Visiting Athens, Greece for the First Time – What You Need to Know Before Visiting Athens, Greece

Photo of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece - a must visit site if you are visiting Athens, Greece for the first time.

My Hun and I spent a wonderful 5 days in Athens Greece. Traveling from the United States, we navigated the city, saw the amazing sites, and learned about the culture, food, and people. In this blog I’m going to share with you, how to plan a trip to Athens, Greece – things to see and do in Athens and what you need to know before visiting Athens for the first time.

All About Athens, Greece

Why Visit Athens, Greece? What’s the history behind the city? Let me introduce you to the city of Athens. Athens stands as an irresistible destination for travelers seeking a rich tapestry of history, culture, and scenic beauty. It’s also the perfect central location to visit the many famous Greek Islands. With its origins dating back to around 3000 BC, the city of Athens, Greece was founded by the legendary figure Theseus, making it one of the oldest cities in the world! 

Located in the picturesque Attica region of southeastern Europe, Athens is celebrated as the “cradle of Western civilization,” offering visitors iconic landmarks like the Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. 

What you need to know before visiting Athens is despite economic challenges, the city thrives with its vibrant markets, cozy tavernas, flourishing artisan scene, and delicious cuisine. Whether it’s your first time visiting or your fiftieth, Athens offers a captivating blend of ancient wonders and modern charm.

To plan well for a trip to Athens, Greece, you need to know the city has multiple ways of saying its name. In the U.S. we say “Athens”, but it is written “Athena” in Greece. As you navigate the city, you might be surprised to find certain addresses in Athens listed as “Athena” instead of “Athens”, but it’s the same thing – the names are interchangeable.  

Naturally, the city of Athens, Greece, derives its name from the ancient goddess Athena, who was a central figure in Greek mythology. Athena was known as the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategy, warfare, and arts and crafts. She was celebrated for her intelligence, strength, and strategic thinking – all qualities that are fitting for the city today!

According to legend, Athena and Poseidon, the god of the sea, competed for patronage over the city. Athena won the contest by presenting the city with the olive tree, a symbol of peace and prosperity. In honor of Athena’s victory, the city was named Athens, and the olive tree became a symbol closely associated with the city.

Outside of ancient mythology, Athens follows Eastern European Time (EET), which is 7 hours ahead of the east coast of the U.S. and 10 hrs ahead of the west coast pacific time. Keep this time difference in mind if you need to reach anyone, or any business, in the city. 

If you’re looking into visiting Athens, Greece for the first time, one thing you need to know before visiting athens is…

How to Get to Athens, Greece

Photo of the Greek flag outside of Athens International Airport.
First time visitors in Athens, Greece will most likely arrive at the Athens International Airport.

You may be thinking, “Do I need a visa to visit Athens, Greece as an American citizen?” The answer is no, you do not! A visa is not required from U.S. citizens. Typically, U.S. citizens can stay in Greece for up to 90 days within a 180-day period without a visa for tourism purposes – isn’t this great news?! You can easily get to Athens by air, land, or sea. 

By air, the major airport is Athens International Airport, also known as Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH). It is the primary gateway for international and domestic flights to and from Athens and where you will likely fly into upon arrival. ATH airport is 45 minutes to an hour away from the city center. 

As for land, the main train station in Athens is the Larissa Station (Stathmos Larisis), which serves as a hub for both national and international rail connections. 

If traveling by sea, another significant station is Piraeus Station (Stathmos Piraios), located in the port city of Piraeus. Piraeus connects Athens to destinations in the Peloponnese and beyond. It is also where Cruise ships and ferries are located.

Whether you arrive by air, land, or sea… let’s talk about the…

Best Time to Visit Athens, Weather, and What to Pack for Visiting Athens, Greece for the first time

Photo of marble flooring in the streets of Athens, Greece.
I am still in shock at the amount of marble floors in the streets of Athens!

What’s the best time of year to visit Athens in terms of weather and crowds? Athens has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. As a Southern California native, this is my kind of weather!

If you are visiting Athens, Greece for the first time, the best time to visit Athens, Greece is between March and May and from September to November. August is holiday month – restaurants and shops may be closed and it is HOT, so try to avoid this month if possible. The rainy season is Nov-March, but if don’t mind rain for about 5 days a month may be able to score the best prices and deals during this time. 

We traveled in early October and the temperature was perfect. The climate generally offers pretty mild temperatures with highs/lows in the following seasons:

  • Winter: 56/45°F
  • Spring: 68/53°F
  • Summer: 90/73°F
  • Fall/ 74/60°F

Year round, it helps to pack a light jacket for the cool evening and morning temperatures. Sturdy shoes with a solid grip are necessary for traversing the many floors of Athens – concrete, gravel, stone, and most of all, marble! Athenians tend to wear a lot of black and gray colored clothing, but as long as you pack comfortable clothing suitable for walking all day you should be fine. 

Athenians tend to dress on the casual side but know how to get dressed up if need be. For that reason I would advise against dress shoes and high heels if you plan to walk to a diner establishment(perhaps take a taxi). No mater when you visit, always research the weather during your travel dates to pack appropriate clothing. 

Now that you know more about Athens, how to get there, and the best time to visit, let’s talk about…

Currency & Money Matters in Athens, Greece

What’s the local currency in Greece, and where can I exchange money? The currency in Greece is the Euro (€). when visiting Athens, Greece for the first time or anytime thereafter, you can exchange money at home through your local bank, AAA, or at an ATM at the airport. 

Are credit cards widely accepted in Athens, or should I carry cash? Credit cards are widely accepted in major establishments – we never had an issue paying with our credit cards. Be sure to check to see if your credit card charges a  foreign transaction fees (or not) and plan accordingly. 

It’s a good idea to have some cash on hand for smaller businesses, taxis, and markets. Nothing larger than a €20. And if asked to convert your bill to US currency, ALWAYS decline! Banks charge a high fee to convert on top of the exchange, not worth it!

What’s the cost of traveling in Athens, especially in terms of accommodation and dining? I’d say traveling to Athens is pretty affordable, compared to other European tourist spots like London or Paris. On an average night out, my Hun and I spent between €25-40 euros to eat for the both of us, sometimes even less! In terns of accommodations, hotel prices are very affordable in the off season. We spend less than $1,000 for the best suite at our centrally located boutique hotel in early October (the off-peak season).

Language & Communicating in English in Athens

The official language of Athens is Greek. While many people in the city and tourism industry speak English, learning a few basic Greek phrases can enhance your experience and interactions with locals. Greeks are known for their hospitality. 

As you are learning how to plan a trip to Athens, Greece – one question you may have visiting Athens, Greece for the first time is, How do I greet and interact with locals if I don’t speak Greek? First, let me say that English is widely spoken and we had no issues communicating in English – whatsoever.

However, to show respect, you can greet people with a smile and a “Kaliméra” [cali-mare-uh] (good morning), “Kalinychta”[cali-kneek-tah] (good night), or “Yasou” [yeah-soo] (hello). Yammas [yeah-moss] (cheers), “Efcharistó” [eff-are-reece-tow] (thank you).

Greek language uses Greek symbols, which are different from Latin based languages that use a majority of the same letter as we do in the U.S. When trying to navigate in the city to destinations, restaurants, shopping, etc, Google may take a few extra seconds to translate the words to English. If it doesn’t, majority of street signs have English spelling underneath. If not, recognize the symbols (reminds me of the baby game where you fit matching shapes in their respective holes). Find the shapes and keep it moving. 

To be extra prepared, download a language translation app to use on your trip. I use Google Translate on my phone, which can quickly translate text, voice, and image prompts to English (or your language). It’s free and it works pretty well! I also downloaded an offline map of Athens. In the event wifi or my cell phone service was unavailable, I always had a way to get around and communicate.

Again, I have to mention that all the menus and literature we read had English translations, we had no problems reading, communicating, or getting around.!

So we’re talking about how to plan a trip to Athens, Greece AND what you need to know before visiting Athens, so let’s talk about…

Best Accommodations in Athens, Greece

Where’s the best place to stay in Athens? The most popular and historical neighborhoods of Athens are located in the city center: Monastiraki, Syntagma, Plaka, Acropolis & Thissio. If you are visiting Athens, Greece for the first timeI recommend staying any any of these neighborhoods. I personally stayed at the The Editor Hotel, a boutique property in Monastiraki because it was centrally located, within walking distance to great restaurants, near the Flea market, a 17min walk to the Acropolis & museum, and a less than 5 min walk to the Monastiraki metro and train stations that will take you to/from the airport.

What are the best hotels with an Acropolis view? To be honest, these hotels with a good Acropolis view tend to be more on the higher end price point and offer rooftop dining views, not necessarily rooms with an Acropolis view (although some might). Regardless, here is a list of some of the best hotels in Athens with an Acropolis view:

Electra Palace Athens

Situated near Syntagma Square, the luxurious eco-certified Electra Palace Athens offers a prime location within walking distance of the Parthenon and Acropolis. Guests can indulge in spa treatments, Mediterranean cuisine at two onsite restaurants, and enjoy the poolside bar and rooftop terrace. The hotel boasts a seasonal outdoor pool, an indoor pool, and various amenities such as buffet breakfast, self-parking, and electric car charging. With 157 rooms featuring premium bedding, LED light bulbs, and eco-friendly cleaning products, guests also appreciate extras like pillow menus, flat-screen TVs, and designer toiletries. Positive guest reviews highlight the delicious breakfast, refreshing pool, and attentive staff, making Electra Palace Athens a top choice for discerning travelers.

Herodion Hotel

Conveniently located near Syntagma Square, the upscale Herodion Athens offers easy access to the Parthenon and Acropolis. Guests can enjoy complimentary continental breakfast, unwind with spa services, and savor Mediterranean cuisine at two onsite restaurants. The hotel features a rooftop terrace, a coffee shop/cafe, and amenities such as free in-room WiFi. Additional perks include bike rentals, a gift shop, and multilingual staff. With 90 rooms boasting air conditioning, free WiFi, and safes, guests appreciate the cleanliness and thoughtful touches. Eco-friendly toiletries, LCD TVs, and coffee/tea makers add to the comfort, while positive guest reviews highlight the delicious breakfast, helpful staff, and prime location, making Herodion Athens an ideal choice for travelers seeking both luxury and convenience.

AthensWas Design Hotel

AthensWas Design Hotel, a luxury establishment near the Temple of Olympian Zeus, offers proximity to the Acropolis Museum and Parthenon. Guests enjoy a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast, spa services, and free in-room WiFi. Additional amenities include limo service, express check-in/out, and babysitting options. With premium bedding, laptop-friendly workspaces, and thoughtful touches like rainfall showers and designer toiletries, rooms provide comfort and convenience. Positive guest reviews highlight the dining options, helpful staff, and prime location, making AthensWas Design Hotel an excellent choice for travelers seeking luxury and convenience in Athens.

King George, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens

King George, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens, a luxurious and family-friendly establishment near Syntagma Square, offers convenient access to the Acropolis and Parthenon. With amenities such as dry cleaning services, car rentals, and a bar, guests can enjoy a comfortable stay. The onsite Tudor Hall Restaurant serves Greek cuisine, while other perks include free WiFi, a 24-hour gym, and a business center. Additional amenities encompass a full breakfast option, express check-out, and childcare services. Individually furnished rooms feature premium bedding, air conditioning, and modern comforts, with positive guest reviews highlighting the hotel’s prime location. With thoughtful touches like rainfall showers, designer toiletries, and LED TVs, King George Hotel ensures a luxurious experience for its guests.

There are also a number of AirBnBs in Athens to choose from should you need a but more space (and a kitchen!). In addition to knowing where to stay, another important tip you need to plan well for your trip to Athens is learning…

How to Get Around Athens, Greece

How do I get from the Athens International Airport to the city center? It’s pretty easy, and you can take the metro, bus, or taxi. Overall, the trip takes 45min-1hr. 

What’s the best way to get around the city: public transportation, taxis, or walking if I am visiting Athens, Greece for the first time? Athens has an extensive public transportation system including metro, buses, and trams. You can buy a a single ticket or multi-day transportation pass for convenience. Walking is one of the best ways to get around. 

Does Athens Greece have uber? Yes…But it’s not your typical Uber experience. 

Do my answers to these questions sound a little vague? That’s because the answers to these questions require much more detail than what I can fit in this blog. In fact, I dedicated an entire blog to the topic of How to Get Around Athens on a Budget! I explain the different tickets, prices, maps, how to get to and from the airport, cruise port, and how to do so, step-by-step.

Activities & Attractions in Athens, Greece

Photo of large boats docked at the Port of Piraeus.
A day trip to the Greek Islands by boat sailing from the Port of Piraeus is a phenomenal way to get outside Athens city.

What are the must-visit historical sites and landmarks in Athens, like the Acropolis and Parthenon? As far as cultural sites, Athens is rich in history and boasts iconic sites like the Acropolis and the Parthenon, Ancient Agora, and Erechtheion. When visiting Athens, Greece for the first time, I recommend you plan your visits in advance and consider getting a combined ticket to access multiple sites. Again, there are nuances here that I don’t have the space to go into in this blog, but check out my What you Need to Know Before Visiting the Acropolis blog for details like how to get reduced price or free admission, where to purchase your ticket, and helpful tips to make your experience comfortable.

In addition, the National Archaeological Museum showcases a vast collection of ancient Greek artifacts, while the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Panathenaic Stadium offer further insights into Athens’ illustrious past.

Is Athens Greece near a beach? Yes! The Athens Riviera is located about 30-45 minutes away from the city and is accessible by tram. 

Are there any day-trip options from Athens that are worth considering? Absolutely! There are day trips you can take by land or sea. If you have time, consider taking day trips from Athens to nearby destinations.

Land Day Trips: Athens Riviera, Delphi, Thessaloniki, Cape Sounion. 

Greek Islands: Consider a day trip to one of the over 6,000 greek islands. Just an hour or two boat ride from Athens. Check out the Visit Greece Islands page to explore what each island has to offer. Some notable islands to look into are Crete, Naxos, Hydra and Aegina. We visited Agistri, Aegina, and swam outside of Moni in one day trip!

Continuing with How to plan a trip to Athens Greece, what you need to know before visiting Athens is the Food and Drink are amazing!

Food & Drink in Athens Greece

What’s the typical tipping etiquette in restaurants and for other services? What should I know about tipping if visiting Athens, Greece for the first time? Tipping is appreciated but not obligatory. Leaving a €1-3 tip in restaurants and for good service is common practice.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Athens? Yes! Tap water in Athens is generally safe to drink, but bottled water is readily available if you prefer.

What are some recommended authentic Greek dishes and where can I find them in Athens? For the local Cuisine, try traditional Greek dishes like moussaka, souvlaki, gyros, and Greek salads. Don’t forget to enjoy the local olives!

There a lot of recommended dishes to try, so much so that I created an entire blog dedicated to the best foods to try, where to find them, and other helpful restaurant recommendation tips. Check out my how I found some of the best food in Athens, Greece blog for more info!

What you also need to know about planning a trip to Athens is there are a lot of seating outdoors in the alley. It may seem odd at first but after one delicious meal, it becomes totally normal. Since the weather is nice, people like to enjoy meals outside if possible. Restaurants in Athens may encompass multiple levels. You can sit on the 3rd floor, 2nd floor, ground floor, or street level.

Speaking of multi-level restaurants, don’t be surprised if your GPS takes you to a restaurant underground! The entrance is below street level – almost like a basement! Looks sketchy but it is legit. The same goes for shops – just watch your step so you don’t fall down!

Staying Safe (Safety) in Athens

One of the biggest questions for solo female travelers, or any traveler really, is “Is Athens safe for tourists?” Athens is generally safe for tourists, but like any major city, be cautious of pickpocketing and keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas like the metro. 

There are not health precautions to travel to Greece at this time and no vaccinations required. If you need emergency assistance, dial 112 to reach medical, police, or fire personnel. 

Now that you’re equipped with essential information for planning your trip to Athens, Greece, let’s explore sample 1, 3, and 5-day itineraries to answer the burning question: How many days in Athens are sufficient?

Sample Itinerary – How Many Days Should I Spend in Athens, Greece?

Photo of a white church with a blue dome roof in Aegina, Greece.
Beauty awaits you on a day trip to a Greek island outside of Athens, Greece.

Honestly, spending 3 days is enough to see the major attractions, taste the local cuisine, and enjoy the sites. Most cruises only stop for 1 day. We stayed for 5 days. Here’s what I would do if I only had 1, 3 or 5 days.

1-Day Itinerary for Athens Greece (perfect for cruises)

  • Morning: Breakfast, grab a greek coffee, Immediately head to the Acropolis (2hrs) followed by the Acropolis Museum (2hrs)
  • Afternoon: Stroll through Plaka Neighborhood/flea market in Monastiraki
  • Grab a gyro or souvlaki platter for a hearty lunch.

3-Day Itinerary for Athens Greece

  • Day 1: same as the 1-day itinerary
  • Day 2: Add additional historic sites: temple of Zeus, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s library, National Archeological Museum.
  • Day 3: hands on food experience: food tour, cooking class, Michelin star dining by the water or inland…EAT! Parliament changing of the guard, National Garden, Greek dance lesson.

5-Day Itinerary for Athens Greece

  • More time to dig into the city and take day trips! Follow the 1-3 day itinerary 
  • Day 4 Day trip! Agistri, Aegina, Meteora, Poros, Hydra, Cyprus, Crete, Naxos, Monastery of Delphi 
  • Day 5: Hike Mt. Lycabettus. Watch a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, end with a rooftop meal or cocktails at AthensWas.

Bonus Tips – How else can I plan well for my trip to Athens, Greece?

Photo of a stray cat in Greece.
One surprising thing about visiting Athens, Greece for the first time? The number of stray cats!

Are there any cultural norms or etiquette I should be aware of as a visitor in Athens? Generally accept food when offered by a host when you’re visiting. If you have a health concern, alert them.

Are there any specific dress codes to follow when visiting religious sites or upscale restaurants Generally dress on the conservative side. Cover knees, shoulders, and exposed parts for religious sites.

Are there any other tips to help me plan well for my trip to Athens? Yes! Here are my practical tips based on our vacation:

  • Look before you cross the street  (drivers may not stop). also look before you flush toilet paper. The plumbing is not the best (it is an ancient city, after all!) so you may see signs saying “Do not flush toilet paper” or run the embarrassing risk of being mortified while standing over a clogged and overflowing toilet. If you see a sign, follow it and throw the toilet paper in the waste bin. Hotels may not require this, but restaurants might. Look for the signs. 
  • There is graffiti everywhere – just because there’s graffiti doesn’t mean it’s a “bad” neighborhood. Athens was the goddess of arts and crafts, so it is fitting that some residents choose to express themselves through graffiti art.
  • Cats – There are a lot of  random, stray cats! They are not violent and don’t bit – feed them if you feel like it!
  • Pack light. Streets are not made for luggage and traffic is pretty bad. Be prepared to carry your items. 
  • Haggle at marketplaces, but not at shopping malls!
  • Smoking is common. Thankfully not indoors, but outdoors be prepared to wave the smoke away if you are smoke sensitive (like me!)
  • Watch your step – there is marble everywhere and it is VERY slippery when wet. According to one of our tour guides, marble is cheaper than any other building material so you will see plenty of it!

So, when is your trip to Athens? Let us know in the comments below!

Enjoy,
Antoinette | Frolic & Courage

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