How to do Athens the Right Way

monastiraki square

Athens is one of my favorite cities in Greece Europe. The ancient ruins sitting atop a sparkling modern city fit together in an almost magic way. Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and the birthplace of Western civilization but it is at the same time a trendy, vibrant metropolis. Whether you are a history buff trying to explore the cities 3,400-year heritage or a socialite looking for the next trendy restaurant the 6th most populous city in Europe will exceed all expectations.

monastiraki square

Funny story: I did my college study abroad in Athens back in 2007. While I was there I lived in an apartment above a wine store. I ended up making friends with the owner ‘George the Greek’, and we spent many hours playing chess and drinking wine straight from huge barrels. When we were back in Athens for this trip I wanted to show Rachel and Mason my old apartment and I was super excited to see that George was still in his shop. He recognized me when I walked in and insisted that we spend the afternoon drinking wine and catching up. George even brought down a full Greek lunch! He had about 5 friends with him that all come over every day for lunch so we laughed along as they all spoke Greek and got louder and louder with every glass of wine.

What to do in Athens

Explore the Ancient History

Visit the Acropolis

Obviously the first thing on everyone’s list is to visit the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. No matter where you are in the city it is almost impossible to miss the giant mountain with its huge stone structure perched on the top.

acropolis

We had a lot of fun wandering around the large archeological site. Aside from the Parthenon, there are some other pretty incredible relics from the ancient past including the Theatre of Dionysus which is the first theatre in the world. I highly recommend doing a little research on Wikipedia before you visit the Acropolis as knowing what you are looking at makes the experience a lot more enjoyable. Without context, a lot of the ruins just look like piles of rocks. That being said we did not hire a guide for our tour and still had a ton of fun. Insider tip: Go early or late because it gets crowded and super hot.

greek flag
acropolis at night

Acropolis Combo Pass

If you have more than one day in Athens I definitely recommend that you get the combo pass for 30 euros. It gives you access to 7 different sites. We actually had more fun exploring some of the lesser known sites than we did the Acropolis. I have listed all of the sites we visited below from best to worst.

  1. Olympieion (Temple of Zeus): This temple is massive and standing alone in a large grassy field. You can really get a feel for how impressive the building must have been.
  2. Acropolis and Slopes: Busy but still awesome. There are not a ton of signs so if you are into history you might want a guide or to do a little research on your own before you go up.
  3. Ancient Agora: We really like this spot because it still seems to be pretty intact.
  4. Roman Agora: This is a fast one. There is a super cool well, clock, and a nice museum.
  5. Hadrian’s Library: Located smack in the middle of Monastiraki square it is worth a stop in as you pass by. We didn’t get much of the history so it came off more or less like a bunch of rocks.
  6. Kerameikos- This is an ancient graveyard. It was fun to walk around for a few minutes and we made a game out of finding the most interesting graves but not a must visit if you are short on time.
  7. Lykeion- I don’t really recommend this one. Not a lot going on.
athens greece ruins

Other Sites and Museums

Aside from those sites we also paid to check out the Panathenaic Stadium (ancient Olympic stadium). The audio tour is included in the 3 euro admission and the whole thing is super cool. You take a tour of the stadium, learn how it was built and then get to check out the dressing area and museum. They have the official Olympic torches from all of the past Olympics and the audio guide does a great job of bringing everything to life.

olympics
greece olympics

A lot of the sites had small museums within them so we did not go to many standalone museums. We did do the Acropolis Museum because they offer free guided tours in English every Friday at 6 pm. If you are going to do it get there a little early because our tour ended up selling out. The tour was actually pretty boring as they were moving slowly so we left a little early but I am still glad we went.

acropilis museum

By far the best museum that we went to in Greece was the Archeology Museum in Athens. We did the audio tour and it was definitely worth it.

athens archeology museum

Explore Athens’ many Neighborhoods

Every neighborhood of Athens has its own flare. Check out this awesome interactive neighborhood guide to help with planning your trip.

Monastiraki Square

Monastiraki Square was the central hub of our trip. It seemed that no matter where we were going we ended up walking through this area. The bars and restaurants that surround the square all boast amazing views of the Acropolis and the rooftops are a must visit during sunset. Here are some of our favorite spots in the area.

  • A for Athens- despite being crowded, overpriced, and lacking great cocktails I still have to recommend this place. The view is unparalleled. Make sure to get a spot on the balcony for sunset and enjoy watching the Acropolis come to life above the lights of Athens.
  • 360 Cocktail Bar- Similar to A is for Athens but with slightly better cocktails.
  • Lukumades– This traditional Greek dessert is amazing. Basically, small doughnut balls covered in delicious honey. This place definitely caters to tourist and is very Instagram friendly, but there is no denying that their donuts are addicting.
  • Taf Art and Coffee Bar- We stopped into this bar in the morning to try to get a little work done before a day of sightseeing. Unfortunately, they did not have wifi and their coffee was insanely overpriced. I have heard that it is fun at night and the art concept is definitely cool but not recommendable for the digital nomad looking to get work done.
  • Beertime- On the hunt for craft beer one day, we went to Beertime. Not only did we get great craft beer but we discovered this little square with countless bars and restaurants we wish we had found earlier! It’s only steps from Monastiraki but we almost completely missed it!

Plaka

Another central hub in Athens. Enjoy endless pubs, cafes, and restaurants in this charming neighborhood.

  • Brettos- The oldest distillery in Athens. We had a lot of fun sampling all of the different types of Ouzo.
  • Looser Bar- This is one of my favorite bars that we visited. Its intimate and they serve incredible drinks. Definitely, recommend.
  • 7 Jokers Wine Bar- Another highly recommendable bar. Beautifully decorated with a fun atmosphere.
  • Ydria cafe- This place saved us after our fail at Taft. They have strong wifi, great food, and awesome drink specials. It does not look like digital nomad paradise but it definitely worked for us.

Anafiotika

This little white-walled neighborhood has maintained a sense of calm amidst the chaos. It is nestled away in Plaka.

anafiotika

Gazi

This neighborhood next to the Kerameikos Metro Station has a lot going on. They have a ton of different resturants lining the square and the large open parks had events going on almost every night we were in Athens. Our favroite was the Athens Burger Fest!

athens greece festival
  • The Lazy Bulldog Pub- With a great beer selection and amazing food this place is a standout. We ended up going twice and none of us really even like Irish restaurants.

Koukaki

The self proclaimed hippest neighborhood in Athens. This is where the hipsters, college students and younger crowd hangs out.

  • Riza Riza- We had some nice cocktails at this trendy spot!

National Observatory Athens

We really enjoyed our visit to the National Observatory. They were having a Summer series with English tours so we decided to go stargazing. The tour starts with a brief history of the observatory and then a tour of the main house. We learned a lot and found the tour to be super entertaining. After you tour the main house you head to the observatory to look through the Doridis refracting telescope which was built in 1902. We were able to see Saturn clearly which was awesome!

Watch the Sunset from Mars Hill

Grab a bottle of wine and hike up Areopagus for a true Athens experience. When the weather is good Mars Hill is covered with people enjoying the beautiful sunset, listening to music, and drinking Greek wine. With a perfect view of the Acropolis, this is a must do while you are in Athens.

hill of mars

Where to Stay in Athens

We stayed at a great Airbnb apartment in Plaka. Don’t have Airbnb yet? Click here for $20 off your first stay! I really liked staying in Plaka as it is central to everything we wanted to do and easy to get on the metro.

dinner at airbnb in athens

What to Eat in Athens

Everyone knows the Greek Salad and Gyros (because they are so freaking good!) but Athens has so much more to offer. Here are some of our Greek favorites.

greek feta
  • Dolmades- Minced meat stuffed inside of grape leaves SO GOOD
  • Souvlaki- Grilled skewers of pork
  • Octopus- We love octopus and get it everywhere we can. Although it is different than our normal Mexican seafood preparation we really enjoyed the Greek seafood.
  • Feta- Eat it fried with honey, by itself, with tomatoes drizzled in olive oil, or any other way you can find it. We probably ate 100 lbs of Feta during our week in Athens and I would eat another 100 lbs right now if I could.
  • Baklava- Flakey layered pastry similar to a croissant served as a dessert
  • Keftedes- Meatballs with spices
  • Kolokithokeftedes- Zucchini fritters served with tzatziki YUMM
  • Moussaka- This was a surprise favorite. It’s an eggplant dish with minced meat that resembles lasagna. Be careful, sometimes the portions are huge.
  • Spanakopita- Spinach pie was another favorite from our trip, a must try.

Whether you are just passing through on your way to the Greek islands or if your entire trip is to Athens, you will not be disappointed. Athens is a special place and definitely one of our favorite cities in Europe.

Yamas!

-Grant


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