Equally characterized by grace and unkemptness, Athens is an intoxicating blend of history and restlessness. The social and cultural life of this city takes place around and within the ancient monuments, on which looms the magnificent Acropolis, and an inexhaustible energy permeates its art galleries, the political debates of its inhabitants and the street art. Visit it with an open mind to random discoveries and you will surely be rewarded. To help you see the best the city has to offer, here is a practical three-day itinerary.
To find your way around, take a walk in the city centre starting from the famous Acropolis, where the Parthenon guards the city from above, then continue to the Roman Agora: in Roman times this area was home to the Athens market, which occupied a larger area than is visible. From the outside you can see a good part of the site, but we recommend that you enter to get a closer look at the well-preserved Porta di Athena Archegetis, the propylaeum (entrance) of the market, the Ottoman mosque and the ingenious and beautiful Tower of Winds. Don’t miss the Ancient Agora, which from the sixth century BC was the commercial, political and social hub of Athens: here Socrates expounded the principles of his philosophy and St. Paul preached the Gospel.
Have lunch with a souvlaki (the local fast food) in the legendary Thanasis, ideal for watching the bustle of passers-by and for kebabs with pita, grilled tomatoes and onions. Finally, look at the shop windows at Adrianou in Plaka.
Then reach the Acropolis Museum, which displays the treasures found on the site, illustrating the various historical periods through their stratification and devoting particular attention to the fifth century BC, considered the height of the artistic development of Greece. Under the glass floors are visible the remains on which the museum was built.
At sunset, join the crowds walking in Dionysiou Areopagitou and climb the Hill of Filopappou, also called Hill of the Muses. Together with the hills of the Prince and the Nymphs it was, according to Plutarch, the place where Theseus and the Amazons faced each other in battle. Today, this hill covered with pine trees is a relaxing place to take a walk, as well as a strategic point to photograph the Acropolis. On this hill there are also some very suggestive ruins.
Have dinner at the Strofi with grilled meat and fish in front of the Acropolis. Watch an outdoor movie at Thission or Cine Paris in Plaka. If it’s cold, have a drink at Brettos: small, deliciously retro and with glittering walls of bottles and large barrels, it offers wines, ouzo, brandy and other homemade liqueurs.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier watch the evzones (guards) parade in uniform, then reach the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture: a museum that presents all aspects of Greek culture throughout history, through extensive collections.
Head south through the gardens of the Byzantine and Christian Museum, which include ancient ruins, including a section of the Pisistratus aqueduct, and continue to the ancient Panathenaic Stadium (an ancient stadium built in the 4th century BC and restored for the first modern Olympics in 1896) then to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in Greece and probably one of the longest projects in history, having been started in the 6th century BC and completed in 131 AD. Finish the tour and the Arch of Hadrian, erected in 132 AD, to mark the boundary between the new monuments built by the emperor and the ancient city.
Have dinner at Pangrati al Mavro Provato, or go to Monastiraki, where Mana’s Kouzina, a restaurant specializing in mayirefta, Greek home cooking dishes cooked over low heat, located near bars such as Six d.o.g.s. and Noel. If you prefer to have a snack, Athinaidos has several bars.
Start with the National Archaeological Museum, which exhibits the world’s most prestigious collection of Greek antiquities. In its vast nineteenth-century neoclassical palace you can admire room after room over 10,000 sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, frescoes and other artifacts, which you will not be able to do full justice in a single visit. In any case, you will surely be amazed by every object on which you lay your eyes.
You can then walk or bus to Athens’ Central Market, a must for gourmets. The historic Varvakios Agora is home to the meat and fish markets, filled with brightly-eyed fish and lamb carcasses. Its sellers are known to ignore European hygiene directives and still use massive wooden shelves. Go in the morning or late at night, as there are taverns that are always open.
Have lunch at the Agoras Pleasure one of the best restaurants in Athens, without signs. The double door opens onto a rustic wine cellar, where you won’t find a menu. The main specialty of the house is the revithia (chickpeas), which you can follow with grilled fish and accompany with wine tapped from huge barrels. The often distracted service is part of the charm of this place.
With your stomach full, go to Kolonaki to see the shop windows or other museums: the Cycladic Art Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum are both beautiful. At sunset take the funicular of the Lycabettus Hill from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the city and Attica, then get off to dine at the Filippou, always crowded with Athenians who appreciate the renowned home cooking of this classic tavern opened in 1923, at the Oikeio, with outdoor tables that allow you to watch the bustle without paying a steep bill.
Finish with a cocktail in one of Syntagma’s fantastic bars, such as Gin Joint or Galaxy Bar. If you prefer a beer, opt for Exarchia, known for its graffiti and anarchists, and is inhabited by a diverse population, including students (near the university), artists, immigrants, families and old leftist activists.