At a quick glance, modern Athens can resemble an outgrown concrete jungle. Greece is one of the most visited countries in the world, yet many skip Athens and fly straight to one of the islands to bask in the sun. Yet it is one of the few capital cities in the world where you can catch a tram to the beach. The 2004 Olympics cast a spotlight on the country, and while the subsequent economic crisis brought hardship, it also modernized and reinvented the city. Along with being American, the Alex half of this website is also a Greek citizen and has been traveling to Athens for decades. Here’s 5 great reasons that make Athens worth visiting!
1) The Acropolis
The Acropolis is reason alone to make Athens worth visiting. Some mistake the Acropolis for just the Parthenon, but the ancient “city on a hill” has much more to offer than simply the temple to Athena. You can spend an entire day roaming the ancient agora (marketplace) and other monuments around the hill.
The archeological museum is loaded with Greek antiquties and there are great restaurants and cafes in abundance nearby. Greeks still love to philosophize on life’s greatest questions and concerns like government and justice. The whole aura of the place can make you feel like throwing on a toga and chatting up some tables, Socrates style. Consider pondering even a simple question like ‘what makes a great meal?’ as you dine as fresco at one of the many restaurants that line the acropolis in the wonderful Monastiraki and Plaka districts, which are very worthwhile on their own. Enjoy the present as you savor the past!
2) Stunning Panoramic Views Around Athens
Greece is surrounded by mountains, and has two mountains within the city center. Along with the Acropolis there is also Mount Lykavitos, which arguably offers an even better view because you can see the entire Acropolis. There are several restaurants and cafes on Mount Lykavitos that offer wonderful vistas. There’s also lots of hotels and restaurants that offer a great elevated view of the Acropolis. Perfect for enjoying great food, drinks and traditional live music and dancing. Athens is encircled by three mountains, with the largest being Mount Parnitha. Mt. Parthina stands at 1,413 meters (4,635 feet) high and even has a casino called Regency offering a stunning panoramic view of Athens, if rolling the dice is your thing.
3) World Class History
Greeks are extremely proud that their ancestors contributed so much to western civilisation, as the birthplace of democracy made forever lasting contributions to science, architecture, art, theatre, sports and math. For fellow Olympics fans, it’s a must to visit the world’s only all marble stadium, Panathenaic, which hosted the first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. Panathenaic was again utilized when Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics for two events- archery and the conclusion of the marathon. Many Greeks are upset that so many of their antiquities have wound up in foreign museums in London, Paris and elsewhere around the world- often through dubious sales and looting during foreign occupations. But the Athens Archaeological Museum is truly world class and a must for anybody interested in ancient sculptures and antiquity.
4) Delicious Greek Food Makes Athens Worth Visiting
Athens is the capital so you’ll find everything here, from the very best to the very worst Greek food has to offer. A must eat is a traditional souvlaki- succulently seasoned pork meat with oregano and lemon stuffed in pita bread with fries, onion and tzatziki yogurt sauce. My mouth is watering for one just typing this! Athens many markets are great for fresh quality food. A unique experience is the massive Athens Central Market, offering loads of fresh meat, seafood and vegetables. Just be forewarned that if you don’t like the image of severed lamb and pig heads and carcasses, you might take issue with this place. But if you eat meat, you may want to get more in tune with what you’re putting into your body. The Athens Central Market is the perfect place to do that.
5) A Base to Explore Incredible Sites in Mainland Greece
Ancient sites like Delphi, Epidauraus, Korinthos and the old Venetian city of Nafplio are just a few of the incredible places you could explore even on a day trip. When visiting these places in the past, I was fortunate to have my wonderful family drive me. Depending on the ancient site, you could either rent a car, catch a train and utilize a local taxi or walk, or use a tour company. I haven’t used any tour companies in Greece and it’s been over a decade since I’ve visited the ancient sites outside Athens. As I’ll be attending the European edition of the world largest conference for travel bloggers, TBEX in Athens from October 22nd-25th, 2014, I’ll be reviewing some tours for Wanderlust Marriage Travel afterwards.
Athens is well connected internationally and domestically through the modern Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos), which was completed prior to the 2004 Olympics. And Athens modern subway system conveniently and comfortably connects the airport with the city. You can also catch the subway from the city center to the port of Piraeaus, one of the largest in the world, a good place to enjoy a meal before island hopping the Aegean sea! We can most definitely recommend a visit to the gorgeous Cyclades island chain, featuring the likes of famed Mykonos and the island chain’s capital of Syros.
Where to Stay in Athens?
First you’ll need a place to stay. Book well reviewed accommodation with free cancellation as soon as you can given how busy Athens currently is. Then if plans change, you can always cancel your booking!
The Grand Bretagne is a historic 5 star hotel in Athens with history dating over a century. Rooms have marble bathrooms and some have balconies facing the Acropolis and the daily changing of the guard at the Parliament. From their Roof Garden Restaurant you can see the original Olympic Stadium and Acropolis. The Grande Bretagne Spa offers a thermal suite, complete with herbal bath, grotto, ice fountain, couples retreat and indoor pool. Guests can even pamper themselves with ouzo oil massages.
Athenaeum Grand Hotel is a modern hotel offering a comfortable stay at a good price. Rooms and suites are fitted with hardwood floors, nice furnishings and a modern bathroom. All rooms even include use of a smartphone that’s programmed with a guide to Athens, that you can use while touring the city. Beds are really comfortable and the breakfast buffet is great quality. We enjoyed our stay there.
Delphi Art Hotel is a nice budget choice housed in a neoclassical building dating back to 1930. Some rooms even have balconies overlooking the lovely National Theatre of Greece!
Budget travelers should also consider renting an Airbnb apartment with good reviews. If you’ve never used the service, sign up here to receive a discount off your first stay! Book apartments with consistently great reviews for the best experience. Neighborhoods like Plaka and Psyri are centrally located a short walk from the Acropolis, with great restaurants and fun nightlife nearby. You can also rent an apartment on the beach, somewhere like Glyfada and catch the Athens coastal tram into the city.
Athens is one of the few capitals in Europe to have beaches. You can even catch the Athens coastal tram to the beaches from Syntagma Square (home of the Greek parliament) going towards the seaside town of Voula. If you want to stay on the beach in Athens, consider the Poseidon Hotel in nearby Faliro Beach or London Hotel in Glyfada Beach. It’s also not so far of an Uber or taxi ride to go into Athens to visit the Acropolis and other attractions from the beaches, especially from Faliro, which is closer to the center of Athens compared to Glyfada.
So is Athens Worth Visiting? Absolutely and Opa!
Around half of Greece’s 10.7 million people reside in Athens, making it the beating heart of the country. Sit down at a taverna in Plaka and Pysri to listen to live rembetika music (Greek blues) over excellent seafood and tasty wine. They are the most lively neighborhoods of the country, and the music personifies the passion of the Greek spirit. Enjoy the views of the Saronic Gulf on the Athens coastal tram from Syntagma to Voula. Spend a few hours on the beach and enjoy expertly grilled fresh octopus over an ouzo or raki. Contemplate the birthplace of western democracy after visiting the Acropolis. That should be on every travelers bucket list!
Our recent family trip was my 89 year old father’s final planned trip to the place of his birth. As we were traveling around the country, we were in and out of Athens several times. We stayed in a combination of Airbnb apartments and hotels in Athens and the nearby port of Piraeus. For more tips, read my article on how to spend the perfect week in Greece!
Have questions or comments on planning a trip to Athens? Email alex(at)wanderlustmarriage.com and I can assist you!
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