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Both Warsaw and Athens are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Athens and Warsaw, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
At once cutting-edge and steeped in history, vibrant and packed with chilled-out parks, Warsaw is the beating heart of modern Poland.
The home of democracy and one of the cradles of human achievements in fields as diverse as science, mathematics, and philosophy, Athens has always been a bucket-list city. Since the first wooden walls were raised on the edge of the rugged Attica peninsula back at the start of the first millennium BC, it's been a hub of the Mediterranean.
Empires have risen and fallen here, battles have been fought, and some of the grandest temples in the world still crown the great Acropolis in the town's heart.
But this buzzing capital is also lived-in and raw. Areas like Monastiraki and Koukaki are crossed by tree-shaded avenues filled with cafes and rimmed by Orthodox churches. Plaka is a glimpse of traditional Greece – think whitewashed tavernas sizzling souvlaki on open grills.
Rough-around-the-edges Exarcheia is a hotbed for radicalism and revolution. Oh, and there's Piraeus port just down the road, where boats are waiting to whisk you away to pine-scented islands in the Aegean and Saronic Gulf.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Athens can be sampledin a few days, but it can also warrant trips of a few weeks or more. It all really depends on what you want out of your visit. If it's a whirlwind tour of the famous 5th-century history sights (the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Agora), some Greek mezze, and a good night out that takes your fancy, then a weekend could be enough.
If you want to feel like a real local, sip gritty Greek coffees in corner bars in alt neighborhoods, and even escape to the islands to top up the tan, you'll need to plan longer.
Warsaw can be done quickly. Just a few days is all you'll need to see the Old Town, the Palace of Culture and Science, the grand parks, and the main museums. To squeeze the lot in, you'll need to make use of the extensive public tram and bus networks. It might be worth considering a 72-hour (36 PLN) ticket, which you can buy at newsagent kiosks.
Of course, if you've got extra time to spare, Warsaw will always be able to fill it. Once you've checked off the main attractions, there are stacks of more local sights, eateries, and activities to get stuck into. They include café hopping down in hipster Mokotow, tasting ethnic foods in multicultural Praga, and even day outings to the Kampinos Forest or the post-industrial city of Łódź.
Athens is most popular in the summer months, but we'd say it's not the best time of year to come. Temperatures in Greece can be scorching between June and August, with daily highs peaking around the 40 Celsius mark! Bear in mind that there's also not too much shade in the main monuments. That's especially true up on the Acropolis, where it's just marble columns and temples. If you do travel at this time, always visit the history sights as early as possible to escape the heat.
Much better are the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. These see warm days and cool evenings of between 16-29 degrees on average. It's still usually dry, with the occasional cloud and rainfall. However, there are also fewer people around, cheaper hotels, and smaller queues for the ancient ruins.
Winter in Athens gets surprisingly cold. Snow can even fall in the height of the season. It's the best if you really don't like dodging other tourists though, with the museums and the galleries all virtually empty. Be warned that ferries to nearby islands like Poros and Aegina rarely run between November and March.
If you don't want to wrap yourself up in cotton wool and thermals every time you step outside, it might be best to avoid the winter months in Warsaw. From November to December, below-zero temperatures are normal in the Polish capital, along with icy rain, sleet and snow.
Most locals often say that spring and early autumn are the sweet spots. While summer's warm, it can often be humid, and there's no beach or ocean nearby to help you cool off. Months like April and May see milder days and cool nights, while September is prime time to wander the famous parks of Warsaw, as the trees begin to change colour and glow orange, ochre and yellow.
Warsaw really charms those who love fast-paced, buzzing capital cities. While the Old Town is a stunner, it's not the main show. Instead, you'll spend your hours exploring vibrant and lived-in neighborhoods that burst with fusion eats and fine dining. You'll embark on craft beer tours and have artisan breakfasts in kitschy cafes.
On the flip side, there's some seriously immersive history. The Warsaw Uprising Museum and the POLIN exhibitions are fine introductions to the struggle of the Polish people and Polish Jews during Nazi occupation. You've got the 800,000 pieces of the acclaimed National Museum to get through. And there are grand parks with Chinese gardens and monuments of Chopin.
The history lover is the traveller who will surely feel most at home in Athens. After all, this is the place of the mighty Parthenon; where the Athenian Empire once flourished. And it's got Orthodox temples and some of the most acclaimed ancient artifact museums on the globe to top the lot off. You can spend whole trips hopping between crumbling temples and learning about the hard-fought Peloponnesian War, without even scratching the surface of the amazing daytrip possibilities.
Aside from its famous historical relics, Athens also has a reputation for hedonism. Districts like anarchist Exarcheia come laced with squat bars and buzzy pubs. There's also pumping nightlife around the Plaka area, where you'll be able to dine on endless platters of saganaki cheese, hummus, and grilled lamb before heading out to dance the Zorba.
If you're planning a Greek beach holiday, then Athens is a good arrival point. You're likely to be a little disappointed if you hang around too long, though. The only sands within reach of the centre are in Vouliagmeni to the south and they certainly aren't the best in the country.
48hours in Athens
Searching for an all-round fantastic 48 hours in the Greek capital? Look no further. This culture-packed and monument-filled itinerary whizzes you through all the mainstay sights and even into some downright gritty local districts. Enjoy…
Day 1: Start as early as you can and head straight through the Plaka area up to the base of the Acropolis. The best way to reach that grand monument is via the winding roads that link up the tavernas with the great Propylaea gatehouse that dates to 437 BC. It was commissioned by Perikles in the aftermath of the Persian War and leads to the symbolic heart of ancient Athens: The Parthenon.
Getting there early means you can hopefully dodge the crowds and the heat. Take some time to wander to see the hulking columns and design – it's considered to be the finest Doric temple on the planet. The next-door Erechtheion also catches the eye. It was built after 421 BC in honour of Poseidon and Athena, famed for its Caryatid statues of female figures. A lookout point on the south-east end of the Acropolis is perfect for taking in the city views.
For lunch, go for the vibrant area of Koukaki, checking out the Theatre of Dionysus en route. It's filled with hip cafeterias and bakeries, all huddled under plane trees and bougainvillea. It's a short walk from there to the acclaimed Acropolis Museum. You can while away the whole afternoon within, uncovering the story of the legendary building and the politics it represented.
Think about ending the day with a walk through the pine trees to Filopappou Hill. That's home to the place where Socrates was imprisoned in the early 390s BC and tops out with some of the most stunning views of the Acropolis there are.
The Parthenon was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, who is regarded as the patron of the city
Day 2: The café culture of Monastiraki gets the day rolling – think about grabbing a traditional Greek coffee and pastry in one of the local bakehouses. A quick stroll through the blocks southwards then takes you to the Agora.
That was the epicentre of life in the ancient city state, complete with shrines and marketplaces and statues. The piece de resistance is the Temple of Hephaestus, which crowns a hillside on its northern end. Nearby, the blocks of Syntagma and Syntagma Square offer a glimpse at the modern edge of the Greek capital.
The vast plaza at the area's heart hosts the Old Royal Palace of the Greek monarchy. There are also countless places to sit with a cold lunchtime beer. Finished? Go south and you'll find the mighty Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is half ruined but still draws a gasp from most visitors on account of its monstrous Corinthian columns.
In the afternoon, catch a tram towards the National Archaeological Museum. Inside, you'll discover perhaps the richest collection of ancient artifacts there are in the world.
What's more, the district on the doorstep is Exarcheia. Be careful with your valuables in those parts, because it's rough and gritty, but the streets ooze character and have perhaps the most hedonistic bars in the country.
48hours in Warsaw
This perfect first 48 hours offers a fun-filled and exciting introduction to life in the Polish capital. It's a cocktail of wartime history, art, and – of course – good old Slavic beer.
Day 1: Hit the Old Town of Warsaw as early as you can. That way, you'll avoid the crowds, and – on a sunny day – get to catch the gilded medieval-style frontispieces in some perfect photography light. You certainly won't want to miss a moment on grand Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square).
The Royal Castle that gives it the name is the star of the show, with its orange-tinged exteriors and Baroque domes. It, like the whole rest of the Old Town, is actually deceptively new. The entire district had to be rebuilt from ruins in the wake of WWII.
Wait for the folk from the Free Walking Tour under Zygmunt's Column. Their two-hour odyssey through this part of the capital really digs down into the unique mosaic of architecture. After that's done, you can hit Nowy Swiat and follow the route Polish monarchs once took in and out of the city. It's now a buzzing modern thoroughfare with dumpling taverns and beer halls (perfect for lunch).
Follow it all the way south and hop a few more blocks and you'll soon be in Łazienki Park. It's an icon of the metropolis. An evening stroll here could start with a vision of the huge Chopin statue and end with a sighting of the Classicist Temple of Diana. For dinner, where better than hipster Mokotow? The district has everything from Tex-Mex to stylish sushi bars.
The Warsaw Barbican (barbakan warszawski) dates from 1540, and was part of the fortifications that encircle the city
Day 2: A selfie stop outside of the iconic Palace of Culture and Science starts day two with a bout of Soviet architecture. A 237-metre spire of a building, it was a personal gift to Poland by one Joseph Stalin. From there, a few trams stops can whisk you over to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The enthralling exhibits of that showcase the heroic efforts of Poland's underground resistance during the fight against the Nazis.
Afterwards, make straight for the riverside and the leafy Vistula Boulevards. They're a hubbub of life in the summer months. Dog walkers meet buskers and street entertainers right by the water. (An optional drop into the family-friendly Copernicus Science Centre is a great addition if the rain's a-pouring). For the evening, hip and elegant Praga awaits. That's arguably Warsaw's most stylish area, with Lebanese kitchens giving way to bohemian bars and cool coffee shops.
Warsaw has two international airports. There's the larger Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport, which can be reached by direct train from Warsaw's main station on line S2 or S3. The smaller Warsaw Modlin International Airport is a hub for European low-cost carriers. To go from terminal to city from there, you can ride the private Modlinbus, or catch the loop train that goes to both airports and then Warszawa Centralna.
A big Polish presence and a welcoming local vibe means there's rarely trouble for tourists in WarsawPickpockets, angry bouncers in clubs, and the classic European taxi scammers are the most common frustrations beyond that. .
When it comes to picking a hotel, it's typically best to be on the western side of the Vistula River. Some of the very best accommodation choices hide amid the cobbled lanes and squares of the Old Town. Others sit within walking distance, by Mirow or the Palace of Culture and Science. Being on the far side of the river means finding some cool aparthotels in local's favourite Praga.
Traveling from Athens airport is best done using the metro. Line 3 links directly to the terminal. The fare is a flat €10 and the journey takes around 40 minutes each way. If leaving the city, be sure to catch the right train, because not all departures on the line go to the same place.
Always beware of pickpockets, muggers, thieves and scams in Athens. The capital is generally safe, but certain areas – the Plaka, Omonoia Square and Exarcheia especially – do see regular crimes against tourists. Try to keep a hand on your wallet and an eye on your bag at all times.
Political upheavals in Athens are a common problem. Widespread discontent with the government has led to regular protests and marches since the 2000s. They can sometimes bring the whole city to a standstill and are worth avoiding – teargas, clashes with police and even Molotov cocktails have been known to play a part.
Getting around Athens is relatively easy. You've got a metro network that links most of the main tourist areas and the airport. Above ground, there are buses and trams going out to lesser known neighborhoods. There are both kiosks and vending machines at the entrance to most stations for you to buy tickets. They cost €1.40 and are valid for 90 minutes from the moment of validation.