I was fortunate to get to spend three full weeks in Athens in a studio apartment above an Athenian family (who were incredible hosts!). They wanted to show off the best the city had to offer, and were sure to cook EVERY meal for us (although I felt so bad I couldn’t take their food three times a day!), drive us around, and one of my favorite memories is sharing Greek beers with them as we watched the Euro Cup and cheered alongside the entire city, as you could hear from building to building. Needless to say, it was an experience of a lifetime, so I wanted to share some of my favorite sights for those of you going to Athens or thinking of visiting this incredibly rich city.
No. 1 The Acropolis
It goes without saying even if you have a few hours, this is a must. Get there early to avoid the crowds if possible. There is a steep walk up to the top on uneven stones, and since there are no trees on the hill, the sun and heat can be difficult
At night, it’s lit up for all to see, wherever you are in the city. I for one appreciated how the Greek government seems to invest in highlighting their culture — official sites were gloriously lit and consistently branded (perhaps a leftover from the Olympics).
No. 2 The Acropolis Museum
At the base to the southeast is the stunning Acropolis Museum by architect Bernad Tschumi. He took full advantage of the historic site, built atop an excavation of an early Christian settlement which you can see through a glass floor in some areas. The contemporary architecture enhances the thoughtful way that the original statues and friezes taken from the Acropolis (most are fake at the top, for obvious preservation efforts) are displayed. There is a cafe on the rooftop with more views of the Acropolis it honors.
Tip: ladies, wear shorts or pants, no dresses or skirts. A large portion of the third floor is glass (in other words, fully visible from the second floor below!).
No. 3 Any Rooftop with a View
I loved the fact that you can see the Acropolis peeking out here and there from almost anywhere in the city; even better if you are on a rooftop. There are countless rooftops to explore with a view of the Acropolis from afar, or up close and personal at the base. These were a few of my faves:
My daughter and I would spend the day at the full-service pool, then pop up to the Galaxy Bar on the rooftop to grab some din-din. Warm breezes and unobstructed views of the city and the well-lit Acropolis made this a fave.
Hotel St. George Lycabettus
Another pool we frequented — the Vertigo Pool Club — was rooftop with a breathtaking 360 degree view of the city, and Acropolis afar. Leave the hilltop hotel and explore Lycabettus (lee-kah-beh-toos), a popular higher-end shopping area.
Tip: inquire about their day rate to take advantage of this pool with a view!
The Pointe, Herodian Hotel, Plaka
At the base of the Acropolis, The Pointe rooftop bar is one that has the honor of getting up close and personal. The cocktails and menu are unique and eclectic, a take on “new Greek.” Get there early to grab yourself a lounge chair if you don’t have a reservation. And really, photos don’t do it justice; having the Acropolis right there in front of you, unobstructed is worth even one cocktail!
No. 4 Plaka
Also at the base of the Acropolis, Plaka is the historic heart of Athens. The oldest continuously inhabited area of the city, it’s a walkable neighborhood with old world European charm, tree-lined cobblestone streets, shops and restaurants. It can be a bit touristy, but the charm outweighs the commercialism.
Tip: start at the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch and walk into Plaka from there.
No. 5 The Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus
The ancient marketplace dates back to 600 B.C. and at one point was the heart of the city. Little is left of it now, but you can visit the reconstructed colonnaded stoa that is now a museum with finds from the excavated site. Walk through the ruins around to the impressively well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus.
Tip: the street that runs along the north side has a lot of cute cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating to people watch and catch a view of the ruins.
No. 6 Athenian Riviera Beach Clubs
Drive about 30-40 minutes south out of central Athens, and you’ll hit the beach. The main drag along the coast is home to apartment buildings, cafes and shops, and reminds me quite a bit of Santa Monica along Ocean Avenue. But here the beaches are lined with public beach clubs where Athenians can bring their families. (I was told that this aspect of daily life is extremely important to Athenians; when they get off work, they go to the local square or on the weekends go to a beach club for family time.) But let me clear: these aren’t just ordinary beach clubs. I enjoyed Balux in particular as it reminded me of a Soho House, but with no membership requirements and an impressive play area for kids with bumper cars, bounce houses, playgrounds and more. The adjacent on-the-sand restaurant/bar scene feels upscale and adults-only….but kids are welcome! (Moms, rejoice….not outcasted to the kids section here!)
No. 7 The Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion
If you continue southeast down along the Athenian coast, you’ll pass several beaches popular with the locals, and more bars, clubs, and seafood tavernas. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to reach the southernmost point at Cape Sounion where the majestic Temple of Poseidon resides. Perched atop a hill that juts out into the ocean, it boasts a 360 degree view and is in impressive shape despite having been built in the early 5th century B.C. Myth has it that this is where King Aegeus of Athens jumped off the cliff to his death (hence the name Aegean Sea) after seeing the black sails return from Crete, mistakenly believing his son Theseus had been slain by the Minotaur.
TIp: go for the view, but stay for the sunset: the crowd settles in and everyone applauds as the sun sets into the sea.
No. 8 Hydra Island (day or overnight trip)
The port city island of Hydra has no cars, which makes its hillside stone paved walkways perfectly picturesque. Dine at cafes and poke into shops around the port, then take a stroll up into the residential areas with tile roof homes in white, yellow, and peach and stone. It’s easy to get lost within the winding stepped paths, but the views are well worth it.
Tip: to get there, take a 1.5 hour ferry ride from Piraeus port; they run about every 2-3 hours. If you’re staying overnight, there are plenty of charming inns and B&Bs — but book ahead, the hotels do get fully booked on weekends as Hydra is popular amongst Athenian locals for destination weddings.
I quite enjoyed my time in Athens — a summer we will never forget! I hope you get to spend some time in this special place too.
One last “getting around” tip! Most cab drivers don’t speak English (so they can’t read it). Unless you’re staying at a well-known hotel, keep a screenshoton your phone handy of where you’re staying from the Greek language Google maps to show them.
All photos by Erika Brechtel, except for #6-10 and #16-18.