Athens is a heady mix of historic and modern, and the ideal place to start your Greece travel. We instantly felt at home in the higgledy-piggledy, welcoming and warm capital. The city was buzzing late at night with its trendy bars, laidback cafes and chatty locals happy to help. My husband and I could see why it’s well known for its nightlife – the city never seems to sleep!
Known as the ‘cradle of Western civilisation’, the capital is a cosmopolitan hub with the Acropolis perched above the city. Since 2004, the Archaeological Promenade has linked the major attractions. With its proximity to the Mediterranean coast, it’s a city of endless possibilities for travel lovers. Our travel plan was to mix up city sights, day trips and more time in the centre. Here are the top travel experiences in and around the capital:
The Sacred Rock of Acropolis with the Parthenon, dedicated to its patron goddess Athena, offers a panoramic view of the sprawling city. The UNESCO World Heritage site inspires a sense of wonder – this amazing complex has survived wars, earthquakes, political upheavals and more. It is the most dramatic and complete ancient Greek monumental complex that survives today. This site saw the emergence of classical Greek thought and art and it’s awe-inspiring to think that on this very hill, Democracy was born.
Good to know: Entry is €20. Free on the first Sunday of the month November – March.
Explore the Athens Riviera by Bike
The Athens Riviera, 18 kms south of the centre, features pretty sandy beaches and a vibrant seafront, perfect for a quick travel getaway. A gorgeous (and eco-friendly!) way to explore the capital and the riviera is on bike.
Athens by Bike: Athens by Bike offers a delightful coastal tour that takes in attractions like the charming Plaka, Thission and Petralona neighbourhoods, Roman Agora, and more. For the shimmering blue waters of the Saronic gulf, the tour takes you along safe bike lanes to cosmopolitan Flisvos Marina and sandy Edem Beach. The 4.5-hour coastal tour starts and ends at the city center and you learn about the ‘real Athens’ with their friendly, knowledgeable guides. Pedal power your way to a glorious sunny day out!
Sea-kayaking on the Athens Riviera
The Athens Riviera is inviting for sun and sea-loving travel junkies, and a lovely way to go exploring is on an eco-friendly sea-kayak!
Trekking Hellas Sea Kayak Tour: Whether you choose a morning or a sunset tour with Trekking Hellas, the experience is memorable. Paddle along the Athenian Riviera all the way to Cape Sounion and the famous Temple of Poseidon! Cape Sounion was known by Ancient Greeks as the “Sacred Cape.” Perched on this 60 meter cliff is the temple dedicated to Poseidon, God of the Sea. This unique tour includes return transfers from/to any point in Athens, a certified sea kayak guide, entrance fees, a snack and a meal at the local tavern. The views are spectacular, and what’s more romantic than a sunset on the Saronic gulf?
Explore the Vibrant Neighbourhoods
When you travel here, do explore the capital’s bougainvillea-draped neighbourhoods. Plaka is the oldest residential quarter – replete with old world charm, winding streets, restored neoclassical houses, coffee shops and tavernas. It’s also home to a hammam, the Roman Agora, and the first university of Greece.
We stayed in Psirri – a vibrant, grungy district with lively bars, cafes, bakeries and restaurants. We loved the energy and the anti-establishment vibe. It’s great for a night out too with live Greek music, the aroma of a souvlaki and the al fresco drinking and dining scene.
Good to know: Nearest station to Psirri is Monastiráki
We don’t have to tell you how delicious Greek food is – in fact, did you know that the first cookbook in history (330 B.C.) was written in Greece? In fact, you could travel here just for the food! Gyros (roasted meat in pita) and souvlakis (anything on a skewer!) are your fast food options. Try the famous dishes – Mousakka, tzatziki (dip) and the Greek salad, of course, but also get adventurous with the food – dolmades is rice in vine leaves, the mind-boggling variety of Greek cheeses, fresh fruit and honey, and a ton more! A foodie travel dream come true.
The Greek capital is famous for its nightlife. There are plenty of ouzeries where smaller dishes are served with their beloved ouzo. It took a while for me to like it, but the husband took a shine to it instantly. Tavernas are for leisurely meals and conversation but they can be pretty lively too! Psirri, Plaka and Thissio are hotspots for nightlife – be prepared to stay up all night!
Day Trip to Meteora
Meteora is five and a half hours by train each way, but you can travel here for a day trip. It was exhausting, but totally worth it. Meteora is simply jaw-dropping, imagine soaring vertical cliffs and then think about monasteries perched on these cliffs. How did they do it?! It defies imagination.
The gigantic rocks of Meteora feature six incredible monasteries protected by their UNESCO World Heritage status. Only 6 out of 24 survived through the centuries, and the monasteries were built by monks who used to be hermits living in caves. The monks used imaginative methods to transport the construction material to the top of rocks, using ropes, folding ladders, nets and baskets. The biggest and oldest is The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoro, Varlaam is the second biggest and we loved Holy Trinity, featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Do make time to travel to Meteora, it’s unforgettable!
Day Trip to Hydra
Another day trip we absolutely loved was to the car-free island of Hydra. This island is truly special and idyllic, having preserved its natural beauty. Perfect for some eco-friendly travel! We took the ferry from the bustling port of Piraeus and the ride took one and a half hours. Cobblestone streets, traditional stone mansions, plenty of sunshine, and stunning, sparkling beaches. What more can one want? We didn’t want to leave!
Back to the city, we tick off list for culture travel. The pedestrian path connecting the attractions is lovely and we leisurely take in the temple of Olympian Zeus and the nearby Hadrian’s Arch. Walk along Dionysou Areopaghitou Street to pass the Theatre of Dionysos, the ruins of the Asklepieion and the Stoa of Eumenes. You march on reach Odeion of Herodes, built in 161 A.D. and is now a performance venue. Climb up to the Acropolis and then visit the impressive Acropolis Museum (it needs time, so we went the next day).
It’s pleasantly surprising to see a sleek modern home, designed by architect Bernard Tschumi with Michael Photiadis, for the invaluable Greek treasures. The top-floor Parthenon Gallery offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the Acropolis – a view to remember. It’s fascinating to browse through collections that have been united after having been dispersed in several institutions. The Acropolis Museum was founded to exhibit all the significant finds from the Sacred Rock and its foothills.
Good to know: Admission fee: €5, free entry on 6 March (In Memory of Melina Mercouri), 25 March, 18 May (International Museum Day), 28 October
We hope you enjoy your Greece travel as much as we did!