One of the world’s oldest cities, Athens is a gritty metropolitan mecca rich with culture, history and magic. If you plan on traveling to Greece, it is a must for your itinerary.
I fell in love with Athens years before I ever set foot on its soil. An avid fan of Greek mythology since junior high and a theater geek in university, Athens was always high on my bucket list. Of course, when one thinks of Greece, the stunning cliff view, blue topped roofs and white washed walls of the buildings in Santorini come to mind. After all, it is a mind-blowing island. Santorini holds a special place in my heart and my boyfriend and I did travel there after Athens. But if you are going all the way to Greece, the capital city should be top on your list.
Athens is home to the ancient ruins of the Acropolis, a must-see for any travel enthusiast and history buff. The history of ancient civilizations and the birthplace of democracy, theater and philosophy is juxtaposed with bustling modern cafes, shops, markets and bars. There really is something for everyone in this city.
My boyfriend and I spent three full days in Athens, enough time for its charm and spirit to woo us, while leaving us with plenty of days on our two-week vacation to island hop.
What to see
Acropolis: The Acropolis of Athens is one of the world’s historical marvels. It’s a complex of ancient structures built on a hill, consisting of the Parthenon, Theatre of Dionysus, the Temple of Athena Nike and other wonders. The Parthenon and the other main buildings were built in the fifth century, giving you a glimpse of the marvels of early human ingenuity. It was the crown jewel of my trip to Athens. If you’re heading there in the summer months, it’s best to get there early or close to sunset because of the heat and crowds of tourists. The site closes at 8 pm. I got there about 8 am and there was a line already forming. Take a hat, bottle of water and wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen.
You have to pay a small admission fee to get in and you can also get a tour guide if you want, but my boyfriend and I decided to wander around by ourselves, which many other people were doing.
I think it took us about two or two and a half hours to tour the site, inclusive of taking lots of breaks to drink water, sit down and also snap photos.
There are lots of places to get amazing city views of Athens as well.
Acropolis Museum: Across the street from the Acropolis is the Acropolis Museum. The entryway to the museum has a transparent floor and underneath you can see excavation of an underground ancient city. The museum has several collections, including marble statues from the 7th century, BC, and other early periods. It’s best to fit in a view of this museum after touring the Acropolis. It was not my favorite museum that I have visited, but the statues are beautiful and it definitely worth a visit.
National Archaeological Museum: This museum was founded in the 19th century and, according to its website, houses antiquities from all over Greece. It is also the largest archaeological museum in Greece. Here you will find lots of artifacts and statues, as well as an exhibit dedicated to Ancient Egyptian culture. I also ate lunch here before my boyfriend and I toured the museum (there is a nice restaurant on the grounds) and was able to get a delicious grilled veggie sandwich and fries.
Monastiraki: Monastiraki is a flea market neighborhood in Athens filled with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants. You can spend hours roaming around this area, just soaking up the sights. Have a beer at one of the many cafes, sit outside and people watch, then wander around for a bit, picking up gifts for yourself or loved ones back home.
What to Eat
If you are vegan like me or just trying to eat more plant-based foods, Greece got your back girl. While most restaurant menus are filled with meat, seafood and cheese dishes, nearly everywhere I went I found a vegan option or something that could be made vegan with the removal of cheese or yogurt. Also everyone spoke English, so even though I did memorize a few words, I didn’t have to embarrass myself with mispronunciation and just asked if things had yogurt/cheese and if so, could they be removed. At some places a few things like stuffed vine leaves and falafel came with a side of yogurt, so be sure to stress you don’t want it.
Avocados: A dedicated vegetarian/vegan restaurant that was so good, I ate there two of my three days in Athens! It’s a cozy, quirky little place with outdoor/indoor seating as well as an upstairs area where you can sit on cushions on the floor. My first time there, I had the Avocado’s Burger without cheese.
It was massive and I wasn’t sure if I could finish it, but I did and went into a food coma after! It was honestly one of, if not the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. It’s served with a side of sweet potato chips and at first I was disappointed it did not come with fries, but after struggling to finish this beast I was happy I didn’t have them. The chips were light, not greasy and a perfect complement to the veggie burger.
On our last day, we had dinner there. I had the Life’s a Rainbow stir-fry with tofu added (a small extra cost but worth it) and the Raw Chocolate Tart for dessert. Both were delicious, especially the tart which was decadent.
Local taverns: There are lots of little restaurants around Athens to get some vegan friendly food. Near my Airbnb I had a dish called ‘large beans’ according to the menu and Greek salad, no feta cheese, which funnily enough had no lettuce unlike the Greek salads I get at home. I also ate a lot of stuffed vine leaves with rice, spinach pies and falafel.
Where To Stay
There are so many Airbnb offerings for Athens I was overwhelmed during my search. Many of them were reasonably priced (under 50 euros a night), a much better deal than the hotels I searched. But until this trip, I had never stayed at an Airbnb so I was a bit hesitant. I ended up going with the first option that caught my eye because it was well-priced and I liked the decor. It turned out to be an amazing choice. The place was homey and cute, and looked exactly like the photos online. Our host met us at the apartment, gave us the rundown on everything and some advice. There was also homemade jam and some toast, coffee and tea provided as well. The Airbnb was in Athina and the metro was about a minute’s walk from our front door. There were also lots of small food shops, a coffee shop and a tavern right near our doorstep.
Don’t bring a lot of cash with you for money exchange. There are lots of ATMS around Athens and the other Greek islands. Changing money at the airport kiosks is expensive. Most restaurants and shops take credit/debit cards as well.
Use the metro. We mistakenly took a taxi to our Airbnb which was in the Kato Petralona area, because the metro would have been a longer (but cheaper) ride and we had never used it. After being overcharged we learned from that mistake. There was a metro stop minutes away from our Airbnb. We had to ask people for help with directions a few times but overall it felt safe and we were able to get where we needed to go. Just be careful and watch your valuables while riding. If you are taking a taxi in Greece, save yourself a headache and get the price upfront.
Good luck in your travels, xoxo