Welcome to my travel guide of how I experienced Athens, Greece. I have included tips and ideas for where to eat, what to do and how to do it all on a backpackers dream solo travel budget without feeling limited. I hope this is helpful, or maybe just interesting, for you!
My trip to Athens is part of a larger trip to the region: Santorini to Zagreb. I started in Santorini and after Athens will venture on to Central Greece, Thessaloniki and beyond into Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and 5 cities in Croatia. For more of my travel information, feel free to browse and I hope you will subscribe and follow along!
Time of Year
I visited Athens in August 2021 when travel was still on the quiet side of things. August is actually a great time to visit because many people go to the islands during this time causing Athens to become less crowded. However, the heat can be extreme in the summer and the city gets very hot and humid.
I stayed at the Cosmopolit Hotel. It was basic but neat, budget friendly, good location with walking distance into the city center and right off of the train line. It is about one street into where a sketchy part of Athens begins yet still safe and quiet, right next to the police station. I was happy with this simple lodging as I didn't spend much time at the hotel anyway. But I would recommend looking into other hostel and hotel options.
I found Athens to be a very walkable city. I booked a car straight from the airport to my hotel in Athens so it all went smoothly getting in. Apart from that, I walked everywhere! A lot of recommendations for the classic red hop on hop off bus (it also has some great options for day trips as well as making sure you get to all the tourist sites). When leaving Athens for the next city in Greece, I walked to the train station which was very nearby.
Acropolis at sunset
Temple of Olympian Zues and a number of other smaller historic ruins
Kapnikareas Square, church and shops
Zappeion Gardens and Aegali Zappiou
The Hellenic Parliament building
Street farmers market
Plaka (fantastic restaurants)
Changing of guards at any of the major sites/buildings
City walking tour
Shopping (see store ideas below)
Time your visits to any historic buildings at the time of changing of guards
If you have a student ID, bring it and use it! Most sites are free or discounted.
Pay to enter acropolis, skip the entrance to the others as most sites are scattered through out the city and very visible without entering.
Do most of your walking and touring early morning and late afternoon/evening in summer months
Use save to list on google maps so that all the places you hope to go are pinned along the way as you walk, you will see so much more in an efficient way.
Rack up your airline miles, my return flight was free with just a $200 top up.
And if you ever get the opportunity again…travel when the rest of the world isn’t!
The first slow morning in Athens I started off at the apollonion bakery just outside of the hotel. Of course I ordered the spinach pie and a cappuccino and absolutely loved both! I worked at a greek bakery in Chicago where the owner's grandmother made spanakopita and I’ve always loved them ever since then. So this felt like a dream to be eating spanakopita from a bakery in Greece while looking at beautiful historic monuments and then later finishing it off in the Zappion gardens while reading, all with a view of the acropolis, the Panathinaic Stadium, the Saronic Gulf, mountains, hills, expansive city and gorgeous greenery.
Rather than doing any tours, I took Athens at my own pace and saw all the historic sites and places I had saved to google maps list by walking around, kind of getting lost intentionally if you will.
Although walking tours are my favorite way to get to know any city and Athens has fantastic options, I opted to do my own wandering around as I was slowly adjusting after not traveling for so long due to the pandemic which that combined with an unknown country and language, plus the travel and heat exhaustion.
I knew I had to go for a gyro for lunch. But switched it up when I found a unique vegan restaurant and this vegan mushroom gyro was incredibly delicious!
After more touring and seeing the changing of the guards, I stopped in at an amazing locally made store full of teas, herbs, spices, and all sorts of cooking and food items. Wine and specialty alcohols, candies, health drinks and so much more. Across the street was an incredible fabric store full of custom made pieces. I also enjoyed going to the birkenstock store in Kapnikareas square, tweens boutique, thrift stores and other shopping.
Before heading back, I checked out a few restaurants in Plaka and knew I would come back here the next day.
The next day, I wandered away from the city center and spent time in one of the neighborhoods. This reminded me so much of Albany Park, Chicago (where I went to University) and the whole city often reminded me of Chicago (they are indeed, sister cities)! I stopped in thrift stores and other boutiques, an outdoor cafe for lunch, a wonderful street market full of fresh produce and more. Then I went to the train station to book my ticket for the next day and walked back to ensure that it would be an easy morning the next day.
After spending some time relaxing at the hotel, I got ready for a late afternoon tour at acropolis as well as ending my time in Athens meeting up with a friend for drinks in Plaka, a short walk from acropolis and stunning after the sun sets.
This was definitely the highlight of Athens for me. It was the walk there, the time spent within, seeing the changing of the guards, the color of the ancient ruins as the sun reflects at golden hour and the temperatures die down and then communally watching the sun set over all of Athens from such an amazing panoramic vantage point!