Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world. With over 5,000 years of history, Athens is a city steeped in the past. It’s the birthplace of Western Civilization and is home to tons of incredible ruins and artifacts.
This sprawling city is one of the most visited places in Greece and makes for the perfect start or end of a trip since so many international flights depart/arrive here.
While I love the history of the city, I don’t particularly love the city itself. It’s hectic, disorganized, and a little dirty. However, you really can’t skip a visit here as there is a lot to see.
Given the amount of history and sights there are in Athens, I’d plan to spend about three days here.
This travel guide to Athens can give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit and save money!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Athens
1. Visit the Acropolis
2. Visit the Acropolis Museum
3. See the National Archaeological Museum
4. Hike Lycabettus
5. Explore the Greek Agora
Other Things to See and Do in Athens
1. Take a walking tour
The first thing I do when I arrive in a new city is take a walking tour. They give you the lay of the land, introduce you to the main sights, and give you access to an expert local guide who can answer all your questions. For free walking tours, check out Athens Free Walking Tour (and don’t forget to tip). If you’re looking for more in-depth and specific tours, Take Walks is the way to go. You get lots of behind-the-scenes access, including at the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. It’s worth the money if you’re a history buff like me!
2. Visit the Agora-Athens Central Market
Come early to watch the produce and fish being unloaded. There are a ton of Greek specialties, like olives, halloumi, and feta for sale here. It’s one of my favorite places to wander, people watch, and sample the local delicacies. It’s open every day of the week except Sunday, from early morning until late afternoon (it gets very crowded around lunchtime so arrive early).
3. Go to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon is remarkably well preserved. It’s never as busy as other temples in Athens either. Constructed in 444 BCE, the temple sits on a rocky outcrop and served as a welcomed sight for sailors returning from sea. The sunset from here is incredible and there are several beaches nearby in Legrena and Lavrio. Admission to the archaeological site is 10 EUR and it takes about an hour to get here from Athens by car.
4. Visit the Kanellopoulos Museum
This former mansion dates to 1884 and is home to a collection of jewelry, weapons, clay-and-stone vases, Byzantine art, figurines, and furniture that once belonged to the wealthy Kanellopoulos family. The collection was bought by the government and turned into a museum in 1976. Some pieces in this private collection date back to 3,000 BCE. Although there isn’t much English signage, you rarely have to compete for views with other visitors. Admission is 2 EUR.
5. See the Tower of the Winds
Originally built by Andronicus in the first century BCE, this tower once functioned as a sundial, weather vane, compass, and water clock. Basically, it’s the first weather station. The real mystery is who funded it — the entire tower is made of Pentelic marble, which is the same used for the Parthenon and was rarely used for anything other than temples. So it’s a bit of a mystery to historians! It’s 6 EUR to visit and located just a 10-minute walk from the Agora.
6. Witness the Easter Vigil
If you happen to be in Athens during Easter weekend, don’t miss this enchanting vigil procession. Every Good Friday, thousands upon thousands of people form a procession throughout the city, all holding lit candles. Head to Lycabettus Hill and join the crowds ascending to the St. George church. Even if you’re not religious, it’s a cultural experience worth seeing.
7. Hike in Parnitha National Park
Located 90 minutes from Athens by car, here you can find several caves, gorges, and springs to explore. Mount Partnitha is also the highest mountain in the region, standing 1,413m tall. There are about 75 well-marked paths around the park so a guide isn’t necessary. For an easy hike, the trek to Bafi Refuge from the church of Ayia Triada only takes 40 minutes. For something more challenging, try the 12-mile (20km) trek from Avlona to Agia Marina.
8. Stroll through Anafiotika
Anafiotika is a 19th-century neighborhood built into the northern side of the Acropolis hill. It lies above Plaka, near the entrance to the Agora, but has none of the hustle and bustle of the city center. This place embodies the feel of the Greek islands, boasting whitewashed walls, shuttered windows, and tiny sidewalk cafes. It feels far removed from Athens and is one of my favorite parts of the city.
9. Visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Dating from the sixth century BCE, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was once the largest temple in Greece (it took almost 700 years to build). Peisistratos, the son of Hippocrates and ruler of Athens from 561-527 BCE), started its construction and then abandoned it after funds ran dry. Hadrian finished the job in 131 CE, and then built an enormous statue of Zeus (and then an enormous statue of himself). There are several Corinthian columns still standing, although many have fallen. Admission is 6 EUR.
10. Take a food tour
Athens is one big gastronomic adventure. To sample the city’s best eats, Athens Walking Tours has several different food tour options you can explore, including street food tours and cooking classes. You can try filo-layered bougatsa (breakfast pastry), loukoumades (fried donut balls), grilled meats, fresh feta, Greek olives, and some tasty local wines. Tours start from 49 EUR (and you get a lot of food for that price).
11. See the Temple of Hephaestus
Constructed in the 5th century BCE, this temple is one of the best-preserved in the city. Located on Agoraios Kolonos hill, this temple was dedicated to Hephaestus, the patron god of craftsmen. The temple was used by Christians from the 7th century to the 19th century, which is why it has been preserved so well. Admission is 10 EUR. Arrive early in the morning for the best lighting and views.
12. See Hadrian’s Library
Built in 132 CE by Roman Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from 117-138 CE), this library was built in the Roman forum fashion and was lined with columns. Located near the Temple of Hephaestus, the library had reading rooms, a lecture hall, and storage rooms for the papyrus scrolls (i.e. books). Only the ruins remain today. Admission is 6 EUR.
For more information on specific destinations in Greece, check out these guides:
Athens Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm with 4-6 beds costs 10 EUR per night while a dorm with 8 beds or more costs 8 EUR per night. Private rooms start at 30 EUR per night in peak season and 25 EUR in off-peak season. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities. A few also include free breakfast.
For those traveling with a tent, camping can be done outside the city for around 16 EUR per night for a basic tent plot without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels with a private bathroom start at 30 EUR per night. Expect basic amenities like Free Wi-Fi and AC.
You can find Airbnb’s anywhere in Athens, with a private room starting at 20 EUR per night (although they average closer to 45 EUR). A full apartment averages about 130 EUR per night.
Average cost of food – Greek cuisine has traditionally been focused on olive oil, wine, and wheat. Meat and fish are a staple at most meals, with chicken, pork, and lamb being the most popular choices. Cheeses (especially feta) and yogurts are also super common. Filo pastries stuffed with meat or spinach and cheese are a local favorite, as are moussaka (a vegetable bake) and gyro (which is similar to shawarma).
You can find gyros or souvlaki for between 2-4 EUR, while a breakfast pastry with a coffee isn’t more than 3 EUR. A hearty Greek salad costs about 5 EUR.
At a casual Greek restaurant that serves traditional cuisine, a filling meal costs around 10 EUR. For a multi-course meal with table service and a drink, expect to pay around 20-25 EUR.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 6 EUR for a combo meal. A large pizza costs 7-10 EUR while Chinese food can be found for around 6 EUR.
Beer is 5 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is 3 EUR. Bottled water is 0.50 EUR.
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as 35 EUR on groceries per week, which includes staples like pasta, rice, local produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Athens Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of 35 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook most of your meals and a little fast food, limit your drinking, use public transportation to get around, and stick to mostly cheap or free activities like free walking tours or a visit to the Acropolis Museum. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 EUR more to your budget per day.
On a mid-range budget of 95 EUR per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, drink more, eat out for all your meals at cheap street stalls, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more activities like visiting the Acropolis and the Archeological Museum.
On a “luxury” budget of 220 EUR per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, rent a car to get around, and do more paid activities and guided tours. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Athens Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Greece in general is pretty cheap and Athens is no exception. Stick to cheap eats, a few attractions, and boom, you’re set! But, with a few extra tips, your money can go a lot further. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Athens:
- Take a free walking tour – To get a feel for the city and learn some history, be sure to take a free walking tour when you arrive. Exploring a city on foot is the best way to understand it, and if you love architecture and history then this is a must! Just be sure to tip your guide at the end.
- Get a transportation pass – Buying combo tickets for Athens’ metro system is one of the best ways to save money. A one-day unlimited pass is 4.10 EUR, and a five-day pass is 8.20 EUR. You can also get a three-day tourist pass, including round-trip tickets to the airport for 20 EUR.
- Visit the sites for free – From November 1st to March 31st, all major sites in the city are free on Sundays. Though the crowds tend to be big, it’s a great way to see all the major sites and save yourself the entrance fee!
- Get a combo ticket – For 36 EUR you can get admission to the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and more. Considering the entrance fee is 20 EUR for just the Acropolis, this is a steal!
- Get the Athens City Pass – This city pass (offered by Turbo Pass) offers many discounts and deals, including free/reduced entry to Athens museums and attractions, as well as a free ride on the hop-on-hop-off bus. You can also get 50% off discounts on tours, food, and more. Prices start from 54.90 EUR or 81.90 EUR if you opt for a pass with public transit included.
- Have an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
- Stay with a local – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts in Athens. This way, you not only have a place to stay but you get a local host that can tell you the best places to go.
- Go to museums on their free admission days – Most of the museums have some days when admission is free. Check the Odysseus Culture website for details as they vary from museum to museum.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Athens
Athens has plenty of affordable hostels to choose from. Here are some of my favorites:
How to Get Around Athens
Public transportation – Athens has affordable and reliable public transportation. The fastest way to get around the city is by subway. There is also the tram, bus, and suburban railway. Tickets cost 1.20 EUR and are valid for 90 minutes. They can be used on all modes of public transport.
A one-day unlimited pass is 4.10 EUR and a five-day pass is 8.20 EUR. You can also get a three-day tourist pass, including round-trip tickets to the airport for 20 EUR. Use stasy.gr to plan your routes.
The express bus from the airport for 6 EUR each way.
Bicycle – If you’re not afraid of navigating Athens’ chaotic traffic, bike rentals are an enjoyable way to get around. Rentals start at 12 EUR per day, though electric bicycles can be double that price. Athens By Bike and Bike Me Up are two reputable companies to use.
Taxi – Base fare for taxis in Athens is 3 EUR, with each additional kilometer costing 0.74 EUR. Skip the taxis if you can as the prices add up quickly.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Athens and is generally cheaper than taxis. You can save $15 USD off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as 15 EUR per day for a multi-day rental. However, you won’t need one unless you’re going to be leaving the city to explore the surrounding area. Drivers must be at least 21 years old and have had their license for at least one year. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required.
When to Go to Athens
Summer is the most popular time to visit. However, Athens summers (June-August) are super hot. Temperatures climb as high as the mid-90s°F (mid-30s°C), which can often be unbearable for. On the other hand, if you’re planning on doing some island hopping from Athens, this is a good time to come to enjoy the Mediterranean waters.
Winters in Athens are mild, with temperatures hovering around 50°F (10°C). It rarely snows so this can be an excellent time to see the Acropolis and other famous sights without the tourist crowds. Easter is an excellent time to visit to appreciate all the Greek Orthodox celebrations.
Personally, I think that the shoulder season (April/May and September/October) is the best time to visit. Prices are a bit cheaper, temperatures are pleasant, and you can avoid the busiest time of the tourist season. If you’re on a budget and want to beat the crowds, this is when you should visit.
How to Stay Safe in Athens
Despite Athens’ gritty appearance and Greece’s economic struggles, this is a very safe city to visit as a traveler. There’s a risk of pick-pocketing and petty crime around tourist attractions and on public transit, but that’s really the only trouble you might face here. As long as you keep your valuables tucked away, you should be fine.
At night, it’s best to avoid the areas around Omonia, Exarcheia, and Kolokotroni. These areas are also often hubs for protests, which can sometimes get out of hand.
Scams can occur around Monastiraki, Syntagma, and Glyfada when tourists are lured into a bar with special discounted drink prices, and then are later forced to pay huge prices on their bar tabs or get threatened with violence.
Overall, solo travelers will be safe here — including solo female travelers. As long as you take the standard city precautions (avoid walking alone at night while intoxicated, keep an eye on your drink at the bar, etc.) you should be fine.
If you rent a vehicle, don’t leave any valuables in it at night. Break-ins are rare but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, and don’t keep a lot of valuables on you.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Greece Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Greece. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Take Walks – This day tour company provides inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock too!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home-cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price), but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Athens Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Athens Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Iliad, by Homer
A story of men and gods, Homer’s epic poem conveys the horror and heroism of the Trojan War before moving into its heart-wrenching, tragic conclusion. The translated version by classicist Robert Fagles is a beautiful rendition of this story. Just take a second to appreciate the fact that this poem has been around since the 9th century BCE. It’s a wonderful glimpse into life at that time. (Follow it up with The Odyssey!)
Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis
This book was first published in 1946 and is considered a Greek classic. It’s the story of a Greek working man named Zorba, a great lover of life, and the unnamed narrator who accompanies him to Crete where they work together in a mine. The book is about the “struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life.” Zorba is a lively, memorable character, and the writing the absolutely poetic. This is a must-read.
Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, by Sofka Zinovieff
Sofka Zinovieff became enamored with Greece when she studied there as a student. Years later she moved back with her Greek husband and two young daughters. This book is about her first year in Athens and all the trials and (hilarious) tribulations that come with learning how to be Athenian. There are a lot of great insights into everyday Athenian life here, including how to catch a taxi, the importance of cigarettes, and how to get a pig cooked at the bakers. It will definitely spark your desire to hang out in Athens for a while!
It’s All Greek to Me, by John Mole
This is the self-deprecating, humorous true story of John Mole, a man whose dreams of a Greek paradise lead him to buy a broken-down home in the countryside. The house has no water, no electricity, no doors, and no windows. Mole drags his family along for the journey. Together, they spend time cleaning out 20 years of goat poop and getting to know the friendly neighbors (like Elpida, who cures back pain with raw eggs). This is a seriously funny, charming book!
The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir, by Tom Stone
One summer, Tom Stone went to Greece to write a novel. He ended up staying 22 years. On the island of Patmos, he fell in love with a French painter named Danielle, and seven years later they moved to Crete. This book is about life as an American struggling to make his dreams a reality in a foreign place and all the joys and sorrows that accompany that.
Athens Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Greece travel and continue planning your trip: