Culture Trip's Guide to Athens, Greece

The Erechtheum temple, on the Acropolis in Athens, was dedicated to the goddess Athena
The Erechtheum temple, on the Acropolis in Athens, was dedicated to the goddess Athena | © IORDANIS PALLIKARAS / Alamy Stock Photo
Chloe Byrne

Read this ready collection of bookable travel ideas inspired by what you love. From the Parthenon on the Acropolis to Unesco-listed Delphi, discover the things to do, where to stay and the best spots to eat and drink in our definitive guide.

Athens, named after the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena, is one of the world’s oldest cities. From the ancient ruins of the Acropolis to the cracked frescoes of Byzantine churches, the city is a treasure trove of mythological and historical monuments. There is no shortage of modern-day delights either, with colourful street art, sleek eateries and open-air cinemas peppered among the time-honoured sights.

Where to stay

1. Coco Mat Hotel Athens

Boutique Hotel

Outdoor eating area on balcony at Coco Mat Hotel Athens, facing a wall covered in decorative motifs and colourful mounted planters.
Courtesy of Coco Mat Hotel Athens / Expedia

Coco Mat Hotel Athens, in the well-heeled district of Kolonaki, offers all the perks: cloud-like beds, espresso machines and Zealots of Nature toiletries, while suites provide extra living space to lounge in with a good book. In the evenings, plug into Bang & Olufsen speakers while you’re getting ready, then head up to the rooftop garden for fresh Mediterranean fare and views of the historic skyline. It’s worth a look in daylight too – check out the wall murals depicting a donkey in The Thinker pose, a rabbit shooting carrots and a dog riding a dragonfly, all framed by spilling ivy.

2. City Circus Athens Hostel

Hostel

Simple double bedroom with a green and yellow headboard and a desk at City Circus in Athens
Courtesy of City Circus / Hotels.com
Stepping inside the City Circus Athens Hostel feels like stumbling into the The Greatest Showman’s (2017) candy-striped tent. Housed in a 19th-century building, the old-school lobby has retro furniture, a home cinema projector and stacked bookcase, not to mention a hula hoop and vintage tricycle – an ominous sight for fans of The Shining (1980). When you’re not watching a movie or sipping sundowners on the rooftop patio, you can swing by the photo booth to dress up like PT Barnum using circus-themed props. Stripped-back rooms range from an eight-bed dorm to a private four-bed with a balcony, all with ensuites.

3. AthensWas Design Hotel

Luxury

Terrace at AthensWas Design Hotel with plants, tiled flooring and seating with views of the Acropolis
Courtesy of AthensWas Design Hotel / Expedia

From the second you set foot on the polished labyrinthine-style floors of AthensWas to the moment you curl up under your bed’s feather duvet, you’ll be surrounded by luxurious designer furniture and prints of ancient Greek sculptures. There are only 21 rooms, creating that extra boutiquey feel while also ensuring you won’t need to wait (or wait long) for a machine at the gym in the morning. Rinse off after an intense workout in your rain shower, make a frothy coffee using the in-room Nespresso machine and pull up a chair on your balcony. Splash out on the Hellenic Suite for beguiling views of the Acropolis from the plushly furnished veranda.

What to do

4. Discover the wonders of Delphi

Historical Landmark

Panoramic view of Athena Pronaia Sanctuary at Delphi
© Sebastian Condrea / Getty Images

Put yourself in the leather sandals of the ancient Greeks on a trip to the Unesco-listed archaeological site of Delphi. No need to rent a car, just hop on a coach tour and be whisked away to the enchanting remains of the Hellenic hilltop sanctuary. Make sure your walking boots are tightly laced as you clamber up stone steps to the overgrown ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo and its weather-beaten sculptures. If you’ve already ticked Delphi off your list, take a tour to the 14th-century monasteries of Meteora or 4th-century BC theatre of Epidaurus.

5. Wander through the ruins of the Acropolis

Historical Landmark

© Alpineguide / Alamy Stock Photo
What’s a trip to Athens without an Instagram-worthy photo of the Acropolis to take home? Presiding over the capital city on a craggy limestone hill, the ancient citadel is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Embark on any tour of the city, whether by bike or on foot, and you’ll likely end up at the Acropolis. Whether you’re wandering through the storied ruins or gazing up from a hillside viewpoint, an expert guide can offer a deep dive into the mythological world of ancient Greece.

6. Learn How to Scuba Dive in Nea Makri

Natural Feature

© MitarArt / Alamy Stock Photo

Explore the cerulean depths of the Mediterranean on a scuba diving experience. Just a three-hour excursion from Athens lies the town of Nea Makri, home to a handful of diving centres. If you’re a beginner looking to learn the basics of scuba diving, then this is the place. An experienced instructor will give you the lowdown on theory and safety measures before you take to the water. During your first dive, you’ll drop slowly down to the shrouded seabed where you can swim among the marine life.

Where to eat

7. Lithos Tavern

Restaurant, Greek

The neoclassical frame of Lithos Tavern makes for an enchanting first impression. Think wooden doors, sage-green shutters and awnings laced with creeping vines. Inside, exposed cobblestone walls and decorative olive branches meant to symbolise peace and prosperity add to the seductive look and feel – and it’s here where the authentic Greek fare is served. Seafood lovers should try the grilled salmon, octopus or squid. If you’re feeling slightly more carnivorous, the lamb shank – smothered in thyme and honey, and accompanied by a side of freshly harvested potatoes – is not to be overlooked.

8. Dionysos Zonar's

Restaurant, Mediterranean, European, Greek

© Charles Stirling (Travel) / Alamy Stock Photo
The glass-fronted Dionysus Zonar’s offers a front-row seat to the Acropolis – a breath-stealing sight in the evenings when the ancient remains are theatrically lit from below. With views from almost every corner, deciding where to sit will be the hardest part; grab a table among plant-tangled trellises in the moonlit courtyard, under the cosmic-style lighting of the covered terrace or in the restaurant’s elegant interiors. The menu offers a selection of classics like moussaka, Greek salad and creamy mushroom risotto – all best washed down with an Aphrodite’s Myth, a cocktail which combines vodka, mastiha (mastic tree liqueur) and frothy apple-caramel foam.

9. Oikeio

Restaurant, Greek

Oikeio is found on a well-trodden footpath, enticing people in with aromas of traditional Greek food and the sound of smooth jazz. It gets even better inside; in the warmly-lit space piles of fake fruit, old copper teapots and potted lavender sit under a halo-reminiscent light fixture entwined with leafy vines. You can also sit outside to enjoy a plate of roasted halloumi with basil oil in the dappled shade. Other hearty home-cooked dishes include a blue-cheese burger, fried meatballs and a smoked trout salad.

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