How to Spend a Weekend in Athens.
A Weekend in Athens!
If any of you are even remotely similar to me and have even a little bit of love for history and a lot of love for adventure, then surely, Athens is one city on your bucket list. No matter what people tell you about the city itself, you must go and see it for yourself. This is how I have always felt. Athens is a completely different vacation to The Greek islands. Although some may say it’s hectic, crowded, and falling apart, others will tell you it makes up for that entirely by its dazzling history and cultural attractions. This is one city that will take you back thousands of years in time and teach you a lot about historic glamour, A rich thriving city on top, and then to a city suffering from war, conflict, and economic crisis.
Athens is a city filled with a rich history dating back thousands of years. It flourishes with ancient ruins and precious dated artifacts from periods of one of the strongest empires in the world. Athens is the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles. Athens first became a settlement in 3000 BC that was situated on the rock of Acropolis. Yes, the very Acropolis you can see from all over the city. The most epic part of Athens. Athens was named after the Greek Goddess Athena, “Goddess of Wisdom” and the protector of the city. Athens was the leading city and hub of Ancient Greece and the Greeks. It’s been the capital of Greece since the late 1800s and is very large and densely populated with so much hustle and bustle as well as having neighborhoods just outside of Athens that lie on the stunning sea and have a huge part in the fishing and seafood trade.
Speaking of seafood. Athens has some of the best seafood I’ve ever had as does most of Greece. It’s so fresh and delicious. It also has amazing tomatoes, cheese, and olives. This is truly a country for foodies like myself. I came here not loving the whole Mediterranean food and now since trying the tasty squid and tomatoes here, I live for returning again and again. The food is truly out of this world.
So now let’s discuss a trip to Athens. How long should you stay in Athens? What should you see in Athens? , What order should you see things on your Athens trip, how long will it take to see everything in Athens? What is the best month to visit Athens? What should you wear in Athens? What hotels should you stay in while visiting Athens? What are the best restaurants in Athens? Where are the best views of Athens? Well, my friends, I’m here to answer all of those questions.
Let’s start with how long you need in Athens. Most people don’t just come to Athens to visit Athens itself, unless it is for a weekend away, depending on where you are living. Many will fly into Athens on route to a beach destination in Greece. I will be honest by saying you don’t need more than three days in Athens. Before I came to Greece, many people told me their negative opinions of Athens and how you could see everything in one day if you insist ongoing. Some even told me it was a city full of pollution and traffic and not to bother. However, for me, it’s a city I had to see no matter what I heard and to me, those people that spoke so poorly of it, have not traveled to many cities as large as Athens. Yes, there is pollution, there are a lot of old, run-down buildings, and old junky cars filling up the streets with traffic jams. There are very poor areas and people begging, but this is one of the most fascinating and historical cities. It’s old and big. What do you expect? It’s a city that’s been through thousands of years of wars and invasions and economic crisis. It’s still amazing to me. That being said, 3-4 days is a very generous amount of time. I would say two days, for frequent travelers who have the agenda of just seeing the main sites and who are not bothered with the museums, day trips, and taking in the Athenian café culture and nightlife, which is awesome by the way. I would plan at least 2 days on route to or from your island destination if you have one, or a long weekend here. Athens, as I said, has so much history and so much to see within the city walls, it’s no fun to rush it all especially with the heat. It gets so hot.
Which comes to my next topic of dressing for the weather in Athens, if you come during the summer it’s very hot, be prepared for shorts, tank tops, sunscreen, a hat, and good walking shoes. I promise you don’t want to be in heels anywhere in Greece. Flip flops are also a terrible idea for walking tours around Athens, as you will hurt your feet. Trust me, it’s a full day of walking so you want to be comfortable. Cute flats and a light summer dress is what I wore mostly but always bring a sweater for windy or chilly nights. I have always chosen to come to Athens in October, as it’s still hot but getting cooler, it’s cheaper, and way less crowded than the very busy, hot, and popular summer months. In my opinion, the best time to visit depends on your plan after as if you are going to the islands then the weather must still be good there and in October it’s starting to cool off in Santorini and Mykonos. It also gets windy on the islands by October. One short October visit, it was chilly and windy one day, so I wore skinny jeans and a t-shirt and the next day, it was sunny and hot. I was able to wear a nice light day dress. If you’re going somewhat in season keep in mind the heat. I would say if you want to do all the main sites and the museums, I would allocate 2 full days as in waking up and getting outside by 8 am to beat the heat and site seeing till 6 pm. Watching the sunset here is incredible as well, so plan for that and I’ll get you to the best spots for that. If you only have one full day to see things in Athens then I would hit the main attractions first. I will put my itinerary below.
Athens Day 1.
Check into hotel/leave bags at the hotel. 11 am
Hotel in Athens, For Luxury, I highly recommend Hotel Grande Bretagne. It’s in the main square and is a Luxury Collection Hotel. It has my favorite rooftop restaurant in Athens with the best views and the best food. I love, love, love this hotel. It also has an amazing spa and 2 pools. It’s so nice. Another amazing luxury hotel is right next door called The King George Hotel, another Luxury Collection Hotel. The food here is also perfection, as is the service. You will not be disappointed with these two as they have beautiful views of the city and Acropolis, and the vibe is great. If you want a hotel on more of a budget, I would go for the Herodian Hotel, the Herodian is a hotel I stayed in also, and has great views of Acropolis, is walkable to Acropolis Hill, and is right next door to the Acropolis Museum. It has a fab rooftop restaurant and bar, as well with lovely views.
1130-12:45 Lunch in Athens. My all-time favorite restaurant is called Nice and Easy. It’s soooo delicious and has amazing Rosé and cute décor. It has outside seating and the sweetest staff. Try the squid. I eat at this café every time I come to Athens and love it more and more. You must try it here.
After Lunch 12:50-1pm head to Syntagma Square, This is in the main square in Athens, and where most political and other protests and other functions happen. On the square sits the Presidental Mansion which is famous for its changing of the guard, in which a guard is always standing to protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The changing of the guard happens every hour until around 11 or Midnight. It starts about 5 mins before and is cool to watch their little routine done in pairs emulating one another perfectly and walk. If you are there on a Sunday, go around 11 as they have more of a parade. The guards stand for about an hour and are not allowed to move. They must stay perfectly still until the change, even during a protest when people are throwing things at them they must stand straight and still and protect the Tomb and Palace.
1:15 Walk to The National Garden, It’s close to the Palace in the center of Athens and is super green and lush with flowers and plants and fountains, it’s a true summer oasis. It’s a peaceful place to get away and sit for a bit and escape the heat in the shade next to a pond with cute little ducks. You don’t need to stay too long but it’s a lovely little stroll through. If you walk just out the back you can walk by Zappeion which is a Greek cute and historic building used for meetings and ceremonies. Compared to other things in Athens it’s pretty new however since you are already in the gardens it’s worth walking by on route to Zeus’s Temple.
Approx 2 pm Temple of Olympian Zeus. It’s a short walk from the city center. It’s a Greek monument dedicated to Zeus, you will see beautiful extra large Greek columns, some have fallen over due to lightning strikes and war but many are still standing all these years and it’s truly incredible. It’s the largest of all the Greek temples and took over 1,000 years to complete. Well, kind of complete as it was never actually completed. Why? I have no clue. You could also start your tour like this early in the morning the following day as I always say it’s great to get up super early and get to the sites when it’s a lot cooler and way less crowded as Athens is hot AF in the summer and also insanely crowded. I did this though and I was fine just have bottled water with you and wear your SPF, sunglasses, and good shoes. In the Temple of Zeus you’ll pay around 6 euro I believe. You will also see the Arch of Hadrian here which is another nice ruin. I just love all these Greek names. I feel like all my children will have some over the top Greek God and Goddess names because I’m that into history and mythology. I know, I know.
3 pm So after Zeus you can head towards the old Panathenaic Stadium, again a short walk. The best thing about site seeing in Athens is that almost all of the sites are walkable and some you can only access by foot so you will be getting your good exercise.
The Panathenaic Stadium/Olympic Stadium is a stadium in Athens made entirely of marble that started as a simple racecourse in 300 BC and since has hosted The Panathenaic games, Zappas Olympics and then later the Modern Olympic games throughout the centuries. It was built in 330 BC and renovated in 1896 as it spent years abandoned. It was used in the 1994 Athens Olympics and is the ending point for the Athens marathon every year. It is really stunning and pretty crazy when you sit there and stare at it and know that even in 300 B.C there were people there watching races. A lot fewer people but still people taking part in watching entertainment there. There is just so much history. The price to enter is 5 euro but honestly, you can see a lot from the outside without paying, it’s entirely up to you if you want to have the experience of walking around the bleachers. If you’ll never visit Athens again then why not?
4 pm After this I would cab up to Philopappos Hill, It is probably the second most famous hill next to Acropolis with a rich history and maybe even better views of Athens as you get the Acropolis under you in the view. If you get lucky and have a clear day you can see the sea to the South and the main road through Athens to the sea. The hill was named after Philopappos, A greek senator who was considered a benefactor to Athens. He is buried in a marble tomb on the highest point of the hill.
Around 5-6 pm (when it’s cooler and the lighting is best for pics and it’s less crowded), I would head to Acropolis Hilltop. This is the number one spot to see in Athens and if you perhaps only have one day, then this is where you need to be. It costs 12 euro and offers student discounts. There is also a multi-site ticket for 30 euro where you can see up to 7 sites. If you plan to see more, I would buy the multi-ticket as it’s valid 5 days. On Acropolis, if you walk into the south entrance, you will first see the Temple of Athena Nike to the right of the Propylaea which you will walk under to enter Acropolis hilltop. Did you know Nike means Victory? Athena was truly the Goddess of War. Keep wandering past the Propylaea to the right, you will then see the historic, beautiful and Iconic 5thcentury Athenian Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), It stands so tall and beautiful. You won’t miss it. This is the main piece of Acropolis you get a view of from below and my favorite. You are not allowed inside due to the reconstruction and the preservation efforts on this gorgeous piece of history, but you will get some beautiful photos of it. After you can walk around to the side of the hilltop with the Greek Flag. It’s a great spot for views over the entire city of Athens and also great for views of all of Acropolis. From there, walk further to the left and you will see Erechtheum, a temple dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. It’s also beautiful and has some great history and greek mythology. There is the olive tree on the side of it that Athena was responsible for. Behind this temple is The Porch of the Caryatids. This is a Greek porch-like structure with 6 draped female maidens supporting the columns. The originals are in the museum of Acropolis but these serve as great representations of those destroyed in The Peloponnesian war. You can knock off a lot on top of Acropolis hill, there are ruins while walking up there as well, and you can see where there are old small theatre ruins, where people used to watch live shows. There is also remenants of the old jail.
If you have the time and means and are really into history you can also get a cheap tour guide to give you a tour around Athens or even just Acropolis as I did that during one just hired a one on one guide and I got so much information I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten but again I did this because it was my first time there and I also have been majorly obsessed with Greek history. It’s just a thought and not necessary if you’re not that fussed.
I almost forgot! As you’re walking up to the hilltop to the sites on Acropolis, you will walk by Theatre of Dionysus, it’s the oldest theatre in Greece and seen as the birthplace of European theatre. It’s remarkable. You can get great views from higher up on Acropolis but you’ll surely walk by it as well. I believe they still occasionally do small concerts here which would be so cool to go to.
When you’re on your way down from Acropolis Hilltop you will walk by The Roman Agora, coming down through Anafiotika. The Agora is Roman ruins from when Greece was still apart of The Roman Empire. You will certainly get that feel upon walking by it. This is where the Roman market was and the Tower of wind just east of that which features reliefs of the eight winds and a sundial underneath. Nex to it you will also see the Church of Holy Apostles. It was the only building left after the entire quarter was demolished. It’s very typical with Byzantine architecture and the inside is lovely. In this same area, you will find the library of Hadrian which I would wander into as it holds a lot of history and it’s very cool to see. It’s in the adorable and charming neighborhood of Plaka. Plaka is a must-visit while in Athens. There are cute shops and picturesque streets and authentic Greek restaurants, however, I prefer to eat outside of Plaka as many of the spots are tourist traps so I would consult with your hotel before choosing one. Also watch for pickpocketing, like most large European cities, Athens has its share of pickpocketing.
Once you walk back down into Syntagma Square I would head up to the rooftop of the Grande Bretagne Hotel for a nice cocktail and watch the sun go down. You get a great view of the sunset and the Palace and square below. The last time I was here there was an insane protest outside and they locked the hotel and there were dozens of police outside in the square throwing tear gas at people. It was really scary but also for some reason super exciting to see it as no one was injured and the pretest quickly dissipated after the tear gas. We were made to exit the patio for a while after, but it again was a cool experience.
After your cocktail, I would head back to your room wherever that is, and get ready for a nice big fat Greek dinner. I again, love the restaurants in the two luxury hotels mentioned, but other good dinner places are Dinner in the Sky, Varoulko, Orizontes, (best views), O Kostas (budget and local spot), and Strofi! After if you’re keen for a night out I would have a drink at Bios Terrace for amazing views of Acropolis and then make your way to Dybbuk or Kitty Cat. Just try not to get too drunk as a hangover in Athens heat when having to see sites the next day isn’t fun, unless you plan to start your day with mimosas the following day, which I don’t hate the idea of. Lol.
Athens Day 2
Have a nice breakfast at the hotel or somewhere authentic in Monastiraki. Monastiraki is the old town and an area of flea markets and souvenir shops. It’s very touristy, but worth having a short peek at. I would ask your hotel concierge if they have any breakfast recommendations, as I ate each day in my hotel.
After breakfast at 11 am, head to The Acropolis Museum, if you stay at the Herodian Hotel than this is just next door and super convenient. It is full of great original statues and pieces from Acropolis hill that were put there after restoration to preserve. There is so much to see here and this is probably one of the coolest museums in Athens so if you do any I would probably choose this one. You will find the original Caryatid statues in this museum. It’s super informative as well and you will learn so much about Greek History, civilization, and Athens itself. It costs just 6 euro to enter. Don’t be worried about the long lines, it goes quickly. You will need about 2 hours here I would say. There is also a cute café here to have a coffee after.
After this head to lunch at Diporto. It’s a Tavern and has amazing authentic Greek food. The menu changes daily and is due to market availability.
After lunch, I would stroll around the city and check out the café culture, really take it in. You can have coffee or snacks at various cafes such as Taf Coffee or Harvest Coffe and Wine.
After lunch and café socializing taking in the Athenian culture, I would head to another museum if you’re interested, some of the good museums are The National Archeology Museum, The Byzantine Museum, Museum of Cycladic art, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Benaki Museum and as mentioned above the Acropolis museum.
After you’re over the museums, head to that green steep looking mountain you see from the city called Mount Lycabettus. This you will get a stunning view of the city, and you will see a historic and cool amphitheater. You can get lunch at the café here and take in the beautiful scenery. It’s peaceful up here and gets you out of the hustle and bustle. Don’t worry you don’t have to hike either you can take a train up the hill.
Afterward, get your butt back down the hill for yet another big fat Greek dinner. Try Atitamos. If you eat in the center, I would go back and watch the changing of the guard again. Why not? I probably watched this 2-3 times each day but perhaps because it was almost outside of my hotel. It’s cool to see at night as well as day time though.
If the museums don’t appeal to you, then there are some awesome day trips from Athens I would recommend. Here are a few. This is for history and adventure lovers. I’ll be going to Athens again this month and I am for sure doing the Meteora tour as it looks so insanely beautiful. Other cool day tours are: visiting Delphi, one of Greece’s most iconic places filled with lots of monuments and ruins. You will also visit a cute mountain village to see how some Greek live. Delphi is full of history and cool ruins. Another great one is Mycenae and Epidaurus, if you studied Greek history you’ll kind of remember the name Mycenae an old fortified city in Greece. There are many ruins here as well as so much rich history. You really can’t go wrong with a lot of the day trip,s as there is so much cool Sh*t to see in and around Athens and beyond. Greece is one of my favorite countries and truly has so much to offer. I can’t recommend it enough.
Have the best time ever!