I’ve just completed an out-of-season 4-night trip to Athens. For me, this is the perfect length — enough to see all the famous sites, with half a day extra so that I never felt rushed.
Being the kind of person that I am, I did an unnecessary amount of walking; unnecessary because there is a perfectly good public transport system, which I only used to get between the city and the airport (a journey which takes an hour, almost exactly like literally every other combination of airport and real destination I’ve visited).
My hotel was the cheapest one I could find that had at least an OK rating on Booking.com, which turned out to be not only 5 minutes walk from the metro station, but also within 20 minutes walk of all seven of the main archeological sites of ancient Athens, and also the semi-archeological, semi-modern-reconstruction that is the Panathenaic Stadium.
Despite it being out-of-season, the streets around my hotel were busy and bustling with activity when I arrived, and there were many tourist shops for both foreigners like me and only a few that seemed to be aimed more at native Greek speakers. The crowds and bustle turned out to be mainly an evening thing, as the streets emptied after midnight, and were merely “normal” (by my standards) in the morning. Similarly, even out-of-season, the Acropolis and the Agora (two separate sites, not that you’d notice if you looked at Google Maps or OpenStreetMap) were about as full as I’d be comfortable with as a tourist — it was possible to read the historical information boards, with only occasional waits for other tourists to get out of the way, but many more would’ve been difficult.
In fact, there is only one reason I’d give for not limiting your visits to the gap between Christmas and New Year’s Day — the weather. Last year I was on the Mediterranean coast of Spain with my family, giving my mother one last trip abroad before her Alzheimer’s made travel impossible (she was convinced she was in France); because of this, I was expecting Greece — the other end of the Mediterranean, but just as far south — to have much the same weather. It didn’t. Spain was sunny, and by British standards pleasantly warm, but Athens has been mostly single-digit Celsius, with wind-chill sometimes making it feel -1°C. It also snowed occasionally, something that British people of my generation are not used to.
Structurally, the buildings of Athens give me a pleasant feeling of combining anarchy and the sort of density that feels somehow right for a city. By most people’s standards, it is cramped and decaying — certainly, anyone living in the Anglosphere who complains about their country being “full” would explode from raised blood pressure if they were transported here. Likewise, traffic lights are treated as mere suggestions, so if you’re used to living in a culture of following rules, be careful when you use a pedestrian crossing that’s giving you a green light, because one of the drivers might not care.
I am pleasantly surprised how many people here are fluent in English, but not as surprised as I was when I noticed how much of the graffiti is in German.