Thrifty Traveler’s Guide to Athens, Greece
The ancient city of Athens is the gateway and a hub to the Mediterranean. And despite its prominence, it’s easy to look past.
Once you’re here, it’s just a short flight to any number of beautiful islands with white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. It’s tempting to immediately make your way to the Greek islands, or maybe pop out briefly to see some sights before leaving Athens behind.
But this edgy, vibrant city is so much more than the Acropolis. Here’s what you need to know to help build a few days in Athens into your itinerary.
The heart of Athens is quite a ways from Athens (ATH) International Airport. There are a couple of options to get into the city, but the easiest by far is a taxi. A taxi will take about 45 minutes and cost 35-45 euros ($38-50 USD). Uber is also available, but taxi drivers are Uber drivers in Athens, so you’ll generally pay the same rate.
But if you’re looking to keep things cheaper, the Metro runs to the Syntagma and Monastiraki stops in the city center. One-way fares are 10 euro per person and take about 40 minutes. Just beware that if you have a very early or very late flight, the Metro may not be an option. It does not start operating until 6:30 a.m. and stops at 11:30 p.m. You can check time tables and see a route map here.
Where to Stay
The city center offers a number of neighborhoods, each with different personalities but they’re all walkable to most of the main attractions. So picking where to stay is up to your tastes.
We headed for centrally located Monastiraki, known for its rich food culture and buzzing nightlife. Overall, Airbnb seemed to be the best option and this superb apartment situated on a pedestrian street with killer views of the Acropolis ran us only $70 a night.
Plaka directly borders the Acropolis and has beautiful cobblestone streets. But Plaka is known as being extremely touristy and significantly more expensive than neighboring areas.
If you’re looking for something a bit edgier, Psyri is a great option with endless bars, restaurants, and nightlife. Manicured and neighborhood-y Koukaki lies on the far side of the Acropolis. It’s the perfect option for those looking to get off the beaten path and away from the crowds a bit. Finally, trendy Kolonaki is a shopper’s paradise, with high-end stores lining the streets.
You’ll find extra cheap lodging in Exarcheia and Omonoia, but most locals will recommend avoiding these areas at night.
Thrifty Tip: Positioning yourself centrally will save you loads on transportation costs since everything will be within a 20-minute walk. Plaka, Monastiraki, and Psyri are the most centrally located neighborhoods.
See the Acropolis
There’s more to Athens than the Acropolis, but that doesn’t mean you should miss it.
With close to 15 million people visiting this historic site annually, be prepared to brave (or avoid!) the crowds. The Acropolis is definitely a must-see attraction, so don’t let the crowds deter you from experiencing it.
Entrance to the Acropolis opens at 8 a.m. Show up around 7:30 a.m. to join the small line that will start to form to purchase tickets. Being one of the first people in the morning will allow you to enjoy yourself and grab some amazing people-free pictures. An added bonus: you’ll also avoid the heat of the day because the hilltop gets HOT. Tour buses begin to arrive around 8:30 a.m, at which point the Acropolis gets very crowded.
Admission to the Acropolis is 20 euro ($22 USD) per person from April 1-Oct. 31, and just 10 euro ($11 USD) per person from Nov. 1-March 31. This gets you admission to the Acropolis only and does NOT include the Acropolis Museum. Or get a “skip-the-line” ticket to … you guessed it, skip the lines. They start as low as roughly 13 euro during the low season. For 30 euro ($33) no matter the time of year, you can get a multi-site ticket good for five days that includes many other archaeological sites throughout Athens. Learn more here.
Thrifty Tip: Admission to the Acropolis is FREE on March 6, April 18, May 18, the last weekend of September, Oct.28, and the first Sunday of each Month from Nov. 1 to March 31.
What to Do … Besides the Acropolis
The Acropolis may steal the show, but don’t let anyone tell you that there is nothing else to see.
Filopappou Hill has some of the best hiking paths and views of the Acropolis in town. It’s located in a quiet area bordering the Koukaki neighborhood. The best part? It’s free. Lycabettus Hill is also a favorite with tourists and is a great place to watch the sunset. Lycabettus Hill has a cable car for 7 euro round trip if you don’t feel up to a hike.
The Panathenaic Stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic Games and is definitely worth a stop. Admission is just 5 euros. There was hardly anyone there when we visited, which made it that much sweeter. The stadium is close to the National Garden, a beautiful park area with free admission. Plan to spend about half a day between the gardens and the stadium.
If you’ve got time for a day trip, head out to Piraeus, the port of Athens. The Metro runs to Pireaus and takes just 30 minutes each way. You’ll get a taste of island life and soak up some sun by the port. There is also a number of unique neighborhoods to explore. Piraeus is also your best bet for finding fresh seafood if you won’t be visiting any of the Greek islands.
Where to Eat and Drink
This is where Athens puts the islands to shame. There are seemingly endless options for affordable yet high-quality food and drink.
Neighborhood favorite Karamanlidika stole the show during our visit. Situated away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy areas, the restaurant doubles as a traditional Greek deli. Dishes were simple, delicious, and traditional. At less than 15 Euros per person for drinks, appetizers, main courses, and dessert, how can you go wrong?
And the street food is plentiful throughout all of Athens, making it easy to lunch and snack throughout the day. Gyro pitas are often less than 3 euros and every vendor prepares them differently on each stop. That variety made ordering gyros an adventure every time!
A for Athens rooftop boasts an incredible wine list that is presented in a beautiful booklet with information about each wine, but it’s their inventive craft cocktails that really shine. Sip on some drinks while looking out at an amazing view of the Acropolis. Gin enthusiasts will love The Gin Joint, which features a collection of over 160 unique and rare gins.
Looking for something a little different? Step out of your comfort zone and into someone’s home with EatWith, an immersive local dining experience. Read our guide on the Airbnb of dining here.
Athens is a vibrant and affordable city that is full of life and worth a stop for at least a few days on any trip through Greece. With unique neighborhoods, amazing food and drinks, and a healthy dose of history, the biggest mistake you can make is not spending some time here.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.