Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, with recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and arguably the most famous ancient landmarks in Europe. It is the birthplace of democracy, science and arts, and Western civilisation as we know it.
While the effects of both the Greek government-debt and refugee crisis can be seen throughout Athens with closed businesses and graffiti-covered buildings, the rich culture and history of the city is still vibrant and ready to be explored.
How To: Bus from Central Europe to the Balkans
Wanting to travel through Eastern Europe and down to Athens? Check out my how-to guide here.
How to get to Athens
The easiest way to reach Athens is to fly – most major cities in Europe have regular direct flights. From the airport you can either catch the Metro (€10) or the X95 Airport Bus (€5) into the city centre.
Arriving by train or bus is quite difficult, but not impossible. The international train system through Greece isn’t the greatest but you can check out schedules here, with trains travelling from neighbouring capitals like Sofia, Skopje and Belgrade into Athens.
Buses run direct from Prague, Poland and Hungary, or if you’re coming through the Balkans most buses will require a change in Thessaloniki.
How to get around
Athens has an excellent Metro system, connecting all major sights in the city as well as a direct line to the airport.
Athens is also the main gateway to the Greek Islands. Most ferries leave from the Port of Piraeus which is located about 15km from the city centre. You can reach the port by catching the metro – take the green line to the last stop – Piraeus. This stop is a few minutes walk from the port.
Where to eat
If you’re looking for some traditional dishes without getting stuck in the many tourist traps of Athens, check out Athinaikon. With tiled floors & marble tables, this old-school bistro has been dishing up classic Greek fare since 1932. Most dishes cost around €10.
Coffee island is a popular franchise with locations throughout Athens and Europe. Delicious and sweet – perfect to perk yourself up at 3pm.
Greek fast food can’t get any better (or cheaper) than gyros. Pronounced ‘yee-ros’, they take freshly shaved meat and wrap in a soft flatbread, with tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, and sometimes fries… Gyros will be your best friend during your time in Athens. You’ll find them being served up all over town, in tiny hole-in-the-wall shops to boutique and gourmet street cafes. I had more than my fair share during my many visits to Athens, and the absolute best I have ever had is from The Pitta Co. Fresh, tasty and most costing only €3, I could eat here almost every day. My favourite is the falafel pita.
Where to stay
Each time I stay in Athens I can never go past the Cosmopolit Hotel, located a few steps from Omonia metro station and 15 minutes walk to the main shopping district. With dorm rooms on the top floor, Cosmopolit has all the trimmings of a budget hotel but for the hostel price. The breakfast spread is also delicious – all you can eat greek yoghurt, cereals, fresh fruit, toast… and if you have to be up early before breakfast starts, just tell reception and they’ll do you up a little bag to go.
There is no kitchen, so get ready for plenty of gyros, and the neighbourhood is a little shady – but, so are most in Athens. Just be alert if you’re coming home late or leaving early.
Example budget for one day in Athens
€48 per day
– Hostel: €15 per night
– Free Breakfast at Hostel
– Gyros for lunch: €3
– Entrance to Acropolis: €20
– Restaurant for dinner: €10
How long to spend here
Allow 2 full days to explore the deep history and culture Athens has to offer.
What to see and do in Athens
Arguably the most famous sight in Greece, the Acropolis is one of those sights that when you do finally see it in person it will take your breath away. The several ancient buildings are located on a rocky outcrop above the city, with the most famous of the group being the Parthenon.
Entrance is €20, and is open 8am to 8pm. The summer sun and the daily tourist rush are both intense – hundreds and hundreds of visitors flock to this sight every day so to best enjoy this piece of history in all its glory I highly recommend going as early as possible.
A is for Athens
Take in the incredible view from this rooftop boutique hotel bar looking up at the majestic Acropolis on the hill. Write a few postcards while sipping a coffee in the early morning, or treat yourself to a few cocktails by night.
Monastiraki Flea Markets
In the heart of vibrant Athens you’ll find the busy lanes of Monastiraki Flea Markets. Here, you can buy almost everything from food, spices, jewellery, vintage clothing, antique furniture and cheap souvenirs. Even just walking through the buzzing street is a great way to get the real vibe of Athens – just make sure you keep your bag secure, this area is renowned for pickpockets targeting distracted tourists.
Located in the seaside section of Glyfada, this beach club is one of the neighborhood’s summer hot spots. With an array of lounge chairs, cocktails and a rotation of big name DJs, you’ll feel like you’ve already hit the beach clubs in Mykonos.
Piraeus also offers more than just the port to the islands – take the metro out of the city for the afternoon and eat at one of the neighborhood’s incredible seafood restaurants where you can enjoy the freshest seafood for a reasonably cheap price.