Athens is the city of Athena, my most favorite Greek Goddess representing wisdom and courage.
I first came to Athens in my early 20s when I did a class credit abroad. Ancient civilizations are college credit worthy and I was fascinated with Greek Mythology, Philosophy and culture. After the class ended I changed my return ticket home and stayed an additional two weeks backpacking the islands. Now a decade later, I am back with checked baggage and some friends to visit in the Islands!
With so much to see and do in Athens I recommend hiring a driver especially if you are short on time and don’t want to navigate public transportation.
The Athens International Airport has the Metro and express busses that take you direct into the city but I instead took a friends recommendation and hired a driver ahead of time. This is a popular option for those who have a quick layover and I recommend looking at a few different companies and prices before making a deposit. For a total of 6 hours the cost was $250 with gratuity.
There are plenty of places near the Plaka to exchange money, which I recommend for the smaller shops that have a credit card minimum. The Plaka is by far the most bustling neighborhood in Athens for travelers and you will find almost all cultures and languages represented.
Byzantine churches and street side cafes line the narrow alleys, winding deeper into the heart of the city. The shopping and eating here is good too.
1. The Acropolis
Built in the 5th century the Acropolis translates as “high city” and is the stronghold of Ancient Greek culture. Walking the grounds feels like a time transporting capsule but do be warned, it is a very touristy heavy area and can feel overwhelming. But hey, that’s what we are all here for right?!
Here you can gaze at the Temple of Athena, The Parthenon, The Temple of Rome and Augustus and The Six Columns of the famous beautiful women. The original columns are in the museum however the restored versions are convincingly archaic. The Theater of Dionysus Eleuthereus is an enormous open air theater that can seat up to 17,000 people. While I was visiting an orchestra was preparing for a private concert and it looked and sounded dreamy.
Don’t miss the Acropolis Museum with artifacts extracted from the Acropolis including classical Greek pottery, original statues, textiles, brass jewelry and more.
2. Temple of Zeus
This colossal temple is located in the center of the city dedicated to the Olympian God Zeus. Built of local limestone in the Doric style, the columns here are the most recognized style of classical architecture. You wont spend much time here, the site is much smaller and with less walking and less touristy too. Here you will also find the remains of a Roman bath house and Hadrian’s Arch.
3. Olympic Stadium
Originally built in the 1980s for the European Athletic Championships, the 70,000 seat arena is the largest stadium in Greece. I personally didn’t purchase the ticket to go inside, but it is an easy stop by and worth having a look from the gates.
Monastiraki Flea Market is very touristy but fun to get lost in. If you can steer clear of the “junky” tourist shops you can still find some great vendors with interesting textiles, clothing, hats and jewelry. I purchased two light weight cotton dresses with a beautiful Greek key embroidery.
The Palaka is still quite touristy yet the shops are higher end. Here you’ll find the famous restaurant O Thanasis, serving traditional souvlaki, French fries and pitas. Come hungry! The portions are large and the food is delicious, fresh and affordable. Oh and defiantly order the Greek salad, it doesn’t get any better than this.
5. Monastiraki Square
A very bustling public square surrounded by restaurants, rooftop bars and old Byzantine churches, I highly recommend getting lost here for a couple hours. Stroll the narrow streets, take in an espresso from a sidewalk café and enjoy the fine plethora of people watching.
On my second visit to Athens I stayed at the Holiday Inn just next to the Airport. Not my usual cup of tea, but a great option for early flights. Honestly for a 4am check in time, staying this close to the ticket counter was a major bonus.
Headed to the Greek Islands? Check out my perfect itinerary in Skiathos.