From soaking up over 2,000 years of history, to vibrant street art, rooftop bars and amazing restaurants, here’s how to spend the ultimate weekend in Athens.
When I heard we’d be spending a few days in Athens as part of our Greek adventure, I was so happy! I’d wanted to visit for several years, after reading numerous blogs about how cool, youthful and urban the city had become. While my interest in history has grown over the years, I was never drawn to a weekend purely wandering around historic landmarks.
So, here I was stood in Monastiraki Square, one of the city’s vibrant hubs, taking in views of the Acropolis on one side, and gigantic murals and stylish bars on the other. Over the next few days, I’d be getting to know Athens through its food, art, architecture and of course, history.
Whether you’re planning a weekend in Athens or you’re looking for a few activities to tag onto a Greek island-hopping holiday, this guide is full of helpful tips to make the most of your time in the Greek capital city.
How To Spend The Ultimate Weekend In Athens
Go on a food tour with Alternative Athens
One of the best ways to get to know Athens is by diving headfirst into its food scene! This food tour with Alternative Athens was excellent.
After meeting our local guide Andreas in Syntagma Square, we explored the many sides to Greek cuisine over the course of three and a half hours. We learned about the origins of items such as baklava – a sweet treat that has a long and fascinating history!
After sampling a cup of rocket fuel, I mean traditional Greek coffee (!) that was cooked over sand, we visited Malotira deli shop for a guided olive oil tasting. It was great to learn so much about this staple of the Greek diet. I couldn’t quite believe it when the guide told us that in Crete, they get through a whopping 21 litres of olive oil per person every year!
Some of my favourite morsels were the sweet lukumades, a kind of Greek doughnut soaked in honey and dusted with cinnamon. They were so moreish! We also squeezed in a pork pitta wrap at Hoocut and a mezze spread fit for a king to round off the experience. It was a very generous food tour – one where you’ll probably want to loosen your belt along the way, and maybe struggle to fit in dinner! I left with lots of tips for other places to visit during weekend in Athens. I always think this kind of advice from a local is invaluable.
Visit The Acropolis of Athens
You simply can’t spend the weekend in Athens and not visit the Acropolis! Constructed in the 5th century BC, this is the most complete ancient Greek monumental complex still standing today. It was built as a home of Athena, the patron goddess of the city.
The main structures to see are the remains of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion temple, the Propylaea gate and the Temple of Athena Nike. It’s thought that the entire construction took approximately 50 years and involved thousands of workers, architects and artists.
As we wandered around Athens, I found my eye was constantly drawn to it. It sits so majestically on its rocky hill; you just can’t help but admire the way it keeps watch over the city.
As well as seeing the history up close, you can also enjoy amazing panoramic views over the city. We bought this combined ticket (which was excellent value) which gave us entry to several historical sites, and was valid for 5 days. This is ideal if you’re spending a weekend in Athens and want to see lots of sites.
I’ll admit we didn’t choose the best time to visit! We arrived at the queue around 8.30am and there were already huge crowds, including some big coach and cruise tours. The Acropolis is actually open until 8pm, with last entry at 7.30pm (peak summer hours), so I’d recommend going later in the day.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Acropolis, I’d also recommend visiting the Acropolis Museum.
Take in the views of the city from Areopagus Hill
If you’re looking for the best free things to do in Athens, climbing to the top of Areopagus Hill is definitely one of them! From this spot you’ll have one of the best panoramic views of Athens. It’s a very popular place to visit at sunset, as from the top you’ll not only have a great view over downtown Athens, but you’ll also see directly across to the Acropolis.
We decided to visit straight after visiting the Acropolis (as it’s next door), but if you don’t fancy paying to go into the historic site, this is a great place to still get that quintessential Athens view.
Enjoy the rooftop bar scene in Athens
Athens is a city filled with trendy bars. As you walk around, you’ll see street corners filled with people enjoying cocktails, beers and Greek spirits such as ouzo and tsipouro. The neighbourhood Psyri is filled with cool spots, from secret bars to loud, neon-lit establishments. You also can’t miss Kolokotroni, a street recently named as the 12th coolest street in the world! It’s filled with great places to go out.
For a different perspective, how about visiting one of the best rooftop bars in Athens. You can sip a cocktail while looking out at the Acropolis or taking in a gorgeous sunset! My top recommendations would be Couleur Locale, which can be found close to Monastiraki Flea Market and Ciel, which is a few blocks from Monastiraki Square.
They both offer really interesting ranges of cocktails, although prices are on the higher side as you’re paying for the view. We didn’t book for either and managed to get great seats overlooking the city, with clear views to the Acropolis, temples and to landmarks such as the Panathenaic Stadium.
If you stay at The Foundry Suites as we did, you can also visit the picturesque rooftop gardens and bar on top of the hotel. This is a really peaceful spot away from the crowds.
Visit the historic sites in Athens
There’s something so amazing about wandering around Athens city centre and seeing ancient ruins dotted between newer landmarks. You can see many of the historic sites without paying for tickets, but to get up close, I’d recommend buying a combined ticket. As mentioned, this gives you access to a number of historic sites in Athens (including the Acropolis).
We enjoyed stepping inside the Roman Agora of Athens as well as Hadrian’s Library during our city break. It was staggering to read that the Roman Agora was built around 1 AD, and was once a marketplace with shops, a fountain and lots of huge Roman columns. That’s over 2,000 years ago – it’s so difficult to comprehend!
Meanwhile, close by is Hadrian’s Library, built later around 125 AD. This once housed over 17,000 books, scrolls and documents. While I’m not a huge history buff, I adore exploring new destinations and understanding them through their past. I think to truly get under the skin of Athens, you need to visit a few of these key spots and appreciate the impressive craftsmanship and the long period of time that has passed since they were built.
If you’re thinking of buying this combined ticket, it’s valid for a 5-day period at the Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora, Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, Lykeion Archaeological Site, Olympieio, Roman Agora of Athens and a few other spots too!
Enjoy a meal at Ergon House
If you’re looking for a cool place to go for a meal in Athens, I’d recommend visiting Ergon House. This is part food market, part restaurant. You can pop by as a customer to pick up delicious deli items, sausages, cheeses, breads and more. Alternatively, sit down and enjoy a dining experience like no other, where all of dishes are made at different counters.
Ergon House is dedicated to showcasing the best in Greek produce, so you can expect to eat your way around the country here! I’d recommend trying the traditional sausages from Thessaloniki – they were absolutely delicious.
The interiors are exciting too, with a large 200-year-old olive tree in the front restaurant, and a vertical living wall stretching up one side. It’s a really beautiful and innovative restaurant space.
Ergon House also has bedrooms on the upper floors. In fact, they say this is the first food-themed hotel in Europe!
Explore cool and vibrant Psyri
We stayed in the Psyri neighbourhood (sometimes spelled Psyrri or Psiri), so I saw first-hand how urban and fashionable this area is. There are bars on many of the streets, plus cool restaurants, street art, antique stores and more. It’s got that gentrified, hipster vibe, reminding me a bit of Hackney in London.
For entertainment value, take a walk past Little Kook. This is a fairytale-inspired café, famed for its outrageous, quirky décor. It’s not just the café that is themed though, it’s the entire outside and half of the street too! If you’re someone who loves taking cute photos for your Instagram, you’ll love the fantastical feel of this spot!
If you’re looking for nightlife, take your pick from the bars on Taki and Navarchou Apostoli. Most of them have seating out on the streets, so there’s a lively vibe after dark. We didn’t get the chance to stop by, but I thought BOO! Cocktail Bar looked very chic inside too.
Treat yourself to the best ice cream in Athens
Looking for the best ice cream in Athens? Look no further than FullSpoon. We only spent 48 hours in Athens, but we managed to visit three times. Yes – THREE! It really was that good!
If you only have time for one sweet fix during your weekend in Athens, then order a scoop of the sour cherry cheesecake. It was so tangy and sour, with a rich creamy ice cream. What a winning combination!
See some modern art at the Public Tobacco Factory
I’ve talked a little of how there’s a wonderful synergy between old and new in Athens, and this can definitely be felt when you visit the city’s modern art space inside the former Public Tobacco Factory. Built in the 1930s, this dynamic hub now has a number of different uses, including housing the Hellenic Parliament Library and Printing House.
We visited to see the Dream On exhibition, which featured large scale works by a number of interesting artists, both Greek and international. The huge artworks filled the vast space in such imaginative ways.
I particularly enjoyed this piece by Annette Messager, which featured a number of items suspended by strings from the ceiling. It filled the space with colour and items that sparked curiosity. There were also works by Damian Hirst, and an eye-catching red tentacle-like sculpture by John Bock, that sprawled its way through the atrium.
Check out Athens’s street art
Continuing with a focus on the cultural side of Athens, you won’t need to travel far around the city before you spot some huge murals, reaching several storeys high. They’re dotted all over the city. We spotted quite a few in the neighbourhood we were staying in (Psyri) and in the streets around the main food market.
For some of the best murals and street art in Athens you’ll need to visit the Exarcheia neighbourhood. This area is renowned for its political imagery and social commentary. You could even take this top-rated street art tour of Athens to learn more about the artists behind the works.
My best advice to you is LOOK UP! It’s easy to just take in what’s right around you, but when you look up, you might just spot something special!
Explore Athens’s markets
If you’re looking to squeeze in some shopping experiences to your weekend break in Athens, there are a few places to add to your bucket list.
I’d recommend a wander through Monastiraki Flea Market in the Plaka neighbourhood. This central spot has a square with several stalls selling antiques and knickknacks. There’s also a long pedestrianised street with stores on either side, running up towards Monastiraki Square, where you’ll mostly find tourist tat, but there are a few nice stores scattered along the way.
If you’re more interested in soaking up the food culture of the city, stop by Varvakeios Central Market. This is the best place in Athens to shop for fresh produce. You’ll find fish and seafood counters, butchery, vegetable stalls and some dried ingredients.
I’d also recommend a quick pitstop on Evripidou Street, also known as ‘spice street’. There are lots of tiny, traditional stores here, with amazing aromas wafting through the air. Step inside and you’ll be in treasure trove where cinnamon sticks lie next to dried lemon peel, and pungent rows of chillies hang from the ceiling.
For general shopping, head to Ermou Street, where you’ll find all of the well-known brands you’d see in any international city.
Visit the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center
Just a short taxi ride away from the centre of Athens is this feat of modern architecture. The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center is home to the Green National Opera and the National Library of Greece (holding 800,000+ books). Yet, it’s more than that! It’s a huge complex with cool courtyards, café spaces, amazing gardens and one of the best views of Athens.
We actually went on a guided tour here, which was a great way to not only see inside, but also learn about this intriguing and sustainable-focused building. The building was finished in 2016, and has been designed with a canal to one side, which seemingly connects the building to the sea beyond.
My favourite part was the rooftop area. You can hop in the lift and ride it to the “Lighthouse”, where you’ll see one of the best panoramic views over Athens. The roof has an artificial hill area that connects the building with the gardens too. It’s an amazing place to visit, especially if you’re looking to escape the touristy areas of the city centre.
Enjoy a Greek dinner of small plates
If you’re craving an informal but delicious Greek dinner, book a table at Cherchez La Femme. This restaurant occupies a lovely spot on the corner of a busy street – ideal for people watching while enjoying a leisurely meal al fresco.
The menu includes plenty of authentic Greek delicacies, with produce sourced all over the country. Most dishes cost between 6-8 EUR, which means you can order a selection of items for the table to share. Our favourites were the grilled soutzoukakia (a kind of Greek meatball with lots of herbs and spices) and the cheese and caramelised onion filo twist.
Where to stay in Athens
We stayed at The Foundry Suites in Psyri. I loved the vibe here! Each of the 12 luxury apartments is unique, with cool design features, in-keeping with its previous life as a font foundry.
We actually had the pleasure of staying here for a couple of nights at the start of our trip, and then returned again for our final night. This gave us a chance to try two different rooms.
Our first apartment had an amazing split-level design, and the second a cute little garden. All of the rooms here have open-plan kitchens and industrial details such as huge iron-clad windows and high ceilings. There’s even a rooftop garden and bar, with views of the Acropolis! The unique style of this hotel combined with its amazing central location make it a very easy place to recommend.
How to get around Athens by taxi
I found mixed information online about the best ways to navigate the city. We decided to use taxis as we didn’t have a lot of time, and we mainly needed to get to and from Athens Airport and Rafina ferry port. The best Athens taxi app right now is Beat. This app uses standard yellow taxis and as there are so many drivers in the centre of Athens, it’s rare you wait longer than 3 minutes! We were very impressed with the service.
We also used Uber for one journey which we wanted to pre-book. This was for an early morning taxi journey to the ferry port. Being able to pre-book gave us peace of mind. Both apps worked well in Athens, but I’d recommend Beat most as it has access to so many drivers and the prices were very reasonable.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my tips for the best things to do on a weekend in Athens! There are so many great things to do, you may find it hard to narrow it down if you’re short on time!
But remember, while you might want to fit a lot in, I’d also recommend leaving a bit of time to relax, wander and take it all in. It’s such an exciting and ever-changing city, some of the best moments are when you have no plans.
If you’re looking for more ideas of great things to do in Greece, there’s lots of information on the Visit Greece website. We combined our time in Athens with some island-hopping adventures, visiting the lesser-known islands of Tinos and Andros. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can have a read of these travel guides.