By the end of last year, we turned out to still have a couple of days off available and that we’ve earned some loyalty points from our company, which can be changed into free hotel bookings (yep, told you… we really love our jobs…). I set on the flight comparison website and our CWT reservation template and ended up with buying tickets to Athens (Warsaw-Athens with Ryanair- 55euro/person). So on December 07 at 10.30 PM we landed in Greece. Having learned from our trip to Prague, which was simply too short to visit all we wanted and enjoy the atmosphere instead of just rushing and running, we booked 4 nights this time, which gave us full 3 days for discovering the city.
We came up with 14 best things to see and do in Athens, kept in more or less the same ordered that we followed. But before presenting the list, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re really into visiting historic attractions, the combined ticket, which include the entrance to 7 of them (the Acropolis, Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Olympieion, Archaeological Site of Lykeion, Kerameikos) and costs 30€ (and can be bought in each of the listed attractions), may be a good option for you.
1. The National Archeological Museum
Before coming to Athens I’ve read so much about the amount of exhibits and the magnitude of the gathered in the National Archeological Museum collection which dated from the Neolithic era. Plus, while visiting The Museum in Basel, Konrad have become completely fascinated with the Antikythera mechanism, which remains are being held in the Archeological Museum in Athens. So, there was not much of a doubt about including that point to our journey (girls, come on, how many times your boyfriend asks you to visit a museum- cannot waste such an occasion). After paying the entrance fee (5€), we hurried to see as much as possible, as the museum was supposed to close at 3.30 PM (we started around 10.30). Ok, undoubtedly the collection is magnificent and overwhelming, but once we proceeded from one side-gallery to another, more and more of them started being closed (literary, we were being asked to leave while visiting) due to the lack of personnel, who went on strike. We were able to see maybe a half of the exhibits. But even that was well worth it.
This place is among the world’s most important archeological museums and is a great place to discover and learn about ancient Greek history and the development of culture. Among others, you can find an outstanding collection of sculptures (which are my personal favourites), ancient jewellery, pottery(the museum contains over 11000 items). Apart of the Greek exhibits, you can also date back and see the Egyptian collection, with the sarcophagus, mummies and relicts of another ancient culture (surely, it’s nothing in comparison to the museum in Cairo, but it’s really a valuable bonus).
2. Monastriki and the flea market
From the National Museum we made a stroll towards the city center and the Monastriki flea market, which starts right next to the Monastriki underground station.Although probably not the best place for shopping, it’s a very interesting spot, where you can find a variety of small shops, mostly dedicated to tourist. Apart from being full of the souvenirs and, sorry for saying that, kitsch clothing boutiques, it’s also a place of gathering and vivid day and night life.
3. Ancient Agora
The entrance fee is either included in the combined ticket (30€) or can be bought separately (8€). It’s another must-see once you’re in Athens. In the ancient times, the heart of public life, the Ancient Agora offers you the ruins of arcades, temples and marketplace. Its name “Agora” indicates that it was also a place of gathering and public speeches.
Climb just a few steps up from the Agora, you’ll find the Temple of Hephaistos, absolutely breathtaking and maintained in a great state.
Exactly on the other side of the place, there is a reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, which immediately brings your attention. Two rows of the picturesque colonnades, the size of the construction and its overall beauty make it a notable spot to visit. Inside of the very same construction, there’s the Ancient Agora Museum, but after having visited the National Museum, we were probably a bit spoiled and didn’t really enjoy it that much.
4. A night walk to the Areopagus or Ares Hill
As we came back to the hotel pretty early and had a little nap, we decided to take a night walk around the city. As we wandered around the streets, we saw the road signs to the Acropolis Hill, so we said: why not. After a very pleasant and not far walk we stood in front of the main entrance to the Acropolis. Obviously, there’s no way to enter in the night time, but the lightening of the place is breathtaking. Right next to the gate, there is a stone hill, called Areopagus, on which you can climb (or simply walk the stairs if you notice them…) and enjoy the magnificent panorama of the city on the one hand and the giant bright Acropolis walls right behind your back.
5. The Acropolis and the Parthenon
The indisputable number one! I mean, seriously, this is probably why you arrived to Athens in the first place. I generally get about a bit cautious if a place is like super famous and hugely tourist-oriented. However, in the case of Acropolis, it’s been so famous for a good reason.
In order to get into the Acropolis, you’ll be walking through a monumental gateway, the Propylaea. It’s the first time when you get completely overwhelmed by the splendor and the SIZE of the monuments. (A word of advice- don’t touch the marble columns… the security gets pretty upset about that). Once you enter, you have the ruins of the Temple of Nike on the right, which is pretty far away and relatively (!!!) small.
And then you turn and see the major reason for the Acropolis’ fame, the PARTHENON. And it’s hard to stay immune to its magnitude. Even the reconstruction works do not spoil the impression.
Right in the shade of the colossal neighbor stand the old Temple of Athena, which is almost as interesting and beautiful. Well preserved columns in the form of women’s sculptures brought the place the worldwide fame.
If you think that that’s all the Acropolis has to offer, there’s a surprise. Around the Acropolis hill, you should definitely walk through the slopes to find 2 ancient theaters, one of which was reconstructed and the other one, initially larger, you can actually enter into. On your way, you’ll see the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia and Sanctuary of Asclepius.
Our best advice for Acropolis: give yourself plenty of time to enjoy and explore it. Because 100% worth it.
6. Roman’s Agora
Walking down from the Acropolis is a good occasion to step into the Roman’s Agora, so-named as it was built from the donations of Caesar and Augustus. Its two most impressive elements, Gate of Athena and the Tower of Winds, are maintained in very well state and quite impressive. However the rest of the ruins, after having seen the Ancient Agora, left us a bit insatiable.
7. Hadrian’s Library
These were actually the first ruins that we passed by after coming to Athens, and, honestly, something I remembered from the history lessons, so was really willing to see.
The library had only one entrance, the Propylaea, which, although significantly less majestic than the one from the Acropolis, still makes quite an impression. The walls of the ancient library surrounded the inner square, which, to our surprise was big enough to include a temple. We enjoyed the walk, although, quite honestly, the inside of the library doesn’t offer much to see.
8. The Temple of Zeus
Before our arrival, we have come across opinions to skip the Temple of Zeus, as the place, supposedly, was not as well preserved as the other attractions. But since we were already going to the Olympic Stadium and the Temple was on our way, we decided to visit.
First big surprise, the staff was extremely polite. We arrived 20 minutes before closing, so the lady at the entrance warned us that we didn’t really have much time for our visit, but this being the case we could come in and see it for free (the ticket is included in the combined ticket anyway, but still… it was a nice gesture). The Temple itself is situated a bit more far away from the strict city center (10-15 minute walk) and the area is much more pleasant. You enter the ruins through small but well-kept garden.
Second, I would never say that the Temple is not worth seeing. Sure, it’s not much left apart from a couple of columns- that’s true. But what’s left gives you an impression of the magnitude and the size of the entire construction and… damn… it must have been immense!
9. The Panathenaic Stadium
The ticket for the Stadium is not included in the combined ticket and costs 5€. As we wanted to make it to the National Gardens, we didn’t really have time to enter and have a closer look this place, which was honestly a shame, as it looked fabulous. The place is the only Stadium in the world entirely made of marble and is kept in an excellent state. Have we had more time, we would definitely enter and see more of the place.
10. The National Gardens
We wanted to visit the National Gardens the first day of our journey, but, due to the strikes on the streets and the general political situation, they were closed by the police for the safety reasons.
Luckily, the next day, we managed to have a stroll around the place. First of all, the entrance to the National Gardens is completely free, so, frankly speaking, I expected a small park. My mistake… the Gardens are more like a mysterious wood right in the middle of the city center with lots and lots of charm and a kind of mysterious aura in them. Countless little paths lead you to numerous picturesque spots, including little hills, a pond with a romantic wooden bridge, numerous alleys hooded with plants and even a little zoo. Even though probably visited by an extensive amount of people during the high season, it made an unforgettable impression.
It’s definitely in our best 5 in Athens!
11. The Mount Lycabettus at night
As Konrad is currently discovering the beauty of the art of photography, we have found that the best view for the Acropolis hill can be shot from the Mount Lycabettus. It’s a hill right in the middle of the city, which is a bit higher than the Acropolis. So the second night we decided to go. Ok, the first thing to know- you’re going to walk through the dark park, so take a headlamp! We didn’t… so after struggling through the vanishing little paths and losing our way once or twice, we managed to get the Chapel of St. George, at the top of the hill. And the panoramic view is amazing. Unfortunately, that’s were our tripod broke, so that was it for Konrad’s goal of photo-shooting, but the place was absolutely secluded and climatic, and the Acropolis looked outstanding.
Once in Athens, try to make time to get to the seaside. The Piraeus Port is only 9 stations from the Monastriki and takes about 20-25 minutes to get to (1,4€ one way). The exit from the underground leads you right to the street market, but unlike others places we’ve visited, this place is fool with the locals. Actually, this casual rush of the place creates a sort of unique atmosphere. From the market, we headed directly to the port and spent there around 2 hours observing regular port life and admiring the ferries. Walking just a bit further, another part of the port is reserved for the cruise boats only. I imagine during the high season this place can be difficult to move around, but in December it gave us the opportunity to wander around undisturbed. Oh yeah… It was a very chilling experience.
13. Walk by the sea
Right from the port, we took a road around a small peninsula and decided to follow the sea shore to feel a bit of the Mediterranean breeze. The next underground station is located not far away from the shore, so it’s quite a convenient path to follow. Apart from a very short moment right at the beginning, the rest of the road leads directly by the sea. Only a couple of hundred meters from the port, we found a small public beach, to sit and relax a bit, while some of the locals were swimming (DECEMBER!!!). By the shore, you can find many cozy little restaurants or cafes, walk on the beach (rocks…) and feel the general holiday atmosphere. It’s a wonderful place to chill and slow down a bit, and, for us, to charge our batteries a bit.
The last hours before the departure, we had a walk in Plaka. Being the oldest part of Athens, Plaka offers the stroll between the 18th century picturesque buildings. But Plaka is also famous for its bars, restaurants and really huge (I mean huuuge) number of tourist shops. So, if you’re looking for a place to spend some money or get lost in the narrow streets with neoclassical architecture, this is definitely your go to spot (just bear in mind that the souvenirs here may be more expensive than, say, in the Monastriki, I compared only 2 or 3 products, but the difference in the price was around 20%).
Greek wine 😉
I won’t deny it- I’m a huge fan of wine. So, like oftentimes in the new places, we went out to get some. Finding a real supermarket in Athens is not that easy (seriously, in the center we found one, and someone told us that there is also the second one somewhere… so probably there is) and there were absolutely none near our hotel, so we went to a local shop to find some wine. Trying to stick to the budget, I was close to the heart attack seeing prices around 10€. At least that’s how I explain myself why I got so ridiculously happy when I saw the bottle of red wine for like 2.35€. After quickly asking the cashier if that was indeed wine, I changed my mind in the last moment and took a bottle of white one standing next to it (less of the hangover for me, plus it was even cheaper). I somehow ignored the expression on the cashier’s face…. We hurried back to the hotel, dealt with some usual things and I sat down to open the wine. Konrad was the first to mention about the very strange color of the liquid. I thought: who cares, let’s open it… (Yeah… it’s not a good sign ;)), but he made me read the label… Ok, so a word of advice- ALWAYS READ THE LABEL, because I ended up buying a bottle of WINE VINEGAR. No wonder it was so cheap and the guy look at us so strangely. He looked even more strangely, when we came back to the shop laughing like crazy and trying to explain to him what happened. I’m not sure he understood a word, but he was so kind to exchange it with a bottle of real wine this time . Just read the label Guys!