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The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Athens

Aug 07, 2020 by Jamie Gallerani

This destination guide was created for you by our global team here at Go Ahead Tours! Whether we’re designing new trips or writing guides like this one, everything we do is handcrafted. Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.

If ancient history is up your alley, then the Greece capital deserves a spot on your bucket list. To make your visit even more unforgettable, we’ve rounded up our team’s expert travel tips for Athens in this go-to guide—and yes, “eat gyros” is in here! Read on for the top things to do on tour in Athens.

Currency: The Euro

Language: Greek, although many locals in big cities like Athens also speak English

Etiquette tip: Wearing shorts of sleeveless shirts inside Greek churches is a no-no. It’s best to do as the locals do and respectfully cover up.

UNESCO-listed sites: The Acropolis (just one of 18 UNESCO-listed sites in all of Greece—18!!!)

Best way to get around: On foot, since most of the must-see sites are within walking distance. But, the (super clean, safe, and efficient) metro is also a good option if you want to reach nearby beaches, markets, and residential areas.

Which metro station to use: The Syntagma Metro Station. It’s the most central metro stop in the city, and most lines connect here. Plus, excavators unearthed historic artifacts from ancient Greece when digging this line, and the (free!) Syntagma Metro Station Archaeological Collection on the top floor is worth a peek.

How to buy a tram ticket during free time: Pop into any metro station or Athens transport ticket office to pick up a rechargeable paper Ath.ena Ticket for just €1.40 (anybody over 65 pays only €0.60), which is good for 90 minutes—more than enough time to get you to the beach!

Fun fact: Theater was invented here! The world’s first-ever plays were performed in the Theatre of Dionysus in the 5th century BC.

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WHEN TO GO TO ATHENS

There are no two ways about it: Greece should be on your travel bucket list, and you should jump at any opportunity to visit. With all the historic sites, cozy tavernas, and nearby beaches, there are so many things to do in Athens all year long. When you visit is up to you, but here’s our favorite time to travel to Athens.

  • The off-season. With less crowds and cooler weather, the spring and fall are our go-to times to visit the Greek capital. Of course, just because you travel to Athens in the off-season doesn’t mean you won’t still have your fair share of beach days! It just means the beaches will be less crowded, and your days sitting in the sun won’t be quite as hot. A win-win, if you ask us.

  • During the full moon in August! Sure, that’s a very specific (and seemingly random) time to visit Athens on tour, but it’s a special occasion in the city year after year. The Greek Ministry of Culture organizes special events and live music and theater performances, and historic sites like the Acropolis stay open until midnight, free of charge. Visiting ancient Greece ruins under the light of the full moon—for free? Yes, please.

WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO ATHENS

Athens is a city that offers the best of everything, and sunshine is one of those things. That’s right, the place can get HOT, which can be just the thing for a Mediterranean escape. But, to be sure you’re ready for all the rays, here are a few things to pack for your tour of Athens.

  • Sun protection. Even if you travel to Athens in the off-season rather than at the height of the summer months, you’ll thank your lucky stars when you reach in your bag and have sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat on hand.

  • A light scarf to throw over your shoulders when you want to escape the sun or step inside churches. (By the way, Athens has some of the most beautiful churches around, so you’ll want to peek in any chance you get.)

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WHAT TO SEE IN ATHENS

One thing’s for sure: You’ll never run out of unforgettable things to do or places to visit in Athens. This storied capital has everything a traveler could ever dream of: ancient history, good food, beautiful views... did we mention good food? Here are some of the top things to see on tour in Athens.

  • The Acropolis, which surely goes without saying. This UNESCO-listed site is one of the top things to see in Athens, and visiting to snap photos of landmarks like the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, and Erechtheion is like stepping back in time. Of all the places to visit in Athens, this should be at the top of your list.

  • Old Royal Palace. This may not be the most intricate building in the world, but it’s still pretty staggering—and has history in spades. Its stark, Neoclassical facade overlooks the famed Syntagma Square in the center of the city, where the Changing of the Guard takes place every hour in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The palace has housed the Hellenic Parliament since the 1930s, and the Greek monarchy even officially resided here until 1909. If those walls could talk...

  • The Plaka district, which is the oldest part of Athens (and that’s really saying something, considering the fact that Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world). Today, this is the place to go to find some of the city’s best eats, best shops, best opportunities for people-watching... you get the idea.

  • The Olympic Stadium. This spot, also called the Panathenaic Stadium, is made entirely from marble—it’s the only stadium in the world that can say that!—and is where the modern Olympic games took place in 1896. If you like sports or ancient history, this is a very impressive site to see.

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HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN ATHENS

Ever been somewhere that makes you feel like no matter how much time you have, it would never be enough, and you just want to see more? That’s exactly what it’s like to explore Athens on tour! Here are some free-time tips to help you squeeze every last drop out of your visit to the Greek capital.

  • Explore Ermou Street, the main shopping street in Athens. “It’s a great place to spend free time or grab a frappé and a bite to eat,” say staffer Kyle. “Restaurants here are multilingual for the most part and it is safe. However, it’s usually very crowded, so guarding personal belongings can’t be recommended enough.”

  • Visit the Acropolis Museum to get a closer look at the Parthenon. “Of course, the Parthenon is a one-of-a-kind experience, but it can be crowded and hot,” say staffer Kyle. “If you spent much of your time sitting in the shade and want to see more, you will really enjoy the Acropolis Museum. Tickets are very reasonable, and the museum is very spacious, modern, and of course, air-conditioned. It’s a wonderful experience to add to your free-time checklist.”

  • Step inside Kapnikarea, a Byzantine-era church that’s one of the oldest structures in the city. It’s sitting right in the middle of all the action on bustling Ermou Street, which makes it easy to get to during free time on tour in Athens. It also makes it surprising to stumble across—the church’s 11th-century architecture sits in stark contrast to the surrounding, modern-day buildings, making it that much more striking to see. It’s a perfect cultural moment (and photo opportunity!).

  • Stroll through an Agora, or marketplace, of which there are plenty in Athens. Let’s see... if you want to see the ruins of markets where the ancients shopped and talked politics, there’s the Roman Agora near the Plaka District, and the Ancient Agora below the Acropolis. (Yes, Plato and Socrates did walk those streets!) If you’re actually up for some shopping rather than a trip down history lane, pay a visit to Varvakios Agora in central Athens. This covered market has been around since 1878, and offers everything from meat to fish to vegetables.

  • Hike up Mount Lycabettus for the view,” says staffer Julianna. This is the highest point in Athens, and it’s really more of a hill. The walk to the top takes 30-60 minutes, and the vista of Athens from the top is more than worth the trek. If you want to reach the top but don’t want to walk, there is a cable car that will get you there, too. Pro tip: Go at sunset for some really spectacular views!

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WHAT TO EAT IN ATHENS

The one thing our team raved about as much as they raved about the history was the food they tried on tour in Athens. “Eating is really the best thing to do in Greece in my opinion,” staffer Sarah said. And can you blame her? Here are some of the most delicious dishes to taste, and some of the best places to eat in Athens.

  • Moussaka. “There’s different versions of this dish everywhere you go,” says Go Ahead staffer Brittany. “It has an eggplant base, ground meat, cheese, and a béchamel sauce that makes it so creamy and delicious.”

  • Gyros (pronounced “year-ohs”). No Athens travel guide is complete without a mention of this dish—it’s one of our top five dishes to eat in Greece for good reason! Greek gyros are thinly sliced rotisserie meat, like pork, lamb, or chicken, wrapped up in pita bread with fries, onion, tomato, and tzatziki sauce. If that sounds good to you, it’s because it is.

  • All of the feta. Honestly, we can’t think of a bad way to try this regional cheese while on tour in Greece. It’s good wrapped in phyllo dough, it’s good drizzled with honey, and it’s really, really good in a horiatiki salad—that’s a traditional Greek salad, if you're wondering, and “it’s so different from the Greek salads served in the U.S.,” says staffer Cara. You can get great feta anywhere on tour in Athens, but “There is a rooftop restaurant at the Athens Gate Hotel, which is open to the public,” says staffer Lauren. “It offers one of the best views of the city and the Acropolis, and the fried feta appetizer topped with caramel and raisins is to die for.”

  • Lemon potatoes (or lemon anything, really). Some of Greece’s best dishes include a trifecta of lemon, olive oil, and oregano, and this flavorful side dish is just one of 'em. Ellinikos lemoni patatas is a culinary staple across Greece. The potatoes are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, and pair perfectly with roasted lamb, chicken, and even fish. Try them at a Greek taverna, or small, traditional restaurant.

  • Stuffed grape leaves called dolmades. These are traditionally filled with rice, onion, fresh herbs, and ground lamb, and served as a small appetizer called a meze. And, just like the rest of the food in Athens, they’re delicious. “Greek food has so much to offer in terms of flavor,” says traveler Jay. “From the salads dressed in fine olive oil and served with chunks of feta to the savory lamb and pork souvlaki, each meal tasted fresh.”

  • High-end appetizers and wine at Hytra. “One of the top things to do in Athens was dine out,” says staffer Kyle. “Any travelers looking to have a wonderful dinner will surely love Hytra. It’s a Michelin-starred rooftop restaurant that offers fantastic modern Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. The wines and appetizers are top-notch, and on a clear night, you can view the Acropolis from your table! It is on the expensive side, but is absolutely worth it.” (One of staffer Julianna’s tips for Athens was also to eat at Hytra, so we’ll take their word for it—it sounds amazing.)

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WHAT TO DRINK IN ATHENS

Still wondering what to do in Athens? Pull up a chair and order a glass of whatever catches your eye—when you’re on tour in Athens, stopping for refreshments is part of the fun! But, if you want to try something traditional, here are a few drinks to seek out.

  • Ouzo. This traditional (alcoholic) Greek aperitif tastes like anise, and is traditionally paired with little dishes called mezedes, or mezes. It’s a social drink, always paired with a small bite, and is a must-try when on tour in Athens.

  • A glass of Assyrtiko wine. This light, dry, citrusy white is the perfect thing to sip on a hot day on tour in Athens. Greece may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of the world’s most well-known varietals, but there’s certainly something to be said for the country’s wines. Greece is home to a proud grape-growing tradition—and has been making wine longer than anyone else in Europe.

  • Really good coffee. And if it’s a hot day on tour in Greece—as it’s bound to be—try the iced-coffee drink called a frappé. The Greeks take coffee-making (and drinking) very seriously, and you can find countless coffee shops throughout Athens for a pick-me-up. Our favorite place to drink coffee in Greece is at a kafeneia, which is a traditional Greek cafe. These spots are the center of social life in Athens, so you can get a good look at local life while you top back a brew.

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SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN ATHENS

Leaving Athens is always tough—the place is so full of energy and beauty! But, the good news is you can bring home traditional souvenirs to remind you of your Greek adventure, and that’s almost as good as visiting... almost. Here are some things to pick up on tour in Greece.

  • Some of the world’s best olive oil. Really great extra virgin olive oil is lightyears away from what you may have tried at home, and Greece produces the good stuff—olive oil production here goes back thousands of years! One place to pick up a bottle of the best is Pantopoleion tis Mesogeiakis Diatrofis, which translates to “The Mediterranean Diet Grocery,” and sells artisanal products from around Greece. There are hundreds of regional olive oils to choose from, among other delicious products like cheeses and meats made by small producers.

  • Greek slippers,” says staffer Lize.

  • Locally made honey—Greek honey is some of the best!

  • Handmade leather sandals. Makes sense... all those drawings of ancient Greeks show them in cloth togas and sandals, and the country does have a long tradition of leather-making. Pick up an expertly made pair at Melissinos, a multi-generational family shop.

Have you added “visit Athens” to your bucket list after looking though our Athens Travel Guide? Tell us why you dream of visiting the Greek capital on our Facebook page!


About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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