The capital of Greece is like nowhere else on earth. It fuses the ancient with the modern, melding historic sights and monuments with lively eateries and a vibrant culture. It has something for everyone – in fact, the only thing it doesn’t have is a positive reputation. And we think it’s about time that changes because Athens is truly a charming city. Yes, it has its fair share of economic and political woes – we’re not denying it – but the sheer amount of culture on offer here warrants a short visit, at the very least.
Take it from me. I lived in the city for six months, and found it to be non-stop fun. Not only are there a plethora of ruins (it was the heart of Ancient Greece, after all) but the youthful buzz, the insane nightlife, and delicious eats means it really has a ton going for it. So, before you spend one solitary day here before venturing out to the gorgeous Greek islands, take a second to consider whether you can really visit all these hotspots in just a quick visit. (Short answer: no.)
The main attractions in Athens
Athens is home to the most breathtaking ruin – the thing everyone comes to (rightly) see and photograph – the Parthenon. The former temple, which dominates the hilltop Acropolis, is magnificent. Dedicated to the goddess Athena, you really have to pay a visit to see why it’s considered one of the greatest cultural monuments in the world. You could spend hours here just wandering around and soaking up the history.
There are several other ancient monuments that are a must in this city. The Theatre of Dionysus is ideally located right next door to the Parthenon, and truly is a sight to see. It’s the first stone theater ever built, and is (apparently) where Greek tragedy was first created.
Another ruin that is extremely impressive is the Panathenaic Stadium located in the Pangrati district. It is the only stadium in the world made out of marble which certainly gives it the unique factor, but it’s worth visiting for the history alone. Although this history goes way back, the fact the stadium hosted the first Olympic Games of the modern era makes for some pretty nice trivia.
With all of the ruins to explore, staying more than one day is a necessity, especially when you can get entry into six sites for €30 (valid for five consecutive days). Though if you do just have one short day, it’s worth browsing our sister company Urban Adventure’s range of day tours in Athens.
The alternative attractions in Athens
There’s no harm in admitting that even the best of us get tired of ruins sometimes. Fear not, there are many other attractions that’ll keep you happy. Let’s start with a market where you can buy almost anything, aka the Flea Market in Monastiraki Square. I can say with certainty that it has anything you could ever need – from eco-friendly trainers to leather bags to an insane array of jewelry. The market is definitely worth spending a few hours walking round. (Tip: it’s also extremely close to the Acropolis so you can add it on to any of your days here.)
Now let’s say you’ve done some shopping, grabbed a bite to eat (head over to Falafellas, just outside the main square, for the best falafel on the planet), and are looking for a relaxing evening. Let’s say a movie, perhaps. Have you ever watched a movie at an outdoor cinema while the Parthenon is lit up in the background? Didn’t think so. Well, Cine Thission is located in the Thiso district and is a 15-minute walk from Monastiraki Square. So, grab that popcorn and watch those recent releases (lucky for you, the audio is in English).
There is also another theater in Plaka, another 15 minutes from the square, that’s a bit more classical, Cine Paris.
Foodie fun in Athens
I don’t think we have to praise Greek food too much – its deliciousness speaks for itself (that’s why we have a 9-day trip dedicated to Greek food!). Literally, you could stop at the majority of restaurants in Syntagma (the central square) or Monastiraki (the flea market neighborhood) and be completely happy with what you order.
Having said that, there is one spot worth mentioning. 360 Degrees is a one-of-a-kind rooftop spot that anyone can enjoy. Take my word for it and try the massive feta-infused Greek salad with a refreshing gin (or two). Tie that in with a view over the city and Acropolis, and you’ll never leave this country again.
After all that Greek cuisine, you might want something a little different. Situated near Syntagma Square, the vegan-friendly restaurant Avocado has a decently-sized and delicious menu. Go for the black bean burgers or the Kapnisti Pizza (with three cheeses and roasted garlic).
Nightlife highlights in Athens
Cities such as Berlin may be more known for their massive nights out in Europe, but the trendy bars and clubs in Athens are sure to wow you.
In a little corner of Monastiraki Square, Six d.o.g.s is a hipster bar that is lit up by tungsten light bulbs (of course) and equipped with picnic-style seating.
And thanks to the best mojitos in the city, it’s a spot you can spend an entire night at. It’s worth mentioning, as well, that you can chill out on the cool tree swings they have throughout the entire outdoor area.
Another nice spot to have a few drinks at is the TAF Bar, an art gallery-esque bar that changes up its exhibits every few weeks. Right off from the flea market, this artsy bar is the key to have a local-style night out in Athens.
Day trips from Athens
The coastline of this country is loaded with gorgeous public and private beaches that offer something different from even the islands. For starters, Glyfada Beach is about 40 minutes on the tram from Syntagma Square, and is ideal for a quick day trip. With trendy cafes, restaurants and beach clubs alike, Glyfada makes for a really special experience.
And with coastline beaches come port-side towns that are worth exploring while in the Athens area. Two hours outside of Athens, the seaside town of Nafplio is an adorable spot that local Athenians come to for weekend breaks.
Right above Nafplio, a walk up 1000 steps leads to the top of Palamidi Castle. This fortress offers stunning views across the surrounding areas. Definitely worth the trip if you want fresh-of-the-boat seafood, and maybe a little exercise.
And if you don’t, well, the city of Athens has more than enough to offer. Give it a few days for the charm to really permeate and you’ll be glad you did. Trust me.
Many of Intrepid’s small group adventures start or end in Athens. Pick a trip, and visit this special city without delay.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel x2, iStock x2, six d.o.g.s Facebook page, iStock)