Welcome, fellow adventurers, to the ancient city of Athens, Greece! Steeped in history, mythology, and architectural marvels, Athens stands as a captivating destination that beckons travellers from around the world. As the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilisation, this enchanting city invites you to immerse yourself in its rich cultural tapestry, awe-inspiring landmarks, and vibrant ambiance. But you may wonder, is Athens truly worth visiting? Allow me to assure you that it is a must see destination, offering an enthralling blend of ancient wonders and modern delights. In today’s blog, we will uncover the secrets of Athens, revealing why it is indeed an experience that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
Is Athens Worth Visiting? Yes! It’s a Must-See Travel Destination!
I often get asked – is Athens worth visiting? Absolutely, yes! Athens is a once in a lifetime destination that everyone must see! See if you haven’t already visited the Greek capital, please add it to your bucket list. Athens is great for solo, couples and friends travel. So, what makes Athens so amazingly attractive to travellers?
History enthusiasts will find themselves in awe as they traverse the streets that once echoed with the footsteps of philosophers like Socrates and Plato. The Acropolis, an iconic symbol of Athens, proudly stands atop a rocky hill, boasting the majestic Parthenon, a magnificent temple dedicated to the goddess Athena (and many other ancient temples).
Beyond the Acropolis, Athens reveals its many hidden treasures. Lose yourself in the labyrinthine streets of the Plaka neighbourhood, where traditional tavernas, charming boutiques, and ancient ruins blend harmoniously. Sip on a frothy frappé at a sidewalk café, indulging in a moment of respite as you watch the world go by. The National Archaeological Museum beckons with its vast collection of artefacts, shedding light on the city’s fascinating past.
Athens isn’t just a city of the past; it pulses with modern energy as well. The bustling districts of Monastiraki and Kolonaki offer a vibrant contrast to the ancient sites. Here, you can dive into the vibrant local markets, haggle for treasures in the flea market, or immerse yourself in contemporary art at the city’s numerous galleries. Indulge in Greek cuisine, with its tantalising array of flavours, from succulent souvlaki to heavenly baklava.
And let’s not forget the warm Greek hospitality that permeates every corner of Athens. The locals’ zest for life and their genuine love for sharing their culture will leave an indelible mark on your heart. Whether you strike up a conversation with a friendly street vendor or find yourself dancing to traditional music in a local tavern, you’ll find that the spirit of Greece is infectious and inviting.
How long should I spend in Athens?
I would say that you should spend at least 3 days in Athens, but preferably 5. The main historical sites will be 2-3 days of solid walking and exploring, so be generous and add on a couple of extra nights for some relaxation and other entertainment in the Greek capital. I could honestly spend a week or two there quite easily!
Some people visit Athens as a stop off on a mediterranean cruise. Although this half day stop off will probably allow you to see the Acropolis and stop for a quick Moussaka, this will just give you a taster of what Athens truly has on offer. So if you visit Athens as a cruise stop, make sure that you return!
I would also advise against an Athens day trip from one of the Islands – you will be exhausted from the travel and by the time you get there, the main sites such as the Acropolis will be packed and hot. Treat Athens as an independent trip and give it the time it deserves.
The Pros of visiting Athens
In short, Athens is accessible from the UK and has a wealth of historical sights, religious buildings and museums to explore. It’s also excellent value for money with great food and drink and friendly waiters to serve you. Here are the main pros of visiting Athens….
Athens is Accessible from UK and USA
I flew from Manchester to Athens direct in just under 4 hours. Our flights were less than £100 each way with Easyjet. Both Easyjet and Wizz Air fly direct from London Gatwick to Athens. From the USA, there are seven airports in the US that offer direct flights to Greece including: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Newark. The best flight experiences from America to Greece tend to be with Delta Airlines and American Airlines.
And once you are actually in Athens, you can also use it as a base to explore, because the train and bus connections are great and there are plenty of tours. A lot of people choose to do Delphi as a day trip from Athens.
Athens is home of the Best Ancient Monuments in the World
Athens is home to some of the best ancient monuments in the world including the Parthenon, temple of Zeus and the Roman Agora. The ancient temples and theatres of Athens will NOT disappoint – if you are interested in ancient history and Classics then this is the trip of a lifetime.
Head straight to the Acropolis on the morning of your first day (early around 8am!) and buy a combined ticket which will allow you to see ALL of the ancient Greek monuments over the course of 5 days for just €30 (price at the time of writing in June 2023). The acropolis is a steep upward climb so wear sturdy walking boots and have a good level of fitness. There are lifts for mobility impaired but take medical evidence and book these in advance if you need them. The sites covered with the combined ticket are:
- Acropolis and Slopes (includes Theatre of Dionysus, Odean of Herodes Atticus, Propylaea, Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, Erechtheion and the Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus).
- Ancient Agora – The central marketplace and civic centre of ancient Athens and also home to another famous Greek temple of Hephaestus which is one of the best preserved ancient Greek temples in Athens.
- Hadrians Library – An ancient Roman building that served as a library and cultural complex during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
- Kerameikos – An archaeological site and cemetary that has great historical and cultural significance as one of the city’s major burial grounds and as an area associated with craftsmanship and pottery production.
- Aristotles School (Lykeion) – An ancient educational institution in Athens, Greece. It was founded by the philosopher Aristotle in the 4th century BC and served as a centre for philosophical and scientific studies
- Olympieion – An ancient temple stands as a testament to the grandeur and ambition of ancient Greek architecture and was dedicated to Zeus, the king of the gods in Greek mythology.
- Roman Agora – The Roman Agora was a public square and marketplace located in Athens, Greece. It was constructed during the Roman period, around the 1st century BC, and served as a hub of commercial, social, and political activity.
Food and Drink in Athens is Amazing!
Food and drink in Athens is not only great quality, but also really good value for money. I could easily get a main meal for around €12 and drinks for €2-3. While you are in Athens there are a few Greek meals and drinks that I highly recommend that you try…
- Greek Salad – Salad served with oil, a sprinkling of salt and feta cheese (gorgeous for lunch).
- Souvlaki – Greek style fast food which is kebabs on sticks, surprising tasty!
- Moussaka – Layers of aubergine, potato and lamb mince in tomato and cheese sauce, my favourite Greek meal.
- Ouzo – The traditional alcoholic apertif in Greece, which is clear but changes to milky white when mixed with water.
- Aperol Spritz – Popular Greek cocktail which is made up of 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part soda water.
English is widely spoken
In Athens, there is no need to worry about a language barrier as English is widely spoken by waiters, hotel receptionists and museum staff. I never had a problem at all in Athens, I could even walk into a shop and ask a question in English if I got lost and someone would help me.
However, it is still polite to learn a bit of Greek for while you are there – it will be appreciated. I recommend downloading the Duolingo App and adding Greek. It will start with the letters and the Greek alphabet by presenting English sounding words so that you can recognise the sounds of the basic letters. Then it will move on to greetings and simple questions in Greek. Despite being a new Alphabet and a completely new language for me, it was easier to learn than you might expect.
Digital Nomad and Traveller scene
Greece is a popular destination amongst solo travellers and digital nomads, due to its combination of great historical sites and good value for money. It would be a great destination to go solo as there are some fantastic hostels and bars where you will meet other travellers.
Great Transport Links
You will pleased to know that the majority of ancient monuments in Athens are walkable and you can get around the capital on foot, which makes a refreshing change from some of the big capitals such as London or Paris.
Athens is also well served by great transport links – there is an excellent, bus, metro, train and tram system. The metro is surprisingly easy to use and the ticket dispensers also have a setting for English. For the main historical sights of Athens, take a metro to Monastiraki – the ticket will be just a couple of Euros (unless you are coming from the airport which is a separate €9 ticket). Buy your metro tickets before boarding and tap them in and out.
The local buses are also frequent and easy to use. We took the bus into Athens from Nea Makri and it was just €3.
Greek Hospitality – you will be made very Welcome!
The Greeks are excellent at hospitality and well geared up for tourists. Greek hospitality, often referred to as “philoxenia,” is renowned for its warmth, generosity, and welcoming nature. Greek people take great pride in their hospitality and consider it an essential aspect of their culture and identity.
Greek hospitality goes beyond mere politeness; it encompasses a genuine desire to make guests feel comfortable and valued. When visiting Greece, whether in restaurants, hotels, or private homes, you are likely to encounter friendly and accommodating hosts who will go out of their way to ensure your needs are met.
Greeks are known for their genuine interest in engaging with visitors, striking up conversations, and offering assistance or recommendations. It is not uncommon for strangers to strike up conversations with travellers, eager to share their knowledge of the local area or engage in friendly banter. You will find the locals friendly and helpful if you have a problem or get lost.
The Cons of Athens
Remember that Athens is a big city, and on the whole, big cities can be smelly, noisy and dirty! Some people find central Athens quite intense and miss the beach – if this is you then consider staying on the coast near Marathon Beach (we stayed in Nea Makri) and travel into Athens for a few day trips to see the main sights. Here are the main cons of Athens….
Noisy at Night – How dare those people have fun while you try to sleep!!!
Central Athens has some great bars and pumping nightlife! This is a positive though, right? Not if it continues all through the night while you are trying to sleep! Most Greek bars usually close around three or four in the morning, and nightclubs tend to stay open until around six or seven in the morning. If you don’t want this to negatively impact on your good nights sleep, then avoid the busy nightlife areas, particularly Kolokotroni Street, which runs from Syntagma towards Monastiraki, around the back of Agias Irinis Square.
Poor Quality Sewage Systems – Don’t Flush that Loo Roll!
Unfortunately, the sewage systems in Athens may not be as good as what you might be used to in the UK or USA. You will see lots of signs in toilets reminding tourists that they are not supposed to put toilet paper down the loo! So bin it, don’t flush it! Otherwise you could cause a very unhygienic flood in the bathroom. The bins are obviously stinky as a result, but in hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions they are emptied daily.
As well as the poor sanitation, you may also witness lots of overflowing bins in Athens. Rubbish collections may be less frequent and the volume of rubbish in the Greek capital is massive and so if you see a street looking a bit like a rubbish dump, you just have to train yourself to hold your nose and look the other way!
The monuments in Athens are BC Old – and this means that there is a lot of ongoing repair and preservation. Please don’t be disappointed when you can’t properly see a monument because it is closed for restoration or has scaffolding around it for preservation – this is necessary to continue to keep the history alive. This was the view of the temple of Zeus (Olympeion) that we had in summer 2023…
Athens is hot, Hot, HOT!
The sun is very strong in Athens, particularly in the summer months of July and August. I would advise lots of sun cream, a hat and also that you go to the historical sights very early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.
It’s a good idea to set out early for the Acropolis and carry a water bottle. Make sure that you are sun creamed all up for the walk up the Acropolis and don’t have flesh on show to the sun that will easily burn.
Rip Off Taxi Drivers
Sadly, taxi drivers worldwide are notorious for ripping people off, and Athens is no different.
We organised an airport transfer from Athens airport to Nea Makri for €35 – a little pricey but it’s a transfer and we wanted the security of knowing we could get to our hotel after our flight. Anyway, at the end of the journey I had the exact €35 ready to pay. I asked if we pay him or the hotel and he said ‘no you pay me!’ I went into the hotel and there wasn’t anyone on reception just yet so I paid him the €35 and messaged the hotel to say that I had done so. Then the driver said ‘but it’s double because it’s past midnight!’ I didn’t pre-empt this at all, but genuinely had no more EUROS on me at that point and I said ‘Oh, sorry, we were told it was €35 and that’s all I have – I will check it with the hotel tomorrow.’ Anyway, when I checked with the hotel the next day, they told me that was right!
I would recommend that you take a Gett or Uber because with the Apps you know exactly the price that you should be paying and what registration your driver has. If you take a usual cab, make sure that he puts the meter on and make sure that it is the the right tariff. Anything before midnight and not a public holiday should be Tariff 1.
Most important Greece Travel Tips
If you are travelling to Greece here are my top travel tips…
- Spend at least 3-5 days in Athens – don’t rush it or pack too much in your itinerary.
- Take your credit or debit card – a VISA will work on the Athens Metro and in most shops or restaurants.
- Throw your loo roll in the bin and not down the loo!
- Do the sight seeing as early as possible to avoid the heat of the day.
- Protect yourself from the strong sun – sun cream, hat and sunglasses are essential.
- Keep hydrated – you can dehydrate in Greece if you’re not careful.
- Don’t show up to dinner too early (6pm, 7pm or even 8pm) as Athenians like to eat late.
- Haggling is not the done thing – Don’t try to barter as most things in Greece are a fixed price (you’re not in Marrakech!)
- Avoid August as it’s way too hot (especially the days surrounding 15th August which is a Greek National Holiday and all the bars and restaurants are likely to be shut).
- If you get a Taxi use Gett or Uber – this will tell you the price in advance.
What to pack for Athens
- Walking boots – the historical sights of Athens will need sturdy footwear, particularly the Acropolis.
- Sun cream, sun hat and sun glasses – the sun in Athens can be very strong especially in summer.
- Long linen or cotton trousers and tops – shorts and vest tops are great but you won’t be allowed in any Orthodox Churches or Monasteries wearing those.
- Greece travel adapter – there are two plug types: C and F.
- A nice dress (or trousers and shirt) – for going out for dinner or drinks in the evening to enjoy the Athens food and nightlife.
- A refillable water bottle – you don’t want to dehydrate and there are drinking water fountains dotted around the city.
- Swimwear – there are hotels with rooftop pools which you might like to enjoy.
- A paperback Guidebook – for when you have no internet connection and to read in bed at night. The Lonely Planet Pocket Athens is a great choice.
Where to stay in Athens
There are some fantastic hostels, guest houses and hotels in Athens to suit any budget.
- Budget/Hostels – Iconic Athens or Safestay Athens Monastiraki.
- Mid Range – Delphi Art Hotel (Quirky, central and good breakfast)
- Luxury – The Pinacle Athens or The Stanley
Remember that if you find Athens to intense or noisy then Nea Makri is a more relaxing option. We stayed at the Thomas Hotel and although basic it had friendly staff and a good breakfast. The buses run from Nea Makri to the Athens metro (Nomismatokopio station) and you can then take the metro to Monastiraki for the main historical monuments.
Is Athens Worth Visiting? Overall Verdict
Overall I would say that Athens is absolutely worth visiting and it warrants a 3-5 day trip. This amazing capital has ancient monuments that will amaze and a culture that is inviting and eager to host you! So, are you ready to embark on an adventure that will leave you forever enchanted? Athens awaits.
Further Reading on Greece
If you are heading to Greece, you might also like to read these articles…
- Is Greece worth Visiting?
- Visiting the Acropolis
- Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods Nea Makri
- St Ephraim Nea Makri
- Things to do in Nea Makri
- Solo Travel Greece – The Ultimate Guide
- How to spend one day in Athens