Athens Info Guide

If you are going on vacation to Kythera or any other Greek island, there is a big chance that you travel through Athens. Then why not combine your island holiday with a short city trip to this amazing city? It has between 4 and 5 million inhabitants and is the bustling heart of Greece. Hated and loved by the Greeks . Almost every one of them has some kind of connection with Athens and during Christmas they travel in large numbers from the islands to the city to visit family and friends. While in the heat of summer the Athenians leave the sweltering city to go for a long vacation to the islands or the countryside. The city is left behind almost empty.

TOP 12 MUST SEE ATRACTIONS

Athens is an incredible city and one of the oldest in the world. So it is not surprising that a lot of the main atractions are famous archaeological sites. But of course it has much more to offer. Experience the best of Athens with our top 12 sights to visit!

1. ACROPOLIS AND PARTHENON

In the old centre of the city there is a lot to see, but of course the highlight is the Acropolis with the Parthenon. The history of the Acropolis , the religious center of Athens , begins over 2000 years BC . In the 6th century BC the Ancient Temple of Athena was built in honor of the patron goddess of the city, Athena. According to mythology, the town was named after her, after she had won a contest with the god of the sea, Poseidon. He gave the city water (salt water, he was, after all, the god of the sea) and Athena gave the city an olive tree , which by the way can still be seen on the Acropolis. To the anger of Poseidon the residents decided in favour of the gift of Athena and made her patron deity of the city.

In 480 BC the Persians destroyed the Acropolis . But under the leadership of Pericles, the monumental rebuilding started soon after. In a short time one of the highlights of classical architecture, was built, including the Erechtheion , the Propylaeën , the Temple of Nike and the Parthenon.

Until the 17th century, according to tradition, the buildings on the Acropolis stayed intact. But several explosions and subsequent raids of foreign visitors have severely damaged the Acropolis . Since 1975 there is a great restoration project with the goal of undoing the damage inflicted by time , wars and bad restorations.

In the 19th century the Greek Government decided to build a museum where the riches of the Acropolis could be exhibited. This museum soon proved to be too small soon. After years of discussion it was finally decided that a new museum had to be built. Finally in 2007 the impressive New Acropolis Museum was opened . If you want to combine your holiday on Kythera with a visit to the Acropolis and the new museum we advise you to take enough time, at least 2 days.

2. ANCIENT AGORA

Located in the Thissio neighborhood east of the Acropolis, the Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural center, and the seat of justice.

The site was occupied without interruption in all periods of the city’s history. It was used as a residential and burial area as early as the Late Neolithic period (3000 B.C.). The agora was probably laid out as a public space in the 6th century BC and then became the heart of the Athenian public life. After a series of repairs and remodellings, it reached its final rectangular form in the 2nd century BC.

Extensive building activity occurred after the serious damage made by the Persians in 480 BC, by the Romans in 89 BC and by the Herulae in 267. While after the Slavic invasion in 580, it was gradually abandoned. From the Byzantine period until after 1834, when Athens became the capital of the independent Greek state, the Agora was again developed as a residential area. Nowadays the Agora Museum is located in the beautifully restored Stoa of Attalus ( from the 2nd century BC ).

3. ODEON OF HERODES ATTICUS

The Herodion is a stone theater build in 161 AD by the Greek Herodes Atticus in memory of his Roman wife Aspasia. It is located on the southern slopes of the Acropolis and restored in 1950. Since then it has welcomed many world famous starts, like Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra. Every Summer it hosts the well-known Athens-Epidavros Art festival.

4. ROMAN AGORA AND TOWER OF THE WINDS

The Roman agora was the market area of Athens under Roman rule. The entrance arch, the Gate of Athena Archegetis, and the Ottoman Fethiye mosque (from the 17th century) are well preserved.

The most beautiful building however, is the ingenious Tower of the Winds, located on the east side of the agora. It is an octagon (eight sided) building, that was built in the 1st century AD by the astronomer Andronikos and housed a hydraulic clock. Each side of the building represents a wind direction.

 

5. ATHENS TRILOGY

In the Panepistimiou Street in the heart of Athens are 3 impressive buildings lined up. They were designed in the 19th century by the Danish Hansen brothers and are known as the Athens Trilogy: the Athens Academy, the University and the National Library. 

The architecture of the buildings pays tribute to academic neoclassicism, which had been the national architectural style of Greece since the 1830s. 

6. NATIONAL GARDENS AND ZAPPEION

The National Garden was completed in 1840 and is located directly behind the Greek parlement building, very close to Syntagma square. The ideal place to escape the hectic city. It is home to more than 500 types of plants and trees from all over the world.

The Garden was commissioned by Queen Amalia and the main entrance was moved around 1920 to the location where she planted 12 monumental 25 meter high palm trees.

Close to the garden in 1878 the neo-classical Zappeion Hall was built. It was donated by Evangelis Zappas, who started the Zappian Olympic Games, a precursor to the modern Olympic Games. The Zappeion was the Olympic village for the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens and also as a venue for the fencing events. Today it is used for public exhibitions.

7. SYNTAGMA SQUARE

Syntagma is the central square of Athens and probably the most important in the whole of Greece. Overlooking the square is the Parliament Building, which used to be the Royal Palace for king Otto. Just below the building the Tomb of the unknown soldier is watched over 24 hours per day by the Evzones, Presidential Guards dressed in a traditional uniform. Every hour the guards hold a changing ceremony. Especially the Sundaymorning 10:00 ceremony is worth visiting. On the Northside of the square is the impressive hotel Grande Bretagne, a landmark which was build in 1842.

The square is the meetings point of many Greeks and also a the best starting point for your Athens tour.

8. LOCAL MARKETS

The colourful and bustling Varvakios market in the neighbourhood Monastiraki is not known by many tourists but still an absolute must to visit. Not only for food lovers, but also just for the unique experience. It is located in a huge beautiful old wrought-iron market hall and dedicated to fish, meat, fruit, spices, nuts etc. Next to the many stands there are also cafe’s and tavernas. Very popular market food is Patsas, the famous pork stomach soup.

Other interesting markets are the permanent Monastiraki flea market that focusses on tourists, the Sunday antique and flea market on Avyssinias Square and the laiki agora, the farmers market in Kolonaki that is held every Friday. It is an organic market where all the products that are being sold have been locally grown.

9. PANATHENAIC STADIUM

Already in the 4th century BC, on this location a stadium existed where festivals were held in honor of the goddess Athena and also the Panathenian games, the Athenian version of the Olympics. The Romans later organized gladiator games in the stadium.

In the 19th century, it was completely renovated in the original style, entirely in marble. In 1896 here the first modern Olympic Games were held. The stadium can accommodate 80.000 spectators. And it also has a world record for the most attended basketball game ever, which was played here in the 1960s .

10. HADRIAN'S ATHENS

The legendary Roman emperor Hadrian left his mark on Greece. He loved the city of Athens and worshipped Greek Culture. He was ruler of Athens from 125–129 AD and during that period he adorned the city with many majestic buildings and infrastructure improvements. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple in ancient Athens. Construction began already in the 6th century BC, but it was not completed until the reign of Hadrian.

Nearby is the Arch of Hadrian, a monumental gateway, which was erected to mark the limits of the ancient city and the beginning of ‘the New Athens of Hadrian’. The Arch spanned an ancient road from the agora of Athens to the complex of structures on the eastern side of the city that included the Temple.

Other famous projects by Hadrian were the Roman Aquaduct and the Library of Hadrian. The aguaduct was completed in 140 AD and provided water to Athens for more than 18 centuries.

As Hadrian loved Greek and Roman literature he built a distinguished library in Athens that stands today, the Library of Hadrian.

11. PHILLOPAPPOS HILL

Philopappos is a 147 m high hill west of the Acropolis. It is named after the Roman consul Philopappos, a well known benefactor of the city. After his dead in 116 AD, the Athenians built a 12 m high marble tomb and monument for him at the highest point of the hill.

There are many more interesting historic sites on Phillopappos and on 2 neighbouring hills, the Pnyx and the hill of the Nymphs. A maze of paths on the with pines and cypresses covered hills offers some of the best walking in the center with amazing views over the Acropolis. An ideal escape from the hectic city.

12. DISCOVER ATHENS WITH LOCALS

Sick of running around the city between masses of tourists? Why not experience the city like a real Athenian? There are many interesting tours, hikes and workshops being offered with enthusiastic local guides, sometimes even volunteers that are just very proud of their city.

Check out for instance  the websites of This is my Athens, Alternative Athens, and Tours by Locals

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TOP 6 BEST MUSEUMS

Athens is a paradise for museums lovers. At this moment there are almost 80 of them in central Athens. There really is something for everyone here. Of course you can’t visit them all but below you will find our top 6 museums you just can’t miss.

1. THE NEW ACROPOLIS MUSEUM

The Museum opened it’s doors in 2009 and is consistently rated as one of the best museums in the world. It is focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens and was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It also lies over the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens.

2. NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM

This is considered one of the most important museums in the world. A fantastic collection of Greek treasures from prehistory to late antiquity. With lots of highlights including the Golden Mask of Agamemnon, the AntiKythira Youth, the Jockey of Artemision and the Antikythera mechanism (the first computer.…)

3. BENAKI MUSEUM

The museum was donated to the Greek State by the Greek-Egyptian businessman Emmanuel Benakis. It is housed in a neoclassical building in the district of Kolonaki, tand gives an excellent overview of Greek art from 3000 BC until the 20th century.

4. MUSEUM OF CYCLADIC ART

This Museum houses over 3,000 works of art, the largest collection of Cycladic art in the world. The items are displayed by by four themes; Cycladic culture, Ancient Greek art, Cypriot art and Scenes of daily life during Ancient times.

5. BYZANTINE AND CHRISTIAN MUSEUM

The beautiful Villa Ilissia, a neo-renaissance style mansion that was built in 1848, houses the Byzantine and Christian Museum. It has a large collection of early Christian, Byzantine and post-Byzantine art.

It is home to more than 25,000 pieces of sculptures, religious icons paintings, architectural pieces, mosaics, pottery, textiles, and manuscripts. It is probably the most important Byzantine museum in the world.

6. BASIL AND ELISE GOULANDRIS FOUNDATION

In a new Neo-classical-inspired building of 11 stories, opened in October 2019 the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, a museum of Modern and contemporary art. It is based on the world-class collection of impressionist, modernist and post-war art of the shipowner couple Basil and Elise Goulandris. It includes works by European masters such as Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin. Among the first works visitors will see in the museum is a 1966 portrait of Elise by Marc Chagall.

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION!!

NEIGHBOURHOODS

1. PLAKA

Plaka is an ancient settlement located just under the Acropolis, with a history of more than 3.500 years. It has a charming beauty with a labyrinth of narrow lanes, colourful Neoclassical villas, well preserved gardens, ancient ruins and Byzantine temples. The area of Anafiotika, located at the foot of the Acropolis hill, gives the impression of a small island village. It was constructed in the middle of the 19th century by workmen from the Aegean island of Anafi. In Plaka you will find many cafes, winebars and all sorts of restaurants.

2. KOLONAKI

Kolonaki is considered the most elegant and trendy neighborhood of Athens. Here you will find  many chique boutiques, distinguished bars and classy restaurants. Athenians from all over the city flock to the cafes to see and be seen, and jetsetters, politicians and artists mingle with the crowd. It is also an old neighborhood with a cosmopolitan history and its own character.

 

3. PIRAEUS

If you are travelling by ferry to your favourite Greek island then there is a good chance that you will pass through the port of Piraeus. This gives you the opportunity to discover a part of Athens that is often overlooked. The most beautiful area of Piraeus is undoubtedly the neighborhood of Kastella. With its mixture of 19th-century mansions, winding streets and striking views across the Saronic Gulf, it is a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the commercial port. On the hills of Kastela sits the picturesque church of Profitis Ilias which boasts a stunning view over the whole of Piraeus and the greater city of Athens.

is the main port from Athens, so if you are visiting one of the Greek island, there is a good chance that you will take a ferry from there.

4. PSYRRI

In the area aroun the Iroon square, in the heart of the of the Psyrri district you will find many restaurants, mezedes bars with traditional live music, including rembetika, the Greek style blues. In small artisan shops, often decorated with graffiti, handmade leather bags, alternative fashion and quirky products are sold for the home.

HOTELS - WHERE TO STAY

The vast majority of hotels can be found in the center of Athens. Because of the crisis, the room rates dropped sharply in the past years. The best way to find a good hotel is to use a booking website like booking.com. Experience shows that a hotel rated with an 8 or higher, is usually a good choice.

The area immediately surrounding the Acropolis is the best choice to stay. The Makrygianni district, where the New Acropolis Museum is located is a quiet and nice neighborhood. The Acropolis and the busy center are right on your doorstep. Directly north of this area lies the beautiful Anafiotika district, named after the first inhabitants, from the island of Anafi. Its narrow alleys and cube-shaped houses create the atmosphere of a Cycladic village. The Plaka finally, is the most touristic part. But the area south of Mitropoleos street is very atmospheric and a largely pedestrian zone with good restaurants (Greek and foreign). Here you will also find a number of good hotels. Our personal favorite is Sweet Home Hotel, a small family hotel that is run by Afroditi and her husband. It is located in a beautiful old building with nice rooms and excellent service. But around the corner of Sweet Home Hotel , you will find several other hotels that are rated above average on booking.com (such as Hermes, Central, Omiros and Kimon ). If you choose to stay outside the city center, the neighborhood Palaio Faliro a good option. A nice area near the sea with lots of shops , restaurants and bars. With public transport you can reach within 10 minutes the city center. A simple but good hotel with airport shuttle in this neighborhood is Arma Hotel. Another good option here is Tropical hotel, located on Poseidonos Avenue , the busy coastal road .
Nearby the airport are a number of hotels available. A convenient choice for one night is Peri’s Hotel, with free transfer service from and to the airport. It is a simple hotel with a small family tavern/cafeteria just around the corner and on about 1 km walking distance a nice sandy beach. Other hotels near the airport are Pantheon hotel (about 5/10 minutes by taxi from the airport) and the 5 * Sofitel hotel located 100 meters from the entrance of the airport.

FOOD - WHERE TO EAT

At first glance it ‘s not easy to distinguish a good Greek restaurant from those that serves the standard ‘ tourist menus’. Most restaurants are relatively cheap. Below you will find a list of traditional and good restaurants in Athens:

– Avissynia cafe – Avisnia square 7/Kinetou street – very nice food , cozy interior and a roof terrace with fantastic views . Owner has released her own cookbook .

– Tzitzikas & Mermigas – Mitropoleos str 12-14 – around the corner of Sweet Home Hotel – cozy and typical Greek restaurant , not expensive .

– Strofi – Rovertou Galli 25 – according to tripadvisor one of the best restaurants in Athens

– Miniatoura – Romvis 21 , Syntagma  – a tiny traditional family tavern only open during the day ( until 19:00 ) .

– Paradosiako – on the corner of Voulis and Nikodimou-  small cozy restaurant .

– Saita Bakaliaro – at the corner of Kydatheneon and Sotiros – one of the traditional basement restaurants that specialize in bakaliaro (fried cod with garlic sauce )

– Psaras (fish reaturant ) – Erechteos 16 ( at the corner of Erotocritou and Erehtheos ) – charming restaurant located on the hill just below the Acropolis

– Scholarchio Yerani – Tripodon Odos 14 – in a beautiful corner of the Plaka – the waiter comes to your table with a large plate of mezzedes, from which you can make your own selection

– To kafeneon – across Scholarchio – the less touristy version , an atmospheric ouzerie with delicious mezzedes. Here Jamie Oliver recorded his mezzedes special in 2009.

SAFETY

Traditionally, Greece is one of the safest holiday destinations in the world. In recent years, however,  Greece and Athens frequently have been in the news in negative manner because of the crisis and unrest . Outside the cities, in everyday life, you will not notice a lot of the crisis . In the center of Athens, however, there are often demonstrations. Virtually all demonstrations are peaceful and only a few lead to riots. The demonstrations are usually held at the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square. On days with large demonstrations, it is therefore wise to avoid this part of the center. For the rest, in terms of crime, you have to remain vigilant, like in any other metropolis

TRAVELING IN THE CITY

Traveling from the airport to the center of Athens

Directly across the street from the airport is the metro/train station. With metro line 3 you will reach Syntagma square in the centre in about 40 minutes (price € 10,00 for a single trip). On the website of Stasy you can plan your trip.

Bus number X95 runs from the airport to Syntagma Square in central Athens in about 40 minutes (depending on traffic). A ticket for a single journey costs € 6,00. Check out the time table here.

You can also take a taxi from the airport. Prices are fixed and a trip to the city center will cost you € 38,00 in the day and € 54,00 at night.


Traveling from the airport to the port of Piraeus

Directly across the street from the airport is the metro/train station. Every hour line 3 will bring you to the port of Piraeus in 63 minutes. Not every line 3 ends in Piraeus, so be sure to get the one that leaves at 9 minutes after the whole hour (from 06:09 until 22:09). The price is € 10,00 for a single trip. Check out the time table here.

Bus number X96 runs from the airport to the port of Piraeus in about 1 hour (depending on traffic). A ticket for a single journey costs € 6,00. Check out the time table here.

You can also take a taxi from the airport to the port. It takes about 40 minutes (depending on traffic) and prices are approximately € 54,00 in the day and € 70,00 at night.

Map metro (click to enlarge)

MAP ATHENS CENTER (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

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