Athens City Guide
The ancient city of Athens is the capital and the largest city in Greece. This city has a history that dates back nearly 3400 years and is located on a peninsula that stretches into the Aegean Sea. Athens is referred to as the ‘cradle of western civilization’ as it is believed to be the birthplace of democracy.
Athens is also the birthplace of the Olympic Games, in fact the very first Olympic Games were held here in 776 BC and attracted people from all over Greece. However, the modern games as we know them were first held in Athens in 1896. Athens hosted its most recent Olympic Games in 2004 and the entire city was upgraded and overhauled for the event.
Ancient Athens once served as the home of several renowned centers of learning such as Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum and today this Greek capital is littered with several ancient monuments like the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Agora’s marketplace and more.
The city additionally hosts several Roman and Byzantine monuments along with several landmarks of the modern era like the Hellenic Parliament, the National Library of Greece, the Athens University and the Academy of Athens. All these varied iconic attractions have rendered Athens as a leading vacation destination that plays host to hordes of tourists who descend on its shores every year to take in its many sights and enjoy its many glorious beaches and parks.
Where to stay in Athens
The City Center
Most visitors to Athens like to stay at hotels located within the city center as these hotel properties offer easy access to the city’s many attractions. The city center of Athens lies between the Omonia, Syntagma and Monastiraki squares. This area was cleaned up for the hosting of the Olympics and now is home to city’s political and civic life as well as many shops, galleries boutiques, restaurants and luxury and design hotels.
The Plaka area of Athens lies right below the Acropolis and attracts hordes of tourists who like to be based at the various small hotels located within the maze of winding, mediaeval streets of the neighborhood. The Plaka neighborhood is largely pedestrian and hosts Byzantine churches, off beat museums and ancient homes.
If you like to be based in a neighborhood that has a bit of character during your vacation in Athens then the hotels of Plaka neighborhood should get your vote for your vacation stay in Athens.
The Kolonaki district of Athens is situated beneath the slopes of Lycabettus Hill. Kolonaki is considered to be a posh neighborhood of Athens, which is home to boutiques, art galleries and many restaurants. If safety in a foreign country is one of your main concerns when you go on a vacation, then a luxury hotel in the Kolonaki district should get your vote on where to stay in Athens.
The Monastiraki neighborhood is located close to the Agora and Roman Forum; both of which host daily flea markets. If you plan Athens vacation for shopping then a hotel located in Monastiraki will most probably fit the bill.
Kifissia is yet another neighborhood of Athens, which is a much coveted accommodation destination. This neighborhood hosts many of the rich and famous people of the city and is characterized by many quiet tree lined streets, pretty squares and imposing 19th century neoclassical mansions. Kifissia is also home to many cafes, restaurants and clubs so if enjoy being in the midst of all the action then Kifissia should get your vote on where to stay in Athens.
The Apollo Coast
Athens has many beaches located within close proximity of its city center. Most of these beaches offer facilities for swimming and water sports. Many visitors who choose to vacation in Athens enjoy staying at the city’s many beach side hotels, which are actually quite easily accessible from the city center. Additionally these beachside resorts are also equipped with many good restaurants, clubs and shopping options, which only add to their appeal.
Places to see in Athens
Visitors on a vacation to Athens usually begin their sight-seeing expeditions in Athens at the Syntagma Square, which is located at the heart of Athens. This square is home to the Parliament building, which was built in 1840 as the Royal Palace. Tourists enjoy taking in the changing of the guard ceremony that takes place every hour at the Palace and is quite similar to the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London. Syntagma Square offers easy access to nearly all the various sights of Athens including the city’s museum mile or Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, which hosts many of the city’s treasure filled museums like the Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum.
The star attraction of any vacation in Athens is undoubtedly the Acropolis. The Acropolis is situated on a steep flat topped rock that rises to a height of 150m (490ft) above sea level. This ancient temple is dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Athena and is an UNESCO designated world heritage site, which is home to several world famous landmarks like the Doric columned Parthenon, the Erechtheon and the Propylaea, which is the monumental entrance to the Acropolis. The Acropolis also contains a small temple dedicated to Athena Nike.
Also located on the Acropolis is a small museum where the carvings and friezes that were recovered from the temples are on display.
Another must-see attraction on any Athens vacation is the ancient Agora, which was city’s commercial and civic center that also served as a congregation point for the great philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Located within the Agora are the ruins of many ancient buildings including the Dionysos Theatre, which is believed to be the world’s oldest theater (where plays penned by greats like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were once preformed) and the Stoa of Attalos, which now contains a museum that has numerous ancient artifacts that bear witness to Athens’ ancient history.
The National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological museum hosts a vast collection of many treasures that include Greek figurines from 2000BC and frescoes from the island of Santorini. Most visitors plan more than one visit to the museum in order to take in its huge collection.
The Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum, which is located on Athen's Nikis Street is another fascinating museum of Athens that is worth visiting on any Athens vacation. The museum highlights the vital role the Jewish community has played in Greek Society. The museum has an extensive permanent exhibition, which consists of textiles, household items, ante nuptial contracts and catalogue the history of the Greek Jewish community from the 18th century until present times.
Many visitors also include an excursion up Lycabettus Hill as a part of their sight-seeing expedition in Athens. You can either take a tram up the hill. If you are feeling energetic you can even choose to walk up the winding road to the top of the hill, which affords you a spectacular view of the entire city of Athens. The best time to undertake this journey is in the late evening just before sunset, as the view of the sunset from the hill is absolutely breath-taking. At the peak of the hill, there is a pretty small white church, which is lit up at night and makes for a pretty sight.
If your vacation to Athens doesn’t include a trip to the Greek isles, you can still enjoy swimming in the Aegean Sea by visiting one of the many spectacular beaches that surround Athens city. This string of golden sand beaches around Athens is known as the Apollo coast and includes stunning beaches like Glyfada, Votsalakia, Alimos, Voula and Kavouri.
Best time to visit Athens
Athens has a Mediterranean climate characterized by prolonged warm and dry summers and mild, wet winters. The best time to visit Athens is from mid-March to May as the weather is usually pleasant during this time with average highs ranging from 61F (16C) to 78F(25C) which are perfect for walking around and sight-seeing.
During the summer months of June and August, the temperature rises steadily and there are many days when the city experiences temperatures of over 100°F (38°C). Most Athenians leave their city for colder climes during this time and the city is largely taken over by tourists on vacation who try to take advantage of the lower hotel rates in Athens during the summer months. However if you use Fare Buzz to book your Athens vacation, you need not be unduly worried as you are ensured of getting the best hotel rates at all times.
Winters in Athens extend from November to February and the city at this time is colder and windier with average daytime temperatures of 52°F (11°C).
Getting around in Athens
Most visitors access Athens by flying into its Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, which is situated 20 miles (33 km) to the south east of Athens city center. The Athens airport is well connected to the center of the city by the Athens Metro, public buses, the suburban rail and taxis, which can be hired in front of the airport terminals. However while hailing a taxi from the airport; you should be careful so as to not hail a gypsy cab as several touts tend to hang around the airport terminals to snare unsuspecting tourists.
As for transport within the city, most of Athens famous attractions are located within easy reach of the city center and are easily navigable on foot though the city also has a well developed and extensive public transport system, which is made up of buses, trolley buses, mini buses, taxis and the underground metro.
Most visitors on a vacation to Athens choose not to rent a car as a car is perceived to be more trouble than a convenience due to heavy traffic conditions within the city and expensive parking. However if you do want to rent a car for your stay in Athens, it is advisable to make your car rental bookings with a car rental agency before you get to Athens so as to get a better rate. Fare Buzz can be of assistance at this instance for it has a wide array of car rentals for Athens, which can be booked at the same time as you make your other bookings for your vacation in Athens.
Where to shop in Athens
As a popular vacation destination, Athens offers a wealth of shopping options. Pedestrian Ermou is Athen’s main high street, lined with chain stores and dozens of shoe shops. Big name fashion brands like Martin Margiela, Burberry, Gucci and so forth have a presence within the city’s luxe shopping enclave, Kolonaki. More high-end fashion stores are found on Skoufa Street and within the affluent Athens suburbs of Kifissia and Glyfada.
If however the main focus of your shopping in Athens is souvenirs, then the city’s tourist epicenter, Plaka will have you adequately covered for it is littered with stores selling popular souvenir items like leather sandals and bags, worry beads, evil eye amulets, flokati rugs and more. The area also hosts a lively flea market on Sundays.
A passion for Greek jewelry will probably lead you to the many jewelry shops located along Voukourestiou Street. For hand-made novelty gift items, recommended spots include the excellent gift shop of the Benaki Museum and the Center of Hellenic Tradition which offers the biggest selection of handicrafts from all over Greece. However, if you are looking to buy Greek foodstuff for gifting then do head to the many spice and food stores that line Athinas and Evripidou Streets in downtown Athens. Stores like Pandopolio tis and Mastiha Shop located here should meet all your shopping needs.
Shops in Athens as a general rule are open for business for 10am to 8pm on most days of the week tough stores in the tourist hubs of the city also stay open on Sundays.
Where to eat in Athens
Athens offers a wide range of restaurants which cater to all travel budgets. If it’s authentic, truly local Greek food that you seek, then you should pencil in a trip to the many cafes located within the city’s covered fish and meat markets. This expedition is not recommended if you are squeamish, for you are guaranteed to be assaulted by various sights and smells.
The Plaka district of old Athens, much favored by tourists offers a plethora of restaurants though many fall into the ‘category of tourist traps’. However, in spite of this the area also a few dependable eateries where you can be assured of good food at reasonable prices. Try eateries like To Kafeino, Diogenes and Paradiosiako and the restaurant at the Acropolis Museum.
If your tastes are more refined and are guided by Michelin ratings, then you should perhaps head out for a meal at Athens’ many high-end gourmet eateries like Varoulko, Fuga, Spondi, Hytra and Funky Gourmet.
Nightlife in Athens
Athens is a compact city and the majority of its nightlife options are centered on its main down town districts like Plaka, Psiri and Thisson. Live music acts play an integral role in Athens’ nightlife and the city’s nightlife areas abound with Rembitka music bars, tavernas offering live Greek music, jazz clubs, live rock clubs and so forth.