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How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Athens, Greece, According to Travel Experts Like Rick Steves

The ancient Greek city delivers one memorable vacation.

<p>Cavan Images/Getty Images</p>

Cavan Images/Getty Images

There’s not much that hasn’t been written about the perks of visiting Athens, Greece. The ancient city has long been a popular travel destination, thanks to its bountiful historical sites, distinct architecture, and oh-so fantastic food. But just because it’s all been said doesn’t mean it isn’t worth repeating. So, we’ll say it one more time: Athens is, without question, one of the world’s greatest travel destinations, especially for those famed attractions. And we’re not the only ones who share this sentiment.

“The Acropolis, one of the most important ancient sites in the Western world, is crowned by an architectural masterpiece: the mighty Parthenon,” Rick Steves told Travel + Leisure. “I visit in the cool of the early evening, when the crowds are gone and the setting sun turns the marble golden.”

But Athens' appeal goes far beyond its history lessons. “Athens has a vibe. The restaurants and bars feel intimate, and visitors can either indulge in the city's vibrant nightlife scene or simply go for a stroll at night — the city is second to none during the evening,” Alys Colayera, the lead travel expert for Greece at Black Tomato, shared with T+L. Colayera also called out the city's shopping scene, noting, "The boutique shops have tons of local artisans selling high-quality Greek crafts, jewelry, and clothing.”

Ready to start plotting your own Athens adventure? Here’s how to plan the perfect trip. 



Athens, Greece

  • Don't miss Greece's most recognizable landmark — the Acropolis. Get there early to experience it with fewer crowds.

  • Spend a night at the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, T+L readers' favorite hotel in 2023 World's Best Awards.

  • Head to Syntagma Square to watch the official changing of the guard every hour on the hour.

  • Grab a souvenir or a snack in the famed Plaka neighborhood.

  • Order a coffee at Minu, arguably the coolest cafe in Greece, and then sit in its garden or take it to go to explore the antique shops nearby.



<p>Courtesy of The Four Seasons</p>

Courtesy of The Four Seasons

Best Hotels and Resorts

Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens

The Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens — a T+L reader favorite in 2023 — holds a prime location along the Athens Riviera, providing ocean views while remaining just a short drive from all the city's major attractions. It also sits on 75 private acres, making it an ideal spot for those looking for a bit of solitude.

Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens

“My all-time favorite [hotel] is the Grande Bretagne, a landmark right in the heart of the city that celebrates 150 years of history this year,” said Christos Stergiou, a T+L A-List Advisor and founder of TrueTrips. “From its rooftop restaurant to its elegant lobby and rooms, it epitomizes class and culture.” Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this property is consistently a top choice in T+L’s World’s Best Awards, coming in second for our readers’ favorite hotels in Athens in 2023.

Gatsby Athens

For a truly central stay in the city, there's no better place than the Gatsy Athens. Located right outside the Plaka neighborhood, the property makes for a fantastic home base for those looking to walk just about everywhere in the city. Inside, guests will find a playful space filled with art deco touches and a fantastic food and beverage program. Just don’t miss the guest-only rooftop, which provides spectacular views of the city.

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

Best Things to Do

Visit the Acropolis.

As Steves alluded to, no trip to Athens is complete without a visit to the Acropolis. And it’s a sentiment Colayera agrees with. “The Acropolis is the epitome of ancient Greek architecture and a symbol of Athens. It houses several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon,” said Colayera. The best time to go is early morning or late evening, when the crowds are thinner, though you should always expect other tourists hanging around. Want to make the most of your visit? Colayera also suggested checking out the Acropolis Museum, home to a collection of artifacts discovered during archaeological excavations of the Acropolis. “The exhibits offer insights into the daily life, rituals, and artistry of the people who lived in Athens during different periods,” Colayera added.

See Hadrian’s Library.

Another fantastic historic landmark to visit while in Athens is Hadrian's Library. The building, built in 132 A.D., was used as an entertainment space, lecture hall, and, yes, an actual library. Today, just a few columns and sections remain, but visitors are welcome to walk through and imagine what used to be. Tickets are only $3 or can be purchased as a combination with the Acropolis.

Watch the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square.

Looking for a fun free activity in the city? Visitors to Athens can watch the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament building at Syntagma Square every hour on the hour. And every Sunday at 11 a.m., the official event takes place in full regalia. Just plan to arrive a little early to snag a front-row seat.

Visit the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

For something a little more new school, head to the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum’s mission is to preserve contemporary works by Greek and international artists across disciplines. It includes both permanent and rotating collections, so check its website before going to know what to expect.

<p>Ken Welsh/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Ken Welsh/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Best Shopping

Plaka

It’s hard to ignore the Plaka neighborhood of Athens. It is, after all, at the base of the Acropolis. But really, there’s no need to ignore it, especially if you want to go home with a memorable souvenir or two. Explore the area by simply allowing yourself to wander its streets, popping into any shop that catches your eye and perhaps grabbing a frappe along the way on a hot day, too.

Psirri

Find yourself in one of the city’s most colorful neighborhoods with a visit to Psirri. Located about a 15-minute walk from Plaka, Psirri offers travelers the chance to admire some of the best street art in the world (book a tour with Kalliopi for the ultimate insider experience), peruse unique stores, step into a few third-wave coffee shops, and eat plenty of local Greek cuisine.

Anthologist

For those seeking an all-around shop, where you can pick up everything from high-end goods to more affordable trinkets curated from around the globe, look no further than Anthologist. The store, owned by travel tastemaker Andria Mitsakos, is a visual paradise, filled with goodies you’ll want to stuff in your suitcase.

<p>RUBEN RAMOS/Getty Images</p>

RUBEN RAMOS/Getty Images

Best Restaurants

Minu

Begin a day in Athens by mixing fantastic food with shopping at Minu, a third-wave coffee shop and boutique. The space is gorgeous — find a back corner to settle into, go all the way up to its loft area, or sit outside on the patio when the weather is right. Order a coffee and a bite to eat (menu items include smoothie bowls, avocado toast, and more).

Soil

Enjoy another delicious alfresco meal in Athens at Soil, a sustainably focused, Michelin-starred restaurant. The ingredients here are grown in the chef’s private garden, providing flavors you can’t taste anywhere else. Book a table (preferably outside) and don’t even worry about ordering, as you can opt for the seasonal tasting menu and enjoy every bite.

Lukumades

Don’t leave Athens without digging into some tasty Greek desserts. When I was a child, my Greek grandmother would make loukoumades, so it’s a personal favorite, and in Athens, you can get a taste of the same at Lukumades. Smothered in honey and cinnamon, the dough balls are small enough to pop in your mouth one after another — and you won't be able to stop at just one.

<p>Starcevic/Getty Images</p>

Starcevic/Getty Images

Best Time To Visit

There's no bad time to visit Athens, but according to Steves, the spring shoulder season is particularly lovely. “I was last in Athens in April 2022, and it was a great time to visit. The weather was cool and pleasant, and the city wasn’t crowded,” he said. “It just felt good.” Indeed, both the spring shoulder season (April to mid-June) and the fall (September through October) offer visitors the chance to explore the city in milder weather. Summer is the peak period, and with it comes sweltering temperatures. So, if you don’t tolerate heat (or crowds) well, try to book your stay outside of July and August.

How to Get There

By Air: Travelers from around the world can make their way to Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos). It’s serviced by every major airline, including Delta and American, which offers direct flights from the U.S.

By Sea: Athens is an ultra-popular port for cruises, including MSC Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Royal Caribbean, and more.

How to Get Around

By Rental Car: Rental cars are readily available in the city, at the airport, and at the ferry terminal. Just make sure to book an automatic as early as possible if you can’t drive a manual, as they tend to be in short supply.

By Taxi: Both yellow cabs and Ubers are plentiful around Athens. Simply open the app or hail the next one you see. Prices are about €1 per kilometer.

By Metro: Athens has a robust metro system to get you around the city with ease. There's also a metro line directly to and from the airport. Pick up a rechargeable Ath.ena ticket, which starts at €1.20.

By Foot: Athens is a walkable city. If you enjoy slowly taking in the sights and popping in and out of shops and cafes, this is the way to go. You never know what you may find along the way.

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