A Weekend in Athens: The Perfect Itinerary
As I told people I was spending a weekend in Athens, everyone around me began regaling me with negative stories. It was dirty, ugly, busy, and hot. Or so they said.
Turns out “they” aren’t always the people to listen to. Because when I visited the city in autumn, I was swept off my feet! Not only did I find it to be one of the best places to visit in Greece, looking back, it’s easily one of my picks for the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Sure, you’ll get lost every three minutes because Athens is essentially a life sized maze with random wriggly figures they call “letters.” However, it was also a place I never felt unsafe, and always ended up discovering cool new places when I went for a wander.
Athens does require a little guidebook on what to expect though. It’s not easy, like Paris. It’s a bit like the Shoreditch of Europe. Run down, dirty and chaotic, but with creativity and colors popping up everywhere, it was something I deeply enjoyed.
Here and there an ancient building pops up, in the middle of a roundabout sometimes. No biggie. If you visit this right after the bliss of the beautiful Greek islands, you might struggle to adapt. If you visit this looking for a unique destination full of character in the spring or autumn: Athens should 100% be your next destination. Here’s what to see, eat and where to party!
What to See in Athens in a Weekend
If you want a bit more guidance on what to see, I recommend doing this fun food and walking tour or booking this private tour with a local. You could also do this tour that goes to the most scenic spots in Athens.
One of the liveliest areas in Athens is Monastiraki, a square right in the city centre. If you exit the metro to the square, you are immediately blown away by the business of the market stalls (during the day) or the street performers (during the night).
Surrounding the square is food heaven (or rather… lots of little restaurants) and a little sneak peek into the archeological sights you’ll find through out Athens.
If you’re into old city centers with cute winding streets (and let’s be real.. who isn’t?) then Pláka is the place to be. Yes, you will encounter a million tourist shops selling the same plastic poo, but the area itself is adorable. It takes you through little alleyways and cobblestone streets all the way to the top of the hill, from which you’ll almost bump into Acropolis.
Shopaholics must venture down to Ermou Street, a 1.5 kilometer long street that has all the major chains. About three quarters of the way in you’ll find Kapnikarea, an adorable little church.
I love how they treasure these things in Athens, and how it can exist in between new shops and buildings. Be mindful of your belongings though, my blogging friend got pick pocketed in this street.
What happens in Psiri… stays in Prisi, the party area. This is where the heart of the city is for young people. During the day the streets are quiet, with quant little handicraft shops, and terraces, and smashing graffiti as a contrast. But at night this is where people come to eat and mostly: party!
It’s the Eiffel tower of Athens, the Big Ben of Greece: Acropolis. You don’t want to miss it, and actually can’t. You can see it perched on top of a hill from pretty much every balcony or street corner.
For a long time the hill is where the population of Athens lived, and so that’s why you’ll find ancient temples there. The most famous one is Parthenon, which was built around 400 B.C. Find your skip the line & tour ticket here or if you only want entrance tickets, you can get them here.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
One of my favorite days in Athens was the Sunday where I encountered a warm sunshine (so welcome after a couple rainy days) as I casually strolled along the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The columns are so well preserved that it gives you a good concept of how massive this building was.
I also died laughing at the entry gates. One of them says: “This is Athens, the old city of Theseus.” The other one says: “This is the city of Hadrianus and not of Theseus.” Haha. #BURN
Meeting up at the Agora can cause a bit of a communication problem, my friend and I discovered. Turns out there is the “Ancient Agora” and the “Roman Agora.” Of course, me being a bit of a derp, I walked in circles around the last one, while Henry waited for me at the first. It’s that one you mainly want to see (ancient over Roman… fact). The Agora used to be the meeting point, and thus the center, of the city.
Temple of Hephaistos
Close to the Agora you will find the Temple of Hephaistos, one of the best preserved ancient temples in Greece. The temple was built around the 5th century B.C., and what impressed me most was that even the details on the ornaments on the sides were so well preserved.
Want to witness some Olympic history (yes, you do)? The old Olympic Stadium was built for the very first “modern” Olympics in 1896. However, it was built on top of the remains of the “old” stadium, that was built there in 330 B.C. The structure is made from marble and seats about 80,000 people.
Weekend in Athens: Where to Eat
Bairaktaris & Thanasis
Giving anyone directions is not my forte. But I’ve managed to send a reader to these two places with these directions (and he LOVED them) so I must succeed this time too. If your back is facing the Monastirai underground stop, then across the square you will see a street filled with restaurants.
It’s most likely extremely busy, and good thing: lots of the business comes from locals! The first two restaurants on the right serve fantastic Greek food. The restaurants are called Bairaktaris (dinner with wine for less than €10) and Thanasis (the best souvlaki in Athens). The street is called Mitropoleos.
Everest is a chain of sandwich shops in the city. I had a super cheap and super yummy cheese & spinach pie. I definitely recommend it for a cheap and quick lunch (though Souvlaki usually doesn’t cost more than €3 too!).
For the best coffee in Athens, walk into Starbucks, punch yourself in the face, exit the building, and sit down at Coffee Island. This is a Greek chain of coffee shops with gigantic and absurdly good cappuccino for very little money.
Terrace at the Acropolis Museum
For the best view of Acropolis and Athens you must visit the Terrace belonging to the Acropolis Museum. They charge like you’re in Amsterdam or Berlin, but hey, you pay for the view. It’s the perfect spot to recuperate after hiking the Acropolis. You don’t have to visit the museum to get to the terrace.
Arcadia was the spot where I and another ten or so Dutch bloggers had our bloggers diner in Athens. The food was served to us like we were giants who had just come off a juice fast.
After a while we had to BEG not to get any more food, because the portions are just so big. But MAN, it was good. If my stomach was built for Greek dinners, I would’ve sat there all night just munching away. Definitely recommend. The Greek taverna is close to Acropolis.
€0,50 goes a long way in Athens, where you can buy a Koulouri, a traditional bread ring with sesame ring on every street corner. Great snack!
Nightlife in Athens
I’m normally not much of a party-traveller, but in Athens I made up for lost time. You know, in the name of research. Drunk Sinatra is a small, narrow place, where, you guessed it, they play lots of Frank Sinatra music. Definitely a hipster spot, where you can chill outside too. Lots of fun!
For dancing you cross the street to Einstein, the bar right across from Drunk Sinatra. The decor reminds you of a university, with it’s walls covered in bookshelves. Wine is served in glasses the size of a bathtub. I might have bathed in it, I can’t remember.
Where to Stay in Athens
One of the swankiest hotels I’ve ever stayed in was NEW Hotel Athens. From the gorgeous design rooms, the central location, the impeccable service and the yummy breakfast: if you’re ready to treat yourself to the coolest hotel in Athens, this is it. (Psst: It also has a rooftop terrace with a view of Acropolis..)
Athens is a major recommendation in my book and I can’t wait to revisit. With these tips your Athens experience is bound to be as good as mine!
How would you spend a weekend in Athens?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.