Barely 2 weeks after I got back from Cuba, I had a work trip to Athens. I didn’t really have much time to prepare, as it was a crazy 2 weeks at work. But holy heritage Batman! Athens is amazing – such a great city trip if you’re looking for ideas. I landed on Wednesday and stayed until Sunday – giving me evenings and Saturday to explore – which is just about enough to see all the top sites, of which there are so many.
Athens is actually the oldest city in Europe, and really unique.
Athens Bucket List
✅ Mount Lycabettus
✅ Ancient Agora
✅ Temple of Olympian Zeus & Hadrian’s Arch
✅ Zappeoin and the National Gardens
⚛️ “Yassas” means hello in Greek
⚛️ Download Rick Steeves free audio tours for Athens, Acropolis and Ancient Agora (and free maps)
⚛️ Head to the Acropolis for 8am to avoid the crowds and get uncrowded access and photos
⚛️ Do the Athens Free Walking Tour (see below)
⚛️ Look up good restaurants in advance – they can be hit and miss (list below)
⚛️ If you’re looking for a day trip, head to Delphi for even more historical sights
Where to eat and drink
- For dinner, check out Monasteraki Square – which is bustling with locals, and lined with restaurants, cafes, and stalls selling fruit, nuts and sweets, at local prices.
- Ta Karamanlidikar tou Fani
- Grexico – Mexican street food – with €5 Margaritas on offer too
For a drink:
- 360 Cocktail Bar (rooftop view of Acropolis, Monasteraki Square)
- Drunk Sinatra (very instagramable)
Athens Bucket List (details)
I got up at 7am to get over to the Acropolis for 8am and in before the crowds – I can’t stress how worth it this was. There was only a handful of people climbing the hill will me, and walking into my shots. By the time I decided to leave, around 09.30-10.00am, there were crowds and crowds of tours around. This is harder during peak periods – so make sure you have your ticket in advance during Summer (you can purchase tickets at any of the main tourist sights). The Acropolis ticket is €20, I opted for the combo ticket for €30 and would wholly recommend this option – which gives you access to the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Keramikos and Lykeoin (listed in order of priority to view in my opinion!).
The Acropolis is incredible, but regretfully, it has not been conserved well over the years – with a bombing by the Turks and more significantly human looting leading to the destruction of many elements. It’s worth visiting the Acropolis Museum, where many of the facades and statues have been removed to and recreated in plaster (€10 entry, at the foot of the Acropolis).
I listened to the Rick Steves podcast after an initial wander around the Acropolis on my own and found it very insightful.
This was a highlight of my trip – and the Temple of Hephaestus is arguably one of the best preserved I came across in Athens. I made my way here on the morning of my last day and again plugged in the Rick Steves Agora tour – which includes audio tour of the Stoa museum. There’s great views from the Temple over the Agora and Acropolis.
I had heard Mount Lycabettus has unrivalled views of Athens – and for me, the sunset from atop Lycabettus at sunset is a must-see. It’s a 50 minute hike up the hill, or allegedly a €17 taxi ride – a perfect workout for leg day 😛 Go just before sunset to catch a panoramic glimpse of the whole city. The sun sets over the mountains and is just spectacular. I watched the sun turn red en route back down – and will never forget the spectacle. Entry is free, there’s a restaurant up there to grab a drink if you fancy.
Owing to the fact I was in Athens for 3 evenings and one full day, I elected to head to Delphi on the Saturday. I read that you can get a bus from the bus station that costs €15 each way , and then €12 entrance fee (and €15 taxi to the bus) so I cut my losses for ease of mind and paid for an all inclusive day trip where they collected me at my hotel and dropped me back. Of course, there were unnecessary stops and dead time, but I can wholeheartedly say it was worth it. Delphi, although it was raining, was another unforgettable sight – and the views over the mountains from the sight are so mythological and magical. The ruins are similar to those you see in Athens, but the setting is jawdropping. If you have a day to spare, definitely add it to the list.
Athens Free Walking Tour (details)
(Skip to the bottom for Athens Photo Gallery)
I looked up a free walking tour the night before I left to help get orientated and booked in for the 5pm tour by Free Tours, who actually run free walking tours in 80 cities across the globe. The tour runs twice a day – at 09.45 all year round, and at 17.00 April-mid October from Hadrian’s Arch. It lasts 3 hours, during which we visited all of the main heritage sites. It’s a great way to get insights from a local, and our tour guide was so charismatic, energetic and knowledgable. I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes, as 3 hours is a long time – and bring a sweater for the evening tour, cause it gets cold.
We stared at Hadrian’s Arch, overlooking the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where we spoke about the Acropolis too. It’s amazing to think they built all of the buildings up there in 8 years – with nothing but manpower, the Parthenon alone weighs 20,000 tonnes!
The Olympian Zeus took much longer, 700 years to be completed in fact – and was actually finished by Hadrian, a Roman emperor who was very fond of Greece. Although only 16 of the 104 original columns remain today, it was the size of a football pitch in its hay day and you can still get the impression of its grandeur today.
Next we ventured to the Roman bath ruins – located just in front of the National Gardens. This is where rich people would bathe (there weren’t any baths in houses back then). They’d arrive with their slave, be scrubbed, waxed, eat grapes, and then have sex – in a time where the entertainment choices included the library, the market, the temples or the baths – these were quite popular spots!
Onwards to the National Gardens from here – home to a plethora of wildlife, including rare birds, such as parrots, and turtles. These gardens were the queen’s gardens, and are home to the Zappeoin, the first ever Olympic Village. It’s pretty from the outside, but you must go inside and have a look around – I had been to visit the Zappeoin twice since arriving in Athens – first on the walking tour, and second for another peep when passing through the national gardens en route home- it is sooo beautiful, and historical- serving as the first ever Olympic Village (back when there were only 8 sports). I nearly feel off my chair when I realised our networking dinner was there that night – so surreal, dining in such a majestic open air venue 🙌🏻 If you’re in Athens, check it out – you’d easily walk past and not realise the beauty that lies inside!
Next we went to see the changing of the Guard outside the President’s House, which takes place every hour at around quarter past to half past. The guards are dressed in traditional soldier’s outfits, wearing skirts with 40 pleats, shoes with 100 nails in them and adorned with bobbles and tassels. They walk like horses, because the guy who originally appointed the guard was very fond of cavalry – so it’s quite the sight to see. They can’t move, but you can get photos with them – just don’t stand too close (if they tap their gun on the floor, you’ve gone too close and a soldier will come to scorn you!)
From here, we passed by the Parliament building (where there are also guards on duty), through Synatagma Square, and down Ermou, the main shopping street. We passed by the two churches – the Metropolis (Metropolitan Cathedral), and the quaint, impressive Church of Kapnikarea.
Next we moved on to Plaka, the main area you should head to if you want to pick up some souvenirs – they have everything from jewellery, cotton clothes, wooden utensils, leather, spices and sweets. You can bargain here. And even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s makes for a nice wander. I bought amazing silver jewellery as gifts here.
We ended the tour beside the Roman Market ruins. The Tower of the Wind still stands proud today – with a sundial and beautiful carvings indicating the time, and historically a water clock inside – for those at the market who needed to keep a track of time!