I decided to go to Athens for some personal business and added on a few days for sightseeing. Before this trip, I had been to Athens three times in my life, the last in July 2000. I always hated being there, but has it ever changed! What a difference a metro makes! Compared to my last trips, it’s cleaner, friendlier, less congested, and overall much better.
I arrived at the airport and found it relaxed and comfortable compared to the old, dirty, chaotic airport. I quickly went through customs, got my bag, and was off to the metro. Every half hour or so there is a train into the city center for €10 (as of July 2016). You can buy tickets at a machine or from a vendor. For single rides within the city center on the metro, tickets were €1.40 (as of July 2016). Just remember, the metro runs on an honor system and you must validate your ticket at a machine before entering the platform. Your ticket is good for 90 minutes for unlimited transfers on the metro and buses. Also, some stations have free wifi!
The historic center of Athens is very walkable and easy to get around without using the metro. I preferred to just walk around from place to place unless I was in a hurry. Some people get worried about shady areas because there is a lot of graffiti in Athens. I never felt unsafe, but at night I stayed away from Omonia and didn’t really go off the tourist track very often. Take the usual precautions and use your judgment.
The hotel I stayed at was the Athinaikon in Psirri. It is a small budget hotel conveniently located just a 5 minute walk from Monastiraki Square. It is run by a very friendly and helpful family that helped me greatly during my stay. The room was small yet comfortable and clean. There were two nights when I mysteriously had mosquitoes buzzing around my ears and eating me alive, and I’m not quite sure why, because my window was closed. Anyway, I was unfortunately kept awake and had to play the role of “mosquito slayer” before getting any rest.
For food, I lived on €2 souvlaki and frappe every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My absolute favorite souvlaki was the take away souvlaki from Bairaktaris, just off Monastiraki Square. I did try a full meal there on afternoon but wasn’t impressed by the quality of the food and the unfriendly service. But the take away souvlaki was definitely amazing. I also tried souvlaki from Thanasis, just across from Bairaktaris. It didn’t compare. For frappe, I became a regular at Grigoris. It was by far the cheapest frappe in Athens and they made it perfectly every time. There are branches scattered throughout the city, but mine was at Monastiraki Square.
For shopping, off Syntagma Square there’s the pedestrian street of Ermou, full of upscale shops. On the other side of Monastiraki, Ermou is full of antique shops. All around Monastiraki and Plaka, you will find souvenir and specialty shops. Right off Monastiraki Square is the flea market and Ifestou, which is lined with all kinds of souvenir and clothing shops. You can find everything here.
Finally, for visiting the historical sites, you can get a combo ticket for €30 that gives access to the Acropolis summit and its slopes, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, the Roman Forum, the Agora, Aristotle’s Lyceum, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The ticket is valid for five days and saves visitors up to €24 if all the sites are visited.