The third stop on our Big Fat Greek Summer vacation was Athens! Known as one of the world’s oldest cities and home to 5th century BC landmarks, Athens is Greece’s capital and most visitors to Greece spend time here during their trip. We spent 2 full days in Athens in August and share 6 practical tips to plan your visit to the city.
1. When to spend time in Athens: At the start or end of your trip?
We arrived in Athens after spending time in Mykonos and Corfu. We decided to visit Athens later in our trip because it made sense logistically for us to do so based on hotel availability as well as wanting to relax before an urban adventure. We could have spent our first few days in Greece in Athens but we decided to go to Mykonos and then to Corfu to relax and acclimate to the time change. By the time we arrived to Athens, we were ready and energized to explore. We also decided against spending the last few days of our trip in Athens, in order to relax in Santorini before making the long journey back home.
2. Getting Around: From the airport and within the city
We decided to take the Athens Airport Metro from ATH – Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos to downtown where we were staying in the Kolonaki quarter. We decided to purchase the 3-day tourist ticket for 22 euros as it includes a return ticket to the airport and the ability to ride the subway unlimited for 3 days. For comparison, a one-way ticket from the airport to Syntagma Square costs 10 euros. It takes about 40 minutes to get from the airport to Syntagma Square.
Overall, it was very easy to take the train between the airport and Syntagma Square and within Athens. The metro was efficient, ran on time, was clean and we felt safe.
3. How much time to spend in Athens
We arrived in Athens around 10:00 am on a Sunday and departed at 13:00 on a Wednesday and so we had 2.5 days of usable time. We felt this was enough time to spend exploring the city but we also felt an extra day would have come in handy to explore some of the wineries outside the city near the airport. For us and depending on our itinerary, 3-4 days in Athens would be optimal and 2 would be the minimum.
On our future to do list is a visit to Nikolou Winery to try their sparkling restina and to eat lamb at To Steki Tou Llia!
4. Weather in August: Is it too hot?
It was hot and humid in Athens in August; temperatures reached of 40 Celsius! We were expecting it to be hot though and didn’t let it slow us down. It is very easy to stay hydrated while walking about 6-8 hours per day (we purchased a few 1.5 liter bottles of water along the way for 0.50-1 euro).
Most places we visited had outdoor seating and it was always possible to find a shady spot. That being said, the evenings and nights were lovely as things came alive (many things were closed during the day). It was much more comfortable to walk around at night even if we don’t usually stay up late; we made sure to stay up later in Athens.
Many people also take holidays during August and so some of the things we wanted to visit were closed or had weird hours. One day for lunch, we ended up eating somewhere that wasn’t on our list due to restaurant closures and off-schedule hours; always have a few backup plans!
5. Where to Stay: Focus on the neighbourhood
Most visitors to Athens stay in Plaka, Syntagma, Monastiraki, Psiri, or Kolonaki. After doing our research, we decided to stay in Kolonaki because it is known to be quiet, away from the crowds, we found a nice boutique hotel there, Monsieur Didot.
We booked room 6. The ode to the light at Monsieur Didot because it offered a large private rooftop terrace for us to enjoy. We were very comfortable here and enjoyed our stay very much. Read our full review here.
Here are a few other hotel contenders:
- The Foundry in Psiri was a strong contender but we feared the ground floor terrace rooms might be a bit too loud based on reviews we had seen.
- There are two Luxury Collection Hotels near Syntagma (Hotel Grande Bretagne or King George): Due to its location near Syntagma Square (the frequent site of protests, including one that occured while we were there) we decided against staying here. Further to this, not many of the rooms had balconies or private outdoor space which was also a reason we also opted against the Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, Academias for this visit.
Writing this after staying in Athens, we felt that we made the right decision. While our hotel was a little further away, it was easy to walk/take the metro to the other neighbourhoods and it was much more quiet and relaxing in Kolonaki away from the crowds of tourists. Plaka was fine to visit but we wouldn’t stay there as it was a little too busy and touristy. When we visit Athens again though, we would be tempted to find another unique boutique hotel like Monsieur Didot because there are so many to discover!
6. What to do in Athens:
There are so many things to do in Athens; you definitely need to plan head and allocate time! Planning to the hour and minute is especially important if you intend to visit the historic sites like the Acropolis and the Parthenon but since we decided to skip them this visit due to how busy it was in Athens during our visit.
We highly recommend reading “111 Places in Athens That You Shouldn’t Miss” which features sites and places not commonly found in travel guides and travel blogs. We came across the book while staying at Monsieur Didot and added a few places to our itinerary.
Here are few highlights of things we enjoyed during our visit to Athens:
– Watching the sunset from Lycabettus Hill Viewing Area: We enjoyed watching sunset here and we did walk to the top but came back down a little lower to settle in and watch the sunset.
– Shopping: We were not there during the full Monastiraki Flea Market but enjoyed browsing the outdoor antique markets, food markets, as well as some of the shops selling beauty (highly recommend visiting the Apivita experience store and stocking up on their sunscreen!) and food products.
– Checking out street art and the neighbourhoods: There is lots of street art all over Athens but we found Psiri to have the most. It was also quite enjoyable to just wander and admire the views, monuments, buildings and plants. Tip: Check out TYCO (Take Your Cocktail Out to pick up a cocktail to go and enjoy while you’re wandering the city!)
– Eating: A big part of our itineraries center around food and Athens was no exception. We did experience some challenges in researching places as it seemed like all the food bloggers and travel show hosts went to the exact same places. We decided to take a different approach and use Google Maps to research places to eat. We were rewarded with amazing meals at a couple of places we would have not found otherwise. Also, considering each meal is about a 3 hour thing, we didn’t get to visit as many places as we wanted either.
Here are a couple of places we highly recommend:
a. Fita (ΦΙΤΑ in Greek): Just off Syngrou Avenue is a newish restaurant; Fita has been open since 2019. They specialize in seafood and have an ever changing menu with inventive dishes such as moussaka croquettes and ceviche with passionfruit. We enjoyed each dish we had here and were very appreciative they made space for us as they were full and we didn’t have a reservation (very popular with locals; we were the only tourists here!)! We highly recommend a meal here to enjoy a unique meal in a more modern setting.
b. Rakor: Located in Keramikos, Rakos is a modern taverna with inventive Greek cuisine. We ended up here after the 3 other restaurants we had on our list were closed and we are very happy we did! We enjoyed all the food; a salad with local greens, cheese and tomatoes, tuna ceviche with tapioca, and sardines. The service was really good and they had a great drink list featuring craft beers and local wine by the glass too.
– Craft Beer: Greece’s beer scene is pretty decent! In Athens, we visited the following breweries and enjoyed their beers:
a. Strange Brew: Lots of beer options here, including their Jasmine IPA that is hoppy, citrusy and floral.
b. Blame the Sun: This is a new craft brewery (found on Google Maps) that has a bit of a Tiki culture and fun beers. They also have cocktails if you don’t feel like having a beer. Really fun place to grab a couple of beers, sit outside and people watch.
We really enjoyed visiting Athens and hope to visit again one day. While it may not be as hyped as many other famous European cities, it’s a great city for urban adventures (even if you skip out on all the historic sites!)
Athens is a unique and mysterious city, with great food and friendly locals. We left with unfinished business and look forward to returning someday!
Have you been to Athens? Do you have any other tips to share?
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