In this collection of tips and advice for first time visitors to Athens, Greece, you’ll find practical insights to safety, itinerary planning, and transportation. Basically, everything you need to know before you go!
Tips for visiting Athens
Planning a trip to Athens in Greece? You’ve probably read a few city guides and itineraries like this 2 day Athens itinerary, but are left wondering what is Athens actually like? More importantly, what do you really need to know before you go to Athens on vacation?
This is where I can help! I’m coming up to 9 years of living in Athens now (no idea where that time went!), and have put together this condensed list of tips for visiting Athens.
I hope this Athens travel information helps you plan ahead a little better, lets you know what to expect, and offers some practical insights to make your time in Athens go smoother.
Athens Travel Tips
These Athens insider tips are broken down into short sections for easier reading. Here's a taster of what to expect in this list:
- Don't drive in Athens – the actual driving is bad enough, the parking is worse!
- Tipping – People's opinions varied from 0 to 10%. Generally speaking, tipping is not part of the culture as it is in the US (but tips for good taverna or cafe service are always appreciated!).
- Taxi Scams – People still mention taxi scams either in the airport or city. I recommend you to use Welcome Pickups to pre-book your ride for a hassle free experience.
- Pickpockets – On the metro and crowded places.
- Be careful crossing the road – Just assume that traffic won't stop for you even if they are on a red light!
Reader feedback has been really helpful in putting all this together. If you have any questions or anything to add, you can leave a comment at the end of this Athens travel guide.
Ok, let's dive in….
Tips On When To Visit Athens & Weather
Already know when you are visiting Athens Greece, or can only travel in certain months? Don’t worry – Athens is a big city, and there’s always plenty to see and do.
Sure, some months are better than others in terms of tourist numbers or weather, but if you can’t pick and choose your dates it’s not a problem.
However, if you have yet to book your trip to Athens and are flexible with when you can go, these Athens travel tips are something to keep in mind:
- Visit during the shoulder seasons: The best time to visit Athens is during the shoulder seasons, which are April to May and September to October. These months offer pleasant weather, fewer crowds, and more affordable accommodation prices compared to the peak summer months.
- August is a contrarian time to visit Athens: If you can put up with the heat (40 degrees is not rare), August can be an interesting time to visit Athens. Most Athenians head to the islands during August which means the city is a lot quieter on the traffic front. I like Athens in August – it is a touch on the warm side though!
- Enjoy Greek Orthodox Easter: If you happen to visit Athens during Greek Orthodox Easter, join the celebration and witness the impressive Good Friday candlelit procession on Mount Lycabettus Hill.
- Christmas In Athens: It’s a lot less commercial than many other countries, and low key as it’s the off season. You’ll still see decorations and trees in Syntagma Square, and you should for sure check out the Little Kook cafe in all its gaudy weirdness!
- Off season travel considerations: With shorter daylight hours, archaeological sites in Athens close earlier than in the summer. Plan accordingly!
- Off season Athens travel hack: Save money in Athens on the first Sunday of each month from November until March, when you can enjoy the riches of ancient Greece with free entry to government run Archaeological Sites and Museums.
- Peak season travel considerations: There will be a LOT of other visitors in Athens with similar ideas to you on places they want to see.
Also read: Best time to visit Athens
Keep Connected In Athens
A quick word about mobile phones and connectivity while you are on vacation in Athens and other parts of Greece.
- Make sure your cell phone company knows you are traveling overseas if you need data.
- Roaming data can be expensive! Switch your phone to flight mode when you don't need it.
- Athens is a good place to pick up a local sim card, which may be especially useful if you are spending longer in Greece. In the long run this will be cheaper.
- WiFi is everywhere – Whenever you sit down at a cafe or taverna, just ask for the WiFi code.
Athens Money Tips
Here's a few money related tips for when you visit Athens. They can mostly be applied to the rest of Greece as well.
- Cash isn’t King anymore: If you’ve read that you have to carry cash everywhere, you’re reading out of date info. I can’t remember the last time I used cash in Athens, as cards are accepted everywhere. From March 2024, even taxi drivers have to accept cards now. I do carry a few coins for tips at tavernas.
- To Tip Or Not To Tip: Tipping in Greece is basically a matter of rounding up or leaving a couple of Euros depending on the circumstances. Greece does not have a tipping culture, although tips in bars and restaurants are always welcome of course. If you are from the US, tipping is nothing like it is there.
- Tell Your Bank: Before your trip, make sure your bank knows you are traveling to Greece and you want to use your cards there. This way your bank and credit cards won't get frozen while you are on vacation in Athens.
- Bring more than one card: You don't want to be left with no options if something happens to the bank card you bring when you travel to Athens. So, take extra bank cars on vacation, and even for different accounts to be on the safe side.
- That won’t do nicely Sir: Visa and Mastercard are accepted everywhere. American Express is much less widely accepted.
- ATM Charges: If you want to withdraw cash from an ATM, there will be a charge of 2 or 3 Euros, so you probably want to withdraw larger amounts in one go rather than 10 Euros at a time. Never accept the ATM exchange rate, always accept your bank’s rate – It’s always the better rate.
Also read: Money in Greece
Athens Transportation Tips
If you are staying in the historic center of Athens, you will find the city quite walkable. Public transportation comes in the form of a good metro system, along with a slightly less intuitive bus system, and some trams. You will recognize official taxis in Athens as they are bright yellow cars.
- The Athens Metro: It currently has three lines (a fourth being built), which are known by their colors. Every important landmark, museum, and the most famous places for sightseeing in Athens are located next to or very near a metro station.
- Metro Tickets: Can be bought at machines in every metro station using cash or card. All Athens metro ticket machines have English menus, and various ticket options.
- Athens Metro Pickpockets: It seems to get worse every year. The green line has a bad reputation. A friend of ours just recently had a phone lifted from her handbag – and she had her hand on the zip! These pickpockets have magical skills. Nowadays, I recommend that people travel from Athens Airport to their hotel in Athens city center by pre-booking a taxi for a hassle-free journey.
- Walk Everywhere You Can: Most people will not need to use public transport during their Athens city stay. Part of the beauty of exploring Athens is doing it on foot. There are large pedestrian areas all around the Acropolis Hill and you can get to the vast majority of popular tourist attractions on foot. Everything within the historic center is within walking distance of one another.
- Be extra careful at the crosswalks: Be cautious at pedestrian crossings. Drivers may not always stop, even though they are required to. The only place where they seem to stop is the crossing from Syntagma Square to Ermou Street. The green pedestrian crossing signal sometimes allows cars to turn right onto the crossing, so cross with caution. This information applies everywhere in Greece.
- Don’t rent a car in Athens to see the city: Athens isn’t LA. The very center of the city is more like a small town so you really don’t need to look into car rentals. A car is almost impossible to park in the city center, and you will rarely see a car without a bump or dent on it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
(Photo taken inside Syntagma metro station)
Tips About Athens Scams
While Athens is generally a very safe place to visit, like any city in the world, it has its share of scammers and pickpockets. The vast majority of travelers to Athens enjoy their city break without any issues. Some however don't, and these are some of the things that readers have brought to my attention so I could tell others about them. Here's some Athens travel tips to help you avoid potential issues in the city:
- Taxi Scams in Athens: I personally think that cab drivers in Athens get a bad rap and have never had a bad incident, but unfortunately not everyone has the same experiences with them as I do. Some taxi drivers might take longer routes to increase the fare, claim that the meter is broken, charge extra for items in the trunk. Uber does not work the same way in Greece as in other countries, so even there the fare may be different than you expect. Pre-book your taxis to and from airport and ports with Welcome Pickups. You'll thank me later for the hassle it saves.
- Pickpocketing in Athens: The green line metro is a hotspot, but in any crowded area such as Syntagma square they might be around. If you carry a handbag, always have it in front of your body, and guys, don't keep your wallet in your back pocket! You might want to avoid keeping in your cards and money in one place.
- Restaurant Scams: Occasionally, restaurants in tourist areas might add items to your bill that you didn't order. It's a good idea to check prices before ordering and review your bill carefully. In Athens, the tap water is drinkable, so if you feel the bottle of water is overpriced, just ask for tap water. Always ask for a receipt – by law, if they don't give you one, you don't have to pay.
- Bag snatching and table snatching: When sitting down to eat or have a coffee, don't leave things like bags on the back of the chair. Put them where you can see them, or where other people you are with can see them. Try not to leave your phones on the table – a common scam is that someone will approach with a piece of paper for you to read (a sob story scam) placing it on top of the phone. Then, when they remove the paper, they take the phone away with it.
- Tourist Traps: There's no real tourist traps to speak of. Personally I find that the restaurants in Psirri are better than those in Plaka, but that's just me! You'll find locals and foreign visitors alike in the Plaka coffee shops – fewer locals eat in this area though.
Also read: Is Athens safe?
Athens Accommodation Tips
Selecting the right accommodation in Athens, Greece is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable stay during your upcoming trip. Nowadays, you can see reviews for most hotels on Booking and Google maps. You want to check the most recent reviews before booking a hotel in Athens or anywhere else for that matter!
- Location is Key: Choose a location that is central or close to the major attractions you plan to visit. Areas like Plaka, Monastiraki, and Syntagma are popular choices as they are centrally located and offer easy access to historical sites, dining, and shopping.
- Budget Considerations: Athens offers a wide range of accommodation options to fit various budgets. From luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels and Airbnb rentals, consider what fits your budget while still meeting your needs for comfort and location.
- Read Reviews: Before booking, read reviews from previous guests. If you're traveling in the summer, make sure the reviews about the air con are all good – Athens can get hot!
- Pre-book hotels: I recommend Booking as the best place to choose where to stay. Before you rush our and get an AirBnB, see if it is on booking first. They quite commonly are, and a lot cheaper too!
Also read: Athens hotels near the Acropolis
Athens Sightseeing Tips
There's more to Athens than just the Acropolis. With other ancient ruins like the Ancient Agora, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Roman Agora, as well as top class museums like the National Archaeological Museum and Acropolis Museum, it might be best to plan out a rough itinerary before you go.
Here's some of my Athens travel itineraries you might find useful:
From April 2024 onwards, there’s going to be a shake up of the ticketing system to see the Acropolis. Out is the combo ticket (where you could effectively get in cheaper at other places like the Agora and Hadrian’s Library). In are higher ticket prices, potential VIP tours pre-opening and closing times for the super rich (5000 Euros per group!), and a time-slot system.
- You don’t need a guided tour of the Acropolis and Parthenon with a bit of pre-reading. There are also information boards in front of the various buildings.
- Getting there at opening time during the summer still makes the most sense, especially with the timeslot system. Tip: in 2023 people were queuing up at 07.00 to get inside even though they had pre-bought their ticket in the time-slot system! Why on earth did they do that? They could have just waited until 08.10 and strolled straight in.
- The official government website to buy tickets for the Acropolis is at hhticket.gr. Other websites selling skip-the-line tickets do so at a mark-up.
Exploring Athens offers a mix of historical and contemporary experiences. While ancient sites are a significant draw, there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy. Here are some sightseeing tips for Athens that go beyond the ancient wonders:
- Changing of the Guards: Watch the ceremonial changing of the Evzones guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament on Syntagma Square. This happens every hour, but the Sunday ceremony at 11 am is more elaborate.
- Stroll in Plaka and Monastiraki: Wander through these charming neighborhoods with their narrow streets, neoclassical architecture, and vibrant marketplaces. They offer a blend of traditional and modern Athens.
- Lycabettus Hill: For the best panoramic views of Athens, including the Acropolis, climb or take the funicular to the top of Lycabettus Hill, especially at sunset.
- National Garden: Take a break from the urban environment in the National Garden, a large public park in the heart of Athens, near Syntagma Square.
- The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center: This modern cultural complex houses the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera. It's a center for art, education, and entertainment with a stunning park and recreational spaces.
- Museum Visits: Apart from the famous Acropolis Museum, visit the National Archaeological Museum, the Benaki Museum, and the Museum of Cycladic Art for different aspects of Greek history and culture.
- Street Art Tour: Athens is known for its vibrant street art scene. Explore the city’s graffiti and murals, especially in neighborhoods like Psiri and Exarchia.
- Anafiotika Area: This picturesque neighborhood on the slopes of the Acropolis hill resembles a Cycladic village, with its small white houses and narrow pathways.
- Shopping in Ermou Street: For a shopping experience, head to Ermou Street, one of the main shopping streets in Athens, which runs from Syntagma Square towards Monastiraki.
- Monastiraki Flea Market and Plaka Neighborhood: With souvenir shops and antique stalls, you'll find something nice to take back to friends and relatives in your home country. Olive oil is a popular choice, just make sure to pack it very protectively. Spilt olive oil in a suitcase is not a pretty sight!
Day Trips From Athens Tips
If you're wondering whether or not Athens is a good base from which to explore nearby attractions, it certainly is! Some of the most popular day trips include guided tours to Delphi, a Unesco World heritage site, Mycenae, Epidavros, and nearby islands like Hydra and Aegina.
Here's a quick look at some of the popular destinations in Greece you can visit under your own steam or as part of a guided tour from Athens:
- Delphi: Visit the ancient sanctuary of Delphi, once considered the center of the world in ancient Greek times. It's a place full of archaeological treasures and natural beauty.
- Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon: Enjoy a scenic drive along the coast to Cape Sounion, where the Temple of Poseidon stands overlooking the Aegean Sea.
- Meteora: Although a bit further, a trip to Meteora with its monasteries perched atop giant rock formations is a breathtaking experience.
- Nafplio: Explore the charming town of Nafplio, with its picturesque streets, historic fortresses, and lovely waterfront.
- Corinth and the Corinth Canal: Visit the ancient city of Corinth, known for its significant archaeological site and the nearby stunning Corinth Canal.
- Epidaurus: Known for its ancient theater with remarkable acoustics and the sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.
- Aegina Island: A short ferry ride from Athens, Aegina is perfect for a day trip to enjoy beaches, the temple of Aphaia, and the charming town.
- Hydra Island: A car-free island known for its preserved architecture, donkeys for transport, and relaxing atmosphere.
- Mycenae: Explore the archaeological site of Mycenae, home of the legendary Agamemnon and known for its Lion Gate and royal tombs.
- The Peloponnese: Venture into the Peloponnese region to explore ancient cities like Sparta and Olympia.
Also read: Best day trips from Athens
Tips On Eating Out In Athens
Greek food is one of the most underrated cuisines in the world, and also one of the tastiest! Not particularly heavy on spices, emphasis is placed on traditional dishes cooked in a variety of ways. You'll have heard of moussaka of course (and many restaurants around the historic center of Athens feature it on their menus), but there's a lot more to it than just that.
There's no particular etiquette to eating out in Greece. Dishes can be shared between people, you can order all starters and no mains, or mix and match as you please. Greek cuisine has numerous dishes. Try gemista (stuffed tomatoes) – they are my favorite!
The more touristy places to eat in Athens are to be found with Acropolis views. I'd personally avoid these, but at the same time, eating a meal with an Acropolis view is probably only going to happen once in your life, so why not!
Eat Cheap: Want some cheap eats? My tip is to head to a souvlaki place and buy a couple of wraps. Two of them will be pretty cheap, will cost you less around 7 Euros and keep you going for hours. They make a great lunch!
Also read: Greek food
Tips On Greek Culture
Some readers have asked in the past if there are any faux pas to avoid when visiting Greece and Athens. The answer is not really! There are a few tips on Greek culture that might be useful to help you adjust though:
- Greeks can be loud: Greeks talk loudly, whether they're on the phone or talking to one another in a cafe. Some Athens visitors might think there's an argument going on, but in reality its just a discussion on the best way to cook something! Oh, and there's a lot of hand gestures with the conversation as well.
- Greeks speak pretty good English: In Athens, most Greeks you encounter will speak English, so if you are lost, don't be afraid to ask for directions!
- Respect for Traditions: Greece has a plethora of traditions and religious customs tied to the Orthodox Church. Easter is the biggest religious event of the year. Christmas is a low-key affair and not as commercialised as other countries.
- Siga Siga: Greeks often have a famously relaxed attitude towards time. The best example of this, is that you can sit quite happily nursing a coffee in a coffee shop for several hours as you people watch, and meals in tavernas can last all evening. If you've come from the ‘eat up and leave' dining culture in the UK, it can be quite a pleasant change!
- Rules are guidelines: If there's one phrase that sums up Greece for me it is this! For the most part it seems that rules are there as guidelines. You'll see this with the cars parked on the pavements in Athens, motorbikes going the wrong way down streets, and numerous other things.
- Bureaucracy: Seemingly at odds with the relaxed approach to time and rules is the fact that mindless bureaucracy is embedded into daily life. As a tourist you may not encounter it, but if you ever decide to move to Greece or get involved in the ‘system', you'll encounter a level of bureaucracy that puts India to shame!
- Toilet paper: In Greece, you should not flush toilet paper down the toilet. The sewage pipes in Greece are narrower than in many other countries (2 inches in diameter compared to 4 inches in the U.S.), and toilet paper can cause them to clog. Instead, you should dispose of toilet paper in a bin provided next to the toilet.
Tips On Onward Travel From Athens To The Greek Islands
Athens is a gateway to onward travel to the Greek islands and other places in mainland Greece. A popular 7 day in Greece itinerary includes Athens, Santorini and Mykonos, but there are many other places you can combine when Greek island hopping. Here’s some preparation tips on how to carry on the adventure from Athens to other destinations!
- You can find the latest ferry schedules and book ferry tickets on line using Ferryscanner
- Where possible, leave Athens as the last destination on your trip. If a ferry is delayed from an island, it won’t jeopardise your flight back home!
- Athens has three ferry ports – Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio. It is generally easier to leave or arrive at Piraeus Port if you want to spend time in Athens city center.
- Don’t take rental cars with you on the ferries – they will not be covered by insurance and it increases the ticket price. Instead, rent a car on each island. Use Discover Cars for local car rentals in Athens and Greece.
What to do before going to Athens?
Before going to Athens, it's a good idea to plan your itinerary in advance. Athens is rich in history, landmarks, and cultural experiences. Exploring its iconic landmarks and monuments, as well as enjoying its creativity and energy, are key activities.
Is Athens tourist-friendly?
Athens is a popular destination and is considered tourist-friendly. It offers a wealth of experiences, from ancient Greek ruins like the Acropolis to world-class museums. The city is well-equipped to accommodate tourists with numerous dining options, cafes, and tours.
Is Athens safe to travel to right now?
Athens is generally safe for tourists compared to other global capitals. While major crimes are rare, petty crime like pickpocketing can occur. Some neighborhoods, such as Omonia, Exarchia, and Metaxourgeio, might be less appealing for less confident travelers at night, but they are not necessarily dangerous.
Is 3 days in Athens too long?
Three days in Athens is not too long; it allows for a more relaxed exploration of the city. In addition to the main highlights and attractions, you can include visits to the Benaki and Cycladic art museums and even consider day trips from Athens, like the popular trip to Delphi.
Dave is a travel writer living in Athens Greece since 2015. In addition to writing these travel tips for first time visitors to Athens, he's created hundreds more itineraries and travel guides to destinations all over Greece. Follow Dave on social media for more inspiration from Athens and beyond: