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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 02 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: John Malathronas

Beyond the obvious attractions – yes, the Parthenon does live up to the hype – Athens has a multitude of unpredictable charms. There are Byzantine churches beside fashionable bars, outdoor cinemas squeezed between apartment blocks and rock concerts in ancient amphitheatres.

The loud, laidback birthplace of democracy has emerged from a tough decade of economic austerity with a renewed creative energy. And the irrepressible locals still know how to party. Some things here will never change – like 300 days of sunshine a year and a 50-kilometre coastline – and they don’t cost a thing.

Orientation

Athens’ crowning glory is, of course, the Acropolis. Antiquities abound in the surrounding archaeological park, also home to the impressive new Acropolis Museum.

Hugging the eastern and northern slopes of the Acropolis is the neighbourhood of ‘Plaka’, the city’s old town heart. This maze of jasmine-scented alleys and colourful neoclassical houses has been continuously populated since antiquity. Beyond Plaka, the urban sprawl stretches as far as the sea.

The coastal suburbs offer swanky seaside restaurants and well-equipped beaches; Vouliagmeni and Glyfada are two of the most popular, but they are at least thirty minutes’ drive from central Athens, depending on traffic.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

The Acropolis

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

This dazzling ancient citadel, perched on a hilltop rising above the city, houses some of the most impressive ancient buildings in the world. The jewel in the crown is the Pantheon, a 2,500-year-old temple dating back to 438 BC.

Best for ages: 7+ | £9

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Acropolis Museum

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

A jaw-dropping array of antiquities – all the Acropolis’ treasures – in one very modern museum designed by starchitect Bernard Tschumi.

Best for ages: 15+ | £4

Grand Promenade

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

A unique and extraordinary 3km pedestrian promenade peppered with world-class antiquities – triumphant arches, ancient amphitheatres, Greek temples, and ‘Socrates’ Prison’.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 3 kilometres

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

An exposition of artefacts in the museum
Experience

Benaki Museum of Islamic Art

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

The best collection of Islamic Art outside the Muslim world, exhibiting a vast range of artefacts from intricately decorated prayer books to the reconstruction of a Cairo mansion reception room.

Best for ages: 13+ | £8

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Patrons of Brettos bar smile at the camera. The bar behind them is lined with rows of multicoloured bottles up to the ceiling
Experience

Brettos

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

Pop into Brettos, the oldest distillery in Athens, for a shot of ouzo or mastic liqueur. The cosy interior, lined with multi-coloured bottles and barrels, dates from 1909.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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The exterior of the museum, a white building with red tiled roof
Experience

Byzantine and Christian Museum

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

A glorious introduction to the sacred arts of Byzantium. Icons, mosaics, textiles, murals and sculpture offer illuminating insights into this distinctive aspect of Greek culture. A newer wing houses temporary exhibitions that explore the influence of Byzantium on contemporary art.

Best for ages: 18+ | £7

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People watching a film on an outdoor screen
Experience

Cine Paris

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

On Kydathinaion Square, Cine Paris is one of the loveliest outdoor cinemas in Athens. If the film disappoints, you can just gaze at the Parthenon under the moonlight. Open May to October.

Best for ages: 10+ | £7 | 2 hours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Athens Airport Private Arrival Transfer

Athens Airport Private Arrival Transfer

Athens

Travel from Athens International Airport to your Athens city or coastal hotel/Airbnb/apartment with a private transfer. Transfer services ar...

€29 | Rating 4.40 / 5 [724 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Athens Airport Private Departure Transfer

Athens Airport Private Departure Transfer

Athens

Travel from your Athens city or coastal Hotel/apartment/Airbnb to Athens International Airport with a private transfer. Transfer services ar...

€29 | Rating 4.65 / 5 [301 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Athens airport to Athens hotels Private arrival transfer

Athens airport to Athens hotels Private arrival transfer

Athens

Are you searching for the best way to move from Athens International airport to Athens city centre or city hotels/ apartments? Look no furt...

€31 | Rating 4.93 / 5 [258 ratings]

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Athens Bike Tour on Electric or Regular Bike

Athens Bike Tour on Electric or Regular Bike

Athens

See the sights of Athens in this fun and easy 9km journey by bike. This 3 hour tour cycles at a nice, relaxed pace on quiet streets and narr...

€35 | Rating 4.96 / 5 [961 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Athens4

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

A modest, excellent-value hotel, superbly sited for the Monastiraki nightlife and with comfortable, family-friendly suites.

Official star rating:

Hotel Asomaton

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

A new art-focused hotel with a lovely rooftop pool and terrace, bringing a New York city buzz to one of Athens’ oldest neighbourhoods.

Official star rating:

Monsieur Didot

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

A chic boutique hotel that scores sky-high on atmosphere and its central location under the shadow of Mount Lycabettus.

Official star rating:

COCO-MAT Hotel

Athens, Central Greece, Greece

An informal, welcoming hotel with a home-from-home feel and wonderful Acropolis views from the leafy roof terrace.

Official star rating:

When to go

Winters are moderate in Athens, but the city is at its best during spring and early autumn, when its cultural and social life moves outdoors for al fresco eating and drinking.

High summer (July and August) can be sweltering and smoggy; suburban beaches are crowded on weekends, but often blissfully empty midweek. August should be avoided when Athens virtually shuts down as residents migrate to the islands en masse.

Getting there and away

The efficient Athens Metro connects Eleftherios Venizelos airport to the city centre every half an hour between 6.30am and 11.30pm. The suburban rail also links directly the airport to the central train station (Larissis) and Piraeus port, the main point of departure for the Greek islands; the metro to Piraeus is cheaper but it involves a change at Monastiraki station. There’s a cheap 24-hour bus service from the airport to Syntagma Square and Piraeus.

Taxis are plentiful: on an airport transfer, make sure the driver charges the flat fare from the airport (more expensive between midnight and 5am), rather than using the meter.

Getting around

The city centre is compact enough to explore on foot. Otherwise, the Athens Metro is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get around.

Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive and nowadays are obliged to give you a receipt. Use the Taxi Beat or Taxiplon app to hail or pre-book a cab.

With gridlock traffic, scarce parking, and minimal road signage, driving isn’t recommended. Cycling in Athens is only for the brave.

Most ferries to the islands leave from the gritty port of Piraeus.

Where to stay

The top five-star hotels are clustered around Syntagma Square – it’s bustling and noisy, but smack in the heart of the action, with good transport links. Kolonaki, a chic shopping district walking distance from central Syntagma Square, is a quieter option with more of a local vibe.

Pretty Plaka, a scenic stroll from all the major sites, offers surprisingly few quality hotel options. The seedy streets around Omonia Square are awash with budget hotels, best avoided as the area is unsafe after dark.

Families may prefer the seaside resorts in the southern suburbs of Vouliagmeni or Glyfada, but it’s a long trek to the city centre.

Where to eat or drink

Small, hip bars are dotted around the warren of streets between Syntagma Square and Thisseion stations, as well as the nightlife hubs of Gazi and Psyrri. Pangrati and Koukaki are buzzy downtown neighbourhoods for day-to-night café culture and bar-hopping.

During the summer, nightlife migrates to rooftop bars and the ritzy clubs along the coast. To eat among locals, head to the lively, low-key mezze joints in the residential neighbourhoods of Ano Petralona or Halandri.

Where to shop

International brands and expensive Greek jewellers line pedestrian Voukourestiou Street. Further up the hill is Kolonaki, where designer boutiques are concentrated. Plaka and the Monastiraki flea market teem with souvenir shops, with some fine antiques and handicrafts among the tourist tat. For local colour and flavour, check out the central food market on Athinas Street.

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