Surrounded by mountains and built on eight hills Athens is a unique city where extensive restoration and rejuvenation has been taking place for the last decade. And despite its size most areas of interest can be reached on foot.
About Athens, Greece
Along with Rome, Athens has the best documented history in Europe. Where Rome was home to the emperors, Athens was home to the Gods. Due to the number of ancient sites to visit in the city, and as Athens is the gateway to the Greek Islands, the city is increasingly popular with backpackers every year.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the city was founded, although it is said that people began to settle in Athens (named after the city’s patron Athina, the goddess of wisdom) some time around the Bronze Age. It was during the city’s ancient history that the stories of the ancient Gods originate. It is also in this era that the first Olympic Games were held, in 776BC.
After going into decline over a number of centuries, and at one stage being a minor ally of Rome, modern Athens was founded in 1834 under the city’s first king, Otto I. After rebuilding the city, it began to grow into the city it is today and the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.
While Athens lacks some of the character of other European capitals, this is made up by the legacy of ancient sites and history that the ancient civilisations have left behind them.
Eating Out in Athens, Greece
Athens has hundreds of restaurants to choose from, some serving a selection of Mediterranean culinary delights and the best known Greek dishes, while some have a broader spectrum and specialise in Asian food.
While it can sometimes be geared a little too much towards tourists, Plaka is one of the best areas of the city to eat out in. Situated just at the Acropolis, even if you do happen to choose one of the area’s less appealing restaurants, the view will make up for the disappointment in food.
If you are on the cheap, and don’t want to be splashing out on a restaurant, look for Souvlaki standswhich are all over the city. Souvlakis are kebabs wrapped up in pitta bread and, even though they are essentially fast food, they are very, very tasty! If you find yourself in the area of Exárhia Square there is a good selection of stands here.
If you want to try some other Greek specialities keep an eye out on the menu for Sadziki (yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and salt), Spanakopita (Spinach pie) and Lakanika (cabbage salad). In fact, just make sure and try any type of salads – they are the Greek’s speciality.
Gyros or souvlaki?
When in Athens, eating a gyros or a souvlaki is just as much a part of the experience as visiting the Acropolis. The only problem is, you may not know the difference between the two! It’s quite easy – effectively, they’re both the same thing. It’s just that you sit down when having a gyros, while a souvlaki is a take-away sandwich. This restaurant is something of an Athens institution and the best place to sample the Greek speciality. Open daily from 10am-4am.
Restaurants in Athens
Lissiou 12,, Pláka, Athens, Greece
When opened in 1982, Eden was not only Athens’ first vegetarian restaurant but also Greece’s. Apart from the good food, it has a prime location across from the Acropolis.
Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
This chain of sandwich bars can be found all over Athens and is a cheap, quick option when you need something to eat.
Othos Pandrossou 15, Plaka, Athens, Greece
Situated in Plaka, Hermion isn’t too expensive which is surprising considering the quality of the food. It has a large courtyard which makes the meal even more enjoyable.
Odos Kidathineon 41, Plaka, Athens, Greece
Situated in a basement, Damigos has been serving food for over a hundred and thirty years. The food is top notch and the wine, amazingly, comes from the family’s own vineyards.
Othos Dedalou 34, Plaka, Athens, Greece
For a decent breakfast, or maybe just a snack, To Tristato is a good place to go. High ceilings and a wide open space make eating here a very relaxing experience.
Odos Satovriandou 4, Omonia Square, Athens, Greece
Even though souvlakis are generally bought at stands, this restaurant in the university has an area to sit down in. There are plenty of other tasty dishes on the menu also.
Omirou 8, Neo Psihiko, Athens, Greece
Cosmos is one of Athens’ trendier restaurants and has a good selection of meat and pasta dishes. The decor in the restaurant is one of the restaurants best features so if you like eating in nice surroundings you will love this place.
Corner of Methonis and Themistokleous, Exarhia, Athens, Greece
This restaurant is different to others in that, instead of choosing food from a menu, the waiters bring round dishes on a tray and you take your pick. Told you it was different to other restaurants!
Epidaurou 10, Kastella, Athens, Greece
Translated into English, the name of this restaurant means ‘ancient flavours’. And thats just what this restaurant serves. One of its unique characteristics is that you get a spoon but no fork to eat your meals. It is close to the Mikrolimano Marino so if you are in the area you should try and drop in.
Rovertou Galli 25, Makrigiani, Athens, Greece
There is a laid back atmosphere in this restaurant and the roof terrace has spectacular views of the Acropolis.
Transport in Athens, Greece
By air: Athens’ international airport called Eleftherios Venizelos is approximately 27km east of the city. Flights from all over Europe fly to the airport, as well as some from outside the continent.
By train: Athens’ main train station is called Larisis and this is where domestic as well as trains from all Greece’s nearest European countries stop.
By bus: Terminal A and Terminal B are the city’s two main bus stations. Along with domestic buses, those from Turkey, Bulgaria and other European countries stop in either station.
By sea: If you are travelling to Athens from any of the Greeks Islands you can get to there via ferry.
By metro: Athens has a very efficient metro and is getting better every day as two new lines were added recently and the Green Line (Line 1) has been extended. Altogether there are three lines in operation.
By bus: Like most cities in the world, the bus service in Athens is the more efficient mode of transport. They can be overcrowded sometimes, but they serve all parts of the city. Yellow trolleybuses are also in operation.
Most of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance of each other so you shouldn’t have to use public transport too often.
Things To See in Athens, Greece
Athens is the city of the Gods. There are enough temples and ancient sites to visit to keep you occupied for days. Some of them are so impressive that you will only have to visit a handful to be totally satisfied.
The Acropolis is the city’s key attraction. It overlooks the whole city and dominates the skyline. The one structure which dominates the site is the Parthenon. Originally housing a statue which is no longer there, the whole building is built from marble. Other attractions on the site are ancient city’s entrance gate, known as the Propylai, and the onsite museum.
All in all, Athens has 28 museums to visit. They are dedicated to everything from ancient costume to musical instruments, although most are about the city’s ancient past. If you want to see more of the city’s older buildings up close, instead of reading about them in a museum, visit some of the temples, the pick of the bunch being the Theatre of Dionysus.
Although it is strongly geared towards tourists, The Plaka is a nice part of the city. The pedestrianised area is full of cafés and restaurants and is very close to the Acropolis. Other districts worth a visit are Psiri, which is particularly popular with young people, and Syntagma (Constitution) Square.
Under lock and key
Greece’s largest museum houses over 20,000 exhibits in five permanent exhibitions and is where you will find the world’s best collection of Greek artefacts. Housed in an imposing neoclassical building from the 19th century, it gives a fascinating insight into Greek civilisation. Open Mon 12.30pm-7pm, Tues-Sun 8am-7.30pm; admission €7 (free for students).
Attractions in Athens
The Acropolis is not just Athens’ most instantly recognisable landmark but also Greece’s. When it was built during Athens’ classical times this was the city’s premier religious centre. The main attraction on the whole site is the Parthenon, Greece’s most famous temple.
enter at Dionysiou Areopagitou, Athens, Greece
The arts were very important in Ancient Greek life and this huge theatre epitomizes this. Citizens of the city used to regularly hold performances in Dionysus’ honour.
Odos Koumbari 1, 5 blocks east of Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
This museum houses a fantastic collection of Byzantine and Persian art along with ancient artefacts. One of Athens’ best museums.
At Leoforos Vas. Olgas and Amalias, Athens, Greece
This is one of Athen’s bigger temples and well worth a visit. Today 13 marble columns, standing 56ft each, are still standing.
Originally built in the 4th Century BC, the Roman Stadium was restored in 1895 by a Greek millionaire just in time for the first modern Olympic Games held the following year. The stadium is different to other attractions in the city in that it has historical significance from both ancient and modern times.
on the edge of Monastiraki, Athens, Greece
In its heyday, the Agora market was Athens’ commercial, social and political hub. Famous philosopher Socrates used to wander the streets, pondering on his thoughts. He did so with his disciples, the best known being Plato. As well as walking around the area of the ancient market, the Stoa of Attalos and the Church of the Holy Apostles are also in the area.
Odos Dioyenous 1-3, Athens, Greece
If you fancy visiting an attraction that is to do with something other than ancient temples and Greek Gods, this museum is a good place to go. Inside is an interesting collection of musical instruments and photographs.
Situated just outside the city walls, The Keramikos is Athens’ oldest cemetary. From the 12th Century BC it has been the resting place for the city’s deceased citizens. While visiting a cemetary might not sound very appealing, once you make the journey you will find it surprisingly rewarding.
between Leoforos Amalias and Irodou Attikou, south of Vas, Athens, Greece
When the hustle and bustle of the city is becoming a bit too much for you, this garden is a nice place to unwind, luy down and enjoy the sun. Once royal family’s palace garden, the city zoo and botanical museum are also in the park.
Situated in the southern part of the city, The Pynx is where the citizen assemblies met. Incidentally, it is where democracy was born as it was here that people began the trend of voting on matters of importance.
Entertainment in Athens, Greece
Athens is different to most other European capitals. The best opportunity to enjoy the full range of nightlife is in the winter as opposed to the summer. This is because many establishments follow the tourists on to the islands during the hotter months. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time after dark in the city.
Club life in Athens is growing steadily with more and more internationally renowned DJs playing in the city’s clubs. Don’t go to them until late at night though. They don’t open until around 11pm, don’t get going until between midnight and 1am and don’t shut usually until 6am! A night’s clubbing in Athens can take its toll.
If clubbing isn’t your thing, there is a vibrant live music scene in Athens. Whether it is jazz, rock, or local bands which you plan on seeing, all are always playing somewhere in the city. For the best listings check out Kathimerini, an English supplement with the Herald Tribune.
A lot of the nightlife spills out on the streets and there is always a good atmosphere in the city. This comes from the various bars which are scattered all over. As the bars don’t close until approximately 4am, you don’t feel like you’re missing out on too much if you don’t go to a club.
Entertainments in Athens
116 Ermou, Psiri, Athens, Greece
One of Athens’ most popular clubs, Loud Mansion attracts those who like to party until sunrise at the weekends to the sounds of the world’s most popular DJs.
Open Thurs-Sun 11pm-late; admission €12 approx.
41 Kydathineon, Plaka, Athens, Greece
While it is by no means the liveliest of bars, Brettos is one of Athens’ most intriguing and is worth visiting if only to check out the multicoloured collection of bottles facing you as you walk in.
Open daily from 10am-midnight.
Loukianou 6, Kolonáki, Athens, Greece
Rock n Roll is one of Athens’ most popular bars and is a great place if you are looking for a lively night. At the weekends the doormen have tend to be picky so put the gladrags on!
Corner of Othos Themistokleous & Othos Gamveta, Athens, Greece
This is Greece’s most ‘all-round’ club playing pop music and rock music, instead of specialising in some type of dance music. It’s fairly big which is good cause you will always a space to stand somewhere.
Agiou Assomaton Sq. 3, Psiri, Athens, Greece
If you like hip-hop music this should be your first port of call. A regular DJ plays the latest rap tunes to a young and hip crowd.
Lembessi 8, near Syngroú, Athens, Greece
Situated in Makriyánni where most of Athens’ gay bars and clubs are, this gay bar is a popular one. Its also close to where most of the transvestites in the area hang out, making it that little bit more interesting.
Trivonianoú 17, Mets, Athens, Greece
With live jazz music playing most night, Half-Note is a great place to go any night of the week. The musicians playing are international as well as local.
Closed on Tuesdays.
Othos Epikarmou 1, corner of Othos Epikarmou and Tripodon, Athens, Greece
If you want to sample some of the best local ouzo this is one of the best places in Athens to do so. Food is also served in this bar. Considering the damage ouzo can do you, having a good meal before downing loads of the Greek liquor is a very good idea.
Astéria, Glyfádha, Athens, Greece
This beach suburb bar is full of Athens’ beautiful people and a good place to be seen.
Kydathineon 41, Plaka, Athens, Greece
This family-run bar has lots of character with barrels and coloured bottles lining the wall. It is also one of the oldest distilleries in Athens.
Othos Amerikis 2, near Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
Kingsize is a large underground bar which is popular with those who follow the dance music scene. Like some clubs in Athens, the bouncers can be choosy on who gets in so leave the white trainers at home if you plan on making a visit.
Márni 24, Platía Váthis, Athens, Greece
This is Athens’ best live music venue and plays host to many of Greece’s best rock and soul groups, along with some foreign acts also.
General Info about Athens, Greece
American, Canadian, Australian, Israeli, New Zealand and EU nationals can stay in Greece for a period of up to ninety days without a visa. All you will need is a valid passport. After this period, you should apply to the Aliens Bureau or the local police for an extension at least twenty days before your original stay expires.
Residents from all other countries should check with the Greek Embassy in their home country before travelling.
The currency used in Greece is the Euro (€) which is made up of 100 Cent (c). Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c.
The official language is Modern Greek but English, French, German and Italian are widely spoken in the tourist areas.
Thanks to its geographic location, Athens is fortunate to experience a climate that promises mild winters and very warm summers. In July the average temperature is 81.5˚F although it never becomes unbearably hot thanks to the cool seasonal breezes. The weather usually stabilises in early summer and brings bright sunshine and very little rainfall.
Visitors from EU countries are entitled to medical treatment under the EU Reciprocal Medical Treatment agreement. Before you travel you should collect an E111 form from your local social security office. This form may also be obtained in post offices.
For minor health problems visit the local chemist/pharmacy/drugstore and in case of an emergency you can find one of the hospitals at:
Athens Medical Center,
Address: 5-7 Distomou Street, Athens,
Athens is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
It is hard to pinpoint the exact opening hours of shops in Athens. They are generally between 9am-6pm, although this varies from shop to shop and sometimes daily also.
Office hours are from Monday to Friday between 8.00am and 3.00pm but you also need to check the particular office beforehand to confirm.
Banks are normally open between 8.00am and 2.00pm from Monday to Thursday and from 8.00am until 1.30pm on Fridays.
There are two organisations in Greece which oversee the tourism trade – the Greek National Tourist Organisation (GNTO) and the tourist police. The GNTO (or EOT in Greek) supply general tourist information about the country and their main office in Athens is at No. 2, Amerikis Streeet. The tourist police deal with more specific issues such as bus timetables, lost passports and their phone number is 171 (only when in Athens).
Unless otherwise state, all accommodation prices include a service charge which usually amounts to about 12%. In most restaurants the service charge is 13%. Again this should be included in the price. Purchases include VAT of between 4% and 18%.
If you are a non EU national and purchase an item costing more than €100 (approximately) then you are entitled to most of the tax back if you export it within 90 days of purchase. In order to do this, you should shop in places that display the ‘Tax Free for Tourists’ sign or obtain a Tax-Free Check Form which you complete in the store.
Traveller’s cheques can be cashed at all banks and also in a number of tourist agencies and shops. Certain bank branches offer exchange facilities later in the afternoon and on Saturday mornings. Commissions can vary considerably.
As well as traveller’s cheques, you can use your credit card or your ATM card to withdraw cash at cashpoints, once your card is compatible. This is usually stated clearly on the ATM and on the back of your card (look for a ‘Cirrus’ logo). Getting cash from the ATMs is usually the most convenient way to get money.
220 volts AC/50Hz. In Greece round two or three-pin plugs are standard.
The country code for Greece is +30 but if you are calling from abroad you need to dial the international access code, followed by 30, the local area code (dropping the 0) and the local number. When dialling abroad from within Greece it is the same process.
All public phones use phone cards which can be purchased at OTE telephone offices and kiosks. The phone system is modern and efficient and has a facility which explains all the instructions clearly in English. You can also make direct long distance and international calls from all public phones.
Athens Central Post Office
This is Athens’ central post office. You can get post sent here, or to your nearest post office, if you don’t want it sent to wherever you are staying.
Although a service charge of between 10% and 15% is included on all restaurant bills, it is customary to leave a further 10% as a tip. Even if the bill is quite small you should leave change rounded off to the nearest euro. You should also tip taxi drivers about 10% or leave them any small change that you might be owed.
In Greece they are New Years Day (January 1st), Epiphany (January 6th), Shrove Monday (the
first Monday during Lent), Independence Day (March 25th), Good Friday and Easter (March/April) Labour Day (May 1st), Day of the Holy Spirit (June 16th), Assumption (August 15th), Ochi Day (October 28th), Christmas (December 25th/26th).
It is worth noting what Greece’s public holidays are before travelling as the majority of businesses, banks and shops shut for the day.