Athens has never been on my travel-list. In fact, I had always considered it as a stop-over for the other, more famous greek islands, but somehow this 3000 years old city managed to exceed all my expectations and retain all its allurements. A charming city with sprawling gardens and crumbling ruins, Athens has much to offer to the urban traveller. Even if you are not a history buff, you can’t but help wonder at the amazing pieces of architectural beauty and the ruins of classical city-state civilisation that mankind created thousands of centuries ago. There is something about the sky here; it is almost as if the Gods of the old would come down and speak with you any moment.
Day 1: Explore the City
Before I reached Athens, I had read in a couple of blogs that you would need at least three days to get a feel of the city. While that might hold some truth, there is nothing to fret about if you are there for a shorter span of time. Just remember to get lost in the city and you will be okay.
The historic center of Athens is just 10 kms in diameter and you’ll find mostly everything within easy walking distance. On your first day in the city, take time to explore it by foot. If you are in the city just for a day, the worst thing you can do is follow a top 10 must see list. Trust me, ditch the list and follow your instincts, you will find the city exceed your expectations.
Start with Syntagma Square (and skip the roasted chestnuts)
Syntagma Square is like the Connaught Place of Lutyen’s Delhi, which means this place has got good connectivity to wherever you are going. Plaka, Monastiriki, Acropolis, National Gardens are all within 5-15 mins of walking. You can find Hop On – Hop Off buses here, with many of them providing guided tours for at least two places of interest. I have never been much interested in guided tours since I prefer to explore at my own pace but for those who wish to cover the most, it is a good option.
Visit the National Archaeological Museum
This one comes highly recommended in every guide book and is in the to-do list of every traveller crossing Athens. However when it comes to museums, I know my interest begins to wane so I skipped this one in favour of exploring local neighbourhoods. It is important to understand that one cannot cover every thing. Time is of essence – as in life, you need to know what to let go.
Explore Local Neighbourhoods
Visiting Athens in the shoulder season came with its own set of perks and pickles. The weather was not too gay, splotching us with occasional burst of rains and winds, alongside the sun that constantly played hide and seek with us. But most importantly, there were not much of a crowd, which is good since neither of us are a crowd pleaser.
Rest your tired feet in the National Gardens
There is usually a fair amount of walking if you are exploring a city on foot, and this place can be a haven for those tired feet & aching shoulders. Take your time to explore the garden which is situated just behind the Parliament Building. You won’t need any guide for this, just be sure to carry your jacket as it can get quite windy in here.
Have lunch at Mount Lycabettus
There is a Funicular to Mount Lycabettus, which takes you through a tunnel to the top in just five mins. However, if you are in for the view, take the longer route down south and watch the city unfurl below you with all its majestic splendour. At the top you will find a church and a cafe with splendid view of the city.
Visit Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Zeus
You will find Hadrian’s Arch in front of Plaka. The Temple of Zeus is in ruins now but it’s an ideal place to enjoy the Mediterranean sun. If you are lucky enough, you can find fiddlers playing at their instrument.
Window Shop at Plaka
An eclectic mix of winding alleys, quaint souvenir shops and local taverns, this neighbourhood is hard to miss. Situated just below Acropolis, it attracts almost all the tourists and is the centre for socialising. Visit this place for local greek cuisine and Brettos Bar.
Day 2: Explore the History
They say our past is what defines us today. Greece is the cradle of western civilization and everywhere you turn, you would see bits & pieces of history tucked under its ruins and monuments.
Start your day with a Frozen Greek Yogurt from Snoyo
I know, there is a lot of hype over Greek Yogurt but trust me, this one exceeds every other flavors and types in the market, across all levels of yumminess. The Snoyo Yogurt Bar is right across the Acropolis Metro station so don’t forget to grab a quickie before you begin the ascent to the Acropolis.
Enjoy the walk to Acropolis
On a sunny day, the road to Acropolis is filled with street performers and vendors. It’s quite a long walk ahead, so take your time and look around you, and you just might be greeted with some beautiful greek melodies, just like I did:
This ancient citadel is perhaps the most famous attraction of Athens. Situated on a rocky offshoot, this bastion holds several significant monuments – the most famous of which is the Parthenon. Most people confuses Parthenon with the Acropolis, but that is clearly not the case. Prepare to get wowed as you reach the zenith – the sky seems to beckon you and everything else seem so diminutive, it is easy to feel you are in the presence of some higher power.
Lunch at the Acropolis Museum Cafe
By the time you are done with the many monuments of Acropolis, you would feel hungry as hell. Visit the Acropolis Museum on your way down and grab a coffee and some appetisers at the Roof Top Cafe in the museum. The view is worth more than the coffee. However, beware of the pigeons and the sparrows pecking on your plate.. they are not the timid creatures you would find back home. If their intrusion doesn’t bother you then invite them to share a meal with you, just like I did.
Visit Piraeus and Rafina Port:
Our ferry to Mykonos was from Rafina, and we left the apartment at around 5 o’clock in the morning. It was too windy to appreciate the surroundings properly so I clicked pictures to capture the moments. The end results are so amazing, I give them to you raw-completely unedited except for the typography.
Where to stay and how to travel:
Athens has many budget friendly options in and around the historical centre. We opted to stay farther down south in a quiet neighbourhood, in an apartment booked through Airbnb, and didn’t confront any difficulties. Public transport is well established and metros are well connected to almost all parts of the city. Locals here speak and understand english so communication is not difficult. The city was friendly enough, even to pets who were allowed almost everywhere.