It did not take long for the lively Greek capital city to win me over. Athens has been a city I dreamed of visiting ever since I was a little kid nerding out over Greek mythology and the legendary figures of Ancient Greece. As far as I was concerned, Athens was a legend in itself. I definitely put it on a pedestal as high as the Acropolis. Needless to say, my expectations were through the roof, and yet Athens exceeded every single one of those expectations. I quickly fell in love with this beautiful, historic city along the Mediterranean.
What Is Visiting Athens and Greece Like During COVID?
Greece was one of the first European countries to open back up to travelers. They’re relatively laid back, but that doesn’t mean you should take advantage of their relaxed restrictions. If you’re fully vaccinated or not a risk to other people, then by all means, come by for a lovely time on the Mediterranean. All you’ll need is your plane ticket, your vaccination card, and you’ll need to fill out their Passenger Locator Form at least 24 hours before you arrive in Greece. I didn’t know about the PLF until I got to the airport, so it was the only time I was thankful for a long layover because it pushed my total travel time to just over 24 hours. Here are the up-to-date entry requirements for Greece according to the Embassy.
While many places in Greece are opening up, there is still a mask requirement in most indoor places and public transportation. Greece, along with many other European countries, lifted their mask mandate in late June, meaning that you don’t have to wear a mask outdoors anymore. However, indoor establishments and individual businesses may still make you wear a mask. Archaeological sites usually required masks as well, including the Acropolis. It’s not as chill as the islands of course. As of late June, indoor seating at restaurants and bars is still not allowed. However, with perfect weather and beautiful views all around, you won’t mind being outdoors.
Bars and clubs supposedly shut down at 1:30 AM, but Athens is used to being a very late night city. Some people will still be eating dinner around midnight. Basically, 1:30 AM for a club shutting down is a very laxed restriction. Since there’s no indoor seating, there’s also no indoor dancing. The parties during COVID are street parties outside of the clubs, which was honestly very fun. I was partying on terraces until at least 3 AM. I can’t imagine how wild Athens is during normal times. A couple weeks after I left Athens, clubs were supposedly allowed to open up again, so they might be up and running again by now.
Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy whenever you’re out adventuring. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels.
Where To Stay in Athens for Backpackers
During my time in Athens, I stayed at the modern and centrally-located Athens Backpackers. Just minutes away from the Acropolis and other attractions, you couldn’t ask for a better home base to explore the city. A minute’s walk away has you at the Acropolis Metro Station, and another two or three minutes’ walk will have you at a bus stop on the main road. You’ll have all of Athens at your fingertips, whether you prefer walking or public transportation. I spent a week exploring this city and it was the best home base I could have asked for.
Despite being in one of the historic districts of Athens, this hostel is quite modern as well. The dorms are pod-style beds with spacious ensuite bathrooms and balconies overlooking a cute street lined with orange trees. The rooftop bar also gives you a stunning view of the Acropolis. Athens Backpackers has all the amenities you could hope for, including free breakfast, laundry services, a free walking tour, and nightly social events. For my fellow solo travelers, look no further. The social atmosphere of this hostel makes it a must if you’re looking to find some mates to travel Greece with.
Athens was my first stop in Greece, and my first time in Europe in nearly three years. After bouncing around North, Central, and South America for the previous two years, it was also my first time in a long time being in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Like, I’m talking a new alphabet to learn entirely. I’d forgotten just how helpful it is to find yourself at a good hostel with helpful and knowledgeable staff who are so willing to go out of their way to help you. As travel picks back up again, I can only imagine just how fun Athens Backpackers will be with a full crowd and raucous social events.
You can book Athens Backpackers directly through their website.
Things To Do In Athens on a Budget
Athens is a massive city, and it’d be hard to write anywhere near a comprehensive list, so I’ll just narrow it down to a few things. If you know me, you already know this will mostly be sunset hikes with great views. The sizzling Greek heat can be brutal during the day, so having a few sunset beers and plopping down on a hill overlooking the city was the highlight of every day.
The Acropolis and Other Historical Sites
While not necessarily cheap, this is obviously a can’t miss destination. This is arguably the world’s most famous archaeological site. Best of all, it really isn’t that expensive. If you’re under 25 years old, it only costs 10 euros to enter the Acropolis. Standard tickets are 20 euros, but unless you’re only in Athens for a day or two, I don’t recommend getting it. You can get a pass that includes multiple archaeological sites and attractions for 30 euros, including the Roman forum and other temples and sites around the city. Basically, if you just go to three of these sites, you’ll get your money’s worth. Most of them are close to the Acropolis, too, so you don’t wander too far to get your money’s worth.
There are other famous sites that are just outside of Athens, like the Temple of Poseidon overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Here’s a more comprehensive list of the archaeological sites in Athens and the surrounding region.
National Archaeological Museum
Make sure not to miss the National Archaeological Museum either. It costs 12 euros to enter but it was definitely worth it, at least for history and mythology nerds like me. There are some incredibly well-preserved artifacts and statues dating back thousands and thousands of years, long before the glory days of Athens. It seriously blew my mind learning about just how vast and varied the histories, civilizations, and cultures of Greece were. There are artifacts and items dating back to before the Bronze Age from civilizations and peoples that I’d never even heard of.
The Beaches of Athens
Athens is along the Mediterranean Coast. To get to the beaches, you just need to drive 15-20 minutes or hop on public transportation for 30-45 minutes. They are pretty rocky and aren’t as nice as the islands, but the waters are still turquoise and stunning. You have quite a few options from Athens, including Voulougmiani Beach and the stunning Voulougmiani Lake nearby.
Roam Through The Many Neighborhoods of Athens
I honestly didn’t think Athens was going to be nearly as cute as it was. The Plaka neighborhood is where most tourists center themselves, and it is gorgeous. It feels like a fairy-tale, strolling through the flower-lined alleyways with the Acropolis towering in the background. Psirri is another great neighborhood, although much more alternative and urban than Plaka. It’s where you’ll find the nightlife in Athens. The parties spill out to the streets and everyone here is having a good time. During the day, it’s worth visiting for the street art. The best way to take on Athens is just wander around aimlessly on foot. You’ll run into a lot of beautiful spots and get a feel for and likely fall in love with the city.
This is one of the best sunset spots in Athens, if not the best. It is a little more crowded, otherwise I’d say it is the best. There’s a cute little chapel at the top of the hill to go with panoramic views of Athens. It’s a short hike, maybe 20-30 minutes from the trailhead before you get to the top. The views are stunning all the way up though. You’ll see the vast Mediterranean, the Acropolis, and a full 360-view of the sprawling city of Athens.
This is another hiking area close to town with gorgeous views. It’s super close to downtown and the Acropolis, and maybe the best view of the Acropolis that you’ll get in Athens. It’s a great sunset spot with plenty of open space to plop down and enjoy the views. There are a few attractions along the way, nothing too exciting, but it keeps the hike interesting.
Right next to the Acropolis is a tiny hill which is another excellent sunset spot. Can you tell I like sunset spots? It’s literally just outside the entrance of the Acropolis, so come stop by for a few minutes or bring a few beers and stick around.
How To Get Around Athens on a Budget
Despite Athens being a huge spread-out city, public transportation is excellent. Except for the strikes of course. When the strikes are happening, don’t expect anything to run. Buses, trains, even ferries will shut down. In that case, taxis are pretty much the only way to get around if you don’t feel like walking. Uber doesn’t exist in Athens, but if you use the app, it can call a taxi for you.
A bus or train ticket is 1.20 euros one way, or 2.30 for a round trip. For tourists, there’s also a special 5-day pass which is around 10 euros unlimited rides. I stuck to the center of Athens for the most part, but if you want to make day trips or hit the beach, this is the best way to get around. Like I said, outside of strikes, Athens’ Metro is amazing. If you stay at Athens Backpackers, you’re literally just around the corner from the Acropolis Metro Station. There are three lines that will take you all over the city, and their names are translated to English, so it’s not too difficult to figure out. If you need to get to Piraeus Port or the international airport, you can get there straight from the metro as well.
Restaurants and Nightlife in Athens
Ahh, I fell in love with Greek food instantly. It’s not in my budget to eat out often, but every time I did, it was amazing. In the tourist areas, it’ll be more expensive. Most of the time, I’d grab a quick gyro or pita for between 2-3 euros. There was a supermarket next to my hostel so I’d stock up on food there sometimes. All in all, the food and restaurants in Athens were more affordable than I was expecting. You’ve got plenty of places to choose from, so just roam around until you find a cute spot.
The nightlife in Athens is amazing too, and it’s easy to party on a budget here. When I visited, there was no indoor seating due to COVID, so the parties were basically street parties. Grab a beer or a bottle of ouzo from the liquor store and just bring your own drinks. Drinks at the nice clubs will obviously be quite expensive, but a bottle of ouzo is like 5 euros and should get you through the night. Find a place with bumping music and post up. Psirri is the neighborhood to be if you want to party. There are all types of music here, and the energy is electric. You can find a bar with any type of music you could imagine, from house to drum and bass to latin to your usual pop mixes.
Athens quickly became one of my favorite cities in Europe. This gorgeous city has something for everyone and I have a feeling I’ll be coming back time and time again.
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