City to city: pick up a bargain weekend in the Greek capital, but don't go there for the shopping, writes Cathy Packe
Down payment

In summer it's easy to find cheap flights to Greece. At this time of year, when you have to rely on scheduled flights, it can be more difficult. The best deal right now is on Virgin Atlantic (01293 747747): between now and 2 April, the fare from Heathrow to Athens is pounds 165 (including tax). The flight leaves at 8.15pm, arriving in Athens at 2am. The return flight departs at a more civilised 9.15am, getting you into Heathrow at 11.15am.

The tube fare from Charing Cross to Heathrow is pounds 3.30 each way, which, given the relatively low cost of living in Greece, will leave you more than enough cash to have a good weekend.

There are buses at the other end (No 91) to take you from the airport to Omonia or Syntagma squares for around pounds 1, although the timetable is erratic. A taxi should not cost more than pounds 4, but make sure the meter is operating before the journey starts.

Instant briefing

The Hellenic Tourism Organisation is at 4 Conduit Street, London W1R 0DJ (0171-734 5997). There is an information desk at Athens airport's east terminal, which is where you will arrive, but although they may manage to find you a map, don't expect too much help. The main tourist office (EOT) in Athens is inside the National Bank of Greece on Syntagma square.

Rest assured

At this time of year many of the less expensive hotels are prepared to do deals, which means there are some inexpensive rooms to be had. Dioskuri (00 301 32 48 165), on Pittakou, is right in the middle of the old Plaka district, with a view of the Acropolis; they will do a single room for 4,000 drachmas (pounds 8.80) a night, and for 10,000 drachmas (pounds 22), two people can stay for two nights. Breakfast in the garden costs a little more. A little more expensive is the Acropolis House on Kodhrou (00 301 32 22 344), five minutes from the Acropolis, as its name might suggest, where a single room with breakfast is 10,600 drachmas (pounds 23) a night, and a double 12,700 (pounds 28).

Must see ...

The main ruins - which include the Parthenon - all date from the golden age of the city under Pericles. (Some of the riches that were here have been syphoned off, however. It was from the Acropolis that Lord Elgin took the much contended Marbles in the last century.) The ruins of the Propylaia, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion are also on the Acropolis, with the remains of the Theatre of Dionysus on the lower slopes. Get here first thing in the morning (opens 8am, admission pounds 4.50) before the tourist buses start to arrive, as it can get very crowded.

Must buy

This is one of the few European capitals which you don't really go to for the shopping. The small lanes and alleyways of the Plaka district are worth browsing through, and you may pick up a leather bag or an unusual piece of silver or gold jewellery. Jars of honey are always worth buying, and you could take home a box of halva and baklava from one of the bakeries; but remember that ouzo never seems to taste the same when the sun isn't shining.

Must eat

There is no shortage of restaurants in Athens, but the standard of food in some of the more touristy places can be as indifferent as Greek food in Britain. Aim for a late breakfast of coffee and pastries in any of the pavement cafes.

Most people eat lunch in the early afternoon; there are plenty of snack places serving souvlaki, or spanakopita, or you could buy bread, olives, feta cheese and fruit, and have a picnic. Dinner is usually eaten much later than in Britain, and there would be nothing unusual about starting on the main course at midnight. Most of the ritzier restaurants are in the Kolonaki district, while the cheaper places are clustered in the Plaka. I am particularly keen on Eden, a long-established vegetarian restaurant in an old house in Lissiou street. The best fish restaurants are, unsurprisingly, in the coastal districts of Piraeus and the more residential Vougliameni.

Night moves

Most of the restaurants and bars stay open late into the night, particularly at the weekends. If you are looking for somewhere where you can dance on the table, Athens is probably not the place to be, but there are plenty of small clubs where you can hear traditional rembetika music. Head for the Plaka, and follow your ears, or consult the English-language Athens News for details of the latest places to go.

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