It was a cold November day in my Bucharest when I set off for Athens with one of my best friends, hungry for new and interesting things in a history packed destination as Athens is. We had planned this escape for some time and in time did a little bit of research on Athens attractions, for us to make the best out of the 3 days we were going to spend in Greece’s capital.
I also need to confide in you and tell you a secret: we’ve also had the help of an “insider”, and let me tell you that’s the best help one could have. One of my boyfriend’s work colleagues living in Athens was so kind to help us with a list of the city’s top attractions and places not to miss, including, of course, one of the best places one should not miss in Greece: the restaurants!
And since I’m so nice, I will share all my secrets with you 🙂 I need to admit that during my research, there was a lot of information lacking from all the articles I’ve come across dealing with Athens, Greece top attractions or things to do and see, thus I hope I will do a better job with my article and help you plan your trip accordingly.
My list of Athens, Greece attractions
1 Acropolis of Athens
This is the one thing that comes to mind when thinking about Greece’s capital, it is certainly the most important landmark and something everyone will recognize when seeing a picture.
The Athenians know that and I got the feeling that everything in the city revolves around this: there are a lot of cool rooftop bars overlooking the beautiful ruins, fancy hotels have rooftop restaurants and pools with Acropolis view, the most buzzing and touristic streets will be found at the foot of this hill.
Climbing the hill is a must, not only because the ancient temples are unique and most beautiful, but also because from the top, you will get to have a complete view over Athens. But don’t rush it, take the time to explore the little streets leading you up because you never know what you will find and if you’re like me, all the cats you’ll meet will make to trip even longer.
Once up the hill, be prepared to fight the crowds. As usual at touristic places and top attractions, this Athens attraction is also very crowded with people all over the world so be prepared to wait in line for that picture you’ve dreamed about. Especially if you are visiting Athens in the first weekend of the month when you will have free access to all the museums. If you’re not choosing this weekend be prepared to pay 20 EUR in Summer (from April to October) and 10 EUR in Winter (from November to end of March).
2 Parliament and the change of guards
Every day you can get to see the guards changing but the best day to come here for it is the Sunday, at 12 p.m. because now is when they do the full version.
Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to get there in time on our Sunday but saw the guards changing at another time and it was still a cool thing to watch, from their traditional clothes looking like a dress, to their funny shoes and to the way they are supervised by a superior in order for everything to be just perfect, strolling here and spending a few minutes will sure pay off.
Another fun fact I learned about these guards is that no matter what, while on duty, they are not allowed to do anything: move, smile, laugh, not even blink if you can imagine. Would you be able to do that for 2 hours straight? I sure wouldn’t!
3 Plaka and the streets just below Acropolis (around Monastiraki)
Here is where the magic happens! During the day come here for a stroll on the narrow marble paved streets flanked by shops on both sides and keep in mind you will have to sacrifice some consistent hours here because you will surely want to step inside all the beautiful colored stores.
Of course, this is the place where you will shop for souvenirs but at the same time, you will allow yourself to get kidnaped by all the people alluring you in their restaurants with their wide diversity of delicious dishes.
Don’t miss out on the great options you will find here for spending time at a coffee (do as the Greeks do, have a coffee for hours), Plaka and the area around Monastiraki is where you will find plenty of restaurants and bars.
Moreover, don’t feel shy about wondering on Ermou Street – one of the most commercial streets in Athens, Kolokotroni Street where plenty of coffee places are lined up, Mitropoleos Street – where in between cafes and pastry shops you will get to see also the Cathedral of Athens or Karagiorgi Serbias Street where you will find the chocolate heaven!
4 Saturday meat and Fruit Market
I said Saturday but don’t feel sad if you’re not in town on a Saturday, the market is open also during the week, but I thought a stroll in the lively market will be an experience worth having on a weekend just before a brunch or a coffee in the city center.
Trust me, you won’t miss this Athens attraction and if you are curious to see just how people go on with their daily lives, you should not skip going to the market. Just know that you need to go in the first part of the day and that you will be hit right in the face with a blend of colors, odors, and energy.
The market is very well structured and you will see that they have special areas for meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and spices, but whichever area you choose to visit, you will be welcomed by the loud noises of Saturday shopping. People going about their daily shopping, people doing the selling part in their best way ever (shouting from the top of their lungs, negotiating, singing, you name it), people bringing new and fresh products stepping on your feet – this is sure one place where manners don’t matter, but where you will surely be won over by the buzz you’ll find here.
Tip: All the streets around the market are filled with all sorts of little stores where you will find anything from painted glass for olive oil to rope ornaments, to graffiti art, just allow yourself to get lost. Just be sure to do it during daylight and try avoiding Sofokleous Street, nothing bad will happen but we ended up here at around 8 in the evening and were the only girls in a sea of man.
5 Kolonaki – the posh area
I have to admit this was one of my favorite areas in Athens, not very far from the center, right behind Syntagma Square on the left side, you will step into a whole different world. Here is where you’ll find all the embassies, posh shops and of course a lot of restaurants and places where you can go out for a coffee.
Places on hills, you will have to climb many sets of stairs or take the steep roads, but trust me you won’t feel a thing because you will be busy observing your surroundings.
6 Sunset and a glass of wine on Lycabettus
If you took my advice and went in Kolonaki, just by walking around you will most probably run into the Funicular that climbs up on the Lycabettus Hill.
And if you’re here, don’t think too much and hop on, especially if it’s close to sunset, the 7 EUR for a round trip will sure pay off. You should know also that the funicular runs every 30 min and on top, you’ll find a bar, a restaurant and a small church that also hosts weddings (there was one actually when we went).
If you go for sunset, the view will be absolutely stunning and you can treat yourself with a glass of wine with a view, just be aware that you will most certainly find a crowd waiting for the same thing as you.
7 Kifissia – escaping the city
Not that Athens is not a lovely city and you will need a break from it, but this little place is totally different and you will like it so much you will want to spend a day here. Kifissia is actually an extension of Athens, in its Northern part and you can get here by taking the metro and getting off at the end of line 1.
What to do here you ask? Well, nothing much, just relax, walk around the city, admire the beautiful houses, enjoy a luscious meal and in the evening go out for a perfect cocktail in one of the many cool bars out there.
You’re in Greece, don’t forget that! And of course, the food here is divine and the portions are huge, so you don’t have to worry about being hungry.
Gyros, Tzaziki, Souvlaki, baked feta cheese, Greek yogurt with honey, baklava, and the list could go on and on. There is one thing I can guarantee: you will come back home heavier 😉
Where to eat?
- Thanasis Kebab – really traditional, simple and delicious food. The staff is also fun and will be more than happy to help you take a picture or two. Here is where I’ve learned that when you order a souvlaki, you don’t have to say it, the kind of meat is enough (pork, chicken, mix).
- Bairaktaris Taverna – always crowded, packed with people in the search for a fresh and delicious souvlaki
- Maiandros – we found this by chance and we were so so lucky to stumble upon it just before lunchtime when it got really crowded
- Hans & Gretel – this place is MAGIC! You won’t miss it because it’s so colorful and fun, and moreover, it smells amazing. Here is where you will find all the sweets you can handle!
9 The Flea Market
Not much to say about it, just that you need to give it a tour, especially if you are looking for souvenirs or gifts to bring home.
10 Jewelry Museum
Not something many might know about, especially since I’ve understood it is a rather new addition to the list of Athens, Greece attractions, but I’m happy we found it on a Saturday rainy day when we were looking for shelter.
The museum is rather small but still very interesting (especially for women wink wink) and you will find here lots of old pieces ( 4000 to be more exact) inspired by various periods in history and different civilizations. You will also have the chance to see the process of jewelry manufacturing demonstrated live.
Entrance fee is 4 EUR, but if you choose to visit the museum on a Saturday you will have free admission. Please also note that photo taking is not permitted inside the museum.
Where to stay in Athens?
The best place to choose in town is, of course, Novotel Athenes. Only a 15 min walking distance from the city center and a few minutes away from 3 metro stations, the location offers great room and an even greater rooftop pool, bar, and restaurant.
Don’t be fooled by its surroundings who really don’t look that amazing (but hey, all streets look the same right?), once you’ll step inside you’ll be swept away by the buzziness and the bright cool design.
We had a lovely spacious and bright room at the 6th floor, perfectly fit for two persons, the only thing I found, let’s say different, was the fact that the bathroom’s door was made of two smaller glass doors which were not sealed, but at the end of the day we did not have any issue with that cool design.
Apart from the big fluffy bad, the best part of our stay at the Novotel Athenes was our window view, who wouldn’t want to go to sleep with the bright lights in mind, only to wake up to see the beautiful Acropolis and enjoy a hearty Greek breakfast (trust me, you’ll be in difficulty when having to choose what to eat first)? I sure enjoyed it!
- If you are planning a longer stay, pack also some gym clothes, since the hotel offers access to a great gym area located on the 7th floor perfectly overlooking the city
- If you’re traveling with children please be aware that children under 16 years old can share the room with you at no additional cost. Moreover, breakfast is included as well and you don’t have to worry about the cost, while on Sunday you can prolong your stay and check out until 5 p.m.
- You can do your check in online before arriving at the hotel
Other useful facts:
- Getting from the airport to the city – you will have 3 options to choose from with prices for all pockets: the bus ( line X95 will take you straight to the city center, having its last stop in Syntagma Square, right in front of the Parliament and a ticket will cost you 6 EUR one way, you can pay by card but be sure to say that in advance), the metro ( not offering you the possibility of admiring the city but maybe a bit faster than the bus, even though you need to change trains at Piraeus – wait on the same line – will cost you 10 EUR one way and 18 EUR if you are 2 persons; site check this for more information on timetables and maps), the taxi (the fastest and most direct way of traveling, coming of course with an additional cost, reaching almost 50 EUR from the airport to the city center).
- If you can, try avoiding Omonia Square, Eksarxeia and Vathis Square in the evening – nothing will happen to you (as we crossed Omonia several times in the evening), but the streets won’t be really nice to see and you might not feel safe.
- When to visit Athens? Well, almost any time since the climate is very mild and they rarely have snow. But I guess October – November and during Spring would be my choices, since the city is not that hot nor crowded.