By Alex Kallimanis: The capital of Greece is truly an all time classic. Athens is dominated by 5th-century BC landmarks, like the Acropolis, which offers stunning views overlooking the city and Aegean Sea. Hospitable people, great food and wonderful scenery around the country have inspired me to make ten trips to Greece throughout my life.
The Olympics, followed by the economic recession and partial recovery, have made Athens as well equipped for visitors as ever. Over 30 million people travel to Greece on an annual basis. With gorgeous photos plastered around social media, tourism should continue to grow. Greece remains a great travel deal, but the busy season for Athens is now running through October. Here are 5 tips for visiting Athens!
1) Where to Stay in Athens?
First, you’ll need a place to stay in Athens. Book well-reviewed accommodation with free cancellation as soon as you can, given how busy Athens can be. Then if plans change, you can cancel your booking.
The Grand Bretagne is a historic 5-star hotel in Athens with a history dating over a century. It’s where all the visiting presidents stay. 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.
The Artist Athens
On my most recent visit to Athens in December, 2018, I stayed at The Artist Athens, and it’s one of my favorite hotels in Athens. The Artist Athens recently opened in summer 2018 so everything is brand new and the bedding is plush and comfortable. If you book a suite on an upper floor you’ll have a view of the Acropolis. Many of the lower floor rooms have nice views of a lovely 17th century Orthodox Church next door.
Included breakfasts at the Artist Athens are amazing. You have a choice of gourmet coffees like authentic cappuccinos, fresh orange juice, excellent croissants and spreads and a choice between delicious made to order items like croque madams, Greek omelets and more. It’s in the Psyri neighborhood, which is centrally located and one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Athens. This is a great area for wonderful taverna restaurants featuring live Rembetika music (Greek blues).
Athenaeum Grand Hotel
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
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!
City Circus Athens
For solo travelers (and backpackers), I can personally vouch that City Circus Athens is a good place to stay. They offer dorm rooms in addition to private rooms. If you book on their website they include complimentary breakfast at the lovely adjacent restaurant Zampano, which also caters well to vegetarians. They have evening happy hours and organize local pub crawls that bring travelers together.
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 good reviews for the best experience.
Our recent family trip to Greece in October 2017 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.
Our trip began at Ioannis’ lovely Airbnb apartment in Athens. At $125 US per night for a charming 3 bedroom apartment that comfortably slept our group of 5, this was a better deal compared to booking three hotel rooms. The apartment features an art deco interior but with modern amenities like a large stainless steel refrigerator and a top end stove. If you visit Athens during low season (November through March), prices will be even cheaper.
When we returned from the beautiful Cyclades island of Naxos, we had not booked our Athens accommodation in advance and found weekend prices to be very high for October. There was much better value staying in nearby Piraeus, which is conveniently connected to Athens via metro. It’s also a handy place to stay if you are catching an early morning ferry to the islands. Poseidonio has some family rooms with kitchenettes and all their rooms have big balconies with a beautiful view of Saint Nicolas Church and Piraeus harbor. On a side note, the Piraeus marina is lovely for a stroll and there are good seafood restaurants there.
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.
2) Dine over Live Rembetika (Greek Blues) and Pop Music (Laika) in Psyri
Psyri is currently the coolest area to drink and dine in Athens in our opinion. While it may lack in terrace views of the Acropolis compared to restaurants in Plaka and Monasteraki, it makes up for with authentic live rembetika music and delicious well-priced food in the tavernas.
We highly recommend dinner and drinks at To Souvlaki Stou Psyiri (which doesn’t have much of an online presence). They have live rembetika (Greek blues) most nights. They serve great food and on the night we visited, the rembetika musicians were the best we heard during our trip. If they aren’t featuring live music try next door at Oinopoleion or Taverna Tou Psyri. Just go where there’s live music and lots of Athenians. Check out my short YouTube video featuring live rembetika and Greek dancing in Psyri!
Nearby to Pysiri, Klimataria is a wonderful hidden gem of a taverna in business since 1927. We enjoyed a large family dinner at Klimataria and the food and atmosphere was authentic and excellent. If a Greek restaurant’s decor features wine barrels, like Klimataria does, that’s usually a good sign. Klimataria features live music on the weekends.
Read Greek travel blogger Matt Barrett’s Psiri Nightlife in Athens Guide. It’s a fantastic read on the history of the area and why it has become the hippest hangout in Athens (though Gazi is now being called the next Psyri). Matt’s been writing on Greece for over 20 years and his website and Facebook group are a tremendous resource for planning your travels in Greece! And here is a list of 10 great bars with live music in Athens.
3) Tips for Getting Around Athens: Use Uber, Along with the Metro
Like many places, some Athenian taxi drivers can be unprofessional. Uber still exists in Greece, but now it’s a taxi that will come and pick you up from the Uber app. The advantage of using the Uber app to order a taxi is that the driver is reviewed, and the drivers reviews are not good, you can choose to cancel the ride.
Before Uber struck a deal with the taxi companies, they would not pick up from Piraeus ferry terminal and the regional bus station due to disagreements. Athenian Uber drivers had also been wary of dropping off near taxi stands or large congregations of taxis. Fortunately, they worked out a deal.
Athens also has a great and inexpensive metro system that is one of our favorites in the world. Several Athenian metro stops like Acropoli and Syntagma (where the Greek Parliament building is) have beautiful Greek sculptures and are like museums. Do utilize the Athenian metro! New York City’s metro is scarier in comparison.
4) Archeology and History: Tips for Visiting Athens in 2018
Offseason Tip (November – March): On the first Sunday of each offseason month, all the main archeological sites and museums in Athens are free!
If you have time, buy the multi-day ticket for €30 ($36 US) that allows you to see all the ancient sites. If your time is short, asides from visiting the Parthenon, the other two biggest highlights are the Acropolis Museum and Temple of Hepheaustes (Theseum).
The Acropolis Museum is separate but next to the Acropolis and admission is just €5 ($6 US). The museum houses impressive artifacts found at the Acropolis like statues, pieces of the Parthenon and the original Karyatides. It also has amazing views of the Acropolis, especially from the cafe terrace on the second level. Definitely plan time for a drink there! And maybe even have lunch as they have a full menu of hot entrees.
The Temple of Hepheaustes (Theseum) dates back some 2,500 years. It is the best preserved ancient Greek temple in Athens, as it was not destroyed during wars like the Parthenon. Don’t miss seeing this temple up close. But if you’re very short on time, you can get a nice view of it at the gateway to the Acropolis (Propylaea).
Marisa Tejada, over at TravelGreeceTravelEurope has a great article breaking down which Athens museums are always free and which ones are free on certain days. Some Athens museums, like the Benaki Museum, are free every Thursday night.
5) Go for a Romantic Dinner with an Amazing View, on top of Mount Lycabettus just before sunset
We had dinner at Orizontes at the top of Mount Lycabettus. This is a beautiful restaurant with incredible views over Athens, including the Acropolis and the Aegean Sea off in the distance. We’ll be honest in saying that the food wasn’t our favorite meal in Athens, but it was good enough, especially with the phenomenal view. Prices are reasonable too. Try to make a reservation just before sunset. Request a table next to the wall, with the best view overlooking Athens. Orizontes means “horizon” in English, which is a great name for the establishment. Check out my short YouTube video to see what dining at Orizontes looks like!
Visiting Greece in 2018?
Check out some of our other articles on Greece for more tips and insight on the country!
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