couldn’t think of a better way to start my time in Greece than to take a tour with Athens Walking Tours and stuff my face with the best food the city has to offer. This was probably one of the biggest highlights of all my 5 weeks of travel through Europe. Let me just state the obvious – don’t eat breakfast or you will sorely regret it! And be ready for all of your senses to be tantalised!
Our lovely local guide, Georgia, taught us so much about the Greek culture throughout the 3 and a half hour tour, and how food is such a big part of it. We sampled the best loukomades in town and then hit up a seafood and meat market, before sampling the best mandarins of my life at the fruit and vegetable market. It was then time to sit down at a lovely, traditional restaurant to try some fried zucchini balls, tzatziki and baked cheese (my mouth is actually watering at the thought of it all). Of course, I wasn’t leaving Greece without trying some quality olive oil, olives and feta, and Georgia gave us a variety to sample at a local shop along the way. Spanakopita was up next, which was one of my favourites (spinach and feta is the best combo ever). But, of course, we couldn’t finish the tour without a Gyro – the famous pita bread stuffed with meat, tomato, tzatziki and onion.
I cannot recommend this experience enough. While you’ll get to sample some traditional Greek food, it was a great way to start our time in Athens as we got a feel for the city, the culture and knew what foods we needed to get out and try later! I could honestly go back to Greece just for the food alone…
Check out the exact tour I did with Athens Walking Tours here!
Hadrian’s Arch + Temple of the Olympian Zeus
These two sites are conveniently right next to each other! The Arch of Hadrian was built in 131 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as part of a wall that separated the old and new city of Athens. You won’t need too much time to see the ruins of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, however it is very impressive and I loved the view of the Acropolis in the background! It especially blew my mind to know that construction on it began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants who aimed to build the greatest temple in the ancient world. However, it wasn’t completed until the rule of Emperor Hadrian about 638 years later.
How to get there: Jump on the metro or walk off all that food! The closest stop is Syntagma station and from there it’s about a ten minute walk.
Cost: You don’t need a ticket to enter the area where the arch stands. However when getting into the Temple site, I highly recommend buying the 20 Euro ticket that will get you into other sites such as the Acropolis and lasts for 5 days.
Opening hours: 8.30am – 3pm (Winter) // 8am – 6.30pm (Summer)
Lycabettus Hill at Sunset
I actually headed up Lycabettus Hill just a few hours after landing in Athens as I was staying in the Kolonaki neighbourhood, and I think it made me immediately love the city. The highest point in Athens, and located in the centre of the city, atop Lycabettus you’ll be met with sweeping views over Athens, through to the mountains and out to the Aegean Sea. Add a blue sky and a sunset to the mix, with a glass of Sangria in hand and you’re set for a great afternoon. There is a restaurants up the top where we grabbed a drink, but I can imagine how memorable a meal would be up here with the ultimate views over Athens!
How to get there: Take the metro to the Megaro Moussikis stop. From here you can walk about 15-20 minutes up to the Teleferik Cable Car Station. Otherwise, if you feel like you want the exercise or have the time, you can walk up the hill!
Cost: It costs 7 Euro for a return ticket on the Cable Car or 5 Euro one way and runs every 30 minutes (or every 20, 15 or 10 minutes in the peak hours).
Opening hours: The Cable Car runs from 9am til 2.30am.
Dinner in Kolonaki
After the sun has set, you might be feeling a bit peckish, and I highly suggest wining and dining in the Kolonaki neighbourhood. I found there was an abundance of quaint Greek restaurants in the area. We settled for Kalamaki Kolonaki and it was delicious! The tzatziki with warm pita bread was my favourite, accompanied by the couscous and vegetable salad. We then were treated to a huge plate of chicken and chips, too. Man, I love Greek food!
Acropolis Site + Odeon of Herodes Atticus
It’s probably the main reason most tourists visit Athens and is a universal symbol of Greek history and civilisation. My visit to the Acropolis Site was truly one of the most breath-taking and mind blowing experiences in all my travels to date. I had one of those moments where you just cannot believe you’re there, you cannot believe the history and events that have taken place where you are standing.
You’ll definitely need at least 2 hours to wander around and appreciate all of the monuments and sites. Obviously, the star attraction is the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena. At the peak of the Athenian Empire’s power, construction began on the temple in 447 BC (incredible, right!) You’ll also find the Erechtheon, the Popylaea, and the temple of Athena Nike to admire.
Once you’ve beat the rush of tourists by visiting at 8am, at about 10am they began to swarm in packs to the area, so head back down to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The stone, open air theatre is situated on the southwest side of the Acropolis hill and was impressively completed in 174 AD to host musical concerts.
How to get there: I was able to just walk here, and if you’re staying in the heart of the city, you most likely can do too. Otherwise, get off at the Akropoli stop on the Metro.
Cost: Use your ticket from day one (20 Euro) that will get you into all of the Acropolis Sites.
Opening hours: The site opens at 8am and closes at 8pm. I highly recommend getting there right on 8am like I did, as you will be able to snap a few pictures without any other tourists in them, and see the guards marching and putting up the flag!
Mars Hill / Aeropagus
As you wander down from the theatre on the southwest side and exit through the gates, turn to your right and you’ll see a hill/rock just a few minutes walk away. Climb up and you’ll find some heavenly views out over the city of Athens and up to the Acropolis. It’s the perfect place to escape the rush of tourists and just admire your surroundings while soaking in some of that Greek sunshine!
The Acropolis Museum houses the incredible findings from the Acropolis Site and its foothills. Here you’ll be able to closely admire the well-preserved ruins and artwork in the naturally-lit, three levelled museum. I highly recommend visiting after you’ve been up to the Acropolis area to see various the artifacts up close to admire the detail. As you enter, you’ll even see the archaeological excavation of an ancient Athenian neighbourhood! In all, I’d say you only need an hour or so here.
Cost: 5 Euro
Opening hours: Hours vary depending on the day and season. Check them out on their website here!
It may be a little touristy, especially seeing as though this area is setting at the bottom of the Acropolis, but you have to go and wander through the cute cobblestone streets and shops! If you’re feeling hungry, there are many family run tavernas and cafes lining the streets. I didn’t end up eating here as it felt a little too touristy for me, but I would suggest hitting up good old Tripadvisor and finding the best restaurant for you.
If you’re looking for some souvenirs or jewellery, food or just some cute photo spots for the ‘gram, then definitely have a wander through Plaka!
Wander around Monistiraki Square + have a drink at the A for Athens Rooftop Bar
All that walking will have you feeling tired and thirsty, so I suggest getting up high and grabbing yourself a cold drink. You can’t leave Greece without trying their Freddo coffee, so head up to the A for Athens rooftop bar for awesome views over Monistiraki Square and out to the Acropolis. It would also be the perfect place to sip on some cocktails as the sun sets in the Summer.
End the day with more FOOD!
The best way to end your time in Athens – with food of course! I couldn’t get enough of the souvlaki, and I highly recommend checking out a little shop by the name of ATH Souvlaki just near the Acropolis Museum. They are super affordable, delicious and the people are so friendly! If not, you’ll most likely find a souvlaki on any street nearby. YUM!
Where to Stay
Herodion Hotel: If you’re looking for somewhere centrally located (just a 5 minute walk to the Acropolis), luxurious and with an amazing view out your bedroom window, then the Herodion Hotel is for you. You’ll especially love the rooftop (pictured above!) Read my review here: The Best Views of the Acropolis From the Herodion Hotel.
Periscope Hotel: I loved this little boutique hotel situated in the Kolonaki neighbourhood. It was nice to be away from the touristy areas, but also close to the Metro and just a 5-10 minute walk to Lycabettus Hill! The hotel is super trendy, welcoming and provides you with all the amenities you’d need, and more. Read my review here: Exploring Kolonaki, Athens with Periscope Hotel.
Airbnb: I absolutely love Airbnb, and have found so many cute and affordable places throughout the city where you’ll be able to have a more local experience during your time in Athens. Use my code to sign up and receive $25 AUD in travel credit!
Hostels: For those of you on a budget, you’ll find many super cheap hostels with shared dorms or private rooms. I suggest checking out HostelWorld!
Tips for Visiting Athens
- Avoid peak season! I visited at the end of November, and coming into Winter, it really wasn’t very cold at all! I actually was quite warm walking around in the sunshine. On top of this, the touristy sites were a lot less crowded than the Summer season, so I would highly suggest visiting in the off-peak months.
- Get out and explore early! Something I always (well, try to) do when I travel, is get up as the sun rises as not only you’ll get better photos, but you’ll most likely have areas and attractions to yourself.
- Take a tour! Whether it be the food tour I mentioned or a free walking tour of the city, they’re a great way to get your bearings and learn more about the history and culture before exploring the rest of the city.