There aren't many places in the world that can claim as much historical importance as Athens. The cradle of democracy. Home to the first theater. A center of philosophy. Athens has a lot to live up to, and it does so brilliantly.
While you shouldn't miss historical sights like the Agora or the Acropolis, modern Athens has much to offer vacationers, too. After taking a walking tour of the ancient ruins, you can dive into markets like Monastiraki, window shop at boutiques in Kolonaki, hop between galleries in Metaxourgeio, and dine out on healthy Greek dishes at wonderful neighborhood tavernas.
Throw the vibrant nightlife and the chance to sunbathe at nearby resorts like Glyfada into the mix, and the result is a fascinating, dynamic, and hard-to-resist vacation destination.
Athens was once the world's intellectual and political center. In the 6th century BC, it was Athens that pioneered democracy and let the people (well, some of them) make decisions. Nowadays, you can visit the Pnyx (where city meetings were held) and take democracy tours with companies like Athens Tours that will bring the era to life.
After reliving the birth of democracy, a visit to the Acropolis is essential. It's crowned by the Parthenon, the iconic temple that towers over the city, and few sites are as inspirational. But there's more. You can also visit the Roman Herodeion Theater, Philopappos (the hill of the muses), and walk in the footsteps of Socrates in the ancient Agora.
These days, Athens is a great place to relax and get to know the locals. Have a drink on the terrace at BIOS and watch the sun dip behind the Acropolis, then move onto clubs like Barouge or try your luck at the Regency Casino.
Greece is also a superb destination for food lovers, and Athens has many of the country's best restaurants. Places where the moussaka or kleftiko will never let you down include Funky Gourmet and Trapezaria, but street food like crumbly, delicious spanakopita will go down just as well.
Athens is a city of students and artists, and visitors are always welcome at the Breeder Gallery in Metaxourgeio or Bernier/Eliades in Thissio. And if live music is your thing, you can catch traditional rembetika artists at Stoa Athanaton pouring their hearts out for the appreciative crowd.
Athens tends to be blazing hot in the summer (June through early September), which can make sightseeing a sweaty experience. And the crowds also tend to accumulate in summer too. So why not try one of the shoulder seasons? April or October are good months to go, with warm weather and cheaper accommodation. Even Christmas is usually mild, and all of the attractions will be open.
Athens' main airport is Eleftherios Venizelos International (ATH), which is about 15 miles east of the downtown area. Getting into the city is simple thanks to the direct subway connection (which costs EUR10). Buses X93, X95, or X96 are a cheaper alternative and cost EUR6 for the trip. They are also 24/7, so might be handy as the subway stops running just before midnight.
Athens is connected by rail to major Balkan cities like Belgrade, Zagreb, Sofia, and Skopje, and from there to the rest of Europe, so a Europe-wide rail journey could easily include a visit to Athens. Located in the Kolonos district, the station is on the subway network, so getting into town is simple.
If you rent a car at the airport and need to drive into the city, the best route is to take highway 62, then head north on highway 6 until you get to Gerakas, where you need to switch to highway 54 into the city center. You'll find major rental companies like Hertz and Sixt at the airport. However, traffic can be bad on the outskirts of Athens, so it might be best to rent a car near your accommodation instead of at the airport.
Greece has a good network of regional coaches, which can be a handy and cheap way of getting to the city. The main bus station is at Kifisos, which is connected to Syntagma Square via the number 51 bus and is about 20 minutes' walk from the subway station at Eleonas.
Athens is a sprawling place, with plenty of choice regarding accommodation. Hotels with the best views of the Acropolis are probably the most sought after and include the AVA Hotel and Suites (in Plaka) and the King George Hotel near Syntagma Square. Affordable but comfortable options include A For Athens and the Myrto Hotel, which is handy for the airport. You could even stay in coastal resort hotels like the Coral Hotel.
Plaka - located on the northern slopes of the Acropolis, Plaka is a charming historical neighborhood that is full of romantic Byzantine churches, bustling tavernas, and surprisingly cheap accommodation. It's also home to the Agora and the astonishing Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, which art and history lovers shouldn't miss.
Kolonaki - an upscale neighborhood full of high-end boutiques and prestigious restaurants, Kolonaki is very different to Plaka, but just as appealing. It's a good base to return to in the evening, thanks to elite restaurants like Filippou and jazz bars like Minnie the Moocher.
Metaxourgeio - one of Athens' bohemian hotspots, Metaxourgeio is the place for art fans to stay. Recent years have seen dynamic small galleries like the Breeder popping up, as well as the the Municipal Gallery of Athens. It's also a great place to find north African, Chinese, and Indian restaurants, with plenty of affordable places to eat.
The Athens Metro (the subway system) is an excellent way to get around the major sights and even reaches as far as the airport and the port of Piraeus. A single ticket costs EUR1.20 (valid for Metro, buses, trains and, trolleys as well), and you can get a daily ticket for EUR4 and a week pass for EUR10.
If you don't fancy trying the Metro or cramming onto a bus, Athens' Yellow Cabs are a good alternative. They are also very cheap, starting with a meter drop of EUR1, then between EUR0.50 and EUR0.80 per mile, depending on the time of day or whether your cab needs to go to the airport.
You'll find car rental outlets like Europcar, Sixt, and Avis at the airport, as well as in most of Athens' districts. With your own car, you'll be free to visit nearby attractions like Mycenae, Corinth, or even Delphi, so it's a good way to get around. You can also get some very cheap rates, with prices as low as EUR7 per day.
Athens has everything from high-end clothing boutiques and jewelry stores to modern malls, vintage stores and flea markets, and it's a great place for shopaholics to explore. For luxury apparel stores, head to Kolonaki or Ermou. Highlights like Rita Pateroni and Hogan always have an eye-catching selection of contemporary designs on offer. But for a more unpredictable shopping experience, take a walk through Monastiraki flea market, where anything could be for sale on a given day. If you need souvenirs, dive in - and don't be afraid to haggle.
The best places to purchase everyday groceries are supermarkets like Carrefour or Lidl, where you can pick up a large selection of items. However, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables even cheaper at the Varvakios Agora, Athens' central market. In general, prices are low. Expect to pay about EUR4.50 for a gallon of milk and EUR0.70 for a pound of bananas.
Greek food and drink can be sublime, and Athens is full of places to explore what it has to offer. On one hand, the city has plenty of seafood eateries like the taverna Arsenis Taverna Iseris, or Sardelaki in Glyfada. For meat dishes like souvlaki give Trapezaria a try, and for gourmet meals with a view of the Parthenon, Psaras Taverna in Plaka is ideal. Eating out isn't usually expensive in Athens. Expect a three-course meal to cost around EUR20, and street food like gyros to cost EUR5 or less.