We’ve been lucky enough to visit Athens on two occasions, first in April 2014 and most recently in May 2017. Both visits were excellent, and we discovered some amazing places as well as finding some hidden gems throughout the city. Personally, if we were to visit again, I would visit in April or September, as by the time of our visit in mid-May the temperature was rising and many of the sights offer limited shade from the scorching sun.
Of course, Athens’ number 1 attraction is the Acropolis, home to the Parthenon. This is a must visit, and is amazing to see, however is very much another reason to visit the city off peak. There is evidence of the hill of the Acropolis being inhabited since the 4th millennium BC, however the main construction of the complex was in the fifth century BC, co-ordinated by Pericles.
The Acropolis complex consists of a number of a number of temples including the Parthenon (a temple dedicated to Athena), the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion and entry is via the stunning Propylaia gateway. Entry to the Acropolis is €20 for adults, although a joint ticket can be purchased for €30 which also includes access to a number of other sites such as the Ancient Agora and Hadrian’s Library.
Areopagus Hill is across from the entrance to the Acropolis and provides stunning views of both the Acropolis and Roman Agora. Whilst still fairly busy, it is much quieter than the Acropolis and provides a great place to sit and regroup after exploring the Parthenon.
Areopagus historically functioned as a court for trying various crimes such as deliberate homicide, wounding and religious matters. One of the classical myths tells of Ares being tried at Areopagus by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. The hill is free to access, so make sure you visit when visiting the Acropolis.
Our favourite place to eat in Athens has got to be Rozalia, and although it is slightly tricky to find, it is well worth the trip. We initially decided to try this local Taverna as it appeared in both of the guidebooks, we had purchased for our first visit to the Greek capital.
Rozalia has the perfect combination of amazing food, great prices and a wonderful atmosphere. A restaurant full of locals is always a good sign, and with a litre of local wine for just a handful of Euros, it is a great place to celebrate or just enjoy your holiday. To make things easier, the link to Rozalia’s location on Google Maps is here!
Mount Lycabettus & Funicular
Once you’ve been to Rozalia, you’re just a short walk from the bottom of the funicular railway up to the summit of Mount Lycabettus. The funicular was built in the early 1960s by the Greek Tourist Organisation and was opened in April 1965. The line runs entirely in a tunnel from Aristippou Street up to the Chapel of St. George near the top of the hill.
Mount Lycabettus is another great place for views across the city and is also home to the Chapel of St. George, a theatre and a restaurant at its peak. The funicular railway is open from 9am until 2.30am and is €5 for a one-way trip or €7.50 for a return.
If you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, hop on a bus down to Vouliagmenis Lake and the natural spring that provides water of the perfect temperature to relax in. Tiny fish inhabit the lake and provide a spa treatment for your feet whilst the enclosed location provides peace and tranquillity and a place to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The lake is open from 8am until 6pm and entry is €8. The water is between 21- and 29-degrees year-round so perfect for swimming, however, be aware sunscreen is not allowed in the lake so you must take a shower before having a swim. There is plenty of information about the lake online, including how to get there, although if you have a hire car, free parking is available.
Monument of Philopappos
The Monument of Philopappos sits atop Mouseion Hill and is another great place for getting views of the Acropolis, city of Athens as well as the port town of Piraeus. The monument is also the mausoleum of Philopappos who died in 116 AD. The 173 acres of the hill on which the monument is sited is an archaeological park and is home to indigenous birds such as the Athenian Owl and Peregrine Falcon.
Currently the monument and park are free to access, however residents of local neighbourhoods have been fighting the plans of the Ministry of Culture to fence off the site and restrict access by imposing opening hours and an entry fee. Interestingly, Since the early 2000s, many visitors to the site have climbed the hill in order to “pour one out” for fallen friends and relatives in a simple act of remembrance. It used to be the case that these visitors would use alcoholic drinks, but the impact on the rocks the alcohol would cause was a concern and, nowadays, you will only see these “pouring out” ceremonies or “vaskas” performed with water.
Another great place we discovered to eat was the Tapas bar of Rakaiko which is hidden in a side street back from the harbour front in Piraeus. We tired this place in a last hope after failing miserably to find somewhere to eat around Athens’ port town, however we extremely happy by the time we left.
Located in a former arcade of shops, the restaurant had an excellent choice of food in a colourful but peaceful setting. Given the chaos of the port town outside, it was surprising to not only find this place but also to see how quiet it was inside, despite the end of the arcade being open to the street.
Changing of the Guard
Back in the centre of Athens, make sure to check out the Changing of the Guard which happens in front of the Parliament building every Sunday at 11am. The uniform of the Evezone’s is unique to say the least with white tunics and boots with pompoms helping to further make the changing of the guard an event worth seeing.
The Changing of the Guard, and hourly sentry change, happen in slow motion, supposedly to allow the troops circulation to resume after standing motionless during their guard duty. Despite the odd look of the uniforms, these troops are some of the most elite in the Greek military and so are certainly well placed to protect the country’s parliament.
From one parliament to another, the Old Parliament building of Athens is now home to National Historical Museum. The building was home to the Greek parliament from 1875 until 1935 and the central chamber of the building still houses the benches of the parliament. The building saw some significant events through it’s time hosting the Hellenic parliament including the assassination of Prime Minister Theodoros Deligiannis in 1905 and the declaration of the Republic in 1924.
The National Historical Museum is the oldest of its kind in Greece having been founded in 1882. The collection housed in the museum contains items from 1453 right through to the Second World War and especially emphasises the period of the Greek Revolution. The museum costs €3 to enter, however is free on Sundays and certain holidays.
Our very last destination in Athens was the peace and tranquillity of the National Gardens. To the side of the Parliament building this 38 acre site was commissioned by Queen Amailia in 1838 and was completed in 1840. The garden was designed to contain over 500 species of plant, however the dry Mediterranean climate meant many did not survive.
The gardens also contain a number of ancient ruins as well as a small menagerie of animals and is open from 6am until 7.30pm. If you’re looking for something free for a couple of hours, the gardens are the place to come, allowing you to either roam and explore or just sit and read a book, the tranquility provided is second to none in Athens.