Time Travelling in Athens - The Jax Blog
Athens is one of the places that is so rich in history, that the city is an open air museum itself. Not only can you find ancient ruins almost anywhere but also well preserved historic monuments from “newer” times. I grew up in Europe during a time when helmetless scooter driving was the norm in Southern Europe. Nowadays, you won’t really find this anymore in Spain or Italy, but in Athens you will. So, this threw me right back in time to my childhood memories of how Southern Europe is supposed to be.
What fascinated me most was all the proof of ancient Greek history, built during Athens’s heyday back in 1500-500 BC. Hence I want to take you through a rough 48 hours itinerary (or rather travel through the centuries) of these mains sites.
Best, to choose a central hotel close to the city center. I stayed at the Hilton Hotel which is your typical business hotel and offers anything you need. It is about 1.7km from the city center but an easy walk. If you don’t feel like walking you can call a cab anywhere. They are like yellow little bees all around town and they are cheap (just note that some of them are not happy about short distances and would rather reject you – not that there is an economic crises in Greek at the moment… )
First thing to do: from your hotel make your way to the Acropolis. It is a definite must! The UNESCO world heritage site is “the High City”, a city built on a hill overlooking the city of Athens and home to the most recognizable symbol of the city, the Parthenon. Take your time to walk around there for at least 2 hours, take in the amazing view of Athens, stroll around the many ancient temples and buildings and let your imagination run wild – just imagine what it must have been like 3000 years ago.
On your way down the hill, get onto the small rock just next to the entrance of the Acropolis. Sit there and enjoy the view of the Acropolis. I wish I could have watched the sunset from there – but there was more to explore. Right beneath the Acropolis is Plaka, quite a touristy yet authentic suburb that offers all: quaint streets, lots of shops for gifts as well as anything else, authentic Greek restaurants, modern juice or frozen yoghurt bars, basically anything you want. Even just strolling through the streets of Plaka makes you feel alive and you can feel the energy in this place.
On your way back to the hotel, stop at “Hadrian’s Gate”: The sanctuary of the Olympian Zeus, one of the most important and ancient sanctuaries in Athens.
Tip: Buy your 30€ pass at the acropolis. It is valid for 5 days and gives you access to most historical sites. It turns out to be cheaper than buying all entry fees separately (which I did – lesson learnt).
For a sundowner, go to the Galaxy Bar at the Hilton (even if you don’t stay there). It offers amazing views of the Acropolis in the distance and the sun goes down just to the East of Acropolis.
A definite must-see is the Acropolis Museum. This might sound odd as Athens itself is an outdoor museum. However, this museum is just too stunning to be missed. It is in the list of the top 5 museums worldwide. I highly recommend taking a guide – there is so much to be explained about the museum and why it was built the way it is. The architecture itself resembles the Acropolis in so many ways. It was a great 2 hours spent.
Back to the nice outdoors and off to see some more ruins: “The Ancient Agora”. This for me has probably been the most breathtaking site in Athens. The Agora was the largest square on the northeast slope of the Acropolis, where social and religious activities, commerce, outdoor theatrical performances and athletic contests were held. In other words, it was the heart of the ancient city. But above all, it was the center of Athenian democracy. Just take a good 2 hours to walk around and yet again, imagine how life was back then.
By the time you have walked through the Agora your feet will probably be sore. Well, or just use it as an excuse to head over across the street to the nearby flea market which is basically a big bazaar. You will find so many shops selling handmade leather sandals. It is a must to not leave Athens with at least a pair or two (or three).
In the late afternoon take a drive out to Cape Sounion. It is the southern tip of the Greek mainland and about a 30 to 45 min drive from Athens. It is probably one of the most scenic coastal roads in Europe with amazing views of the Aegean Sea and its crystal blue or rather turquoise waters. Residents and tourists taking their afternoon dips in of the many bays along the shore, sailing boats out on the water and the postcard like colours make you feel like in paradise. Best time to arrive at the Cape is just before sunset. The temple of Poseidon is located on the hill of the cape overlooking the sea and when the sun goes down over the sea, the colour play is one of its kind.
Athens has never really been on my bucket list but since I had the opportunity to go there, I can only highly recommend a stopover. Either as a weekend trip if you are living in Europe or as a stop over if you come from further away and you are on your way to an island cruise take an extra day or two to explore Athens. You won’t be disappointed.