Information & Facts
Athens is known as one of the sunniest cities in Europe, with a
semi-arid climate and low average annual rainfall. The rain that
does occur falls during the winter months, between mid-October and
mid-April, usually as short, heavy showers. Summers are very hot,
exacerbated by smoggy conditions, and heatwaves are common during
July and August when the mercury soars to over 104°F (40ºC).
Winters are mild although frost can occur and nights can be cold.
The best time to travel to Athens is during the cooler, fine
weather of spring and summer.
The Greek salad has made a firm impression the world over, and
it might not be long before other aspects of Greek cuisine start
gaining popularity across the Mediterranean. The exotic and varied
nature of Greek cuisine is a tantalizing attraction for travelling
A traditional Greek meal is typically accompanied by a selection
of hors d'oeuvres, known as
mezedes. These include
melitzanosalata(mashed eggplant with oil, lemon and
gavros marinatos(marinated anchovies),
saganaki(grilled or fried cheese) and many other options.
While many tourists ask for famous 'Greek' dishes like dolmades and
baklava, restauranteurs are quick to correct that perception,
explaining that those foods are actuallyTurkish in origin.
A sit-down eating experience takes place mostly in Athens' Plaka
region at the foot of the Acropolis. There are four tiers of
restaurants. In an estiatorio, the familiar (but more expensive)
restaurant experience is offered. Tavernas are less formal, cheaper
and oriented toward more traditional cooking. The
psistariaare the Greek equivalent of a steakhouse, often
buffet with spit-fired meat on display, while
psarotavernaspecialising in seafood dishes.
In Athens there is a culture of street vending, which means one
can do all one's eating 'en route' so to speak. Among the culinary
curiosities on offer are Koulouri (sesame seed bread ring),
Galaktoboureko (custard-filled pastry dusted with icing sugar) and
Tyropitta (cheese or spinach pies). Souvlaki is a popular Greek
fast food where meat and vegetables are grilled on a skewer and
often served in a pita sandwich. The Syntagma district has a number
of places to eat on the run.
The drinking scene is dominated by a strong, anise-flavoured
liqueur called Ouzo. Ouzo originated in Greece and is traditionally
served with the mezedes, distilled in water. Greece also has a
6,000 years history of wine production and boasts over a dozen
varieties of red and white wine, though connoisseurs may be
disappointed in the lack of subtlety.
Most tourist sites are within the city centre, which is easy to
get around on foot, however there is an extensive public transport
network consisting of buses, trolley buses, minibuses and a fast
new 3-line underground metro service that requires a standard
ticket for a 90-minute usage span. The metro is especially useful
to get to Piraeus to catch a boat to the islands. The metro
stations double as impressive archaeological art and artefact
galleries. Transport is cheap, but often overcrowded especially
during the siesta rush hour between 1pm and 3pm, and operates until
midnight; a limited night bus service operates along major routes.
Bus and metro tickets are not transferable, but a daily pass can be
used on both; single tickets or packets of 10 must be bought in
advance and validated when getting on. Although taxis are plentiful
it may be difficult to get one during the siesta rush hour, and it
is not unusual to share the ride with other passengers going in the
same direction. It is often easier to phone ahead for a radio cab.
Taxis are inexpensive, but always check that the meter is on and
set to the minimum fare of EUR1 as drivers will often attempt to
overcharge tourists - if its 'not working' look for another taxi.
Legitimate surcharges can increase the final bill, but these should
be displayed on the dashboard. Driving in Athens is not
recommended, there are new laws banning cars from the commercial
centre to reduce heavy traffic and pollution, and parking anywhere
is near impossible.
For a city steeped in so much history, many would think that
children on holiday in Athens would be bored. But look behind the
ancient ruins and temples and find plenty of exciting attractions
and activities for kids of all ages to enjoy. With warm summers and
mild winters, Athens boasts the perfect climate for outdoor
activities and it's no wonder the city is scattered with parks and
gardens. Picnicking in these is a regular pastime for many local
Athenians and many of the gardens feature children's playgrounds.
Take the cable car up Mount Likavitos and let the kids enjoy the
view over the city and explore the paths up top, or for the more
insatiable child, a trip to one of the Athens' theme parks or the
go-kart track will tire them out. When the weather is colder and
kids activities out of doors are not an option, head to one of the
many children's museums dotted around the city, an indoor
playground, or take the kids to the world's finest planetarium for
a spot of stargazing. With all these options and more, parents will
have no problem finding time to take their children exploring round
Athens for the day to enjoy their own little experience of one of
the world's most loved and visited cities.
Greek is the national language, but English is widely
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, divided into 100 cents.
Banks and bureaux de change are widely available and travellers
cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are
widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient
method of obtaining euros.
Greece has earned a reputation in not only Europe, but across
the globe, for its crazy island summer nightlife, but don't be
fooled - the nightlife in Athens can rival just about any of its
island counterparts. Athens boasts a hectic nightlife consisting of
everything from sex shows and gay bars to traditional Greek music
and dancing to classical concerts.
Taking an afternoon nap to rest up for the evening's activities
is a good idea, as most parties don't really get going until well
after dinner, which can be as late as 10pm in the summertime. The
old Turkish quarter, known as the Plaka district, is a great place
to start where tavernas and fast-food souvlaki joints bustle and
diners sip on aperitifs on rooftop terraces overlooking the
Acropolis to the sounds of violins, concertinas and bouzouki
playing traditional urban Greek music like Rembetika and Smyrneika.
Many tavernas have lively music and dancing, including Taverna
Mostrou and Palia Taverna Kritikou.
After dinner, head to one of the many music bars, clubs, rock
and jazz venues in the city. Clubbing in Athens is expensive, with
many large venues charging entrance of EUR10-20, and upwards of
EUR10 per drink. For a less touristy option, head to the area
around the port of Pireau and explore the clubs and bars on offer
Parafono, in the centre of Athens, is a live-music club
dedicated to jazz and blues and a great place to watch a gig, while
Sundays are dedicated to country, rock and acoustic jam. In the
distance the red chimneys of Technopolis attract bourgeois
bohemians who flock to jazz and comedy festivals in this former
One of the most unique and breathtaking venues for a live
concert is the theatre on Mount Lycavettos, which has hosted many
world-famous artists. You'll find classical music programmes at the
Megaron Mousikis Concert Hall, Olympia Theater, and the Pallas
Theater. For traditional Greek theatre and dancing, head to the
Athens Centre or the Dora Stratou Folk Dance Theater.
Grab a copy of the International Herald Tribune for its daily
Kathimerini cultural and entertainment listings, or the monthly Now
in Athens has comprehensive lists of clubs, restaurants, theatre,
Historically a crossroads for Middle Eastern and European
traders, present-day Athens holds a treasure trove of goods from
all over the world. This city boasts a plethora of boutiques,
department stores, speciality shops and markets. Popular buys
include antiques, ceramics, books, jewellery, shoes and olive oil.
In the centre of Athens there are numerous music stores and
bookshops, some of which offer translations of the modern Greek
authors and music records no longer in production. The Monastiraki
Square flea market runs into Pandrossou and Ifaistou streets and is
great for local produce and various antiques. While it is
operational all week, the best bargains are available on Sundays.
Ermou Street is one of Athens' main shopping streets and hosts
clothing, accessory and souvenir shops, trading in everything from
old money and copper pots to fine ceramics, designer labels and
sensational jewellery. Vildiridis and Bulgari jewellers can be
found on Voukourestiou and the adjacent streets. Located beneath
the Acropolis, the Plaka shopping area also has numerous jewellery
stores, art shops, cafés and street vendors.
Athens is an ancient city in the true sense of the word, and one
gets the sense that they're tripping over priceless artefacts. Its
origins and culture date back to the years when gods of myth walked
the earth, a history reflected in popular destinations such as the
Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ancient Agora, where
the temples of the gods Hephaestus and Apollo are also found.
The 3,000 year history of Athens and, indeed, ancient Greece is
perusable on 'museum mile' along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue. Here
most of Athens' museums are clustered, including the Benaki Museum,
the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum. The 'mile'
starts from Syntagma Square, the home of the Greek Parliament.
For the best view of the city, climb Lycabettus Hill for its
spectacular view of the Parthenon. The tranquil National Gardens
make a lovely daytime break for those tired of the urban rush, or
you can take a tram to Athens' urban beaches, including Agios
Kosmas, Attica Vouliagmeni, and Varkiza.