Authentic Athens | Meet Greece in the Capital

Classic and Contemporary Come Together in the Capital

SO MANY REASONS ATHENS IS AWESOMESAUCE

You guys. Athens. Is awesome. It is. Maybe it’s hard to believe me. I love every place you might think. (That’s entirely not true by the way. Pisa. I did not love Pisa. At all. Or Madrid, the first time. Luckily, there was a next time to make Madrid mine.) But honestly, we truly adored Athens. We had such wonderful interactions with so many welcoming friendly and enthusiastic people. We dined on delicious food, beheld icons of architecture and traipsed through neighborhoods chock full of charming winding streets and colorful houses and cafés. I’m in love. Come see why.

 

TOP THINGS TO TAKE IN WHEN VISITING ATHENS

Because when you come on a Greek holiday, you have to visit the capital. It’s the perfect place to meet Greece. And I promise you it’s worth it. Here are ways to adore Athens on your own. Orient yourself with the map below and you’ll have a better idea of where you should go.


Authentic Athens | Meet Greece in the Capital

A great city, whose image dwells in the memory of man, is the type of some great idea. Rome represents conquest; Faith hovers over the towers of Jerusalem; and Athens embodies the pre-eminent quality of the antique world, Art.
– Benjamin Disraeli¹

1 | SEE ICONS OF ARCHITECTURE ATOP THE ACROPOLIS
The Propylaea and Temple of Athena Nike

From almost every vantage point in Athens, you can see the Acropolis. A seat of civilization since ancient times, the Acropolis still showcases the classics of Western architecture. And there is no better place to start your authentic Athens tour than at its top. I may have forced my children to point out the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns that adorn the temples and facades. They may have groaned. Out loud. Can’t help it. My inner art historian was moved and there may have been a glisten in my eye. They’ll thank me one day. Right?

Tickets to the Acropolis afford visitors access, but not entry inside the iconic temples and structures. You can walk around, but not into the famous Parthenon, Erechthion and Temple of Athena Nike. And as part of your entrance fee goes towards the preservation of these amazing structures, you will see that work in progress as scaffolding covers some parts of the buildings. These are buildings are old people. Like ancient to be honest. A little facelift every now and again is perfectly acceptable.

When we visited in October, the weather was perfection with sunny blue skies and consistent temps at a mild 23°C (73°F). During peak tourist season in summer, come to the Acropolis prepared with water, hats and sunscreen already applied as temperatures can soar to 33°C (92°F) and shade up here is limited.

What you’ll see atop the Acropolis:
ODEON OF HERODES ATTICUS

On the southwest slope of the Acropolis is this impressive amphitheater where you can still enjoy live performances between April and October. Imagine listening to the likes of Frank Sinatra or Luciano Pavarotti from these historic seats. To see what is on when you are in town, check out the Why Athens website.

PROPYLAEA AND THE TEMPLE OF ATHENA NIKE

Enter the Acropolis up the giant marble steps and through the columns of the Propylaea and imagine how many people have stepped these same paces. And while you can’t see the goddess of victory where she would have stood taking tributes, you can still enjoy the petite perfection of the Temple of Athena Nike. Hailing from the home of the more modern Nike – you know the one that makes all that athletic apparel – we, of course, paid our respects.

PARTHENON

In the center of the Acropolis sits the granddaddy of all the Greek temples, the Parthenon. Huge, impressive and hulking. And while it disappointed the teens not to be able to step inside, it is still amazing and inspires awe. Even in the hard to please teens.

ERECTHEION AND THE CARYTIDS

On the north side of the Acropolis is my favorite structure, the combined temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, known as the Erechtheion. Don’t miss the classical poses of the Caryatids, each of the six female figures that act as columns are unique. See if your kids can spot the differences.

 

TICKETS:
Entrance to Acropolis and adjacent Slopes
Adults | € 20
Children under 18 | Free
Reduced Fare | € 10 (See official website for specifics)

TIP: For € 30, you can buy a combined ticket that is valid for 5 days and gives you entrance to the Acropolis of AthensAncient Agora of AthensArchaeological Museum of KerameikosArchaeological Site of LykeionHadrian’s LibraryKerameikosMuseum of the Ancient AgoraNorth slope of AcropolisOlympieioRoman Agora of AthensSouth Slope of Acropolis

 


2 | SEE THE VIEWS FROM AEROPAGUS HILL | MARS HILL

Right down and across from the exit of the Acropolis is small rock outcropping. Climb up or take the stairs for stunning vistas over Athens. From here you get great pictures of Mount Lycabettus and the Ancient Agora.


3 | PUTTER THE PATHS AROUND PLAKA 

ANAFIOTIKA PLAKA

From Mars Hill, take the exit below the Acropolis towards Theorias street and putter your way down through the pretty little alleyways and corridors that make up Plaka. I loved this first neighborhood known as Anafiotika Plaka filled with pastel-colored homes and wrought-iron screen doors decked with flowers, even in October. Little cafes and tavernas sit along stairs with places for long lunches.

Keep heading down the hill to the main pedestrian shopping streets of Plaka proper. From the intersection of Adrianou and Kidathineon, choose either direction and you’ll find ice cream, souvenir shops and plenty of places to buy those greek sandals your family might fancy. You’ll also find lots of tourists down there. While fun to stroll those streets and feel the energy, I prefer the quieter paths of Anafiotika further up the hill.

Need lunch with a view? Try Psara Taverna which had my favorite greek salad and cold white wine. What more does one need? Simple kebab and pita with fries for the kids? They have that too.

Psara Taverna
Erotokritou & Erechtheos 16, Athina 105 56, Greece
HOURS: Open daily 12:00 pm – 12:30, Sundays 12:00 pm – 12:00 am

TIP: Psara has a variety of tables to choose from – along the stairs, inside or up on the roof with views of Mount Lycabettus. 

MORE OF PRETTY PLAKA


4 | MEANDER AND MUNCH IN MONASTIRAKI

Monastiraki is the busy, bright and bustling heartbeat of Athens proper. Start at Monastiraki Square distinguished by the big Tzistarakis Mosque, an old Ottoman structure from the 1700’s now part of the Greek Folk Art Museum. Stroll up the hill and peek in at the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. Then pick any of the streets streaming off the square and stroll and soak up the vibrant scene that buzzes and hums here. It’s noisy, a little hectic and all sorts of brilliant. For a bit.


MITROPOLEOS STREET | MONASTIRAKI

We loved little Mitropoleos and the O Thanasis taverna. With every table packed and the majority speaking Greek, we knew it would be worth the wait. Efficient and friendly, the service was impeccable, especially when the food was so cheap! We tried the gyros and souvlaki and greek salad, washed down with big cold beers and sodas. Our collective favorite meal of our trip. Found on a whim. Happy day to us.

O Thanasis Kebab
Mitropoleos 69, Athina 10555, Greece
HOURS: Open daily 09:00 – 02:00, Saturdays and Sundays 09:00 – 03:00

TIP: Don’t be confused, O Thanasis stretches almost from Monastiraki Square to the plaza that opens up on Mitropoleos. It’s all good wherever you can get a seat.

ADRIANOU STREET | MONASTIRAKI

At the edge of the Monastiraki flea market that starts at the square along Ifestou, is Adrianou Street, a pedestrian street filled with shops and cafes and some amazingly fancy ice cream. Get your Instagram ready for these cones.

DaVinci Artisan Gelato & Quality Chocolate
105 55, Adrianou 50, Athina 105 55, Greece
HOURS: Open daily 09:00 – 10:00 pm


5 | CATCH THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD PARADE

Undoubtedly one of the most interesting changing of the guard ceremonies I have ever seen. With their white skirts, red hats and pom-pom’d shoes, the Presidential Guard (known as the Evzones) guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that sits on the plaza below the Hellenic Parliament. As a visitor to Athens, you can witness the hourly changing of the guard and all its high-kicking foot stomping precision. But if you are lucky enough to visit the capital on a Sunday, you are in for a treat. And crowds.

Every Sunday at 11:00 am, throngs and masses of spectators gather at Syntagma Square to watch the full Changing of the Guards parade. Soon enough, an entire regiment regales onlookers marching in their fancy official uniforms, accompanied by a brass band and beautiful tradition. Arrive early if you want a front row along Leoforos Vasilisis Amalia avenue as the troops stomp in.

But don’t worry, if you didn’t make it in time, you’ll have several more opportunities to see them unobstructed. Once the marchers pass and the police allow you across the street, people rush and shimmy for the perfect position. Get ready to dash. It’s difficult to do. We missed it unawares but were still able to see enough through the crowd. You’ll have one more opportunity once the changing has completed and the plebes are pushed back across the street by the police. Be one of the slower ones on the return and voila, the procession will pass right in front of you.

DID YOU KNOW: The traditional uniform has historic significance. It was worn by the troops that fought in the wars of independence against the Ottoman Empire. There are 400 pleats on those white skirts that refer to the 400 years of Ottoman occupation in Greece.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD PARADE
Every Sunday | 11:00 am
Syntagma Square | Hellenic Parliament
Free


6 | RUN LAPS AT THE PANATHENAIC STADIUM

Home to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, lace up your trainers and take a turn around the track at the Panathenaic Stadium. While you may not run into as many Athenians in this beautiful stone semi-circular stadium, you will feel the march of history here.

PANATHENAIC STADIUM
Leof. Vasileos Konstantinou, Athina 116 35, Greece
TICKETS:
Includes entry to stadium, access to the entire site, free audio guide and wait for it … the right to run around the track! Woot woot! All that and almost a bag of chips.

Adults | € 5
Children under 6 | Free
Reduced Fare | € 2,5 (students and seniors over 65)
Visitors with Disabilities and those accompanying them | Free


7 | ROAM THE ANCIENT AGORA

Besides the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora is another beautiful place to wander through antiquities. Just whatever you do, DO NOT try to stand like the statues. I may or may not have learned that one the hard way. I was simply attempting to show my children the meaning of contrapposto – that slight shift of the weight used by sculptors beginning in Ancient Greece to make figures look more dynamic whilst carved out of stone. NO! No mimicking the statues. But I… NO! Ok. Gah. Moving on to the pottery, where it is more difficult to get chastised.

Don’t miss the huge old Agora building once a thriving market and center of commerce in ancient Athens. Look at, but don’t mimic the marbles, then make your way through the rubble and olive trees to the Temple of Hephaestus on the hill. A beautiful place of refuge amidst the color and chaos of modern Athens.

TICKETS:

Entrance to Ancient Agora, Agora Museum and surrounding grounds
Adults | € 8
Children under 18 | Free
Reduced Fare | € 4 (See official website for specifics)

NOTE: If you purchased the combined ticket at the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora is included and requires no further purchase.


8 | SOAK UP STREET ART

Not all is ancient in the Greek capital and Athens may well be the new Berlin. Or so they say. When it comes to street art they say. Having been in both places, I can see the comparison. The street art here (as in Berlin) is raw, colorful, creative and EVERYWHERE. Think less commissioned murals and more true street art, including lots of graffiti. We did not have time to take the walking street art tour that I had hoped, but if that is up your alley, this one came highly recommended:

 Alternative Athens Street Art Tour

Street art by Antio’s | @Antios.Athens

Street art by Dreyk the Pirate | @athenean.sailor 

9 | TAKE TIME TO TOODLE THROUGH THISSIO

On the opposite side of the Ancient Agora from Monastiraki or the back side of the Acropolis, you will find a lovely neighborhood known as Thissio (or Thisseo). We chose this as our base and felt perfectly situated with so much to explore within easy walking distance. What feels like a million cafes and tavernas entreat you to take a seat centered at the intersection of Iraklidon and Apostolou Pavlou.

The walking path that loops from Thisseo to Monastiraki often has small booths for local makers to sell their wares – a perfect place to pick up an authentic souvenir and support the community. Just make sure your gold leafed crown wasn’t made in China.

At once chaotic and colorful, classic and cultured, Athens is more than ancient. It is awesome. And we adored it. I hope you can see why any trip to Greece should not skip the capital. Have you been? Want to go? Save it for later!

Know someone who is planning a trip? Share this post with them. And download the handy map at the top to take with you for all the sights you don’t want to skip!

 

Oregon Girl Around the World
Tin Box Traveller

61 thoughts on “Authentic Athens | Meet Greece in the Capital

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I think many people avoid Athens and head straight to the islands which is a shame because it’s a really very cool city! And me too – sooo craving a fresh Greek salad right now!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      If you plan breaks accordingly I think it could be done. Visit Acropolis early out of midday heat . There is a brilliant new museum that would be inside out of the heat, but we skipped it as we were the opposite – we didn’t want to be inside in October coming from Copenhagen! I still think it would be doable with kids. You could even down near Piraeus and the Athenian Riveria where you’d get a pool or ocean break after sightseeing. Anyway – lucky you with a trip to Greece in the works!

  1. You truly did take in the heart of Greece! So many great tips and authentic foods! I hope I love it as much as you did! I’ve heard pros and cons about it, but if I’m already so fascinated with the ruins from here, I gotta love it in person! One day we will make it there! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      If you accept that it is going to be crowded and a little chaotic in places and embrace the city, it can be wonderful. We truly did adore it! And feel like there is more I could see.

  2. I’ve heard so many mixed reviews on Athens, that I wasn’t sure whether to dedicate more than a day to it when we head to Greece, but it seems like there’s more to see than ancient temples and souvenir shops! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes! There is! We had 2.5 days to explore and I could have done another – really wanted to do the street art tour and go up Mt Lycabettus. I really enjoyed it, but besides the changing of the guards crowds, October was a perfect time to go. Felt like more Greeks than tourists – especially in Monastiraki.

  3. Clare Thomson

    I just think the ancient sites in Athens are so outstanding – they really have to be seen. We’ve been a couple of times but only for fleeting visits. We’ll have to return and run around the Olympic stadium with the boys. #FarawayFiles

  4. Lyn

    Ah you just took me back to our visit to Athens in 2013 and reminded me why I want to go back. I loved seeing the changing of the guards along with the lovely sites of Athens. Great post.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      What? I’ve been somewhere that you haven’t?! Tee hee – seems like a place you would dig. Cheers from Copenhagen!

      1. Haha 😀 There so many places to explore, so it was bound to happen 🙂 I am thinking Athens and some island hopping would be nice. I’ve only been to Corfu and Crete.

  5. You are so making me want to go back to Athens! And, funny that you didn’t love Pisa. We had planned on visiting but were so frustrated with driving in Italy that we just waved as we passed by. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      We didn’t give it much chance to be honest – but beyond the tower and Bapistry, it was greatly lacking in any other reasons to stay longer. We did however adore Athens, but you probably figured that out already!

  6. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I’ve always dreamed of a visit to Greece, and this post just reaffirms it! Gorgeous photos and it looks like you all had the best time! I can actually hear it in your writing! I’m obviously excited about reading this just look at all my exclamation points!!! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! Glad our enthusiasm came through – we all enjoyed the city and it was a nice contrast to the villages of Kefalonia we did later!

  7. katherinefenech2017

    Athens has been on my bucket list since I studied ancient history in high school. Well Greece as a whole really.Those views of the Acropolis are gorgeous, it makes me wonder what it would have been like to stare at it thousands of years ago when it was just built. And that €30 pass is such good value! I’d go to as many of those sites as I could. Especially Hadrian’s Library! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oh then you must go – I studied Art History at university and remember when I first saw the Acropolis- literally gave me chills. No different this last time – although I seriously got all misty eyed! Ha!

  8. Looks like you covered a lot of territory! I loved reading this as it was Greece where my love for travel began, as a young teenager. I mean I loved traveling before that, but it was a life-changing trip at such an impressionable age, and I’m still thankful for it. Athens is an amazing city, and looks like you all took it by storm! Loved reading this. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      All walkable to be honest – we didn’t have a car and didn’t really use public transportation- weather was so nice we wanted hi be outside!

  9. What a wonderful Greek adventure. I love the mix of old and new, the amazing history and those retro cassette wallets. So looking forward to returning to Athens one day and I will be doing it in the off season when the temps are sensible. PS One day the teens will thank you for their column education – it will probably be after some pub quiz where they were the only ones that knew the answer was “doric”!

  10. I’ve not been to Athens (yet!) I had heard that it did not have favorable reputation, so I’m really glad to read all the great things you’ve listed. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      There are unfavorable parts, but every city has them I think. We all had a great time and didn’t even get to do everything I wanted to!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! The guard literally SPRINTED over to me and waggled a very strong finger chastising me about mimicking the statues as it was disrespectful and I tried to explain that I was in no way disrepecting it, but rather trying to show my daughter how contropposto works next to it she didn’t want to hear anything of it. I continued to plead my case that I used to teach Art Literacy to youth and we practiced the shift of weight post to better understand how it made a sculpture look more dynamic she cut me off. Just no. Move along. But….NO! Ok. Gah!

  11. The last time I was in Athens, I had a breakdown. Totally not joking. We were staying with my hubby’s relatives there (who do not have air conditioning), and I literally woke in the middle of the night sobbing because of the heat. :p We usually get the hell out of Athens as fast as possible, to an island somewhere, but it looks like we should plan a visit at a different time of the year and maybe stick around a bit? #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – October was PERFECT weather, especially coming from Scandinavia and the weather out in the islands still nice enough to swim!

  12. Ruth

    I love Athens too! I find it so different from other European cities. It is a different world in there. I have been twice but that was before I got married. My husband really want to go and I do not have any objections to that. Plus, we have dear friends living in the city. It would be wonderful to surprise them one day. #FarawayFiles

  13. If I was a teenager, I would have groaned at my parents for having to do history lessons at ancient ruins haha but you’re right, they will thank you later. Now as an adult, I love historical sites and to visit places like Athens is an incredible experience 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Pssst….me too Caity! My first to Athens was also in my early 20’s at the end of two months backpacking with my boyfriend (now husband). I won’t admit how long ago it was, but I do have a teenager who is 17 so you can probably do the math. We also did NOT enjoy the city that much beyond the Acropolis. But I am truly not exaggerating that we loved it this time. The whole family. Maybe it was the mild temp in the 70’s and brilliant blue skies and cheap delicious food (which we is hard to find here in Copenhagen!) Thanks for reading! Cheers from Denmark!

  14. Trish @ Mum's Gone To

    My memories of Greece come from cheap holidays I had after university and all I remember about Athens is the airport or the port.
    Your photos and descriptions really show so much about the capital that is so appealing – and not just the famous Acropolis.
    #FarawayFiles

  15. I love this post! How amazing to stand among these historic ruins. I have heard people say they didn’t care for Athens, but I think with a strong interest in history, how could you help but be moved by these sights? Some day . . .!!

  16. Jacki L

    Greece is definitely on my list! My mouth is watering with pictures of your greek food, and I remember that changing of the guard ceremony from The Amazing Race the tv show! Great, comprehensive post on Athens. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      We’ll have to go look that one up! We used to love watching Amazing Race and watched the Copenhagen one before moving here! Haha!

  17. pigeonpairandme

    I had a friend who lived in Athens, and visited her a couple of times – this all brins it back! We never went to a concert in the amphitheatre, though. I’ll have to try that next time. And I’ll take your advice to never mimic the statues. I’m sure I’d be arrested by the style police if I did! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! My daughter may never forget what contropposto means now! Lucky you to have a friend to visit! Cheers, Erin

  18. I visited Athens as a teenager as a day trip off a cruise. We saw the Acropolis and drove around the city but there was no opportunity to wander the streets or sample the food. I’d love to go back and do this! Thanks for sharing this on #MondayEscapes

  19. Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad

    Athens looks amazing! I’m so sad I’ve never been yet, it’s definitely on my pinch-me list. Looking at the actual Parthenon and the Acropolis would be insane to me.

    I have to say, as well as the history which is obviously a huge draw, the streets and markets look fabulous too. And who could say no to that ice cream 🙂

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