Language(s): Greek, English
Currency: Euro (1 euro = $1.12)
Must-See: Acropolis and other ruins
All I heard about Athens from those I met (both travelers and locals) was that it was a dirty eyesore, and that I shouldn’t dare spend more than a day there (i.e. the bed bugs that forced a fellow traveler out of her hostel and into the Athens airport for a night). While I didn’t find it as beautiful as Paris or Amsterdam, it was a pleasantly unique place to stop. The only way that I can describe it would be to compare it to Detroit, Michigan. This city is ful of grit, street art and a proud spirit, and Athens feels very similar. So, before you go island hopping (*ahem* if you happen to stop by Santorini, though, check out my post about my time there), let’s chat about why Athens is worth your time.
There’s the obvious to discuss, including the Acropolis, the famous Greek religious center, and most notably the Parthenon. Let’s be honest…that’s why you’re even here. I get it. In addition to this, you have the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Arch, Hadrian’s Library, the Stoa of Attalos, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Kerameikos and the Lyceum. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but if you put on your walking shoes, it’s totally doable on foot in one day. Don’t pay 15 euros for those Hop On, Hop Off tour buses, unless a physical handicap prevents you from walking around 10 miles (and then this is the best way to get around the city). Instead, arrive at the Acropolis and go from there. If your lodging is close enough to walk, do it. If not, Athens metro is fairly easy to use and will only set you back 1.40 euros each ride.
Once at the Acropolis, you may buy a few ticket options. There’s the all-inclusive ticket (30 euros), which includes all of the attractions that I mentioned above, or there is the Acropolis ticket (20 euros), which just provides entry to the Acropolis and its slopes. Both can be purchased at either the North or South entrance of the Acropolis, while the all-inclusive ticket can also be purchased at any of the sites listed. Seeing as we were on a budget, we opted for the cheaper option and just saw the Acropolis, which included the Erecthinion, the Theater of Dionysus and the Parthenon.
Ha. We JUST saw a few ruins that are thousands of years old and incredible relics of the beginning of democracy and human civilization. Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is that unless you’re completely obsessed with ruins, this little slice of history is plenty. Also, most of the other attractions are visible just by walking by, despite some fencing around them. So, if you just want to see the ruins, buy the cheaper ticket. If Zeus is compelling you to shovel out 30 euros to view his temple, fine. I wouldn’t, but perhaps I’m just less connected to the Greek Gods than you.
Depending on which package you choose, this can take a half or full day. If you finish early, I suggest doing a bit of shopping or grabbing a coffee in the district called Plaka. It’s a really beautiful part of the city. It’s also near all of the ruins, so find yourself there when the heat of the afternoon becomes too much, with an ice cream cone and a seat for your poor, tired feet. Monastiraki is another great little neighborhood for shopping or resting.
After all of that, you’ll probably be hungry and Greek food is da best. Again, if you’ll be staying in Greece for a while, you’ll have more time to try it all. For those of you here for just a day or two, pick up a souvlaki pita for lunch, a Greek yogurt with muesli and honey for a snack and mousaka for dinner. Menus are posted everywhere, so I recommended wandering a bit and doing some window shopping first. The Acropolis sits in the center of downtown, so it’s also nice and easy to find a restaurant that overlooks it.
As far as lodging, again, we chose a hostel to save some money. After so many concerns about Athens being dirty and the aforementioned bed bug complaint, we paid a bit extra to stay at City Circus Athens. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. There’s fast wifi, a breakfast buffet for just 4 euros, the coolest decorations, A/C, and even a balcony that overlooks the Acropolis. Not to mention the hostel is connected to a restaurant with special prices for guests and free wine in the evenings. It’s basically a hotel at a hostel price. Don’t stay anywhere else, I’m telling you.
Yes, Athens is all about the ruins, but it’s also a cool city with cafes and clubs, impressive graffiti art and a youthful vibe. Don’t overlook it.
As always, comment with questions.
Bye, Bye, Bye,