Language: The official language in Athens in Greek, but English is widely spoken within the city in hotels and restaurants. The younger generation of Greeks also have a basic to moderate understanding of English.
Transportation: Most of the main attractions can be located within a 45 minute walk of each other, making Athens a great city to explore on foot. However, the tram system in Athens is one of the cleanest and easiest ways to navigate the city if you’re located around Syntagma Square or Parliament Square. The tram is the best option if you’re looking to hit the big markets or the beach. The metro is a little bit trickier to navigate (and can get busy and congested during rush hour), but is good for hopping around the main attractions in the city center.
There are very few cities in the world that have shaped modern civilization as it is today. Athens is one of the cities, steeped in political and cultural history that has formed what we know today as modern democracy. Words cannot begin to justify the richness of this ancient city, which dates back to the 10th millennium BC.
Nowadays, Athens has transformed into buzzing metropolitan hub that attract millions of visitors each year. Whether you’re looking to explore the relics and ruins of ancient life, or wandering through the bustling streets eating souvlaki, you’re sure to find something here in Athens.
Where to Stay in Athens
1. Syntagma Square
Syntagma Square is a great jumping off point for exploring Athens, as it’s situated smack dab in the center of the city. Located right near the Old Royal Palace, Syntagma Square was once the epicenter of many political demonstrations and celebrations, but is now a popular hangout surrounded by shops, cafes and businesses. First time visitors will enjoy staying in this area since most large attractions are centered around the square.
Budget: Tempi Hotel
Luxury: Hotel Grande Bretagne
For a taste of ancient, charming Athens, think about staying in the Plaka. Cobblestone streets and ivy draped boutiques make the Plaka one of the most picaresque and quant neighborhoods in all of Athens. Most streets are closed to traffic, allowing the cafes and restaurants to spill out into the road with busy diners. Plaka is a situated under the Acropolis, but is central to many other attractions throughout the city.
Budget: Adam’s Hostel
Mid-range: Herodion Hotel
Luxury: Acropolian Spirit Boutique Hotel
To experience true Greek nightlife, stay near the Gazi district. This fairly new neighborhood is home to plenty of trendy bars, nightclubs and live music venues which come alive once the sun goes down in the city. Home to Technopolis, the defunct gas plant turned artisanal recreation center, Gazi is the center of contemporary Athens with it’s lofted art galleries and modern Greek cuisine.
Budget: The House Athens
Mid-range: Estia Boutique Apartments
Luxury: Jason Inn
What to do in Athens
1. Explore ancient Athens
No trip to the Greek capital would be complete without spending a good chunk of your time visiting the ruins. The Acropolis and Pantheon will take around 1-2 hours alone, but you make it a full day by hitting up the Acropolis Museum and Ancient Angora afterwards. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is also in the middle of the city, and is a wonderful pit stop where you can snap a few photos.
2. The Agora-Athens Central Market
This market comes alive in the early morning hours before lunch, where Athenian shoppers and restaurant owners hawk for the freshest fish, meat and produce to take home. You’ll also find cheese, herbs, sweets, olive and just about any other delectable that is sure to make your mouth water. Come here on an empty stomach and have breakfast or lunch at one of the no-frills, working class eateries to enjoy some of the tastiest food in Athens.
3. Wander the Plaka
The Plaka is a beautiful neighborhood in the shadow of the Acropolis. Reminiscent of a small Greek village, you can easily get happily lost in the picturesque allies and stairwells that wind through this oldest neighborhood in Athens. You’ll find everything from kitchy handicrafts to fresh roasted coffee in one of the many boutiques that line the cobblestone streets. The restaurants while touristy, are still some of the best in the city.
4. Eat Souvlaki
You can’t walk through the streets of Athens without smelling the waves freshly grilled meat and onions. Souvlaki is (in my opinion) the best street food in Athens. Grilled beef, chicken or lamb is served straight off the skewer onto a hot pita or wrap, and is then layered with tomatoes, herbs, yogurt sauce. You absolutely can’t miss O Kostas, an iconic culinary landmark on its own, where you can also add a spicy sauce for an extra kick. Get there early, as they close right after lunch once they run out of meat.