From must-sees to off the beaten path curiosities, I compiled a list of my favorite things to do in Athens, seen through the eyes of a local. If you are visiting Athens or having a longer layover here on your way to the islands, please scroll down, get inspired and add to your itinerary.
So let’s start with the basics. You can’t stay in Athens and not visit Acropolis, even more so if you can take advantage of the free admission first Sunday of every month from November to March. You can also check the official site for other free admission days (like May the 18th, International Museum Day) but beware of the crowds. The newly built Acropolis museum can’t be missed either; come for the exhibitions, stay for the modern architecture. Tip: do not attempt to visit Acropolis wearing heels or even sandals. It is very, very slippery. Also, history lovers’ tip: look for the small temple of Athena Nike or Wingless Victory, that the Athenians built so that Victory, traditionally depicted in wings, would never leave the city!
2. Thissio- Monastiraki walk
Grab an ice- cream cone and walk from Thissio to Monastiraki station (or vice versa). Here you can check the street salesmen’s merchandise, haggle and people watch, all while walking next to ancient ruins. In Monastiraki, don’t miss the unique chance to have a coffee or drink in one of the rooftop bars overlooking the Parthenon. Be patient though; finding a table takes some waiting or a stroke of luck.
Escape rooms seem to be in fashion and spring up everywhere in Athens, but take my word for it, Lockhill, situated in an unassuming block of flats downtown, is a whole other thing. From the moment the door opens (is there someone there?) you step into an eerie world that will make you quiver. I recommend booking the “Lockwood Manor” room or, in case you are around on Halloween, the hair-raising “Lockhill- the beginning” event. They both include live acting but I’m not going to give away anything more.
4. Moni, Aegina
Okay, this is not technically in Athens, but it is such a great day trip that I just could not resist. All you have to do is take the ferry from Piraeus port to Aegina, and in less than two hours you will be swimming in the small uninhabited island of Moni, surrounded by peacocks, goats and deer (!) all very familiar and friendly towards humans. There is a more popular organized beach in the front of the island, complete with a beach bar, and a more rocky but crystal blue option in the back. Please respect the environment of the protected island and don’t leave any garbage around. Spending the night is forbidden.
5. National Garden
Formerly the King’s Garden, the National Garden is now an oasis in the centre of Athens. The access is easy from metro station Syntagma, the tram and several buses, even one that goes to and from the airport (X96). Once inside, challenge yourself to find: one sun clock at least one species of rare flora, one ancient mosaic floor, two little ponds with ducks and turtles, one small zoo. There is also a playground that will come in handy if you’re traveling with kids, and picnic tables for the tired parents. And last but not least, a children’s library for our little bookworms, with a small collection of books in English.
6. Jewish museum of Greece
Athens has its fair share of museums, but I chose this one because I have a soft spot for small museums that yet reach big standards. The exhibition will guide you through the history not only of Greek Jews but also of Greece through World War II and the Civil War with very interesting storytelling. Afterward, you can have lunch down the street in Avocado, which makes delicious vegan burgers and pizzas. For a small museum themed day, the Museum of Islamic Art with its beautiful arabesques is also recommended.
7. National Observatory night tour
In a country where most nights are clear, don’t miss the chance to look at the stars from the Observatory at Penteli (the older building at Thissio is too low and susceptible to light pollution from the city). There are no official tours in English, but the guides are usually happy to give you one, and you will have the chance to look at the sky of Attica through a telescope for a very small price. The only downside is you’ll probably have to drive there, as public transport is not very convenient
8. Rakomela at Psirri
As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and order a glass of rakomelo. It may be a little cramped, but the warm raki with honey and the pleasant buzz of Athenian nightlife will make up for it. Be careful, though, for the combination of sugar and alcohol is not for the faint of heart. The good news are in case you feel light headed a souvlaki shop will not be very far away.
9. Roof train theater
One of my very favourite spots in the city, nine wagons, each with a different purpose (theatre, music, restaurant, bar) will enchant train and art lovers alike. If like me you have always dreamt of travelling with Orient Express but could not afford it, this is your chance! One of the wagons is actually an authentic Orient Express Wagon Restaurant from 1924 and you can dine in it! Black tie dress code is not required, but would definitely add to the experience.
Open air cinema “Cine Thissio”
Every spring I anxiously wait for the time, around May, when this beautiful cinema in the shadow of Acropolis opens its doors. The season usually stretches to mid-October, full of old Hollywood films. Sit back and watch Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe while sipping your homemade sour cherry juice. There are cozy blankets when it gets chilly.