If the idea of exploring the cradle of western civilization seems daunting, don’t be intimidated. Athens is a pulsing city, a silky web which looks and feels like it has existed for millennia, but it may come as a surprise that less than 200 years ago, this urban sprawl was no more than a town of 5,000—a smattering of houses at the foot of the Acropolis.
While most of Athens is modern, its central districts are chock-full of history. With that said, there’s no reason why it can’t be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. This low-stress itinerary can also be spread out over a weekend and will take you through the most beautiful areas—and flavors—of the Hellenic capital.
MONASTIRAKI — ΜΟΝΑΣΤΗΡΆΚΙ
From Athens airport, it’s a 40-minute ride by rail to the city center. Take the train bound for Agia Marina and get off at Monastiraki, Athens’ historic flea market. Its bustling and scenic streets make it a great place to start your tour. Stroll through the bazaars, try a traditional Greek coffee (sip slowly), and admire the Acropolis from below.
PSIRRI — ΨΥΡΉ
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make the short walk to Athens’ equally vibrant Psirri district and sit down for an early lunch at Nikitas, a down-to-earth taverna and one of the neighborhood’s oldest eateries. With a simple kitchen and a menu comprising seasonal staples and plats du jours, expect to discover real Greek comfort cooking such as moussaka and kolokithakia gemista avgolemono—that’s stuffed zucchini with egg-lemon sauce.
ACROPOLIS — ΑΚΡΌΠΟΛΗ
Allot yourself enough time to see the highlight of Athens: its Acropolis. The buildings found on the Acropolis are considered the architectural zenith of Classical Greece, a period of 200 years beginning from the 5th century BC. Along with the famous Parthenon, dedicated to the city’s patron goddess Athena, you’ll also find the Erechtheon and its immediately recognizable porch of Caryatids. (A note: the sculptures are carefully replicated; the originals are protected from further erosion and can be seen on display at the Acropolis Museum.)
ANATRIPSIS — ΑΝΆΤΡΙΨΙΣ
If by late afternoon your limbs and soles are sore from walking, indulge yourself with a well-deserved break at Al Hammam, located on the foothills of the Acropolis. This boutique bathhouse offers a range of wellness treatments, including an exfoliating scrub with a Turkish kese mitt and anatripsis—a Greek massage technique with roots reaching back to the time of Hippocrates.
PLAKA — ΠΛΆΚΑ
Al Hammam is located in Athens’ oldest quarter—Plaka. Often referred to as the island in the city, many of the streets in Plaka are entirely absent of cars and pedestrian-only. With an abundance of shops and restaurants situated below sweeping canopies of foliage, Plaka is a fantastic area for having a drink, scouting for a souvenir or handicraft, or wandering aimlessly through and simply taking in the ambiance.
DAKOS — ΝΤΆΚΟΣ
Athens is steeped in history and tradition, but it can be modern and inventive too. Seychelles, tucked away in the city’s Kerameikos district, is a prime example, beloved by locals and visitors alike. The restaurant transforms classic dishes into creative culinary delights using locally sourced ingredients. To name one in particular, the house’s interpretation of the famous Cretan dakos salad—made using carob rusk, sea fennel, and goat’s cheese from the Aegean island of Kimolos—is simply sublime and out of this world.
TSOUREKI — ΤΣΟΥΡΈΚΙ
Got a sweet tooth? Then save some space for Fullspoon. This 50s-inspired confectionary located between the Monastiraki and Thissiou metro stations specializes in quality desserts. Here, you’ll find gelato, profiteroles, trifles, and an assortment of unique cocktails. For a dessert with a local flavor, try the tsoureki—a type of baked sweet bread—topped with hot chocolate or wild cherry syrup.