Enjoy a hiking cruise around Greece, taking in sights such as historic Athens. Credit: Shutterstock

The ultimate port guide to Athens - from the Acropolis to cocktail bars

Author: Amelia Glean

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With an energy that fizzes 24/7 and a history that goes back to the dawn of recorded time, Greece’s capital is a truly dazzling destination.

Built on three-and-a-half millennia of recorded history, Athens is an unmissable city and one of the most popular port stops on a classic Mediterranean cruise.

Venture into the heart of the capital as early as you can to watch the sun rise over the Acropolis, then linger as the morning light floods Monastiraki Square, the famous central meeting point below.

This is ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, philosophy and Western civilisation. But as the sun sets and the air fills with the aroma of spiced lamb, you’ll find yourself in a vibrant contemporary metropolis of chic restaurants and stylish cocktail bars.

So whether you’re a history buff, an art lover or a foodie, Athens will surely blow you away.

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The best sights in Athens

The Acropolis

This ancient citadel, perched on a rocky outcrop above the city, is the most famous archaeological site in Greece.

Dominated by the majestic Parthenon, built in the 5th century BC as a temple to the goddess Athena, it’s also a global icon on a par with the pyramids.

Make your pilgrimage early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the stifling midday heat.

Plateia Agias Eirinis

Once you’ve paid your respects to the city’s ancient history, plunge back into modern-day Athens with a visit to the locals’ favourite hangout.

A lively pedestrianised square, lined with colourful cafes and bars, this former flower market is the place to go for coffee by day and ouzo by night.

Soak it all up as you dine, drink, listen to music, or just find a patch of shade to settle in for the day.

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Lycabettus Hill is a must-see when visiting Athens. Credit: Shutterstock

Lycabettus Hill

Like Rome, Jerusalem and many other great cities around the world, Athens is built on seven hills.

The highest of them all is Lycabettus – named after the wolves once said to live here – and its 227m peak is the perfect spot to enjoy sunrise (or sunset) views.

Hardy souls can plod up to the summit from Aristippou Street, but our tip is to take it easy and ride the funicular instead.

National Archeology Museum

With more than 11,000 sculptures and artefacts from prehistoric times through to the classical period, this is simply the finest collection of Greek antiquities on earth.

There’s far too much to see in a single visit but don’t miss the exquisite pottery in the Vase and Decorative Objects collection or the beautiful statuettes housed in the Metallurgy exhibit.

Enjoy baked aubergines in a Greek taverna. Credit: Shutterstock.

Best restaurants and bars

Taverna tou Oikonomou

Tucked away in the charming neighbourhood of Ano Petralona, this enticing taverna is where locals go to eat well.

Enjoy baked aubergines and chicken casserole in traditional surroundings of faded yellow walls and worn wicker chairs – or better still, for the real Athenian experience, dine alfresco beneath the olive trees on a sultry summer night.

Cherchez la Femme

Don’t let its French name fool you – Cherchez la Femme sits right in the heart of Athens, a few minutes walk from the central Syntagma Square, serving up dainty little mezze dishes of grilled octopus, smoky aubergine and stuffed vine leaves.

It’s a great place to linger over your dinner, then make like the locals and spend a few hours people-watching with a digestive glass (or two) of ouzo.

Sip on a cocktail while taking in the stunning sights of a new destination. Credit: Shutterstock

360 Cocktail Bar

High above lively Monastiraki Square and open from 10pm till late, this glamorous rooftop venue lives up to its name, offering breathtaking panoramic views of Athens and the Acropolis.

There’s a full menu of bar snacks and more substantial bites, but if you’re lucky enough to be overnighting in port, you’ll want to explore their array of signature cocktails (the ‘fragola spritz’ gets our vote).

Mr Peacock

North of the city centre in leafy Halandri suburb, this stylish venue is another must for cocktail-lovers. Ask for a ‘clandestino’ at the bar and treat your tastebuds to a bewitching blend of rum, pineapple, lime, champagne vinegar and Worcester sauce.

Alternatively, opt for the ‘Mexicano’, with mezcal, Campari and cucumber soda (a taxi may be appropriate for your return to the cruise port).

Greece holidays: Athens is the historical capital of Europe. Credit: Shutterstock

Athens trip planner

What to expect

Brimming with grand sights, breathtaking art, ancient history, celebrated cuisine and eclectic nightlife, this lively city offers something for every visitor.

When to go

It’s one of the sunniest places in the world, but Athens is particularly good to explore between late March and early June.

It’ll be warm and welcoming but a little less crowded, and you’ll avoid the blazing temperatures of July and August.

Getting around

Central Athens is compact and easy to explore on foot, but public transport is a budget-friendly way to get around. The metro is the most reliable, with three lines covering most of the city’s key sights.

Where to stay

Aim for the popular Plaka district. The five-star Xenodocheio Milos hotel has a cool, contemporary feel, while the four-star Athens Gate offers unbeatable views of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

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