Weekend Guide to Athens
Athens is an awesome city that offers a constant reminder of history while also enjoying the buzz of a modern European city. It’s near impossible to go anywhere in Athens that doesn’t have the breathtaking views of the Acropolis in site. Stroll down any street and find a welcoming restaurant or cafe that is waiting to welcome you, happy to offer you a place to rest your feet and enjoy a leisurely coffee or beer.
Where to Stay
The easiest way to orient yourself in Athens is in relation to the Acropolis. I would recommend staying within the pink box on the map, especially to the southeast of the Acropolis. Plaka and Monastiraki are popular neighborhoods where you will find plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops. You will be in a good location to walk to the tourist activities and you’ll find these neighborhoods quite safe. Many hotels and guesthouses offer views of the Acropolis from the room, although you may pay a premium price for the view. I also found AirBnB is very popular in Athens and you will find many recently renovated apartments available for good prices.
When to Go
There are two things to consider when you plan the timing of your trip to Athens, the weather and the tourists. Summertime is hot in Athens, like bright scorching sun hot. Athens is also in Europe, where everyone takes vacation in July & August. So between those two things I recommend traveling in the late spring or early fall to avoid the crowds and heat.
At the current time Uber and Lyft do not operate in Athens. However, there is an app called Beat which works just like the Uber app but is hooked up with the local taxi companies. The app works exactly as you would expect, you enter your pickup and drop off points in the app, you can track where the car is on the map and your credit card is charged at the end of the ride. The only downside is that the fairs are regular taxi fares, not a discounted rate as you might get from Uber.
The other convenient service available is Welcome Pickups. They cater to people traveling between the airport/downtown or the ferry port and downtown. The ride from the airport to downtown Athens was about 4 euro more than a normal taxi but with the service of a private car. The driver waits inside the airport holding a sign with your name in the arrival’s terminal. When you book online you pre-pay and provide your destination info so there is no need to be fiddling to find the address of your hotel or to sort out your cash immediately upon riding. These extra features make the 4 euro extra worthwhile.
For the budget conscious there is also a subway system that travels between the airport, ferry terminal and downtown however I have been told there is quite a problem with pickpockets targeting tourists so I avoided the train.
Where to Eat
Athens has a ton of great dining options, including many options which won’t break the bank. If you are traveling on a budget you can easily get a street-side gyro for a couple of euros. Casual dining places range from literal counters on the side of a building to cafes with tables on the street. One reasonable café with table service is O Thanasis in Monastiraki. They offer very good kebab plates, gyros, greek salads and other Greek dishes with fast service and reasonable prices..
If you are looking for a higher end dining experience try Athiri, a Michelin guide restaurant. Here we shared an amazing sea bass tartar with a unique citrus and parsley oil sauce. For our main course we had sous vide lamb; both dishes were amazing. The prices were quite reasonable if you were to compare the same meal to any other big city. Athiri is located in a more residential neighborhood and I would recommend traveling by taxi to get there.
Pro-Tip: Bread is not complimentary, if you don’t want it you can say no when the server offers it, otherwise you will be charged a couple of Euro for it.
Coffee is something else that must be enjoyed in Athens. My favorite coffee shop that I found is Terra Carpo. It’s an unassuming shop, open to the street and you would probably walk by if you weren’t looking for it. They will make any cappuccino, quartino, younameyourfancy-ino for you on the spot. They also serve lots of snacks and sweets to enjoy.
What to do
I always start my trips with a walking tour to orient myself in a new city. Athens offers a few different free walking tours. Sign up in advance to save your spot, but all you have to pay is a tip to the guide at the end. There are plenty of additional tourist sites to see in Athens. You can (and should) spend a day sightseeing; walk up to the Acropolis, visit the museums and experience the early Olympic games at the Panathenaic Stadium.
But there are also some unique things to do that you may not think of. One option is to take a cooking class where you will learn not only recipes to make great Greek dishes but also some of the history about where and when different dishes came to be part of Greek culture. After you finish cooking you can enjoy the local cuisine you have cooked as well as some local wine and of course ouzo!
Pro Tip: Athens has the cheapest souvenirs I saw in Greece. I saw the same coin purses that were being sold for 50 cents in Athens being sold for 2 euro on the islands. Definitely buy things here before heading on to the islands.
Athens is often overshadowed by so many of the gorgeous Greek islands. But do try to take a couple of days and enjoy the city for what it is, you won’t be disappointed.