Wondering where to stay in Athens? It is difficult to marry up in the modern mind the Athens of the ancient world with the Athens that stands today.
To know that the gleaming capital city of one of the greatest empires in the history of the world, home to the inventors of Western philosophy, mathematics, and democracy, a place with 3,000 years of history, is still a city that exists and can be visited is a rather dizzying notion.
But because of just how marvellous and historically rich this city is - more than most that still stands today - it is imperative that a visit to Athens is done right.
Tourist spots like the Acropolis, seat of the Parthenon, and the Agora must not be missed, and Greek cuisine is one of the most celebrated on Earth, so the best restaurants must be found and enjoyed.
Finding the perfect place to stay, so that you can tick off all of the must-see and must-do things on your list is key to having the best possible time in one of the greatest historic cities in the world.
The Athens of today, after all, not only retains its ancient history but also offers rich arts and fashion scene, and some unmissable restaurants and cafes to enjoy.
Where to stay in Athens [2020 Guide For First Time Visitors] - Contents
Where to stay in Athens
Athens is a relatively large city with six major neighbourhoods which centre around The Acropolis.
There are several metro stations in the heart of the city and an extensive network that reaches out in the major neighbourhoods, suburbs, and to the airport making this an easy and fast city to get around.
Wherever you base yourself, it's difficult to miss the historic sites and you'll always be less than a half hour journey from them, often within walking distance.
The metro service is reliable and regular buses service the key areas.
The major tourist hub of Plaka is where most base themselves on the first visit to Athens, it's the historical centre and the charming cobblestone streets and ancient buildings can transport you back in time to that Athens of the past.
Seasoned travellers to Athens or people who prefer a more modern aesthetic tend to head for Syntagma, very much a vibrant bustling hub of modernity.
There are plenty of areas in between to get the best of both worlds or even go for something totally different in the edgy Exarchia district, known as much for its activism as its vintage shopping.
Athens Neighbourhoods Guide
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Lively historical city centre, directly under The Acropolis
Picturesque is the only way to describe this neighbourhood, the oldest part of Athens situated directly underneath The Acropolis, if you're here for Greece's long history you'll do no better than Plaka.
With easy access to the Parthenon where you can not only see one of the great wonders of the world but also catch an incredible view of the city, it's no wonder people flow to Plaka.
Why stay in Plaka
If you're in the city for a short time, it's an ideal base since there's so much to do; a fairly large and busy neighbourhood, it spans across to Syntagma district where you can also enjoy museums and modern coffee shops.
This quaint area blends narrow cobblestoned streets, neoclassical buildings, and ancient ruins while still being a fully commercial city centre.
While wandering the area you'll find tavernas to try Greek food (although finding something authentic is more difficult in this tourist-driven neighbourhood), souvenir shops, restaurants, and cute cafes.
There's very much a feeling of nostalgia for old Athens to the area while very much offering everything a visitor would expect in a modern city with a wide range of accommodation from budget to luxury, there's something to suit everyone here but book fast since it's one of the most popular areas in Athens.
If you love to take a step back in time while you're on holiday but don't mind being in the tourist hub, then Plaka is ideal.
Things to do in Plaka
- See Greece's most famous attraction for yourself at The Acropolis
- The Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments
- Benizelo's Mansion, the oldest house in Athens that operates as a museum
- Discover The Roman Agora between 19-11BC, one of the few archaeological sites in the world
- Purchase handmade gold jewellery at Byzantino
- People-watch with a cappuccino on Filomouson Etairias Square
- Visit The Tower of Winds, considered the first-ever metrological station
- Explore the 13h-century Byzantines paintings in the church of Ayios Ioannis Theologos
- Take pictures in front of the local graffiti
- Go souvenir shopping on Adrianou street
- Buy some local Ouzo at "Mr Agelos's" shop on Adrianou street
- Watch a film at Cine Paris with outdoor views on The Acropolis
Where to stay in Plaka
Monastiraki & Psiri
Central area full of entertainment, boutique shopping, and nightlife
In the heart of Athens, and two of the most popular neighbourhoods in the city, Monastiraki & Psiri are right next to each other.
Staying in this area offers a slice of real-life experience in the city while being within a stone's throw of the famous historical sites.
Why stay in Monastiraki & Psiri
Turning corners in this area offer incredible views of The Acropolis which is a fine thing to look at while having a snack at one of the street vendors.
Both neighbourhoods are well-known as the nightlife and shopping centres of Athens.
After spending your day shopping at the many clothing boutiques, souvenir shops and speciality stores, you can dance the night away, starting at Iron Square, then continuing around the maze of bars and nightclubs on offer.
Accommodation in the area is slightly cheaper than the historic centre and has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and a lively, more authentic atmosphere than some of the other neighbourhoods while still being in walking distance of the main sights.
Things to do in Monastiraki & Psiri
- Go shopping the Sunday Monastiraki Flea Market to interact with the locals and shop clothes, antiques, books, souvenirs, and more
- Visit the church of Panagia Pantanassa
- Marvel at the entrance of Hadrian's Library
- Relax with a drink and watch the day go by at Monastiraki square or Avissinias square
Where to stay in Monastiraki & Psiri
Upmarket area with designer shops, fine-dining, and boutiques
Located northeast of the Acropolis, this opulent area is one of the finest places in the city to enjoy a coffee and to people-watch.
Why stay in Kolonaki
With lovely leafy cobblestoned streets lined with cafes, wine bars, and expensive shopping areas, this upscale neighbourhood, built into the slopes of the Lycabettus Hill, displays luxury and wealth.
Foodies will enjoy this area immensely, with it boasting a number of fine dining options including traditional Greek, as well as a wide selection of international, cuisines.
There are also a number of local independent art galleries to explore after enjoying a hearty lunch. The accommodation in this area is high-end and makes this the area to choose if you're looking to splash out on an elegant holiday in a city as beautiful as Athens.
Things to do in Kolonaki
- Walk up Lycabettus Hill for a bird's eye view of Athens
- Drink a coffee or go for a cocktail on the buzzing Tsakalof Street
- Visit the neoclassical Benaki Museum for Greek Art and beautiful souvenirs
- Explore more Greek art at the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art
- Step back in time at the Byzantine and Christian Museum which features historical artwork and sculptures
Where to stay in Kolonaki
Modern city centre with plenty to do and an excellent transport hub
Whereas Plaka is the historical city centre of Athens, Syntagma is the new centre and one of the most popular places to be based in Athens.
It's in a fantastic location for getting anywhere else in the city, and public transport is convenient and easy to navigate.
Why stay in Syntagma
Syntagma is the new city centre and one of the most popular places to stay in Athens.
Syntagma is not without its history; the square itself is one of the most important political points in Athens today and in the past, with numerous protests, celebrations, and even uprisings battles through history having being held here.
Even today, if there's some sort of political demonstration or big event, it will happen here.
Dominating the square is the beautiful Parliament House building, the focus of power in modern Greece.
Usually, the area has a very relaxed vibe and the square is lined with cafes, restaurants with terraces, and wine bars to enjoy.
For a fashionable nightlife scene, Karytsi square is the place to be and it brings people from all over Athens to enjoy the lively evening atmosphere - this in itself makes the area ideal for young people who come to Athens wanting to make the most of their nights as well as their days.
Beloved by visitors and locals alike and with a wide range of accommodation options, this is an ideal choice for people who like an energetic and modern pace of life close to everything Athens has to offer.
Things to do in Syntagma
- Explore the vibrant area of Anafiotika for island culture in the centre of Athens, perfect for lovers of street art
- Throw a coin in the fountain and make a wish
- Take a free tour of the Parliament House
- Catch some tranquillity and visit the ruins at the National Garden's, once the King's Palace Gardens
- Shop on the Valaoritu Pedestrian Street which joins with the square
- Browse the ancient relics at the Numismatic Museum and the National Historic Museum
- Take a look at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Where to stay in Syntagma
A relaxed, traditional, yet central area to experience Athenian life
An overlooked sleepy part of the city which offers a traditional village vibe while being just south of The Acropolis.
Why stay in Koukaki
If you love traditional Greek food rather than the dishes geared towards tourists in areas like Plaka then you'll be thrilled with the overwhelming amount of tavernas and local cafes to choose from in this vibrant neighbourhood.
Orange trees provide shade and an intoxicating scent to the air as you wander the uneven cobbled side streets and enjoy the local shops and art galleries.
If you'd like to experience real Athenian life and want to keep costs down or you've visited Athens before and want something a little different then Koukaki will be perfect for you.
Things to do in Koukaki
- Visit the Trii Ark Hub for coffee and to support local artists
- Head to The Acropolis Museum to learn more about Athens's extraordinary structure
- Sit in the heart of the neighbourhood, the pedestrian street of Drakou to enjoy a coffee
- Admire the jewellery at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum
- Browse Greece's finest artwork at the magnificent National Museum of Contemporary Art
Where to stay in Koukaki
Vibrant hipster neighbourhood popular with Athenian youth
The edgy part of Athens, Exarchia is a creative and youthful hub which has strong associations with anarchist culture and anti-capitalist movements.
Why stay in Exarchia
Although it has been deemed a turbulent spot, this has been mostly to do with the regular protests that happen in this area and definitely shouldn't put anyone off in terms of safety.
In fact, Exarchia has a lot to offer anyone looking for a different side to Athens.
Full of live music and music culture in general, vinyl stores line the street and there's always a gig going on in one of the many bars.
There's also a thriving vegan and vegetarian culture here and so you'll find quirky restaurants and cafes that will suit anyone who loves vegan cuisine and delicious Greek food.
It's a youthful and colourful area, literally colourful since there's graffiti everywhere, and there's plenty to see and do.
For those on a budget who are looking for a fun time in Athens, this is ideal.
Things to do in Exarchia
- Visit the National Archaeological Museum of Athens to see incredible history
- Catch a show at Vox, the city's oldest theatre
- Wander up Lofos Strefi, a famous hill with views over Athens
- Go vintage or book shopping in Exarchia's many retro and second-hand stores