In partnership with Visit Greece
We don’t need to tell you that Athens, cradle of ancient architecture, philosophy and drama, is a classic destination. But even if you’re stopping by on your way to the Greek islands, you can do more than see the Parthenon. You can get to see the side of the city the locals love, and discover some of Athens’ secret spots.
And the good news is, you can squeeze many of the items on this list – from big attractions to the hidden gems – into one weekend getaway.
The Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum
The view from the Acropolis alone is reason enough to visit. Then there’s the jackpot of historical masterpieces, like the world-famous Parthenon, Hadrian’s Arch, the Olympian Zeus and the 17,000-seat Theatre of Dionysos. Phew, what a list! After being overwhelmed by all that, head to the sleek (and air-conditioned) Acropolis Museum. Speaking of which, it’s best to visit the Acropolis bright and early, both to avoid the mid-day sun and dodge tours and cruise crowds.
Athens insider tip: Visiting the Acropolis is free on 6 March, 18 April, 18 May, the last weekend of September, 28 October, and every Sunday between November and March. It’s always free for students of EU universities and those under 18.
Aegina or Agistri – an excursion to the Greek islands
You don’t need to go far from Athens to get a taste of the Greek Islands. From the Port of Piraeus, Aegina is only 40 minutes by hydrofoil. This little pocket of calm is known for pistachio trees, and for being a perfect short trip out of the city.
But if you want a real secret spot in Athens, make your way to Agistri Island and its amazing light blue waters. Dragonera Beach in particular is stunning. The ferry takes about an hour. Agistri has two ports, but AGS is the one you want.
Plaka and its little ‘Greek island’, Anafiotika
Usually you find skyscrapers and modern buildings in a city centre. Not so in Athens, where the old architecture is protected. That’s why you can stroll through little alleys and see neoclassical villas on the foot of the Acropolis. Sure, the Plaka neighbourhood has become more commercial, but walk past the souvenir shops and touristy restaurants and it’s like being in Old Athens.
Our insider tip here is Anafiotika, a little village built by islanders, and that will make you feel like you’ve teleported to a Greek island.
Explore the vibrant street art of Metaxourgeio
The Psirri neighbourhood (think of it as the Shoreditch of Athens), has gained fame for its grand works of street art, many of which are commissioned. The vibrant Metaxourgeio, on the other hand, offers more counter culture. There’s a lot of meanings and stories behind the street art here, so we’d recommend seeing them with a tour guide who can put things in context. In general, the area’s one to look out for, as it’s quickly becoming Athens’ creative hub.
This 300m limestone hill towering over the city as much an icon of the Athens skyline as the Acropolis itself. It may look daunting, but there’s easy circular footpaths to take you up, and a cute Greek church on top. The best time to visit is sunset, when the Parthenon’s white columns are washed in pink and crimson rays of light.
Insider tip: Mount Hymettus, also known as “The Sacred Mountain”, is a bit further out in the southern suburbs. Here you can enjoy the views, and explore remains of the ancient Temple of Zeus that gave the mountain its name.
Stroll along the Athenian Riviera
Want to leave the city behind and get close to the sea? It takes only half an hour by public transport to get to Flisvos Marina. From there, you can walk (or cycle) down the coast to Paleo Faliro, past fancy mansions, classy neighbourhoods, and the beaches of the tranquil Athenian Riviera. And if you want to go for a swim, keep going until you get to…
Astir Beach – sea and sun in the city
With all the historical Athens attractions, it can be easy to forget is that one of the top things to do in Athens is go to the beach. Astir Beach in Vouliagmeni is the most famous one, and is a give-or-take 40 minute drive from super-central Syntagma (1 hour by public transport). It costs 22€ to reserve a spot, and we’d recommend doing so in advance. In addition to a calm, beautiful seaside, there’s also a spa!
Athens insider tip: Don’t want to pay entrance fees? Try out nearby Kavouri Beach or Vouliagmeni Beach, which are free of charge. You might, however, want to come early to get a good spot – especially on weekends.
Athens Central Market
For some hustle, bustle and serious Greek food porn, you have to visit the Athens Central Market. The energetic banter of stall vendors as they go about their business is perhaps as impressive as the offerings of fresh seafood, olives and meat. Make sure to visit one of its little restaurants to sample food made using market-fresh ingredients. Diporto, one of the secret spots of Athens Central Market, and its fish stews and pine-scented retsina wine are guaranteed to satisfy.
Athens insider tip: You can also look out for laeki, local food markets that pop up in each district on a designated day of the week.
Drink Greek coffee, hot or ice cold
Traditional Greek coffee is strong and meant to be sipped as you discuss politics, news and your economic theories. Frappe, on the other hand, is what keeps the city going – especially the one made with potent espresso. For a mix of modern and classic, visit Cafe Taf where you can taste a Greek coffee made by award-winning baristas.
Go on an insider culinary tour with local experts
Athens is full of amazing food options – from spanakopita spinach pies to stuffed vine leaves. But you’ll get the most authentic experience by joining a Culinary Backstreets tour of Athens. They’ll show you traditional tastes you wouldn’t have found on your own, Like a shot of tsipouro with fig paste and cheese, flaky bougatsa pastry, Greek yoghurt with wild thyme honey and fresh walnuts, or cumin-rich meatballs in tomato sauces. Getting hungry yet?
Ancient Agora of Athens
This was once the heart of Athens, where the brightest thinkers of Athens converged to discuss new ideas and debate philosophy. Now it’s an archeological site, and an ode to the past, with sights like the Temple of Hephaistos and the long walkways lined with marble columns. It’s open from 8am to 8pm in the high season, but closes at 3pm from November to March. Right next to Monastiraki, it’s quite central and cheap too – adult tickets cost 8€.
Kerameikos Cemetery – a really secret spot in Athens
Despite being only a ten minute walk from the Agora, the Kerameikos Cemetery is one of Athens’ most secret spots – unknown even by many locals. Named after Keramos, son of Dionysios and Ariadne, hero of potters, it’s no surprise that you’ll see stunning works of ceramic, stone and marble here. The Marble Bull statue, in particular, is bound to catch your eye. It’s hard not to feel a shiver as you realise you’re standing where the Athenians were buried three thousand years ago.
Exaerchia – the anarchic, alternative neighbourhood of Athens
First things first: this district is not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a distinct local feel, a proud neighourhood culture, cheap tavernas, cool record shops and rock clubs, you’re in the right place. It’s a place where working class families and university students live shoulder to shoulder, and the best way to get to know Exarchia is to walk through its jumble of side streets. Amid the graffiti, you’ll also find street art from Borondo.
Of course, you’ll need to eat and stay somewhere during your travels. Here are some recommendations to do that in style:
Where to eat in Athens
Kostas: For the best souvlaki in town. A warning – since kebabs are more of a lunch thing in Athens, and this place will close around half three.
Lime Bistro: A vegan souvlaki? Yes please. The juicy mushroom gyros, coupled with almond yoghurt tsatsiki, will make you seriously consider going meat-free.
Ariston Bakery: For all the pies. Literally. Of their staggering 150 different types, they display a dozen or so daily. The one constant, however – and the favourite – is the flaky, buttery, feta-filled korou pie.
Kolouri from a street stand: These sesame rings are super local, super cheap and a super tasty snack to keep you going.
Where to stay for your weekend in Athens
Plaka: If you want a central spot close to main Athens tourist attractions, check out this central district. The big plus? Its classic buildings and little streets don’t make it feel like you’re bang in the middle of the action (which you are). Home and Poetry is a great option in the area.
Psirri: Known for creative cafes, shops and culture, this is where to stay in Athens if you want to be close to what’s happening. We’d recommend 18 Micon Street, which represents the spirit of the district.
Kolonaki: This glamorous old neighbourhood is where you’ll find fancy shopping and classy buildings. As a result, it’s good for stylish accomodation. Coco-Mat Hotel Athens is one example.
Piraeus: This is where the main port is, and where you’ll likely catch a ferry to your Greek island destination. If you want to play it safe with your connection, it might be worth considering. However, keep in mind that it’s half an hour from central Athens attractions by public transport.
(Bonus) Where to drink and party in Athens
Athenians – and Greeks in general – are generous, fun-loving hosts. Inspired by that, we thought we’d share some extra Athens nightlife tips.
Bouzukia: Named after the bozouki, these music halls are a deep dive into Greek music and culture. By the end of the night (or more like 5am) you might be dancing arm in arm with a bunch of locals.
six d.o.g.s: With its relaxing secret garden and schedule packed with up-and-coming artists and fresh DJs, this Psirri venue is a tucked away oasis for chilling, and for partying.
The Gazi and Technopolis area: In the shadow of an old power plant, this place is full of high energy clubs and colourful bars. It’s also an LGBTQ party hotspot.