Athens Tourism, Greece

Acropolis Hill, Athens, Greece

Acropolis Hill, Athens, Greece

Visiting Athens

It wouldn’t get into the top ten of Europe’s must-see cities, but Greece’s capital has improved dramatically over the last few years. The Metro is excellent, easing city mobility and diminishing pollution, while people in general and taxi drivers have a more positive attitude to foreigners.

The basic sights are as stupendous as always and many connected by a superb, lengthy pedestrian path, while the prime tourist area around the Acropolis and the Plaka district has been buffed.

Downsides

• Outside the Acropolis/Plaka area the city is still a dusty mess and many pavements/sidewalks are a dangerous disgrace, positively anti-pedestrian.

• In spite of publicity to the contrary, many tourist streets are still signposted only in Greek characters, making navigation tricky. Athens’ main station for Thessaloniki, Larisa, recently didn’t have a name plate in any language.

Athens weather

Best: March-June, September-November.
OK: November-March, but sometimes a little cold & wet.
Avoid: July-August, extremely hot and crowded.

Things to Do

Sights are clustered in an easy 8 sq km (5 sqm) rectangle, running from Syntagma (NE) to Temple of Olympion Zeus(SE) to the south corner of Acropolis hill (SW) to Thiseio metro/Keramikos cemetary (NW).
Syntagma Square is where you get to see guards in fluffy bobble shoes outside parliament (picture above right) or catch the metro or airport bus.

The Temple of Olympion Zeus (aka Olympeion) is not wildly impressive but heralds the start of the excellent new pedestrian walkway that will take you to Acropolis Hill – along with hordes of other visitors of course- to see the Parthenon temple. Try to avoid the Acropolis when it’s wet, paths are polished marble and will be slippery. n. b. all remaining carvings/statues are plaster.

From there you have three good alternative routes. Either a) continue on to tranquil Keramikos cemetery and its magnificent funerary monuments, b) go round the corner to see the little whitewashed houses of Anafiotika or c) dive down into the ancient Agora (market), the Temple of Hephaestus or varied Roman remains.

The New Acropolis Museum is a work of art itself and deserves a half-day visit at a modest cost.

Warning
Some sights involve little more than a couple of Romanesque columns, a partially dissolved face and a pile of rocks but the top floor is spectacular.

Outside these sights tourists with time on their hands may enjoy the views from Lykavittos Hill, a little north-east of Syntagma; cable car available.

Best sights

• Acropolis Hill including the Theatre of Dionysos, the little Erechtheion temple and the main attraction, the Parthenon.

• Ancient Agora, an old market place, including the Agora Museum inside the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, and the Temple of Hephaestus. Up the hill there’s expensive dining and cute little Anafiotika village.

Syntagma Square, a metro station, the Parliament building and guards in pom-pom clogs.

• Temple of Olympian Zeus, aka the Olympeion, though not much is left barring a dozen massive Corinthian columns and the Arch of Hadrian.

• Monastiraki district/metro stop, once home to Lord Byron now home to Athens flea market, the Ceramic Museum, a terrific atmosphere and downmarket shopping bargains galore. Near Plaka.

• Filopappos Hill, a calm green walk, some great views (the photo at top was taken there), the Dora Stratou Theatre and a pleasant café.

• Thision district/metro stop and access to fashionable, non-touristy Psiri district and Keramikos cemetery.

• lovely, tranquil, Kerameikos cemetery.

• Benaki Museum displays the historical and cultural development of the Greek nation through collections that cover eras from Roman domination to the medieval period, the fall of Constantinople and the struggle for Greek independence in 1821, Clothing, jewellery, wood carving and much more. Near Parliament.

• National Archaeological Museum is well organised and houses some wonderful exhibits, especially art and artefacts from the ancient but advanced Minoan civilisation (possibly the original Atlanteans, wiped out by a Santorini eruption) and staff that are dull, disinterested, noisy and smoke inside the museum.
Displays include statues, masks, pottery, coins, ornaments. The museum is a bit out of town in an area that is quite shabby and unsettling so take a cab if that would bother you.

• Psiri (Psyrri) district, the best area for eating and drinking alongside affluent young locals, as opposed to neighbouring Plaka’s tourist herds.

Plaka district, home to a million Athens tourists, charming and cute in places but overcrowded, overpriced and overcooked. And overcharged too if you’re not carefu. Try Psiri instead.

Syntagma Square, metro station, Parliament building and guards in pom-pom clogs, not hugely attractive but everyone has to go there once.

Short Trips Out

Piraeus & Rafina
Athens’ two main ports Piraeus is an easy metro ride, while Rafina is an hour on a bus. Neither are good for much other than access to Greece’s islands.

Voula and Vouliagameni
Beaches, near Athens, 45minutes by metro/bus. Open 8am-8pm, it costs a few €s.

Cape Sounion
70kms from the city, this is a much favoured sunset viewpoint, with its Temple of Poseidon and graffiti from Lord Byron. Buses take about two hours.

Napflion
a very pretty old town of elegant houses and huge forts, it makes a good base to explore ancient sites like Mycenae and Epidaurus. 2. 5 hours from the city by bus.

The Oracle at Delphi
180 kms away north-west of Athens so not exactly a short trip but perhaps over a couple of days?

Meteora mountain monasteries: Another fascinating trip, well worth a couple of days.

Anafiotika

Anafiotika, Athens, Greece

Anafiotika, Athens, Greece

Where Athens’ Plaka district meets the Acropolis is a charming little village of tiny whitewashed houses picked out in Greek blue. Travellers who take the trouble to stagger up that far will enjoy a unique Greek view, as the village was built by labourers from the island of Anafi in the style of their Cycladean homes.
From the village tourists can easily continue on a high path around to the Ancient Agora area or to the Acropolis entrance.

The Metro

Athens metro, Greece

Athens metro, Greece

Athens’ metro is a marvel of space, style and efficiency, though city coverage is not yet comprehensive. Stations often have art displays or sections of actual, on-the-spot archeological excavations permanently glassed-in for the illumination of passers-by.
This station, Syntagma, displays a dangling 2, 000 AD clock and buried 1, 000 BC old relics.

Street Signs

Athens street signs, Greece

Athens street signs, Greece

Right in the centre of Plaka, Athen’s #1 tourist area, at a junction of the city’s most important pedestrianised street (Adrianou) are these helpful signs. Well, at least the numbers are understandable.
Moral: Athens tourists would do well to learn at least some of the Greek alphabet before going. This may be of more use than learning to speak the language since many locals speak reasonable English.

Sidewalks/Pavements

Athens pavement, Greece

Athens pavement, Greece

Although local authorities have created the excellent Acropolis loop walkway and several pedestrianised roads in the Plaka district, they have ignored the state of pavements/sidewalks used by all except those who spend their lives in taxis.
Pavements (UK English) are decayed, dangerous if you don’t watch every step you make, and strewn with cars and garbage bins. In many cases walking in the road is the only option.
This example is on the way from Plaka to Syntagma, a key route for Athens tourists due to Syntagma’s metro station and airport buses.

Activities

Walking
The city outside the centre is not very foot-friendly, save for a couple of parks, but the best place to give the legs a beating is up one of Athens’s hills – Lykavittos and Filopppos are especially good destinations.

Swimming
On a hot day you may need a plunge, and in the city centre hotel pools are your only choice. However, not far away by bus and/or metro are a couple of decent pay beaches. . . Voula and Vouliagmeni – arguably the best.

Tennis & Golf
Tourists can use Glyfada Golf Club near the airport.

Skiing
From December-March at Mt Parnassos, 3hrs north-west.

Arts/Culture

Museums
The New Acropolis Museum, Athens, was fully opened to the public in 2009. This magnificent new building is a work of art itself and deserves a half-day visit at a cost of €1.

Many tourists will wish to see antiquities in the National Archeological Museum.

The other must-see collection is at Benaki Museum, an old family house revamped as an eclectic private museum, showing pottery, jewellry, furniture and ethnic clothing from the region.

Greek Dance
Discos shut up shop as locals go to work in folk dances May -September. The most famous group is the Dora Stratou Dance Company performing on Filopappos Hill every evening.

Music, Opera and Ballet
Concerts and performances are regular at Athens Concert Hall, Pallas Theatre and Olympia Theatre. Also June-August sees the city festival, some of it in Acropolis’ Theatre of Herodes Atticus.

Traditional Music
Some tavernas in Plaka, Monstariki and Psiri have live Greek music. Keep you eyes open for promotional material and your ears open as you wander.

Nightlife
Bars tend to eurodrab but a couple in the Plaka zone are well different: Brettos in Kydathineon and Stavlos in Iraklidon are long-standing oddities.
Discos close for the summer or move to coastal suburbs.

Shopping
Souvenirs: most tourists stagger along Adrianou after a few ouzos and blow their €s in the tourist shops lining the street, but a bit further along, near Monastiraki metro is the Athens Flea Market. Not as good as it was, perhaps, and not open late, but more useful products, more originality and better prices than Adrianou, that’s for sure.

Power
220v, 2 round-pin plugs.

Food
Plaka is where most newly arrived tourists eat, but beware ridiculous prices in romantic locations, such as on steps up the hill.
Food variety and quality is generally good, though seafood comes at very silly prices and local taramasalata tastes horribly like pink mashed potato.
Budget travellers will enjoy kebab/ salad/beer deals for around €6, while more adventurous tourists escape to stylish Psiri.

Festivals

Feb/March, Carnival. Various local festivities during the 3 weeks up to Lent.
Easter: Good Friday eve procession, esp. good on Lykavittos Hill. Also Saturday night candle Mass and more processions.
mid June – end Aug, Athens Festival. Ancient Greek drama, music and dance in scenic settings such as Acropolis’ Theatre of Herodes Atticus.

Safety

Beware Greeks bearing gifts
A common brazen scam perpetrated on single male visitors consists of a friendly Greek suggesting going for a drink in some great little bar. A few drinks with a few friends and suddenly the bill appears, it’s monstrous and everyone is suddenly less friendly. .
Moral: don’t go drinking with Greek people you don’t know, and keep track of costs! (pay after every drink? )

e-mail from Yannis
I am from Athens and I have just read your reviews about the city. In your biased, simplistic and outrageously queer critique I would juxtapose that Athens is one of the most visited capitals in Europe, with a historical value that your village would never even dear to dream of. It might not be as practical or pedestrian- friendly as its other european counterparts, but still boasts one of the most vibrant, diverse and aesthetically advanced nightlife scenes to be found in Europe. Moreover, it is the city with the most theaters in Europe and the most ancient venues still performing (mind your flip-flops when climbing to watch an ancient tragedy, you might fall off if the marbles are wet). As far as the dusty anarchic outlook of the city is concerned, kindly update your websites with the term “post-urbanism”, emphasizing in the way history, culture and laography affect the urban development. But anyway, that’s life, some messy and filthy cities produce culture whereas other visitor-friendly ones just commercialize the culture of others. .

Accomodation
Hotels are not cheap. Stay in the Plaka or Monastiraki areas if you want to walk everywhere, or further away but near a metro stop if you want a hotel in Athens which is better value for money.

Athens Map

Share