Athens - 8 Things You Don't Want to Miss!
Athens is a haven for history buffs, those who enjoy the bustle of city-life with a calmer vibe (I wouldn't call Athens a party city), and marble-enthusiasts (marble, marble marble)! If this tickles your fancy, read on!
Ahhh finally!! Greece was the perfect European getaway after a long time stuck on the Western hemisphere. My friends and I spent two days in Athens, and I wish we had just one more day! Still, in that short time, we were able to do enough to feel like we had been there for many more days. Here I am to show you an action-packed time in Athens!
~ First, some things to know ~
COVID stuff *as of 10/20/21*:
Need a PCR test within 72 hrs or rapid test within 48 hrs of landing in Greece.
Need PCR or rapid test within 72 hrs to return to America. Try to plan ahead! Sundays, a lot of pharmacies were closed and some sites only do certain tests on certain days. We did a rapid test at Athens Hospital on Sunday. Here was walk-ins only, and you must wait on-site for rapid results to be printed, about 20 mins.
Bring walking shoes, preferably ones you don't mind getting dirty or are easy to wipe clean. I believe the best way to explore a new place is on foot! When touring the Acropolis, our white sneakers were covered in dirt. Mine easily wiped clean, but cloth sneakers won't.
The metro system in Athens is great! I'd highly recommend using it over a cab to save money without sacrificing convenience. This man tried to charge us $35 to go 20 mins! Needless to say, we took the metro for a few euros and walked (in nice weather) for about 10 mins to our final destination.
That being said, keep belongings close! We were nearly pick-pocketed on a metro - like LITERALLY caught the guy's hand on my friend's fanny pack, front of it unzipped. We were coming from the airport with all our bags, making us easy targets. But even after being caught, he continued to try to distract us, crazy eyes glued our bags looking for an opening! But I honestly wasn't scared at all, just bewildered at how terrible he was at it! Plus we were on a crowded train with many witnesses.
Don't flush the tissue. There will be signs posted reminding you not to. Their septic system is not so great. I got away with forgetting to do this a few times, but don't risk it if you can remember. This way, you can save "forgetting" for when you would really rather not toss it in the trash.
Now onto the good stuff...
~ 5 Awesome Things I'd Do Again ~
1. Take a guided walking food tour with a local.
This was our first planned activity of Athens, and I can't imagine a better welcome to Greece than to have a local give you a private tour of the city AND feed you all of the most authentic Greek delights! I booked with Viator, and our guide, Eleni, provided us a great balance between sweet and savory, food and drink, planned dishes and keeping it open-ended to our tastes. We learned about the influences and differences between Turkish and Greek cuisine, unexpected treats that locals love (like frappes!), and even debunked some common misconceptions (like I was expecting tons of lamb, but apparently pork is the meat of choice).
2. Soak in the amazing views of the Acropolis from a rooftop.
Acropolis means "highest point in the city." Therefore it should be no surprise that you can see it from pretty much any rooftop in Athens. We brunched during the day at MS Roof Garden, and at night, went right next door to A is for Athens hotel rooftop for wine with a view. These are near the Monastiraki Square, a beautiful plaza full of activity. Our hotel, Acropolis View Hotel, also delivered on its promise. I highly recommend it by the way - Greek breakfast on the rooftop at sunrise was simply perfect!
3. Get up close to the Acropolis with a tour guide.
I am not usually one to do a bunch of organized tours on a trip. I can take out my handy dandy map and Google what's worth seeing and doing. While it is possible to do on your own, as each monument is accompanied by an informative placard, I recommend booking a guided tour of the Acropolis because the story-telling and ability to ask questions add so much more to the experience! Like the story of how Athens came to be or where the word "marathon" comes from. I booked this tour, and was lucky to have "Vicky" as my guide!
To avoid crowds (well...BIGGER crowds, that is), it is recommended to go as early as possible - the hours are 8AM-8PM. Our tour began at 9AM and by the time we reached the top, it was past 10AM and already getting crowded, AND our tour guide said it gets worse....I heard evening before closing is also less crowded, but for photos, probably not the best idea.
4. Get your baklava fix at Beneth Food Hall.
Beneth is a chain, but that doesn't make it any less delicious! If you came to Greece for baklava, they have tons of variations of it and other sweets.
5. Cleanse your insides (and out) with mastiha.
After a nice meaty dinner, we were given complimentary shots of some type of clear, sweet, distinctly pine-smelly digestif. And boy did it digest, in the most pleasant of ways (TMI, I know)! It was only on our way back through the airport that I came across a shop, and found out what is was, mastiha. This is apparently considered a Greek superfood and is also infused in foods, skincare, drinks - think of it like CBD in America today! But with a more exclusive feel, as mastiha is only found from the mastic trees of the island of Chios, Greece. I came home with the liqueur, as well as face cream, eye cream, soap...I'm a sucker, I know. Let's see how super this stuff really is!
~ NOW, 3 Recommended Things I Missed :( ~
1. See the Changing of the Guard.
The Presidential Mansion / the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by soldiers, and every hour, every day, the guards change posts. On Sundays at 11AM, the most extravagant Changing of the Guard takes place. Unfortunately we missed it while touring the Acropolis. So I'd recommend doing the Acropolis on a different morning than Sunday or finding an 8AM tour, if possible.
2. Explore the neighborhood of Plaka.
I heard so much about this neighborhood, and from photos, it looks very vibrant and picturesque, and is apparently great for shopping. We did get some good souvenir shopping done in Monastiraki though!
3. Take a shot of ouzo.
This seems to be the liquor of Athens, if not Greece. I saw it everywhere but somehow forgot to try it! Probably because on nights three and four, the jet lag was merciless and our "quick nap before our night out" turned into 12-hour comas. While in a gift shop, the guy also told us about other Greek liquors like tsipouro, rakomelo, and oinomelo.
In conclusion, if you're thinking about going to Athens, DO IT! And make sure Sunday morning is on the itinerary. In my opinion, three days is just enough to enjoy what Athens has to offer. Check out my gallery Athenian Beauty to see tons of photos from our trip!