While we were initially supposed to have nearly 2 days and 3 nights in Athens, we unfortunately ran into some flight issues in Paris with SwissAir which cut short our first day in Athens. We’ve been very lucky and have usually had smooth travel experiences, but I hope you realize that traveling isn’t always as perfect as it seems. Travel definitely doesn’t always go as planned, but we made the most of our time in Athens!
By the time we finally arrived in Athens, got through the airport, got an uber, and arrived at our hotel, it was around 9pm. Under normal circumstances, that might be a little late to get the evening started at the ripe old age of 30, but since our time in the city had been cut short, we headed out to explore Athens by night.
We took the metro to 360 Athens Cocktail Bar, where we had dinner and drinks overlooking the Parthenon. This is also where I had the first of many salads of the trip. Greece had the most amazing salads, possibly ever, but definitely the best I’ve ever had while traveling. What to order: Beef stuffed with zucchini and spinach with egg and red pepper coulis, salad with tomatoes, pastrami, and fresh made croutons
After that, we walked across the Monastiraki Square to get some frozen Greek yogurt with baklava topping. Let me just tell you that frozen Greek yogurt, in Greece, brings new meaning to the fro-yo experience. If you’re going to Greece, definitely put this item on your food list!
Before heading back to our hotel, the Radisson Blu Park Hotel, we walked around the square and people-watched. The Radisson Blu was a fantastic place to stay. It is very close to the Victoria metro stop and is within walking distance of the National Archaeological Museum, Hadrian’s Arch, and Zeus’ Temple. The hotel provided a few small treats upon our arrival and the staff was quite helpful in answering questions and making suggestions during our stay.
On our first day in Athens, we woke up for a free walking tour of Athens. Our tour guide was Bill, an Irishman who moved to Athens when he married his Greek wife. He was a wealth of knowledge about both the history of Greece as well as the country’s current state of affairs and didn’t hesitate to answer all of our questions. For planning purposes, I would note that although the website states that the tour is 2 hours, it was actually closer to 3.
Greece’s ancient civilizations date back 5200 years and the history is fascinating. I still cannot get over how resourceful the people were, especially without the technology we have today. We also learned that in the Greek flag, the cross symbolizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the nine blue and white bars symbolize freedom or death. Bill also explained to us that due to the current economic situation, 60% of youths are unemployed and leaving the country. This is so sad to me because Greece is an incredibly beautiful place and I cannot imagine having to leave my home country.
Among the stops on the walking tour were:
- Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus
- Roman baths
- National Garden, a 15.5 hectacre park in Athens
- Zappeion Hall, used as the Olympic Village in the 1896 Olympics
- Panathenaic stadium used in the 1896 Olympics
- Presidential Mansion and Prime Minister’s Palace
- Changing of the Guard at Syntagma (Constitution) Square, the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Church of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos, next to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, which is made of sandstone
- Roman Agora with the Tower of the Winds, which functioned as a timepiece and features sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane
- Walk through Plaka, the oldest section of Athens with beautiful homes on winding streets, archaelogical sites, trendy cafes, and tourist shops
- End at Acropolis/Parthenon
The tour conveniently ended at the Acropolis, so we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring it and seeing the Parthenon. The grounds are so much more vast than I knew and it was incredible to see the remnants of this once glorious civilization. I was amazed to learn that the Parthenon was built in only seven years (or 15 if you include all of the friezes). It still seems unbelievable that something so ornate could have been built on the top of a hill in that era in only seven years! Even with the technology we have today, I don’t think we could manage it.
Now for pictures from the Acropolis…hang on to your hats because there are just a few!
After working up an appetite and needing a break from the sun, we walked over to Thanassis for gyros and wine, on the recommendation of our tour guide. Thanassis is a local favorite and offers 2.50 euro gyros and 1 euro glasses of wine. Everything is delicious and you can tell that it is a popular cafe because it is constantly packed. Also, the service was incredibly fast- we had hardly ordered before we got our meals and drinks!
After being revitalized by our lunch, we walked back to the New Acropolis Museum (across from the Acropolis). The museum is vast; you could easily spend a few hours there. Fortunately, it is air-conditioned and is very well done. It really helped us to get a full picture of what life was like at that time and how the Acropolis would have looked when it was built, as well as offered a snapshot of how things were constructed.
To finish our day in Athens, we hiked up to the base of Mount Lykabettus, where we took a teleferik (funicular) to the top to watch the sunset. A round-trip ticket was only 7.5 euro. I would recommend arriving a bit before the sunset because the car only runs on the half hour and there can be lines. At the top, we found the perfect spot where we could enjoy some wine and watch the sunset. Before heading down, we peeked into the quaint Chapel of St George. The hike even to the base was quite intense, especially because we were practically running to catch the sunset in time, so you could always take a taxi if your feet needed a break.
Since we had a relatively late lunch, we had a dinner of appetizers at Oineas, which was also near Monastiraki Square. During our dinner, several of the local stray cats and dogs hung out around the outdoor seating. You’ll see the animals all over Greece, but they are not at all a nuisance. I was happy to learn that all of the animals have their shots and are spayed/neutered. The locals take care of them and make sure they are fed. It’s a really great system and all of the animals are healthy and well cared-for! What to order at Oineas: Skanopi (lightly fried cheese), meatballs, grilled vegetable tower
The next morning, we caught our flight to Santorini. If you are heading to the airport around the morning commute, I strongly advise that you just spring for a taxi and not take the express train. I tend to prefer public transportation because I think it’s fun and usually much more economical, but this experience was not worth the slight savings (the train was still around 10 euros per person). People were squeezed in like sardines and some were even crying because they couldn’t get on the train. I don’t know if that is a typical day or if perhaps the previous train hadn’t arrived, but it was quite an uncomfortable experience.
We also came back to Athens for one last night after we left Mykonos. We were there just for a night before we flew out to Cappadocia in the morning and stayed at an airbnb in Artemida near the airport. For dinner, we walked to a local restaurant called Brown Ouzeri. Our dinner there ended up being one of my favorite memories from the trip. We were picked up by our airbnb host’s mom, who didn’t speak a lick of English, and brought to the airbnb in a very residential neighborhood. There were no restaurants in sight. Fortunately, our host had emailed a short list of suggestions so we picked “Restaurant by the Sea” and walked there. When we arrived, there was no menu and no one spoke English, so the owner actually brought us to the kitchen and pointed at some fish and greens and gave us a questioning, “ok?” We said “Nai, parakalo” (yes, please) and a few minutes later, a small boy that looked to be about ten or eleven years old brought us our dinner. The whole experience was so funny and I know it will be something I remember for the rest of my life!
Next week, I’ll be posting about our unbelievable stay in the Greek Islands. I can’t wait to tell you about Santorini and Mykonos!
360 Cocktail Bar, Ifestou 2, Athina 105 55
Thanassis, Mitropoleos 69, Athina 105 55
Oineas, Esopou 9, Athina, Greece
Brown Ouzeri, Artemida
Free Walking Tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org
New Acropolis Museum, Dionysiou Areopagitou 15, Athina 117 42