Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world. Once at the heart of Ancient Greece, there are constant reminders of landmarks dating back to the 5th century BC. It was a powerful civilisation combining the arts, culture and philosophy. Spend the weekend in Athens, combining Greek food’s culinary delights with great weather, a relaxed vibe, and incredible monuments.
Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton (LTN) to Athens (ATH). From £50, return.
Transport to the city: Airport bus X95 from Arrivals.
Cost to the city: €6 (Adult single) – ticket validation required on the bus.
Journey time to the city: 60-70 minutes.
Need to know
Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can visit Greece for 90 days maximum in any 180 day period.
Travel: See the FCDO website.
Currency: Euro (£1 = €1.11 approximately).
Language: Greek and some Turkish. English is widely spoken and understood.
Best time to visit: March to May and September to November.
Time: GMT +2.
First Impressions of Athens
- The people are friendly and approachable.
- English is widely spoken, and they are happy to converse.
- Transport is cheap and efficient.
Day 1 – Spending a weekend in Athens
The best option for sightseeing is a €30 combined ticket that allows entry to seven attractions and valid for five days.
- Acropolis and the slopes – Site 1.
- Areopagus Hill – Free.
- Church of the Metamorphosis – Free (from the outside).
- Roman Agora – Site 7.
- Hadrian’s Library – Site 3.
- Ancient Agora – Site 2.
- Kerameikos – Site 4.
- Acropolis Museum – €5 (Adult single).
1. Acropolis and the slopes
After entry, the first attraction is the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, an ancient theatre on the south slope of the Acropolis hill, once seating 17,000 spectators at full capacity.
Next is St Mary of the Cave, dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of the wilderness. During the Byzantine era, mothers brought their children here in the hope of a cure for sickness.
Further along is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a Roman stone theatre built in AD161. Many events have been held here, including the 1973 Miss Universe. With the Parthenon as the backdrop, the Temple of Rome and Augustus is the last stop before the Acropolis.
The Parthenon is an iconic architectural structure and looks perfectly symmetrical to the naked eye. Despite being built in 450BC, there is hardly a straight line anywhere. Even with modern techniques and equipment, architects are struggling to recreate the precision of the Athenians. This is the standout monument of a weekend in Athens.
Built around 500BC and dedicated to Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom is the Old Temple of Athena, once part of a larger palace.
2. Areopagus Hill
The hill is a five-minute walk from the Acropolis, with clear views of the Parthenon and the Ancient Agora. Murder, treason and corruption trials were often heard here.
3. Church of the Metamorphosis
On the slopes of the Acropolis is the Church of the Metamorphosis. This tiny 11th-century church is notable for the brickwork patterns on the interior walls.
4. Roman Agora
The Roman Agora lies north of the Acropolis in the Monastiraki district, Athens’ flea market neighbourhood. The Tower of the Winds, thought to be the world’s first meteorological weather station, is here.
5. Hadrian’s Library
The library built in AD132 by Emperor Hadrian with a Corinthian-style entrance includes a music room and pond. His interest in education and learning gave rise to this building.
6. Ancient Agora
The ancient Agora, located between the Monastiraki district and the Acropolis, has an active train line. Agora means ‘market’ in Greek, so it was a gathering place in ancient times.
The main attractions are the Stoa of Attalos built in the 2nd century BC, the impressive interior colonnade and museum, and the Temple of Hephaestus built in 415BC.
For nearly 1,000 years, this was an important cemetery. There are good views of the Parthenon in the distance, and the site has a small pottery museum.
8. Acropolis Museum
The museum has a large collection of artefacts recovered from the surrounding slopes. This is the closest large modern building to the Acropolis.
The Archaic Gallery is a nine-metre high naturally lit section of the first floor, hosting sculptures that graced the first temples of the Acropolis. No photography is allowed here. The restaurant, on the second floor with the terrace, offers panoramic views of the Acropolis. Another feature of this museum is the glass-encased Parthenon Gallery on the third floor.
Day 2 – the rest of the weekend in Athens
- Hadrian’s Gate (Arch of Hadrian) – Free.
- Temple of Olympian Zeus – Site 6.
- National Gardens of Athens – Free.
- Panathenaic Stadium – €5 (Adult single).
- Lyceum (Lykeion) – Site 5.
9. Hadrian’s Gate (Arch of Hadrian)
This marble gateway is 18 metres high and visible from Syntagma Square. It marked the entrance to a road that led from Athens’s centre to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
10. Temple of Olympian Zeus
Completed in 131BC, and taking 700 years to build, this temple dedicated to Zeus, the god of the sky and thunder. Originally, it consisted of 104 columns at nearly 18 metres tall, making it one of the ancient world’s largest temples. Only 15 of the columns remain.
11. National Gardens of Athens
The main building called Zappeion Hall was the fencing hall at the 1896 Olympic Games. It has served as the Olympic Village, a hospital during the Second World War, and the home of Athens radio.
In the gardens are statues of the Greek military commander, George Karaiskakis, the discus thrower opposite the Panathenaic Stadium, and the woodcutter.
12. Panathenaic Stadium
It is the only stadium in the world to be built of marble and was the stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies of the first Olympic Games in 1896. It is the finishing point for the Athens Classic Marathon, and where the Olympic torch is transferred to the following host nation.
13. Lyceum (Lykeion)
Founded in 334BC by Aristotle, the Lyceum was a school of philosophy. Plato and Socrates taught here. Aristotle liked to stroll through the tree-filled groves discussing philosophy and rhetoric with his students.
Food and drink
In Town restaurant has outdoor seating available, and the street, Pentelis, is home to several lively bars and restaurants.
Across the road from In Town is Tazza, an all-day bistro and wine bar, which is more expensive. The outdoor seating area is perfect for sipping drinks and cocktails.
Close to Syntagma Square, Tzitzikas kai Mermigas serving good quality Greek food. Try the seafood risotto.
In addition to the monuments, there is plenty of street art across the city, mixed into the Roman ruins.
Athens is a city with a lot to offer. Visiting several major attractions for less than €50 is a bargain. It has a rich history as these were the streets where Plato, Pericles, and Socrates once walked. Besides, there is a great food scene and a laid back vibe.
The people are friendly, helpful and approachable. Spending the weekend in Athens offers a perfect opportunity to explore other parts of the country and branch out to the Greek islands.
Athens Best Churches according to Conde Nast.
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