Athens insider tips

By Rachel Howard, your Athens expert

I write for Conde Nast Traveller, .... Read more

How to save money plus other advice on Athens

Eating and drinking

  • Greeks aren’t big tippers - 10 per cent is more than enough in restaurants, and one or two euros is standard in bars, cafés and taxis.
  • For cheap eats, you can’t beat the souvlaki: a full meal for a couple of euros. The best souvlaki can be found at Plateia Iroon in Psyrri, Kosta in Plateia Ayias Irinis, and another Kostas on Pendeli Street near Syntagma.
  • For a 60-cent breakfast, grab a koulouri (bread ring) from one of the street corner stands. Traditionally studded with sesame seeds, more ‘exotic’ flavours, like cheese and even chocolate, have appeared of late, which cost a couple of euros.
  • Take a picnic to Philopappou (Filopappou) Hill, Lycabettus, the National Gardens, or the beach. Buy ingredients from the Central Market on Athinas Street (though avoid the stalls that won’t let you choose your own produce). Or better still seek out one of the weekly farmers’ markets (laiki agora) held in most neighbourhoods.
  • Coffee drinking is a very expensive (and popular) pastime in Athens. Some cafés will charge 5 euros for a cappuccino. For good, reasonably priced coffee go to the The Acropolis Museum or the National Archaeological Museum.
  • Cocktails are pricey too (8 -10 euros) – although measures are extremely generous. The cheapest places to drink booze are at an old-fashioned kafeneion (although they are a dying breed in the city centre) or at a taverna, where barrelled wine costs around 6 euros a litre.
  • In theory, smoking is banned in all bars, restaurants, shops and public buildings. In practice, the smoking ban is frequently – and ostentatiously – flouted. There’s no point kicking up a fuss – the manager will just shrug.

Sights and attractions

  • If you plan to visit several archaeological sites, buy a 12 euro multiple entry ticket for the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysos, Keramikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Roman Agora. Valid for a week, it’s an absolute steal. You can buy this multiple entry ticket at any of the sites listed above the first time you visit.

All the major monuments (including The Parthenon) are free on the following days:

  • March 6 (in memory of the late Culture Minister and actress Melina Mercouri)
  • June 5 (International Environment Day)
  • April 18 (International Monuments Day)
  • May 18 (International Museums Day)
  • Last weekend in September (European Heritage Days)
  • Every Sunday between November 1 and March 31
  • National Holidays
  • The first Sunday of every month, except for July, August and September.

Free sights

  • Stop to watch the changing of the guard, which takes place outside the Parliament building on Syntagma Square every hour. The high-stepping soldiers in pleated miniskirts and woollen stockings (even in high summer) will delight spectators of all ages.
  • The First Cemetery of Athens in Metz is a peaceful place to wander among some of Greece’s literary giants and political heroes. Those buried here include actress and former Culture Minister Melina Mercouri and revolutionary leader Theodoros Kolokotronis.
  • Pop into one of the many churches and chapels around town to admire the icons and ornate woodwork. If you’re lucky you might catch an Orthodox service – the chanting is mesmerising.
  • Wander through the Archaeological Park surrounding the Acropolis and admire the city’s great landmarks from a distance.
  • The Pnyx, the world’s first democratic assembly, is on Philopappou (Filopappou) Hill. The name probably derives from pyknos, meaning crowded, as it would throng with citizens arguing over laws and wars in its 5th-century BC heyday. These days, you’ll almost certainly have this glorious sight to yourself.
  • Several Metro stations have wonderful displays of archaeological finds unearthed during the construction. The exhibits at Syntagma and Acropolis stations are amazing. Other stations have specially commissioned art installations.
  • Kill time at Athens Airport by checking out the small show space at Athens Airport (Arrivals Level / Entrance 1), with rotating exhibitions from photography to antiquities. The airport’s Environmental Information Centre (Departures, Entrance 3) is also open round the clock.

For English language listings on what’s on around town, check:

  • Go Culture (www.goculture.gr) - comprehensive arts and entertainment listings profiles and features.
  • The Athens News (www.athensnews.gr) - the city’s oldest English language weekly newspaper.

Getting around

  • Public transport is one of the city’s great bargains. A Metro ticket costs a flat fare of 1 euro. You can use the same ticket for up to 90 minutes on all forms of public transport. If you’re planning to move around, buy a 3 euro 24-hour pass (valid for all public transport).
  • From the airport, take the Metro or Suburban Railway (Proastiakos) to the city centre. The flat fare is 6 euros one-way. There’s also an express bus service connecting the airport to various central points in Athens (including Syntagma Square, the port of Pireaus, and Liossion train station). Many of the routes operate 24-hours and cost just 3.20 euros each way.
  • The cheapest way to get to the seaside is by tram. From Syntagma Square, trams trundle down to Faliron, Glyfada, or Voula for 1 euro (50c for 7-18 years olds and over-65s, kids under six go free).
  • Taxis are pretty reasonable (the minimum fare is 3 euros), but you do risk getting ripped off. Athenian taxi drivers are notoriously dishonest. Check the meter is running when you get in. Double tariff - you will see a number two on the meter as opposed to a number one - applies from midnight to 6am and outside the city limits. A 'holiday surcharge' also applies on and around major public holidays like Easter and Christmas.

For more expert advice on Athens, follow these links: