Athens it's an incredibly amazing city, a city where one feels infinitely small (at least, I always feel that way when I go there!). If we stop and think, we cannot but agree on the fact that Greece is the cradle of our civilization and our culture. Without the works of the great Greek masters such as Phidias and the others, our standards of beauty (architectural and otherwise) would probably not be what they are today. We owe a great deal of what we are to Greece and Athens cannot really leave us indifferent. I have heard several people claim that Athens is not a beautiful city, that it is dirty and decadent, but you just need to look towards the acropolis to fall in love with it! It is true, it is a city full of contrasts, a mosaic between past and present, but I think its beauty is just that. Certainly there are very few cities in the world that can boast such a heritage! L'acropolis and the Parthenon they represent the highest expression of classical civilization and alone are worth a trip to Athens. In reality there is also much more, there is the sunshine of the Greek people, there are incredible museums, gardens and sunsets to take your breath away. Moreover, after the dark years of the crisis, Athens has raised its head and is more alive than ever. The recession represented a great opportunity for young people and triggered the rebirth of the city, to the sound of creativity. In recent years, dozens of art and design galleries, new museums, clubs and gourmet restaurants and you can bet that it will be one of the most visited capitals in recent years. The glorious symbols of ancient Greece are now counterbalanced by new contemporary spaces, in once decadent neighborhoods - such as Metaxourgeio, behind Monastiraki or Gazi, the fulcrum of Athenian nightlife - today in full revaluation.
I have been there several times, at different times of the year, and I try to stop there every time I go to the various islands such as Santorini, Hydra, Kos, etc. Athens never tires me and always gives me good vibes. The city can be visited well in 2 or 3 days; if you then have an extra day, it is worth a trip to Cape Sounion (the romantic temple of Sappho's last song overlooking the sea), taking a swim in some beautiful beach (if the season allows it).
To get your bearings right away, especially if you don't have many days available, my advice is to participate on the first day at a free city tour (lasts 3h) which will allow you to better understand the city and its incredible history.
What to see in Athens: 10 places not to be missed
1. The Acropolis and the Parthenon
The first thing to see in Athens is definitely the acropolis . It's impossible to take your eyes off her, she's a magnet for anyone who comes to town. The fortress on which the Parthenon it is visible from most of the city and is stunning both day and night when perfectly illuminated. The Parthenon is one of the largest temples of the Hellenistic era and was dedicated to the goddess Athena, protector of the city. The statue of the goddess was over 12 meters high, was covered with gold and was visible even from the sea! Only when you are right in front of the Parthenon you really realize its greatness and its perfection. What remains of the friezes and metopes let us imagine what its beauty was during the peak of the Hellenistic age (the original friezes are visible in the Acropolis Museum and, in part, in the British Museum in London; on the temple there are currently some copies).
But on the acropolis there is not only the Parthenon; me too'erect, with the famous caryatids in the shape of women, and the propylaeum they are magnificent. Without forgetting that from the acropolis you can enjoy a magnificent view of Athens and the other important monuments of the city such as the Roman agora, the theater of Dionysus, the temple of Zeus and the Panatina stadium. Devote at least two hours to visit the acropolis. If you want to avoid the queues and plan to see the Acropolis Museum (see below), the Panathenaic stadium and other museums, you should buy the Athens Museum Pass online.
Buy your skip-the-line ticket to the Acropolis online
Buy the skip-the-line Museum Pass for the Acropolis and many Athens museums online
2. The Agora and the Agora Museum
At the time of ancient Greece the fulcrum of commercial, administrative, political and social activities was theAgora, right at the foot of the acropolis; it was here that Socrates elaborated his philosophical reflections. Devastated and rebuilt several times by the Persians, Turks and Romans, what is currently open to visitors includes, among others, the Stoà by Attilo, a large covered porch on two floors that houses the beautiful Agora museum, another thing not to be missed in Athens. This museum displays a splendid collection of artifacts from the site and, above all, several statues of the Greek gods in marble and bronze which are of a disarming beauty. Not far from the museum it is not difficult to find the Temple of Hephaestus (which to me, personally, very much reminded me of the temple of Segesta, in Sicily), a very well preserved Doric temple.
3. Plaka e Monastiraki
Plate, the district located at the foot of the acropolis on the north side, is one of the most characteristic areas of Athens. It is a maze of alleys full of restaurants, bars, shops and life. It is a neighborhood much loved by the Athenians themselves who come to the streets around Lyssiou and Kyrristou to chat over a Greek coffee or a glass of ouzo (the typical Greek anise-based liqueur). Also, if you happen to be in Athens on a Sunday, don't miss the flea market which is held right at Monastiraki square; it is the ancient Turkish bazaar, a paradise for lovers of flea markets and brocantage.
Also from the square starts a street called Adrianou, a scenic pedestrian street that runs alongside the acropolis and the Roman agora. Here you will find many bars (some with terraces) perfect for drinking / dining with a magnificent view of the Parthenon and the Acropolis.
4. The Acropolis Museum
the brand new Acropolis Museum, which opened in June 2009, is another of the things to see in Athens during your weekend. Located at the foot of the acropolis, in fact, it exhibits the treasures found in the site, ranging from the Archaic to the Roman period. The top floor is dedicated to all the fragments of the frieze of the Parthenon owned by the Greek government, together with others being restored, in an architectural space reconstructed with the exact dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon. This huge room is impressive! In general, the museum is very well organized and offers a very well done exhibition itinerary. Inside the museum it is also possible to ask questions to some archeologists present in the rooms and see documentaries on the history of the Parthenon. It is included in the Athens Museum Pass.
5. The hill of Filoppapo and the hill of Lycabettus (Lofos Lykavittou)
If you are heading to the acropolis, taking a small detour can climb this pine-covered hill from which you can enjoy the best view of the Parthenon and the Acropolis. The best time to go is the sunset; in addition to the acropolis from here it is possible to see the Saronic Gulf and the whole of Attica which are colored in an intense red. It is one of my favorite places in Athens. Along the climb among the pines there are then some niches carved into the rock which are traditionally considered the prisons of Socrates. During the Second World War the treasures of the acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum were hidden here. There Lycabettus hill it is found in the bourgeois district of Kolonaki, and it's another very nice place to see the sunset over Athens, maybe sipping a drink from the place that is right at the top. The top of the hill can be reached with a cog railway and the ticket is quite expensive: if you are a good walker, take the opportunity to get some exercise and go up on foot.
6. The Panathenaic stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Looking out from the acropolis, one of the most visible monuments is what remains of theOlympieionthe temple of Olympus Zeus, the largest temple in all of Greece during the Hellenistic period. It had 104 Corinthian columns 17 meters high and 1,7 meters wide, of which only 15 remain today. It is a temple of extraordinary grandeur and great charm.
Just beyond the Temple of Zeus you reach the very white Panathenaic stadium, built between two hills in the 68000th century BC as the venue for the athletic competitions of the Panathenaic celebrations (it could host up to XNUMX spectators!) and site of the first modern Olympics in 1896. Don't miss the Olympics Museum which is located inside where the original posters and torches of all editions of the Olympics are displayed. It is included in the Athens Museum Pass.
7. The National Archaeological Museum
Among the things to see in Athens, especially if you love ancient art, there is the National archeologic museum: in this museum, housed in an immense neoclassical building, there is the finest collection of ancient Greek art in the world. The treasures include beautiful sculptures, pottery, jewelry, frescoes and other priceless works from all over Greece. Impossible to forget the gold funerary mask of Agamemnon which was found in Mycenae by Schliemann, the Cycladic collection and the archaic kouroi (male statues) from the 480th century to XNUMX BC
8. Syntagma and the National Gardens
Styntagma is the home of the greek parliament, as well as the scene of the popular revolt in recent years of crisis. On this square there is the monument to the unknown soldier and the soldiers of the national guard (the euzones) change every hour in a very characteristic march. Just behind the parliament is the entrance a National Gardens, a beautiful park full of plants and archaeological remains.
9. Stavros Niachhos Foundation Cultural Center and EMST
If, on the other hand, you want to see the new Athens, that of creativity, design and culture, you can start your visit from the brand new one Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, right next to the sea. This 170 square meter urban park was built on the site of the old Athens hippodrome, in Kallithea district, thanks to the genius of Renzo Piano and to the financing of the shipowner Niarchos. Opened in June 2016, this citadel of culture is home to the Greek National Opera, the National Library, interactive workshops, jogging paths and a water channel for kayaking. Also recently opened theEMST, the National Museum of Contemporary Art; housed in a former 50s brewery, it has a permanent collection dedicated to the works of Greek artists and various temporary exhibitions.
10. Gas and Metaxourgeio
Gazi it is the liveliest neighborhood in the city when it comes to nightlife. Here are several industrial archeology buildings converted into cultural centers, restaurants, bars and clubs. It is the right place to have an evening! Then in Gazi there is Technopolis: the largest cultural center in Greece. It is a very suggestive set of gasometers, chimneys, etc., which since 1999 hosts extemporaneous exhibitions and a permanent museum on Maria Callas. Another very hype area of Athens is the former Decayed neighborhood of Metaxourgeio, which is teeming with new restaurants and clubs, and is home to the TAF, The Art Foundation. This art gallery occupies an entire building and is one of the most active creative organizations in Athens; don't miss the bar in the magnificent inner courtyard.
What to see outside Athens: a trip to Cape Sounion
If you can spend more than 3 days in Athens, dedicate one day to visit Cape Sounion, and possibly combine it with a swim and / or lunch by the sea. Capo Sounion is a promontory overlooking the sea which is about 70 km from Athens. It is a beautiful place! Here are the remains of a Greek temple dedicated to Poseidon and a second temple dedicated to Athena, of which only the foundations are preserved. According to the myth it would be the place from which Aegeus, king of Athens, would have thrown himself into the sea to which his name was given (Aegean sea). It is a magnificent place, especially at the sunsetor. If you take a day trip from Athens, you can leave in the morning by bus (they leave every hour from Syntagma square and take about 2h), get off for a few hours of sea and sun halfway (at Lagonisi beach o Vouliagmeni beach are very nice) and reach Cape Sounion for the sunset. If you want to visit it without problems you can also participate in a 4h excursion with pick up from your hotel.
I would say that I have told you almost everything, you just have to go for a ride. Let's get this Greek economy started up again!
Book a 4h excursion to Cape Sounion (con pick-up in hotel)
When to go to Athens
I have been to Athens several times in the height of summer (and I advise against it! It is very hot and humid), then in March / April and in October. I definitely recommend going there in spring or autumn. The climate is mild and the sun is not lacking, but you don't sweat. As in the rest of Greece, even in Athens the temperature difference between day and night is minimal.
Where to eat in Athens
- Melilotos (Monastiraki): very nice little restaurant with both classic and creative Greek cuisine. You eat and drink very well at an excellent quality / price ratio.
- Efcharis (Monastiraki): traditional Greek tavern in the pedestrian part of Adrianou. Really large portions and very good cuisine (across the street there are taverns and restaurants, some more touristy, some more authentic)
- Diogenes (Plaka): this restaurant with outdoor tables is located in the small square that opens around the monument of Lysiscrates. Very nice atmosphere and good food (all the alleys around here are full of traditional taverns with outdoor tables)
Where to drink in Athens
- Klepsidras Cafè (Monastiraki): this bar is located in the alleys below the acropolis, just above the Tower of the Winds. It is drunk outdoors in a bohemian atmosphere. Very popular with Greeks (the other little bars in the surrounding area are also very nice)
- Six Dogs (Monastiraki): This venue is an institution in Athens. You enter from an alley and go down some dark stairs to find yourself in a secret garden. A fantastic place open from morning to evening (it makes much more in the dark with the lights that decorate the trees). They do a lot of events and concerts.
- Hoxton (Gazi): industrial-chic lounge bar. The most famous of Gazi
- Venue Club (Gazi): the club par excellence to hear the big DJs of the world scene
Where to sleep in Athens
- City Circus Athens: very nice and very comfortable design hostel, between Monastiraki and Thissio. It has both dorm beds and double rooms and a nice roof terrace.
- Thissio View : this hotel has only two rooms (it is a bar-restaurant mainly) and it is in an amazing location! From both rooms you can see the Parthenon and the Acropolis while lying on the bed. And if you would like to have an even more beautiful view, just go up to the terrace. For the location it does not cost too much (we are around 100-120 euros per room) and the view is truly magnificent. The location is generally very convenient to reach all the important monuments on foot.
How to get around Athens
- To and from the airport: to move from the airport to the center of Athens there is the metro line N.3 which goes to both Monastiraki and Syntagma and takes about 45 '. Be careful because it only runs every 20-30 '. If the metro is closed there are buses that arrive (and leave) in Syntagma.
- To and From Piraeus: to reach the port of Piraeus (where hydrofoils and ferries leave for all the islands) there is the metro line N.1 which takes less than 30 'from Syntagma. If you need to go to Piraeus directly from the airport it is better to take the bus which takes 1 hour and leaves quite frequently right in front of the arrivals.
- Bus x Capo Sounion: buses to reach Cape Sounion leave next to Syntagma square every hour approximately and take 2 hours to reach Cape Sounion (they make intermediate stops at the various beaches).
You may also be interested in these other articles on Greece:
- Kos: what to see on the island of Hippocrates
- Nisyros (Greece): the volcano and all the beaches not to be missed
- Mykonos (Greece): what to see and where to sleep
- Mykonos: the 10 most beautiful beaches
- What to see in Amorgos, the gem of the Cyclades
- What to see in Hydra, the car-free island of the Peloponnese
- A weekend in Athens: all the places not to be missed
- The 8 least touristy and most beautiful Greek islands
- Santorini: what to see in the most romantic island of the Cyclades