Athens: From Ancient Greece to Contemporary Chic

Ancient Athens


Why Go?

With its warm weather, sunny days, and stunning beaches, Athens attracts travelers from around the world. But more than its new reputation for breezy days and sultry nights, this is one city that's been around since the very beginning. As the birthplace of democracy, Athens enjoys a special place as the cradle of Western civilization and as the home of the most venerable of philosophers from ancient times (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all lived here).

Relive some of that glorious past by visiting the stunning ruins all over the city. From the Acropolis to Herodeion, ancient history is very much alive and thriving in Athens. And students of history on all different budgets will be able to appreciate how much fun it is to stroll through the city streets, taking in sights from long ago, as well as the lovely small touches of today, like a mom and pop fruit stand or an unassuming neighborhood taverna. And after working up an appetite by exploring all corners of the city, it's easy to relax at a cafe, coffee and baklava in hand, before heading out to meet the infamous Athenian nightlife. 


Insider Tips

  • Winter temperatures in Greece do not fall far below 50 degrees, making a winter getaway from a colder clime a real pleasure. However, summers are very hot, with temperatures reaching the 90s in July and August. These are also some of the busiest tourist months, so if possible, visit in the pleasant shoulder season of April-May or September-October.
  • Public transit in Athens for all types of transport (metro, bus, trolley, tram) costs 1,20 EUR for a single ride, and 1,40 EUR for a multiple ride ticket, where you can change from one transport type to another (i.e. trolley to tram or metro to bus). You’ll only need to validate a multiple ride ticket once, at the beginning of your journey. You can buy tickets at newsstands or special kiosks (look for the yellow and blue).
  • Allow yourself enough time to explore Athens—at least a of couple days. As the capital of Greece and primary business center, modern Athens is a large city with 4 million in population, and it takes time to get around to the various sights. 
  • At least once, enjoy a night view of the city lights from the Acropolis.
  • If you were turned off by the lack of transport infrastructure seven or more years ago, know that the city has improved much since then, given the 2004 Olympics. Do, however, monitor whether there are any transport or other strikes likely to take place during your visit, since these have become more prevalent given Greece’s current financial woes.
  • The afternoon heat, especially in the summer, can be very strong. Consider doing as the Greeks do and taking a siesta in your room from 2-5pm. Also seek out taverns and cafes with outdoor shaded seating, since many don’t have air conditioning and it can get quite hot and stuffy inside.
  • Food portions in traditional tavernas are usually very generous, so you may want to share main dishes between two people.
  • The best Athens clubs and nightlife change frequently; your best bet, apart from a local friend, is asking your hotel concierge or checking the weekly Athinorama (Greek) or in publications such as the English-language Athens News Kathimerini insert in the Herald Tribune
  • If you are looking to get into a big nightclub, you're going to need to pay a cover charge of at least 10€. After that, each drink will cost over 10 € ($ 13). It is best to go only to places that have been recommended to you, and if possible, with someone who knows the area. In the big clubs, do not sit at the table if you do not want bottle service, which can easily run to 100 € / $ 130 or more.


The lights of Athens


Where to Stay

Budget travelers will find no shortage of shared dormitories in various hostels and guesthouses, though finding a nice mid-range hotel is easy enough that there's no need to revert to those types of travel arrangements. Located right in the heart of Athens, with views to the Acropolis, the Athens Center Square Hotel is a delightful three-star establishment with an eye towards contemporary design, even one of the world's most historic cities. Simple, sleek rooms come in various hues, meaning guests can actually request a room done up in their own favorite color. It's contemporary and cozy, and with 54 rooms, a great mid-size hotel for those who want something more affordable. The rooftop terrace offers the perfect place to unwind with a drink and enjoy an amazing view.

Drinks on the rooftop terrace, Athens Square Hotel


For travelers who want international standards in a delightfully convenient location, The Divani Palace Acropolis might be the best bet. The hotel is part of a well-known and well-kept Greek chain of seven different properties, and its standard of comfort is superb. Just a few steps from the Acropolis, The Divani Palace Acropolis has clean and spacious rooms, a nice outdoor rooftop pool, and offers breathtaking views of the Acropolis from its lovely rooftop terrace and restaurant.


Poolside at the Divani Palace Acropolis, Athens


What to Eat 

From hearty traditional Greek fare to upscale restaurants with an eye firmly focused on the global, Athens offers travelers a bit of everything. Budget travelers might want to stick to eating out during lunchtime, when generous portions combine with pricing specials to make pockets and bellies very happy. Grabbing pastries from local cafes for snacking is a great way to stave off hunger during the in-between times, and shopping at markets for snacks is recommended over chain grocery stores. 

Frequently championed as the best homemade Greek food in all of athens, the unassuming and cozy Kitsoulas is a great pick for those who want an authentic dining experience. Located at 25 Filikis Etairias, it's a restaurant that knows how to whip up something delectable with fresh, local ingredients at a brisk, unpretentious pace. Lingering over a dish is not the name of the game here, but devouring an entire plate of delicious lahanodolmades or digging into kouneli stifado (rabbit stew) definitely is. 

Kouneli Stifado (Rabbit Stew)


Those who feel like splurging on one big meal while visiting Athens should consider an evening at Alexandra, a highly recommended spot where locals and internationals enjoy a decidedly Greek take on haute cuisine. Creative dishes with fabulously fresh local ingredients have been creating a buzz among foodies since the restaurant opened, meaning that reservations are essential, depending on when one is deciding to visit. 


Alexandra, Athens


What to See and Do

The Greeks erected each temple to the gods and patron saint of the city—it was where the city’s treasury and arms of the city were safeguarded. The most famous is of course the Acropolis of Athens. Climb to the top not only to see the ruins of the Acropolis, but also to view most of the sights of this city. From here, it's possible to get a good look at Ereyhteyon, Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon. The Acropolis is a very ancient structure, and as it is so well known, is often packed with visitors. During the hottest part of the day in the warmer months, it's best to refrain from visiting the Acropolis, since there is absolutely nowhere to hide from the sun.


The Acropolis, Athens


Exploring Monastiraki, an old-world neighborhood, is also a great way to travel back in time. Here, you will feel the true spirit of antiquity: the bazaar, fish market, with its screaming traders, handicraft shops, the ruins of two millennia ago – all this makes an indelible impression on tourists. 


Monastiraki Market, Athens


The Plaka is the oldest district of Athens, located at the foot of the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, with a maze of narrow streets and houses built in neoclassical style. According to the latest of a variety of theories to explain the name of the district, Plaka got its name from the large stone slab (posters in Greek means “plate”), which was found in the Church of St. George of Alexandria, near the ancient theater of Dionysos.An overall friendly energy tends to enchant visitors exploring the area. When you go to walk through the Plaka, do not forget to bring a map, as streets can be a bit difficult to navigate.


Plaka, Athens


Opposite the National Garden is the Stadium Panafinaikon, a remarkable structure. This white marble stadium, shaped like an elongated horseshoe, is an exact reconstruction of the ancient stadium built by Herodes Atticus. Stadium name comes from the space's original purpose: in ancient times, there were sporting events during the Panafiney celebration. The stadium, which we see today was built in the years 1869-1870 for the first Olympic Games, resumed in 1896, the ancient Hellenic tradition.

Hitting the beach while in Athens is essential. Take the central Syntagma Square bus E-22 or B2 and in 10 minutes, you'll be at Eden Beach. If you pass 40 minutes, there's an even bigger reward: the beach at Varkiza is considered the cleanest in the Athens area. Of course, for the best sunbathing and dipping opportunities, getting further away from the city is a good idea.


The beach at Varkiza, Athens


Nightlife in Athens is world-famous, and for good reason. Those on a budget might want to choose wisely when deciding where to go out, but anyone will enjoy the vast variety of clubs and lounges that draw beautiful locals and jet-setting internationals alike. A place for the professional party people only, BABAE Restaurant and Bar (Posidonos Avenue 88, Glyfada, Tel.: +30 210 8941620) is one of the holy grails of Athens clubbing. Located a bit outside the city center, in a suburb of Athens, the area was and is famous for its clubs, bars and nightlife in general. Be prepared for loud music and great dance energy. On weekends, getting in can be very difficult. There's also an on-site swimming pool, though getting in will cost travelers 15 Euros.

Club Kalua (Amerikis 6 10671 Syntagma, Tel. +30 210 3608304) is a well-known nightclub famous for its excellent quality music and great DJs who play here. A cool atmosphere attracts all the young people, and several well-known artists and groups use this club to try out their latest songs. There's also a decent amount of underground DJs who do their thing to much acclaim here.


Clubbing in Athens


A favorite club of many visitors, Venue (Peireos 130, Gazi, Tel.: +30 2103411410) is the place to go for those who like techno, house and minimal. Armin Van Buuren is a very frequent visitor to the club, and other top-tier international talent makes a point of dropping by for fabulous sets that stretch into the early-morning hours.

Photo Credits: Titanas, Curran.Kelleher, DoctorWho, Panoramas, karpidis, John.Karakatsanis

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