Athens doesn’t need much of an introduction. If you’ve ever taken an ancient history or world history class, it’s likely that Athens even had its own chapter.
This city-state has been the home of some of the world’s most intelligent and timelessly important people, like Plato and Socrates. It is even the birthplace of former NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo! This city has contributed heavily to the formation of Western society over the last several millennia, but some people say that it is past its prime.
Is this true? Well, in some ways, yes. But there is definitely a lot more to do in Athens than just looking at graffiti!
Keep reading for all you need to know about visiting Athens, including my own assessment as to whether or not I think Athens is worth visiting and for how long.
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Best Things to Do in Athens
As the Cradle of Western Civilization and the Birthplace of Democracy, you can imagine Athens feels like a pretty old, historic city. You would be correct to assume this. The main thing to do in Athens is to see some really old buildings and structures.
It is actually really hard to make a list of the best things to do in Athens without including all of those old structures. There are very few places in the world with this many grand and important ancient structures still intact!
Still, I tried to inject at least a little bit of modernity into this list. Here are the 5 best things to do in Athens.
1. Hike Up to the Top of the Acropolis
If you only had 3 hours anywhere in Greece, I’d hope that those 3 hours were at the Acropolis. Visiting the Acropolis is by far the best thing to do in Athens.
The Acropolis is the name of the big hill in the center of Athens where many historically important structures sit. The most notable of these is the Parthenon. Getting to the top requires a bit of a mild hike, but it is absolutely worth the effort to see the Parthenon and the surrounding views of all of Athens.
This area is always flooded with tourists during the busy season, but that doesn’t even matter.
Hire a Tour Guide to Visit the Acropolis
If you can, I recommend visiting the Acropolis with a tour guide. Seeing old buildings like this is cool, but understanding their roots and meanings is even cooler. Knowing the places where people like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle stood and thought makes a visit to the Acropolis even more worth your time.
Entrance is about €30 during the summer and €20 during the winter, but European students or non-European students studying abroad with a valid European university ID get to enter for free.
2. Explore the Fun Neighborhood of Psiri
Psiri is one of the new, shiny neighborhoods in the city of Athens. This neighborhood is stuffed with great restaurants, bars, boutiques, and things to do.
The increased investment has made this a pretty safe and fun part of Athens to check out. The restaurant and shop offerings make this a great place to spend an evening shopping, dining, and absorbing the vibes of Athens.
Head to a Rooftop Bar to View the City During Sunset
If you have the chance, I highly recommended grabbing dinner here and then making your way to a rooftop bar. From there, you can overlook the city and its stunning views as the sun begins to set.
Also, the other very popular neighborhood of Plaka is only a 10-15 minute walk away from here. You can visit them both in the same day without any kind of transportation.
3. Visit the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
This church, located on the popular pedestrian Ermou Street on the edge of Plaka, is one of the oldest churches in all of Athens. It is estimated that this church was built sometime in the 11th century, likely around the year 1050. This church is very small and is by no means the grandest church in Athens.
It is interesting to see the juxtaposition of old and new together here. This church is about 1000 years old. Yet it sits right along a busy shopping street outside of one of the most popular neighborhoods in Athens.
Seeing the old next to the new is a cool reminder of how much Athens has grown and changed. The church itself is also very neat to enter and visit.
4. Peruse Through the Varvakeios Central Market
I think that food is one of the three most crucial elements of any culture. In Greece that could not be any more true. Greek food has penetrated almost every corner of the world, and there is no better place to start trying it than in Athens.
While there is certainly great food to be eaten all over Greece, Athens is its capital city and is a great place to find a little bit of everything from each part of the country.
There Are Three Ways to Get Food in Athens
When looking for food, you have three main places to search. You can try food in restaurants, which is sure to be delicious but likely to be costly. Street food is another option, which may be delicious and cheap but sometimes may not be safe.
You can also buy delicious food in big markets, like this one, for a good price, and a higher preparation and storage standard. Even if you aren’t looking to actually buy food, experiencing the cultural elements of a central market is a really cool addition to your trip. All you need to do is walk through the market to feel the vibrant life that exists within its walls.
5. Awe at the Pieces in the Acropolis Museum
As I mentioned earlier, the Acropolis is by far the best thing to do in Athens. Likely all of Greece! But there is more to the Acropolis than just what meets the eye.
While there is a lot to see above the surface, there is also plenty buried beneath the surface. Literally, under thousands of years of dirt!
The Acropolis Museum is dedicated to the preservation and demonstration of artifacts that have been found on the Acropolis grounds. The Acropolis is an outdoor space, so these artifacts can’t be displayed at the Acropolis itself.
So, the historical buildings are located on the Acropolis, and the artifacts are located in a museum nearby. This museum is really interesting, and in my opinion is very worth visiting! You are likely to encounter a long line, but tough it out – it is worth the wait!
How to Get to Athens
Athens is the biggest city in Greece, and as such it has the country’s biggest airport. Flying into Athens International Airport (ATH) is almost always going to be your cheapest option when flying into Greece. Other airports will almost always require a layover if you’re coming from outside of Europe.
While I usually offer recommendations of other airports to fly into, this really isn’t possible for Athens. There is no city even close to Athens’ size for hundreds of miles in any direction. Flying into another country and taking a train or bus to Athens is simply not a practical option.
For help finding cheap or affordable flights, be sure to check out my post on finding affordable airfare.
Also, Athens International Airport hosts a lot of budget airlines, which are actually one of my favorite ways to travel. If you’re worried about traveling on budget airlines, be sure to check out my post on budget airline travel to alleviate any worries that you may have.
As I just mentioned above, Athens is hundreds of miles from the nearest metropolis. Yes, there are other major cities in Greece, but none of them are major European destinations. The only three major cities that you may consider taking ground transportation from are Tirana, Albania, Thessaloniki, Greece, and Sofia, Bulgaria.
Realistically, you don’t want to take ground transportation from Tirana to Athens. The drive is over 10 hours, the bus takes about 14 hours, and there is no train option.
Arriving from Sofia is slightly more reasonable, as you can take a bus to Thessaloniki then a bus or train to Athens. The bus from Sofia to Thessaloniki takes a bit under 5 hours, and then a train or bus from Thessaloniki to Athens can take as short as 4 hours or as long as 5.
Athens is located right on the water, and it is actually a very popular cruise port in Europe. Many Greek Isles cruises depart from Athens, and many Mediterranean cruises choose to stop here for a day to let tourists see the main attractions, like the Acropolis.
The sea port is located a few miles south of the center of the city, meaning you will need to either catch a taxi or metro to get downtown. The Neo Faliro metro stop is located just a short walk from the port, and it leads right into the city.
In fact, the only reason that Angel ever visited was because she was catching a cruise that left from Athens. She only had 5 hours in the city before hopping on her ship.
How to Get Around Athens
BY FOOT | METRO | UBER
Athens is a big capital city, but most of the main things to do are pretty close together. Much of the downtown area is very walkable, meaning you won’t have too much of a need for other forms of transportation.
Still, you can’t just walk everywhere. You will need to use other forms of transportation at some point!
The good news is that Athens has pretty good public transportation. There is a good metro system that links all of the main parts of the city, including the airport, and it is likely that this is the only transportation you will need to use, if you’re comfortable doing so.
Tickets from the airport into the city cost €9 one way or €16 round trip, then within the city a 90-minute ticket costs €1.2. If you are planning on using the metro a bit more, though, you can buy a tourist ticket which costs €20 and gets you unlimited metro access – including a round trip ticket from the airport – for 72 hours.
If you plan on using the metro and are staying in Athens for over a day, this is an absolute steal.
If public transportation isn’t your thing, Athens also has Uber. I am a big advocate for using Uber instead of traditional taxis, as Uber is markedly safer and easier. There is no haggling, no language barrier, and a central GPS system that always knows where you are.
If you are worried about using Uber in a foreign country, check out this blog post on using Uber abroad.
How Many Days Do You Need in Athens?
While Athens is a big city, there is an underwhelming amount of things to do. This city is not quite what it used to be. While there are many great attractions, and you can never fully explore a city in just a few days, you can definitely knock out the bulk of the “must-dos” in Athens in a day or two.
One or two days won’t be enough time to soak in all that the city has to offer, but it will be enough time to have a few great meals, visit the things on my list of the best things to do in Athens, and get at least a little bit of a feel for Athenian life.
If you were to ask me what the optimal time to visit Athens is on a trip, I would say that visiting for two full days is probably plenty of time, and any more than three is probably too much. While there is always more to see and do anywhere you travel, that time could be better spent in other places on your trip.
Is Athens Safe to Visit?
While Athens has begun to earn a reputation for being a bit rundown and dirty, it is not dangerous. Athens is considered a very safe place to travel, even for families and solo female travelers. The crime risk is very low, and the most likely issue you will encounter is petty crime like scams and pickpocketing.
If you keep your wits about you and don’t fall for anyone’s tricks, the odds of anything happening to you are slim. Still, you should never let your guard down when traveling, as tourists usually tend to be an easier target than locals, and thieves know this.
Is Athens Worth Visiting?
Now, the big question: Is Athens worth visiting? When you visit Greece, should you go to Athens?
I think, despite the fact that the city is a bit rundown, you simply can’t miss Athens. If you are going to Greece – especially if you will be on the mainland – you need to go to Athens. Even if only for a day or two, the Acropolis is simply so important that you should take the time to go visit it.
Additionally, it is unlikely that you will get to anywhere else in Greece without having a layover in Athens first, so I highly advise stretching out that layover to last a couple of days.
Athens Isn’t One of My Favorite Cities
Athens is not one of my favorite cities in Europe. I’m not saying that it is an awesome place to visit, but there are a few things that make this city good enough that you shouldn’t skip it if you’re already heading to Greece.
Now, would I recommend taking a trip exclusively to Athens and nowhere else from outside of Europe? Not one bit. If the flight is more than three hours and you are only planning to visit Athens, it is not worth it.
That’s all we have for you about Athens! If you were wondering “Is Athens really that bad?” before reading this post, hopefully it has made clear that Athens isn’t bad, but isn’t that awesome, either. Still, there are some really cool things to see and do here that shouldn’t be missed.
If you’re planning a trip to Athens, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!