Insider tips: Planning a trip to Athens
Thomas Dowson is the founder of Archaeology Travel, a website for those seeking adventures in archaeology and history. As a professional archaeologist Thomas enjoys visiting archaeological and historical sites around the world. And sharing these experiences so that others can explore the world’s pasts more deeply. On his blog, you can find more information and all the details for planning a trip to Athens.
What should I do on my first trip to Athens?
Perhaps an obvious suggestion, but really no one should miss the Acropolis, and the Acropolis Museum. Find a guide, in whatever form, that will help you see more of this ancient citadel than the Acropolis of the 5th century BC. As spectacular as these ancient monuments are, there is more to the Acropolis than the Parthenon and Erechtheion.
What are some hidden gems to see in Athens?
Besides the Acropolis, and the other 5 well known ancient sites, there are many ruins dotted about the city. One of my favourites is in view of the Tower of the Winds. Just beyond the Roman Agora is a doorway that was once the entrance to an Ottoman era theological school, and then a prison. Very little of Ottoman Athens survives today, much of it destroyed deliberately - such as the mosque on the Acropolis. Little remnants like these add a lot to the story of Athens.
How much time should I spend in Athens?
Not surprisingly most people come to Athens to see the ancient sites. For this, three or four days will not only give you enough time to see most of these plus a day trip to Delphi and/or an afternoon trip to Sounion to watch the sunset. But, I strongly recommend adding a day or two to explore beyond the historical centre of Athens. Each neighbourhood has its own character: visit the Central Varvakios Market in Psirri or go in search of street art in Exarchia.
What food is Athens known for?
Athens is great for walking. And if anything goes well with walking it is street food. Gyros and souvlaki are my go to choices while exploring the city on foot. A gyros is a pita bread filled with shaved meat cooked on a rotisserie. Souvlaki on the other hand is diced meat on a stick cooked on a hot plate. Add a good tzatziki sauce to either and for me that is heaven in your hands. Vegetarian versions made using grilled cheese are just as good!
What is the best way to get around Athens?
Central Athens is easy to get about on foot. Here are all the main attractions and lots of good hotels. For those who want to stay a bit further out, there is a good metro system. Whether you arrive by air or sea, the metro also serves both the airport and the port.
What are the best months to visit Athens?
Having been visiting Athens for over 20 years, my favourite times of the year are the beginning of May and the beginning of October. In May the city is gearing up for summer and not yet crowded, and the Jacaranda trees are in bloom. In October the summer crowds have left, and it is not too hot.
What is neighborhood Exarchia known for?
Most visitors to Athens will only experience the Exarchia neighbourhood through the National Archaeological Museum. The streets might not look as inviting as in other areas, but this is definitely an area to explore, particularly if you like graffiti and street art. Exarchia is also known as the riot area of Athens, being the site of some major street riots in the history of Athenian politics.
What are the best neighborhoods for food?
As many of the historical attractions are in the Monastiraki and Plaka areas, there are also many restaurants serving the usual Greek cuisine for tourists. A better area in my opinion, and not far from the centre of Athens, is Psirri. I was introduced to this area on a food walking tour of Athens. Besides the central market area, you will find some great restaurants, bars and cafes, filled with local Athenians as well as a few visitors.
What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?
The southern slopes of Lycabettus Hill, between Syntagma and Evangelismos metro stations, is Kolonaki - one of the most upmarket areas of central Athens. Kolonaki is perfect for high-end shopping. A more affordable shopping experience can be found on the streets running between Syntagma and Monastiraki Squares.
What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit Athens?
Given how popular a tourist destination Athens is, there is a good choice of accommodation in most areas of the city to suit all budgets. When it comes to choosing one of these areas, I keep coming back to central Athens. For me, nothing beats a hotel with a view of the Acropolis.
What are the best annual events in Athens?
The beautifully preserved Herodes Atticus Theatre just below the Acropolis, provides a truly evocative setting for the annual Greek Festival. On offer is a varied programme of dance and music from June to August.
What are the best areas for outdoor activities around Athens?
For anyone who enjoys hiking, Athens has a number of green spaces that provide the perfect opportunity to get some outdoor activity while on holiday. And with spectacular views. Closer to the city centre is Filopappou Hill, a vast area with many walking routes through ancient ruins. For those feeling a bit more energetic, climb Lycabettus Hill - the tallest of the seven hills.
What are the best beaches around Athens?
Although there are sandy beaches from the port of Piraeus to Cape Sounion, those closer to the port are probably not top of anyone’s list. And of course nothing could beat swimming in clear blue waters below the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. But the most popular beaches with easiest access from Athens can be found in the Kavouri-Vouliagmeni area.