3 day travel guide to Athens, Greece
Often shadowed by beach getaways to Santorini, Oia and other Greek islands, Athens should not be overlooked as just a transit city. Its combination of historic sites, great food, culture and welcoming locals makes the sophisticated capital an interesting city to explore. Having experienced a little taste of Athens during my short weekend trip, I’ve compiled a list of things to do to help you plan your trip to the city of Gods.
Grab a cheese pie from Ariston
The interiors are as basic as they come, but this little establishment has locals queuing at Ariston for their delicious savoury pastries. The pies come in different flavours, but the most famous would have to be the “kourou” or feta cheese pie. Join the queue and find out what the fuss is all about.
Get lost in the streets of Plaka
The tangled labyrinth of streets in Plaka, with pastel hued buildings framed by bright leafy bougainvilleas, make it an ideal place to stroll around and get lost in. The main streets of Kydatheneon and Adrianou have plenty of quaint cafes and tavernas to choose from, while Ermou is lined with plenty of shops to spend your Euros, but its mainly the colourful #instagram worthy buildings that really makes the place.
Find some cute boutique shops to pick up some souvenirs
For alternative souvenir faire, stop by some of the boutique stores scattered around Athens. My favourite was a store called Forget Me Not which stocked a range of clothing, accessories and homewares. They also sold traditional souvenirs like magnets, postcards and food products, however they were all tastefully designed by local artists with subtle quirks like fun modern packaging setting it apart from the mass produced souvenirs sold in the neighbouring stores. Hellenic Art and Design on Chairefontos Street has some unique handmade goods perfect for gifts. Or pick up a stylish peshtemal for your beach holiday (similar to the Turkish towels used in hammams) from the aptly named Pestemal on Adrianou St. If you’re like me and prefer buying wearable souvenirs, Akira Mushi has plenty of trendy fashion pieces for the whole family (including four legged family members!).
Indulge in Greek food
I can’t not write a post on Greece without mentioning the food as its one of my favourite European cuisines. My recommended must try’s would have to be sitting down to a big hearty moussaka, perfectly char grilled baby octopus or squid and the ubiquitous fresh crunchy Greek salad (can’t go to Greece without having one with olives and olive oil harvested from the land itself!). If you’ve had one too many ouzos, have a gyro or souvlaki with a generous dollop of tzatziki and a side of saganaki. Perfect hangover food.. or anytime really. For your sweet tooth, a little baklava or loukoumades never killed nobody. All best washed down with some ouzo. Yamas!
Visit the ancient sites of the Gods
For a very reasonable fee of 12 Euros, a ticket buys you entrance into The Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Theatre of Dionysus, Roman Agora, Kerameikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrians Library. The Museum at the Acropolis is an additional charge of 5 Euros – also very reasonable considering the popularity of the place. Most of the sites can be reached by foot, but they can be a bit of a walk if you lose your bearings or are easily distracted by pretty boutique stores on the way. Its possible to visit all of the above sites in one day, however I would recommend giving the monuments at least 2 full days of your itinerary to take in the amazing history of the place. More information on the sites can be found on the Ministry of Culture and Sports website as well as the Visit Greece website.
Stimulate the economy
If your visit to Athens falls on a Sunday, make sure you visit the Monastiraki Flea market – a bargain hunters playground where you can find stalls selling antiques, china and other second hand goods (just make sure if you purchase genuine antiques that you have the proper permits to bring them out of the country!). On the other days, the market is more of a collection of permanent commercial stores that line the streets of Hepheston Street and Pondrossou. If you want memorabilia of your visit to Athens, theres no shortage of souvenir stores that sell tshirts, magnets and colourful cute pompom shoes that populate the streets of the market.
If markets aren’t your thing, Ermou Street is filled with chains and other mid range designer stores – think Zara, H&M, Topshop etc – as well as street side cafes and restaurants. Flocks of tourists as well as street performers and buskers hang out here making it one of the busiest pedestrian areas that I walked through which got me thinking, what financial crisis?
Watch the sunset on Areopagus Hill
With a vista spanning over Athens and the Acropolis behind you, Areopagus Hill is one of the best places to catch the sunset. There were a few local teens, loved up couples and tourists hanging out, but its a pretty big hill so you can easily claim a seat on the rocky piece of real estate.
People watch in Syntagma Square
I happened to visit Athens during the financial crisis with the looming threat of the Grexit so I thought Syntagma Square was going to be full of protesters. There were a few small scale protests happening, however it was business as usual and I was able to chill out at the square and take in the local vibes. Buy some freshly grilled corn and peanuts from the street food vendors if you’re feeling peckish!
Watch the changing of the guard at Parliament House
Adjacent to Syntagma Square is Parliament House where every Sunday at precisely 11am, you can watch the guards perform the perfectly coordinated changing of the guards ceremony. If you happen to miss the Sunday session, the changing of the guards still occurs every hour daily with a slightly different costume change.
|Bring a bottle of water to Acropolis - the sun is killer during summer and I couldn't see any vendors selling water on the site.|
|The Temple of Athena Nike is easily missed as people usually just pass it by on entry to the Acropolis, but make sure you look out for it!|
|Wear proper footwear as some of the marble and rocks on the Acropolis is slippery and its hard negotiating your way around some of the narrow footpaths.|