A First Timer’s Guide to Visiting Athens Greece

As you prepare for your maiden voyage to the capital of Greece, rest assured that Athens holds wonders both ancient and modern that will capture your imagination. Steeped in history, Athens is a living museum with archeological treasures around every corner. Yet beyond the ruins, a bustling metropolis thrives. As a first-time visitor, you’ll want to experience both sides of this city. To make the most of your trip and avoid feeling overwhelmed, some advance planning will serve you well. This guide aims to acquaint you with the essential sights, suggest an efficient itinerary, and provide practical tips to navigate this enchanting city with confidence. By the end of your stay, you’ll understand why Athens has been an inspiration to so many for centuries. The cradle of Western civilization awaits you.

Getting to Athens: Transportation Tips

Getting to Athens is fairly straightforward. As the capital of Greece, Athens is well connected by air, land and sea.

By Air

The main Athens airport servicing Athens is Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport. It receives direct flights from major European cities, as well as several cities in North America. Once you land, you can take the metro directly into central Athens. The journey takes around 40 minutes and costs 10 EUR one-way.

By Train

Athens is connected to other parts of mainland Greece and neighboring countries like Bulgaria by rail. The main train station is Larissa Station in central Athens. High-speed trains offer quick journeys to Thessaloniki, while international trains connect Athens to Sofia, Belgrade and Bucharest.

By Bus

Athens has two main bus stations that offer service throughout Greece and Southern Europe. Kifissos Station handles most domestic routes, while Liossion Station covers international destinations. Bus travel is often the cheapest option, though journeys can take significantly longer than by train.

By Ferry

As a port city, Athens receives ferry service from nearby Aegean islands like Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, as well as more distant Cyprus. Ferries dock at the port of Piraeus, about 30 minutes from central Athens by metro. While ferry journeys typically take longer, the sea views can make the trip worthwhile.

By Taxi

for more information check our complete Athens airport taxi guide

With so many transportation options, getting to Athens for your dream trip to Greece will be the easy part. The hard part will be deciding what to see and do once you arrive in this historic city! Enjoy your journey.

When to Visit Athens: Best Times of Year

Athens has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters, making the shoulder months of April-May and September-October ideal times to visit.

Spring (April to May)

Springtime in Athens sees comfortable temperatures ranging from the mid 50s to low 70s Fahrenheit, with low chances of rain. The crowds have not yet arrived, hotel rates are reasonable, and the blooming flowers add extra charm to the city.

Fall (September to October)

Like the spring, the fall offers pleasant weather, smaller crowds, and lower prices. Daytime highs are still in the mid to upper 60s, perfect for exploring the Acropolis and other ancient sites. The summer heat has dissipated, and the likelihood of rain is low. For budget travelers and those wanting to avoid big crowds, autumn is an excellent time to experience Athens.

Summer (June to August)

Summertime brings very hot and dry weather, with temperatures frequently over 95 F. The crowds are largest, hotel rates are highest, and the strong sun can make sightseeing tiring during the middle of the day. However, the long summer nights are perfect for dining al fresco or enjoying an evening stroll. If heat and crowds don’t bother you, summer can be a wonderful time to visit Athens. But for many, the extreme temperatures make the shoulder months more pleasant.

In summary, April through May and September through October tend to offer the best combination of warm weather, smaller crowds, lower prices, and a comfortable climate for exploring all Athens has to offer. But no matter when you go, the history and culture of this ancient city await you!

Top Neighborhoods and Areas to Stay

When visiting Athens, you’ll want to consider some of the most popular neighborhoods and areas to stay. Each offers its own charm and attractions within walking distance or a short ride away.

Plaka

One of the oldest neighborhoods in Athens, Plaka is located right under the Acropolis. Its maze of narrow streets are filled with traditional tavernas, shops, and cafes. Plaka is a perfect base for exploring Athens’ ancient sites like the Parthenon, Erechtheion and the Theater of Dionysus. You’ll get a real sense of traditional Greek life in this charming area.

Monastiraki

Just west of Plaka, Monastiraki is a hub for shopping, eating and nightlife. In Monastiraki Square, you’ll find everything from souvenirs to antiques in the daily flea market. Stop for meze at one of the tavernas along pedestrian Aiolou Street. Take in panoramic views of the Acropolis from the rooftop bars. Monastiraki is also home to many boutique hotels offering easy access to major attractions.

Syntagma Square

Centrally located Syntagma Square is surrounded by hotels, restaurants and neoclassical buildings like the Parliament building. Cafes line the square, perfect for people watching or enjoying an iced Freddo espresso. The metro station here provides direct access to the airport and port. Most of Athens’ attractions are within walking distance or a few stops away.

Kolonaki

One of Athens’ most affluent neighborhoods, Kolonaki has a chic vibe with designer shops, art galleries, gourmet restaurants, and upscale bars. Leafy Kolonaki Square is a popular meeting place for an afternoon coffee or evening cocktail. While farther from ancient sites, Kolonaki’s stylish ambiance provides a nice contrast to the historic center. Many luxury hotels are located in this fashionable district.

In summary, you have many great options for places to stay in Athens depending on the experience you’re looking for. Each neighborhood provides easy access to Athens’ attractions, culture, food, and nightlife in its own unique way. Choose what suits your interests and enjoy your trip!

Must-See Ancient Sites and Ruins

As the birthplace of Western civilization, Athens is home to some of the world’s most famous ancient sites. No trip to Athens is complete without exploring its historic ruins and monuments.

The Acropolis and Parthenon

The Acropolis is Athens’ most famous landmark, an ancient citadel set on a hill above the city. At its center is the Parthenon, an architectural masterpiece dedicated to the goddess Athena. Constructed in the 5th century BC, the Parthenon features immense Doric columns and intricate sculptures. Climbing the steps up to its entrance, you’ll be awed by its grandeur and beauty.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Once the largest temple in Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was dedicated to Zeus, king of the gods. Though only 15 of its original 104 Corinthian columns remain, they still stand an impressive 17 meters high. Begun in the 6th century BC, the temple was not completed for over 600 years. It is a striking example of the architectural ambition and skill of the ancient Greeks.

Ancient Agora

The Agora was the focal point of public life in ancient Athens, a place where people gathered for commerce, politics, and socializing. The well-preserved ruins give you a glimpse into daily life in the city. Walk around the Stoa of Attalos, a colonnaded building where merchants once sold their goods, and the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved Doric temples.

Hadrian’s Library

Built in 132 AD, Hadrian’s Library was the largest in Athens during Roman times. Named after Emperor Hadrian, it once housed over 5,000 scrolls. Though only parts of its walls and columns remain, the site gives insight into the spread of Roman architecture and culture in Greece. Picture scholars and philosophers debating ideas under its columned walkways.

With its unparalleled ancient monuments, Athens offers a glimpse into the foundation of Western thought and democracy. By exploring these historic sites, you’ll gain appreciation for the remarkable achievements of ancient Greek civilization. No history buff should miss the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato, and Pericles in this open-air museum city.

Best Museums for History Buffs

As a history buff visiting Athens, some of the best museums to experience ancient Greek culture are the Acropolis Museum, the National Archeological Museum, and the Benaki Museum.

Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum contains many artifacts found on the Acropolis and surrounding archeological sites. Located at the base of the Acropolis, this modern museum opened in 2009 and holds sculptures from the Parthenon like the Caryatids and metopes. You can see the progression of artistic styles from Archaic to Classical periods. The top floor is aligned with the Parthenon, allowing you to view the temple’s frieze at eye level as originally intended.

National Archeological Museum

One of the world’s greatest museums, the National Archeological Museum contains the finest collection of Greek antiquities. Founded in 1893, it has been renovated several times to properly house and preserve artifacts from the Neolithic to late antiquity periods. Some highlights are the golden treasures of Mycenae, frescoes from Santorini, and Kouros statues representing ideal male youth. The Minoan collection contains art from the palace of Knossos, including the famous bull-leaping fresco.

Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum, founded in 1930, has a renowned collection of historical artifacts representing the Greek world from antiquity to modern times. Its Islamic Art collection includes ceramics, metalware, wood carvings, and textiles from the 8th to 19th centuries. The museum’s Neolithic, Cycladic, and Mycenaean collections contain pottery, tools, weapons, and gold jewelry. The Benaki also has a significant collection of Coptic art from Egypt, including textiles, manuscripts, and wood carvings.

Visiting these world-class museums will give you insight into the ancient history and culture of Greece. You’ll gain an appreciation for the artistic legacy left behind and understand how certain periods influenced art in Greece. By seeing original works up close, you can visualize what life was like for our ancient ancestors. A trip to Athens would not be complete without exploring these historical treasures.

Experiencing Greek Food and Drink

Experiencing the food and drink of Greece is an essential part of your visit to Athens. The Mediterranean diet, with its focus on fresh ingredients, olive oil, and herbs, originated in Greece and is considered one of the healthiest in the world. Some culinary highlights you must try include:

Gyros

Gyros are sandwiches made from meat – usually pork, chicken, or lamb – cooked on a vertical spit and served in pita bread with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce. Gyros are very popular and available from street vendors and casual eateries throughout Athens.

Souvlaki

Cubes of meat, often lamb, pork, or chicken, are marinated in olive oil and grilled on skewers. Souvlaki is usually served in pita bread with salad and tzatziki sauce. It is a quick, delicious meal and can be found everywhere in Athens.

Moussaka

A traditional Greek casserole made of eggplant, ground meat – usually beef or lamb, and béchamel sauce. Moussaka is rich, hearty, and satisfying. Many restaurants in Athens offer their own version of this classic dish.

Greek Salad

A simple but refreshing salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, olive oil, and oregano. Greek salads are the perfect accompaniment to any Greek meal. The ingredients are always fresh and high quality.

Ouzo

Ouzo is an anise-flavored aperitif that turns milky white when ice or water is added. Ouzo is usually consumed as an appetizer before dinner. Even if you don’t care for the licorice taste, ouzo is an important part of Greek culture and worth trying.

Greek Wine

Greece has a long history of winemaking, dating back over 4,000 years. Sample wines made from indigenous Greek grape varieties like Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, and Xinomavro. Greek wines pair perfectly with traditional Greek cuisine.

Experiencing the food and drink in Athens is the best way to understand Greek culture. Savor every bite of your culinary journey through this historic city.

Day Trips and Excursions From Athens

A trip to Athens would not be complete without venturing outside the city to explore the nearby attractions. Within an hour or two of the city center, you can discover historic ruins, beaches, islands, and more.

Delphi

One of the most popular day trips from Athens is to the ancient site of Delphi, about 2 hours west of the city. Delphi was considered the center of the world by the ancient Greeks and home to the Oracle of Delphi. You can see the well-preserved ruins of the Sanctuary of Apollo, including the Temple of Apollo, the theater, and the stadium. The on-site museum houses many artifacts like the famous bronze Charioteer of Delphi.

Cape Sounion

For stunning views of the Aegean Sea, head to Cape Sounion, about 45 minutes southeast of Athens. At the tip of the cape stand the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon, built in 44 BC. You can climb among the Doric columns and watch the sunset over the sea as the ancients once did. The cape is also home to beaches if you want to make a day of it.

Islands

No trip to Greece is complete without visiting one of its famed islands. Popular options near Athens include Aegina, just 30 minutes from the port of Piraeus, and Poros, about 1 hour away. Aegina is home to the well-preserved Temple of Aphaea and pine forests. Poros charms with its pastel houses, beaches, and peaceful vibe. Both islands can be visited on guided day tours or as DIY trips.

Other nearby attractions include the ancient site of Eleusis, the resort town of Loutraki, and the popular Daphni Monastery. With its wealth of history, culture, nature, and activities, Athens provides an ideal base for exploring all that Greece has to offer beyond the city limits. A day trip or two will give you a glimpse into the country’s diversity and enrich your experience of this fascinating region.

Athens Nightlife: Bars, Clubs and Entertainment

Athens is known for its vibrant nightlife, from trendy bars and clubs to traditional bouzoukia music venues. As the sun sets over the Acropolis, the city comes alive with entertainment options for every taste.

Bars

Athens has a bar scene to suit any mood. For cocktails with a view, head to A for Athens or Galaxy Bar, both of which offer stunning vistas of the Acropolis. Alternatively, Six d.o.g.s. and Noel are stylish bars featuring indoor/outdoor spaces, craft drinks and a hipster vibe. Bar culture is an integral part of Athenian social life, so many bars stay open until the wee hours of the morning, especially on weekends.

Clubs

Athens’ nightclubs cater to all genres of electronic music like house, techno and trance. Some of the most popular clubs are Venue, Bolivar and An Club, open Thursday through Saturday. Doors typically open at midnight, and the dancing goes on until dawn. These clubs attract world-class DJs and a young, trendy crowd. Dress to impress and be prepared for an intense clubbing experience.

Bouzoukia

No night out in Athens is complete without visiting a bouzoukia, a traditional Greek music club. Bouzoukia feature live bouzouki music, a type of popular Greek folk music, as well as belly dancing shows. The atmosphere is lively, loud and perfect for group celebrations. Some top bouzoukia are Pireos 123 in Gazi, Iera Odos in Syntagma Square and Kentavros in Exarcheia. Table service includes drinks, mezedes (small plates) and plenty of napkins for plate smashing.

With its vibrant bar scene, world-class clubs and traditional Greek bouzoukia, Athens offers nonstop nightlife and entertainment options to experience the city after dark. Let the revelry begin!

Visiting Athens on a Budget: Money Saving Tips

Visiting Athens on a budget requires careful planning to experience all the city has to offer without breaking the bank. Here are some tips to save money during your trip:

Transportation

Athens has an efficient public transit system that is inexpensive and covers most of the city. Buy a reusable transit pass to ride the metro, busses, trams and trolleys unlimited times. It will save you money versus paying for individual fares. The metro is the fastest way to get around Athens, especially with its proximity to major landmarks like the Acropolis and Plaka district.

Accommodation

Opt for budget-friendly lodging outside the city center, like hostels, Airbnbs or hotels a 15-minute metro ride away. Rates will be significantly lower, saving you at minimum 50% off centrally located options. With Athens’ comprehensive transit system, you can easily access downtown and attractions. Some budget hotels offer free breakfast and Wi-Fi, adding extra value.

Dining

Eat like a local at small tavernas, souvlaki stands and gyro joints which offer meals for under €10. Plaka and Monastiraki are popular spots for casual, affordable dining. Or grab snacks like loukoumades (Greek donuts), koulouri (sesame bread rings) or corn on the cob from street vendors for a couple euros. For meals, meze platters with hummus, tzatziki, dolmades are wallet-friendly. And you can’t go wrong with a gyro or souvlaki sandwich.

Sightseeing

Some of Athens’ top sights like the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum and Temple of Olympian Zeus charge admission. But many museums and landmarks are free on certain days each week. Do some research in advance and plan your itinerary around free admission days. Must-sees like watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and exploring Plaka’s charming streets won’t cost you a dime.

By following these budget-savvy tips, you can experience the richness of Athenian history and culture without draining your vacation funds. Have a great trip and καλώς ορίσατε στην Αθήνα! (Welcome to Athens!)

Conclusion

As a first-time visitor to Athens, you now have an exciting itinerary to experience the best this historic city has to offer. From exploring the ancient sites of the Acropolis and Agora, to immersing yourself in modern culture, your trip will be filled with memorable moments. The stunning architecture, delicious food, and vibrant nightlife will leave you in awe of Athens’ beauty and wanting to return again soon.Though the journey may end, the memories of Athens’ splendor will live on.As you depart this city of Gods and return home, you will do so with a newfound appreciation for history, culture, and life itself. Athens has a way of changing all who walk her ancient streets. May her spirit forever inspire you.

ATHENS AIRPORT