Athens. This gigantic city sprawls out over 1,131 square miles (2,929 square kilometers) and is home to over 664,000 people. It’s been a city since its founding in 508 BC.
And it’s one of the most visited places in Greece! It makes for the perfect start/end of a trip (mostly because you have to fly out of the city if you want to go anywhere international).
This is a city steeped in history and has some of the largest collection of Greek ruins and artifacts in the world.
However, outside the ruins and the beautiful Plaka, I tend to find Athens is a city filled with graffiti and trash. I love the history, I love the chaos, I love the Greeks, I just don’t love the city. Even the folks I know from Athens try to get away.
Given the amount of history and sights there are here, I’d plan to spend about three days here. You’ll need it to see everything here!
This travel guide to Athens will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Athens
1. Visit the Acropolis
2. Visit the Acropolis Museum
3. Visit The National Archaeological Museum
4. Hike to the top of Lycabettus
5. Explore the Greek Agora
Other Things to See and Do in Athens
1. 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 and nibble. It’s open every day of the week except Sunday, from early morning until late afternoon (and it gets very crowded around lunch time).
2. Go to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon
The Temple of Poseidon is remarkably preserved, and it’s never as busy as other temples in Athens. Constructed in 444 BC, 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 or Lavrio. The bus costs about €13 ($14 USD) to get there for a 90-minute journey, and access to the archaeological site is €8 ($8.80 USD).
3. Visit the Kanellopoulos Museum
This former mansion dates back to 1884. Now, it’s home to a collection of jewelry, weapons, clay-and-stone vases, Byzantine art, various figurines, and furniture that once belonged to the wealthy Kanellopoulos family. Some pieces in this private collection date back to 3,000 BC. Although there isn’t much English signage, you’ll rarely have to compete for views with other visitors. Admission is €2 ($2.20 USD).
4. See the Tower of the Winds
Originally built by Andronicus in the first century BC, this tower once functioned as a sundial, weather vane, compass, and water clock. Basically, it’s the first weather station in history! 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 ($6.60 USD) to visit.
5. Witness the Easter Vigil
If you happen to be in Athens during Easter weekend, don’t miss the enchanting vigil procession. Every Good Friday around 9PM, 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.
6. Hike in Parnitha National Park
Here you’ll find several caves, gorges, and springs to explore. There are about 75 well-marked paths, so a guide isn’t really 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 (20-kilometer) trek from Avlona to Agia Marina.
7. 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 — its whitewashed walls, shuttered windows, and tiny sidewalk cafes feel far removed from Athens! It’s one of my favorite parts of the city.
8. Visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Dating from the sixth century BC, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was once the largest in Greece, and it took over 700 years to build. Peisistratos started its construction, and then abandoned after funds ran dry. Hadrian finished the job in AD 131, 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 €2 (it’s free if you already have admission to the Acropolis). Admission is €6 ($6.60 USD).
9. Take a food tour
Athens is one big gastronomic adventure. Athens Walking Tours has several different options, including street food tours and cooking classes. You’ll try filo-layered bougatsa, fried donut balls (loukoumades), grilled meats, fresh feta, Greek olives, and some tasty local wines. Tours start from €39 ($43 USD), and you’ll get a lot of food for that price!
10. Take an in-depth walking tour
On a walking tour around Athens, you’ll get your bearings, learn some fascinating info about the city’s ancient history, and get the insider scoop on what to see and do during your visit. 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’ll get lots of behind-the-scenes action, including at the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.
For more information on specific destinations in Greece, check out these guides:
Athens Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed will cost about €24 ($27 USD) per night for a room with four-six beds. A dorm with eight beds or more costs from €18 ($20 USD) per night.
A basic twin private room with an ensuite bathroom costs about €60 ($65 USD) per night for one person. A standard double private room with an ensuite bathroom is about €68 ($75 USD) for two people.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about €91 ($100 USD).
You can find Airbnbs anywhere in Athens, with shared accommodation (like a bed in a dorm) starting at €27 ($30 USD) per night. For a private room, expect to pay from €55 ($50 USD) per night, while a full apartment averages about €92 ($102 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – Athens has ton of cheap food. You can find gyros or souvlaki anywhere for between €2-4 ($2.20-4.40 USD), while a breakfast pastry with a coffee isn’t more than €3 ($3.30 USD). A hearty Greek salad will cost about €5 ($5.50 USD).
At a mid-range Greek restaurant, you’ll find a meal like moussaka for between €7-12 ($7.70-13 USD), and a beer to go with it will cost about €4 ($4.40 USD). Higher-end restaurants will have entrees like lamb or rooster starting from €20 ($22 USD), while a seven-course menu starts from €45 ($50 USD).
For perspective, a meal at McDonald’s will cost about €6 ($6.60 USD).
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as €40 ($44 USD) on groceries per week, which would include some meat, bread, eggs, cheese, some veggies, and fruit.
Backpacking Athens Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Athens, my suggested budget is around €54 ($60 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, public transportation, street food and cheap local eats, and a very limited number of attractions. If you want to see more attractions, I’d add another €10 per day.
A mid-range budget of about €116 ($128 USD) will cover staying in a cheap hotel or Airbnb, eating out for all of your meals, all the attractions you want, a few tours, cabs, and some drinks.
For €231 ($255 USD) or more per day, you can get a nice four-star hotel, any meal you want, drinks, tours, and cabs! For here on up, the sky is the limit and you’ll enjoy some nice luxury.
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 USD.
Athens Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Athens is pretty affordable so if you’re trying to visit here on a budget, you won’t find it too hard to do. Greece in general is pretty cheap and Athens is no expectation. 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 with Athens Free Walking Tour. Exploring a city on foot is the best way to understand it, and if you love architecture and history then this is a must!
- 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 €4.50 ($5 USD), and a five-day pass is €9 ($10 USD). You can also get a three-day tourist pass, including round-trip tickets to the airport for €22 ($25 USD).
- 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 a lot bigger this day, it’s a great way to see all the major sites and save yourself the entrance fee!
- Get a combo ticket – For €30 ($33 USD) you can get admission to the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Aristotle’s School, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and more. Considering the entrance fee is €20 ($22 USD) for just the Acropolis, this is a steal!
- Get the Athens City Pass – The city 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, etc. Prices start from €34 ($38 USD), but passes with public transit included cost from €70 ($72 USD) for three days.
- 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.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
Where To Stay in Athens
When looking for a hostel in Athens, try to find a place closer to the historic city center rather than places like Omonia or Exarcheia (those areas can be a little shady at night). Here are some of my suggested places to stay in Athens:
How to Get Around Athens
Train – Athens has an affordable and incredibly reliable public transportation system that covers almost all of the city and its suburbs. The fastest way to get around the city is by subway, with three lines connecting to the tram, bus, and suburban railway. One ticket costs €1.40 ($1.55 USD) and is valid for 90 minutes, and can be used on all modes of public transport.
Line one is an overground train that runs between Kifissia to Piraeus port. It also connects to the other lines in Attiki, Omonia, and Monastiraki.
You have to purchase the Ath.ena Ticket to access the public transit system. This is a reloadable card available from ticket machines and offices. One-way tickets cost €1.40 ($1.55 USD) each, but you can load more than one ride on each ticket. A one-day unlimited pass is €4.50 ($5 USD), and a five-day pass is €9 ($10 USD). You can also get a three-day tourist pass, including round-trip tickets to the airport for €22 ($25 USD).
Use stasy.gr to find your routes.
The express bus from the airport for €6 ($6.60 USD) each way.
Bicycle – If you’re not afraid of navigating Athens’ chaotic traffic, bicycle rental is an enjoyable way to get around. Rentals start at about €12 ($13 USD) per day, but electric bicycles can be double that price. Athens By Bike and Bike Me Up are two good companies to use.
Taxi – A base fare for a taxi in Athens is €3.50 ($4 USD), with each additional kilometer costing €0.75 ($0.85 USD) per kilometer after that. A 5-kilometer journey should cost no more than €7.20 ($8 USD).
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Athens. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Athens
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 sightseeing around the Acropolis and all the other outdoor sites. 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 are mild, with temperatures usually above 50°F (10°C) each day. It rarely snows, and 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.
Shoulder season (fall and spring) is the best time to visit Athens, however. Prices are moderate, temperatures are pleasant, and you’ll avoid the busiest time of the tourist season. In the fall especially you can still enjoy the warm Mediterannean coast just outside of Athens.
How to Stay Safe in Athens
Despite Athens’ gritty appearance and Greece’s recent economic turmoil, 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 troubles you’ll face here.
At night, it’s best to avoid the areas around Omonia, Exarcheia, and Kolokotroni. These areas (and Syntagma Square) are also often hubs for protests, which can sometimes get out of hand. It’s best not to get involved.
Scams sometimes 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.
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 will protect 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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Take Walks – This day tour company will give you 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 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’ll 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 or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- 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
- 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 BC. 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 now 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 Zorba to Crete where they work together in a mine. But it’s also about the “struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life.” The best part about this book is Zorba – a memorable character who makes the most out of life, whether it’s work in the mines or hanging out with monks in a mountain monastery. It’s like pure poetry.
Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, by Sofka Zinovieff
Sofka Zinovieff became enamored with Greece when she studied there as a student, but 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 baker’s. It’ll 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 ideals of Greek paradise lead him to buying a shambled home in the countryside with no water, no electricity, no doors, no windows…you get the point. Mole drags his family along to this rural escape, where they spend some 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 book.
The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir, by Tom Stone
One summer Tom Stone went to Greece to write a novel and 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. Not long after, his friend offered him a summer partnership at his beach taverna back on Patmos, and Stone decided to go for it – although his wife warned against it. Ultimately she was right: Stone ended up learning the hard lessons about doing business in Greece, and that the partnership was really a “Trojan horse.” Here is his account of that time – about life as an American struggling to make his dreams a reality in a foreign place.
Athens Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Greece travel and continue planning your trip: