Greece is excited to welcome you! Whether you're visiting Athens for a day or two, or staying here for a while, here are some must-sees, must-eats, must-visits while you're in the beautiful and edgy city of Athens.
Before we dive in, a quick note to add is that Yelp does not exist in Greece. Instead, you can use TripAdvisor, Facebook, and FourSquare to pull up recommendations. At the moment (as of April 2018), Uber also is not operating in Greece. Instead, you can download and use Beat to hail taxis and get around, or just use taxis (pretty much the same, except that Beat tracks the route, making it less likely for taxi drivers to be able to scam you).
For a more visual look at the city and all it has to offer, check out #AthensxLucy to see Greece up-close. (And don't be fooled, the hashtag says Athens, but encompasses all things (and places) Greek.
WHEN TO VISIT
Not surprisingly, peak tourist season are the summer months of June, July, and August. Athens and the islands will be bustling with tourists, so be prepared for some crowds at the most popular sites and destinations. If you're looking to go during a more relaxed (and less touristy) period, late spring (May) and early fall (end of August, September) are great times to visit. The weather is still warm enough to go swimming, and you'll likely avoid the big crowds of tourists.
PICKING AN ISLAND
If you've never been to Greece, Santorini and Mykonos are the classic must-sees and most popular destinations. In terms of overall island vibes — Santorini is great for couples, Mykonos is great for nightlife, Eos is more geared towards the younger party crowd, and islands like Hydra and Syros are far more local. If you're trying to go for fun but more low key island, I'd recommend Paros or Crete.
Planning to island hop? No problem, and super easy with all the flights and ferries leaving and going from Athens (especially during the peak summer season). If you're on a tight schedule and trying to see as many islands as possible, you should allocate at least 2-3 days per island so that you can see and absorb all that each island has to offer.
Depending on how much time you have, you can either ferry or fly from Athens to the islands. Flights leave very often from Athens airport to the major islands. Ferries are cheaper and a bit slower but allow you to factor in more spontaneity if you'd rather decide which islands to go to when you arrive. For context, to get to Santorini, it takes about 45 minutes by flight and 5-8 hours by Ferry (depending on whether you go with the high-speed boat or not). For ferry schedules and tickets, a good go-to is Direct Ferries. In terms of airlines, Aegean Air is a Greek favorite with unbeatable service.
Lodging & Neighborhoods
For your stay in Athens, Airbnb is a great way to go. When selecting neighborhoods, Koukaki, Plaka, or Thiseio are all great choices. They are the most mainstream amongst visitors, as they beautiful, cozy, and walking distance to the Acropolis and all other major sightseeing. You can also check out Athens Studios for a more aparthotel vibe.
If you're traveling on a budget or looking to go, I stayed at Athens Backpackers (next door to Athens Studios) during my first trip to Athens and highly recommend it. It's a 5 minute walk to the Acropolis, and close to all the neighborhoods mentioned above.
I live in a neighborhood nearby called Exarcheia. It's more alternative (where the anarchists live) and also has quite a few Airbnbs.
In general, the neighborhoods you won't want to miss while you are here are: Monastiraki (great for shopping), Plaka (right next to Monastiraki, with great historical sight views , Koukaki (right by the Acropolis), and my beloved Exarcheia. All neighborhoods in Athens have great nightlife (bars, restaurants, and cafes). If you're looking for a club, check out Gazi or Kolonaki.
Going further seaside, you'll find Palio Faliro on the west side of Athens. It is by the sea with a great marina filled with places to stroll and eat. You can take the metro straight here and come see the beautiful seaside and marina up close. Closer to the sea, there are also some seaside nightclubs.
Bars & Coffeeshops
Couleur Locale – Rooftop bar with great cocktails and beautiful views of the acropolis.
Mavros Gatos — Located in Exarcheia, a very hip local bar in a very hip/alternative neighborhood. The scene is mostly hipster locals, young students and people in their 20s who attend the surrounding colleges. Good music.
Athens Sports Bar — Touristy/expat-filled bar, as it is owned by the awesome hostel next door (where I stayed for my trip). Come here for a much more American/touristy great time (they have Karaoke on Thursdays, which is a hit). If you go, let them know you're my friend and I say hi! I'm friends with most the bartenders there.
Drunk Sinatra – Great jazz and cocktail bar, located in the more party/touristy neighborhood of Gazi. I've never been here myself, but it is high on my to-do list, and comes highly recommended by my Greek friends.
Taf — Super hip bar / coffee shop (great for day or night). They open the roof during the summer months, and the inside is part bar, part art installation.
Public Cafe — Public is the equivalent of their "Barnes and Noble" and they have a spot right in Syntagma Square, with a rooftop cafe with gorgeous views.
Mavros Gatos – Not to be confused with the Mavros Gatos from above, this is hands-down one of my favorite restaurants in Athens. It is classic Greek taverna style and boast some of the freshest and best meat in the city.
Φουάρ — Amazing Thai food and cocktails!
Thanasis Kebab — Famous in Greece for its kebabs and gyros. It's a bit on the pricier side (when compared with the local food, since it is so popular and also gets touristy in the summer, as its located in the Monastiraki district) but is a great bet and also one of my favorites.
Καραμανλίδικα του Φάνη — A must-go! Classic Greek experience, famous and popular amongst Athens and Greece for its wide selection of meats from all over the country. Definitely get what they recommend in terms of meat dishes (there's one with spicy sausage + fried egg that's amazing) and I also highly recommend the eggplant salad (a bit garlicky, if that's your style).
Seychelles — One of the most popular restaurants in Athens amongst locals right now. Great authentic Greek food, in a hip neighborhood. After dinner you can hop over to Blue Parrot for some great cocktails.
Axilleas — Local bar in Exarcheia, great and quick selection for authentic Greek cuisines (mousaka, pastizio, souvlaki, etc.)
Saligaros — Popular local favorite in Exarcheia, with authentic and amazingly delicious Greek food from the north.
other KEY ATTRACTIONS
Acropolis (Of course). — Go early in the morning to avoid lines.
Acropolis Museum — Right next to the Acropolis, newly renovated and now ranked as one of the best museums in the world, and admission is only €5. The exhibits are stunning, and you get great views of Athens. On the top floor, there's also cafe with amazing views of the Acropolis.
Polis Hammam – For those looking to get blissed out, Polis Hammam is an amazing Turkish bath experience. The bath and massage packages will leave you feeling relaxed and glowing.
Tours: If you're into walking tours, Athens Backpackers Hostel has a great one for €6. There is also Alternative Tours where you can learn about the city by way of its graffiti art amongst other alternative routes (sounds v cool).
Staying Cognizant: Keep an eye on your stuff! When you are on the metro, and walking around in high crowded areas (especially the touristy ones), pickpockets are abound and they are highly skilled. Keep your bags close on your person, and backpacks in front of you if you can. Greece is not dangerous by any means, but there are the small petty crimes (e.g., theft) that still happen.
Gifts & Souvenirs: Sure, all the kiosks and stands sell great souvenirs. But if you're looking for some authentic Greek gifts (by today's modern designers), check out Forget Me Not Athens in Monstiraki. They carry a very clever and well-designed brand called "Hommer" which is a beauty brand for men (named after the author of The Odyssey).
Two easy options – you can take the metro or taxi.
For metro, you can take it straight to the center and you are just one transfer away from the neighborhood your hotel is in.
getting from the airport to the center
By Public Transit (Metro): Take the metro straight from the airport (towards Aghia Marina) until the stop where you are staying. If you're staying near the Acropolis, take the metro until you reach the Syntagma stop. Get off at Syntagma and transfer over to the red line (going towards Ellniiko). Once you’re on the red line, the next stop after Syntagma is Akropolis. It takes about an hour and metro tickets to and from the airport are €10 per person.
By Taxi: I recommend downloading the “Beat” app (the Uber of Greece, since Uber is banned here at the moment), and you can hail a taxi straight from the app (there’s wifi in the airport if you need). It’s more reliable than getting a taxi from the airport because sometimes they rip tourists off. It takes about 30-40 minutes depending on traffic, and costs about €40 (double if you are traveling at night, between midnight to 7am).