Visiting Athens, Greece

Latest visit: July 2021

Tips for visiting Athens:

  • Where to stay:
    • I stayed at the Marriott Athens, which was outside the city center and in a residential area. It was located between the city center and the beach area, which was convenient. Walking from here to the Parthenon was a good 45-minute walk, if not more. The rooms were renovated, but very small and I had multiple issues with my wifi and AC. The breakfast buffet was amazing and the rooftop bar and pool were nice.
    • I personally would have preferred to stay a little bit closer to the Plaka area so I could walk everywhere.
    • If you don’t have a budget, I’d recommend the Hotel Grande Bretagne. It’s a luxury hotel with a fabulous rooftop restaurant and bar and is centrally located.
  • How to get around:
    • I walked A LOT. I think it’s the best way to see and feel a city. Walking during the day felt very safe and at night, I was always with my 2 pilots who made it super safe.
    • You’ll find taxis very easily everywhere around the city and they take credit cards.
    • In the off chance that you can’t find one, you can use Uber to call a taxi. They were vey inexpensive!
  • Parthenon/Acropolis: This is a must if you’ve never been to Athens. I’d strongly recommend going as soon as it opens for three reasons. First, it’s much cooler in the morning and secondly, you won’t have to wait in line for hours to get your ticket and lastly, your pictures will be less crowded! The view of the city from here is incredible.
  • Plaka District: This is one of the cutest neighborhoods in Athens. You can easily spend all day roaming in and out of shops and eating delicious Greek food. It seems to start buzzing around noon and gets quite busy in the late afternoons and evenings.
    • A few friends recommended I swing by Little Kook street. It was like walking into a Disney movie for a block. Not really my jam but very unique and colorful!
  • What to eat? Let’s get one thing out of the way. Everything you will eat will most likely be delicious. Here are a few staples you have to try:
    • Tzatziki: a creamy Greek yogurt sauce with cucumbers and fresh garlic. 
    • Moussaka: another traditional Greek dish which includes sliced eggplant baked in a ground beef sauce and then smothered in a thin white sauce.
    • Any type of fresh fish: ceviche, carpaccio, baked, grilled… all of it was fabulous! Octopus is a very popular dish: I had some EVERY day.
    • Greek yogurt, possibly sprinkled with local honey and granola.
    • Greek salad : interestingly enough, I noticed on this last trip that the traditional Greek salad is harder to find. Everyone is making their own trendy version of it.
    • Olives, of course.
    • Gelato every day.
  • Where to eat:
    • Psardes: FANTASTIC seafood options, great decor and services. Outside the city, close to the Athens Marriott.
    • Penarrubia: I found this spot on my last evening, and it was truly magical. It’s outside the city and on the water front. The food was okay, but the view was gorgeous. It gives on a boardwalk and the ocean and on a clear day you can see pretty far out. The music/DJ was great and the drinks too.
    • Rooftop of Marriott Athens: awesome spot to grab a drink and enjoy a sunset over the city, without going into the city center. 
    • Ergon House for brunch: This is a one-stop shop. There’s an awesome market and café on the first floor and above it is the hotel. On the rooftop sits a lovely restaurant which serves brunch, lunch and dinner. The design was fabulous, the views of the Acropolis stunning and the food was to die for. This is a MUST stop!
    • Brettos bar: One of (if not THE) oldest bars in Athens. The cocktails were amazing and the inside was truly unique. If you sit at a slim table outside, you can also admire the people walking by and get a pulse for the city.
    • Six dogs: you will need your GPS to find this restaurant as it’s off the busy streets of Athens and you could easily miss it. You walk down a bunch of stairs and you walk into a magical environment. The service absolutely SUCKED but the setting was worth enduring it. You truly feel like you’re sitting in the foundations of Athens. The trees and the different levels of mix-matched patio furniture lit up with string lights makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a fairy world.
    • School Pizza Bat: we found this place by simply walking around Athens and it was a gem. The food was INCREDIBLY tasty: this was one of my favorite finds of my stay here. The design of the restaurant was very cool and if you sit outside you can feel and admire the buzzing Athenian life.
    • Rooftop of the Hotel Grande Bretagne: this hotel rooftop restaurant offers an upscale dining experience with gorgeous views of the city. Expect to pay A LOT for everything you order, and try to get a reservation on the outdoor patio, overlooking the Acropolis. This is probably the most romantic, chic place in the city (in my experience).
    • Karavan: Said to be the best spot in Athens for Baklava, and I concur!
  • Local drinks to try while in Athens: Ouzo, Mastika and Metaxa are all Greek hard liquors. I truly enjoyed all the local white wines that I had, including the Assyrtiko.
  •  Walks/hikes:
    • The Stavros Niarchos Cultural center and park was right across from my hotel and absolutely gorgeous. It opens early in the morning and you’ll find a lot of people working out in the outdoor gym and small running track. The top of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center boasts amazing  360 views of the city and ocean. There are multiple cafes around the park where you can stop and soak it all in. There’s also a kid playing area and a water playground.
    • Filopappou hill is a well-kept secret. If you’re walking to or around the Acropolis grounds, you’ll likely see signs for it. Not many tourists venture on this path, which made it truly enjoyable. You’ll get great views of the Acropolis and the rest of Athens. From Lonely Planet: it was built between AD 114 and 116 in honor of Julius Antiochus Filopappos, a prominent Roman consul and administrator. More info here.
    • Lycabettus hill: I walked up from one side and walked back down the other. It was quite the sweat session but the panoramic view at the top is amazing. The restaurant on the top probably has the best tables in Athens for breathtaking views of the city!
  • Shopping: If you like shopping, you’ll enjoy Athens. You can find anything from the big brands and chains to the local little markets. Walk and shop along Ermou Street for great deals and international fashion. I didn’t make it to the Athens Flea Market, but it was highly recommended by a few friends.
  • Beaches in Athens are like most European beaches. PACKED, narrow and shallow.
    • The most important tip I will give you is to show up early if you want a good spot, or any place at all. Most beaches we visited had beach chairs included in the access fee. We got lucky on the weekend at Akti beach, but by showing up around noon, we were too late for all the other places we wanted to try. 
      • There were no chairs or shade available at Cape Sol. Same scenario at Bolivar. Locals bring their own chairs, sunbrellas and just set up where they want.
      • Akti beach: this felt like the more local, cheaper beach. It was crowded on weekdays and even busier on weekends but we still found some shade and chairs. The water wasn’t particularly clean, and there was a lot going on. I can’t say this was my favorite place to hang out but it was so hot that we stayed. You can reserve the nice chairs online ahead of time!
      • Pro-tip: you NEED shade: it gets VERY HOT, VERY QUICKLY and sun is very hot.
  • Lake Vouliagmeni is another well-kept secret and great escape from the heat and chaos of the big city. The entry is quite cheap (15 euros weekdays and 18 euros for weekends). Here’s what you need to know:
    • The lake’s brackish waters which are continuously replenished both by the sea and the underground thermal springs offer a natural and unique thermal spa experience.
    • All you need to bring is a swimsuit and a towel.
    • The area around the Lake is lined with sunbeds and umbrellas which offer moments of relaxation and wellness. (First come, first serve: They are free.) There’s a beautiful wooden deck that wraps around most of this mini lake, which makes it easier to get in and out of the lake.
    • There is a restaurant on site and the waiters are very efficient, yet not harassing. The food was quite good and the drinks were refreshing!
    • WARNING: The lake’s aquatic world also includes the known fish Garra Rufa which offers skin exfoliation. If you don’t like things tickling and touching you, this lake IS NOT FOR YOU. If you stand or sit still around the edges of the lake, you can have hundreds of small fish nibbling on your dead skin.
    • It’s a very peaceful place to hang.
  • Changing of the guards at Syntagma Square: a lot of people show up for this event every day.
  • I got eaten alive by mosquitos at dusk and during the evenings. Bring insect repellent!
  • Cats: you’ll see a lot of stray cats around the city but you’ll also notice that a lot of people leave food and water at their doorsteps for them.
  • Want to do next time:
    • Boating day trips around Athens
    • Beneath the Acropolis Museum are the ruins of an ancient Athenian neighborhood. The museum was constructed on the archaeology in such a way that enables visitors to look onto these ancient foundations.

Impressions of Athens:

My experience in Athens was so much different than last time I was there,  in 2012, during The Crisis (Greek government-debt crisis). I spent 7 days walking, running and sweating in this city and it truly charmed me.

The food is extraordinary. I ate so much seafood (especially grilled octopus), Greek salads, Bruchetta, tzatziki, hummus, Greek yogurt and drank a lot of Nescafé Frappés*. You simply cannot go wrong and order a ‘bad item’ from a menu. Every meal was exquisite.

The best way to get a feel for any city, is to walk around and just get ‘lost’ in it. Athens is a great city to do so since there is so much history. It also has so many cute shops, restaurants, coffee shops and bars.

Since I spent so much time in this city, and didn’t get a chance to visit the islands on this trip, and because the hotel was in a residential area, I got a true sense of the local beat and vibe. I got my nails done by a very sweet young woman who charged me so little for the incredible job she did. I stumbled into a very old coffee shop, where the owner didn’t speak a word of English. At first she looked kind of angry that I was trying to order food, but when I asked about all her canned preserves on the table her face lit up. Her two granddaughters (or so I assumed) came in and translated the whole set up to me. She was so passionate about her honey, she insisted I tried all the different types she had. Her smile was so broad I thought her face would crack when I told her I’d buy a jar. It cost me 10 euros and would probably feed a family of 8 for 4 years. I worked out in the park across from our hotel, very early in the morning, with all the local athletes.

Athens really surprised me and I think it was my favorite city out of the 3 we visited on this trip (Milan and Barcelona). The only thing that really killed me was the heat…and the mosquitos. It was about 95-100 every day, starting at 9 am. I was dripping in sweat 24/7!

 

* As you know, I am a huge coffee addict and I was so excited to drink the Nescafé Frappés again. My friend and I had discovered them 9 years ago and we were hooked on the first sip. The “Greek frappe “coffee is an iced coffee made using instant coffee (Nescafé) and water, which has been shaken to produce a foamy, and refreshing drink. They pour it over ice and then add cold froth milk.

 

Plaka & downtown Athens:

Beach:

Restaurants:

 

Lake Vouliagmeni:

Parthenon/Acropolis:

The Stavros Niarchos Park:

Filopappou hill/Lycabettus hill:

More pictures:

 

 

Related posts: Visiting Chamonix, Visiting Montreux, Visiting Geneva, Visiting Sardinia, Visiting Dublin.

Menu