The sea bluer than the sky, freshly whitewashed houses creating a stark contrast against the aforementioned blue sea and bright pink bougainvillea flowers framing doorways is how Google Image Search and Instagram give you a glimpse of Greece. However, the same google image search for Greece also comes up with a few pictures of the ancient Acropolis ruins dotting the search results and one is reminded that there is so much more to Greece than just the “island life”…
Armed with this belief I planned a trip to Greece with 5 nights in Athens. You can read about my Greek Itinerary here.
Athens is a beautiful city with very interesting people. It has a lot to offer but tourists often skip this city for the Greek islands. Unlike Rome, Athens takes a little time to grow on you probably because at first it seems like any other city around the world, very busy and nothing extraordinary… However, if you get a chance to overhear conversations between backpackers in the metro or in local cafes or better still be a part of one such conversation you’ll realize that Athens is an undiscovered jewel that is waiting to be explored. I spent 5 nights in Athens and I still believe that I needed at least 3 more.
I have compiled a list of the Top 10 Things To Do In Athens and I hope this helps you plan your vacation…
#1 Visit the Acropolis
This is a no-brainer! Duh! It’s like going to Agra and not visiting the Taj Mahal!
The Acropolis is a citadel situated on a hill on which the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and other archaeologically and architecturally significant monuments and structures are located. The ancient city of Athens and today the modern Athens surrounds this “hill” and hence its difficult to not see this historical beauty from almost anywhere in Central Athens. This towering piece of history looks all the more beautiful at night due to ambient lighting and lends Athens its importance in Ancient Greek Literature.
When you go to visit the Acropolis, you are not just visiting one monument or one hill but its imperative to understand that your “tour” should comprise of the Acropolis hill, the ancient and Roman Agora, the adjoining Philapapou hill and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It should take you a whole day but if you aren’t the adventurous types then be rest assured because the entry ticket that costs Euro 30 per person is valid for 2 days.
Regarding the entry ticket, you have 2 choices. You either purchase the full 30 Euro ticket and gain entry to the Acropolis hill, the two agoras and the temple of Olympian Zeus or you purchase the 20 Euro ticket and only gain access to the Acropolis. Exploring the Philapapou Hill and visiting the various monuments on it including the Socrates Jail where as the name suggests Socrates was jailed is free of cost and does not require you to buy any entry ticket.
Once you are done with the Acropolis “area”, your visit will not be complete until you see the movie presentation and other things at the New Acropolis Museum. It is a stunning place and gives you a better understanding of what you actually saw on the Acropolis hill. This is especially important if you did not hire a guide (like us).
The entry fee for the Acropolis Museum is 5 Euros per person
How Do I Reach The Acropolis?
The fastest, cheapest and probably the best way to reach the Acropolis is by getting off at the Acropoli metro station and then walking up to the Acropolis. Alternately, you can also get off at the Sygrou Fix metro station and walk up. Both these metro stations are adjacent to each other and are on the Red Line.
A single public transport ticket in Athens includes all modes of transport i.e. Metro, Bus, Tram and Suburban Railway and it costs 1 Euro 40 cents and is valid for 90 mins of travel. However, you can buy a tourist ticket for 9 Euros with 5 days validity or 4.5 Euros with 3 days validity.
This link should be helpful: http://www.athenstransport.com/english/tickets/
Best Time To Visit: Morning
Total Cost: Euro 37 or Euro 27 (including public transport)
#2 Watch the sun set from atop the Lycabettus Hill
The Lycabettus (pronounced in greek: likavetu) Hill is located in the North Eastern part of Athens and the top of the hill gives you a splendid view of Athens city, the Piraues port, the Mediterranean Sea and the Acropolis. The sunset from the hill top is famed and it can get very crowded as the time of sun setting starts to get closer.
Apart from the view, the Lycabettus Hill boasts of an open air amphitheater, St George’s Chapel and a pretty expensive restaurant (if you are on a budget). It is very common to see people carrying their own bags of Gyros, Souvlaki, sandwiches and beer to the top to help them ease the wait for the sunset.
In addition to the sunset itself, one can also witness a tiny flag lowering ceremony performed by 2 soldiers at sunset. I kinda loved it personally 🙂
How Do I Reach The Top of Lycabettus Hill?
There are 2 ways to scale Mount Lycabettus:
- Get off the metro at the Evangelismos metro station on the Blue Line (Airport Line). Walk north towards the foot of the hill and then trek up.
- Get off at the Evangelismos metro station on the Blue Line. Walk/Take a cab till the Funicular Rail Station (called Teleferik in Greek) on Aristippou Street in Kolonaki (it takes about 10 mins walking) and then take the Funicular train (3 mins ride) to the top. The train ride costs 5 Euros per person one way or 7 Euros per person both ways.
We took way 2 while going up and while coming down we took way 1.
Best Time to Visit: In the evening around 6:00 pm (The sunset is around 8:00 pm)
Total Cost: Euro 6.40 (if you go our way)
#3 Take a day trip to Cape Sounion – The Temple of Poseidon
OMG this was a beautiful trip! Cape Sounion is the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland peninsula and it is famous for the Temple of Poseidon on a cliff top. The best time to visit the temple is in the evening when you can see the sun setting into the horizon beyond the tranquilly blue Mediterranean Sea.
Cape Sounion also has a small beach (around 2 kms short of the temple) with a hotel and a number of seaside restaurants and tavernas where you can enjoy a glorious lunch next to the blue sea that is dotted with anchored private yatchs. These restaurants are not cheap but they are any day more affordable than the cafe (glorified restaurant) next to the Temple of Poseidon.
We had our lunch at Elias Fish Taverna and it was one of our best meals in Greece. We ordered for a Greek Salad, which was fresh and sumptuous, grilled octopus that was extremely yummy and grilled cod fish with garlic sauce, which was yummy and a substantial portion.
Coming back to the Temple of Poseidon, it truly does look beautiful in the glow of the setting sun but what is more worthy of mention is the absolutely resplendent view of the cape, the sea and the beach below. The entry fee for the Temple of Poseidon is 8 Euros per person.
How Do I Reach Cape Sounion from Athens?
There are three ways you can reach Cape Sounion from Athens:
- Hire a taxi or rent a car and drive down to Sounion. It is a beautiful drive and it dotted with stunning beaches along the way. This is however the most expensive but fastest way.
- Take a KTEL regional bus from Pl. Egyptou bus station in Athens. Choose the coastal route and it takes you directly to Sounion. The trip takes about 1.5 hours and a one way bus ticket costs you about 6.40 Euros.
- For the more adventurous, take a metro on the Green Line and get off at the Faliro metro station (the second last stop in the line towards the South). Cross the road from the metro station using the overhead bridge. This will lead you directly to the Faliro Tram Stop. Catch a Tram to Voulas (last stop). This tram route is called the coastal route and will take you along the Mediterranean sea and the beaches. Get off at Voulas, cross the signal after the tram stop and you will see a bus stop. Stand at the bus stop and wait for the KTEL bus going to Sounion (in #2 above), you’ll need to wave a hand to stop it. Board it and it will take you to Sounion. The tram ticket costs Euro 1.40 and the bus ticket will cost you Euro 5.
We took the third way while going to Sounion and came back the second way.
NOTE: The last bus to leave Sounion for Athens is at 9:00 pm.
Best Time To Visit: In the afternoon.
Total Cost: Euro 20.80 (including transport) + food
#4 Do not miss the Change of Guard
I had always heard about the change in guard ceremony at the Buckingham Palace and it had always intrigued me and hence when I heard about a similar event in Athens at the Greek Parliament, I knew I had to witness it. The change of guard in actuality happens everyday, every hour in front of the Greek Parliament but the “real” ceremonious event with the frills and thrills for the benefit of the tourists happens every Sunday at 11:00 am. It is special and it is evident that it is a big deal for the Greeks as part of their endeavors to encourage tourism because they actually stop traffic for half an hour when the ceremony takes place.
It is an interesting event and it is especially delightful to witness tall and handsome Greek soldiers in their ancient ceremonial uniforms, keeping a straight face through all of it and not once stealing a glance at the fawning tourists. There is a brass band that accompanies the soldiers during the change of guard and the whole process takes about 20-25 minutes to complete.
How Do I Reach The Greek Parliament?
The Greek Parliament is bang in the center of Athens. The area is called Syntagma Square and is exactly above the Syntagma Metro Station. You exit the metro station and take the steps up to the square and you will not only see the Parliament, but also the two guards whose duty will be changed and a huge crowd of tourists ready with their cameras!
Best Time To Witness The Ceremony: Sunday, 11:00 am
Total Cost: Euro 1.40 (metro ticket cost)
#5 Party/Club Crawl on a Weekend
OMG do the Greeks know to party! I was under the impression that the Greek islands were super into partying and clubbing but I was in for a major shock when I realized that the night life in Athens was to die for.
Athens does not sleep on the weekend. They party all night on Friday and Saturday and rest on Sunday.
The main areas that house clubs, pubs and other party places is in and around the Monastiraki area. They are all lined up one after another and pub crawling is a phenomenon that people actually follow religiously. The crowd of people actually travel (crawl) from one club/pun to another all night and if you don’t keep up then you will find yourself sipping on your drink alone literally. There are no entry/cover charges at these places and an alcoholic drink on an average across Athens costs you about Euro 7. The drink size is somewhere around 90 ml instead of the standard 30 or 60 ml so drinking alcohol at a party actually comes out to be cheaper in Greece than it does in India! Beer is not considered as alcohol in Greece and they cost you about Euro 3-4 in pubs and clubs.
The only issue with the party scene in Athens is that the music is predominantly Greek and for me to get into the groove to actually shake on Greek music I had to actually load up on alcohol.
Dress code at Athens’ nightclubs is sexy and not necessarily classy. The popular and better reviewed clubs and pubs in Athens are Six Dogs, Baba Au rum, Soho and Lohan (owned by Lindsay Lohan)… All of them are either walking distance from one another or are at the most one metro station away from each other.
#6 Visit a Strip Club
Now this one is a controversial tip and if you are either into this sort of thing or are curious to at least check out a strip club at least once in your life then you must visit a strip club in Athens. They are not as expensive as in the other parts of the world, they are not shady places and they can be a lot of fun depending on how far you are willing to go.
What I really liked about these Athens’ clubs is the fact that they can categorized into couple friendly and not couple friendly. This kind of makes it easier for one to zero-onto what sort of an experience to expect from a place especially if its a first time. Unlike nightclubs, strip clubs here have a cover charge paid during entry and it covers an alcoholic beverage, a small plate of chakna and unlimited viewing time.
We visited a strip club called Kinky Opera and the cover charge was Euro 15 per person.
Most of the strip clubs in Athens is located in the Syngrou area and the nearest metro station is Sygrou Fix on the Red Line.
P.S. I don’t have any pictures from the place cause it was our first time to a strip club and I for sure had my mind elsewhere that did not include clicking pictures. Enough said!
#7 Try out the local cuisine and liquor
If you want to try out authentic Greek cuisine and drinks at budget friendly rates then Athens is the place to do it. The islands are extremely tourist oriented and commercial and nothing is cheap. In Athens on the other hand if you avoid the touristy places like Acropoli, Monastiraki and Plaka you can find jewels as far as local cafes and tavernas are concerned.
We had three favorite places to eat in Athens. One was this restaurant near the Sygrou Fix metro station (Red line) called To Psitomageirio that had the most delicious food at very inexpensive rates, the friendliest and the most encouraging staff ever and very “local” setting with traditional Greek music playing continuously. If you went there for dinner you would witness the old couple who owned the taverna dancing on Greek Folk music and in general having a great time!
Our second favorite place to eat was a cafe/bakery near Omonoia metro station (Red line) called Koriatiko. The coffee there was decent but the pies, sandwiches, sweets and other goodies were just out of this world. Our favorite thing to eat from this bakery was Spanakopita which translates to Spinach Pie. It costs Euro 1,60 but is big enough for 2 people. On our last day in Greece, we actually rushed to the cafe (crossing 3 metro stations) had our fill of Spanakopita and even carried some back to India!
Our third favorite eating joint in Athens was this Greek fast Food joint next to the Kerameikos metro station (blue line). I don’t remember the name of the place unfortunately but it had the best souvlaki in town for 2 Euros.
Must Try Local Foods
- Grilled Octopus
- Gilt-head Seabream fish
- Greek Salad
- Grilled Calamari
- Grilled Feta Cheese
- Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)
Click on the individual food items on the image above to see their names.
Must Try Local Alcohol
- Beer – Fix, Mythos, Amstel, Alpha
Must Try Local Coffee
- Greek Coffee (with or without sugar)
- Fredo Espresso (Espresso on ice)
- Fredo Cappuccino (Cappuccino on ice)
- Cafe Frappe (Greek Cold Coffee)
#8 Take a day trip (by bus) to nearby places
One thing that I regret not being able to do while we were in Athens due to a shortage of time is not being able to visit Delphi and the island trio consisting of Hydra, Poros and Aegina.
Daily buses ply from Athens to Delphi, which is a journey of around 3 hours and the ticket costs around Euro 15 per person. Delphi houses the ruins of Omphalos of Delphi that was the seat of Pythia, the oracle that was consulted before the war in the movie 300 (remember?)… Yeah… That…
Also there are daily ferries from Athens ports that take you for a tour of the three islands called Hydra, Poros and Aegina. This tour kind of gives you an insight into the Greek fishing villages and I really wanted to experience it.
If you do plan a trip to Athens do try to squeeze these day trips into your itinerary 🙂
So these were my top 8 recommendations to do in Athens. If you can think of any more then do share it with us via the comments. And if you are planning a trip to Greece anytime soon then I do hope that this post helps you!
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Great article. Just had my second trip to Athens and you got it all right. Can’t wait to go back and visit a strip club next time, lol!!