Athens Summer Checklist
When it comes to summer travel in Greece, most people think of Athens as a gateway to the Greek isles, rather than the main event. We recommend you spend one or two nights here just for the main historical sights. But to really get the most out of Europe's most ancient city, you should plan to spare more time in your itinerary. Here's a handy checklist guide for your extended Athens stay.
PAST MEETS PRESENT
First of all, you can’t escape the magnitude of history when you visit Athens. As a veritable open-air museum, Athens will always hold one foot in the past, while the lively urban bustle of the modern city takes place among its varied neighborhoods - a mix of traditional character with a smattering of grungy architecture and gritty atmosphere.
The story of one of the world’s most ancient cities began when King Theseus united several settlements of the Attican peninsula. This settlement located on Attica’s fertile plains, surrounded by mountains and near the Saronic Gulf, made an ideal place to start a great city. Legend has it that Athens was named after Athena, when she beat Poseidon in a competition to see who would be the city’s protector.
Throughout Greek and Roman history, and in the development of modern cultures and societies, Athens left its mark. Democracy was one of the most significant achievements of the ancient Greeks. The Golden Age of Athens came during the 5th century BC, under the reign of Pericles. This is when the Parthenon was built, and Greek arts, philosophy and drama reached their pinnacle. During Roman times, Athens remained an important center of culture and intellect – it was the beloved city of Emperor Hadrian, who gave the city magnificent monuments. In Byzantine times, many churches were built in Athens, then later came the Crusaders, then the Turks. After the Greek war of Independence, Athens became the nation’s capital in 1833. Most recently, since 2007, the city along with the entire country of Greece has been suffering in a very slow recovery from a major economic crisis.
BEYOND THE ACROPOLIS
The Acropolis is the city’s crown jewel, where the first settlement was founded, and then perfected in the 5th century. We’ll also take a look at some of the city’s other characteristic spaces and what you can see there.
Athens Acropolis: It’s important to know that this site has been under restoration since 1975, and the latest phase of the project is expected to finish in 2020. While the Parthenon scaffolding is certainly an eyesore, the good news is that many sizeable areas of the monuments have been restored to their original form after previous misplacements of materials.
Plaka: No hidden secret, this neighborhood is the heart of old Athens. Nestled under the Acropolis slopes, these streets are jammed with friendly outdoor dining spots and bargain shops for popular souvenirs. Near the end of the day, climb up Philopappos Hill for unbeatable sunset views over the city and the distant Aegean Sea.
Anafiotika: The little hillside village of Anafiotika is a recent discovery of Athens visitors. Located just below Acropolis hill, it was built in the style of a Cycladic island rather than a quiet district in a large metropolis. Wander the labyrinthine alleys, and just try and stop yourself from snapping photos around every picture-perfect, white-washed corner.
Monastiraki: Another district popular with visitors, and also Athenians, is bustling Monastiraki. Here it’s all about the daily flea market, where you can purchase just about anything – from clothing to baked goods to electronics and antiques.
Kolonaki: Check out this upscale quarter, home to foreign embassies and high-end boutiques. Gastronomes will be delighted with the dining options, as you can find various foreign cuisines and creative bistros. A couple of traditional options include Dexameni, a great place for mezze, coffee or a cocktail, or Kalamaki Kolonaki, whose souvlaki is a must.
Syntagma: With its stand-out yellow Parliament building, and as the transportation hub of the city, Syntagma Square is hard to miss. Tourists mainly come here to see the choreographed changing of the guard.
Exarcheia: Home to the fantastic National Archaeological Museum, this alternative district has retained its gritty, authentic character. Once the meeting place of Athens intellectuals, it has a young and non-touristy vibe due to its close proximity to two Athens universities. In this edgy center of unconvention and political dissent, you can stroll the streets to see street art and political murals, find hidden courtyards, cozy cafes and small tavernas, and browse the many unique bookstores and shops selling old vinyls and vintage fashion. At night, you can come for underground bars and live music.
Kifissia: If you’re looking for romantic outdoor dining and more upscale shopping, look no farther than Kifissia, Athens’s affluent northern neighborhood.
Athens Riviera: You can also enjoy a beach vacation in the capital, with one of the city’s organized beaches. Choose from areas like Varkiza, Vouliagmeni and Kavouri. Vouliagméni Lake, a short stroll from the town’s central square, offers a fantastic swim in mineral waters that are said to have healing properties.
ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS AND TEENS
MG Laser Tag: Offering laser tag, arcade games and air hockey tables. Located between Eleonas and Egaleo metro stations.
Limba Rage Room: Have fun as you let off some steam and let go of life’s worries in this unique venue. Your kids will love being able to smash things, and protective gear is provided. Located in Psyrri.
Great Escape Rooms: Teens will love the adrenalin rush they get from solving these puzzles and plots of various themes, some related to their favorite movies and characters. Located in Psyrri.
Karting Center Agios Kosmas: This exhilarating activity is a great substitute for screen time. And it’s also in a super coastal location (in Elliniko), with fantastic views over the gulf.
Athens Paintball Village: This classic, messy and exhilarating past-time is available in Koropi, near the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport. There’s also a cafe where parents can relax.
Balux Cafe - The House Project: This really is like being at home … with gorgeous views, spacious dining rooms and areas for both parents and young ones to hang out and be entertained.
MUSEUMS FOR ALL
A list of Athens museums - whether you're into archaeology, or not.
National Archaeological Museum – One of the top museums in the world.
New Acropolis Museum – Modern museum showcasing masterpieces from the Archaic and Classical periods.
The Benaki Museum – Ancient and modern Greek history and culture.
* Herakleidon Museum of Art – Private fine arts collection.
* The Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art – Art museum with an emphasis on Cycladic Art of the 3rd millennium BC.
* National Gallery – Permanent collection of modern Greek painters and international contemporary artists.
* Museum of Greek Folk Art – Traditional Greek folk art housed in a renovated former mosque.
* Athens Railway Museum – Collection showing the history of Greek rail transport.
* Hellenic Motor Museum – Collection of vintage automobiles.
Science and Technology
* Museum of the Ancient Greek Technology – Highlights the technology of the ancient Greeks.
* Criminology Museum – By appointment, displaying the history of crime in Greece.
* Digital Museum of Plato – Ultra-modern, interactive venue dedicated to Plato.
* Numismatic Museum – Ancient and modern coinage housed in a beautiful neoclassical mansion.
* Museum of Greek Gastronomy – A museum/shop/restaurant for the foodie in us all.
* Museum of Popular Musical Instruments – Discover different instruments and styles of music.
* Lalaounis Jewelry Museum – Devoted to the art of jewelry and the decorative arts.
* Jewish Museum – Dedicated to Greece’s Jewish history and the Holocaust.
EATING IN ATHENS
In Athens, you can find cuisine from around the world, but of course you’ll want to try all the best Greek specialties! This city lets you sample Greek food from all parts of the country, served on the street, in traditional tavernas, in hip cafes and upscale restaurants. Here’s a list of some top Athens eats and eateries.
This category is about slow-cooked, traditional Greek recipes like momma used to make, what the Greeks call magrifeta. Typical dishes include:
- Moussaka (casserole of meat, eggplant and cheese)
- Pastitsio (casserole of meat, pasta and tomato sauce)
- Spanakopita (flaky, cheesy spinach pie)
- Gemista (a variety of veggies stuffed with a rice filling and baked)
- Briam (seasonal roasted veggies topped with fresh tomato sauce)
- Lamb Kleftiko (slow-cooked lamb seasoned with vegetables and herbs)
Where to eat it:
- Mana’s Kouzina-Kouzina, in St. Irene Square
- Karavitis Tavern, in Pangrati
- Mpakalotaverna, in Khalandri
- Diporto Agoras, in Monastiraki/Psirri
- Klimataria, in Omonia
Every nation has its favorite foods to eat on-the-go. Make a game to see how many of these you can find in the streets of Athens:
- Koulouri (soft-baked bread rings covered in sesame seeds)
- Pites (a variety of savory pies)
- Souvlaki (Greek fast food, skewered meat or gyro wraps)
Where to eat:
- To Souvlaki Tou Kosta (or Kostas), near Syntagma
- Kalamaki Kolonaki, in Kolonaki
- Or spot a friendly street vendor!
Meze, Greek appetizers, can be ordered as starters in a restaurant or taverna, or enjoyed as a full meal! There are also some “tapas bars” dedicated to these delightful small dishes. Here is a range of the hot and cold Greek meze you should try:
- Dolmadakia (grape vine leaves stuffed with a rice filling and steamed)
- Keftedes (Greek style meatballs)
- Kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters)
- Tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip)
- Fava (yellow split pea puree)
- Skordalia (thick puree of garlic and potato, or stale bread)
- Melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant dip)
Where to eat:
- Kapetan Michalis, in Omonia
- Or most tavernas and seafood restaurants
An expansive coastline and clean seas makes Greece a top destination for excellent, fresh seafood. Here are some dishes to try:
- Lambraki (sea bass)
- Bakaliaro (fried cod)
- Kalamarakia (fried calamari)
- Xtapodi (octopus, can be grilled or marinated as a meze)
Where to eat:
- Varoulko Seaside, in Piraeus
- Kapileio O Zaxos, in Piraeus
Typically dipped in honey, topped with nuts, filled with custard, or fried... Greek desserts are as sinful as they come. Here are some top sweet-tooth pleasers:
- Baklava (layered phyllo pastry with a rich, sweet syrup and nuts)
- Galaktoboureko (traditional custard pie or milk pie)
- Loukoumades (also street food! golden, sweet fried dough balls with toppings)
- Bougatsa (also street food! the sweet version is phyllo with custard filling)
- Kataifi (like baklava, but with a crispy shredded pastry)
Where to eat:
- Nancy’s Sweet Home, in Psirri
- Lukumades, in St. Irene Square
Epidaurus Festival: June to August. Presents theatrical performances built upon the ancient Greek tragedy and comedy plays, and held at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus and Ancient Stadium of Epidaurus.
Athens Open Air Film Festival: June to August. Outdoor film screenings set against the backdrop of the most distinctive monuments of Athens and unexpected locations that showcase the urban landscape to residents and visitors. Free to all.
CITY TOURS & DAY-TRIPS
Ask us for more information about any of these locally-guided trips and city walking tours listed below. We can arrange a private guide and driver for the day, or you could go with a join-in small-group tour.
* Delicious Athens Food Tour
* Greek Wine and Meze Tasting
* Dine With Locals
* Afternoon Tea and Greek Baklava Class
* Greek Cooking Classes
* City Streets and Eats
* The Olympic Games Workout
* The Myths of Goddess Athena, for Children
* The Enchanted Forest, for Children
* Greek Mythology Comics Workshop, for Children
* Mythology Storytelling Walk
* Mythology Highlights
* Urban Athens Neighborhoods
* Athens Street Art
* Best of Ancient and Modern Athens
* Athens Nightlife Tour
* Greek Designers Shopping Tour
* Saronic Islands Day-Trips – Poros, Hydra, Aigina & Spetses
* Ancient Delphi
* Awe-inspiring Meteora & its Monasteries
* Classical Greece Grand Tour: Delphi, Nafplio & Ancient Olympia
* Peloponnese Highlights: Mycenae, Nafplio & Ancient Olympia
* Cape Sounion and Temple of Poseidon
* Athens Riviera by Catamaran
Now you’re ready to start crossing some of these items off your list, for an unforgettable trip to Athens!
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