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Prague or Athens; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Prague 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 website will provide our unbiased opinions of Athens and Prague, 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?)

Introduction to Prague and Athens

Prague, the Czech capital wows visitors with its Gothic castles, cobbled lanes and handsome medieval plazas.It sits on a snaking bend in the Vltava River, unfolding with a fairy-tale Old Town district that flits from curious astronomical clocks to age-old synagogues at just the turn of a corner.

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.

High-level summary for Prague and Athens

Summary
Which city would I go to? Prague
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Prague
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Prague
Which for my food obsessed friend? Prague
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.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

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.

Prague is one of the original European city break destinations. With countless low-cost carriers whizzing in and out, it should be easy to put together a short trip here on a budget. To unearth the secrets of the Old Town, see Prague Castle, and enjoy at least a night on the beer and the goulash, a few days is probably all you'll need.

Of course, if you've got extra days, Prague will surely fill them. Excursions out to the wooded valleys of Bohemia, where the castles of Český Krumlov and Kutna Hora await, can be added into the mix. But you could also stay in the city itself, to break away from the more touristy centre into neighborhoods like hipster Žižkov and Nusle.

Prague has the usual four seasons of Central Europe. The summer is generally hot and humid, with the highest temperatures in the 30s during July and August. It's also common to have regular thunderstorms that last for short bursts then. Winter, meanwhile, is cold. It's the best time to visit Prague if you're in search of kitschy Christmas markets that sell blood sausages, hot chocolate and warm Czech beer. You'll certainly need the thermals and snow coat between November and March, though. It's not uncommon for temperatures to stay below zero for weeks on end.

The upshot is that the spring and autumn probably see Prague in its prime. In April, May, September and October, things can still be mild and warm. There are fewer visitors hitting the mainstay sites like the Prague Castle. Hotel rates drop considerably to boot, and you're more likely to get bargains on flights into town.

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.

Prague is a heritage-rich, historic and hedonistic European city. You'll spend your time gawping at haunting castles and getting lost in medieval districts. Of course, there's also plenty of room for evenings of Czech beer and samplings of Slavic dumplings and goulash. If you're a food-loving culture vulture then there's hardly anywhere better on offer. What's more, backpackers and partygoers will find loads to like in the sleepless basement bars and pubs.

What Prague can't excel in is proximity to the ocean. If you're looking for somewhere to dine on seafood and hit the beach, it's not the place for you. The same goes for the great outdoors. It isn't hard to escape to backcountry Bohemia from here, but you will need to rent a car or organise a day trip away from the Old Town to do that.

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.

Parthenon athens

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 Prague
Two days in Prague is best shared 50/50 between history and urban life. The fairy-tale Old Town and the mighty Prague Castle take care of the first half. Then come cool districts like Žižkov, where you'll sip fair-trade coffees and explore flea bazaars.

Day 1: Go straight to the heart of the city by beginning your weekend on the vast Old Town Square. This is the kernel of the historic quarter of Prague. It bustles with life from summer to winter, with the crowds moving between the great landmarks of the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. The latter of those is famed for its coal-black Gothic turrets that loom more than 80 metres up.

The former has gorgeous Gothic doors and gargoyles, along with the strange Prague Astronomical Clock, a 15th-century time keeping device that now reigns as the longest-running working clock on the planet. Crowds will gather below to watch it chime on the hour, as figures of the apostles emerge from doors like a strange version of a cuckoo clock. Go eastwards through the winding lanes of the Old Town and you'll eventually come to the riverside.

That's where the cobbled streets lead straight onto Charles Bridge. An icon of Prague, it's peppered with statues of saints that are a photographer's dream in the misty winter months. Cross the walkway and you'll find yourself in the chocolate-box Malá Strana. This is the oldest part of Prague, where you'll catch hearty beer taverns like the local favourite U Hrocha. Beer finished? Good, it's time to work it off with the walk up to Prague Castle. The steps lead up almost straight from the door of the pub. Spend the afternoon exploring that sprawling site. There is loads to see, from the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral to the cute craft workshops of Golden Lane.

Dancing House prague

The Dancing House may be one of Prague’s most distinctive buildings, but being in the heart of the old town its unique design was extremely controversial

Day 2: Treat yourself to a hearty breakfast in boho Žižkavárna Café. It's loved by the locals for its strong coffees and homemade cakes but is also a fantastic intro to the stylish neighborhood of Žižkov itself. The landmark at the heart of that district of the soaring Žižkov Television Tower in Tower Park Praha. Be sure to take in its futuristic architecture from below before going inside. Then, it's straight up to the observation decks to enjoy sweeping views of the city.

You'll also want to drop by the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill. It's an important spot in the annals of Czech history. It was once a hops plantation but now hosts the colossal equestrian statue of Jan Žižka (a revered Czech military general) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbolic monument to resistance to Nazi occupation.

Keep going north across the river to Prague 7 and you'll find stripped-down hipster cafés like Kavárna Liberál. For dinner, try the multi-ethnic stalls of Hala 22 closer to the waterside, where everything from Rajasthani curry houses to Chinese noodles are options. Finally, get your beer drinking hat on, because Gyllene tigern – a legendary microbrewery – beckons with its hoppy unpasteurized tipples back in the Old Town.

The Václav Havel Airport Prague is the main entry point to the Czech capital. It's also the largest international airport in the Czech Republic. That means short-haul flight connections arrive there from all over, and you can usually bag some wallet-friendly bargains on carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet

All the usual crimes and scams of a European capital are present in Prague, though the town is generally very safe for visitors. Be vigilant of pick pocketers in busy areas and on public transport especially. Also try to dodge picking up taxis straight off the street – tourists are often prime targets for inflated rates. Prague's currency exchange points are notorious for being rip offs, so get your koruna before touching down.

For proximity to the main sites and bars, there's really nowhere better to bed down than in the Prague Old Town. Hotels will usually cost the most there, however. Something quieter and equally as atmospheric is available in the Malá Strana. But the New Town district and Žižkov are also both good options.

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.

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