05 December 2022

How To Spend a Long Weekend in Athens

Last month, I left behind the grey, wintry skies of London and jetted off to Athens for four days of sun, sightseeing and great food and drink. Planning a trip to the Greek capital? My Athens city guide has all of my recommendations for things to do and places to eat, drink, shop and stay.

Like most people, I had a lot of trips cancelled in 2020 and I've been trying to recreate them all, as I did in Malta and New York. I'd wanted to spend my November birthday somewhere sunny in 2020 and, worried about cancellations, I only booked my city break in Athens ten days before my departure. I found a great hotel and did a lot of research. And then three days later, the UK went into full lockdown and I had to cancel. Almost exactly two years later, I finally made it to the City of the Violet Crown (well, the other one).


Acropolis now. The Acropolis, the UNESCO-listed ancient citadel perched on a rocky outcrop above the city, is, of course, the main event when it comes to Athens sightseeing. It's busy year-round so if you'd like to avoid the queues, try to arrive early and consider using the entrance near the Acropolis Museum on the southeast side. Other time-saving tactics involve buying your ticket online and buying a combo ticket that gets you into six other historical and archaeological sites too. The combo ticket costs €30, which is good value in the summer when the Acropolis entrance alone is €20, although less good value in the winter when it only costs €10 to visit the Acropolis.

It wasn't too busy when I arrived, just after 9 am, but by the time I left at 10:30, a lot of big groups had arrived and the steps up to the Propylaia were very crowded. Unsurprisingly, it can be a bit steep walking around the site, but the panoramic views from the top and the opportunity to gaze at the Parthenon up close make it more than worthwhile.

Athens views. I watched the sunset from Areopagus Hill one evening; the Parthenon was resplendent during golden hour. But the Acropolis is perhaps even more impressive when viewed from further away, rising above the city. For this, I first climbed Filopappou Hill (the view appears in the lead image), which is very close to the Acropolis. It only takes 15 minutes or so to walk to the summit and I even found a spot to do a quick leap.

The view from the top of Lycabettus Hill, northeast of the Acropolis, is even more impressive and well worth the steep climb (there's a cafe near the top if you need refreshments). You can see the whole city and out to the Aegean on clear days.

Museums, ancient and modern. I paid €5 to visit the Acropolis Museum, whose modern setting contrasted with its ancient exhibits. It was quite interesting and provided some historical context, which is useful if you didn't take a guided tour of the Acropolis. As for the other archaeological sites, like Hadrian's Library, the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora, it's possible to view them from the outside, if you just want a few glimpses.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), housed in the huge and striking former Fix Brewery building, was also a diverting way to spend an hour or so. There were some provocative exhibits and a great view from the rooftop.

Running in the footsteps of Olympians. If you're a keen runner, don't pass up the opportunity to jog around the track of the Panathenaic Stadium, the world's only all-marble stadium. The stadium was built for the 1896 Olympics on the site of an ancient stadium and it was also a venue for the 2004 Olympics. It costs €10 to get in (and note that they weren't taking card payments when I was there) and it's open to runners between 7:30 and 9:00 am. It's been a while since I've run on a track and it felt great!

The Temple of Poseidon and Cape Sounion. The weather was so nice while I was in Athens that I was keen to hit the beach or an island. But it was also the end of the season and I wasn't confident that the beach clubs I'd identified would still be open — a risk I wasn't willing to take given that a slightly complicated journey by public transport would be involved.

In the end, I decided to take a half-day tour to the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion, south of Athens. I feel that the tour was overpriced (€55), given that it just included the minibus journey there and back, with some commentary on the way. But other than renting a car, there aren't really other options and it was a beautiful drive along the Athens Riviera. We made one brief stop at Lake Vouliagmeni, a thermal lake where you can swim year-round, although we didn't have time for swimming.

As for the Temple of Poseidon, it's very impressive. You first catch a glimpse of it from afar, perched atop a hill overlooking the Aegean, and it only gets better the closer you get. The entry fee is €5 (not included in the tour) and you can walk around the site, getting views of the temple and out over the ocean. It was beautiful at golden hour. The only slight disappointment was that we were kicked out almost immediately after sunset, and it was one of those sunsets that exploded into vibrant pink and purple hues 20–30 minutes later. If you do the tour in the summer, you also get to go to a beach to swim, which, I think, would make it feel better value.


Looking for my Athens coffee recommendations? Check out my speciality coffee guide.

My hotel, Ergon House, is set around a central atrium featuring a deli, coffee shop and restaurant, which are open to everyone, not just hotel guests. My room rate included breakfast every day and all of the dishes I tried were tasty and very filling. My favourite was the poached eggs on the sesame-bagel-like koulouri bread, but I also enjoyed the scrambled eggs, avocado and smoked salmon on sourdough. The coffee is from the excellent Taf Coffee.

The big, brunchy breakfasts meant I wasn't able to sample other Athens brunch spots (the menus at The Rabbit Punch and The Underdog, in my coffee guide, looked particularly good). But I had an excellent lunch at Tzitzikas & Mermigas, which was recommended by a friend: a relaxed and welcoming all-day neighbourhood eatery serving Mediterranean fare. I had the roumeliotiko — shredded grilled pork and tomato served over a pita — which was wonderful. 

One pita wasn't enough for an Athens long weekend so I also stopped by Hoocut, a casual eatery where the chicken pita was top-notch. And for a sweeter snack, you have to go to Lukumádes, for freshly made Greek doughnuts; I had mine with a pistachio praline topping.

My favourite meal of the trip was at Nolan, a small, buzzy restaurant near Syntagma Square with warm service and a Greek–Japanese fusion menu. I started with one of their signature dishes: steamed rice with poached egg, truffle oil and parsley, whose umami flavours were incredibly moreish. Next up was the Nolan Fried Chicken, with all its crispy, juicy goodness. The cocktail menu wouldn't be out of place at a high-end fragrance counter! I was delighted with my lavender and wood Old Fashioned.

I also dined at Hytra, a Michelin-starred restaurant on the sixth floor the neon-accented Onassis Cultural Center south of the city centre in an area with a lot of business hotels and eateries. There are views of the Acropolis — just, although in the summer, the restaurant moves up to the seventh-floor rooftop. I selected the seven-course tasting menu along with three paired cocktails. The food was creative, exquisitely prepared and beautifully presented: the tomato with trout, peppers and a 'strawberry garden' and the pork belly were my favourite dishes.

Athens has two of the World's 50 Best Bars and I visited them both. On my first night, I had a nightcap (or two) at Baba au Rum, a lively bar with retro décor. It specialises in rum cocktails, as its name suggests, although other eclectic drinks are also available. My mai tai, made with the original 1930s recipe from Trader Vic's (of which there was sad news this week), was delicious.

At The Clumsies, an eclectic bar set across several rooms of a townhouse, I sat at the bar so I could chat to the expert bartenders and watch them at work. The menu is organised around different moods and feelings, from happy to excited. I loved my pink Dragonball, made with dragonfruit, and the Dark Side of the Moon was just as good. I couldn't quite manage their signature turquoise Aegean Negroni as well, but luckily, my hotel's deli sold a bottled version. If you're feeling peckish, they have a great gastropub menu too.

I didn't do a lot of shopping but I still found several great shops: The Naxos Apothecary (skincare and perfumes), Aiora Press (books), Zeus & Dione (fashion), Flaneur (creative souvenirs and gifts), Plegma and Forget Me Not (creative souvenirs and homewares). The deli at Ergon House is also a good place to shop for edible souvenirs — and gifts-to-self!


I stayed at Ergon House, a boutique hotel in the heart of the city centre, a short walk from the Acropolis and pretty much everything else. I'd booked to stay there in 2020, so I was glad to finally make it two years later. I stayed in a 'small' room (I paid €160 per night, including the aforementioned breakfast), which was plenty big enough for me and had beautiful modern décor and in-room coffee from Taf

There's a small gym and a rooftop bar, although it's closed in the winter. The hotel's huge 'agora' houses the deli, as well as a coffee shop and restaurant. The only slight negative for me was that my third-floor room overlooked the atrium and there was some noise from the restaurant until late. If, like me, you're a light sleeper, it's worth asking for a quiet room. 

Arriving and getting around
Athens International Airport is located about 20 miles east of the city centre. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the downtown area on the M3 Metro line. The fare is €9 (€16 for a return) and trains run about every 30 minutes. It's easy to get around central Athens and the main historical sites on foot, but the Metro, which has three lines, is cheap and convenient, and there's also a good network of buses and trams.

Greek is, of course, the official language of Greece and it's the Greek alphabet that is used. Most people in tourism and hospitality speak excellent English, but it will always go down well if you take the time to learn a few Greek phrases: Γειά σου (YAH-soo) is 'hello,' Γειά (yah) is more like 'hi,' Ευχαριστώ (eff-ha-ree-STO) is 'thank you' and Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LO) means 'please.'

Greece uses the Euro. Credit cards and contactless payments are widely accepted. The only time I needed to use cash was to get into the Panathenaic Stadium — they said their card machine was broken.

Power outlets
Greece uses the 'type C' European plugs with two round prongs.

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