Before heading across to Zakynthos, and on our return, myself and my partner decided to spend some time exploring Athens. We had chosen to fly into Athens airport rather than going directly to the island of Zakynthos primarily because it was cheaper. But I will get to travel costs a little later. First, here is a quick guide to making the most of less than 2 days in the capital of Greece!
Exploring Athens- Arriving
Flights with Ryanair cost £140 return each from Stansted to Athens, then the metro into the city cost £7 single each. A metro ticket to get around the city centre costs £1 for 70 minutes unlimited travel. This ticket also covers the bus and tram, so is a bargain. The metro itself is just across from the airport and took about an hour direct to Syntagma Square on the blue line. Here, we could have changed over to the red line to Acropolis (where our accommodation was), which would have taken 10 minutes. For some reason, we decided it would be great to walk it instead. This was a lovely thought, but in hindsight 45 minutes walking in the stifling heat of the city probably wasn’t our best idea! The place we were staying actually had two separate buildings, so we managed to get lost a couple of times in search only to find that we had in fact walked past it 3 times. It must’ve been the heat!
On our first night we stayed at Athens Backpackers in a studio. Although this is a hostel, it by no means feels like it. We went for the studio (£60 per night) for a little more privacy and a private bathroom. The room was fresh, clean and spacious, with a balcony overlooking the street. Staff here are friendly and helpful, and you get free access to computers, printers and Wi-Fi. Considering we were at such a central location with plenty of restaurants nearby, it was lovely and quiet. The area also felt extremely safe and had a great vibe.
A couple of minutes away is a great restaurant called Arcadia. Their mixed meze for 2 is a brilliant way to sample traditional Greek food, and during Happy Hour your first drink is free! Our meal here (meze, free bread with olive dip, free watermelon to finish, free bottled water and free first drink) cost only £15. About a 5-minute walk away was another building belonging to Athens Backpackers. This is worth visiting, as walking up the rickety stairs will bring you to a rooftop bar with fantastic views of the Parthenon! After a few obligatory shots of ouzo while watching the city lights flicker in the summer night, we tried Gyros for the first time before heading back for a restful sleep!
At this point in our trip, we travelled across to Zakynthos, but I am going to cover that in a separate post…. Fast forward to a week later and we found ourselves back in Athens, just slightly more tanned!
This time round we stayed at Oscar Hotel (£32.50 per night), just to try out somewhere new. There was a slight panic at first, as walking up to the building it looked like it had been shut down for a while. Luckily, it had just moved down the road! At first glance, the area didn’t look great, but it was still very central. On top of this, the hotel was gorgeous inside, and very clean and quiet. To top it off, it had a rooftop pool with incredible views of the city, and the Parthenon. The bar serves great cocktails and overall it had a lovely, relaxing atmosphere. Breakfast in the morning was a buffet with plenty to choose from- anything you could want, from scrambled eggs and bacon, to cheese, to fresh fruit, all included in the room price. We couldn’t quite believe that such a lovely hotel, with a rooftop swimming pool and fantastic breakfast was half the price of the hostel!
The main thing to do in Athens is to see its wonderful history. Many companies offer walking tours, and there is also the option to use the city hop-on-hop-off bus for £17 each. For entrance to the sites, you then need to pay £9 each. This price includes entrance to the Parthenon, Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysos, Kerameikos, Roman Agora, Tower of the Winds and Temple of Zeus. We decided to skip the £17 bus charge and do our own tour, purchasing the £1 metro ticket instead. We planned our tour over breakfast, factoring in regular refreshment stops and our personalised tour went without a hitch! I’d really recommend doing this. Not only do you save a little money, you also have the advantage of being able to stop at places as you come across them. On a bus you don’t have this freedom, as there are designated stops so you’d constantly have to backtrack. Having said that, you could plan to get the best of both worlds, and simply walk between some stops or catch the bus between others… But you never know what you might have missed on those bus rides!
Our Walking Tour of Athens
As for us, we started by walking up Filopappou Hill, and the stunning Monument (also known as the Hill of the Muses/Philopappu). As it was still early we were able to enjoy spectacular, undisturbed views of Athens.
We then headed towards the Parthenon, where we purchased our entry tickets for the day. The temples and theatres were amazing- its incredible to imagine how these were built. They were also being restored which, despite some saying ruins the experience, we thought was lovely as it is maintaining historical Athens.
After a couple of sights, we stopped at Much Butter– a great little café-bar on Makri street, serving incredible salads. The staff go out of their way, and it’s the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat!
Feeling refreshed, we proceeded to enjoy more temples, the huge Olympic Stadium and the national park before stopping again for sorbet at the Parliament bar-restaurant. The national park was lovely, with lots of animals to look at, although sadly no turtles as we were expecting!
Next up, we cheated slightly and took the metro to Athens Flea market. This was a little disappointing as it was less traditional/homemade and had more stalls with phone cases than we expected. However, it did lead us to a fantastic grill bar- Souvlaki Bar. This place is a must. They cook fresh food as you watch from the bar, and it’s difficult to order anything bad.
We washed our gyros, souvlaki and cheese sauce chips down with plenty of Mythos beer before strolling through the Greek and Roman Agoras, all the way back to Acropolis. The agoras are absolutely stunning, a must-see to complete your short time exploring Athens.
After an incredible self-tour, we returned to Oscar Hotel for an evening swim, pizza and wine at the outside bar. The perfect last night!
Exploring Athens- Top Tips
- Flights (Stansted to Athens with Ryanair)- £140 Return each
- Metro (Airport to Athens city central)- £7 single each. If you buy 2 at the same time, you get a discount, making it £12 for two people
- Metro around the city- £1 for 70 minutes. This covers unlimited use of the metro, bus and tram
- Backpackers Hostel Studio (with private bathroom and continental breakfast)- £60 per night
- Oscar Hotel (with private bathroom, buffet breakfast of hot and cold food and rooftop pool)- £32.50 per night
- Bottled water= £0.60 for 1.5 litres. Apparently tap water is safe to drink in Athens, but there is a bit of discrepancy. Bottled water is really cheap, so we played it safe.
- When people play music on the metro, don’t watch, as they will ask for money
- If people try to give you roses, don’t take them, as they will ask for money
- Eat Gyros (meat, chips, salad and tzatziki wrapped in pitta). It is amazing, affordable and available pretty much everywhere!
- Try the pancakes at Syntagma2. This is a great place right outside the station at Syntagma Square. The pancakes are huge, perfect for sharing!
- For entrance to the sites- £9 each.This price includes entrance to the Pantheon, Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysos, Kerameikos, Roman Agora, Tower of the Winds and Temple of Zeus
Have you been to Athens? Is there anywhere that you would add to the sights or places not to be missed? I’d love to read your comments, please leave them below! And remember to check out my other travel diaries, including Reykjavik and Tenerife!