Heading to Athens for a couple of days? Or longer? Musement has put together a guide so that you can make the most of your time in the Greek capital.
They say all roads lead to Rome, but one could also make the case for Athens. Nicknamed the “cradle of western civilization”, Athens is a bustling metropolis that is teeming with history, culture, and sunshine.
The first words to come to mind when one thinks of the Greek capital are likely the Acropolis, yogurt, Greek coffee, white buildings, feta cheese, olives, gods, goddesses, and the gateway to the Greek islands. Yet this hardly even scratches the surface.
Elegantly gritty and at once discreet and alluring, the Greek capital is as forthright as it is inconspicuous, and a dream come true for Classics enthusiasts. From the intoxicating orange-tree perfume to the pleasingly cacophonic hustle and bustle to the vibrant food, Athens is a feast for the senses. There’s so much to do! Here are some tips for spending a weekend in the city.
1. Roam the ruins
The Parthenon is the Acropolis’ most recognizable landmark and one of the most iconic places in Greece, but this former temple to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, and the crafts, is just one part of the ancient hub. The brilliant Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 and houses an array of artifacts collected from the excavation site.
Located by the hills leading up to the Acropolis, the ancient Agora was the heart of life in the old city, a commercial center and gathering place for politics, business, and more. Don’t miss the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, home to an archeological museum, and the remarkably preserved Temple of Hephaestus, built in the fifth century BCE. While not as ancient as some of its neighbors, the Church of the Holy Apostles is a gorgeous 13th-century Byzantine structure that remains intact.
Other ancient ruins around the city include the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Philopappos Hill which features a monument from the second century, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, and the Panathenaic Stadium, a sixth-century BCE stadium excavated in the late 19th century and refurbished to serve as a venue for various Olympics games. One way to see all the places at once is on a bike tour. Once you’ve had your fill of ruins, relax in the National Gardens.
2. Go beyond the Plaka
Located at the foot of the Acropolis, Plaka with its narrow streets, stairways, colors, and shops selling Evil Eye trinkets is the charming heart of the historic center. Now, we love Plaka and we have nothing against it, but this is hands down the most touristy part of the city so we recommend exploring Athens’ other nooks and crannies. Psyrri is known for its adorable outdoor cafes and restaurant and is also home to the vibrant Central Market, a hectic locale where vendors sell the day’s catch, meat cuts, spices, and more. Piraeus, the port where cruise ships come in and ferries depart for the Greek islands, is also a bit admittedly touristy, but still has plenty to enjoy such as the Archeology Museum and the modern art collection at the Municipal Art Gallery. It also has its own market! It’s quite easy to reach via a Hop-on Hop-off bus. Koukaki, not far from Plaka, is home to the contemporary art museum, myriad cafes, restaurants, bars, and just some good-old laid back vibes. Syntagma Square, home to the Parliament, is flanked by gorgeous hotels. Drop by on Sunday at 11am to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard.
3. Explore by night
Watching the sun descend into the horizon behind the Acropolis is a glorious sight to behold as is the Parthenon illuminated from its perch once evening falls. But these aren’t the only majestic aspects of Athens by night. Tavernas come alive with bouzouki music, venues play Rebetiko music, rooftop bars such as The Zillers, Hytra, or Couleur Locale mix refreshing cocktails, and, during summer, the ancient Herodes Atticus theater hosts delightful performances. Athens is famous for its nightlife so night owls and partiers might want to get the inside scoop on clubs such as Enzo di Cuba, Kitty Cat, and Dybbuk. You can even explore during a walking tour or a sunset bike tour.
Greek cuisine is emblematic of the Mediterranean, making good use of fresh vegetables, olive oil, meat, cheese, and, of course, seafood. From high end to informal, there are myriad places to enjoy Greek cuisine at its finest. Gourmand travelers won’t want to miss Hytra, a Michelin-starred restaurant serving a contemporary take on the Greek classics via a ten-course tasting menu. The Michelin-starred Varoulko Seaside in Piraeus also makes for an unforgettable meal. The edgy two-star Funky Gourmet is reopening this winter after a relocation, and the two-star Spondi is often hailed for its innovation.
Tavernas are mandatory as well, some of the best include Diporto Agoras, Marathonitis, Kalderimi, Klimataria. You can enjoy typical mezes (small plates) such as stuffed grape leaves and saganaki, a fried cheese as well as various fish and meat preparations from meats like octopus and lamb. For gyros check out O Kostas or Pan. Koutrompas & Co O.E. To taste the signature dishes of Crete, visit I kriti.
And don’t forget to pop into various bakeries for Greek sweets like baklava, galaktoboureko, and havla such as the iconic Belle Vue, Metropolitikon, and Ta Gioulia.
Last, but not least, you’d be remiss to not sample some Greek yogurt in the motherland! Some of the best places to do so include Stani, Galaktokomika Karyas, and Bakogiannis.
Or, take a cooking class in Athens to learn the tricks of the Greek-cooking trade.
Greek wine is incredible, so be sure to sip some Assyrtiko or Moschofilero at one of the lively wine bars such as Vintage, By the Glass, Oinoscent, and Winepoint. Cocktail enthusiasts should check out two bars that rank in the World’s 50 Best List, Baba Au Rum (#22) and The Clumsies (#7). And speaking of drinking, don’t forget to sip some coffee. Greek-style is a particularly strong brew with the grounds on the bottom of the cup cooked in particular briki pot. And ouzo is compulsory! Sip this anise-flavored liquor at Bretto’s Bar, the oldest distillery in Athens founded in 1909.
6. The Athenian Riviera
Given Athens’ location on the Adriatic, it should come as no surprise that the turquoise beaches are not only relaxing but also unbelievably paradisiacal. The coastal area south of Athens starts at Piraeus and some of the top shores for beach bumming include Edem, the closest beach to the city center, Voula, Astir Beach, Anavissos, Varkiza, and the magnificent Suonio, the last town on this sandy stretch. Also in this vicinity, the therapeutic waters of Lake Vouliagmeni are also a big hit.
7. Day trips
If you’re based in Athens and want head out of the Greek capital for a day, you can jaunt over to one of the nearby islands like Milos or Kythira, or see sites on the mainland sucg as Delphi, the site of the famous oracle; Ancient Olympia, where the Olympics began in 776 BCE, and Ancient Messene, a remarkable archeological site on the Peloponnese Peninsula. And, of course, the Temple of Poseidon. Also Cape Suonio, which in addition to its gorgeous aforementioned beach, is home to the Temple of Poseidon.