Athens is not only the capital and largest city in Greece, but also one of the oldest cities in the world. Its history dates back over 3,000 years ago. Today, Athens is a unique juxtaposition of a modern city surrounded by many beautiful ancient ruins.

Athens is most associated with the iconic Acropolis. We highly recommend viewing the Acropolis during the day and evening. We explored the ancient ruins for a day and a half, walking from one archaeological site to the next.
when to go

The best time to visit Athens is in the Spring (March – May) or Fall (September – November). During these seasons, the weather is warm and the crowds are thinner. In the Summer (June – August), the weather is incredibly hot, sometimes skyrocketing into the 90s or 100s. Luck was on our side and the weather was abnormally ten degrees cooler.

If you visit during the Summer, we highly recommend island hopping through the Cyclades, Ionian, Sporades, Saronic, Northeastern Aegean or Dodecanese Islands.

Source: Five Star Greece

how long to stay

We recommend 2-3 days to see the top attractions in Athens. If you are short on time, we recommend sticking to the sites near the Acropolis. If you are extending your stay in Athens then we recommend adding a visit to the Temple of Poseidon and Vouliagmeni Lake. If you are traveling in August we recommend limiting your stay to 2 days as the weather can be unbearably hot.
where to stay

We recommend staying in the city center. There are lots of activities, restaurants and nightlife in this area, and it’s walking distance from the Acropolis. The Hotel Grande Bretagne and the Hotel King George are luxury hotels in the city center. They are quick taxi rides from Piraeus, the largest port in Greece. Rafina is the second largest port, and on the other side of Athens.
We stayed at the boutique hotel Pallas Athena Grecotel. This hotel was whimsical and the rooms were boldly decorated with unique graffiti in each room.

Source: Pallas Athena Grecotel.
Our hotel was a twenty minute walk to the Acropolis and the other major ruins. On our first day we visited the Hellenic Parliament.

things to do

You don’t need to book a tour to see the sites in Athens. We visited the top attractions on our own and on our own schedule. Grab a map from your hotel and chat with the concierge for a recommended itinerary. Check here for hours of operation.
Learn the history at the Acropolis Museum before walking through the Acropolis. The museum houses 4,000 artifacts from the Acropolis monuments. Cameras are allowed, but large bags and backpacks need to be checked. Separate €5 ticket needed for the museum.

Explore the Acropolis, the main attraction for first time visitors to Athens. The Acropolis is a Citadel located on a rocky hill above the city of Athens.

The Acropolis consists of several ancient buildings and archeological sites, including the famous Parthenon. The Parthenon was a Temple for the Greek Goddess, Athena. Tickets are €20 for the Acropolis, but we recommend the Special Package Ticket for €30, which includes several other nearby archeological sites and is valid for 5 days. The lines at the Acropolis are long in the Summer, so we suggest seeing one of the other sites first and buying your Special Package Ticket there. If you are visiting in the Summer, go early! It gets very hot very quickly.

See the Erechtheum or Old Temple of Athena, which is on the north side of the Acropolis. This temple was built around 525-500 BC and destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.

Visit the Dionysus Theater in the Acropolis. The first theatrical plays were written in Ancient Athens. These plays honored the Greek god Dionysus in this wooden theater.

Not read a book at Hadrian’s Library. This library was created by Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132  AD on the north end of the Acropolis. This is another archeological site, there are no books here to read. See on the way to or from the Acropolis. Admission included with Special Package Ticket.

See the Temple of Zeus, which is approximately a 15 minute walk from the Acropolis. This temple was built in fifth century BC. The temple housed a Statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The statue was destroyed in the 5th Century AD. Admission included with Special Package Ticket.

Visit the Roman Agora, located on the north side of the Acropolis and east of the Ancient Agora. Agora, means assembly in Geek, and this site was built in 1st century BC with gifts from Julius Caesar and Augustus. Admission included with Special Package Ticket.

Walk through the Ancient Agora, the commercial, political and religious center of Ancient Athens. It is located northwest of the Acropolis. There are several notable monuments to see and there is also a museum with artifacts from 7th to the 5th century BC. Admission included with Special Package Ticket.

Stroll through the Kerameikos Cemetery. The ancient cemetery was used from 9th Century BC until Roman times. It is filled with marble statues, public buildings and thousands of tombs. Admission included with Special Package Ticket. The cemetery is close to the Ancient Agora, so see them both together (along with the Kaisariani Monastery if you have time). We ran out of time and only saw the monastery from the outside.

Embrace your inner Olympian at the Panathenaic Stadium. The Olympic Games started in Ancient Greece, but did you also know that first modern Olympic Games were also held in Athens in 1896? 108 years later, Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics. Separate €5 ticket needed

day trips
We were in Athens for a day and a half, but if we had more time, we would have explored more of Athens or visited nearby towns or islands.
Visit Temple of Poseidon and Vouliagmeni Lake. The Temple of Poseidon is located on the sea cliffs on the tip of the Cape Sounion. This temple was built in 44 BC to honor the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon. Vouliagmeni Lake, situated in the heart of the Athenian Riviera, is a rare geological phenomenon with waters that are continuously replenished by the sea and the underground thermal springs. You can swim in the Lake, which offer a natural and unique thermal spa experience.
Escape to Hydra, the most cosmopolitan of the Saronic islands which is a two hour ferry ride away. Most activities on Hydra concentrate around the port, which is lined by yachts and fishing boats. Hiking around the island is a popular activity. Beaches on Hydra are generally rocky, unlike most beaches in Greece. Motor vehicles are off limits in Hydra, which makes the island the perfect spot to walk and enjoy some rest and tranquility.
Travel three hours northwest from Athens to see Delphi in the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Delphi is  where oracles interpret messages from the Greek Gods for the benefit of those seeking wisdom. Delphi is a large archeological site that includes a theater and stadium where the Pythian Games were held every four years. The Delphi Museum displays a number of bronze artifacts, sculpture, friezes and pottery excavated from the site. You can rent a car or book a tour.
Ride the 4-hour train to Meteora and travel through the beautiful Peloponnesian countryside. Visit unique, monasteries from the 14th-century and explore the town of Kalambaka.
what to eat 

The food in Athens was spectacular! Below is our cheat sheet on what to order for lunch and dinner. We recommend site seeing in the morning and early afternoon and having lunch around 2:00 when a lot of sites shutdown for fiesta.
Appetizers
Greek Salad (Horiatiki) is a ubiquitous dish that can be served as an appetizer or a side dish. This salad is made with fresh chopped tomatoes, cucumber and purple onions and topped with feta cheese, black olives, olive oil and oregano.
Homemade Pita – remember to ask for it because the tables are generally set with fresh bread.
Zucchini Fritters (Kolokithokeftedes) are patties that are fried extra crispy on the outside and still preserve their creamy and rich texture on the inside.
Tzatziki is a classic Greek appetizer that goes great with meat, vegetables and/or pita. This dip is made with thick yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil and fresh dill.
Grape Leaves (Dolmathakiaare stuffed with rice and occasionally meat.
Saganaki is a delicious fried cheese appetizer.

Mains
Moussaka combines fried sliced aubergines with a tomato and minced meat sauce and topped with béchamel and grated cheese. It is delicious, but very rich so we recommend ordering one and sharing it family style with the table.
Seafood is fresh in Greece. We dined on red snapper, sea bass, octopus and calamari.
Lamb is very fatty in Greece. We actually preferred chicken and seafood.
Souvlaki is a popular Greek street food and means meat-on-a-skewer.

 

Dessert
Loukoumades are crispy dough balls or Greek mini-donuts and sprinkled with chopped nuts, cinnamon or chocolate syrup.
Baklava is the quintessential Greek dessert that is made with crispy layers of phyllo, nuts, butter and sugar. It is very sweet, so a bite is all you need.
Kataifi Halva is another sweet dessert made of thin layers of phyllo pastry, filled with walnuts and sweetened with syrup.


“I would like to be a philosopher in ancient Athens and a poet in ancient China.” -Shan Sa


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