No city juxtaposes old and new like Athens, Greece. After you trace the origins of democracy to the Acropolis and Parthenon, you’ll cozy into one of the world’s best bars for craft cocktails, backdropped by city-approved street art. You can stay in a regal, 150-year-old hotel that helped host the 1896 Summer Olympics, or you can stay upstairs from a new-age food market in industrial-chic modernity.
Athens is an easy place to conquer in a long weekend, but only in regards to its core monuments and museums. It’s between those ancient stadiums and new-age cultural centers that you’ve got to make time for endless nights out, hours-long lunches to savor Mediterranean flavors (the tomatoes, olives, and feta are basically bottomless), plus high-end shopping that attract all interests.
If you want a taste of it all—from bay-side beaches to hill-top temple ruins to world-class seafood—then here’s a long-weekend guide to check all those boxes.
Where to Stay in Athens
Hotel Grand Bretagne: You can see the Acropolis from nearly anywhere in Athens, but no view compares to the sunrise vantage of Hotel Grand Bretagne. And that’s fitting, given that Grand Bretagne seems to one-up everyone else in the city on amenities and guest experience. They hit the perfect cross section between leisure and luxury, between the outdoor pool (a Greek godsend during the cloudless summer swelter), the experiential spa and indoor pool, amply stocked fitness center, business-casual cigar lounge, and high tea in the stately but sumptuous Winter Garden City Lounge. Be sure to cozy up at Alexander’s Bar for a tipple, too, with a storied selection of liquors. (It has a stunning 18th-century tapestry draped over the bar, and was named Best Hotel Bar in the world by Forbes.) They’ve got 320 rooms and suites in over a dozen configurations, all dripping in regal furnishings that’ll make you feel like royalty. By request, you can also book on the Butler floors for 24/7 on-demand service from the hotel’s butler staff. Also, if you brought your best duds on vacation, button them up and book a dinner at the GB Roof Garden for a high-end Mediterranean feast.
ERGON House Athens: Food-centric ERGON didn’t start as a hotel, but it’s disrupting the city’s hospitality scene in a pleasant way. That’s because, in working with top-tier grocers, farmers, butchers, bakers, and fishmongers, the ERGON House team has learned a lot about hospitality and quality. They’ve applied those principles to the new “rooms above the inn” that are accessible by elevator from ERGON’s ground-floor fresh-food emporium. (Side note, this is also where hotel guests eat a five-star, made-to-order breakfast at Agora, in the market itself.) Each room features wood and steel, with modern furnishings sourced from around Greece. Once the sun sets, head up to Ergon’s rooftop bar Retiré, for a nightcap and—you guessed it—a glowing Acropolis view.
What to Do in Athens
Acropolis and Parthenon: If you have just one day in Athens, then it should be spent exploring the Acropolis, admiring the Parthenon and tracing the roots of democracy and western civilization. However, you won’t be the only one heading up the hill that day. You’ll be one of thousands—and the lines can get long and the sun can get hot. So, do it smartly: Book a guided tour to get priority entrance at early hours, when the sun isn’t scorching. This tour will also provide proper context on the historic site, as well as the surrounding grounds, which are equally significant (you might otherwise mistake them for a pile of rocks and patches of grass). We’d recommend GetYourGuide’s Original Acropolis Tour, which takes just two hours to cover all the essential stops up the hill. It’ll fill in the blanks on the Acropolis’ numerous ruins, like the Theatre of Dionysus, the Erechtheion Temple, Temple of Athena Nike, and Propylaea. You’re remiss to come all this way and not dive deep into its history, and this guided tour is immersive without being overwhelming.
Acropolis Museum: Entrance to the Acropolis Museum is separate from the historic site itself, but is just as requisite on your stay. They’re nicely paired back to back, as the museum houses a permanent collection of artifacts gathered and preserved from the Acropolis itself, over various centuries.
Mount Lycabettus: Plan a sunset visit to Athens’ other city-center hill, Mount Lycabettus, which is some 300 feet higher than the Acropolis. It’s got a verdant base and is accessible by a cash-only cable car (or a 60–90 minute hike). Book a table at Orizontes and dine into the evening as you watch all of Athens light up below.
National Garden: At the rear of the Greek parliament building, the National Gardens make for a shaded respite from traffic. On these former royal grounds (which span 38 acres), you’ll find everything from palm trees to ancient ruins.
Panathenaic Stadium: This marble stadium was built nearly 2,300 years ago (566 BC), and served as an Olympic facility in both the 1896 and 2004 games. It’s also where the Olympic torch is handed to the host country of each games. It’s 5 euros to enter, and you can even climb to the 21st row for a panoramic view of the city—or arrive early in the morning for a run around the historic track (which is obviously not made of marble).
A Ruin Crawl: Make an afternoon of visiting some of Athens’ most prominent ruin sites, many of which circle the base of Acropolis. Here’s an easy route that should take a couple hours at most:
1. Temple of Olympian Zeus and Arch of Hadrian, at the southwest end of the National Garden, and south east of Acropolis.
2. Roman Forum and Hadrian’s Library, north of Acropolis
3. Temple of Hephaestus, Ancient Agora, and Kerameikos cemetery, northwest of Acropolis.
4. Odeon (amphitheater) of Herodes Atticus, partway up the hill on the southwest end of Acropolis.
National Archeological Museum: This permanent collection of ancient Greek art and artifacts is the world’s largest. You’re in store for prehistoric and preserved wall paintings, Archaic sculptures, Cycladic treasures, and Egyptian antiquities.
Museum of Cycladic Art: The museum is dedicated to Cycladic and Aegean art and artifacts—like sculptures and ceramics—in addition to rotating exhibitions. Cycladic times, for the uninitiated, span 3300–1100 BCE. Also, the ground-level cafe itself is worth a visit.
Explore Plaka, Monastiraki, Kolonaki, and Psyri: Budget a couple hours to meander Athens’ varied and vibrant neighborhoods like the Greek island vibes of Plaka, the artisan-fueled Psyri, ruin-lined Monastiraki, and high-end Kolonaki. There’s no shortage of restaurants, bars, and cafes in any of them, all located near the heart of Athens.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and Onassis Stegi Cultural Center: You’ll find these two cultural centers south of the city center, hosting exhibitions, events, and performances. Be sure to check the calendar at each center in advance of your visit. You can also spend a lazy day at Stavros Niarchos taking a guided tour (which includes the National Library and National Opera), or catch the lunchtime and evening dancing fountain shows, which utilize 59 vertical jets and 10 swiveling fountains.
Astir Beach: If the weather suits swimming and sunning, then book a lounger at the newly reopened and renovated Astir Palace—a stellar 5-star accommodation if you wish to stay outside the center—and enjoy the Saronic Gulf expanse with drinks and seafood from nice n easy SEASIDE.
Where to Eat and Drink in Athens
Papadakis: Famed chef Argiro Barbarigou runs this homey space, serving classic seafood and Greek fare. Have your centerpiece meal here.
nice n easy: Gourmet, modernized Mediterranean in an unpretentious environment. Perfect for a hungover (or perfectly spry) brunch.
Tavern Klimataria: Your traditional Greek tavern experience, done exactly as you dreamt it—down to the homemade recipes and live music.
TsiknaBoom: A divey, counter-service joint serving impeccable Greek staples. Rumored to have the best souvlaki in town. (I didn’t try all the souvlaki in town, but this was top of my list, too.)
Ipitou the Bar: Get a nightcap and sit by the street, savoring Athens’ buzzy warmth. (And your inevitable buzzy warmth, after two or three drinks.)
Nolan: Greek, German, and Asian fusion and one of the city’s most buzzed-about new spots. Definitely make a reservation ahead of time.
Baba Au Rum: An “avant-garde” cocktail selection with an equally trendy crowd to match.
Cantina Social: A 20s and 30s crowd mingling over good-vibe music and craft cocktails.
TAF Coffee: This is where the espresso enthusiasts go, as well as anyone who respects themselves enough to drink the best coffee in town.
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