Athens is not only the capital of Greece but also the birthplace of the Western civilization. Well known for the Acropolis and being the gateway to the Greek islands, Athens is also a scenic city. Within the capital, there are 12 hills but only 7 of them are of historical importance. And out of them only the Acropolis and Lycabettus are the best known. Aside from offering a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, these hills also offer superb views of the Saronic Gulf.
Although Athens is a large city, the places of interest for the tourists are located within a relatively small area surrounding Syntagma Square. That’s why, when looking for a place to stay in Athens, start with the hotels near Syntagma Square. If they prove to be more than your budget can handle*, then look for hostels in the same area.
Spring and late autumn are the best times to visit Athens but winter is the ideal season to visit if you are after saving a lot of money (on both flights and accommodation**).
Since most of us don’t have the luxury of getting two (or even three) weeks off for a vacation, I thought of putting together a 5-days itinerary for visiting Athens.
- you will be flying in and out of Athens’ airport
- you will be staying in a hotel or hostel close to the Acropolis (or even better, a hotel with a view of the Acropolis )
- during the stay, you’ll be using the public transportation
- you’ll be staying in Athens for 5 days (so you’ll leave on the 6th day)
Once you get to the hotel and check-in, make sure to also get a map of Athens (those free maps available at hotels/hostels are excellent, at least for getting around on foot). You’ll probably arrive by early evening so your next worry should be a late lunch (or an early dinner, whichever you prefer). There are plenty of restaurants in Athens but a very easy way to find a traditional taverna is to ask at the reception. And you’ll get the first taste of Athens!
If you are into clubbing, then you can check out the clubs of Psiri, an area known for the trendy clubs and cheap ouzo (of course, in tavernas). If you don’t fancy this idea, then enjoy the city at night. Statistically, Athens is safer than London and Paris, but do use your common sense and try not to get too far from where you are staying.
If you have breakfast included in the room price, then, by all means, have something to eat before you head out. It will probably last for couple of hours. Then allow 2 ½ h – 3 h for a free walking tour of the city . Tours leave from the Acropolis museum entrance and you’ll also learn about Athens thanks to the tour guides (English and French).
By now you are probably hungry again so look for a place which makes souvlaki (that would be fast food Greek style). I know it’s not a “proper” lunch but it’s…well, yummy!
Now go to the Acropolis. It will probably take up the rest of your day and do make sure to stay on the hill for the sunset. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water with you (yes, even if you visit in spring or autumn).
By the time you are done with visiting the Acropolis all you’ll want is dinner, a shower, and sleep. So, on the way back from the Acropolis, choose of the tavernas and enjoy some Greek food. A good wine is a good choice for the end of the day.
After breakfast, follow the Adrianou (Hadrian) Street and head to the Ancient Agora. At the west of Plaka, there is the Roman Forum***.
If you like folk art, then you can visit the Museum of Greek Folk Art which displays embroideries, costumes, and painting. It is also located in Plaka.
Now look for a restaurant and enjoy lunch, while getting some rest, as well.
How about visit the Acropolis Museum after lunch? You’ll see the excavations which still take place on the slopes leading to the Acropolis and also a lot of objects that have been retrieved from the site. Replicas of the metopes which adorned the Parthenon are on display, as well. General admission is €5.
What now? You guessed it: dinner, shower, sleep.
Today you should allow some time for watching the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament. They take place every hour but on Sundays at 11 a.m. there is a larger group of Evzones performing the change of guards.
Opposite Syntagma Square, there are the National Gardens. Or you can take the funicular from Kolonaki which goes up on Lycabettus Hill. Enjoy the scenery and don’t forget to take photos.
The best half day trip is definitely Cape Sounion. There are buses leaving from various stops, including Syntagma Square. The fare is about 5 €. Buses via the costal road leave between 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (every hour), those via Lavrio leave from 5:45 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. and there are other buses which leave from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can choose an organized tour (the hotel staff will be able to help with that, of course).
Cape Sounion is the site of the ruins of an ancient Greek temple of Poseidon. The ruins are perched on headland, surrounded by the sea from three sides. The sunsets over the Aegean Sea are absolutely magnificent.
Come back to Athens for dinner and good night’s sleep.
After breakfast, get to Piraeus and hop on the next ferry to Aegina. There are ferries connecting to this island year round and the journey is only 40 minutes. There are five departures per day (during the low season****; and a lot more during the high season). The single adult fare is €13.50.
If you travel during the low season, you won’t be doing any swimming, but you are left with shopping and relaxation. Pretty good options, if you ask me! Oh there are some ruins on the island as well, located close to the port.
Get back to Athens and enjoy the city during the late evening. Have dinner and pick some souvenirs. Get a good night’s sleep before your flight back home on the next day.
* for end of May 2017, the prices for hotel rooms right in the center of Athens are really affordable. For 6 nights in a 2-star hotel close to the Acropolis, double rooms start at €31 per night, no breakfast included but AC in the room.
**from February to May and then October and November, the prices are affordable and you can easily grab deals on flights (especially if you don’t mind flying low-cost)
*** the ticket is shared with the one for Acropolis (€12 / person).
**** you can easily catch the 11 a.m. ferry to Aegina and the 4 p.m. ferry back to Piraeus