December 01 , 2022
If there’s one message the Athens tourist board wants to get across to visitors – and we heartily concur – it’s this: add another day in Athens!
If you’ve visited the Greek capital before, or if the Parthenon is still on your bucket list, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Athens is only about the Acropolis hill and ancient remains. You may have visited several years ago and the city itself didn’t impress you that much, or you came away with an impression of urban grit and graffiti. Well, we have to say, after our team trip in November, all of us came away with a whole new appreciation and love for the city – Athens is exciting, and it’s making a big comeback after the pandemic.
Athens outdoor cafes. Photo by Shanon Baldwin
As tourists and locals have returned with gusto to metropolitan pursuits, there are loads of new cafes, bars, restaurants, boutiques and shops, hotels and cultural attractions. The city looks clean and fresh, and the streets invite you to explore, shop, eat and sit awhile over an iced frappe or tsipouro and meze. Downtown area buildings have been renovated with investment funding following the country’s financial struggles, and less appealing structures from the post-war period of mass construction are getting attractive makeovers.
Athens street near Acropolis hill. Photo by Shanon Baldwin
So how many nights should you spend in Athens? We recommend at least 3 nights. Currently most North American visitors only stay 2 nights in Athens before moving on to the Greek islands. However, a recent survey from GBR Consulting found that 7 in 10 tourists rate the city better than they expected, and 97% would like to visit again. So, you can be sure, if you add another night in Athens you won’t regret it! We recently stayed 4 nights in the city, and it gave us enough time to experience the ancient archaeological sites, the cuisine, the Athenian Riviera out to Cape Sounion, and the unique neighborhoods.
Have we convinced you to spend more time in Athens?
After you’ve walked the main landmarks from Syntagma Square to the Ancient Acropolis, that’s just the tip of the Athenian iceberg. Among the many highlights of modern Athens, here are a few:
Food & Drink
The varied neighborhoods of Athens deserve their own deep dive in a separate article, but for now you just need to know that there are exciting things going on in the city’s food scene, especially in areas like Exarchia, Koukaki, Pangrati and Psyrri. It’s best to let a local guide or gastronomic tour lead you through the different tastes of the city. Take an evening for a wine and meze experience, and another day you could join a market tour with a cooking class.
Athens baked goodies. Photo by natasha ong on Unsplash
Arts & Culture
Athens is an exciting mix of ancient and contemporary, and the last several years have welcomed two new art museums – the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) and the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation. Also, the National Gallery re-opened after extensive renovations. In 2016, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) was unveiled on the seaside – the center includes the Greek National Opera, the National Library, and a large green park. Guarding the esplanade here is ‘Maman’, a towering bronze mother spider sculpture made by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois.
National Gallery of Athens, re-opened in 2021
The cultural offerings don’t stop when the sun goes down! Head to one of the city’s 75 rooftop bars to see the lights of the Acropolis and across Athens. Athenians stay up late and eat late, so you have plenty of time to rest after sightseeing then head back out to enjoy an acclaimed bar or outstanding meal. Also, Athens is known for its outdoor cinemas, where you can catch a summer concert or movie screening. You might get lucky and catch the annual Open Air Film Festival.
Acropolis rooftop view. Photo by Hristo Sahatchiev on Unsplash
Sand & Sun
Most people don’t come to Athens to swim, but the Athens Riviera is a wonderful place to spend the day between May and October. In fact, you won’t really understand the Athenian way of life unless you join the locals in their favorite pastime. There is a long stretch of beaches with clear blue waters and great amenities, including Glyfada, Vouliagmeni, Astir, Varkiza and more. The coastal tram will get you as far as Glyfada and Voula (not Vouliagmeni), but it’s best to take a taxi or rent a car to see more of the riviera. At Lake Vouliagmeni, trade the beach bars for a more chill spa-like experience and enjoy the mineral waters and beautiful surroundings.
Lake Vouliagmeni. Photo by Shanon Baldwin
Island Day Trip
Did you know that Athens has its own group of islands in the Saronic Gulf? You can take a ferry ride or join a boat trip to hop over to one or more of these islands in a single day. Get a taste of the Greek isles including unspoiled nature, ancient ruins, beautiful beaches and traditional tavernas. The nearest islands include Spetses, Hydra, Poros, Aegina and Agistri. A bit further away, good for an overnight stay, are the western Cycladic islands of Kea and Kythnos.
Poros Islands. Photo by Ernests Vaga on Unsplash
You know Athens as the gateway to the Greek islands, but it’s also on the doorstep of the Peloponnese, home to some of the most legendary sites of ancient Greece. Within a few hours’ drive, you can reach the Corinth Canal, Mycenae and Epidaurus. There are also romantic medieval towns like Nafplion and Monemvasia that really deserve their own overnight stays. One of the most popular day trips takes you to ancient Delphi, in a magical setting on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus.
Ancient Delphi. Photo by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay
To really appreciate Athens, one day or even two is not enough! Like the wise owl – the symbol of the goddess Athena – keep your eyes open and let the city reveal its secrets to you.