Athens is the perfect getaway for those looking to experience a little bit of everything. It’s an excellent destination for those who thrive on the bustle of city life, are looking to explore the majesty of nearby mountains or swim in the waves of the Aegean Sea. Culture vultures will relish learning about the ways of the ancient Greeks while experiencing the food, music and traditions of modern Greece. There really is something for everyone in Athens. Check out my list of the top 10 things you just can’t miss during your visit:
1. Discover ancient Greece by visiting the archaeological sites
Learn about the customs of ancient Greeks, engage in a democratic debate or philosophize the morals of your friend who ate the last piece of baklava during a visit to the city’s world famous archaeological sites. For just €12, you’ll gain access to some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Acropolis where you’ll also get a spectacular view across the city. For information on opening hours, free admission days and reduced price tickets, visit the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Remember to wear comfortable and supportive shoes (no flip flops) as you’ll be doing a lot of walking!
2. Get to know the locals
Learn about what life as a local is like and get insider tips on the best things to see and do through the This is My Athens program. This free initiative, founded by the Athens Development & Destination Management Agency (ADDMA), will partner you with a local volunteer who will show you around, answer questions you have about the city and culture, and make recommendations on great things to see and do during your stay. Hands down, this is one of the best ways to experience Athens and I would highly recommend it. To find out more about what you can expect, read about my experience. To have your own adventure with a local, simply sign up at least 72 hours in advance of your arrival.
3. Eat lots of tasty Greek food
The food in Greece is really tasty and very reasonably priced. For a relaxing, tapas-style meal, stop at a tavern and order a selection of Greek delicacies. I recommend trying fried zucchini balls stuffed with melted cheese and herbs, moussaka, fried Halloumi cheese, red peppers stuffed with rice and beef, and, of course, traditional Greek salad.
4. Explore the city streets and take photos of the street art
You’ll find street art and graffiti everywhere you go in Athens and each piece has it’s own unique story to tell. Spend an afternoon wandering through the city streets in search of masterpieces or take an organized tour to learn about the stories behind them.
5. Discover the tranquil neighbourhood of Anafiotika
Underneath the Acropolis, in the old Plaka neighbourhood, you’ll discover Anafiotika, a community of 45 whitewashed houses and tiny alleyways carved out of Acropolis rock. The architecture in this neighbourhood is reminiscent of that on the Cyclades Islands and will make you forget you’re only minutes away from the bustling city centre.
6. Check out the bars
Athens is home to some fantastic bars and pubs. Grab a drink with a view of the Acropolis or check out one of the city’s many themed bars, like Poems and Crimes – a great place to get in touch with your inner creative over a coffee or beer. If you’re in the mood to get your groove on, check out Six d.o.g.s to go dancing with the locals.
7. And while you’re at the bars, drink like a local
No visit to Greece would be complete without a drink of Ouzo. Although it’s got a love-it-or-hate-it aniseed flavour, it’s certainly a must-try activity when you’re in Greece. The Greeks traditionally serve ouzo in a tall glass filled with ice and sip slowly at their drink. If the strong taste is a little too much though, then try a sip of Tsipouro, a pomace brandy that’s also made in Greece. Both of these clear spirits are strong (40-45%), so pace yourself and remember to drink lots of water – fortunately it’s Greek custom to serve you a glass of tap water with your order.
8. Find the perfect souvenir at the local market
If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir to help you remember your trip, then check out the local markets. Start your search at the Pandroussou Street Market, first established in the 1800s, where you’ll find a wide selection of goods from across Greece. Whether you’re looking for an expensive piece of gold jewelry, herbs and spices, or a cheeky t-shirt, you’re sure to find something of interest. If you’re on a quest for a Greek antique or unique knickknacks, explore the Athens Flea Market on Monastiraki Square or the Sunday antiquities market on Avissinias Square.
9. Get a birds’ eye view of the city
Check out the best view of the city by climbing Lycabettus Hill, the city’s highest point standing at 277 meters (908 feet) above sea level. Climbing the hill is a great way to work off some of those extra calories from all the tasty Greek food you’ve consumed, but you can also catch a ride up the hill on the Lycabettus Funicular. A large open-air theatre is situated on top of the hill and regularly hosts Greek and international concerts, so keep an eye out for upcoming performances. Unfortunately, it poured rain on the day I had planned to climb Lycabettus Hill, so it remains one of the first things I’ll be doing on my next trip to Athens.
10. Venture outside of the city centre
Why not take a break from the bustle of the city to check out a local beach or take a day trip to one of the nearby sights? A visit to the Temple of Poseidon makes for a fantastic half-day trip, or check out the Oracle of Delphi. It’s a two and a half hour bus ride from Athens, with a pit-stop, but well worth the time spent traveling. After exploring this beautiful and historic destination, stop by the town of Delphi for an afternoon feast. I traveled with Key Tours and found the guides to be very friendly and knowledgeable and the afternoon lunch to be overwhelmingly tasty. To check out my experience, view the video below.