We went to Athens as the starting point of a week-long sailing trip around the Western Cyclades and Saronic Gulf. We had about two days in Athens before we left the city. There is a lot to see in Athens so we did not get to everything. Here is what we did get to in our short time in the city and some recommendations for food to try.
We stayed near the Plaka district in the middle of the city. This is the oldest part of the city and very close to the Acropolis. It is a bit touristy with lots of shops and some more touristy restaurants but the neighborhood is beautiful and you can still find some good, authentic restaurants within walking distance. You will also be within walking distance to the acropolis and a lot of the ruins.
Changing of the guards: We had never seen a changing of the guards’ ceremony before so we decided to check it out. There is a ceremony every half hour at the Parliament building near Plaka. It does draw a lot of tourists so we did have to squeeze our way towards the front of the group of people watching in order to get a good view. The ceremony is fun to see if you haven’t seen one before however, we did feel it was a bit drawn out so we did not stay for the entire ceremony. After about 10 minutes we felt we got the gist of it and went on with our busy day (we were trying to pack a lot of sightseeing into our short time in Athens).
Monastiraki Square: This is a busy area near Acropolis hill. The square itself has some beautiful old buildings including the Pantanassas Byzantine Church which you can go inside and take photos of. There is also a large flea market full of shops selling clothing, olive oil, and other greek food items and souvenirs. Souvenir tip – 98% of the shops are selling the same stuff. As a rule, we try not to buy anything on the first day of a trip when everything is new and you don’t have a point of reference. If you buy something in Plaka it will likely be a bit more expensive so shop around to find the best price before purchasing. There are several restaurants and bars in this area that offer great views of the Acropolis.
Anafiotika Neighborhood: As you wander around the acropolis hill you will stumble upon a little neighborhood full of white buildings, tiny streets, beautiful flowers, and lots of cats! You get the feeling of being on one of the islands in the Cyclades without actually leaving the city. Do be mindful as you are wandering through that people do live in these houses so be respectful when photographing.
Acropolis Hill and Museum: We toured the Acropolis museum and the Acropolis hill with a guide, Eva. She was recommended to us by Bearing True South (the company we sailed around the Islands with) Here is a link to her Instagram account- from there you can call or email her to set up a tour: https://www.instagram.com/evanthia_great_tours_greece/. The museum is extremely well done! It is very helpful to have someone who knows what all the ruins and artifacts are to explain in more detail to you as you walk through. As you enter, you will walk over the old ruins that the museum was built over. Since there is so much history in Athens, it is impossible to build something without hitting some sort of ruins. You will have to check your bags at the entrance, and flash photography is limited to a few areas in the museum. On the top floor, you will realize that the layout is designed to represent the top of the Parthenon: the carved marble around the sides and the marble statues at either end. There are signs and explanations of each artifact in the museum so it certainly isn’t necessary to have a guide if you’d rather walk through on your own. From the museum, we headed up to the top of Acropolis hill. We were up at the top at sunset and stayed to take photos until it closed. It is beautiful to be up there at sunset but it is very crowded so it is nearly impossible to get a photo of any of the ruins without other tourists in the background. I suspect it is very busy at all times of day unless you arrive right when it opens in the morning. Of course, the Parthenon is the largest building at the top which most people know about. You can also see the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, and the Propylaea (the gateway or entrance to the Acropolis).
Odeon of Herodes Atticus: This stone theater is located on the slope of the Acropolis hill so you can’t miss it as you walk to the top. It is a beautiful theater and it is actually still used today. We weren’t in Athens long enough to see a performance here but there was a singer rehearsing as we walked by and stopped for photos.
Panathenaic Stadium: The stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic games. It is made entirely out of marble. You can pay a fee to go in and walk around the track and up into the seats. We did not do this as you can get a great view of the stadium from the gate.
Roman Agora: This is the ancient Roman Market Place. You will see these ruins as you walk around the Plaka neighborhood. You can pay an entrance fee to walk in and get closer to them. We did not as our time was limited and you can get a good view of the ruins from outside the gates (you can pretty much walk all the way around them).
Greek Agora: This is the ancient Greek marketplace. You can see this in the distance from the Acropolis, we did not walk over to see it close up but that is an option if you have more time.
Temple of Zeus: We only saw this on our drive out of the city on our way to the marina for our sailing trip. The temple is very impressive and if we had more time we would have loved to walk around more closely. The temple consists of large columns similar to the Parthenon. We did not get any good pictures since we only saw it as we drove by.
What and Where to Eat:
- Dinner at Seychelles: This place was within walking distance of our Air B & B in Plaka. It was a small restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. We arrived around 7:30 and we were the only ones in the restaurant. We were worried about this at first but then we realized that Greeks eat later than we do in the U.S. As we sat and enjoyed appetizers and our dinner the placed started to fill up! We would recommend the dolmas and the octopus appetizers and the Rooster with pasta in a red wine sauce for the main course. Everything was delicious. They also had a good selection of Greek wine on the wine list, we don’t know a lot about Greek wine believe it or not! There are a lot of grapes that don’t grow in other places so we just picked randomly or asked our waiter for a recommendation when we wanted to order wine.
- Central Municipal Market: We are foodies so we always enjoy wandering through the markets when we travel. It gives you a glimpse into how the locals shop and eat! The central market is where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies, meat, and fresh seafood. The market itself is full of locals buying food. Around the market, there are shops selling spices, olives and olive oil, cheeses, and other Greek goods. There are several small restaurants around the market where you can enjoy a coffee, a gyro or souvlaki wrap, or a pie (cheese and spinach would be our recommendations).
- Restaurant Attolos: We walked to this place after our tour of the Acropolis. The road it is on has a ton of popular restaurants that were all crowded. This one was recommended by our sailing guide and we were able to sit outside with great clear views of the Acropolis. The food was very good and they had good Greek wine (that we couldn’t pronounce). We had a Greek salad, chicken souvlaki, and grilled sea bass. The food was very good and the views were awesome.
- IceRoll near Monastiraki Square: This is an ice cream shop where you chose your base flavor and any fruits, nuts, or more chocolate or caramel that you want to be added to your ice cream. They pour the base cream onto a cold countertop, add in whatever you would like then mix it together and the mixing on the cold countertop turns it into ice cream! They roll it into several individual rolls and serve it in a large cup. the ice cream itself is delicious and it is fun to watch them make it right in front of you!
- Kappari: We had fig salad, pork leg in a honey glaze which says it is for two but really could easily feed closer to 4 people. The orange pie dessert was also amazing!
There is way more to Athens than what we have included here, our time was limited and we would love to go back! Leave us a comment below to tell us what you recommend we see, do, and eat in and around Athens!