- Athens is more pedestrian friendly than it used to be (though some areas are still very pedestrian unfriendly). Check out the mostly car free archeological walk that takes in many of the amazing sites.
- Instead of paying for an expensive tour, rent an iPod Pocket tour audioguide to explore sites like the Acropolis. It’s much cheaper than hiring a guide, and you can go at your own pace.
- Wander the winding streets of Athens, popping in and out of cafes and bars along the way.
- Athens is a great place for art and culture. Explore the many smaller galleries, some of have combined with bars to offer coffee or other drinks
- Athens is surrounded by four mountains, providing plenty of opportunity for the outdoorsman. Hiking and biking in the various parks surrounding the city is a great way to get away from the traffic, smog, and tourist herds.
Why you should add Athens to your RTW travel list
- Greek coffee will kick your arse
- Get some culture, take in that “cradle of Western civilization” stuff
- The Parthenon and the Acropolis look even cooler in person
- Walk the same streets where Plato, Socrates and Hercules walked
- Cheap wine, great food – hello, Greek food, try some!
- From the city, soak in the sun and surf of the Greek Islands
Why you should not add Athens to your RTW travel list
- Athens went from very affordable to quite expensive in the past decade, however the economic crisis meant that hoteliers are doing their best to attract tourists and that results in lower prices. Especially during the low season, you’ll be able to find very affordable places to stay. In the high season, it’s a bit of another story.
- There will be instances when you’ll hold on to dear life when crossing the street – especially if you don’t use the pedestrian crossing – but, in general, you’ll be able to get around quite easily. If you don’t like the buses – which take ages to cross the busy city -, then the metro is a great way to get to the sites and all the way to the airport. Maps are excellent and they have the transliterated street names (Greek names in Latin characters) which makes it easy to get around because you’ll see the same names on the streets.
People who visited Athens many years ago will tell you that the place is a mess, but since the city hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics a lot has changed. Sure, there are still problems, but the city is cleaner and easier to get around in than ever before. New roads and a light rail system have been added that really clean up a lot of the problems that people used to complain about. The city's historical districts have also been renovated and now pedestrian-only streets lead visitors calmly throughout the city.
What To Do
But that said, Athens is still not paradise for tourists. This is a sprawling metropolis without much open space except for the Acropolis itself. It's best to come into town for a day or two and quickly see the fascinating sights and then move along, preferably to one of the famous Greek Islands that can all be reached by ferry from the nearby port of Piraeus, which is just a 30-minute subway ride away from central Athens.
Of course you'll want to visit the Acropolis and see the Parthenon as well as the other ruins and the small museum included in your admission fee. It's a slightly challenging walk up the hill, but it's well worth it. At the base of the Acropolis you'll find the ruins of the ancient city of Agoura. You can get a combined admission ticket to see both and they really go together well. The streets just north of the Acropolis are lined with shops and restaurants, and are a great place to grab a drink and a meal or just wander aimlessly.
The National Archeological Museum of Athens is another must-see. The amazing contents of this museum really help put Western history into a new perspective as you see art and other antiquities from centuries before Christ. Not far away is Syntagma Square, which is home to the Parliament Building and its quirky guard-changing ceremony.
You'll almost certainly arrive via a flight to Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport. Athens is a major transportation hub and is served by many discount carriers so good deals are often available. The airport is about 30 km outside the center, but it's on the subway line and is also accessible by direct shuttle buses.
Where To Stay
There are plenty of hostels in Athens and also loads of hotels in Athens, but the city is very spread out so it's important to research your exact location before you just reflexively book the cheapest place. If you are only staying for a day or two it's worth paying a bit more to stay near the center. The area around Syntagma Square is filled with places to sleep and is also the best hub for local transit.