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Athens, Greece: Insider’s Guide

by | July 20, 2017
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Where to Stay and Eat

Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
At the New Hotel, the service is excellent, the design interestingly modern, and the vibe fresh and hip. Plus the 79-room hotel is well located: It’s across from the National Gardens, and a 15-minute walk from the Acropolis. If you can swing it, book the penthouse for its 180-degree Acropolis views.

Restaurant the locals love
To Kafeneio is a small neighborhood restaurant in the upscale area of Kolonaki, a ten-minute walk from Syntagma Square. The dishes are traditional Greek fare and change depending on what ingredients are in season.

Meal worth the splurge
Don’t be fooled by the name: Funky Gourmet is housed in an elegant neoclassic building, where the walls display original artwork by prominent Greek artist Stefanos Rokos, and the kitchen prepares degustation menus that have earned it two Michelin stars. But, as you might expect, the food is fun and playful: Courses like Greek salad sorbets and foie gras truffles are made with Athens-area ingredients and paired with excellent Greek wines.

Must-have dish
Souvlaki is the definition of yummy. No visitor should go home without trying the Greek kebabs. For the best souvlaki in Athens visit Kostas, located in Plaka since 1950.

What to See and Do

Don’t miss
Tourists rarely visit the northern suburb of Kifissia, but it’s nice to escape busy downtown for the residential area with elegant, tree-lined streets. Do some shopping and have lunch or coffee at Nice n Easy, an organic bistro, or Il Salumaio Di Atene, a neighborhood Italian restaurant. Families will have fun at the small Goulandris Natural History Museum, which has a great outdoor café.

Don’t bother
Monastiraki. This area in the center of Athens is a guidebook mainstay because of its flea market, but there are much nicer neighborhoods nearby: Plaka and Anafiotika (below the Acropolis rock) are charmingly historic, and Thisseio, Kerameikos, and Gazi reflect Athens’ newer, cooler side.

Hidden gem
The Numismatic Museum. This city-center museum has around 500,000 pieces in its collection, with the oldest dating to the 14th century B.C. It’s in a beautifully maintained 19th-century home where the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann lived; he’s known for excavating the nearby ancient city of Mycenae, a world capital from the 15th to the 12th century B.C.

Cheap thrill
Take an easy hike through the trees of Lycabettus Hill to see the city from 900-foot heights. The view of the Acropolis and Parthenon is particularly stunning at night.

The National Garden, next to the Parliament building off the city’s main square, is a 38-acre beauty, with tree-shaded walkways, some ancient ruins, a duck pond, and a small café.

How to spend a Sunday
Start in the city and spend some time by the sea. Begin by strolling through Plaka, the oldest neighborhood in Athens, which is quiet enough to make you forget you’re in a 780,000-person city; enjoy the local shops and the quaint atmosphere of the narrow streets. Then catch a 25-minute cab ride south to the Aegean-front “Athenian Riviera.” Pause in the town of Glyfada, where all the streets are lined with cafés and shops perfect for people-watching. Have a late lunch at Spiti, a contemporary restaurant in central Glyfada with a modern Mediterranean menu. Head back to your hotel for a rest, and then end the day with a walk through the historic district of Plaka and the narrow streets just below Syntagma—Athens’ central square—before having a delicious meal at Nolan.

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Best Time to Go

Anytime but August. Athens is sunny for more than 300 days a year, so even if you arrive in winter it’ll likely be bright and temperate (with lows in the 40s in January). Even if you’re not brave enough for a swim in the brisk sea come December, places like Glyfada and Voyliagmeni, on the Athenian Riviera, stay lively year-round and offer a wide choice of café and dining options.

Worst Time to Go

August. All the Athenians are on vacation, which means lighter traffic and better hotel rates—but also lots of closed shops, bars, and restaurants. Around August 15, a major holiday in Greece, the city is empty.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Planning to only see the Parthenon and Acropolis. They’re obviously Athens icons, but there are tons of other neighborhoods to explore. For ideas, see “Don’t miss,” “Don’t bother,” and “How to spend a Sunday.”

Instagram Moments

Most tourists gather on the hour to catch the changing of the Evzones—the presidential guards that guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens’ central square—but the better photo is of the soldiers when they’re actually on guard, in their traditional skirted uniforms with the Parliament building in the background.

Word of Warning

Watch for overcharging in cabs. Athenian cabs are relatively inexpensive: Rides within the city center cost no more than a few euros, and crossing the city costs 15 euros, max. Make sure the driver starts the meter when you get in, and never negotiate the rate. The only exception is the ride from the airport to central Athens, which is fixed at 35 euros from 5 a.m. to midnight, and 50 euros from midnight to 5 a.m.

Tipping Tip

For starters, tipping is by no means mandatory. Round up to the next full euro in taxis, leave 10 to 15 percent in upscale restaurants and give a euro or two in cafés and tavernas. In hotels, tip five euros to luggage handlers and room service attendants, and ten euros to maids at the end of your stay.

Airport Intel

Athens International Airport (ATH) is relatively small, with an hour of free Wi-Fi per phone or computer. If you have time, visit the second floor, where there’s a children’s play area, a table-service restaurant, an area that hosts art and interactive exhibitions, and a small archeological museum filled with artifacts unearthed from the airport’s construction site. Register for the Flight Tracker service and you’ll get flight-status updates by email.

The Souvenir

One of the English-language Acropolis coffee-table books from the museum’s second-floor shop. There are dozens of photography and history books in the store, but a good one is The Acropolis: Through Its Museum, which the American Journal of Archaeology called “a fabulous overview” of the museum and its artifacts accompanied by “stunning” illustrations and photographs.



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