Acropolis panoramic view

First Time in Athens Survival Guide (Save Money and Time)

The 10+1 most essential tips for first-time travelers to Athens, according to a travel-loving Athenian.

Last updated: 24 Oct 2023

Have you decided to travel to Athens for the first time? Welcome aboard!

You’ve made a fantastic choice.

Athens is a city that is friendly to travelers, filled with world-renowned attractions steeped in thousands of years of history, and it also offers a vibrant modern life.

Despite Athens becoming a particularly popular destination in recent years, you can still save money and time by following some simple tips.

These are the same tips I give to my friends, having lived in Athens since my birth.

But before you continue reading below, make sure you check out my step-by-step itineraries with the best places in town and their pins on Google Maps so you don’t miss a thing.

They are carefully and clearly designed, depending on the number of days at your disposal: Athens in 1 day, Athens in 2 days, Athens in 3 days, Athens in 4 days, or hidden gems of Athens if you plan to stay even more days.


The 10+1 Top Tips for Your First Time in Athens:

1. Choose the Right Admission to Archaeological Sites

Tower of the Winds

If you’re planning to visit multiple archaeological sites, it’s worth considering the special ticket package.

Priced at 30 euros, this package is valid for five days, granting you access to multiple historical landmarks, including the Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora of Athens, Museum of the Ancient Agora, Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Lykeion Archaeological Site, North Slope of the Acropolis, Olympieio, Roman Agora of Athens, and the South Slope of the Acropolis.

Tickets can be purchased at ticket offices on-site or online, via the official e-ticket website of the Hellenic Organization of Cultural Resources Development.

However, I strongly recommend purchasing them online to save precious time.

Bonus tip! Free admission days: 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri), 18 April (International Monuments Day), 18 May (International Museums Day), the last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days), 28 October (national holiday), every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st.

2. Pick your Hotel Wisely

Where to Stay in Athens Greece: Plaka

Athens is a big city with plenty of hotels to choose from.

However, for the best access to key attractions, consider staying in the historic center or nearby areas.

Keep in mind though, not all parts of the city center are ideal; areas such as Omonia and Metaxourgeio are not recommended for late-night returns.

For making your reservations, I recommend a reliable service like Booking.com.

For more detailed advice, see my guide on where to stay in Athens.

3. Metro is Your Best Friend

The best way to get around Athens is the Metro.

Yes, navigating around Athens is easy if you wisely select your means of transport.

Specifically, make the metro your best friend for public transportation -undoubtedly the most reliable-, and walk a lot.

On the contrary, avoid buses and trolley-buses as they are unreliable.

As for a car, you will only need it if you plan to go to the beach for a swim or on an out-of-town trip.

You can find more details in my guide on how to get around in Athens.

Local’s tip: Always be mindful of passing cars when crossing a road, even if you’re on a crosswalk. Unfortunately, drivers sometimes forget that pedestrians have the right of way.

4. Stay Connected with eSIMs

Woman holding an iPhone

If you’re a European Union resident, you’ll be able to use your mobile data in Greece at no additional cost.

However, eSIMs are the best solution for low-cost internet access if you’re visiting from outside the EU.

You can install them on your mobile phone before you even begin your journey, and they’ll be automatically activated as soon as you arrive in Athens.

The service I have been using for years on all my travels is Airalo, as it has very affordable rates.

Additionally, it has saved me from the hassle of hunting for SIMs in physical stores.

5. Eat and Drink Like a Local

Local Food in Athens: Stuffed Vegetables

The food in Athens is high quality, affordable, and above all, delicious—as long as you avoid the touristy restaurants.

Instead, try the foods locals enjoy, such as stuffed vegetables, dakos, and meze.

Also, embrace the Athenian way of coffee drinking!

Try the ‘freddo’ (cold in Italian) versions of espresso and cappuccino.

Nowadays, almost no one drinks frappe anymore as it’s usually a lower-quality coffee.

Plus, if you’re a fan of late-night dining, you’re in the right city.

Most restaurants serve dinner until midnight or even later!

Just make sure to book your table in advance to avoid disappointment.

Check here for everything you must taste in Athens.

Check here for everything you must taste in Athens.

6. Rethink Swimming in Athens

Athens Survival Guide: Do not go swimming

While it might seem unusual, consider skipping a swim at Athenian beaches if you’re next heading to a Greek island.

But if Athens is your sole stop, then immersing yourself in its seas is a must.

Attica boasts some decent beaches, especially if you’re up for renting a car and driving a short distance away from the city.

For an even more memorable experience, explore the best day trips from Athens and embark on a boat tour around the Greek islands.

Plus, with the sea often warm in April or October, you might just catch the perfect swimming conditions.

7. Get Travel Insurance

First Time in Athens: travel insurance

Athens is, without a doubt, a very safe city with low crime rates.

The main thing to watch out for is pickpockets.

However, as with all trips, don’t forget to take out travel insurance.

It can save you from a lot of trouble for a small cost: it usually covers medical expenses, cancellations & delays, and loss of baggage & belongings.

Remember, travel insurance policies are personal choices.

For those traveling to Athens, I personally use and recommend SafetyWing.

8. Oh, the History

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Not all of Athens’ monuments have their origins in the same era.

Since Athens has been inhabited for thousands of years, its history includes the Classical period, the Hellenistic period, the Roman period, and more.

If you’re interested in a deep understanding of what you’re seeing, read the information under each attraction of Athens in 1 day, Athens in 2 days, Athens in 3 days, Athens in 4 days, or hidden gems in Athens itineraries.

Furthermore, most of the city’s monuments have signage providing detailed information in various languages.

Bonus Athens first-time tip: When we say ‘Acropolis’, we’re referring to the rocky hill in the city center. It’s home to several ancient buildings, the most famous being the Parthenon.

9. Check your Packing List

Baggage

The clothes you bring on your trip to Athens will depend on the season and your personal preferences.

However, there are certain items that are a must-have, regardless of when you visit.

For instance, always carry sunscreen and sunglasses, as Athens is typically sunny.

Mosquito repellent is another essential item.

Furthermore, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.

Walking around the city will be one of the highlights of your trip.

Find out more on the top 14 items to pack for your trip to Athens.

10. Bring a Reasonable Amount of Cash

First Time in Athens: Cash

Nowadays, you can pay by card almost anywhere in Greece; a few years ago, it became mandatory for stores to possess payment terminals.

Even so, many transactions remain cash-only, and locals always prefer cash because of the bank fees.

Therefore, make sure you always carry cash with you.

Be reasonable though and don’t bring excessive amounts of money – in any case, it is a bad idea even if you don’t visit Athens for the first time.

If you are uncertain if you can pay by card, just ask the shop’s staff in advance. As for the currency, it is the euro.

If you’re using a different currency, consider opting for a card like Revolut to save money. It offers the best conversion rates when paying with a card and allows you to withdraw a certain amount of money from ATMs without fees.

10+1. Plan But Be Flexible

Odeon Of Herodes Atticus And Acropolis

As always, plan your journey as much as possible in advance, but be flexible.

Book your tickets on time, make a reservation at the restaurant that seems attractive, and decide on the attractions you don’t want to miss.

At the same time, though, be ready to swap days around depending on the weather, your mood, and how early you get up.

And above all, have fun during your first time in Athens, and you will definitely want to come back.

Make Your Trip Easier

Accommodation
I always book my accommodation with a reliable service like Booking.com. Besides their price guarantee, you can rest assured that you will have 24/7 support in the event of any problems with your hotel. Always make sure you read reviews from other guests before booking.

Airport Transfer
If you want to get to and from Athens Airport with peace of mind, I recommend pre-booking your taxi with Welcome Pickups. Their flat rate is a few euros more expensive than random taxis, but they are totally worth it. They use local English-speaking drivers, wait for you at the arranged meeting point, even if your arrival is delayed, and introduce you to the city along the way.

Flight
Don’t forget to use Skyscanner before booking your flights as it compares different airlines to provide the cheapest and fastest solutions. Moreover, you can save a lot of money if you are flexible with your dates.

Travel Insurance
Nobody wants to think about all the things that could go wrong on a trip. However, these things can happen, so do not miss taking out travel insurance: SafetyWing is the one I use, as its plans are affordable and can save you a lot of trouble.

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