After all that time spent at home, Athens makes quite a case for ticking every box imaginable (and some you would never have imagined) to be part of your summer holiday plans in Greece or for a sneaky dose of autumn or even winter sun and fun. Culture, food and nightlife can all be enjoyed outdoors, with a feeling of total freedom and safety. Desperate for the beach? No problem. An island break? Still no problem. You’ll find it all in a city bursting with energy, light and a love of life.
Breathe deep and just take in the atmosphere
If there’s one reason to choose Athens, it’s because of the way it makes you feel. Call it a buzz, vibe, mood … It’s edgy and traditional, urban and cool, intimate and infinitely welcoming – all at the same time. Just the warm-hearted greeting you’re given and wandering the streets lets the feeling inside.
So even though visiting the Acropolis is probably No.1 on your list, just hold old. Instead, first use Athens’ most recognisable landmark as your beacon to explore the sites and neighbourhoods surrounding it. Do what you’ve been missing most … just taking in the atmosphere and relishing the feeling of being free.
Live the Acropolis experience
That said, the Acropolis is top of the list for good reason. It’s not just a world-renowned monument that has become an eternal symbol of the city, but its most recognisable feature, the Parthenon (dedicated to the goddess Athena), gave it its name. A tour of the Acropolis brings you face to face with a 2,500-year-old legend. And when you find yourself standing above Athens, with a 360-degree view of the city, it’s hard to imagine you need anything more. But visiting the Acropolis is also an opportunity to learn about the tumultuous history of Athens since its 5th century-BC Golden Age under Pericles.
And of course to complete the experience, you’ll visit the Acropolis Museum, specially designed to showcase statues and other antiquities originally found in or on the Acropolis or unearthed during the creation of the museum itself.
Beach-time on the Athens Riviera
But enough about the Athens you were expecting. You’re here to recharge with the energy of the Mediterranean sun. So what if you were told you could enjoy the city and the beach on the same day? Well, the Athens Riviera has been the secret of Athenians for decades but now’s the time to share it with the rest of the world. A series of beaches, restaurants and bars run all the way down the Athens coastline – from Paleo Faliro (up from Piraeus port) through the southern suburbs of Glyfada, Voula, Vouliagmeni and Varkiza and on to the tip of Attica at Cape Sounion.
There are organised beaches (with sunbeds, bars and sea sports) and quiet strips of sand or rocks to dive off … and the feeling that, here, the legendary Greek summer never ends. What could be more magical than spending the day snorkelling under the gaze of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, followed by a beach-side dinner under the stars?
The Greek island experience – right next to Athens
Then again, after all that time spent at home, lying on the beach might not be anywhere near enough to satisfy that craving for an island escape. So if you need more, you’ll love learning that there are islands to visit right next to Athens all the way through the year. Just an hour or two from Piraeus by ferry or hydrofoil could feel like a million miles away – little fishing harbours and tavernas where the pace of life slows right down. Aegina, Hydra, Poros … and a little further away, Spetses proudly take their place alongside the best-known Greek islands. And if you think you don’t have time to visit more than one, you can even enjoy a mini island-hopping tour to two or three.
Discover culture in plain sight – all in a stroll
Few other cities shower their guests with cultural treats so generously. Rome and Florence come to mind … and in the same breath comes Athens. Masterpiece after masterpiece is the reward for even the briefest of walks around the centre … the Panathenaic Stadium, Ancient Agora, Odeon of Herodes Atticus (where every summer there are starlit performances of opera divas and pop stars), the Temple of Hephaestus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus … the list is a long one.
Pencil in some museum time
Athens has a way of celebrating its museums. The extraordinary Goulandris Museum of Modern Art and the Benaki Museum for Greek Culture offer sweeping journeys of their particular narrative in elegant, airy and light former neoclassical houses. They also have excellent cafes (the Goulandris Museum in a courtyard the Benaki on the rooftop). Another great museum in a former neoclassical house is the Cycladic Art Museum – the highlight being the elegant, mystical figurines that flourished in the central Aegean in the Early Bronze Age.
You have to check out the museum shops (online or in person) of all three. Some of the jewellery collections or limited-edition artworks look like they belong in the museums themselves. Meanwhile, if ancient history is your thing, don’t miss the National Archaeological Museum, which has an extraordinary range of artefacts, in both time and scope.
Taste your way around the city like a local
Hungry work! So now’s the time to mention that Athens has undergone a culinary revolution over recent years. Whether you’re a full-on foodie or just someone who enjoys great food and drink, you’ll love exploring the flavours of Athens. Not least because you’ll discover very quickly that Athenians savour everything about food – the taste, atmosphere, camaraderie and just being outdoors and having fun. So it’s best to dedicate a day or half-day to a food tour.
Start with an Athenian breakfast (a sesame seed-crusted koulouri or pie), move on to the markets and spice shops, have lunch in a dine-in deli (where you’ll be told about the best olive oil and local products sourced by the owner), join the locals with a Greek coffee or iced freddo and … after a chance to digest … enjoy a fine-dining rooftop dinner with a view of the lit-up Acropolis. You’ll have experienced a culinary symphony.
Enjoy a lungful of greenery in the centre of Athens
Who would have singled out green zones for special attention in Athens? Well, here they are… more than you would ever have expected. And greener, too. You’ll have been introduced to some of them on your atmosphere-filled walk at the start of your trip – Philopappou Hill opposite the Acropolis and, for an even better view of the city, Lycabettus Hill.
For an early-morning run, there’s the pine tree-lined footpath behind the Panathenaic Stadium. And for a picnic, there’s the fabulous lawn and garden of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), in Faliro. But when it comes to green spaces, the National Garden, right by Syntagma Square and the Hellenic Parliament, stands out.
Sample the nightlife, neighbourhood by neighbourhood
One side of Athens you will have heard about is the nightlife. Athenians love to be out and about, particularly in the warm evening and nights from April to November. Socialising takes place outdoors in bars and restaurants that often take on the character of their neighbourhoods. So here’s your chance to discover some new faces around town: Keramikos and Gazi (for clubbing and a younger crowd), Monastiraki and Thissio (rooftop bars and dining, ideal for couples), Koukaki (cozy bars for cocktails, sidewalk cafes, tavernas and awesome places for brunch), Kolonaki (with an irresistible nightlife scene, especially in the winter), Pangrati (an artsy aura and cool cafe scene), Petralona (mostly for food and live folk music at what are known as koutoukia and rebetadika). Or perhaps you’re looking for the privacy of a 5* hotel indoor bar or terrace overlooking the Acropolis.
Let Athens put on a show for you
Make the most of your night out by doing what Athenians have loved doing since ancient times… taking in a performance. From the majesty of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Megaron Concert Hall to the National Opera at the SNFCC and the Onassis Foundation’s Stegi… there are iconic venues offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Or perhaps a play at the National Theatre (one of the best examples of German-born architect Ernst Ziller’s legacy in Greece) which has been putting on ancient Greek tragedies and comedies since the 1880s and more recently Shakespeare and modern international productions with English supertitles.
Other gems are the Poreia Theatre (also with English supertitles), which has done wonders to encourage recent playwriting creativity, and the Porta Theatre. And what could be more perfect on a balmy Athens night than watching a classic film at an open-air cinema? There are some fantastic venues around the city, some running for more than a century
Leave time for some shopping therapy!
You’re here for the new Athens, so now’s your chance to tap into the rich vein of creativity that has its source in the artists and entrepreneurs that emerged during the debt crisis a few years ago. As you wander around Athens’ neighbourhoods, you won’t be able to resist the cute little boutiques and souvenir shops selling locally made original objects. You’ll find stylish summer and beachwear from upcoming Greek designers (ask the shop owner for some tips) and jewellery inspired by ancient designs with a modern twist.
Or perhaps a handmade gift, maybe even with a note about the designer, that will become part of your personal story of Athens and comes in elegant packaging that’s part of the effect. And if you don’t have time to shop in town, there are plenty of options at the Athens International Airport before getting on your plane and heading home.
What more could you want?
A city that’s fun, delicious, stylish… outdoors in every imaginable way (and some you wouldn’t have imagined). And a past-master at making its visitors feel great about themselves and very welcome.