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  • Plaka-Acropolis-Athens - The Plaka, the most desired area of Athens, shows off its neoclassical side at sunset on the north slope of the Acropolis.
  • parthenon-acropolis-athens-greece - The iconic Parthenon in the Acropolis, Athens, Greece. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at its height.
  • archeological-museum-athens-greece - National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece.
  • plaka-dining-athens-greece - Nightime dining in the Plaka, Athens, Greece.
  • Acropolis-Athens-distance - View of the iconic Acropolis set atop a hilltop in Athens, Greece.
  • parthenon-athens.jpg - The iconic Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens.
  • Athens-changing-of-guard.jpg - The changing of the guard in Athens takes place once every hour.
  • parthenon-side-view.jpg - A side view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens.
  • agia-eirini-athens-greece - Agia Eirini church in Athens, Greece.
  • madrasah-agora-athens-greece - Madrasah, an example of Islamic architecture, in the Roman Agora, Athens, Greece.
  • plaka-day-athens-greece - The Plaka, the neoclassical region clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
  • temple-hephaestus-athens-greece - The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, Greece, was begun in 449 BC, just two years before the Parthenon.
  • acropolis-view.jpg - View of ancient ruins from atop the Acropolis in Athens.
  • Statue-in-acropolis-museum.jpg - A sculpture, thought to be of a priest, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
  • Erechtheion-at-Acropolis.jpg - The Erechtheion or Erechtheum. an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis in Athens dedicated to Athena and Poseidon.
  • Building-in-downtown-Athens.jpg - A building in downtown Athens near the Plaka.
  • parthenon-acropolis-athens-greece-1 -
  • Evzones-guard-4.jpg - Closeup of one of the Evzones during the Changing of the Guard in Athens.
  • Ruby-Princess-Piraeus-Greece - Ruby Princess in Piraeus, Greece.
  • A-Centaur-overcoming-a-Lapith.jpg - A stone relief at the Acropolis Museum in Athens: "A Centaur overcoming a Lapith."
  • A-Greek-woman-about-to-greet-a-friend.jpg - A Greek woman about to greet a friend at the fountain at Syntagma Square in Athens.
  • An-artist-sketches-the-Parthenon.jpg - An artist draws the Parthenon on her sketch pad at the Acropolis.
  • Black-amphora-pottery-550-BC.jpg - A piece of pottery called "Black Amphora," dating to about 550 BC, at the Acropolis Museum.
  • Dedication-stone-fragment.jpg - A relief titled, "Dedication with a representation of a trireme," seen at the Acropolis Museum.
  • Doric-temple-remains-at-Acropolis.jpg - The remains of a Doric temple on the grounds of the Acropolis in Athens.
  • Evzones-guard-2a.jpg - A visitor poses with an Evzones guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens.
  • Evzones-guards.jpg - The Evzones' Changing of the Guard ceremony in Athens takes place on the hour 24 times a day.
  • Alexander-the-Great-portrait.jpg - A bust said to depict Alexander the Great at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
  • dedication-acropolis-museum.jpg - A relief of an ancient dedication at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
  • plaka-dining-athens-greece-1 -
  • Recovered-ancient-artwork-2.jpg - A relief depicting people carrying amphoras (water containers) at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
  • Athens_Greece_Parliament_Changing_of_Guard - Travel to the Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, via Seabourn and watch the Changing of the Guard featuring the Evzones in full costume.
  • acropolis-museum.jpg - Statues from Greece's classical era at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
  • selfie-sticks-at-acropolis.jpg - Selfie sticks were everywhere at the Acropolis.
  • couple-wedding.jpg - A couple who just got married in Santorini, Greece.
  • ancient-mosaic-on-Delos - An ancient mosaic on the grounds of the island of Delos. It translates as: "Formion the son of Nikias of Athens for himself and his wife and his children...."

Athens travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

It’s hard to pinpoint the one thing that makes Athens so attractive. It’s not just a museum or an olive tree or a local tavern; it’s a vibrant and contemporary city with a rich past. The three-acre pedestrian mall in the city’s historic center lies in the shadow of the Acropolis. Hadrian’s Arch; the theater of Dionysus, where works by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes were performed; and the new Acropolis Museum are just some of what you’ll see here.

A stone relief at the Acropolis Museum in Athens:
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableA stone relief at the Acropolis Museum in Athens: "A Centaur overcoming a Lapith."

Although Athens is a modern city,  the history and antiquity of Greece is not entirely forgotten here. The city is home to many places that recall Greece's achievements in science, sport, architecture, and art during the Classical Age. It boasts relics from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. Athens holds some of the most important antiquities of ancient civilization and produced some of the greatest philosophers not just of their times, but in history. 

To visitors, Athens is an exciting, bustling city filled with shops, cafés, monuments, and character. Although pollution and traffic do add to the grit of the city — think New York's traffic jams and Los Angeles' air quality — the energetic tourist will find plenty of opportunities for sightseeing.

Cruise ships that call on Athens 

Cruise ships dock at the Port of Piraeus, which has been the port for Athens since 482 BC. Athens is a short bus or taxi ride away.

Top reasons to go

  • The Acropolis is the ancient "high city" of Athens, crowned by marble temples sacred to the city's goddess Athena.
  • Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio are charming historic districts at the foot of the Acropolis, with ruins of the city's Roman era.
  • Syntagma Square (Plateia Syntagmatos), dominated by the old Royal Palace, is the business district of Athens.
  • The Apollo Coast is a string of five beaches several miles south of the city to enjoy sand and surf.
  • Catch a soccer match between rival teams Olympiakos and Panathanaikos.
The Evzones' Changing of the Guard ceremony in Athens takes place on the hour 24 times a day.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableThe Evzones' Changing of the Guard ceremony in Athens takes place on the hour 24 times a day.

Top things to do & see in Athens

Acropolis

The most famous tourist attraction in Athens is the Acropolis (210-321-0291), or the High City. It is the most stunning evidence of the golden age of ancient Greece. The Parthenon towers at the Acropolis as the most spectacular sacred shrine to ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Between 500 and 400 B.C., Athens was a dizzying place of intellect and art, and this limestone protrusion stood at the center of it all. Over the years, it has withstood war and various abuses, but it remains an architectural gem.

Museums

As the history of Athens runs deep, so do the museums linking it to its history. Visit the National Archaeological Museum (210-821-7717) located at Odos Patission 44, for a wonderful lesson on the history of Greek culture as well as the ongoing processes of archaeological digs in the area. The Museum of Greek Folk Art (Kydatvineon 17, 210-322-9031) displays interesting pieces of popular art and crafts, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries. And the Agora Museum (210-321-0185) near the ancient Agora, is in the restored Stoa of Attalos, built in 150 B.C.

The Erechtheion or Erechtheum. an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis in Athens dedicated to Athena and Poseidon.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableThe Erechtheion or Erechtheum, an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis in Athens dedicated to Athena and Poseidon.

National Gardens

The National Gardens (adjacent to Syntagma Square, 210-721-5019) offer a respite from the city's commotion. Once serving as the private gardens for the royal family, they are a perfectly scenic place to walk or picnic. Here you will find a pond with ducks and swans, lush grass and foliage, park benches and tables, along with a café. However, the National Gardens are only recommended during the daytime, as loiterers tend to hang out here at night.

Hellenic Festival

If you are lucky enough to travel to Athens in the summer months, you may catch the Hellenic Festival. It is an annual celebration of the arts, complete with music, drama, and dance, that boasts artists from around the world who come and perform on the slopes of the Acropolis. Buy tickets early online because they sell out quickly.

Shopping

Shopping is a citywide affair in Athens. In the popular Omonia, Syntagma, and Monastiraki squares of Central Athens, you will find a plethora of stores from department stores to tiny specialty boutiques (like Nick's Corner, home of the heavy-knit sweater, Pandrossou 48, Monastiraki, 210-321-2990). The posh Kolonaki section is where you will find Versace and Lagerfeld boutiques side by side with local couture designers. If you're more into food, the Central Market (Odos Athinas) will entice you with vegetables, meats, wines and cheeses from all over Greece and greater Europe. If sweets are your sin, then Aristokratikon (Karagiorgi Servias 9, near Syntagma Square, 210/322-0546) will delight you with its chocolates, truffles, and glazed nuts.

The Plaka, the neoclassical region clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Javier Novo Rodríguez / Creative Commons BY-SAThe Plaka, the neoclassical region clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Best bets for dining

Athens is for food lovers, whether it’s Michelin-star restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine or casual restaurants serving spit-roasted souvlaki. Leisurely dining is a staple of Athenian cuisine. You are encouraged to stay long, order plenty, and enjoy Greek food to the fullest. You may find that quaint, hole-in-the-wall taverns offer a certain local charm and impressive meals, but Athens also offers its fair share of glamour.

After you have shopped in the Kolonaki area, head over to L'Abreuvoir (Xenokratous 51, 210-722-9106) for international cuisine, but make reservations first and be ready to shell out plenty for the spinach tart or fresh swordfish you are sure to enjoy. Traditional Greek food can be found at the oldest restaurant in the city's center, Ideal (Panepistimiou 46, 210-330-3000). This is a comfortable place where the fried mussels are fresh and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. Vassilenas (Etolikou 72, 210/461-2457) is a humble yet delicious family-run tavern where the emphasis is on quality, not glitz. Locals revere this place and tourists delight in the low-cost menu where you can justify ordering many tasty dishes because the prices are so low.

Best time to go

Spring, early summer and fall are the best times to visit in order to avoid the heat and crowds of July and August. 

Fun facts

  • Athens hosted in 1896 and 2004 Summer Olympics. The application for the centennial games is 1996 were lost against Atlanta, some say against Coca Cola.
  • Athens is the capital city of Greece with a metropolitan population of 3.7 million inhabitants
  • If you're lucky enough to be in Athens for the Easter Weekend, you'll see the spectacular sight of hundreds of people making their candlelit way down the hill on Easter Saturday night as part of the Easter Vigil procession.
Madrasah, an example of Islamic architecture, in the Roman Agora, Athens, Greece.
Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Creative Commons BY-SAMadrasah, an example of Islamic architecture, in the Roman Agora, Athens, Greece.

When you arrive

Docking information

The port of Piraeus is located 6 miles (10 kilometers) west of the city center of Athens and is a town on its own. The New Passenger Terminal is located about 1 mile outside of the center of Piraeus. With 11 berthing places it’s one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean. Piraeus itself has not much to offer for tourists. When you dock, look for shuttles to the Metro, which takes you into the central area of Athens. It's a 15-minute ride on the metro to the central part of the city. It is a great place to catch a cab, as well.

Getting around

Once you arrive near the Acropolis, Athens is relatively easy to walk. However, if you want to take a taxy, official taxis in Athens and Piraeus are marked with the word “Taxi” on a white background. Tourists are encouraged to bargain with avaricious taxi drivers who sometimes offer only a flat (and more costly) rate. If that happens, you can demand the meter turned on, and if the driver will not, simply hail another cab, which will likely be cheaper.

Buses and trolleys are inexpensive, but the service has been described as undependable and daunting. They can be a cheap way to get out to the suburbs of Athens if you have the time to plan a bus itinerary and are not on a deadline to arrive 

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a valid passport.

Store  hours: Opening hours can vary drastically. General stores are open from 9 am-1:30 pm and again from 5 pm-9 pm Monday to Saturday. Tourist shops and convenience stores have longer opening hours, especially in high tourist season in the European summer.

Tipping:  In restaurants and taxis you can tip between 5% and 10%. Some restaurants will round-up the bill, so you should check this before tipping. Also you can expect a ‘service charge’ or a ‘cover charge’, which is the price of bread and water. 

Safety:  Athens and Piraeus are considered safe cities overall. As always, be aware of your surroundings and lock up your valuables. Especially in large tourist areas, keep your wallets and purses close and beware of pickpockets.

ShoreFox and Wikitravel contributed to this guide.

Your take

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Overheard

“At the top of Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens, is a chapel with views of the city and the Acropolis. It's well worth the hike to the top.”

Travel + Leisure

“Prices have dropped, but the Greek debt crisis has not dampened Athens’s thriving arts scene. Recent years have seen a surge of galleries, collectives and nonprofit art organizations built for leaner times, like Radio Athènes, which hosts pop-up lectures and performances.”

New York Times

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