Greece is a popular holiday destination, not just for its enviable weather but also its picturesque landscapes. Whilst many travellers may opt for the islands, the Greek capital city should not be overlooked. Athens has a lot to offer, if not more – from its characteristic architecture to the long-lasting history.
Here is the Athens city guide you’ve been waiting for!
Practical tips for Athens
Athens is an extremely walkable city. However, this is also an efficient underground system and many public transports if you want to give your legs a rest. Coco-Mat also offers its guests complimentary bike rental services, an alternative way to see the city.
While travel rules have been relaxed, Greece remains quite strict with its inland covid protocols. Travellers are required to be fully vaccinated (i.e. 14 days must have passed since the administration of the second dose of vaccine) before entering restaurants and hotels. Otherwise, travellers will need an antigen test (which can be done in most pharmacies for around 10€) to dine outdoors. These test results are valid for two days at a time.
Where to stay
One of the key elements of a great trip is to have some good nights’ sleep. This one is for art lovers. Located in the vibrant neighbourhood of Kolonaki, Shila is a one-of-kind hotel with 6 unique chambers. Each room is thoughtfully curated with bespoke furniture and carefully selected artwork. Rather than just a room, you get the entire living room (or two) with a balcony and a spacious yet cosy en-suite bedroom.
Not just a place to repose, Shila is a sensory experience. It’s almost like you’re staying in a beautiful art gallery, which it is. You’ll find yourself surrounded by sourced antiques and artworks by local artists all around you. Shila is renovated sustainably, incorporating responsibly sourced materials without compromising the existing raw texture of the building. Every day, you wake up to a beautiful breakfast basket delivered straight to your suite and be greeted by friendly and knowledgeable staff. This place is truly a heaven on earth.
Coco-mat Hotel Athens BC
Want to wake up next to the Acropolis? Coco-mat Hotel Athens BC is a bright and welcoming home away from home with outstanding hospitality. The rooms are well-equipped with natural amenities and wooden furnishing, tying in seamlessly to their natural theme. Whilst the view from the room’s balcony was impressive (looking directly at the Acropolis, needless to say, the mattress stole the show. Trust me when I say there is no comfier beds than Coco-mat’s. Before checking in, guests are invited to customise their sleep system online to ensure your bed is tailored to your individual needs. The only thing that made getting out of bed easier was the buffet breakfast. There, you’ll find a nice selection of vegetarian and vegan options as well as the usual breakfast food. You cannot leave the hotel without checking out its rooftop garden and pool, a perfect spot to enjoy the sunset, looking over the Acropolis and the Athenian landscape.
Where to eat in Athens
There is so much more to Greek cuisine than gyros and Greek salad. Here are some of our favourite spots for anything from quick bite to a cosy dinner.
Μe (μe) – a cute little café in Kolonaki serving healthy treats and light lunches. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, try their lemon and ginger cake, it hits the spot without being too sickly. There is also a number of small outdoor seating available.
Queenbee – a bakery/café, also located in Kolonaki, with a considerable menu serving hearty dishes with hand-picked ingredients. You can smell their fresh pastries from a mile away, plus their portions are generous. Seychelles – a quaint local restaurant serving Greek dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Their leek pie was the perfect winter dish.
Linou Soumpasis & Sia (ΛΙΝΟΥ ΣΟΥΜΠΑΣΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΣΙΑ) – located in the lively neighbourhood of Psyri, the restaurant is voted one of the best new restaurants in Athens. Despite the interior looking a little sterile, the restaurant feels cosy with an open kitchen. While the menu is not extensive, the food is fresh and seasonal. Some of the dishes were already sold out when we got there at 8pm, so we’d recommend going there a little earlier to avoid disappointment.
Kyklamino – a family run traditional Greek café/restaurant just off the Monastiraki flea market. The owner of the restaurant is a friendly and generous man, who serves homemade wine and a great selection of Greek dishes based on traditional family recipes and made with homegrown or locally sourced produce. The restaurant is extremely well-priced, cheap to say the least! With outdoor seating, you can see many local and regular customers enjoying their meals there. We had 4 dishes and 2 drinks for less than 28€ and the owner even gave us a couple of desserts and a shot of his homemade raki to try! If you only try one restaurant out of this list, make sure it is this one!
Philos – an artsy and rustic looking restaurant serving Greek/Asian fusion food. Philos has quite the brunch menu. We recommend giving their beetroot, pear and goat cheese salad and ramen carbonara a try! This two-floored restaurant is ideal for all occasions and party sizes – from small groups to larger gatherings.
Nolan – a modern restaurant serving Greek/Japanese fusion small dishes. Located a short walk away from Syntagma Square and amongst a street full of restaurants, the minimal yet stylish restaurant stands out from the rest, not only in terms of its design but its experimental menu. If you are looking for a gourmet dining experience without the price tag, Nolan is the place for you.
Le Greche – a gelato parlour less than a minute walk away from Nolan. Le Greche only uses handpicked Greek ingredients for all 30+ of their gelato and sorbet flavours, from the classic Stracciatella to the more exotic Baklava. Paleo – a family-run wine bar in Piraeus serving food and an impressive selection of wine. The staff are extremely knowledgeable so feel free to entrust them to suggest a drink for you based on your preference.
What to see & do in Athens
Needless to say, the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum are a must. We would recommend visiting the two sites back-to-back so that you can see how they complement one another. Tickets to both sites can be bought separately and a visit to the excavation area is included in the museum ticket, which is situated outside and to the left of the building. A friendly reminder that the last entry to the excavation area at the museum is at 4:30pm, so make sure you leave enough time to go check it out!
Monastiraki flea market is a lively street of vendors selling anything from sneakers to herbs and local souvenirs. You’ll also find local artists selling their works, as well as antiques vintage furniture and accessories as you venture further into the market, on the same street as the must-try restaurant, Kyklamino.
Recently voted as the trendiest neighbourhood in Europe Psyri is a vibey neighbourhood, with many bars and restaurants. Live music can be found in the area in the evening. Generally, this area is safe but beware when wandering around at night, as some streets can get a little sketchy. Escape the hustling of the city centre at the National Garden, a true oasis in the middle of a traffic-packed Athens. The garden is also a short walk from the Temple of Zeus, which is the largest ancient temple ever built. The Syntagma Square is also nearby and worth a visit, as this is where you can witness the change of guard ritual every hour by the hour, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, below the Hellenic Parliament.
Go Up the Hill
If you have the time and energy, hike up Lycabettus Hill. The walk to the bottom of the hill is 30 minutes from the Acropolis museum. This hike, however, takes about 30 to 60 minutes. There are two routes to go up, one of which is very steep and muddy, which we would not recommend. Preferably, take the better-paved route to the top along the hill, where you can get a panoramic view of the city. On the way up, there are two churches; there is always a queue outside the first church on the hill as it was believed that miracles would happen to those who pay a visit. The church on the top of the hill is less crowded, perhaps everyone is too busy taking in (or photos of) the view outside of it.
Additionally, spend half a day in Piraeus, a port city not too far from Athens city centre. Walk along the coast and enjoy a drink or seafood platter by the sea, another great setting to enjoy the sunset. A taxi from the Acropolis to Piraeus costs about 5-7€ and takes no more than half an hour.
All in all, Athens is one of those cities that you certainly must visit. Besides the chaos and occasional rubble that you can find all over Greece, Athens will surprise you. Trendy cafes, wonderful restaurant and beautiful hotels. The Greek are utterly friendly and warm and the food will certainly make up for anything you might be disappointed with (but don’t worry, you won’t).