Table of Contents
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens – Understand
Athens is home to important settlement sites of Ancient Greece, which have influenced the Roman Empire, Europe and the world. The city state has been continuously inhabited for more than 2,500 years and the Acropolis still hovers as a symbol over the city.
Modern Athens feels more like Dakar than a European capital. It’s hot, crowded and dirty (when I visited, the municipal trash collection service was on strike).
However, the city still has some of the best entrepreneurs the continent has to offer. If you find the right spot (which might be in a small back alley), Athens will still fascinate you.
Athens has gotten decidedly more expensive again, since the debt crisis in 2013 when the country was bailed out several times. It is is still good value but prices have risen rapidly again.
Athens can be cold and miserable in winter (because of the missing heat in most buildings) and scorching hot in summer (when a heat wave hits). Most summer days stay in the upper 80s, though.
People in this city tend to be friendly – not overly so but you will find that Greek hospitality is no myth.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens – Get Around
Uber is finally in town and is my preferred way to get around the city and to/from the airport. Airport rides are fixed at EUR 29 and the drivers are visibly shaken by potential run-ins with the local taxi mafia. The airport is about 40-60 minutes outside the city center depending on traffic. Uber rides in town are usually under EUR 5.
Alternatives are the airport express buses (EUR 8 one-way) and the new metro train (EUR 10 one-way). The metro also has a number of city stops; use this if you can easily stand the heat and crowds.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens – Safety
Athens is likely the most dangerous European capital. There is a huge amount of dilapidated buildings and areas that seem to have seen no development in decades. It is not Sao Paulo or Dakar yet but for Europe, this is unusual.
Make sure you know you surroundings and look like you know where you are going. Use taxis and Uber after dark in many areas. Most areas are fine during the day but muggings and pickpocketing would not be a surprise here, even in daytime.
Motorcycle police are often present but the presence shifts away quickly.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens – Sights
Μουσείο Ακρόπολης (Acropolis Museum)
The Acropolis Museum is a beautiful, new museum right across from the south entrance of the Acropolis site. It is much worth a visit by itself as it describes the history of the Acropolis and the temple structures over the centuries in great detail, in a stunning building and exhibition.
There are no pictures allowed on the first two floors (the Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis and the Archaic Gallery). The museum is air conditioned, which is even more reason for it to be a great afternoon activity on a hot day.
The entrance fee is EUR 5 (EUR 3 for kids) and the crowds can menacing between 11AM and 4PM.
Ακρόπολη Αθηνών (Acropolis site)
There are two entrances to the Acropolis, rather close to each other. If you walk around the ‘green side’ from the museum to the main entrance it is usually crowded but if you walk through the Dionysus Sanctuary you’ll get to the side entrance, which isn’t.
The Acropolis site is open from 8AM until 8PM in summer. Crowds and the heat can be intimidating later in the day.
The entrance fee recently rose from EUR 12 to EUR 20 per person (though kids get in free). There is a 5-day EUR 30 option that gets you into lots more attractions which is certainly worth it if you have several days of sightseeing planned in Athens. It gets you into the Acropolis (including the North and South Slopes), Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, Lykeion and Olympieion.
A word of warning – the Acropolis looks much more majestic from a distance. There’s not a lot of intact ruins left so spend your time wisely where you can get a good look at the smaller ruins.
Αρχαία Αγορά (Ancient Agora of Athens)
On the northwestern ascent of the Acropolis is the former workplace of Socrates and Plato – the Agora of Athens. The main agora is in ruins but the Temple of Ares is still in great condition.
Πλατεία Συντάγματος (Syntagma Square)
Athens city center is synonymous with this busy city square. Much like Union Square in San Francisco, it is now dilapidated and dirty and besides the odd photo that you will take, it’s not worth your time.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens – Eat & Drink
Athens’ food and drinks scene is powered by the entrepreneurial spirit of the globetrotting Greeks who have made the city a cultural pilgrimage destination.
Rated as the best place for kebaps in Athens, this (overly touristy) place produces solid kebaps and great Greek salads at fair prices.
These two rooftop bars have great views over the illuminated Acropolis at night. The crowds are often a bit snobby at both but after a drink or two and checking out the background you will relax.
taf coffee is a great little spot that likely makes the best coffee in Athens. The staff are friendly and down to earth and the vibe is decidedly non-conformist and interesting. It’s cheap as well but where are my morning pastries?
Indian-inspired souvlaki is what this place specializes in – you can also just call it tandoori. It is very close to the Agora and easy to find from there. Mirch serves up big portions of solid tandoori chicken, curries and salads. It’s gone a bit downhill in quality since I was first here in 2015, though.
Tailor Made is an interesting concept – a stylish bar that also doubles as an authentic coffee shop. This rarely goes well together but Tailor Made pulls it off with great cortados and tons of custom drinks.
LUKUMAΔES, also spelled Lukumades, specializes in miniature Greek donuts served with a variety of sweet toppings.
Falafel sandwiches sound boring – right? falafellas runs an unassuming falafel shop; who knew that they would make the best falafel sandwich I ever had. The secrets are their high-quality ingredients, the spicy sauce and fried eggplant added to the usual mix. Fantastic stuff.
Feyrouz specializes in Middle Eastern breads with tons of different sauces. The result is something that you rarely get to eat anywhere – whole wheat bread with eggplant curry sauce, for instance. There are more options for meat lovers and the owner could not have been more friendly in explaining the options and pairing with the extra sauces.
Χυμοποιείο (Juice Factory)
Rated the best juice bar in Athens, you won’t think twice about having a refreshing drink when walking by this delicious little place. There are so many fresh fruits on display, it smells so delicious, there is an air-conditioned open area and fast WiFi. It’s very cheap as well. How much better can it get?
sushimou is the new star of high end sushi in town. It’s still rather fairly priced but this small restaurant requires reservations even on a Monday night (and it’s only open for dinner service). If you like sushi, give this place a shot.
Kaya is hidden in a pedestrian mall. If you can find it, it wouldn’t surprise me if you got to try the coffee for free; it is that hidden.