Before visiting Athens, I had heard mixed reviews. People either hated it or loved it. Some said they felt unsafe, others found it underwhelming. I listened to everyone’s insights and opinions but no matter what, I really wanted to visit Athens. At least once.
I personally really loved Athens. I thought the city was beautiful, the people were lovely and the food was incredible. And of course, the history is beyond compare! The city blew me away, to say the least! But there were a few things that surprised me about Athens.
Here are a few useful tips on things I wish I knew before visiting Athens! None of them truly impacted me from enjoying my time but I highly recommend having a read before your next visit to Athens!
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1. The metro doesn’t run that often!!
If you’re like me and have visited major cities in Europe like Paris or London, don’t expect the metro system in Athens to be similar! For starters, there aren’t many that many lines. To me, that isn’t a big deal because they have managed to fit a considerable amount of stops across the city into 3 metro lines!
However, the biggest surprise was how infrequent they run. Especially the line going to the airport!! The Blue Line (metro line 3) is available from 6:30 am until 11:30 pm but only runs every 30 minutes and it takes approximately 40 minutes to get from the airport to the city centre. Be sure to keep this in mind while visiting Athens and travelling to and from the airport! 30 minutes can make a huge difference if you are rushing for a flight!!
2. The BEST time to visit is in September
I visited Athens this past spring (April 2023) and one of the main reasons behind this decision is that it would be less crowded and not boiling hot. This was true for both cases! There, of course, were still plenty of people around but it was way more manageable than what I’d imagine it would be like mid-summer. And the temperatures were really quite comfortable! I actually wore long pants and long sleeves most of the time!
However, after speaking with locals, they told us that the actual perfect time to visit Greece is in September. The reason is that you get to enjoy the same perks as visiting in the spring (fewer people and not too hot) but also the waters are much warmer. Swimming was something we didn’t get to enjoy because the water was quite cold and the weather was quite windy most days! If you’re planning on visiting Athens, the Athenian Riviera or any Greek islands any time soon, maybe consider visiting during the shoulder season in September!
3. Bring your reusable water bottle!
Finding out if you can drink tap water is usually one of my first Google searches when I arrive in a new country or city. Can you drink the water? In Athens, yes you can! It is a major city so they have the infrastructure in place to make the tap water drinkable and safe. This is not the case for the Greek Islands (even Santorini). This is mainly because they don’t have any freshwater sources on the islands. However, tap water is safe to use because it is desalinized, for washing and whatnot, just not to drink!
So if you’re visiting Athens, remember to pack your reusable water bottle, but unfortunately, you’ll have to stick to buying plastic water bottles on the islands!
4. You do NOT need a 3-day metro pass
When I first got off the plane in Athens and went to buy a metro ticket to get into the city centre, I came across the 3-day metro pass. I was going to be visiting Athens for exactly 3 days so I thought this was perfect! It included roundtrip fare to the airport as well as unlimited uses for public transportation in the city.
In the end, I did not use my 3-day metro pass, besides using it to get to the airport. Once you’re in the city centre of Athens, for the most part, everything is walkable! This of course depends on where your accommodations are and where you want to visit! I personally, did not use it once! I could walk everywhere I wanted to go around the city in no time at all!
Tip: For cheaper accommodations, browse through the options on Hostel World!
5. Food is pretty cheap!
I have travelled quite a lot around Europe and I currently live in France. The average meal I would say in France I have is between 20-30 euros, maybe a bit more if I go for a dessert or get a drink. This would be in any average restaurant! In Athens and Santorini, I was eating in restaurants with stunning views, live music and really great quality food for the same price, if not less!
Just looking at some of the restaurants, I would assume it would cost a fortune. But this is not necessarily the case! I found most foods were really cheap! Whether you were grabbing a Gyro for lunch, grabbing pastries for breakfast or having dinner with a view. Every meal I felt was very reasonably priced. Most days, I was well under my food budget!
6. English is spoken everywhere
This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but it might be comforting to know that English is spoken almost everywhere in Athens. It is the main city centre in Greece and has a lot of tourists coming in so naturally, English is widely available. Most people I interacted with spoke English and they even had translated menus in most restaurants. I still truly believe that learning a bit of the local language is the least effort any tourist can do when visiting a new country! So when visiting Athens, even though you have English to fall back on, maybe learn hello, please and thank you!
7. Try as many new foods as you can!
One of my favourite experiences in Athens was taking a food tour. There is so much more to Greek cuisine beyond Moussaka and Greek salad! You can discover so many different corners of Athens and discover true authentic food spots and meals. My personal favourite food was called Portokalopita which is a traditional orange cake – and it was something I had never even heard of before!
Diving into the local culture through food is one of the best ways to get to know a city and a country. You’ll learn about their traditions, their habits, daily life and history. And you’ll do all of that while enjoying the BEST foods the city has to offer, away from the touristy centre!
These 7 elements were just a few things I learned while visiting Athens, that aren’t always widely talked about. I personally would have found it super useful to know about the metro frequency. And knowing I didn’t need to waste my money on a metro pass! And I now know for next time to aim to visit in the fall instead of the spring! Of course, every traveller is different but I hope this list was useful while planning your next visit to Athens.