Is Athens worth visiting? Let me answer this with a resounding YES. With ancient ruins, fantastic food, vibrant street art and more, it’s a destination well worth spending a few days in. Here’s a few reasons why you should add the Greek capital to your list.
Most people who head to Greece go straight to one of the country’s many islands. With it’s international airport and fleet of ferries, it’s easy to spend little to no time in the capital of Athens.
And I can’t help but feel that anyone who does this is missing a trick.
Perhaps you feel places like Corfu and Hydra have called to you.
Or you’ve gone to somewhere like Mykonos and thought ‘Hang on – is this maybe a little overrated?’
Yet, Athens is a destination worthy of your time. It’s a wonderful city, with history around every corner.
There are pockets of cool, delicious food, friendly people, fabulous museums and a quite excellent public transport system.
With 3000 years of history, Athens is after all, the cradle of civilisation. Why wouldn’t you want to go?
Read on to discover whether Athens is worth visiting. And if so, exactly why you should make time for the Greek capital.
Is Athens, Greece worth visiting?
Reasons to visit Athens
Thinking about spending some time in Athens? If you still need to be swayed, here are some reasons why you should definitely do this.
The lack of an on/off season
Unlike the Greek islands, which can pack up shop after the busy summer season, Athens is always on.
You can visit any time of the year, really. You can even make a dedicated trip to the city and avoid visiting any islands in general, if you wish.
Why visit Athens? Well, it is the cradle of civilisation
Curious about how this whole human experience thing got started? Well, you can certainly seek answers to our questions and queries in Athens.
The city is known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’, with even the Romans taking inspiration for the Ancient Greek way of life.
Which brings me to my next point…
This is probably the main reason Athens is worth visiting. There is some EPIC history in this city, which despite some pretty rotten plundering from other countries over the years, is still in pretty good condition.
It is absolutely wonderful to pick up a Combo ticket and trip across town from ancient site to ancient site.
Here are some of the places you can expect to see.
The Acropolis is actually the hill that several architectural masterpieces sit upon, including the Parthenon.
Here you’ll also find the Temple of Athena Nike (or Wingless Victory) and the Erechtheion.
Known as the ‘Sacred Rock’ of the Athenians, the Acropolis the most popular tourist attractions in Athens. So, when you time your visit is of paramount importance.
During peak summer time, the ‘skip-the-line’ ticket line stretches quite some way from both entrances. Ironic, much?
It’s recommendable to either book onto an early-bird private tour, which will get you in right on opening time (8am).
The place is pretty crowded by 9am; so an hour earlier is the ideal time to see the Acropolis without the crowds.
Alternatively, most people do head to the Acropolis between 9am-midday. So, if you arrive at around 2.30-3pm, you probably won’t have to line up.
Just keep in mind that in the peak of summer, it’ll be darn hot and there’s not a lot of shade on the sacred hill. However, it beats lining up in the sun.
Ancient Agora & the Museum of Agora
This ancient site has had a long and varied history. Over the centuries, it’s been a cemetery, home to public buildings, temples and civic offices, and a marketplace.
Now you can find the ruins of these different phases of its existence, along with the museum of the Agora.
Start your visit here, to get a bit of an overview of life in Athens during the classical times.
Kerameikos & the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
Kerameikos is a cemetery of ancient Athens, which you can explore alongside the highly interesting onsite museum.
Both citizens of great importance and war heroes were laid to their eternal rest here.
The small museum displays finds from the area, uncovered during excavation work in the twentieth century and dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. Pretty cool stuff, especially if you’re a history buff.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieio)
Here lies the remains of what once was a massive temple in the centre of Athens.
Almost 100 metres long and 50 metres wide, most of its columns were dismantled or destroyed during medieval times, when the site was used as a quarry.
Today, 15 of the 104 columns are still standing, with one fallen column remaining on site.
When there, you can still imagine the sheer majesty of the temple, as it once would have been.
The Roman Agora of Athens & the Tower of the Winds
This is Athens’ ancient marketplace, conveniently located right near its modern marketplace Monastiraki. This project was initially funded by Julius Caesar, which is pretty darn cool.
Here you’ll also find the intact Tower of the Wind. This was erected around 100–50 BC and is designed to measure time.
Roman emperor Hadrian was pretty keen on revamping Athens and so built this library around 132-134 CE.
Books and legal archives were stored here and the entire building was designed to impress.
Today the entrance facade survives, along with the interior wall of the east wing.
Here you can see some of the original niches for documents. Another very exciting feature, for bookworms like myself.
Lyceum of Aristotle (Archaeological site of Lykeion)
Rounding out Athens’ ancient ruins is Aristotle’s Lyceum.
Built around 335 BCE, it’s one of the oldest Gymnasiums in Athens, where young men would exercise both their minds and their bodies.
Aristotle was ahead of the times in many ways and had a preference for teaching while moving; walking around his school of philosophy, while in discussion with his students.
There’s not a whole lot left today. It’s been preserved as a park in homage to the ancient philosopher.
You can visit and imagine him strolling through the groves, deep in conversation or contemplation.
Is Athens worth visiting? Yes, if you enjoy seeing history around every corner
And the best thing is, most of these ancient ruins are a stone’s throw from each other… along with modern points of interest.
This is what I personally love about Athens and what makes it worth visiting. The beautiful blend of old with new.
Amazing museums & galleries
Following on from this, there are some fantastic museums and galleries in the city.
An honourable mention goes to the Acropolis Museum, located next to the famous hill. It was built to house the artefacts found on the rock.
While it requires a separate entry ticket, it is well worth visiting. Highly recommend buying a ticket in advance, especially in peak season.
The most notable feature of the museum is perhaps that which is missing. During construction, a space was reserved in the museum for the display of the Elgin Marbles.
These sculptures were removed from the Parthenon by agents of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin. They’re now held at the British Museum.
Elgin claimed he removed them with permission from the Ottoman officials who held authority over Athens at the time. The truth of this claim remains under dispute.
There’s long been controversy over this, even at the time the sculptures were removed. The British Museum has steadfastly refused to return them, despite international pressure. They claim it will ‘set a precedent’, presumably one where they’ll have to return any other artefacts seized during the country’s height of power.
Fact of the matter is, the British like many colonial empires of the time, stole a lot of stuff. For more on the full extent of what was taken, I recommend this very good Australian podcast Stuff the British Stole.
Anyway, I digress. Other notable museums and galleries in Athens include:
- National Archaeological Museum
- National Gallery
- National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens
- Hellenic Maritime Museum
Is Athens worth visiting? Yes for affordable prices
Prices hike up on the Greek Islands during the summer. Who can blame this from happening – they’re popular, accommodation can be limited and the season generally only runs during the warmer months.
However, Athens doesn’t have this same issue. Accommodation prices are not overly expensive (compared to other destinations in Europe), meals are not costly and the attractions are all reasonably priced – especially if you buy a combination ticket to some of the more popular sites.
A lively nightlife
Consider yourself to be more of a party animal than a culture vulture? No worries – visit Athens and you’ll definitely find your scene.
The nightlife in Athens ‘goes off’, with plenty of bars, breweries, live music haunts and underground clubs to hang out in.
The food on the islands can in my experience, be a bit hit and miss.
Quite a few places cater to the ‘British tourist’, serving up English breakfasts, pizzas and the like, which feels upsetting and wrong.
Traditional Greek food is yummy and, well, what better place to eat it in?!
A meal in Athens is a lot cheaper than on the islands – and varied. Head out into the less ‘touristy’ neighbourhoods and you’ll find a range of different cuisines.
Athens also has plenty of top restaurants, where you can get a Michelin-starred meal that won’t break the budget, if that’s your kind of thing.
Fantastic public transport
One reason why you should visit Athens – it has an excellent public transport system, which is easy to navigate.
There’s a train from the airport, which gets you in the city centre in under an hour. Once there, you can choose between buses and trams, to travel around.
Prices are very reasonable too, with tourist ticket prices available, depending on your length of stay. We’ll explore these options later on in this post.
One of the best known markets in Athens now is Monastiraki.
Located in the heart of the city, it’s right near Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora.
You can find all sorts of things here; leather bags, sandals, antiques, books and paintings.
For more, check out the farmers’ market on Kallidromiou Street, Piraeus Flea Market (held every Sunday morning) and the antique market in Avissinias Square.
Plenty of day trip options
If you do fancy getting out of Athens and want to get a bit further than the coastline, it’s not an impossible endeavour.
From Athens, you can take day trips to places like Cape Sounion, Delphi and Meteora, among others.
- Cape Sounion is home to the Temple of Poseidon, a marble structure built in 440 BC. A gorgeous coastline featuring turquoise waters seal the deal. Book a spot on a day tour
- Archaeology enthusiast? You’ll love Delphi, an UNESCO world heritage site, once home to avrevered oracle. Book a ticket in advance
- Meteora is a UNESCO-listed site, with ancient monasteries carved into cliffs. Pretty nice. Reserve a private tour in advance
- Desperate to get on the water? Cruise the Aegean to Hydra, Poros and Aegina. Lunch included. Book a spot in advance
Is Athens worth visiting? Sure is for the street art
There are quite a few destinations in Europe with an excellent street art scene. Athens is one of them.
A lot of top-quality street art can be found in the neighbourhood of Psirri. However, it’s quite fun to wander around and see what you uncover.
Okay, so most people visiting Athens are coming for the ruins and culture, not its beaches.
However, if you’re keen to cool off with a quick dip, or want a day of relaxing on the sand, there are plenty of beaches to choose from.
The Apollo Coast runs from Piraeus to Cape Sounion and has its pick of places to dip your toes in the Aegean.
Things can get pretty crowded on the weekends, so your best bet is a mid-week dip.
And noting, Athens is generally warm enough that the beaches are lovely in the shoulder seasons too. I’ve been in the middle of October!
Some options include:
- Thalassea – is worth heading to to get the complete Athens’ beach experience. On weekdays the entrance fee is 6 euros per person, upping to 7.20 euros on the weekend. To get there, either take the metro to Elliniko station and then the 122 bus or catch a tram to the terminal stop of Asklipio Voulas.
- Edem – is the closest beach to Athens. It’s easy to reach via tram; stop at Edem.
- Yabanaki – is somewhere you could make a day trip out of, as there’s plenty to do here. On a weekday you’ll pay 7.50 euros per person including an umbrella and sun loungers. On the weekends the entrance fee is 8.50 euros, with an additional fee for sun beds. To get to Yabanaki via public transport, take the metro to Elliniko station and then the 171 or 122 bus.
Hidden gem neighbourhoods
Athens has some fabulous neighbourhoods, worth having a poke around in. Plaka, Syntagma, Monastiraki, Acropolis and Thissio are located in the city centre and are the most ‘touristy’ options, but there are others you can check out, if you want to get out and explore.
It’s hardly a secret anymore, but Anafiotika is a ‘hidden’ little neighbourhood you can have a (quiet) poke around in, after visiting the Acropolis. The homes here look like they belong on one of the Greek islands, rather than its grungy capital.
Psirri is one of the oldest and trendiest neighbourhoods in Athens. Narrow little streets, full of urban art and hidden places run out from Iroon Square. There are plenty of meze restaurants and small tavernas, bars and restaurants to explore, too.
Exarchia in the city’s north-east is traditionally a bit rough around the edges, in an rebellish sort of manner. The National Technical University of Athens is located here, along with the previously mentioned weekly farmers’ market on Kallidromiou Street, and Parko Navarinou – a former car park turned green space, created for the people, by the people.
Don’t discount Piraeus as a suburb worth exploring! Most people hit the port for onward ferries to the islands. If you have the time, consider at least having a meal in Piraeus at one of its tavernas – it’ll be especially good if you’re a fan of seafood. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars to check out and the aforementioned Sunday flea market is pretty good too.
A relaxed & easy-going culture
This is perhaps the main reason that Athens is worth visiting – the mad traffic aside, it’s quite a relaxed place, with an easy-going culture.
It’s a place that’s vert easy to enjoy; always buzzing, always interesting.
It’s a city for its people
There are some places in Europe that can’t help but feel a bit touristy. I mean, lump the Greek islands under this category for sure.
And it must be more than annoying for the people who actual live there.
Yet, Athens doesn’t completely have a sense of getting completely overrun with people in the summer months.
Sure, there are some places I’m positive locals would avoid during the busy season. It still manages to feel like a real city, with its inhabitants living out their lives without too much bother.
I’m stating this from a purely observational point of view, as I’ve never lived in Athens. But despite its awesome ancient history, it still manages to vibe.
Is Athens worth visiting? Best time of the year to visit Athens
Most people head to Athens in the summer. Keep in mind – the Greek capital gets hot. This is particularly noticeable at the ancient ruins, which have little to no shade.
It’s a tricky one to navigate, as you may plan your time in Athens as part of a trip to one of its islands. And quite a few islands ‘close down’ before and after the busy summer months.
To avoid both the heat and crowds, I recommend visiting Athens in the quiet shoulder seasons (April-May and September-October). It’s still warm and sunny. Everything you want to see will be accessible.
Yet, visiting at this time of the year will thin the crowds out. It will be a much more pleasant experience.
Is Athens tourist friendly?
In the more touristy areas (such as Monastiraki and Plaka), I’d recommend keeping an eye out for pickpockets.
Wear a cross-body bag, don’t walk around with all your cards and ID, and try not to keep your valuables in your pockets.
However, many of the neighbourhoods in Athens feel a lot calmer and safer.
Any time I have been to Athens, I’ve never felt in danger while walking the streets. Although crossing the roads can be a bit scary at times – they are chaotic to say the least!
Obviously, exercise the same caution as you would across the world. For more, check out my tips on how to avoid looking like a tourist in Europe.
Getting to & around Athens
Athens Airport (ATH) is the largest in Greece and the one you will fly into if you wish to visit the city, or head onto any Greek Islands from there.
It’s an easy trip to the city using the metro. There are three lines to choose from:
- Line 1: the green line travels to Piraeus (the city’s main port), Peace and Friendship Stadium, Karaiskakis Stadium, Omonia and Monastiraki
- Line 2: the red line’s major stops are Omonia Square, Syntagma Square and the Acropolis
- Line 3: the blue line is the one you catch from Athens International Airport. It stops at Syntagma Square and Monastiraki.
Trains are generally fairly constant, arriving every three minutes or so in peak hour and 5-10 minutes in off-peak times.
You can use the metro from 5.30am-12.30am most days of the week. The metro run until 2am Friday and Saturday night.
The city offers a 3-day tourist ticket, which includes return transport from the airport for €22.
This is handy if you need to get to and from the airport. If you’re only needing one airport run, it might be better to choose the 5-day ticket, which is €8.20. An airport ticket costs €10, so you can end up saving a few euro using this method.
In conclusion: Is Athens worth visiting?
I hope you’re not convinced that Athens is definitely somewhere worth spending at least a little bit of time in.
With ancient ruins, an excellent food and drink scene and plenty to explore, it’s a must-visit for any traveller to Europe.
Responsible travel in Greece
Keen to tread lightly in Greece? Here are some tips.
- As stated in this post, consider travelling in the off-peak shoulder seasons, to avoid congestion
- If you do want to visit the islands, avoid Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Corfu.
- Don’t feed the stray dogs and cats on the streets of Greece, as it encourages them to beg for scraps off tourists and locals
- Choose accommodation with a green rating. Some places will list their green credentials on their website, or you can filter through the Travel Sustainable option on Booking.com.
- Leave no trace. Take your rubbish with you, swap out plastics for reusable items
- Unlike some of the islands, Athens tap water is safe to drink. Fill up at your accommodation and use the many public taps around the city. Invest in a reusable water bottle, preferably one with a filter like a GRAYL bottle (read my review).
Europe travel essentials
Wondering what you should pack on a trip to Europe? Here are a few items that should definitely be on your list.
- A hat, preferably wide-brimmed for extra coverage and a pair of sunnies (sunglasses), with UV protection
- Reusable toiletries bag with toothbrush and toothpaste, cream deodorant, sunscreen, menstrual cup
- Power bank, so you don’t run out of charge while exploring the city.
- To avoid chafing due to heat and sweat, I recommend wearing boy-leg underwear under skirts and dresses, or using anti-chafe cream
- A decent pair of sandals or shoes. I love my Teva’s
- A camera that’s of a subtle size. I personally recommend the Canon GX7. And I love my Fujifilm Instax for instant memories.
Have you been to Athens? What was your opinion? Hit or miss?
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