If ancient history is one of your interests then Athens must be on your list of European cities to visit. You’ll love this unique ancient city while Zeus and Hera welcomes you to the city named after their daughter Athena, who in a contest against Poseidon proved her wisdom by creating an olive tree which should serve the people of the city with olives, oil and wood.
Thanks to a very spontaneous decision I celebrated the New Year’s Eve 2016 in Athens and spent 4 days in this ancient city. Just one day before arriving I asked Ioannis, my Greek friend I met many many years ago during my studies in Hanover, if he is in Athens. Luckily he was and this way I was able to have a deeper understanding of the Athenian and Greek way of life.
I welcomed 2016 with a group of cool and fun people at the New Year’s Eve Party he threw at his place and thanks to him I was in Greek restaurants and bars I would have not known they existed. Thanks a lot Ioannis and Majka for your great company!
Here are my personal top 10 things to do and see in Athens.
Meet Greek Gods in Acropolis
The Acropolis of Athens, “City in Highest Point” is located on a rocky hill and dominates the city of Athens. Once you are up there you’ll have no doubts anymore why this ancient site counts as the most important one of Western civilisation. The main attractions of Acropolis are the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to Athena and the Erechtheion on the North side famous for “The Porch of the Caryatids”, six female figures as supporting columns.
Tip: The entry ticket for Acropolis costs 12€ and gives free access to six other archaeological sites in Athens.
- North and South Slope of Acropolis for Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
- Olympian for Temple of Olympian Zeus and Arch of Hadrian
- Ancient Agora for Temple of Hephaistos
- Roman Agora for Tower of the Winds
- Hadrian’s Library
Visit Acropolis Museum
Still not enough of Ancient History? Then you’ll need to visit the Acropolis Museum (Entry: 5€). In this museum there are almost 4,000 objects found in the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. The original columns of the Porch of the Caryatids are preserved in this museum. Don’t forget the watch the movie showing the history of the Acropolis.
Stroll around Monastiraki & Plaka
These neighbourhoods under the Acropolis combine the ancient and modern times in a very unique way. The Tzistarakis Mosque, Turkish Baths (Hamam), the Monastiraki Flea Market, countless cafés, restaurants and shops in the narrow cobblestone streets of Monastiraki and Plaka are the hearth of the old town of Athens.
Watch the changing of the guards
Almost every European city has a palace and guards and a ceremony of changing guards. Athens also has its guards in front of the Parliament in Syntagma Square, protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, Athens guards are the most fashionably dressed ones with their kilts and pom-pom shoes. Besides, their walk is the most theatric one I’ve ever seen.
The National Garden in the centre of the Athens, just behind the Parliament is a great escape from the busy Syntagma Square. The Zappeion Palace is located in the middle of this garden, built in 1870 for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
As its names reveals this temple is dedicated to Zeus and is the biggest temple in Greece. The columns are 17m high and have a dimeter of 1.7m. Today only 15 of the 104 columns remain. So imagine the rest being there. Pretty impressive, hah?
The Arch of Hadrian in front of the entry of the temple reminds of the Roman emperor Hadrian who completed the temple after 700 years of construction.
Win a race in Panathenaic Stadium
Nope I didn’t win that race but I was allowed to pose on the winner’s podium, anyway. The Panathenaic Stadium of marble was built for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and it is one of the oldest in the world. From the top of the marble stairs you have beautiful views of the city of Athens and of Acropolis.
Get lost in Exarhia
After visiting the National Archeological Museum I walked around chasing street art of Athenian street artists and found myself in the neighbourhood called Exarhia. I liked it here a lot. Far from the touristic attractions, this is the place where you get to know the real local life of Athens. You get an idea about the current political situation of the country from the street art in Exarhia.
Climb up the Mount Lycabettus
From this hill the whole city of Athens lays under your feet. Day or night you have an amazing panoramic view of the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Syntagma Square, the Parliament and of course the Acropolis of Athens. At the top of the 300 meters high hill there is the small Chapel of St. George for which the Athenian couples need to wait for at least two years to marry there.
Have dinner in a Greek taverna
Now this was the most fun part. Spending a whole evening with friends in a Greek taverna with lots of different mezes (small appetiser dishes) and lots of Greek wine. It is the best way to try as much as you can from the Greek cuisine. Like in my home country Turkey, also in Greece people order mezes for the whole table and everyone eats a little from each meze. The bill at the end will be shared. As simple as this. My favourite mezes are;
- Zucchini fritters
- Domatokeftedes (tomato fritters)
- Saganaki (fried cheese)
- Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)
- Eggplant dip
- Fried feta with honey and sesame seeds – yummy!!!
All this delicious food is of course best accompanied with Greek Wine or Ouzo, an anise-flavoured traditional Greek alcoholic drink.
I was twice at Kalipatira in Monastiraki thanks to the recommendation of my Athenian friend. It is in a touristic area but still manages to keep its original rustic atmosphere.
One evening, again my friend took us to “The Old Fava” in a neighbourhood I won’t be able to ever find again. This place was absolutely an insider tip and it was a real Greek taverna. It was lovely.
For more insights get Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Athens.
Don’t forget to check my Packing List for useful travel gear.
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