Europe Travel

Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City

Location: Athens Greece

Despite the title of this post, I had actually visited Athens once before. But that visit, just a few hours tour from a cruise ship, was somewhat of a disaster. So, when I had the opportunity to visit again, 17 years later, I was excited. I knew Athens could be fantastic, and I set out with fresh eyes. Over a two and a half day visit, I fell in love with this ancient and remarkable city. Here are my thoughts; Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.

Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City

Seventeen Years Later

Our first time in Athens, we arrived via a cruise ship as part of a Mediterranean cruise. We booked an excursion to the Acropolis during our one day in port. It was a disaster. The bus was awful. The Acropolis was crowded. Our tour guide was boring. Everything about the day was a bust. We were disappointed because my hopes for this city had been so high.

Fast forward 17 years and we are a very different kind of traveler now. Having been around the world, seen ancient sites large and small, we knew we could do this city on our own. We did, and Athens was redeemed in our eyes. So let me tell you what I recommend for Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.


Athens For First Timers

We arrived from Barcelona a little late, but the Athens airport was easy to maneuver and we were in a taxi with our luggage within 30 min of landing. Taxi service from the airport to downtown is convenient and cost about 45 Euro. Our driver was friendly and helpful and spoke great English.

We chose to stay at the NLH Kerameikos, a small boutique style hotel centrally located to everything. This hotel is not a high end fancy place, but it was perfect for our needs and our budget and included an excellent breakfast and helpful staff.

Once we checked in we headed out immediately. We had pre-booked entrance tickets to the Acropolis Museum online. We wanted to start with the museum, before we spent time actually visiting the Acropolis. The museum in it’s current configuration was opened in 2009 and provides an excellent overview of the ancient and recent history of the UNESCO World Heritage Acropolis and Parthenon. I highly recommend you do this museum first. We were there in March and it was not crowded at all, but be aware the summer months can be very busy. Definitely book your tickets in advance.

Acropolis Museum
Acropolis Museum

After several hours in the museum we took a leisurely stroll through the Adrianou Pedestrian area back towards our hotel and chose to have dinner al fresco at Kosmikon. Although this area is quite touristy with lots of shops and restaurants, we found the food exceptional and the service excellent. I enjoyed roasted lamb and my husband had a Cretan Pasta with mushrooms. A great start on the delicious cuisine of Greece.

Mushroom Pasta

Day Two

We planned to save the Acropolis for our final day, and laid out a plan for day two that included everything else we wanted to see.

It was recommended to us to purchase the Athens Combo Pass for 7 of the archaeological sites in Athens, including the Acropolis. In the off season, which was when we were traveling, the pass can be purchased at the entrance to any one of the 7 sites for 33 Euro per person (more in high season) and you have five days to use the pass. Because we were not sure how busy the sites would be, we headed to one of the less popular sites, Kerameikos, to buy our combo pass first thing in the morning on day two. It was very quiet with very few other visitors. So we purchased the passes and walked right in.

During peak season, you might consider purchasing the Combo Pass online ahead of time, because the rules are different. In peak season you either buy online, or at the ticket entrance to the Acropolis. Once you purchase the ticket at the Acropolis you must enter immediately. Summer is very busy and entry to the Acropolis is by timed-specific entry. Another good reason to travel shoulder season. Be sure to do your research for the time frame you are visiting. Learn more here.

Views from everywhere

Throughout day two we visited five of the 7 sites. We did not make it to Aristotle’s Lyceum so I can’t comment on that. Also, of all the sites, the Kerameikos was my least favorite and also the least well cared for with minimal interpretive information. If you are short on time skip it. Here are the ones we loved;

Ancient Agora

I loved this big and diverse area, a classic example of a Greek assembly, commercial and gathering area. Not fully excavated even today, the Ancient Agora is estimated to have structures as ancient as mid 100’s CE. The impressive Temple of Aphrodite was my favorite.

Temple of Aphrodite
Ancient Agora

Roman Agora

The Roman Agora, estimated to have been built around 10 BC after a promise by Julius Caesar, has still not been fully excavated. The columns here are very impressive. This site is much smaller than the Ancient Agora and very beautiful.

Roman Agora
Roman Agora

Hadrian’s Library

Built in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian, this typical Roman Forum Architecture includes a high wall and decorative columns surrounding a pool in the middle. Definitely worth a visit.

Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library

Temple of the Olympian Zeus

This is a former colossal temple at the center of Athens. It was dedicated to “Olympian” Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus

Additionally we wandered through the “Plaka”, Athens’ oldest neighborhood now catering to tourists with small restaurants and shops. We enjoyed a coffee and took lots of photos.

At the end of this lovely day we had a delicious Greek dinner at Hermion in their outdoor garden. We enjoyed a wide variety of local favorites such as moussaka, dolmades three ways, and olives.

We headed back to our hotel for a rest just as it started to rain. But we rallied later, raincoats in hand, to go see the Acropolis view after dark. We headed to the rooftop bar very near to our hotel called A is for Athens. While sipping a gin and tonic we marveled at the beauty of the city at night, and the ancient Acropolis. What a place it is.

What a view from A is for Athens Rooftop Bar

Day Three

After all we had seen and learned, we were ready to get up to the mountaintop and the Acropolis. The word Acropolis means high place. I really wanted to see it without the crowds, so we got up early and were in line by 7:45am for the 8:00am opening. There were twenty people already ahead of us in line on this chilly March morning. It was definitely worth getting there early. The photo opportunities with so few people in the morning sun was fabulous.

Acropolis Erechtheion

The history of this place is incredible and I take this paragraph from because it so eloquently sums it up;

The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world. Located on a limestone hill high above Athens, Greece, the Acropolis has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Over the centuries, the Acropolis was many things: a home to kings, a citadel, a mythical home of the gods, a religious center and a tourist attraction. It has withstood bombardment, massive earthquakes and vandalism yet still stands as a reminder of the rich history of Greece. Today, it is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site and home to several temples, the most famous of which is the Parthenon.

Beautiful morning light
The North Entrance

Meet the Evzones

After about two hours of enjoying every aspect of the ancient Acropolis and Parthenon, we headed back down the south side and back out onto the Adrianou Pedestrian Way. The weather had turned quite chilly but we headed to the Parliament building off of Syntagma square to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guards are known as the Evzones. They make up a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades, who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. The monument is a cenotaph created between 1930 and 1932, dedicated to Greek soldiers who were killed during times of war. Changing of the guard happens on the hour daily. Definitely worth a visit to experience their unique march and historic dress.

Evzones Changing of the Guard
Evzones Changing of the Guard

City Bus Tour

By this time on day three the weather had taken a turn and it was very cold and wet. We decided to do a hop on hop off bus tour to get out of the weather and to enjoy a city tour of some of the sights we may have missed. This is something we do occasionally in cities, especially for the audio part and to get the lay of the land. We did not get off the bus, we just stayed on through the entire tour. It is a really good way to orientate and we learned some new things. We also discovered a couple of areas we might want to visit if we every get back to Athens in the future including the National Archeology Museum and the Benaki Art Museum.


We ended our third and final day in Athens in the Psirri neighborhood close to our hotel, at the highly rated Bandiera restaurant. Since our day had started early, we were hungry for an early dinner and, despite the chilly day, we enjoyed sitting on the outdoor area under the heat lamps. The food was excellent and so was our server. We enjoyed the most amazing salad as well as fish and lamb.

Lamb at Bandiera

What a wonderful visit we had. Time to head back to our hotel to pack and prepare for our VERY early morning flight to Crete. Farewell Athens. Thanks for showing me how wonderful you can be. Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.

Farewell Athens

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City. See last week’s post Andorra – The Heart of the Pyrenees. Stay tuned as we continue our European travels through Crete, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia. Thank you!

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  • Reply anukrati

    Seeing Athens afresh is what you have done well. The guide is surely aspirational for me. Very helpful.

    April 13, 2024 at 3:49 am
  • Reply anukrati

    Seeing Athens afresh is what you have done well. The guide is surely aspirational for me. Very helpful.Seeing Athens afresh is what you have done well. The guide is surely aspirational for me. Very helpful.

    April 13, 2024 at 3:50 am
  • Reply Sharyn McCullum

    I only spent 12 hours in Athens as I was transiting from Crete to London so this guide will really come in useful when I get back to Athens to discover it for the first time.

    April 13, 2024 at 3:54 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Definitely give it another shot!

      April 13, 2024 at 6:50 am
  • Reply Linda (LD Holland)

    It is great to return to somewhere and have a much better time the second time around. You spent enough time to be able to wander at a leisurely pace. And sure had some tasty food! I am always amazed at how many ruins still remain and the history they tell. And who can ever forget that nighttime view!

    April 13, 2024 at 7:30 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Thanks. I’m so glad we got to see it at night. Amazing!

      April 13, 2024 at 8:54 am
  • Reply Sonia

    I need to give Greece (and Athens) a longer visit. We spent the majority of our time in Crete, which we loved. Hoping I can get this on next winter’s travel list.

    April 13, 2024 at 7:30 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Loved Crete. I’ll have e a post next week about Crete!

      April 13, 2024 at 8:54 am
  • Reply Lisa

    Great itinerary. I haven’t been to Athens since I was a kid and really want to go back and take my husband.

    April 13, 2024 at 4:22 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      Definitely. Consider off season.

      April 14, 2024 at 9:42 am
  • Reply Pam

    I’ve never been, but I have wanted to revisit a place that I haven’t seen in a long time to see how it has changed. It really looks like a city you’d need a few days to really see!

    April 13, 2024 at 6:48 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      It’s cleaner and much improved since my last visit

      April 14, 2024 at 9:42 am
  • Reply Anja

    Love Athens but a bit worried about crowds. For us, staying in a residential area in a smallish hotel was great – we could retreat to “Normality” when we had enough of the crowds. Also, skipped the Acropolis (I had been many years ago) and went to the calm Byzantine Museum instead.

    April 14, 2024 at 9:36 am
  • Reply Mohana Das

    Great article, and loved how the three days were balanced between experience both the ancient and the modern Athens. Although we do not tend to revisit a place often, coming back after a while sounds like a fulfilling experience!

    April 14, 2024 at 12:30 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      We don’t come back often either. But this was a good experience.

      April 14, 2024 at 12:47 pm
  • Reply Robert Adams

    I have been a few times and always in the off season with better weather and fewer people. I took my mom exactly a year ago yesterday. She had a ball. I would add that the fees for the acropolis and other sites have totally changed for 2024. They are now individual tickets and far more expensive than they were last year. Also they do not allow taking pictures inside the Parthenon museum.
    Planning on going back in September as the better half had to stay home last year for my mom’s trip. I have my favorite areas to stay in and islands to visit and if I win the lottery I’m buying a house in the islands.

    May 6, 2024 at 11:19 am
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