All too often Athens is used simply as a stopover before travellers hop on a ferry to the ever-alluring Greek islands, but as a city with a thousand stories to tell it deserves far more. Arguably the cultural capital of Europe, it’s worth visiting Athens for at least a few days to slowly peel back its historical layers while still finding time to uncover its burgeoning food, drink and art scene. Grand hilltop temples and ancient sites may be the city’s headline act but vibrant neighbourhoods, gritty architecture and a youthful creative movement are just some of the endless reasons to visit Athens on your next European city break.
Reasons to visit Athens:
The history and mythology
As the epicentre of worship to Athena – the Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare from whom the city derives its name – Athens is home to an array of awe-inspiring temples dedicated to all manner of gods and demigods. While the Parthenon was dedicated to the Goddess of Athena, the likes of Zeus – the all-powerful king of the Gods – and Dionysis, whose love of hedonism and debauchery spawned a wine-soaked cult among ancient Athenians, were also built great structures in their honour. Today visitors can still marvel at the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Theatre of Dionysus, both of which continue to stand proud more than 2,000 years since their construction.
While the Acropolis of Athens will always take centre stage, Athens is home to a whole host of other ancient sites that will take visitors on a fascinating historical journey. The Pynx, for example, is where the very concept of democratic assembly was born. Dating back to 507BC, the ancient site would welcome thousands of ancient Athenians who would gather to vote on important city matters including potential wars and major building projects.
A visit to the Ancient Agora provides visitors with the chance to retrace the steps of Socrates, Sophocles and Aristotle in what was the commercial and administrative centre of the city while what remains of Hadrian’s Library provides an insight into the monumental scale of the former library, music centre and lecture hall.
The photo opportunities
With ancient temples crowning its hills and jungle-like foliage decorating the buildings, Athens is a city that looks good at every angle and one that offers countless photo opportunities. From the early evening sunshine casting a delicious golden glow over Monastiraki Square to the cobbled streets of Plaka lined with pastel-hued houses and colourful furnishings, there’s always something to capture. Some of the best photo opportunities in Athens are undoubtedly the Acropolis of Athens and the Temple of Olympian Zeus while the characterful neighbourhoods of Psiri and Anafiotika along with the panoramas found at Mount Lycabettus and Filopappou Hill are some more examples worth pointing your lens at.
The epic sunsets
Thanks to an almost guaranteed dose of sunshine throughout not only the summer months but the rest of the year, a visit to Athens promises a fantastic line-up of world-class sunsets. Whether you choose to hike to the top of one of the city’s hills and mountains or simply seek out one of the many rooftop bars, there are plenty of places to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains surrounding the Attica Basin. Discover the best places to watch the sunset in Athens here.
The lack of summer crowds
At the height of summer, hundreds of Athenians abandon the city and flock to the nearby coast or neighbouring islands for a respite from the sweltering city heat. Additionally, the majority of tourists overlook Athens as a holiday destination and instead make a beeline directly to the Greek islands. While this may mean that a number of the bars, restaurants and cafes in Athens close their doors, it also means that the city is far quieter than you would expect in the middle of August and the lack of crowds is one of the best reasons to visit Athens during summer. Of course, there will always be some tourists queuing for the Acropolis and wandering the streets of Plaka, but the numbers are perfectly manageable at this time of year. What’s more, there are some great deals to be had on Airbnb, and if you’re a digital nomad you should be sure to consider staying in Athens during the month of August.
The vibrant nightlife
Running the gamut from high-end cocktail bars to grungy drinking dens, Athens boasts an eclectic nightlife scene. The rooftop bars are undoubtedly the real showstopper with each one boasting a different perspective of the Acropolis and the sprawling city skyline. A for Athens, Couleur Locale and 360 Cocktail Bar all offer views across Monastiraki Square and the Acropolis while the Metropolis Roof Garden is one of the best rooftop bars for watching the sunset. Back down on ground level, Six D.o.g.s hides a large secret garden right in the heart of town while away from the city centre Warehouse and Tanini Agapi Mou, which translates to Tannin, My Love, are two great spots for drinking among the locals.
The coffee culture
Athenians take their coffee incredibly seriously and you’ll soon come to realise that a freshly made ‘freddo’ is the most common accessory among the locals. Traditional Greek coffee is served unfiltered so be sure to ask for an Americano, cappuccino or iced coffee if you want something a little smoother. Taf Coffee, Mr. Bean, Kaya and Kaldi are some of the trendiest coffee shops in town with the latter offering a home delivery service if you’re staying in an apartment nearby.
The colourful street art
With everyone from bored teenagers to established street artists making their mark, Athens has morphed into a sprawling outdoor gallery with multicoloured murals decorating walls all across the city. Some artworks come as a result of organised government projects such as the Urban Act, which sees famous street artists dress the walls with giant illustrations, while many are born purely out of frustration with a recurring theme being the financial crisis in Greece. Whatever their origins, the works make for a spectacular display and when walking around the city you’ll see everything from subtle black cats sprayed onto the walls of Anafiotika to giant owls and colourful rabbits in Metaxourgeio and Psyri.