Each neighbourhood in Athens has its own character, history, atmosphere, political colour and little secrets. So what should you absolutely see in Athens? Which are the best shopping areas? Which museums are not to be missed? Where do you find the best Greek restaurants? What about the nightlife in Athens? And where in Athens should you stay?
What to see and do in Athens
If you are only in Athens for a day or two, I think you should divide your time between Plaka, Monastiraki, the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. Start early (before it gets too hot and the crowds arrive) with the Acropolis and the Parthenon. I don’t think this archaeological masterpiece dating from the 5th century BC needs a further introduction, but let me suggest you wear good shoes, as you will have to negotiate many steps, pebbled paths and slippery marble. You could spend the entire day admiring the temple and the antiquities, but there’s more to see in the cooler setting of the new Acropolis Museum, one of the modern architectural highlights of Athens.
Your next stop should be Plaka, Athens’ oldest neighbourhood, at the foot of the Acropolis. Stroll through the charming pedestrian streets with tons of little shops and boutiques, small museums (including two for children!), little cafés and typical Greek restaurants. If you have time, also visit the Agora, the ancient heart of Athens and the birthplace of democracy. Souvenir shopping is best done in Monastiraki, the adjacent neighbourhood. It is packed with tiny shops where you will find anything from kitsch to antiques, from worry beads to jewellery, from beachwear to leatherwork, from fake icons to real art, and, on Sundays, when the whole neighbourhood turns into one big flea market, anything from junk to real finds.
Guided tours and activities in Athens
Trekking Hellas (the ‘active holidays’ specialist for travellers in Greece who are interested in activities off the beaten track) offers a few guided walks and activities in the centre of Athens that will allow you to experience some of the best the Greek capital has to offer a little differently. There are two fantastic walking tours (Hills of Athens and Between East & West) as well as an early morning city running tour. The photo treasure hunt must be one of the most fun ways to explore Athens and learn about its history and culture.
And even more things to explore in Athens
If you have more time in Athens, there is a lot more to see and do. Here is a small selection of suggestions:
Syntagma (Constitution Square) and the Parliament building. Always fun to snap some pictures of the guards.
The National Gardens. A wonderful part to go for a stroll, especially if you are in Athens with children.
Kolonaki, the upscale neighbourhood with luxury shops and design boutiques.
The Benaki Museum with an amazing collection of exhibits that run you through Greek history from the prehistoric times to the formation of the modern Greek state.
Lykavittos hill. Take the funicular up, and take in stunning views. It’s a nice walk back down.
The central (food) market on Athinas Street. Go in the morning for a real Athenian experience.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre. During the summer months, as part of the Athens Festival, there are fantastic performances in this ancient theatre. Classical concerts, ballet, opera, theatre and performances by world singers like Elton John and Paolo Conté… if you have the chance, get tickets and treat yourself to an unforgettable cultural experience!!!
The Megaron Mousikis, the Athens concert hall, hosting world-class concert, opera and dance performances the remainder of the year.
Gazi, one of Athens’ up-and-coming neighbourhoods with at its heart an old gasworks factory that has been transformed into a happening cultural centre.
The Benaki Museum of Islamic art (an annexe of the above mentioned Benaki Museum) in the Keramikos area, displaying what may well be the most important collection of historical Islamic art in Europe.
Small hotels and other special places to stay in Athens