Both Athens and Copenhagen 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 website will provide our unbiased opinions of Copenhagen and Athens, 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?)
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.
Sleek yet historic, gritty yet creative, Copenhagen fuses all the contradictions of Scandinavia in one darn loveable city. Yes, it's pricy. But your money buys quality in these parts, whether that's the crispy Danish pastry in the morning, the single-origin coffee beans, or those craft beers in the independent drinkeries. On top of all that comes a town laced with fairy-tale vibes.
Once the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the city's Indre By – the historic core – is all weaving cobbled lanes and flower-strewn cottages from centuries gone by.
Meanwhile, over in districts like Christianshavn and Vesterbro, there's a buzz and energy about proceedings. Jazz bars, sculpture galleries, artisan collectives – there's all sorts popping up around the stone quaysides and tenement blocks. Don't forget that this capital is the veritable home of New Nordic cooking, putting foraged foods and mind-boggling flavour combos front and centre…
Which city would I go to? Copenhagen
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Copenhagen
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Copenhagen
Which for my food obsessed friend? Copenhagen
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.
There are two sides to Copenhagen. There's the side that most visitors will aim to see, and that's all neatly packaged up for a quick two- or three-day break. Then there's the more local side. That can take weeks, or even months to enjoy to the fullest.
The upshot is that everything from short fly-in city breaks to longer jaunts are doable in the Danish capital – there's enough to keep you going, provided you've got the money to keep going!
In addition, it's worth thinking about what out-of-town excursions you might want to do from Copenhagen. These will inevitably add some time to the trip but are also downright tempting. The likes of the ancient Viking capital of Roskilde, and the Swedish city of Malmo, are both on the menu.
Copenhagen’s weather is not as dismal as most visitors initially presume, and not cold as the other Scandinavian countries it is often mentally lumped with.
Summer is Copenhagen's most beloved season. It's easy to see why. Scandinavia emerges from its casing of snow and ice to become a real outdoorsy gem. In the capital, that means the canal-side cafes of Christianshavn come alive with al fresco drinkers and the breweries spill into leafy gardens. This is also the time to enjoy the famous Brygge Harbour Bath and the other marina swimming spots in full swing.
Spring and autumn make good alternatives, particularly if you're on a tight budget. Already high prices can soar in Copenhagen during the summer months, and the streets of the Indre By get busy to boot. Winter has a peak around Christmas, when the Tivoli festive market starts smelling of gingerbread and mulled wine. It's cheaper in January though, and still likely to have enchanting snow cover.
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.
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.
Copenhagen is tailor-made for creative, 30s-something city slickers. Bohemian cafes meet cutting-edge beer halls and restaurants that are breaking the mould, while workshops, design studios, and galleries cram the old town. If you're culturally engaged and enjoy places that fuse the old and the new, you could hardly do any better.
Copenhagen is famously expensive. Expect to pay around the 60kr mark (€8/$9) for a beer in most places – and even that's a decent deal! Hotels will cost a lot, no matter the season, and eating out is off the cards for anyone on a shoestring budget.
You can mitigate that if you picnic and dodge the pubs, but it's not really the place for travelers watching the pennies.
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.
Copenhagen offers so much for a fun-packed 48 hours. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow.
Day 1: Begin the first day in the Rådhuspladsen, where the ochre-tinged walls of the City Hall dominate the skyline. This is a beating hub of the city, and you might find concert stages or markets taking place on the plaza. The bustling shopping street of Strøget starts here. Hit that to move between high-street retailers and lively pubs. The walk will take you all the way to Nyhavn.
This is a charming, historic area with 17th-century canals. The painted houses are a favourite with photographers, and you can opt to do a canal boat tour from the docks. Lunchtime is over in the Bridge Street Kitchen. Sprawling across Greenlandic Trade Square, it's a casual food mecca, with hotdogs mixing with falafel pitas and sourdough pizza breads.
Full? Good – Christiania awaits. This gritty artist community come squat is a unique bohemian commune. There are some pushy drug dealers and lots of tourists, but it's worth a stop. The spire of the lovely Church of Our Saviour is sure to pull you down to one end of the area, before hopping back over to Slotsholmen for a sighting of the grand Christiansborg Palace, the home of the Danish parliament.
The side streets of the Latin Quarter (Latinerkvarteret) are a joy to explore
Day 2: If it's sunny, there's never a better way to kick-off a day in Copenhagen than down on the marina. Free to enter and bustling with life, the Brygge Harbour Bath lets you swim in the refreshing waters of the Baltic Sea right in the heart of town.
Dry off and then grab a Danish pastry on your way up to the Indre By, where you can get lost in weaving lanes of cobblestone. The vast Rosenborg Slot sits at the far end of the district. A mighty palace from the 1600s, it's packed with art and can take a few hours to explore.
Nearby Torvehallerne will do nicely for food, with its array of local Scandi dishes. A hop across the water to hipster Nørrebro is great if you're craving a beer or a coffee – Brus is a good option.
Then head back south to Frederiksstaden district. It's crowned by the Rococo Amalienborg Palace, sports stunning churches, and buts up to the old town, where you'll find loads of bars and eateries to cap off the evening.
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.
Copenhagen has many hotels and accommodation options, but the city has one of highest occupancy rates of Europe (a yearly average of 81%). That means booking early is key. We'd recommend trying to score somewhere in the Indre By area.
The old core, it's close to all the main sights. If you're on a tighter budget, going north to Nørrebro might offer a few extra deals. Meanwhile, the Vesterbro district is an up and coming area, which is trendy and a touch edgy. Frederiksstaden is a more refined and contains many of the smarter hotels.
If you want to get around like a real CPH local, then there's nothing for it but to rent a bike. These are cheap and easy to find in pretty much any area of town. A full day's cycling should cost around 150 DKK (£22).
Copenhagen is a very safe city, especially for a capital. People are often eager to help and there are good public services in general. Be more wary if you're venturing off the beaten track. Certain corners of Nørrebro and Christiania can be sketchy, particularly after dark.