A long summer layover guide to Athens

May 20, 2023, 4:00 AM UTC
A tourist stands in front of a gate, overlooking the Temple of Dionysus at the Acropolis of Athens.
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A timeless classic, Greece is one of the most popular destinations for travelers year after year. And while Athens is the main entry point for most visitors coming by air, it is often an afterthought on the way to the islands such as Crete, Corfu, Mykonos, Santorini, and many, many more.

Anyone just passing through Athens is missing quite a lot—and not just some of the oldest and most historic sites in the world, but also an extremely modern and cutting-edge food and dining scene.

If you are trying to make the most of a trip to Greece, consider spending at least a couple days and nights there, and pick just a few monuments you’d like to see. And while Athens is well served by public transit as well as taxi (and the most affordable and easiest option is Uber Taxi; and the company is soon expanding its services in Mykonos with Uber Boat), the best way to see and experience Athens’s lively neighborhoods is by foot.

For anyone planning a short stay in Athens, here is a quick guide on where to go, eat, drink, and stay while having an enjoyable, relaxed time.

A wide-angle view of the Acropolis of Athens.
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Where to go

The Acropolis of Athens: If there is one sight you must see in Athens, it is the Acropolis. Fortunately, you can see it from many vantage points without paying a penny given its position high on a hill in the center of the city. But you should give yourself the opportunity to visit. Tickets can be purchased online in advance or in person, or through any of the many guided tours of the city. And you should aim to get to the Acropolis as early as possible; the gates open at 8 a.m., and you will find yourself in a long line starting as soon as 9 a.m.

The Acropolis Museum: While you can visit the Acropolis (which is the entire citadel; the Parthenon is the temple within the Acropolis) and the Temple of Dionysus (the grandest of all Greek Theaters) outside, don’t overlook an opportunity to the nearby museum, where you can get a close look (inside, with air conditioning) at the most treasures and relics from the age of antiquity still within Greece’s borders.

The Athens War Museum: For history buffs, this is your best opportunity to learn about the bigger picture of Grecian history beyond tales of gods and goddesses. Open since 1975, the museum of the Greek Armed Forces is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of war relics as well as the documentation of the struggles of the Greek nation from antiquity through today.

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Kolonaki: Translating to “little column” in English, this delightful neighborhood spans the winding streets on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus. This is the perfect spot to pass several hours while looking at boutiques, having lunch while dining al fresco, or simply wandering around on a calm afternoon under the shade of the trees lining the neighborhood from the sunshine.

Plaka: Considered the oldest neighborhood in Athens, this is where you want to go if you really want to shop, which you can do until you drop on one of the marble-lined, pedestrian-only streets. You can get all sorts of knick-knacks here, but many artisans here specialize in leather (especially for shoes and sandals) and silver jewelry (especially featuring the hallmark “blue eye” to ward off evil).

Inside Barro Negro, ranked among one of the World’s 50 Best Bars.
Courtesy of Barro Negro

Where to eat and drink

Flat White Artisan Café: Athens has a thriving coffee culture here, with a particular emphasis on specialty coffee drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites. Where better to sample the latter than a darling café of the same name? The local-favorite spot also has indoor and outdoor seating, and a healthy, plant-based focused menu for breakfast.

Malconi’s: Located at a bustling corner in the Kolonaki neighborhood, this is a great spot to catch your breath after browsing the boutiques, while people-watching over an Aperol spritz and a flatbread. (And service is remarkably efficient and speedy at this busy restaurant.)

Barro Negro: Did you know that several of the World’s 50 Best Bars are in Athens, and at least three of them are within a few blocks of each other? When you visit the Plaka neighborhood, you’ll quickly understand why as this is a lively place day and night with an abundance of dining and drinking options to choose from, whether they be relaxed or energized. A fun place to start is Barro Negro, the first tequila and mezcal bar in Athens with hundreds of bottles to choose from, but the bartenders would be more than happy to help you narrow down your choice based on your preferences and their expert intel.

The Clumsies: Open since 2016, you’ll find some of the most original cocktails in the whole world at this bar with a special menu that rotates based on emotions and feelings. (Although there is a regular food and drinks menu in place, including a blue-hued Negroni, the bar’s best seller that is designed to resemble the bright shade of the Aegean Sea.) You can find a spot for one or two at the bar, but this is also a good spots for groups. (There is even a special library upstairs available for reservations, and there is no minimum spend requirement. If you call ahead with the number in your party and the time slot is available, it’s yours to enjoy.)

An aerial view of the Plaka neighborhood in Athens, Greece.
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Where to stay 

Monsieur Didot: The definition of a charming boutique hotel in a major urban area, this establishment combines the feeling of being at home you get with an Airbnb with all of the amenities and services you’d want from an upscale hotel. 

Athenaeum Intercontinental Athens: This is a hotel that knows how to cater to business travelers (as well as a lot of flight crews, who you’ll frequently see checking in and out of the lobby). The guest rooms are spacious (with considerable views of the city skyline and surrounding mountains) with all the basic accouterments (and free Wi-Fi); and the hotel has a large business center (with printers and computers on-site for use), a 24-hour gym, a large outdoor pool deck, a spa, a rooftop deck, multiple onsite dining options, and a conference center with a ballroom. It’s a short walk (and even shorter taxi ride) to the major sites and fun neighborhoods, and it’s less than 30 minutes from the airport.

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