Travel Guide: Athens, Greece
Last June we went to Athens, Greece. And believe it or not, we only spent about 36 hours there. But we saw a TON of sights and ate some wonderful meals. I felt like we really soaked in our experience in Athens. I definitely left wanting a bit more time there because it was so great! Here is what we did and where we stayed.
If you are heading to Greece, check out my Packing Essentials post.
We stayed at the Herodion Hotel and I could not recommend it more! It was smack in the middle of the cutest neighborhood for restaurants and bars, called Plaka. You can read about Plaka here. The hotel was also located at the base of the Acropolis, so we only had to walk a short ways to get there the next morning and sight see. Plus the hotel has a gorgeous lobby and bar downstairs.
But the highlight of the hotel is the view from the rooftop patio - you can see the Acropolis PERFECTLY. It looks gorgeous during the day. But when the Acropolis is lit up at night it looks even more fabulous! I took about 1000 photos while we had a glass of wine and watched the sunset over Athens. We headed out for a late dinner afterwards. Then we came back and had a night cap on the rooftop - I couldn’t get enough of that view!
I will say, the rooms are pretty small (at least, ours was), but that is what you get in Europe most of the time. And it is SOOO worth it for that rooftop patio view. I promise!
I found it to be super easy to get around Athens. We actually arranged a taxi service through our hotel to pick us up from the airport. But aside from that we walked everywhere! We took a handful of Ubers to get to certain sights, but that was it! Very, very easy to get around.
Most likely, this is one of the reasons you are in Athens - to see the Acropolis! If you are staying in the neighborhood of Plaka, it is very easy to get to the Acropolis by foot. If you are staying in another neighborhood, you may have to take a taxi to the base of the Acropolis and then walk from there.
One thing I didn’t realize until I started planning our trip was how many different ancient landmarks are at the Acropolis site. I’ve outlined below a few of the main landmarks that you will see (there are more, but these were my favorites).
Take your time at the Acropolis site. There are plenty of opportunities for pictures and to really soak it in. You should plan on spending about two hours here. Possibly more. There is a lot of walking around the site, so you can set your own pace. Once you’re in, you can check out all of the structures in any order and as many times as you want.
You can see the Herodes Atticus Theater on your walk up to the Acropolis. You don’t have to pay to see this landmark, so that’s kind of cool. You won’t miss it on your walk up and I thought it was really pretty! The theater is still operating today for summer concerts.
We bought the “combo” ticket, because it includes access to a lot of different sights across Athens. We used it for the Acropolis and Slopes, as well as the Olympieion. Again, we didn’t have a ton of time in Athens or we would have used this ticket to see more.
The key is to get to the Acropoils early! That way, you will avoid some of the crowds. You have to wait in line to purchase tickets, unless you purchased ahead of time through certain websites or travel guides. We didn’t mind the wait (maybe 30 minutes or less) and once we were inside the Acropolis, it was so spread out that the crowd sort of dissipates.
The entrance to the Acropolis is through what they call the Propylaia. It is pretty gorgeous itself and it’s a neat perspective being able to actually walk through one of the structures and get a 360 view. Look out for the Temple of Nike on your right.
TEMPLE OF NIKE
The most well preserved structure at the Acropolis. It is much smaller than the Parthenon. You’ll see it on your way into the Acropolis.
The Parthenon is huge. You walk along side it for a while and then come to a point where you can take photos from head on, like the one below.
See all of those statues on the right of the structure? That’s the Porch of the Caryatids. This is also the site of the famous Olive Tree.
LEGENDARY OLIVE TREE
The olive tree at the Erechtheion is legendary - a symbol of Athens’ survival over the years. You can catch a glimpse of it in the photo below. Honestly, it is a really beautiful spot for a picture, because the tree gives some perspective as to how big these structures are.
PIECES OF RUINS
I was surprised to see the ruins scattered around the Acropolis site. It really added to the ‘real’ factor for me. I loved stopping to look at the pieces of stone, some with things carved into them. There were even huge slabs of stone / marble the size of doorways all lined up on the grounds.I am sure it all has some significance and you can read about it or ask a tour guide, but I really appreciated just looking at it all!
Secret spot for the best view of the entire Acropolis. I say secret because there were not many tourists over here while we were taking pictures. If you look closely, you can see the tons of tourists filing into the Acropolis in the photo below. But, since we got there early, by this time we were down at Areopagus Hill getting this cool shot! I will say, you have to sort of “climb” the rock/hill structure to get to the top of the hill and get a good photo. But totally doable!
If you want to read more about the Acropolis and the various buildings, I really liked this article.
TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS
After we were done with the Acropolis, we walked back down to Plaka to grab some lunch and a coffee before heading to the Temple of Zeus. You can walk from the Acropolis / Plaka to the Temple of Zeus (we did) but it would be faster to get a cab. If you aren’t in a rush, the walk is pretty, you pass a lot of shops along the way.
Speaking of shops! We had so much fun wandering the outdoor shopping streets in Athens. The most memorable were the Monastiraki Flea Market and Ermou Street. As well as the streets in Plaka. Some things I brought home included olive oil, an olive dish, olives (of course), an evil eye bracelet, and
DINNER IN PLAKA
Since our hotel was located in Plaka, we just walked the streets after sunset, in search of a cozy spot for dinner. There were a TON of options. The first stretch of the street was a bit more touristy, so my advice is to hold off on choosing a restaurant until you wander around a little. We eventually found the cutest spot in a little square - Cafe Diogenes off of Ragkava street. Order a traditional Greek salad at some point - you won’t be disappointed!
OH! Something else to note is that everyone eats pretty late in Athens. We didn’t leave our hotel in search of dinner until 8:30 or 9:00 in the evening. The restaurants were packed and we stayed a while to enjoy some wine!
Another amazing sight to see in Athens - the Panathenaic Stadium! It was build in 330 BC and then hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. We walked here from the Temple of Zeus. You’ll have to purchase tickets to get inside. Be sure to sign the guest book on your way in. We didn’t stay long here. There were folks doing poses and running on the track for photos. You can sit on the stairs and admire the view. I found this to be one of those things we check off the box and then move on pretty quickly.
SEASIDE TOWN OF PIRAEUS
On our second night in greater Athens, before we boarded our boat for the Cyclades Islands, we went to dinner in the seaside town of Piraeus. Check out the Mikrolimano marina for the best seaside restaurants. You’ll have amazing seafood, live music, and a view of the little wooden fishing boats tied up to the shore. I really loved having dinner here as a change of pace from Athens city center. There are also a few restaurants and bars in the Zea Marina area, where you can spot all of the huge yachts!