What do you do if you have a 12-hour stopover in Athens en route to your destination? Lie around in the airport? Absolutely not. Based on our experience (we had a stopover from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.) there is an alternative for the adventurous. First of all, ask for your bags to be sent straight through on the first flight if you can, and try to take as little hand luggage as possible. Athens airport has a left- luggage office if worst comes to worst. Then get on a bus to the city (the Metro is currently closed for repairs). It will take you about an hour of travel time.
If you get there in the afternoon, remember that most of the sites close at 3 p.m. But the brand new Acropolis museum is open until 6 p.m. (entrance is free in November) & you can see the Parthenon lit up at night from a pedestrian walkway that runs below it. After that, you can stroll around the Plaka district, where the little shops and restaurants are open until very late. We sat in a tavern and munched on Greek tidbits as a pair of ancient Greeks serenaded us with Greek folksongs.
Other night-time possibilities: Go to the Parliament building to see the changing of the guard in their weird uniforms. The other side of the street is lined with foreign consulates housed in beautiful buildings that are also lit up at night.
When you get tired, take a taxi to the airport and go straight up to the second floor where the archeology museum is. Down the corridor is a restaurant with upholstered leather couches where you can rest or take a nap. The place doesn't operate at night and you can have the lounge all to yourself (everyone else in the airport at that hour will be scrunched up on the hard metal seating on the first floor).
Leave yourself about two hours to get through security and all the rest.
The Exárhia was a very interesting section of Athens to visit for both eating and nightlife. This area, due to its proximity to the University of Athens, tends to be a student hangout. It was at onetime full of anarchist types who defaced the place with graffiti and garbage. It has been cleaned up in recent years and today is more a place to go to if you do not want be ripped off for food prices as is the case in the Plaka. I thought that the three restaurants that I ate in here were better and more authentically Greek. The square itself is littered with cafes and is a great place to drink local wine. There is also decent and inexpensive shopping where you can purchase clothing and electronic equipment in the neighborhood. There is also a farmers market on Saturdays at 2pm.
As there are few real tourist attractions, there naturally few tourists about. I did meet a couple that I had met earlier in my travels through Greece. We ate well and got really loaded in the square trying local beverages.
An interesting personal note about my time in the Exárhia is that I was walking to dinner when it was announced on television that Athens was awarded the 2004 Olympics. Every household cheered and it seemed like the world was crashing down on my head for the noise.
Favorite thing: Well, I am not sure how safe this was. Especially after reading about acemj's Split survival story. But, my favorite place to view Athens at night is just below the Acropolis entrance. If you were to exit the Acropolis and walk down the hill and turn right, as if you were walking to Plaka, there is a hill with fairly steep steps. This part is not closed off after nightfall, so it is perfectly fine to come here, and many people do. It allows about a 300 degree view over the city of Athens, and is really gorgeous at night. No smog, no cars honking, only peace and quiet up here.
It was on the first night in Athens and we decide to go up the Philopappos hill to see the faboulous athens view.
Fondest memory: I think that the view of Athens when the sun fall down was fantastic. Maybe a great romantic place!!