Last updated on January 8th, 2018
My Athens Guide for a weekend
Trying to decide what I could include in my Athens Guide on this post, proved to be nearly impossible.
What can one write about for a city that spans back at least 3 Millennia?
To make it even harder, what can I include in my Athens Guide that could satisfy the curiosity of a first time visitor in this vast city?
Athens has so much to offer to its visitors. So much history and culture. So many cool neighbourhoods to explore. Different events which are taking place throughout the year.
Each area of Athens is like a self-contained city waiting to be discovered.
If you enjoy a good meal, this is going to be your paradise. If you are a coffee addict like me – be prepared because in Athens, your addiction is about to become a lot worse. If on the other hand, you enjoy a vibrant nightlife scene, Athens never sleeps!
So rather than overwhelm you with a ‘one off’ post that covers everything, (well, nearly everything), let us start with one smaller piece at a time shall we?
1. The Parthenon
If there was just one reason to dedicate time and visit the Parthenon, this would be because it is the most important monument of Western Civilisation.
A UNESCO World Heritage sight makes it my Athens Guide must see even in your short, weekend visit.
I will not dive deep into its history here since there are millions of other pages doing that. I will mention however that the Parthenon dates back to 5th century B.C.
The Acropolis itself, the rocky hill that surrounds the Parthenon, was first inhabited between 3000 – 4000 B.C. Following the victory against the Persians between the 6th to the early 5th century B.C. this area reached its prime, under the rule and guidance of the mighty leader and politician of Athens, Pericles. Part of this transition back to Democracy, a number of monuments were conceived under a team of exceptional architects of the time. True visionaries of modern day architecture, Iktinos, Kallikrates, Mnisikles along with the equally talented sculptors, Pheidias, Alkamenes, Agorakritos.
These monuments include the Parthenon, Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the Temple of Athena Nike. They have survived for more than 2.500 years through many wars, bombardments, earthquakes, not to mention the looting of sculptures. They are still standing proudly today. Reminding us of their eternal resilience and beauty.
Are you sure you want to miss visiting them?
2. The Acropolis Museum
It is no coincidence that this museum ranks within the Top 10 in the world by many of the Travel Industry annual awards. It is one of my very favourite museums, (the other being the Archaeological Museum of Athens), and I feel so proud as a Greek when I visit this space.
Its history goes back to the 1800’s when Greece was forming its new state, free of the Ottoman Rule. Its construction went through many hurdles and many different stages. One of them being the discovery of a large settlement dating back to the Archaic and Early Christian eras at the same location proposed for the new Acropolis Museum. It finally opened its doors in 2007 on the historic pedestrian street of Makriyianni, right next to the original, though much smaller Acropolis Museum.
This modern architectural marvel, not only encompasses the conceptual clarity of ancient Greece , but its architects have managed to include the ancient settlement found on this site by beautifully displaying it right at the very entrance. Visitors have the unique opportunity to discover this find and admire its beauty and authenticity by walking right above it, on glass panelled walkways before entering the actual museum. One can visit this area, an experience by itself, free of charge before entering the museum. A typical example of Greek Hospitality in my opinion.
The top floor has 360-degree views of the entire area, including of course stunning views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. The Cafe & Restaurant is one of my favourite hang out spots in Athens with views to die for.
A whole other post can be dedicated to this museum alone!
3. THE ANCIENT AGORA
This area around Acropolis is comprised of many buildings and structures. It was the ‘heart of ancient Athens’. The focus of commercial, social and political activity. No visit would be complete without a wander around the streets of Plaka and the surrounding area to discover these ancient marvels.
It was occupied through the millennia without interruption and even served as a residential burial area as early as the Late Neolithic period, (3000 B.C.)
Some of these sights are:
Temple of Hephaestus
Stoa of Attalos
Stoa of Zeus
Altar of the Twelve Gods
South Stoa 1 and South Stoa II
Stoa of Hermes
It is indeed one of the best ways to see Athens, which is why I am including it in my Athens Guide – top 5 things to do in your weekend. It will feel like a ‘treasure hunt’ and give you the chance to walk around in some of the most historical and oldest streets of the world.
4. Monastiraki Flea Market
This area borders Plaka and the Ancient Agora and is very easily accessible from the Acropolis. Start walking down the pedestrian street of Dionysiou Areopagitou that becomes Apostolou Pavlou street and at its end, you will find yourselves on the south corner of Monastiraki.
No matter what you have in mind to find here, you will undoubtedly stumble upon it. Whether in its modern, or a more retro version.
This place is full of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. From antique stores to make-believe antique stalls. From restored furniture to old decrepit junk. Old lanterns, glassware, collectable items of all kinds, (coins, LP’s CD’s), and a huge variety of really cool bookstores. In fact, this is one of the fun things to do whenever I find myself in Athens.
I just love visiting these places, hidden in corners of small alleys. Filled with books you never even heard about before.
More modern stores are found along Ifestou street, the main street of Monastiraki Flea market. Here you will find clothes, shoes, leather bags, jewellery and just about anything else you can think of. This street is heaving with people parading up and down for most of the day. If you are not very good walking among large crowds, I would advise you to visit either early in the morning or later at night.
On Sunday mornings the actual flea market drops its anchor on Avissinias Square and the end of Adrianou street. A great way to see some really fun collections of trinkets, obscure items of no particular description, old jewellery and coins, (coin collector’s paradise), paintings and even clothes.
An excellent way to end your Sunday morning here is to head over to one of the many cafes lined up along the north side of Adrianou Str. It borders the Ancient Agora and it is the perfect spot to do some people watching. Enjoy some brunch with some of the best quality coffee you will find around.
There are more shops and ‘Palaiopolia’ (antiques and old stuff), around Ermou Street where it borders the Flea Market area on the South-East side. Monastiraki square is a vibrant place. You can stop there to have a rest and watch the world go by. It is, after all, the heartbeat of Athens, the most popular meet-up place to start or even finish your day.
5. Filopappou Hill
You will not find this place in many Athens guides. It may not even make it to the masses of books or websites that write about ‘Athens points of interest’. I am happy that this is the case though.
After all, this is my guide to Athens for your weekend. I don’t want it to be just another guide listing the same things that most people include in their recommendations.
Situated just across the entrance to the Acropolis it is my place of serenity in the vast city of Athens. A place for great hiking in the very centre of Athens. A place to admire the panoramic views of the city below you as far as your eye can see. Past the busy port of Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf.
A perfect vantage point for taking some pictures of the Parthenon from different angles. An area that spans across the South -West side of Acropolis and is home to:
Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris church, with its beautiful frescoes.
The monument of Julius Antiochus Filoppapos, a Roman administrator, located at the summit of the hill.
The meeting place for the ancient Athenians – the Assembly, where Themistocles and Demosthenes addressed the citizens of ancient Athens, (known as the Pnyx).
The National Observatory
Dora Stratou Dance Theatre, a living museum of Greek dances.
I have visited this hill on every visit to Athens. When I also lived there, it was the place I regularly went to gaze out to the Saronic Gulf and the sea, (which always calmed me and reminded me of home). Whether during the day or at sunset, it is the place I went to and photographed the city in its different lights, throughout all seasons.
Summing it all up
Athens cannot possibly be summed up in 2-3 days. You will always be missing out on visiting either important monuments, museums, (a whole post by itself), cool neighbourhoods, happenings or discovering the city at night.
I can safely say that having lived there and visited more times than I can count, it is one of the very few cities that never ceases to amaze me. I am always looking forward to discovering new things that pop up in Athens. The thrill of stepping into a place you have never been before will never abandon me whilst there.
This is Athens. A city of eternal light that lives through the millennia – a modern megalopolis and a never-ending museum of the past. Once its aura embraces you, it will never let you go.
Capital of Greece and one of the oldest cities in the world, (3,500 years)
Population: 3,753.000 million – the 61st largest city in the world by metropolitan area, (source)
Architecture: the architectural style of Athens is a mix of classical Greek and Greco-Roman to Neoclassical as well as an urban mix of styles.
Birth place of the Olympic Games: Athens was also the birth place for the modern Olympic Games and was a host in: 1896, 1906, 2004 and the 2011 Special Olympics.
Athens around the world: there are a staggering number of cities, (43), around the world that have adopted Athens as their name.
34 of which are in the USA,
1 in Canada
2 in Costa Rica
1 in Honduras
1 in Germany
2 in Italy
1 in Polland
1 in Ukraine
Entertainment & Performing Arts: Athens is home to 148 theatrical stages, (more than any other city in the world).