When is the best time to visit?
Despite the heat, hordes of visitors fly in to Athens in the summer. By June most restaurants and clubs have shut down or changed venue to the shore. During August, Athens belongs to the tourists, and most of the Athenians leave the city for their holiday. If you come in the summer, visit sights and attractions in the early morning, nap through the midday heat, then visit more attractions in the evening. The Athens and Epidaurus Festival is a great celebration of leading individuals and companies within theatre, music and dance, including opera, classical music, ballet, jazz and ancient theatre. This famous cultural event takes place in mid-June to mid-September, with most performances taking place on the slope of the Acropolis.
Spring and late autumn have ideal weather for visiting Athens, and the restaurants and clubs are open. This is also a good time to find cheaper flights and deals on accommodation. A National holiday in Athens and Greece, Independence Day and Evangelismos, take place in March. To commemorate the revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1821, this holiday is celebrated with dances and parades.
Winter is an interesting time to visit Athens. There are few tourists, the weather is chilly with some rain, and you will save money on hotel bills and find some cheap flights.
Apokries (Carnival), a three week celebration before the Lent fasting period starts, is celebrated with plays, street parties and parades organised all around Athens.
One of the world’s oldest cities, Athens is reputedly the birthplace of democracy and philosophy. The city was named after Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, and the famous Parthenon was her temple. Today, Athens flights are packed with travellers flocking to Athena’s namesake to tour the mythical and mysterious city.
Athens was the location for the first modern Olympic Games in 1859. In 2004, millions of travellers visited Athens to see the modern day city host the Summer Olympics. Thanks to the boost in tourism that accompanied the Games, the city was able to fund the construction of much-needed new roads and an upgrade to its transportation alternatives, making it easier for visitors to get around.
History lovers can soak up the origins of western civilisation. As one of the world’s premier centres of archaeological research, there are so many world-famous sights that you’re spoilt for choice. The Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Temple of Hephaestus and the Agora marketplace are all thousands of years old and open to visits.
Walk around the historic neighbourhoods of Plaka, Psyri and Thiseio to see how Athens has morphed over the centuries with every mansion, ruin, taverna, street stall and temple. There are photo opportunities that also make you appreciate everyday life here. The locals are famous for their friendly and relaxed attitudes, and you can find many soaking up the rays along the huge beaches of Paraliaki by the Aegean Sea. Come at the end of March for Independence Day when they enjoy street parades, both traditional and modern.
The mix of history and beauty is everywhere in Athens. Take a walk around the National Garden of Athens or visit the renovated Hammam Baths. Flights to Athens are worth it just to head down to the peninsula of Sounio to watch the sun go down on an ancient fortress containing temples to Athena and Poseidon – a stunning and popular sight. Afterwards, sample some of the Athens nightlife, perhaps the bars in Psyri, dance clubs in Gazi or rock and jazz dens in Plaka.
Mid-March through May is usually pleasant and mild, even though the March wind has a cutting edge. The temperature rises in June and July, building to stifling hot, more than 37 degrees Celsius, and humid in August. The meltemi, a strong northerly wind, occasionally sweeps through the city providing relief from the heat. September cools down, with occasional light rain. October has mild weather with some high winds. November through February is the rainy season, the daytime temperatures drop to the 10s, and, coupled with the wind, can feel quite chilly. Flights are usually cheaper during this time.Getting from the Airport to the CityThe easiest and quickest way to reach the city centre from Athens airport (ATH) is on board the Metro. It connects the airport with Syntagma Square and Monastiraki. The airport is also served by public bus routes, which connect to destinations in the greater area of Athens and Piraeus, buses running frequently day and night. Athens International is connected to Athens Central Railway Station (Larissis Station) by the Suburban Rail line. Finally, there are plenty of taxis to be hired at the ranks in front of the airport terminals, fares charged on a per km basis.
Getting around Athens
Athens’ metro system is so easy to use that it has lessened the city’s traffic and pollution. The buses and trolleys are also cheap and efficient, but they are usually more crowded and can be confusing. Avoid travelling anywhere during rush hour, especially on public transport. It can be difficult to hail a taxi, so call for one ahead of your journey. You’ll find that taxis are cheap, although occasionally drivers will try to overcharge a clueless foreigner. One trick to catching a cab is calling out your destination to a cab already in use. The driver will stop and let you get in if he’s going the same way. You’ll still have to pay a full fare, though. It’s also easy to set out on foot. Most of the major sights are located in the same general area. And the ones that aren’t are easy to get to by public transport. There's no need to rent a car. Driving through the city is difficult to manage and parking spots are rare and expensive.
Athens insider information
- A visit to the Acropolis and the Parthenon is almost a prerequisite of a visit to Athens. The most spectacular remnant of Ancient Greek architecture, the Acropolis is 492 ft (150m) above sea level, rising above the flat city. As well as the Parthenon, it contains many other temples, columns and gateways. The site has been undergoing renovation for many years, but a walk around the Doric pillars and sculptures still gives an insight to the awe-inspiring might of the Ancient Greek Empire.
- As befits such an ancient city, there are many museums and sites to view artefacts and antiquities. Don’t miss out on the living city, however. Especially since the renovation that took place for the Olympics, the city is a vibrant urban centre. Walk the streets, take a coffee break in one of the many pavement cafés, visit the bars and soak up the atmosphere of modern-day Athens.
- The National Gardens can be a welcome respite from the bustling city. Situated behind the Parliament, the 15.5 hectares contain shaded walkways, subtropical trees, ancient ruins, duck ponds and even a zoo.
- Prepare yourself before visiting the city for the sometimes all-consuming smog. The nefos, as Athenians call it, has been a problem since Athens became such a bustling, car-filled metropolis. Recent initiatives to reduce the levels of pollution in the city have had some effect, but you’ll probably still notice the smoggy atmosphere – particularly in the hot summer months.
- The tall Lycabettus Hill can be seen from almost everywhere in the city and is a great place to go for a stroll and get a view from the top. You can either take the (rather long) walk up the winding pathways, or cheat and get the funicular railway. There is a small church at the top, as well as a café – if you need a drink after the walk. Visiting at sunset is especially popular for the views.