My Favorite 15 Things To Do Athens (Updated in 2020)
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 East Berlin than Paris. It also fuses many African elements into its distinctive European soul.
Athens can be dirty, loud, hectic, and hot but give it some time can be a wonderful place to be.
Athens can be cold and miserable in winter (because of the missing heat in most buildings) and scorching hot in summer (when a heatwave 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 has ceded their business the local 'taxi mafia'. Expect the yellow taxis to still dominate the inner city. Rides to/from the airport come at EUR 50-60 (a good deal only for four passengers).
Alternatives are the airport express buses (EUR 5.50 one-way) and the new metro train (EUR 9 one-way). The metro also has several city stops; use this if you can easily stand the heat and crowds.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens - Safety
While many cities in the US and Europe have gotten less safe, Athens hasn't changed. Avoid run-down areas or deserted places at night. That's about it.
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 just EUR 5 (EUR 3 for kids) and the crowds can be menacing between 11 AM and 4 PM. Given the COVID-19 situation crowds are nowhere to be seen now.
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 8 AM until 8 PM in summer. Crowds and the heat can be intimidating later in the day. Given the COVID-19 situation crowds are nowhere to be seen now.
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.
360 and A for Athens
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 started the third-wave coffee craze in Athens. The original tiny little spot still makes the best coffee in Athens. However, there are copy-cat businesses all over the block (and beyond) now.
Mirch (also known as Naan sandwich)
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. The place recently moved a few buildings down and the food quality actually improved.
Falafel sandwiches sound boring - right? Falafellas runs an unassuming falafel shop but serves high-quality ingredients, the spicy sauce and fried eggplant added to the usual mix. Good 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?
Thirdplace.Athens provides excellent espresso drinks, huge Avocado toasts, and fast Wifi - served by friendly staff. Loved that place!
This tiny little place dishes out yummy souvlaki during lunch time for just EUR 2.50. This family business rents just a tiny space in downtown and is easy to miss. It was my daily lunch stop when in the area.
Karamanlidika specializes in Cappadocian cuisine. I loved the food so much I came back every day of my last week.
The Traditional dishes out huge portions of grilled meat and salads for a very low price. It has a nice setting with outdoor chairs as well.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens - Connectivity
Athens has surprisingly slow Internet connections. 10 Mbit Upload/ Download takes a while to find. Most Mediterranean countries have much faster Internet. It seems this is the fault of local monopoly ISP Cosmote.
It is easy to buy local SIM cards for mobile Internet. Expect to pay just about $2 per GB. There is no LTE service but 4G (UMTS) is quite speedy as well.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Athens - Where to stay
I have tried a number of chain hotels in Athens like the Intercontinental Athens, The Wyndham Grand Athens and the Holiday Inn at the airport. Generally most hotels stem for the 1970s building boom and may have gotten through a renovation phase once or twice. Expect to pay around $120-140 for these.
AirBnBs are great value in the city with a one bedroom in the Monastiraki or Syntagma area just around $50 per night. AirBnB is always a lottery and you never know what you get. Still I found that the best solution for staying in Athens in 2020.
AirBnB now gives you $67 off your first stay (if you are new to the site).