Explore Athens

Explore Athens

Athens is the birthplace of democracy, and Greece’s capital city. Philosophers and politicians once gathered here around the Acropolis to determine the fate of their empire, and ultimately, western civilization. Athens is an urban sprawl of ramshackle buildings, a handful of skyscrapers, and plentiful colourful neighbourhoods. Not everyone is drawn to Athens – it can be loud, chaotic, and a little gritty. But for the people who love it, that’s the main draw: Athens is honest, real, and completely passionate.

You’ll find much of the city’s best bazaar and dining options around Monastiraki Square, or Syntagma Square. Syntagma Square is also home to the Greek Parliament. Watch the changing of the guard here – you’ll be entertained. The Exarcheia district is known for its anarchist roots, where most of the city’s protests begin. Don’t let this discourage you, though. It’s graffiti-laden and filled with cheap cafes and restaurants, and is bolstered by a big student population. For more high-end shopping and upscale dining, Kolonaki is the place to be.

Exploring Greece without a stop in Athens would be a shame. There are many unique things to do in Athens – all you have to do is look in the right place.

Places to Visit in Athens

  • Acropolis
  • Acropolis Museum
  • Benaki Museum
  • Parthenon
  • Ancient Agora
  • Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus

Unique Things to See and Do in Athens

  • Hike to the top of Mount Lycabettus for perfect city views
  • Visit the Monastiraki market
  • Watch the changing of the guard at Parliament
  • Shop in Kolonaki
  • Grab coffee in the Plaka
  • Listen to live music in Psiri
  • Take a trip to the beaches just beyond Athens

Athens Culture

If you think the Greeks are passionate people, hang out with some Athenians for a day (and maybe avoid voicing your opinions on politics). It’s not uncommon to see various protests marching past Syntagma Square or Monastiraki, including everything from marijuana legalization to economic marches. Don’t be worried about safety, though: demonstrations are generally peaceful. For a taste of real Greek anarchy, spend some time wandering around the Exarcheia district. Plenty of students hang out here, and there are many cheap cafes and study areas, as well as free spaces for musicians and artists.

There isn’t a great deal of green space in Athens.  This is because the city grew so much over the past 200 years, thanks to the influx of Turkish and Albanian immigrants, and there wasn’t much done to contain the sprawl. But Athenians protect their green space vehemently: places like Lycabettus Hill and the National Gardens are preserved with care.

While being openly drunk in Greece is somewhat taboo, Athenians do know how to party. The Gazi neighbourhood is the cool place to be, and is filled with clubs, pubs, bars, restaurants, and cafes. You might catch more Greeks sipping frappe and playing backgammon in cafes rather than attending the big nightclubs, but they’re worth checking out. There are many fun nightlife spots around Monastiraki as well.

Athens also has a number of fantastic museums to preserve Greece’s ancient history. The latest Acropolis Museum deserves a few hours, as well as the National Archaeological Museum and the Benaki Museum. There are many galleries around town as well, paying tribute to ancient artists and modern creative souls. Athens also has some of the most creative graffiti in Europe. Take a camera and hit the streets in Exarcheia to find some of the best.

When it comes to food, don’t worry about putting on a few pounds. It’s worth it. Fresh feta, olives swimming in oil, fried halloumi, fried fish, and perfectly grilled octopus are just some of the dishes you’ll find around Athens. Dinner can turn into a long affair, so sit tight and watch the world go by.

Did you know…?

We know that Athens has been occupied as far back as 3400 years ago, making it Europe’s oldest cities and also one of the oldest cities in the world.

Did you ALSO know…?

In addition to the Olympics, marathon running also originates in Greece. Pheidippides was a runner who ran 25 miles in 490 BC to announce the Athenian victory against the Persians in the battle of Marathon. The route was recreated during the first modern Olympics game in 1896, set in Athens.

Getting around Athens

Athens Metro system is the best way to get around town. During the 2004 Summer Olympics, Athens spent a great deal of time updating its rail system, making it faster and more efficient for visitors and locals alike. Fun fact: during construction, many ancient artefacts were dug up in the process. You can see much of these artefacts on display in Metro stations around the city.

Otherwise, opt to stay in the centre of Athens (around Sytagma or Monastiraki) and you’ll find all the major sites within easy walking distance. If you’d like to get into the suburbs and the beaches, the rail system can take you there as well.

Best time of year to travel to Athens

Many people who dislike Athens come during the height of summer when temperatures soar and visiting national monuments (like the Acropolis) can be absolutely hellish. Even Athenians have difficulty dealing with the summer heat. Tourism traffic skyrockets between May to September, causing congested crowds and long line-ups. This isn’t so fun in the heat.

Like the rest of Greece, come March to early May, or September and October. Temperatures are still pleasant, and crowds are smaller. The winter months can get quite cold, and snow makes an appearance every now and then.

Ready to plan your visit to Athens? Check out these popular guides and trips.

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