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Athens Travel Guide- Everything You Need to Know

Sunset Drinks Athens Greece

Athens, Greece is a great city to visit in Europe. It’s the gateway to the beautiful Greek Islands, and is a blend of ancient wonders and modern delights. There is plenty of historical sites to see in Athens such as the Acropolis and the original Olympic Stadium as well as some of the best shopping you’ll find in Greece, especially linen clothing. Whether you love shopping, history, food or relaxing in the Mediterranean in general, Athens is a great place to visit. Here is an Athens travel guide, filled with everything you need to know while planning your trip to Athens, Greece.

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Frequently Asked Questions Athens, Greece

Why should you travel to Athens?

There are many reasons why you should travel to Athens, Greece. If you are planning a trip to the Greek islands, Athens is a great place to start or end your trip. It is the easiest city to fly into and take a ferry to the islands. Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world with a rich history dating back over 3,000 years. It’s where the Olympics started, birthplace of democracy, philosophy and Western civilization. Visitors can find iconic landmarks such as the Acropolis, Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Panathenaic Stadium which is where the first modern Olympic Games were held. Athens also has incredible, affordable food where you can enjoy traditional dishes like gyros, moussaka, souvlaki and spanakopita. Overall, your trip to Athens, Greece will offer a unique blend of history, culture and cuisine and serve as a gateway to some of the most beautiful islands you will ever visit.

Easiest Way to Get to Athens

The easiest way to get to Athens is to fly into the Athens International Airport (ATH) or take a ferry from one of the islands.

What US cities have direct flights to Athens?

Athens is a major hub for air travel and so there are many cities in the US that often have direct flights to Athens, though it varies by season. In New York City, both JFK and Newark have direct flights. Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston Logan, Miami and Dallas Fort Worth also often have direct flights to Athens, Greece.

What European cities have direct flights to Athens?

Athens is also a major hub for European air travel. Athens International Airport (ATH) has many European cities that often have direct flights to Athens. It can be expensive to fly direct to Athens, Greece from some of the airports in the United States so one way to save money on a trip to Greece is to fly into another European city, spend a day or two there and then take a cheap flight to Athens. In London, UK many of the area airports have direct flights to Athens including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. Paris, France often has direct flights to Athens from Charles de Gaulle and Orly. Amsterdam, Munich, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Zurich, Vienna, Brussels, Istanbul, Milan, Copenhagen and Stockholm also often have direct flights to Athens.

What do I need to know before going to Athens?

  • While it is easy to get a taxi at the Athens International Airport, you may be hit with a surprise taxi bill. If you want to be sure what you will pay for your taxi from the airport to the hotel, it is best to prearrange transport with your hotel, or book with Welcome Pickups.
  • Ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended departure date to ensure smooth travel
  • Europe is starting new visa requirements for US travelers, but this is now delayed until 2024 or 2025. When it starts, US travelers between 18-70 years old will need to fill out an ETIAS visa-waiver form prior to their trip, and pay a €7 entry fee, to travel to European countries within the Schengen Area. This will be valid for three years or until your passport expires. It’s expected to have a quick turnaround but it’s important to plan and submit ahead of your trip.
  • The official language is Greek, but English is spoken in many of the touristy areas. Many restaurants also have English menus.
  • Athens has a typical Mediterranean climate and the climate feels hotter than the temperature suggests. Once the sun goes down, it does feel chilly than the temperature suggests so be sure to bring a jacket.
  • The currency is the Euro.
  • Tipping is appreciated, but not expected. Some restaurants add service charges look for “Υπηρεσία” on the bill. At restaurants, if there is no service charge it’s customary to round up, leave small change or add 5-10%.
  • It is easy to do a few days in Athens and explore Greece mainland or take the ferry to island hop to the islands. Ferries can be booked through Ferry Hopper.
  • Piraeus and Rafina are the two ports in Athens. If you’re going straight to the ferry from the airport, book a ferry from the Rafina port as it’s the closest to the airport. If you’re staying in Athens, book a ferry from Piraeus as it’s closer to the downtown.
  • It is expensive to fly into / out of Athens compared to other airports in Europe. If flying from the US, you may want to fly into another country, spend a few days there and then fly to Athens (or Santorini / Mykonos/ Crete) to save money on your trip to Greece.

How many days should I spend in Athens?

How many days you should spend in Athens ultimately depends on your interests, the activities you want to do and how busy you want your vacation to be. Because there are so many beautiful places to visit in Greece, you may want to keep your trip short so you can explore more islands.

Long Weekend in Athens, Greece

At minimum, it’s best to spend at least two to three days in Athens. This will give you some time to sleep off jetlag, visit the major historical sites like the Acropolis, Parthenon and Ancient Agora, explore the city’s neighborhoods and do some shopping. Planning your time in Athens will ensure you get to enjoy all of the top things you want to do while in Athens, Greece.

Four to Five Days in Athens, Greece

Staying four to five days in Athens allows visitors to have a more relaxed stay. The extra time enables you to explore as you like, verse having to plan every morning and afternoon. Four to five days in Athens also gives you time to do some day trips like to Cape Souion or Delphi, or stay at a more luxurious hotel and enjoy your time at the hotel.

A Week in Athens, Greece

An extended stay of a week or more makes sense if you want to have a leisurely vacation and are very passionate about history, art and Greek culture.

Best time of year to visit Athens?

In my opinion, the best time to visit Athens is in June. While Athens is stunning in other months too, it is more expensive and crowded as summer progresses. June, July and August is primetime in Athens for a reason. Athens usually has warm, sunny, weather during this time. However, this is also the time Greece is packed with tourists. By going in June, the weather isn’t too hot yet, the large swarm of crowds haven’t arrived yet and it is slightly more affordable. If you prefer a quieter time without crowds and don’t care as much about visiting the beaches then the Spring or later Autumn may be best for you. See what Athens is like every month of the year.

What is Athens famous for?

Athens is the capital city of Greece. Athens is famous for its rich history, especially as the birthplace of democracy, Western civilization and the Olympics. It has iconic landmarks like the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Olympic Stadium. The city also has many museums including the Acropolis Museum and the National Archeological Museum. Athens is also renowned for its vibrant neighborhoods, lively cultural scene and incredible Greek food.

What are the best things to do in Athens?

Athens is full of things to do. Visitors can visit the iconic Acropolis, home to the Parthenon, explore the historic Plaka neighborhood to eat and shop, see the birthplace of the Olympics and where the first Olympic Games were held and much more. You can find more about all the best things to do in Athens here.

What is the weather like in Athens?

Athens, like the rest of Greece, has a Mediterranean climate characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, relatively wet winters. When we went in June, we saw it would be in the 70°F; however, it felt much hotter. During the summer months from June to August, temperatures often soar, with daytime highs averaging between 30°C to 35°C (86°F to 95°F) or even higher. In the summer, the months are typically dry, with clear skies and little rainfall. Winters, from December to February, are milder, with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F). Rainfall is more frequent during this time, especially in January and February, though it’s unlikely you’ll see any snow. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are generally mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F), making them ideal times to visit for comfortable weather and fewer crowds.

Is Athens Safe?

Athens, Greece, is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. It’s essential to exercise caution like any major city and be aware of your surroundings. In Athens, visitors will want to be alert for petty theft and people trying to take your belongings. It’s also important to be cautious of scams or pickpocketing. Before you get in a taxi, make sure you ask how much the price will be from where you are getting picked up to where you are going, and that the amount is an amount you expect.

What is the Best Area to Stay in Athens?

Choosing the best area to stay in Athens depends on your personal preferences and interests. We chose to stay in Plaka, which was in the middle of everything and we were able to easily walk to the majority of attractions and dinners. The area is charming and convenient to walk to places like the Acropolis and shopping around Plaka. Monastiraki is the luxury shopping district and also has a lively atmosphere and excellent dining. Several of the most well known luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons and Aman are highly rated but require cabs to get to Athens city center.

What are the best Greek Islands near Athens?

Of the most popular Greek islands to visit, Mykonos is the closest to Athens. It can take 2.5 hours on a ferry if you go on one of the fastest ferries or up to 5 hours if you go on the slower ferries.

Which Athens Port should I use for a ferry to the Greek Islands?

There are two ferry ports in Athens: Piraeus and Rafina. Which port is better to use depends on your travel plans. As we spent a few days in Athens, Piraeus was the better port for us. It was a closer taxi ride from our hotel in Plaka to Piraeus and there are more ferry options in Piraeus. Piraeus is the largest and busiest port, so it has a wider selection of ferry routes and frequencies to the islands.

On the other hand, if you are flying into Athens and then going straight to the ferry, Rafina is probably a better port for you. Rafina port is closer to the Athens International Airport and is more convenient if you’re flying in and then immediately taking a ferry. If you are going to Andros or Tinos, Rafina is also the better ferry port as it has a shorter ferry time to these islands.

What are the best beaches near Athens?

Though most people usually think of the beaches on the Greek Islands, there are some great beaches located near Athens too. If you’re doing an extended stay on the mainland, there are a few beaches you may want to check out.  Vouliagmeni Beach, located in Vouliagmeni, has golden sands, crystal-clear waters, and excellent amenities. It’s a popular choice for both locals and tourists. Glyfada Beach has a more vibrant atmosphere, beach bars and water sports just a short distance from Athens city center. Varkiza Beach is further along the Athenian Riviera and has more of a family friendly vibe and shallow waters. Legrena Beach and Sounio Beach both offer quieter beach escapes.

Driving in Athens

Driving in Athens, Greece, can be challenging due to congested traffic, narrow streets, and aggressive driving habits. While they drive on the right side of the road like the United States and many countries in Europe, the roads can be confusing for first-time visitors. There are many one-way streets and complex intersections. Parking is also limited and expensive. For first time visitors, especially those that are staying in the city, it is best to use taxis or public transportation. Visitors may even want to consider staying in an area like Plaka, where you can walk to many attractions and restaurants.

How to save money traveling in Athens

Once you get to Athens, Greece it isn’t terribly expensive. There are incredible, relatively cheap restaurants and a gyro will cost you less than $5. We personally found that we also didn’t need the tour we signed up for and could have just purchased the audio tours for the museums. Though, that is based on personal preference. Visitors can find plenty of hotels in Athens that are cheaper than many of the hotels on the islands. The biggest expense we saw traveling to Athens was the flight itself. Flying directly to Athens was incredibly more expensive than flying to many other cities in Europe. Instead of flying both in and out of Athens, we only flew one way into Athens, and then on the way back flew from Santorini to London and then a few days later London back to the United States.

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