Athens: A Short Stay in the Ancient Capital

Before we set off to the Greek Islands for 8 days, we had 2 full days to explore Athens, the ancient capitol of Greece.

Day 1

Day 2

  • Food excursion in Monastiriki and surrounding areas
  • The Acropolis
  • Watched a film at Thision Open Air Cinema

Plaka: Where we based ourself

We stayed in an Airbnb in Plaka near the Akropoli metro station less than a 5-minute walk to the south entrance of the Acropolis itself. From here, we could get everywhere in the city centre in less than 20 minutes of walking. The centre itself is dense and full of incredible restaurants, historic sights, museums and shops.

Our host, Giannas, welcomed us to Greece with a shot of Ouzo and some recommendations on what to do in the area. We soon learned that Plaka itself is very much catered to tourists. Whilst very beautiful to explore, we couldn’t help but feel it was all just a big show for tourists. Giannas recommended the Monastiraki area for restaurants and nightlife. Our walking tour guide, Michael, echoed these same thoughts, claiming that no Greek people eat food in Plaka!

Good to know in retrospect, and painfully obvious when strolling through and all you see is touristy shops and restaurants. Although the proximity to the Acropolis was excellent and the area was quiet in the evenings. Everything being in walking distance meant it never became an issue.

Day 1: Walking Tour, Central Market, Acropolis Museum and a Wine Bar

Byzantine churches, modern architecture and the Ancient Agora of Athens

Athens Free Walking Tour

We started the day bright and early with a walking tour with Athens Free Walking Tour. When travelling to a big city like Athens, a great way to get a feel for the layout, vibe and culture is to take a walking tour. Across Europe there are walking tours for all budgets. Based on experience, the free ones I have done have all been incredibly useful. Nowadays, they’re an essential part of visiting a new city for us.

Modern Athens

Before setting on our way we grabbed a couple of macchiatos from the Coffee Island that was nearby.

We want to avoid spoiling all of the surprises of the tour and just give an idea of what you will be doing and seeing:

  1. You’ll hear historical facts and modern insights about Athens
  2. You’ll get great food and nightlife recommendations
  3. You’ll get ideas on what to see and do for the rest of your time
  4. You’ll have the opportunity to ask your guide about anything

Our guide, Michael, was very well educated in ancient history and has a deep knowledge and understanding of Athens.

The tour lasted a little under 3 hours and finished in Monastiraki. We took one of Michael’s food recommendations and had an incredible lunch at O Thanasis. The moussaka we had there was the best we had during our time in Greece.

Sellers at the Central Market

Central Market

The Central Market is a noisy and bustling fresh produce market. The main hall sells meat and seafood whilst the surrounding area sells vegetables, herbs and spices.

We arrived in the early afternoon. There was still a lot of activity with plenty of sellers around. The seller’s area feels like a relic of the past and not the kind of thing you’ll see in a central part of a modern city. This authentic and local feel really adds to its charm.

Even if you’re not buying, wandering through the market is an experience for the eyes and nose. Although, if you’re a vegetarian or turned off by the smell of meat you may want to skip this place.

Interior of the Acropolis Museum with the Acropolis viewable in the distance

Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is dedicated to the archaeological discoveries from the Acropolis. It can be a good idea to visit here first before going to the Acropolis itself. But either order works.

This sleek, modern building first opened in 2009 and was a welcome respite for us by the blaring summer heat. Close to 4,000 objects are on display here and there are great views of the city from the restaurant terrace.

Entrance only costs €5 and is a great stop for a couple of hours. If you can, hire a guide and you will get so much more out of it!

Wine list at Cinque

Restaurant: Dinner and wine tasting at Cinque

After some much needed afternoon rest from a packed day of sight-seeing we headed out to Cinque. This is a place to bring your loved one, sip on some divine wine and talk about your experiences of the day.

We sampled a bunch of different wines and shared a meat platter together. The owner explained the origins and optimal tasting experience of each wine we tried. We aren’t serious wine drinkers but I imagine a wine fanatic would get a lot out of this place!

The staff were cheery and helpful, and our names were printed out and placed in a frame for our table when we arrived. These little details are what makes a night at Cinque an unforgettable experience.

We recommend booking beforehand as it’s a very popular place. We got lucky and managed to secure a booking on the day.


Day 2: Food Excursion, The Acropolis and an Open Air Cinema

Views from The Acropolis

Food excursion

Our day was planned around visiting the Acropolis in the afternoon. This was to avoid the mass of crowds and hot weather. We also didn’t want to get burnt out on ancient sites and monuments beforehand.

We both love Greek food and wanted to sample as much of the local food as possible. What better place to do that than Athens? We hastily researched where we should eat and put together a list.

O Kostas

First stop was O Kostas to try the best souvlaki in Athens. Or so they claim. O Kostas is a family run business that has been around for over 65 years. They serve a simple, old fashioned style of souvlaki for €2 each. An absolute bargain.

We both went for pork and devoured it quickly. It was delicious. We could have easily had several more! We had to leave some room for the other food stops though so it was off to get some coffee next.

Pork souvlaki from O Kostas and the entrance to TAF_theartfoundation


The unusual name of this cafe stood out to us and good things happen when you combine art and coffee. This stylish spot was full of Greek people of all ages enjoying a chat and coffee. We ordered a couple of iced coffees from here as that seemed to be what was popular.

The coffees were fine. The space itself, however, seems to be the main draw. It feels hidden away and makes a great escape from the chaos outside.

Bougatsadiko Thessaloniki

Next up was sampling some Greek style pastries at Bougatsadiko Thessaloniki. The pastries are known locally as Bougatsa. We tried spinach and feta cheese and minced meat. Both were amazing and started our love affair with these pastries.

They’re a common breakfast meal and we had them often during our stay in Greece.

Gondolas along the pier at Doge’s Palace

Acropolis of Athens

To put it simply, visiting The Acropolis is an absolute must-do whilst in Athens. In the summer months it can get extremely busy, like most of the big ticket sites across Europe. We were advised to visit in the early afternoon, as the mornings tend to be busier and by then the big crowds have finished up and left to eat lunch.

Another tip we came across was entering via the south entrance, which is closer to the Akropoli metro station and Acropolis Museum. This entrance tends to be much quieter than the main one. We lined up for less than 5 minutes to get our tickets here.

One of the best parts about visiting are the smaller temples and sites you can explore as you ascend to the top, where the visually iconic Parthenon rests. You also get great views of the city.

Thision Open Air Cinema

Our last stop for the day was the Thision Open Air Cinema. Located near the Acropolis, this retro cinema has a lot of charm and ended up being one of our fondest memories of Athens. It was the perfect place to unwind after a long day of exploring.

Tickets are well priced and so is the popcorn (and other snacks) and alcohol. There is an intermission during the middle of the film where you can stock up again also. All of this while you sit under the stars with the Acropolis in the background.

Visiting in the evening is essential, and we imagine it would get quite chilly outside the summer months.

After the movie we went back to our Airbnb for some much needed rest. We had an 8am flight the next morning to head south towards Milos, a beautiful island famous for its rocky landscape.

What would we have done differently?

  • Stayed in Monastiraki. We found ourselves walking in and out of that area a lot. We could have saved some time and been closer to all the great restaurants and bars.
  • Hired a guide for the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum. Whilst we still had a great time exploring, the copy on the info boards can’t tell a story the way a historian can.
  • Spend at least another day to try more of the local cuisine or even go on a food tour. The food in Milos and Santorini (our next stops in Greece) never quite matched what we had in Athens.