Athens is an interesting city because it is in Europe but there are aspects of it that 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 are 8 of the 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 market because I think it's a great place to experience what "real" Athens is all about. This old wrought-iron market hall has been providing locals with fresh meat and produce for hundreds of years (with no sign of slowing down!). A good introductory market to modern Greek cuisine and culture.
I recommend going early to catch the market at its peak, and maybe stop for lunch at one of the Tavernas within the market. Many are 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 direction becomes meaningless, getting lost for hours in its shops and side streets.
As a bonus it also connects to the much more visited Montestiraki flea market if you just can't get enough. 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 from a church for the Virgin Mary, to a mosque during Ottoman occupation in 1460. It is widely considered a high point of greek art, and a true testament to ancient Greek civilization.
I highly recommend going as close to sunset as possible, when the temple is bathed in a beautiful sunset light (and you miss the day crowds!)
Price: 30 Euro for a multi-access ticket good for all the ancient sites you will likely visit in Athens
Hours: See their website
Address: The Parthenon, 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 takes about 15min (I was unsuccessful in finding the actual funicular, but I'm told it does exist). It's here that you really get a sense of just how big the city is. At the top there is also a restaurant with gorgeous views, but of course the prices are quite high.
Funicular Price: 7 Euros one way
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 in the National Gardens. Located just a few minutes from the bottom of Lycabettus, this sprawling park covers multiple blocks and houses a few key points of interest including the sundial, animal enclosures, and the 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.
Tuesday 6AM – 5PM
Wednesday 6AM – 9PM
Thursday 6AM – 9PM
Friday 6AM – 9PM
Saturday 6AM – 8PM
Sunday 6AM – 7PM
Monday 6AM – 7PM
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 cobblestone streets and various hip shops make it a great place to explore for a few hours.
A great place to grab an espresso and people watch as the city buzzes endlessly around you.
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 how pretty the dish looked, but rather how it tastes (which is how it should be!). Freshness of ingredients and method of preparation are held above all else. There is so much good food here I'll have to put a full list below, which you can find here
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.
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 and it can be difficult to get a good view if you don't show up 45 min before.
The guard change starts every Sunday at 11AM. After they change they march down the street so you can afford to stand a bit away from the initial crowd, 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 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 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!