Updated: Jan 4
Athens is named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. The myth states that Athena competed against Poseidon (god of the sea) for its namesake, allowing the city to decide based upon a gift they each presented. While Poseidon gifted the city with water, Athena gifted the city with an olive tree and won the hearts of the citizens bringing an abundance of food, oil, and firewood. Read the full story here.
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What Athens is Famous For
Timeframe: 5th century BC
Cost: €20 (€10 from Nov 1st - March 31st) or *Free on Select Days
As the birthplace of democracy, with much historical and archeological significance, visiting the Acropolis is a must while in Athens. Most people confuse the Acropolis & Parthenon. The Acropolis is a fortress that was built in the 5th century BC and houses many ancient buildings such as the Temple of Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, the theater of Odeon of Herodes, and the most famous being the Parthenon.
Admission: €20 (€10 from Nov 1st - March 31st)
The Parthenon is a marble temple dedicated to the goddess of wisdom & war, Athena. Located at the very top of Lycabetous hill, the Parthenon has withstood many battles, natural disasters, and lootings. The walk up Lycabetous hill takes about 20 minutes and is not too strenuous. There are archeological sites to view throughout the entire Acropolis hill, therefore, depending on your interest and appreciation, the time spent at the Acropolis could be anywhere from one to three hours.
Theater of Odeon of Herodes
Walking on these grounds is truly walking through history, which to us, was priceless. However, there are ways to see the Acropolis for free. If you plan your trip around the below *free entry days, you will be able to walk right into any archeological site, monument or museum in Greece for free
Free Entry Days to the Acropolis
March 6th: Melina Mercouri Remembrance Day
April 18th: International Monuments Day
May 18th: International Museums Day
Last weekend in September: European Heritage Days
October 28th: Oxi Day
1st Sunday of each month: November 1st - March 31st
Temple of Athena Nike
If your travels do not fall on one of the above free-entry days, tickets can be purchased at the entrance of the Acropolis within their ticket office for €20 (or €10 if between Nov 1st - March 31st). Lines can be long here, and online third parties do sell tickets ahead of time that allow you to skip the line, however, we recommend getting a combo ticket. A combo ticket is €30 and will allow you entry to not only the Acropolis, but six additional archeological sites around Athens. These sites include: the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Agora and Museums of Ancient Agora, Library of Hadrian, the Roman Agora, Aristotle's School, and Kerameikos Cemetery.
Temple of Erechtheion
J&L Tip: We avoided the lines at the Acropolis and bought a combo ticket at the Temple of Olympian Zeus for €30 (no line! We went the end of May). This combo ticket allowed us to skip the lines at all remaining archeological sites included in the combo ticket, including the long lines at the Acropolis! Additionally, the combo ticket is valid for one visit to all seven archeological sites within a five-day period so you can take your time exploring, appreciating, and learning all of Athens' history.
Timeframe: 2nd century AC
Dedicated to the Olympian Zeus, this temple was the largest in Greece and housed the largest statue in all of ancient Greece. There was a wall built around the temple, Roman bathes, and a monumental arch. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in an earthquake and only 15 columns remain.
Start your day here and buy your combo ticket or €6 separately
Timeframe: 6th century BC
"Agora" in ancient Greece refers to a "marketplace" or "gathering place". This agora, located in the center of the city, was likely used as an assembly. While many of the building within the agora have been destroyed, restored, and/or restructured since their origin, the Temple of Hephaestus is known to be one of the most well preserved temples from its era.
Admission: €10 or included in combo ticket
Timeframe: 2nd century AC
This library was build under the Roman Emperor Hadrian in order to impress the people of Athens with its grand appeal. The library not only housed literary words, but also offered a place to listen to lectures and host schools. Parts of the library still stand today and the grounds have a small museum that houses artifacts and statues excavated from the site. Below shows the courtyard which housed various churches outside the library.
Admission: €4 or included in combo ticket
5. Roman Agora
Timeframe: 2 BC
While the Ancient Agora mentioned above was used as a political gathering space, the Roman Agora was used as a marketplace. Not much different from the open-air markets we have in cities today, the citizens of ancient Greece would convene to buy, sell, & trade their crafts, foods, and talents. The grand gate entrance to the Roman Agora still stands today, as well as, several columns from its marketplace structure.
Admission: €6 or included in combo ticket
This museum is highly recommended! Easily overlooked after spending a day at the Acropolis itself, however, all of the true treasures of the Acropolis are housed within this museum. Over the years, many looters have stolen key pieces from Parthenon. Many of these pieces have been re-discovered by excavators and are now housed in this museum.
Our favorite part was walking around the top level, where a re-creation of the Parthenon's missing pieces were on display to paint the full picture. This museum also did a wonderful job of explaining more of the history behind the Acropolis, its archeological sites, and their historical significance. If you have an interest in ancient Greek history and artifacts, you may also consider going to the National Archaeological Museum (€6-12).
Admission: €6 per adult
7. Areopagus (Mars Hill)
This is a large marble hill located at the base of the Acropolis. It has historical and biblical significance in that it is the location where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous sermon (Acts 17:21-26). During this time, Mars Hill was a place to discuss political, religious, and philosophical matters. Come to pay your respects around sunset for incredible sunset views with an Acropolis backdrop.
Fact: Location where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous sermon (Acts 17:21-26).
Depending on your comfort level, you may decide to avoid Monastiraki all together. However, this is the city center that houses farmers markets, street dancers, temples, and merchants. We found this to be a great place to walk around, people-watch, and shop for souvenirs.
However, it was by-far the most crowded area in Athens which can lead to some shady business. Pick-pocketers are know for lurking in Monastiraki, as well as, people coming up to you trying to sell you merchandise, "package deals", or "interview you". The crime that occurs in Monastiraki is harmless and easy to avoid when using common sense. We do not think this should discourage you from walking through this bustling part of town.
J&L Advice: Carry a zipper-locked purse on the front of your body, do not talk to anyone who is not running a shop or restaurant, and keep moving while in Monastiraki.
What is Athens' Famous Food?
We are still salivating over Greek Souvlaki, it is incredible! Similar to gyros, however, souvlaki meat is cooked horizontally on a rotating skewer vs. gyro meat which is cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Souvlaki is filled with a warm Greek yogurt sauce and French fries seasoned in paprika. We highly recommend trying Souvlaki at Street Souvlaki. With multiple locations around Athens and Souvlaki under €4, you may find yourself stopping here more than once (we certainly did!)
Our favorite food in Greece!
Baklava is a staple dessert in Greece, consistent of layer upon layer of filo pastry, nuts & spices all held together with a honey or syrup. There are many great bakeries to try Baklava throughout Athens, however, we would recommend going to Metropolitikón. This is a family-owned business of three-generations that opened in 1930. They serve Greek-style baklava and at an affordable price! The owners also provide exceptional customer service, explaining the different baklava options and even showing pictures before ordering. You will not be disappointed at Metropolitikón!
Try: Baklava at the family-owned Metropolitikón
Savvas in in the heart of Athens, offering many Greek cuisines such as stuffed gyros, salads, and kebabs. With affordable prices for both food and beverages, this was one of our favorite dining experiences within Athens. Exceptional customer service, delicious foods, and priceless views, we would recommend Savvas to any family and friends visiting Athens.
J&L Tip: Ask to be seated on the rooftop garden for views of the Acropolis!
Deep fried fluffy doughnut-like balls drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. If that description does not sound heavenly enough, Loukoumades were offered up to the gods during the time of ancient Greece, meaning they should certainly satisfy the sweet tooth of any of us commoners. Perfecting this ancient and traditional recipe is Lukumades. While they do offer many different topping for your Loukoumades, be sure to order plain Loukoumades drizzled it honey and cinnamon for an authentic taste.
Try: Order plain Loukoumades drizzled in honey cinnamon at Lukumades
What is the most popular beer in Greece?
Recommended Brew: Night Vision (Black IPA - 7.2% ABV)
When Noctua opened in 2016, it was the only microbrewery in Athens. Its founders dreamed of raising Athens’ craft beer scene to the level they had enjoyed worldwide. Noctua’s name derives from the owl of Athena, the city’s patron and the ancient goddess of wisdom. Night Vision is a full bodied dark IPA with a moderate bitterness that combines baked malts with a lot of hops.
Also Read: Best craft beers of Europe
Recommended Brew: Jasmine (IPA - 6.7% ABV)
Without many breweries downtown Athens at a walkable distance, what better way to try some local Greek craft beers then a fun tap house? Strange Brew Taproom has a number of unique Greek & European craft beers on tap (including their own) making it a one-stop shop for craft beer lovers! Jasmine is Strange Brew's flagship beer, a refreshing tropical taste with citrus flavors that will delight your senses.
Also Read: Santorini Complete Guide
3. Barley Cargo
Recommended Brew: Noble Men's Caldera Summer (Blonde Lager - 5% ABV)
There are many great craft beers in Greece that do no have a brewery to visit. Barley Cargo is a way you can support local brewers without having to leave the city limits. It houses over 350 different selections of beers, with over 140 selections from Greek Microbreweries. Here you can find beers from the brew masters a Noble Men, particularly their new blonde lager based off of the unique views at Santorini called Caldera Summer.
Planning Your Trip
How many days in Athens is enough?
We recommend visiting Athens for 2-3 days in order to view the city's top attractions and historical sites.
J&L Recommended: 2-3 Days. Also read One Day in Athens
When is the best time to visit Athens?
We recommend visiting Athens in the spring and fall months in order to avoid large crowds while still having optimal temperatures.
J&L Recommended: April - May & September - November
Which area of Athens is best to stay in?
We stayed in the Psiri Neighborhood, close to the Acropolis in Athens. Psiri has many great cafes, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment making it a great location for lodging. This is a relatively safe area, while allowing close proximity to many of the archeological sites within the city. For our top recommended hostels based on location and value, see Best Hostels of Europe. For great deals on hotels, visit Booking.com
J&L Recommended: Mosaikon Hostel
Where should you not stay in Athens?
There are several areas to avoid within Athens due to higher crime rates. These areas include: Omonia, Exarcheia, & Vathi. We would also recommend avoiding spending much time in Syntagma Square as this is a political hub and is known for protests breaking out. Many public transportation leads to Syntagma Square, which means it cannot be entirely avoided. However, erroring on the side of caution, we wanted to bring its history of protesting to your attention. We have also marked the areas to avoid within our Mobile Guide of Athens to help keep you stay safe.
How do you get around Athens?
Athens is a very walkable city. We were able reach all of our attractions and restaurants during our stay by foot with no issue. We only used public transportation when getting to the city from the airport.
How to get to and from the airport in Athens
For this, we would recommend taking the X95 bus to Syntagma Square. It is roughly a 40 minute bus ride and departs from the airport every 15-20 minutes. See the timetables and route here. One-way tickets are €6.
We highly recommend buying the one-way and not round trip. When we were in Athens, there was a protest happening the day we wanted to return to the airport and no buses/metros/trains were running. If you find yourself in this scenario, you can use Uber to request a taxi to the airport. Uber does not technically exist in Athens, however, you can use the app to request and pay for an Athens taxi. It is recommended to use the Uber app, as it charges a fixed price within the app and avoids being scammed by local taxi drivers who are known for overcharging tourists. Be prepared to pay much higher prices than public transportation. A one-way Uber taxi to the airport will be between €30-40.
Bus: One-way tickets are €6; Uber: €30-40
Affordable International Data
Want to avoid roaming charges and $10/day international data fees? Airalo allows you to download an e-SIM to your phone and activate while in Europe for a very affordable price. We bought 3 GB of data valid for 30 days from activation for only $7. It worked great throughout our entire Europe trip and was very easy to install. Airalo offers e-SIMs all around the world and we can validate that it works with ease in multiple European countries.
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Historical data about Archeological Sites is from the World History Encyclopedia