Turquoise seas, impressive mountains, scrumptious food and crisp wine are among the things that brought 17 million tourists to Greece in 2013.
More are expected this year but Athens will not feature high up on their list of destinations during the summer. In fact, the Greek capital feels a somewhat lonely place in August as locals and tourist scamper off to the islands. In some ways this makes the height of summer the best time of the year to be in Athens to enjoy its myriad attractions, even though the city’s intensity drops a few notches under the searing August sun.
The heat means that mornings are the best time to visit the sites. The Acropolis is open from sunup to sundown. With a 6 euro ticket for students (12 for adults), you will be able to see the Ancient Agora, the Parthenon, the Temple of Zeus and the Roman-era Herod Atticus Theatre. Tours can be relatively cheap and informative. The walking tour with Athens Backpacker organisation, for instance, is only 6 euros and lasts three hours. In general, tours range from 10 euros to 40 euros and usually include a tour of all the archeological sites that are within metro and walking distance.
The Acropolis Museum is included in some of these tours but if not it should definitely be part of your itinerary. For only 5 euros, you will be able to see some of the most fascinating artefacts the world has to offer. You can also enjoy an air-conditioned break at the museum’s restaurant. The Acropolis Museum will also be hosting a special event for the full moon on August 10.
You may also want to check out sites like www.alternative-athens.com and www.bigolive.org for alternative and unique tours. Alternative Athens specialises in giving tours of a different nature, ranging from cool food tours to street-art and bar-hopping walks. These tours usually last for three hours and cost about 40 euros per person. Big Olive focuses more on art, architecture and literature tours that last about two hours and cost around 40 euros per person.
If you want to experience Athens on your own, you can head to Monastiraki or Syntagma square to enjoy some shopping, or relax at a cafe or restaurant.
The Athens Flea Market by Monastiraki metro station is a long pedestrian street filled with quirky shops full of handmade leather sandals, jewellery, instruments and many souvenirs. The long pedestrian Ermou Street, which connects Monastiraki and Syntagma, is home to international brands and has great sales during the summer. For even more up-market shopping, head to Kolonaki, where there are also numerous cafes and eateries.
If you want to sink your teeth into something traditional, then Thanasis and Bairaktaris, located on Monastiraki Square, are among the most famous kebab and souvlaki joints in Athens. If you are in the mood for fish or seafood, Mikrolimano, near Piraeus port, provides a picturesque backdrop for some finer dining. For a more modern (and expensive) take on Greek cuisine, you can try Funky Gourmet in Kerameikos, which has received rave international reviews.
Classics such as Strofi and Dionysos at the foot of the Acropolis are also on the pricey side but offer great views as part of the package.
For a quiet evening, head up Mount Lycabettus, which offers great views over the city and wonderful sunsets. If you decide to walk up the hill, you can reward yourself with an cold beer at the restaurant at the top. Other cafes with beautiful views of the city are A for Athens (part of a hotel) and 360, both on Monastiraki Square. The side streets around Syntagma, home of the Greek Parliament, are also full of side streets with bars and cafes such as the Thea Terrace Bar and Baba Au Rum (which has the largest selection of rum from all over the world), among other selections. Gazi and Psyri are also hubs for nightlife, home to many popular and alternative bars.
If you are in the mood for a late night, Athens has numerous nightclubs that stay open into the early hours of the morning and are mainly concentrated on the southern coast.
Beating the heat is not hard to do as the greater Athens area is surrounded by dozens of beaches. They range from small, rocky secluded beaches to popular sandy stretches with beach bars and sun loungers. Rafina, Porto Rafti, Mati, Schinias and Loutsa (Artemida) are on the eastern coast of Attica.
Many public and private buses leave from the Aghia Paraskevi Square and the Nomismatokopio metro station. If you want to stay closer to the city, Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni on the southern coast are easy to get to but many organised beaches along this part of the coast charge an entrance fee. You may have to pay separately for umbrellas and sun loungers. The tram from Syntagma Square stops at several beaches along the southern coast, including Glyfada and as far as Voula. Public buses go to Varkiza and Vouliagmeni, while there are also regular routes to areas such as Sounio, where you can combine a swim with a visit to the Temple of Poseidon.
Even in August, when many of the city’s residents have headed off on their holidays and visitors are usually just passing through, Athens offers a wide range of things to do. It’s no coincidence that most of these popular attractions are in practically every guidebook about Athens – after all, they offer a glance at the history, beauty and uniqueness of the city. In fact, you wonder why more tourists don’t stick around.