My Big Fat Greek Adventure Part 1: Athens
The week I spent in Greece was incredible, and I think I can confidently say it’s my favorite place I’ve ever traveled to (so far). It had always been on my radar of potential places to see, but I honestly don’t think I would have ever made a special trip across the Atlantic to go there, so I’m even more thankful for our European Adventure and all the places it led me - especially this one! Between the sights, shops, and the food (oh yes, especially the food), Greece was everything I could have asked for, and I will forever talk about how awesome it was. We first flew into Athens and explored the ancient, historical city for two days before boarding the smallest plane I’ve ever been on and heading to the Greek island of Santorini. This post is dedicated to what we experienced in Athens, but I’m also working on a post about Santorini, so stay tuned for that one!
We stayed in Athens for three nights and two full days (that’s about all the time you really need there). We dedicated one of the two full days we had there to wandering around the city-center and exploring on our own. The day was filled with souvenir shopping, sightseeing, and eating delicious Greek cuisine, and then it ended with the most beautiful view of the sunset from one of the highest points in the city. On the second day in Athens, we loaded onto a tour bus (we were on SO MANY buses during our trip to Europe) and went on a day-long trip that included a guided tour (link to tour info) of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, and a cruise down the coast of the Aegean Sea to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. Scroll down to read more details about what we saw and did, and check out some of the pictures I took during our time in Athens!
What to See and Do in Athens:
All the ancient ruins!: Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch,
Athens is obviously filled with an abundance of ancient history, and it’s visible wherever you go. We saw so many historical ancient ruins - some that I had heard of before and some I first learned about during our time there. Not even a mile away from our hotel was the First Modern Olympic Stadium. As we explored the city on foot, we also saw other famous monuments like the Temple of the Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. But that’s not all we saw…
Acropolis - to see the Parthenon & the Acropolis Museum: ...Out of all of the well-known ancient structures in Athens, the Parthenon on top of the Acropolis is probably the most famous, and it’s probably the biggest “must-do” I had for our time there. On our second full day in Athens, we went on a guided tour of the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. I came out of the tour knowing a little bit of the Greek language and with the memory of seeing beautiful views of Athens from on top of the Acropolis (the highest point of the city). Unfortunately, there was some preservation construction being done on the Parthenon, but it was still amazing to see in person!
Temple of Poseidon, Aegean Sea, Cape Sounion:
The second part of our Acropolis day-tour involved a delicious Greek lunch in the historical district of Plaka and a bus ride along the coast of the Aegean Sea all the way down south to Cape Sounion, where the Temple of Poseidon was built in the 5th century B.C.E. We also got to see the Temple of Athena while we were there.
Wander around Plaka
Since we didn’t have actual plans set for our first full day in Athens, we spent it by exploring the city on foot. We eventually found ourselves wandering around the historical district of Plaka, and it was everything I imagined Greece would be: bustling streets filled with open shops, restaurants, and pop-up vendors. If you find yourself in Athens, you need to stroll through Plaka. We walked up and down the streets and allies, making multiple stops along the way. After purchasing a couple of handmade bracelets (one with my name in Greek on it) and buying some homemade baklava from the cutest little Greek man, we ended our adventure in Plaka by stopping to eat some authentic tzatziki with pita bread and the first of many gyros I ate while in Greece.
Sunset at Lycabettus Hill
Probably my favorite memory from Athens (and one of the most memorable moments from my entire trip to Europe) was made on the evening of our first full day there. We got the suggestion from our hotel concierge, so after our exploration through Plaka, we ventured up to the top of Lycabettus Hill (one of the highest points in the city) to watch the sunset. We had stopped at a corner store to grab some cheese and crackers and a couple of drinks to toast to our time in Athens. Once we got to the base of the hill, we rode a cable car up to the top. We got up there a couple hours before sunset to stake out a good spot, and the views we experience is something I will remember forever.
Consume copious amounts of yogurt, feta cheese, gyros, and other authentic Greek food!
In addition to enjoying all of the sights Athens had to offer, I fully indulged in the fresh, authentic Greek cuisine. Besides the delicious gyros, Greek salad, and baklava we enjoyed while we were exploring Plaka, we also ate our fair share of fresh Greek yogurt and feta cheese. I’m not exaggerating when I say the yogurt I ate in Greece was the best I ever had, and while the hotel we stayed at in Athens wasn’t our favorite, our stay included a complimentary breakfast and I took full advantage of that! I confidently believe that I could spend the rest of my life eating Greek food and I would never complain about it.
Athens Travel Tips:
1. Make sure you look ahead about how to get to where you’re staying from the airport! The airport is a ways out from the city-center and it took us over an hour by bus to get to our stop. We also were a bit disoriented when we got off the bus and it was after dark, so we struggled to find our hotel (even though it was only a block away!) Try to figure out exactly how to get to your hotel/hostel/airbnb ahead of time so you don’t have a mini-panic attack and have to ask a [super hot] Greek police officer for directions like we had to!
2. Carry plenty of euros around with you - a lot of street vendors require cash!
Don’t do it all by foot! We walked over 10 miles on our first day and my feet/legs definitely felt it. Cabs are cheap and easy to find, so don’t make the same mistake we did!
3. Apply and reapply sunscreen! This might be obvious, but the sun in Athens is fierce, especially on the Acropolis - there’s no shade to stand in either so be prepared to sweat! Stay hydrated too!
4. Give yourself time to check out other museums. Time didn’t really allow for us to do much more than we did, but I would have liked to go to the National Archeological Museum (I’ve heard it’s pretty neat).
5. If you want to watch the sunset from the top of Lycabettus Hill, skip the cable car and catch a cab to the top! Both options cost about the same, but we wanted to do the cable car because we thought we’d have a cool view of the city on our way up. Unfortunately, the cable car was enclosed inside a tunnel and so we just sat in the dark the entire way up. Opt for a cab to get up and down from Lycabettus!
6. Unless you’re one for lots of “fun facts,” do some research of your own and go on a self-guided tour of the Acropolis. I’m thankful that we went on our day-trip because it included a skip-the-line ticket for the acropolis, admission into the Acropolis Museum, and the bus ride to Cape Sounion, but our tour guide had a few too many “fun facts” and I felt like we didn’t get to explore the Acropolis for as long as I would have liked. If you feel ambitious, turn yourself into your own tour guide!
Have you ever been to Greece? Let me know in the comments! And look for my Santorini Travel Guide to be posted SOON!
As always, thanks for reading!