Greece is a country everyone should visit in their lifetime. It’s charming and romantic with quaint seaside villages, it’s cultural and historic with it’s many famous ruins, and it’s fun and full of activities from beaches to hiking to wine tasting. Greece has something for everyone!
Athens in particular is a must visit as it is the historical capital of Europe and the birthplace of democracy, but you knew that.
It’s long, fascinating history began in the Neolithic Age (starting roughly 10,200 BCE, ending between 4,500 to 2,000 BCE) and the city has been inhabited continuously since then.
The 5th century was the time of its’ ultimate bloom, when moral values, philosophy, democracy, education and science reined supreme. But the apex of their civilization, sandwiched between two wars, lasted just 24 years from 454 to 430 BCE.
Over the centuries many have tried to conquer the city of Athens.
In 1834 Athens was chosen to be the capital of the newly established Greek State.
Today, Athens is full of life, history, culture and tempting cuisine beyond belief. You can get lost in the neighborhoods of Plaka (the old town), Anafiotika, or Monastiraki with their cobbled, hidden streets and little shops. Follow your nose as you will certainly find somewhere nice to sit for a cold beer or wine to soak up all the delights the city has to offer.
1. The Size of the Acropolis
For as long as I can remember I’ve been hearing about the Acropolis; in school, movies, books, news, friends and media. On my second trip to Greece I finally made it to the capital city of Athens and was so excited to finally be able to see the Acropolis for myself.
The Acropolis is the most important site in the city of Athens and is the most complete ancient Greek monumental complex still existing in our time, as well as a symbol for the artistic, cultural, and political developments that arose from the city in the 5th century BCE.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel, built on a rocky hill roughly 500 feet (156m) high. It was planned and constructed under the guidance of the great general and statesman Pericles who wished to create a lasting monument for Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, handicraft and war who presided over Athens. Pericles spared no expense in the construction of the Acropolis.
Five main buildings comprise the Acropolis; Parthenon, Old Temple of Athena, Erechtheion, Temple of Athena Nike and Propylaea.
The flagship building, the Parthenon, was built between 447 and 438 BCE and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 BCE. Over two years of detailed planning went into the specifications and contracting the labor for the Parthenon alone, and the first stone was laid on 28 July 447 BCE, during the Panathenaic festival.
Old Temple of Athena was built as a shrine to Athena around 525-500 BCE. It was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE.
Erechtheion was constructed between 421 and 405 BCE.
Temple of Athena Nike was constructed around 420 BCE by the architect Kallikrates.
Lastly, the Propylaea is the monumental gateway of the Acropolis and was designed by the architect Mnesikles and constructed in 437-432 BCE.
The Acropolis, especially the Parthenon, are considered the world’s greatest architectural achievements built by the world’s most advanced civilization. Modern scientists, historians and engineers have been studying the site for decades, centuries even, and like the Pyramids in Egypt, we are still not sure how they could construct such immense buildings.
“On this hill were born Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Freedom of Expression and Speech, which provide to this day the intellectual and spiritual foundation for the contemporary world and its values.” – UNESCO
The Acropolis became a UNESCO Protected World Heritage Site in 1987. The site is visible from almost every part of the city, a reminder of the city’s heritage for locals and tourists alike.
Once you enter, you’ll walk up and through ruins serving as entry and into the premise. You can walk around the entire area in about 30 minutes. This is a stark contrast to other ancient sites like Pompei where you can easily spend a full day discovering different aspects of the ancient city. But no, not the Acropolis. At just a few buildings spanning roughly 3 hectares (7.4 acres), you can easily see the entire complex in much shorter time.
In no way am I telling you not to visit. The Acropolis is a marvel. I had chills walking through it’s unpaved roads, with stunning views of city of Athens below. I was just surprised I could walk around the entire site in roughly an hour.
TRAVELERS TIP: There is a new beautiful museum located at the base of the Acropolis which is absolutely worth visiting!
2. Even the Metro is a Museum
My first full day in Athens, my friend took me to Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square/Presidential Palace to see the changing of the guards and a few other musts in Athens.
TRAVELERS TIP: The Changing of the Guards happens in front of the Parliament Building every hour, on the hour. The ceremony lasts about 15 minutes.
When we arrived in the Syntagma Metro Station, she pulled me aside to show me something. Immediately I saw colorful art painted on the wall, but that’s not what she wanted to show me. We walk around the main entrance area to the other side where there were dozens of ancient artifacts.
I was shocked. I’ve been in many cities in Europe that have very ancient roots, yet never had I need so much history so casually yet carefully displayed for everyone to see, not hidden in a museum. These pieces were display for the entire population of Athens, whether local or visiting, to see as apart of daily routine.
3. Beaches in the City
When I thought about Athens, I considered it a metropolitan area with many important and historic archaeological sites. I have never imagined that they are many beaches in the city of Athens.
You can reach the beaches either by driving (rental car, taxi, or Uber) or by public transportation.
TRAVELERS TIP: Although the tram does go to the beach, because the tram stops every two or so minutes it takes a while to get there. The best option is to take a taxi.
Although these are not the best beaches in Greece, they still provide you with a place to rest, relax and enjoy the sun while in the city. Additionally, many of the beaches have beach parties!
Some of the best beaches in/near Athens are:
Vouliagmeni - a seaside town with a harbor, several different beaches and different beautiful cafe's bars and nightclubs
Bolivar Beach Bar - a clean beach great for all ages during the day with it's waterpark. Then at night, Bolivar turns into a club with DJ's
Tok Tok - beach bar/restaurant with delicious salads. They also turn in to a busy bar at night time too.
Kavouri - where the water is clean and the freddo cappuccinos are good. There are restaurant/bars and facilities here. Mikro and Megalo Kavouri are the main beaches in the area.
Annavysos - further afield the area of annavysos has some lovely beaches and beach bars and the water is very clean.
Rafina - about 30 minutes from Athens is Rafina, a port town with lovely fish restaurants and a boat that takes you straight to Mykonos!
Loungers with a shared table and umbrella costs between 3 and 5 euros.
READ NEXT: Best 17 Beaches on the Greek Island of Milos
4. You Can Still See the Original Olympic Stadium
Maybe it’s only me, but I did not know that the stadium which held the first modern Olympics was not only still standing, but marvelously intact. When we drove by it arriving in Athens, I was in awe of the structure as it's this clean, bright, white marble architectural feat. In fact, it is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.
The Panathenaic Stadium was built around 330 BCE by Athenian statesman Lykourgos (Lycurgus) as a racecourse primarily for the Panathenaic Games. The stadium was rebuilt by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator, by 144 AD and had a capacity of 50,000 seats. It was largely abandoned in the 4th century CE after the rise of Christianity.
The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. It was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested events.
Food & Other Recommendations in Athens:
Walk through the streets of Anafiotika, Plaka, Psiri…. Make sure you have a Tiropita for breakfast - there is a very old bakery off the shopping street 'Ermou' called Ariston. It's old and they do the best tiropita (cheese pie) and spanakopita (spinach pie).
For lunch, head to Bairaktaris in Monastiraki. Order Pork gyros, kebab (which is like kofte), Greek salad, saganaki (if you like cheese this is a must eat), tzatziki, chips…beetroot, horta... the list goes on. Great prices and lots of veggie options, too!
Try the deli/restaurant called Ergon which i think is fabulous. Try the the eggplant dip. They also have a location in London and it's really good there too!
In Monastiraki, there is a big flea market and there are lots of tourist shops around, it’s fun for a little walk and to find a cool, vintage find.
Lycabettos (or Lykavitos): You must make the effort to get up to this little church as the view is spectacular. Get a taxi if your feet are tired and make sure you get there for sunset – sit and have a drink and relax for a bit – they have a posh restaurant and perhaps, overpriced, bar. You can see the boats traveling to the islands, the location is magical.
For cocktails, head to Gazi. To get here, take the metro to Kerameikos station. There are clubs and bars down both sides, all great for drinks and dancing…. it's a bit of a party street in the center of town. Or head to Panourmou which has lots of bars with roof terraces.
There is a mountain called Ymittos which is a lovely place for a hike. They have walking pathways and arrows to guide you.
There is so much to see and do around Athens. Contact us to plan your one-of-a-kind trip to Greece.