Several guests ask us what to do and where to stay if they spend one night in Athens (or two, or more!)
Overshadowed by its millennia-long history, Athens is often associated with its ancient marvels and its endless museums. But there is a lot more to that, especially for the ones who stray out of the touristic paths.
Where to stay
We start with accommodation, as this is what most visitors get wrong (in our opinion). We propose two alternatives, each with its own benefits and downsides.
The southern coastal suburbs
Most visitors choose the city centre for all the obvious reasons: proximity to historical sights, museums and the wealth of hotels and Airbnbs catering for the full spectrum of budget and comforts.
Yet, our strong recommendation is to choose one of Athens’ spectacular southern coast suburbs, caressed by the glorious Saronic Sea and its smooth breeze.
Athens has a longer coastline than cities such as Barcelona, Nice, or Lisbon, and access to the seafront is unhindered by private estates and exclusive resorts. Instead, literally hundreds of bars, cafes and restaurants offer spectacular sea views that can make Athens part of your vacation, rather than a necessary cultural stop.
Unsurprisingly, the southern coast is often referred to as the Athens Riviera, and you will immediately understand why.
Any coastal suburb from Palaio Faliro to Voula constitutes a great option that, albeit further away from the grandiose of the Acropolis, offers an authentic glimpse into Athenian life (obviously for the more affluent part of the city’s population).
In subjective order of preference, we propose the following suburbs as accommodation options:
- Glyfada: welcome to Athens’ hippest coastal suburb, with high end restaurants, expansive shopping areas and a gorgeous beach front that competes with some of the Greek islands’ fanciest. Glyfada literally has it all, even though the commute to the city centre by tram (direct line) may take about an hour (half of it by the coastline, so keep your camera ready). A taxi ride is about 30 minutes with normal traffic.
- Palaio Faliro: the closest coastal suburb to the city centre, Palaio Faliro offers immediate access to the seaboard, several bars and local restaurants. It is also the closest suburb to the Port of Piraeus, where you can pick up your ferry to Live-Bio!
- Alimos: set between Palaio Faliro and Glyfada, Alimos offers a lower key coastal location that is both close to the Port of Piraeus and more reasonably priced than its glitzy southern neighbour. Alimos is also home to Athens’ yacht marina, if you enjoy strolling through immeasurable numbers of sailing masts and luxury yachts, as well as some great restaurants and cafes.
- Voula and Vouliagmeni: undoubtedly Athens’ most gorgeous and upper end residential locations, Voula and neighbouring Vouliagmeni offer class and peace not found in upbeat Glyfada, while also pristine beaches and undeveloped waterfront landscapes. There are less accommodation options and the two suburbs are further away from the port, but you will immediately understand why well-paid expats and shipping magnates love living and working in Athens despite the impact of the financial crisis and the negative publicity that the city often attracts by poorly informed travel bloggers.
The city centre
If your main objective is to visit the Acropolis and a couple of museums before escaping after one night, the city centre may be the most convenient choice.
Like any capital-city centre, there are better and worse neighbourhoods, and your accommodation decision should not be driven by price alone. While the city centre is overall very safe (and images of riots are selectively cropped by news media sensationalism), it is neither as posh or pleasant as the coastal suburbs.
Our suggestions are the following:
- Koukaki: an Airbnb residential heaven, only steps away from the Acropolis and its beyond-magnificent museum, Koukaki offers convenience and low budget options for all, but less restaurants and entertainment choices.
- Monastiraki and Thissio: Athens’ bohemic neighbourhoods are full of artistic studios, trendy bars, open air cinemas and authentic eating options. They are walking distance to the antiquities and the commercial city centre, and are excellently connected to the Port of Piraeus via the Green metro line.
- Plaka: if you don’t mind tourist hordes and endless souvenir shops, Plaka offers the picture perfect location on the foot of the sacred hill of the Acropolis. It is clad in traditional architecture, ranging from neoclassical buildings to Aegean blue and white finesse in the out-of-the-world Anafiotika neighbourhood. Plaka also offers endless bar and restaurant options, but choose carefully as tourist traps abound. You will still, however, easily find the local spots.
- Kolonaki: the city centre’s poshest suburb rests at the foothill of Lycabettus, Athens’ tallest hill. Kolonaki boasts some of the city’s fanciest restaurants, that combine low key residential aesthetics with exceptional cuisine from Greece and other countries. As for nightlife, you will be spoilt for choice!
How to move around
Athens has an expansive public transport network with the modern metro being the most efficient and easy way to navigate option.
If you stay at the southern suburbs, the easiest transportation option is the tram line connecting the city centre to Voula and the metro network.
To and from the airport / Port of Piraeus
The southern suburbs are connected to the airport via the X96 express bus line, and to the Port of Piraeus via the A1 bus service. Make sure you choose a seat on the sea-facing side of the bus or the tram to enjoy the gorgeous coastal views.
The city centre is linked to the airport and the Port by metro. Please note that there is no metro station near Plaka, nor many bus lines as the tiny alleyways on the hill of the acropolis are mostly pedestrianised.
Athens’ yellow taxis are pretty inexpensive and the Beat app (available both on Android and iStore) offers Uber-like functionality with licensed yellow taxis. We highly recommend the app unless your pronunciation of Greek street names is clear enough to not confuse the driver. Uber is technically illegal and the company ceased operations in 2018.
There is a mobile app called OASA Telematics that offer bus route information and real-time bus locations. It is not the best designed app ever, but it can help. Alternatively, just like with any foreign city, understanding the bus routes can be complicated.
What to see
Any travel guide or blog will tell you the obvious choices and for a good reason: the Acropolis and its spectacular museum, the Parliament Square with the change of guards, the Agora where Socrates was roaming and the beautiful hill of Lycabettus next to Kolonaki. Standing higher than the Acropolis, Lycabettus offers stunning views of the monument in the evening and night, as well as of the chaotic urbanisation of the modern city.
Athens has literally hundreds of museums, ranging from ancient history to modern art, and from Byzantine artefacts to Jewish culture. As a matter of fact, Athens has so many museums that even the city’s most avid residents are likely unable to visit all of them in almost a lifetime.
The new Museum of the Acropolis is a must see, and you can buy a combo ticket that combines the museum with the site of the Acropolis itself. Its design resembles more of a gallery than a store of great artefacts. Don’t miss it!
Also, do not miss the recently renovated National Archaeological Museum, the world’s largest museum with exhibits only from the country where it is located. You need about a full day if you want to experience it properly, but shorter visits are also highly rewarding.
If you stay in the city centre, make it an imperative to stroll in the evening / night the Dionysiou Aeropagitou pedestrianised road linking Thissio to Koukaki. With the 2500 year old Parthenon on the one side and bars on the other, it is one of the most spectacular walks that you will remember for the rest of your lives. It is worth visiting even if you head to the southern suburbs afterwards.
The pedestrianised road connecting Thissio to Monastiraki offers a wonderful walk between neoclassical buildings, bars, restaurants and flea markets and constitutes the natural extension of the Dionysiou Aeropagitou road for the ones who enjoy discovering cities on foot.
From Monastiraki, wander through the streets of Psyrri neighbourhood, one of Athens’ most authentic city centre spots where locals enjoy cold coffees and ouzo in the chaotic maze of the tiny alleyways. The Square of St Helen offers a haven of tranquillity and some of the best coffee at the Tailor Made roastery and bar.
Ermou Street is the primary commercial street of the city, connecting Monastiraki to the Parliament. There you can experience the contrast between numerous Zara and H&M shops, and the scars of the 7 year long financial crisis.
Otherwise, just walking (or jogging) the coastal promenade of any of the southern suburbs will invigorate your senses with the sea breeze and the endless Saronic blue engulfing all your senses.
Where to eat
Athens has hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants and bars, most of them offering great food at more-than-affordable prices. Indeed, one may wonder whether there was ever a financial crisis, observing the number of locals eating and drinking out. The truth is that the crisis existed and it was harsh indeed; but Greeks prefer to reduce expenditure on other items and spend on social life, instead of suffering from depression due to our governments’ incompetence.
Food quality in Athens is overall really good, reflecting the abundant availability of fresh, locally grown produce. It is hard to go wrong with most restaurants that have a local group sitting there. We therefore only recommend a few spots that really stand out in several respects. Even though quite upmarket, the cost of dining is rather reasonable compared to other cities, and in the context of the stunning locations and flavours.
Dining at the southern suburbs
All restaurants here cater almost exclusively to locals and any choice is almost as good. If you want to treat yourself to an unforgettable experience, we highly recommend the following two high end (but, as already explained, not excessively priced options):
- The Ark, Glyfada. Never in my life have I ever experienced such a stunning city location, and I consider myself well travelled. Set right on the coastline, facing a gorgeous peninsula, Arc offers truly spectacular Greek cuisine with a subtle modern touch. If there is only one place to go, it is this!
- The Club (Omilos), Vouliagmeni. Set right above the beach and facing a pine-tree clad hill across the water, Omilos is a spectacular venue with spectacular food, loved by diplomats and deal makers. It is a bit harder to reach by public transport (there is a bus service) but the taxi ride from Voula and Glyfada is worth it.
Dining at the city centre
The city centre caters more to the professional crowd with innumerable options, both in terms of variety as well as price ranges. Simul in Kolonaki offers excellent Greek cuisine with a twist and a price markup, Nolan near the Parliament brings the best fusion between Greek and Japanese flavours. There are dozens more truly outstanding restaurants, just search around! You will not have any shortage of choice.
Where to drink
There is no shortage of bars and cafes in the city. In the centre, we recommend Couleur Locale and 360 Cocktail bar, both in Monastiraki and with stunning views to the Acropolis (visit either of them on a summer’s night to understand why Athenians love their city). For truly excellent third wave coffee, try Underdog in Thissio (two times winners of the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship), Tailor Made at St Irina’s square and Peek a Bloom near Syntagma.
Coffee on the coast is not of the same top-tier quality but you will find several coffee shops, especially if you don’t care that much about latte art. Skipper’s Café in the Marina of Alimos is a gorgeous hangout point, as well as any of the bars / restaurants spread across the southern coast.
Do you have any further questions? Email us! Live-Bio is only 1 hour away by ferry from the Port of Athens (Pireus), and the perfect spot to rejoice your capital experience.