Athens is a favourite budget city break for ancient history lovers and foodies alike. The city is known as one of the cheapest European capitals to visit, with plenty of budget flights and many attractions that are free to visit if you know when and where to go. Ready to unlock some great travel savings? Let’s go!
Anfiotika and Psirí
Where can you feel the real atmosphere of Athens? Head to two traditional but distinctly different districts – Anfiotiki and Psirí. The first is located on the northern slopes of the Acropolis and is sometimes called the sugar cube district due to its characteristic white houses in the style of the Greek islands, packed close together. Their builders came from the Cyclades, specifically from the island of Anafi, and legend has it that their houses were built in just one night! Today, this is one of the city’s most visited districts, and a walk through the winding, narrow streets allows you to take a break from Athens’ hustle and bustle.
The Psirí district has an atmosphere reminiscent of Rome’s Trastevere or Paris’ Montmartre. Previously known as a rather unappealing area, these days its dozen or so streets, main square and whitewashed buildings attract not only tourists, but locals too – always a good sign! An ideal location to grab a bite to eat and a glass of wine, you can listen to live music, observe everyday Athenian life and just relax at a slower pace. Prices in the restaurants and bars are relatively low and the specials are really to die for! Drop by here for your morning coffee, lunch or a budget-friendly evening feast. Psirí is also a paradise for those who love antiquities as this small district houses an interesting antique market packed with furniture, old books, maps and other unique items. You’ll find it on Ermou Street, which is the border between Psirí and the equally fashionable and frequently visited Plaka.
Ancient Athens – sightseeing for free
You can’t visit Athens and not see the Acropolis, however, unfortunately, many tourists are put off by the expensive admission ticket. However, we have good news. If you plan ahead, you can see the ancient treasures for free! Free tours of the Acropolis are possible several times a year: March 6 (Melina Mercouri Memorial Day), April 18 (International Day For Monuments and Sites), May 18 (International Museum Day), the last weekend of September (European Heritage Days) and October 28 (OXI Day). In addition, from November 1 to March 31, the Acropolis can be visited for free every Sunday.
But what about the rest of the week? After the season, tickets are cheaper by half! They then cost €10 to visit Acropolis Hill and its northern slope (including the theatre of Dionysus), or €15 if you plan to see the Acropolis with its slopes and six other historic buildings, such as the Athenian Agora, Aristotle’s Lyceum, Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Roman Agora. The second ticket is valid for five days, giving you time to make the most of that admission fee. Younger visitors should also known that entrance to the Acropolis is available for free all year round for young people up to 25 years of age and students (with a valid ID or student card). Ancient artifacts can also be admired at Syntagma, Monastiraki and Evangelismos metro stations without paying. For the best shot of the Acropolis for your photos head to Monastereki Square and its terraced eateries.
Parliament and the ceremonial changing of the guard
Do you know Greek soldiers in pleated white skirts and fun pompom boots? View the iconic Greek soldiers in their pleated white skirts and fun pompom boots at the Changing of the Guard. Held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Greek Parliament, this is located above Syntagma metro station, making it very easy to find. Although the guards change every day on the hour, the most solemn and artful spectacle takes place on Sundays at 11.00 am. Then, traffic is halted on the main street and a parade of soldiers from the elite Evzone unit marches, dressed in traditional uniforms with a red, tasseled cap and pompom shoes. This event is very popular, especially in high season, so get there early to secure the best spot.
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Also near parliament are some excellent observation decks on Lykavitos Hill. It is also worth going to the National Garden, which spans 15 hectares and where you will find almost 500 species of plants, including a line of palm trees. The park’s paths meander around ponds, many of which contain turtles, and lead to the Botanical Museum, a free mini-zoo, and ancient Roman mosaics discovered during archaeological excavations.
The beautiful panoramas of Athens
Athens is located on hilltops, so, as with Lisbon or Rome, it offers great viewpoints. The most famous is the above-mentioned terrace on Lykavitos Hill, where a real crowd gathers before sunset. In addition to magnificent views of the Acropolis, you can once again admire the soldiers who solemnly take down the Greek flag from the mast next to the church of Agios Georgios ever evening. If you arrive early then do note that entrance to the temple is free! After dark, Athenians gather to sing, admire the view and sit on blankets with a bottle of wine. It’s free to go up the hill, but if you want to get there faster, you can take the cable car for around €7.50.
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Other viewpoints that are lesser known and therefore less crowded with tourists include Ares Hill, which is close to the Acropolis, and also the Hill of Muses, also known as Filopappou. The first, also known as the Areopagus, is one of the city’s favorite dating sites. If you are going on a city break with your other half, be sure to head there. You can see not only the Acropolis, which is wonderfully illuminated at night, but also a panorama of the entire city. On the Hill of Muses, also known as Filopappou or Seggio, you will find the Roman statue of Philopappos. There are many benches around the area, from which you can admire the view, full of the pretty white facades of Athenian houses.