Many tourists see Athens as a launching pad for visiting the beaches and cute whitewashed buildings of the Greek islands. And the Aegean archipelago can be a great escape, especially during the nation's current economic crisis.

But those willing to put Athens on their itinerary could be rewarded with bargains on everything from restaurants and hotels to souvenirs.

For some, the risk of strikes and protests against Greece's tough austerity measures isn't worth it; for others, the risk is small in one of the world's oldest cities, which offers ancient landmarks such as the Acropolis with its 2,500-year-old marble temples.

The Greek government is reaching out to visitors, reducing sales tax on all tourism-related spending, while scrapping landing, takeoff and stopover fees at regional airports through 2011. Analysts and industry officials expect a rise in tourist revenues, after last year's 8 percent drop.

A recent British survey also found good restaurant prices at the popular resort island of Corfu. It compared the price of a three-course evening meal for two in Greece and 13 other countries, including a bottle of house wine.

The price on the northwestern island came in at 37.74 pounds (currently 42.75 euros, $62.50), fourth from the bottom of the list and far cheaper than cities such as Miami; Sorrento, Italy; Brittany, France; and Brighton, England.

But in Athens, tourists have to know where to look.

"Prices have dropped, and there are good offers available for hotels and restaurants," said travel agent Panayiotis Georgakarakos. "If you book in advance, you can find deals."

Hotel rooms in some downtrodden parts of central Athens cost as little as $50 (34 euros) a night, but nearby streets can provide unsettling encounters with drug addicts, dealers and prostitutes.

The inner city has recently seen rising crime, including the area near the National Archaeological Museum, a popular tourist stop that showcases Greece's glorious past -- and also next to the capital's main illegal drug market. But the picturesque areas of Plaka, Monastiraki and Thissio around the Acropolis remain pretty and generally safe, partly due to improvements made for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Miriam Trader, 56, traveling with a group of tourists from Baltimore, Md., was impressed by that area of the capital.

"The food's delicious, from the nice restaurants to the more offbeat ones. We have felt very safe," she said. As for shopping, Trader said: "They're trying to move their merchandise and are offering good prices."

In Athens, prices vary wildly, with coffee ranging from about a euro ($1.43) for a takeaway to five euros ($7.15) at a cafe. The Acropolis Museum restaurant has reasonably priced meals and snacks, and stays open until late in the evening, offering a closer view of the ancient citadel than any hotel rooftop.

Humbler tavernas with traditional Greek food can be found throughout the center of Athens. Ones with live music tend to charge more.

Smaller shops sell souvlaki pitta -- cubes of grilled meat served with tomato, garlicky tzatziki sauce, onion and potato chips, all tightly wrapped in a grilled pancake.

The Acropolis Museum, which opened nearly two years ago, received more than 1.3 million visitors in 2010. But don't miss the more compact Benaki and Cycladic Art museums, which cover a broader scope of Greek culture.

The center of Athens is small and easily covered on foot. Bus and subway services are reliable and relatively cheap, but often crowded.

There are archaeological sites galore, on hilltops, poking out under the foundations of modern buildings. They even include a subterranean stretch of ancient city walls in the basement of an office block off central Klafthmonos Square.

The Ancient Agora, whose rambling ruins are visible from outside, through a clutter of cafe and restaurant tables in the Monastiraki district, is a good pick, with the generally overlooked Kerameikos cemetery, a 10-minute stroll away.

Monastiraki is full of junk shops with varying prices and quality. Tourists should know that anything more than 40 years old is considered an antique and accordingly priced.

Athinas Street, off Monastiraki, has fascinating hardware and kitchenware shops, while Evripidou Street, near the neoclassical main meat and fish market, is famous for its spice and food emporia.

At night, try an open-air cinema, where you can smoke, eat and drink during the screening. Smoking is technically illegal in any indoor cafes, bars or restaurants. But few people respect the 8-month-old law, which authorities have proved incapable of enforcing.

Some wags propose marketing Greece in these tough times to smoking tourists.

On the city's fringes, splendid ancient sites such as the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio and the Sanctuary of Demeter at Elefsina are both easily reached by bus.