Due to some random holidays in Spain (Constitution Day and Immaculate Conception Day) – we get a mini break in early December. Not complaining!
This year we went to Athens. A first for me and an overall very cool way to spend a couple of days.
The historical capital of Europe is an interesting dichotomy of old and new. Amid the museums and ancient ruins are edgy neighbourhoods lined with graffiti – teeming with chic cafes and lively tavernas.
Athens is actually an array of small villages that have melded into one immense city. We only had time to explore the few villages close to Syntagma (the centre of Athens) – close to where we stayed: http://www.kinggeorgeathens.com
What to Do in Athens?
Walk the neighbourhoods:
One of the oldest sections of Athens, also named the “Neighbourhood of the Gods” due to the close proximity of the Acropolis and the many archaeological sites that can be found. It’s a pedestrian zone with Neoclassic architecture and jigsaw styled streets lined with jewellery stores, tavernas, cafes, museums and tchotchke tourist shops.
Is the central square of Athens. The Parliament House occupies the top of the square and is the stage for most public rallies occurring in Athens. We learned this first hand as the Turkish President (Erdogan) made the first Presidential visit in 65 years. It was apparent the Athenians weren’t happy about it – they staged protests for the length of his stay.
This neighbourhood holds the ruins of Hadrian’s library, a cute Byzantine style church and loads of flea markets. Take a stroll from Syntagma Square down the famous Ermou shopping street and you’ll find yourself in the vibrant neighbourhood of Monastiraki.
This little village on the hillside of the Acropolis is meant to resemble the Cyclades Isles. Built to house workers at the turn of the 20th Century there are less than 50 of these cute white washed homes. Their flat roofs and bright shutters strewn with Bougainvillea will give you the feeling of being out Island for the day.
Take a Walking Tour
I highly recommend getting a guide for a few hours. Unless you are a massive history buff completely versed in Ancient Greek and Roman History, than you will benefit greatly from a guide.
Tour guides will meet you at your hotel or in Syntagma Square. From there you take a short walk to Hadrian’s Arch, 131 AD.
Less than a 1000 meters from Hadrian’s Arch lies the Temple of Olympian Zeus, 132 AD.
Your tour will carry on through parts of Plaka, Thissio, and Anafiotika until you reach the Acropolis. The climb up to the Acropolis is mild and of course a must do.
It’s simply mind-blowing to see how these beautiful marbled structures have withstood the test of time. The Parthenon was built nearly 2500 years ago!
Go Island Hopping
Okay, so we were there in December remember. Not the best time to Island hop but still worth doing. We took a day trip to Hydra, pronounced “Hee-dra”. The ferry terminal is in Pireaus. The system is well-organized and easily accessible by taxi from anywhere in Athens. It’s also accessible by suburban train or with a direct bus from the airport.
We choose Hydra because it was close..(ish). It was still two hours on a high-speed ferry but the ferries are comfortable and you can take snacks on board and drinks (all types).
There is a popular day trip offered to see three Islands: Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. After taking the day trip to Hydra – I recommend not trying to cram in too much at once. The ferry schedule had us arriving for lunch with just enough time to eat, do a little exploring and for the kids to ride a donkey. Yes! I said donkey. Donkeys are the main mode of transport on Hydra. All part of its charm. It was a perfect day with enough time for a bit of chill time at the hotel before dinner. Alternatively, you could take a ferry to Poros or Aegina which are closer, but they don’t have donkeys!!!
Note: The other Islands are too far for day trips.
Take a Drive to Cape Sounion
Roughly 70 Km south of Athens is Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. It’s a lovely way to spend a few hours winding along the coast and taking in the views. You can hire a car or take a tour. From the Temple of Poseidon you get stunning views of the Aegean Sea.
On the way home stop in one of the local fishing villages for lunch or a bit of meze (meze is the Spanish equivalent of tapas), meaning a small bite or plate.
The whole time you are touring quirky Athenian neighbourhoods, and admiring ancient ruins – you are eating, or you should be!
The Greeks love to feed you, and we were more than happy to oblige. Plus, I love Greek food. Who doesn’t? The simplicity of fresh ingredients with loads of garlic served with love….you just can’t beat it.
I recommend it all. Seriously you will rarely go wrong.
You can’t leave Greece without trying these delicious authentic dishes:
- Moussaka – eggplant casserole with béchamel sauce.
- Grilled meats – Greeks are masters on the grill, especially lamb.
- Grilled fish – with the Med at their door step, the seafood is off the chain.
- Octopus – a staple in the Greek diet and delicious served grilled, marinated, stewed, etc.
- Cheese (especially saganaki) – Greek cheeses are delicious but even more so when lit on fire.
- Tzatziki – garlicky goodness that goes with everything.
- Dolmathakia – stuffed grape leaves – may not sound appetizing but served with fresh local ingredients. What’s not too like?
- Greek Meze – served hot or cold an array of local appetizers.
- Galaktoboureko -phylo, melted butter, custard…Yum!
- Olives – of course Greece has good olives!
- Wine – Greece is one of the oldest producers in the world. Local wines are a great compliment to any of the traditional fare.
- Greek Salad – served with local tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh Greek feta.
- Gyro – the street meat of Greece. Delicious.
- December was a perfect time to see Athens. There were few tourists and the hotels were reasonably priced. Greece is hot in the summer and Athens is normally teeming with tourists.
- Temperatures were absolutely perfect for walking around and seeing the sites. We never stood in a queue.
- Talk to the locals. The Greeks are hospitable by nature. Also because their economy is tourist based, nearly everyone speaks a little English. They are also keen to teach you a word or two in Greek.
- Don’t forget to do the walking tour – many of them are free.
Thanks for stopping by…. Did you enjoy this post? What else would you like to know? Drop me a line, I love to hear from my readers.