Athens is an interesting city because it is in Europe but there are aspects of it that make it feel very Middle Eastern. No regulations or rules seem to apply to the sprawling markets and it has that "if it can be done, just do it" vibe. Its street food, architecture, and cultural history is as rich as it is broad. To help you get the most of this incredible city, here is a quick list of the top 8 best things to do in Athens, Greece
CLICK HERE FOR A FULL LIST OF MY RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS
1. VARVAKIOS AGORA
I'll start with the city's largest local market because I think it's a great place to experience what the real authentic Athens is all about. This old wrought-iron market hall is dedicated to fish and meat, and you'll run into almost exclusively locals here. Who doesn't love watching Greek grandmothers haggling for that nights meal?
I reccomend going early to catch the market at its peak hustle and bustle, and maybe stopping for lunch at one of the Tavernas within the market, many open 24/7 (make sure you try the Tripe soup known as patsas in Greek!).
Hours: 8AM - 6PM Daily, Closed Sunday's
Address: Athinas 42, Athina 105 51
2. THISSIO FLEA MARKET
Just down the street from the main Agora is the Thissio Flea market, a unkempt, seemingly lawless place where you can buy everything from Persian rugs and light fixtures, to power tools and knockoff gucci. It's the kind of place you enter and time and direction become meaningless. It also connects to the Montestiraki flea market (the more touristy side) so you can really get lost for hours here (in a good way!).
If you have the opportunity make sure to go on Sunday for the full experience.
Hours: 8AM - 10PM
Address: Ag. Asomaton, Athina 105 55
3. THE ACROPOLIS/ THE PARTHENON
It's impossible to go to Athens without visiting the Parthenon, the oldest surviving structure of ancient Greece. The temple was built for Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and the protector of the city. The purpose of the temple changed throughout the centuries and was at one point a church for the virgin mary, and even a mosque during Ottoman occupation in 1460. It is widely considered a high point of grek art, and a true testament to the ancient greek civilization.
I highly recommend going as close to sunset as possible, missing the tourist crowds during the day, and seeing it in the most beautiful light possible.
Price: 30 euro for a multi-access ticket good for all the ancient sites you will likely visit in Athens
Hours: See Website
Address: Athens 105 58
4. LYCABETTUS FUNICULAR
Next up we have the Lycabettus Funicular, the highest point in the city with fantastic 360 degree views. the hike up takes about 15min (I was unsuccessful in finding the actual funicular, but I'm told it does exist). It's only here that you really get a sense of just how big the city is. There is a restaurant with gorgeous views, but of course the prices are insane (not bad for just one drink though!).
Price: 7 Euros up and down
Address: Ploutarchou 66, Athina 106 76
5. THE NATIONAL GARDENS
Now it's time to get away from the general chaos of the city and relax a bit at the National Gardens. Located jut a few minutes from the bottom funicular, this sprawling park covers multiple blocks and houses a few key points of interest including the sundial, animal enclosures, and Spanish fountain.
If you're looking to rest your legs and kick back for a bit, this is the place. There is also a group of national guardsmen that patrol the outer edge in full traditional garment.
Address: Leoforos Vasilisis Amalias 1, Athina 105 57
6. THE PLAKA NEIGHBORHOOD
The Plaka Neighborhood is a little bit touristy at first glance, with high priced restaurants and cafes, but that doesn't mean it should be skipped entirely. Narrow graffiti filled cobblestone streets and various hip shops make it a great place to explore for a few hours. It's a natural stop after the National Gardens.
Address: Plaka, Athens, Greece
Who can pass up on Greek food right? My first surprise was how little presentation mattered here. Even in "fancy" restaurants it wasn't about of pretty the dish looked but the taste (which is how it should be!). It was how the dish was prepared and the ingredients used that counted. There is so much good food here I'll have to put a list below on my restaurant guide map, but one thing I will say is don't get stuck just eating the Greek traditionals.
The heavy middle east influence means that there are a plethora of restaurants serving traditional Lebanese, Turkish, and Israeli foods that shouldn't be missed even though they aren't the "usual" foods to try in Greece.
For a full list of my restaurant and street food recommendations click here
8. SYNTAGMA SQUARE/ CHANGING OF THE GUARDS
No matter what time of the year you visit, there will be a HUGE crowd for the changing of the guard. The police block off the street for it and it can be difficult to get a good view if you don't show up 45min before.
The guards start the change every Sunday at 11AM. After they change they march down the blocked off street so you can afford to stand near the street knowing they will eventually walk right in front of you. After this everyone runs to get photos of the two remaining guards and watching tourist get yelled at by them for getting too close is honestly the best part.
Hours: Every Sunday at 11AM
Address: Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
WHERE TO STAY?
Athens is a large city but most of its attractions are located within walking distance of each other. The best area to stay in is right downtown next to the central market. It puts you right in the middle of all the action and is relatively cheap. Alternatively you can stay in neighboring Plaka, which is filled with tons of boutiques, cafes, and hipster bars, however it's much more touristy and the prices are through the roof!