We had thought that a five day visit may be to long but it turned out to be a good decision as this is such a beautiful almost unspoilt island.
Visit Athens | Your guide to the city’s amazing attractions
Athens doesn’t really need an introduction, it’s known as being the birth place of western civilisation and the Olympic Games. It also has some of the most recognisable and most visited tourist attractions in the world. If that hasn’t convinced you, the city’s cultured and vibrant streets should do the trick. Read on to find out how we explored the city in two wonderful days.
When to visit Athens?
Athens is hot, it can be so hot you can’t step outside, which is not going to get you exploring the city. We visited at the end of September and the temperature was still in the low thirties. Ideally you need to visit late autumn early winter when the streets are quieter and its cooled down a bit.
We would also advise to visit the last weekend in September if you can as all the main Athens tourist attractions open the gates for free and you can come and go as often as you like over the weekend.
Once you get into the off season, November to the end of March, all the top Athens attractions are half price at any time. So if your on a budget and don’t want to be surrounded by hoards of fellow Athens tourists and don’t mind the cooler weather a winter weekend city break would be a good choice.
How to get to Athens
As you would expect Athens has a international airport. You can fly direct from all the UK and Europe’s major airports. If you’re really adventurous and have plenty of time you can also drive or visit by train but unless you are on a European tour your more likely to fly in as it is quick and comparatively cheap. Check Here of up to date schedules and prices.
If you are on the islands as we were we had visited Milos, Paros and Amorgos. You will most likely arrive into Piraeus port by ferry. From there its just a ten minute walk to the Metro station which takes you into central Athens or to the airport if your going straight home. You can check out ferry schedules and tickets at Ferryhopper
Where to stay when you visit Athens?
If you are like us you like to be close to the action so you can get straight at it and not waste any time. We stayed in Psirri / Gasi which is a very lively area just off Monastiraki Square, so has great transport links. It comes to life in the evenings with many bars and restaurants and seems to be the trendy place for locals to be seen at weekends. It is also within walking distance of all the main attractions.
Plaka is the main tourist hub it’s a maze of winding streets that have been given over to touristy shops and restaurants. We had a look round this area when we where there and it is beautiful and very well populated with tourists from all over the world. So if you like to be in the thick of it, this is the place for you. Again it’s within walking distance of all the major attractions. The area around Syntagma square is also a popular place to stay. It’s very central and has very good transport links to the rest of the city.
Personally I wouldn’t look beyond these three areas unless you know the city well. We were really happy with our choice of Psirri we stayed at 14 reasons why. It’s a kind of modern boutique style city hotel with a quirky vibe to it right in the middle of all the action.
Getting around Athens
If your staying in one of the above locations you can reach most of the Athens attractions by foot which, on the main, is how we did it. There is a quite extensive metro system if you want to get further afield, but apart from getting from the port and to the airport we only used it once. It’s quite cheap if you need to use it and we had no problems using the service.
You get the tickets before you ride from the ticket machines on the station that take cash or card and have an option for English language amongst others. But be warned if the receipt roll has run out they will only take cash as we found out at the port. It’s just over a euro for a ticket to anywhere in the city centre. The ticket is activated when you go through the barrier and is live for ninety minutes. You need a special ticket for the airport which at the time of writing costs ten euros each way.
Things to see and do when you visit Athens
So here goes this is how we would do it if we had a second chance as we made a few mistakes which I will try and help you avoid. This not the only way to do it so if your on limited time which most of us are do your homework in advance and read up as much as you can. There you go first mistake avoided so far so good
Lets start with the big one and more than likely the reason your here. The Acropolis is basically everything around the base and on top of the hill. It’s a one ticket thing. The ticket gets you in once and only once and costs twenty euros at the time of writing. If you come out without seeing everything you will have to pay again to get in. (Second mistake avoided). The ticket includes the following attractions. The Parthenon, Erechtheion, The Temple of Athena Nike and everything else on top of the hill. It also includes the north and south slopes with the, The Theatre of Dionysus, The Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the The Peripatos which is the path round.
It opens at eight in the morning and it’s best to be there when it opens as it’s cooler and less busy. Unfortunately at this time we found the sun is not in the best place for pictures so once your in there hang around for a while for the sun to get up a little. Be warned theres scaffolding and cranes everywhere. which does somewhat spoil the effect. You can get Combination tickets and skip the line tickets Here.
The Acropolis Museum is not included in the multi ticket and will cost about twelve euros to get in. We ran out of time and missed the Museum another mistake, as its well worth a visit when you visit Athens.
The Ancient Agora
The ancient agora or market place is within walking distance of the Acropolis. This site along with five others is included in the Combination ticket. This is a massive site and costs eight euros to get in if bought on it’s own. It’s well worth the money just to see The Hephaisteion arguably the best preserved Greek temple anywhere in the world. As well as that the other main attraction within the site is the reconstructed Stoa of Atticus which contains the ancient agora museum. Other buildings in various states of repair make this site a really good visit and in my opinion a must see.
Also included in the Combination ticket quite a small site just off Monastiraki Square you will walk past it on your way up to the acropolis if your staying in Psirri. It’s was built by roman emperor Hadrian in 132 ad.
The Roman Agora
Another roman site on the way up to the Acropolis and again also included in the Combination ticket. The Most impressive building within the complex is the Horologion or Tower of the Winds. This structure is Greek built and much older than the encompassing roman buildings.
Archaeological Site and Museum of Kerameikos
We spent an hour wandering round the site. Not much remains really but if you have bought the Combination ticket you get in for free. It’s good just to stand in this places and try and imagine what it looked in full swing. It was an area of pottery workshops and a public grave yard which was outside the city walls. It is where Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration.
Or the Columns of the Olympian Zeus is a site that contains the remains of a massive temple part of which has been reconstructed but is still covered in scaffolding. It’s included in the Combination ticket but you can see it clearly from outside the fence and the scaffolding makes it quite unattractive . Next to this is the Arch of Hadrian no entry charge it’s just next to the main road and you can walk in and out of the massive arch freely.
Unless your staying here theres really only one reason to go to the square and that is for the changing of the guard. The full official ceremony takes place on Sundays at 11am, however you can see an abridged version on the hour every hour. It takes place at the top of the square in front of the tomb of the unknown solder which in turn is in front of the Greek Parliament building. The square is one of the main transport hubs of the city and easy to get to.
The National Garden
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of a busy days sightseeing why not take an hour out and have a wander round the garden . It has a cafe, a pond and fountains a very relaxing place for a stroll. A really good choice for an hour or so of peace when you visit Athens.
The stadium was being used for filming when we were there so we didn’t go in. It’s the place where the first modern Olympics took place in 1896 and also were the Olympic flame is handed over to the new hosts. It is the only stadium in the word built entirely from marble. It costs five euros to get in if you fancy a closer look, you can get a good look at it with out going in though if you run out of time.
The square is a lively place both through the day and at night.It’s the staring point for the famous flea market where you can buy everything and anything you will need during your stay in Athens. At night it comes alive with buskers and street sellers and is a great spot to look up at the Acropolis all lit up. The church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa is in one corner of the square it is all that remains of a nunnery. The mosque of Tzistarakis Aga is also here.
Food and drink
Your spoilt for choice really and it would be difficult to do a guide to the cities restaurant scene as it changes all the time and theres so many places to eat and drink. One thing I would recommend is to try one of the cafes in the Central Market it’s not the prettiest market your ever going to visit but the food was good.
We stayed in Psirri, at night this place lights up with restaurants of all kinds, cocktail bars, wine bars and takeaways so we didn’t really stray far from here in the evenings. It’s a great place to mingle with the locals and relax with a drink or two. Be warned at weekends it is extremely busy and it would be best to book if you have a restaurant in mind for your evening meal. You may also wake up with a hangover and lose valuable sightseeing time as you can quite easily get carried away in the atmosphere of the place and forget why your here.
If you manage to see all the above in two days and take it all in, your doing well and to be fair better than we did. This is also far from being a comprehensive list. We haven’t even mentioned all the museums, churches and the sites away from the centre as in two days we just didn’t have the time. We have I think though covered enough of it for you to be able to go home stick your magnet on the fridge and say you’ve done Athens. Although at some point you may want to go back for another helping.
Booking resources for your trip
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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