One of the most common questions travelers to Athens ask is “how expensive is Athens?” It’s true that the city is not as expensive as Rome, Paris or London, but the cost of your trips depends on a lot of factors, such as: what time of the year you plan to travel, your travel style, etc. So, if you are looking for the short answer, that’s “well, it depends”, but if you are looking for the longer answer, read on.
Athens is not exactly a major European hub. However, its modern airport handles flights to/from a lot of destinations in the world. If you fly from another European city, look for the budget airlines that fly to Athens . Such low cost flights are available from Western or Southern Europe and, depending on when you fly, you’ll be able to get away with pretty low fares.
Fly in March or October to save a lot of money (flights are around €65 RT from London). But if you want to fly during the warm month, you’ll pay a bit more. Still, book your ticket in advance – 4 to 8 weeks before departure – , avoid flying during the weekends and on major holidays (such as Easter) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with a cheap flight.
>>read more about How to get from Athens Airport to Athens City Center
Hotels in Athens range from very cheap – which are more like hostels – and luxury. Location, facilities and time of year when you travel influence the room rates. Ideally, you should first decide the period when you plan to travel and then choose an area where to stay in Athens. Obviously, the choice of accommodation will influence the total vacation budget. You’d want to be close to the transportation options (metro station, bus station) and within easy reach of the sights.
I personally recommend the area around Monastiraki ,which includes Psiri and Plaka. You’ll be staying close to the archeological sights, tavenas, night life and with easy access to the airport and Piraeus port.
If you want to stay in a hotel with a view of Acropolis , the room rate will show that. In other words, you pay a hefty price for your view. So, if you choose a hotel without such views, you’ll send some money, but you’ll still be close to all the sights. Allow around €40 per night for a double room in a budget hotel, and about half if you choose a hostel.
Athens can really scare you when you see the hectic traffic. But go underground and everything is calm, fast and easy to figure out. Sure, the Athens Metro only has two lines but they get you to key locations: airport and city center. Plus, the light rail takes you directly to Piraeus port. Metro tickets can easily be bought from the automatic machines available in the stations. A ticket to/from the airport costs €8 one way. Buses are also available but the traveling time can be a bit too long because of the traffic.
For getting between the mainland and the islands – or between the islands – the best option is choosing the ferry . Pay attention that not all routes are services year round.
>>read more about when to book your Greek ferry ticket
Attraction and tours
There is a combined ticket which covers the major archeological sites in Athens, includes: Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, the Greek Agora & the museum, the Roman Agora and Kerameykos. It costs €12 per person and is valid for 4 days. You can save even more money if you visit Greece during winter (Nov 1 to Mar 31 means free entrance to all state-owned sites every Sunday).
An Athens free walking tour is a very easy way to save money and get a lot of information about the sights. Plus, there are plenty other free things to do in Athens , including visiting some interesting museums.
Drinking and dining
Take advantage of the breakfast included in the room rate (if it’s not included, ask what they offer and opt for it). Usually, breakfast is big enough to provide you with energy for at least half a day. If hunger strikes while visiting the sights, you can stop and grab gyros (which is souvlaki in pita bread). It would keep you filled for hours. Or stop by a taverna to sample the Greek food . Mezedes are varied and can be shared with your friends. They are excellent value for money and taste divine. However, try to stay away from the touristy places in Plaka (all the way to Monastiraki). Instead, walk further to Psiri to discover small places, filled mostly with locals.
If you are still hungry or need something to nibble while in the hotel, the stores are a good choice. Or you can go by the market in front of Monastiraki Metro Station and get some incredible (and cheap) fresh fruits.
Ermou Street is the commercial pedestrian street of Athens. There are plenty of stores to check out, from budget to luxury. The souvenir shops in Plaka can be touristy traps but there’s no harm in paying €0.50 for a fridge magnet. Explore the Monastiraki Flea Market for cheap clothes or jewelry to bring back home.
The bottom line
The cost of your Athens vacation will vary according to a number of factors. If you go in the spring or fall, you can take advantage of both low cost flights and cheap accommodation.
In March 2012, I paid €66 RT from Rome (per person) , while the hotel set me back another €20 per night (two persons, excluding breakfast). Breakfast was €4 per person. I also paid €2 for a chicken gyros , €4.50 for a Greek salad (in a café near the Acropolis) and €1.50 for a frappe (also close to the Acropolis). A lunch for 3 in a taverna, including mezedes and a hot cheese plate, was about €65. Of course, visiting during summer will cost more.
Photo credits: Cristina Puscas and may not be used without permission.