A is for Athens




After a bitter cold May weekend  in London (the coldest in 180 years), a trip to Athens to meet up with some friends sounded like just the ticket! So this weekend, we are jetting to the historic capital of Europe.
We're hereeeeee!!!!
It's less than a three hour flight from London's Gatwick Airport, and a half hour cab ride to our AirBnB in the Plaka District, which is super cool.  I highly recommend staying in this area--it's the oldest section of Athens, right in the center, just under the Acropolis Hill, and it's been inhabited continuously for over 3000 years! So, if you don't mind a few tourists, try to stay here because so many of the great archeological sites are just out your door! We also splurged a bit for a view of the Acropolis, but you will find the prices for accommodations here in Athens quite reasonable.

From our Air BnB, we literally walk out the door and onto the Dionysiou Areopagitou pedestrian street, which borders the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. There are many restaurants to choose from in this area, and we enjoy Souvlaki while listening to some live music on this warm May evening. We didn't realize how late people eat in Athens... the restaurants just start filling up at 9pm!

And you really don't need reservations in the Plaka. Just wander around until you find a spot you like! (however, making a reservation at a place you scope in advance will get you a great table!)



After we finish eating at Plakiotissa restaurant, it's 10:30pm and the weather is still warm, so we decide to spend a few moments out on our deck... because, well, the VIEWWW!  This was the last image I saw before falling asleep, The lit up Acropolis.. Zzzzzzz!


Below is my itinerary for a perfect weekend in Athens! Must sees:

Day 1:
1. Acropolis
2. Plaka streets
3. Hadrian's Gate
4. Temple of Zeus
5. Original Olympic Stadium
6. Syntagma Square (changing of Guard)



Morning Day 1: Wake up to another view of the beautiful Acropolis. We have a nice breakfast on the deck, meet up with our friends Peter, Paula, Kristina, Maria and Sofia and head to the Acropolis.


Outside the gate to the Acropolis, try a koulouri (a sesame covered greek style bagel), if you can find a warm fresh one!

I recommend getting to the gates of the Acropolis no later than 9am, but please note that we did NOT do this, aaargghhh, so we got the lovely experience of crowds, and guards shouting "hurry up, keep moving"....at 10:30am!
In case you don't believe me, this picture should give you a good idea of what 10:30 am looks like, in May, before the tourist season officially starts.

Note: when purchasing tickets, please consider getting the 30 euro 5 day ticket, which gets you into many of the major sites. (we did not do this, and wish we had)






An hour and a half seems plenty to spend up on top, but if you have more time, or have a keen interest in archeology, take a walk around the area below the Acropolis, and get a close up look at an ancient greek city.

When we finish, we walk down the path on the other side, to the large rock mound called Areopagus Hill. Prior to the 5th century B.C, civil and criminal trials before the high council took place on this site. In addition, during the first century AD, the Apostle Paul delivered his most famous sermon here.  If you climb up the stairs to the top, the views are outstanding!  Just watch your step--the old worn stones are slippery!

Here are a few views from the top of Areopagus Hill---the Temple of Hephaestus and of Mt. Lycabettus. If you can read Greek, the Apostle Paul's sermon is written on a plaque at the base.



From here, stroll along the main road until you come to the streets leading down into the Plaka. Choose any street and you will have many wonderful choices for lunch or a snack. So many great restaurants to choose from!



Lunch Day 1: We chose the Kosmikon restaurant for lunch, and I think it was the best lunch we had in Athens! The fresh fish here is amazing! (You will easily find it on the main street--there are two restaurants diagonal from each other)


Afternoon 1: Why not explore the tiny Plaka neighborhood of Anafiotika? It's the part of the Plaka that I love best---all the charming streets and courtyards! Anafiotika can be reached by going up the stairs next to the church of St. Nicholas Ragavas...or just go UP UP UP any of the side streets near Prytaneiou Street.


Settlers from the island of Anafi built their homes in the Cyclades style when they came here in the 19th century as builders working for King Otto, and you might just think you have been transported to a village in the Cyclades islands! We wander and wander this area, thinking we are lost around each turn! But we never get truly lost--somehow all the tiny lanes merge back onto the main street.  Sooooo charming!







While wandering around, we met many friendly stray cats! Turns out in Athens, people feed and take care of them (and dogs, too!). In fact, I understand there has been a law passed, which requires prospective dog owners to purchase their pets from the shelter.

And some cool graffiti art:




Hadrian's Arch:
After exploring the upper streets of the Plaka, we meander back down to the main tourist street, Adrianou, and head down Lisikratous, to Hadrian's Arch (also called Hadrian's Gate), which is speculated to have been built to honor the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian, for the dedication Zeus's Temple, around 130 b.c.

Of interest are the two inscriptions just above the lower arch. On the side facing the Acropolis, "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus", and on the side facing Zeus's Temple, "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus".  What does this mean? I don't know! Scholars have debated this for years!

Temple of Olympian Zeus:
If you head up the hill from the arch, just to the corner, and turn right, you will come to the ticket office for Zeus's Temple. If you have purchased the 30 Euro combo pass, your entrance will be free, otherwise it is 6 Euros.


Construction of this temple began in the 6th century b.c., but was not completed until the 2nd century a.d., under the reign of Hadrian. It was the largest temple in Greece, with 104 columns.Over time, the temple was pillaged, and only 16 columns still remain.

Now we cross the street and run a 50 meter dash to the Panathenaic Stadium (the original Olympic Stadium). Here, we sit on the benches, and try out the feeling of being on the winner's podium. (One thing we didn't do was to walk to the top of the stadium and right into the Metz neighborhood, with lots of fun restaurants and nice exploring.

Changing of the Guards: We still have time (remember? dinner is late here) so we walk over to Syntagma Square, and get there just in time to see the 6pm Changing of the Guard. Every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year the Presidential Guards, known as Evzones, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier up the steps, in front of the Parliment Building. (note: on Sunday's at 11am, they march from their barracks in their "Foustanella" uniform, including a skirt with 400 pleats, representing 400 years of Turkish occupation)



Evening of Day 1: Earlier in the day, we spied a cute restaurant, and made a reservation for dinner at 7:30. The maitre-de, smiled and wrote 8:30--he thought that was a better time! We ended up getting to the restaurant at 8, and it was only about 1/2 full. Got a wonderful wonderful table upstairs, overlooking both Mt. Lycabettus and the Acropolis. Great dinner, highly recommend "The Old Tavern of Psaras."



Day 2:
1. Acropolis Museum
2. Monastiraki neighborhood
3. Mt. Lycabettus

Another glorious sunny day and we enjoy an early breakfast at Café Diogenes, in the small wooded square off of Tripodon Street.


I just can't get over how, no matter where I look, there is something historic peering back at me. Just over my shoulder is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, which was erected around 330 b.c. and is the first known use of a Corinthian Column.


But our mission for this morning is to hit the Acropolis Museum. I can't say enough about how amazing this museum is, and that it is an absolute MUST to see. Opened in 2009, this museum is a work of art and design. (I'm not just saying this because my cousin's husband, Bernard Tschumi was the architect, but he was, and I am so proud of him for this imagining this beautiful jewel!)


The museum manages to hold over 250 statues from the original Acropolis, protects the ancient city below it, is beautifully lit by glass throughout and provides stunning views of the Acropolis.




Lunch Day 2:
We are so lucky to have two sets of friends here at the same time! We have plans to meet Ali and Simon at noon, so we head over to the museum café. But unfortunately it is very crowded (due to today being National Museum Day with free entry), so we head out onto Makrigianni Street, and eat at the tiny yet highly touted fish restaurant, "Greek Stories". The food is outstanding and the waiters so charming.



Monastiraki
For the afternoon, we head to another very fun neighborhood, Monastiraki. The metro goes directly from the Acropolis to the main Monastiraki square, so why not try it? But if not, it's also an easy walk through the Plaka.




When we arrive, we find the area bustling with musicians, street vendors, hawkers and produce sellers. This square is also home to the Athens Flea Market, and a warren of tourist shops. In front of us is Hadrian's Library, and the Agora complex. (all included in the 30 euro pass), which we fully intended on seeing... until....

....suddenly, dark clouds appear and it starts pouring....then HAILING!

We dash into the A for Athens rooftop bar, where we end up spending an hour before the rain subsides. (this bar is noted for having one of the best views in Athens) Good thing they have drinks with appropriate names...... Storming Martini and Suffering Bastard!

It looks like the rain has stopped and we venture out, with a funny destination in mind, Little Kook restaurant. Half way there, it is pouring again and we duck inside this crazy restaurant, decorated to the 9's with a Mary Poppins theme. It is worth seeing this place even if you don't eat there.




The rain appears to have let up, so we walk back towards our Air BnB, by way of  Ermou Street, a pedestrian street with a bunch of multinational chain stores, and end up back at Syntagma Square, then back to our hotel.

Evening of Day 2:
We kept wandering by Restaurant Daphne, and so we decided to give it a go. Again, such good greek food, lovely atmosphere, and a table overlooking all the pedestrians.


Mt. Lycabettus: 
One thing we had wanted to do until the rain stopped us we to hike up Mt. Lycabettus. But now it is dark, and hiking might not be the best idea. We consider taking the funicular (tram) that runs until 3am(!),  but it is entirely enclosed inside a tunnel, so we hail a cab. 



We end up with a great cab driver, George, who happens to also be a wonderful tour guide!



At the top of the hill, there is a 10 minute walk to the Agios Georgious Church, and views of Athens that stretch all the way to the coastline. We've already eaten, but at the top is a cafe that is open for breakfast and lunch, and also the Orizontes restaurant for dinner. sorry about the lack of photos. (my iPhone doesn't do very well in the dark)

When we come back, we decide to head around the corner to try an Ouzo (the licorice flavored national drink of Greece) at Bretto's, the oldest distillery in Greece.


Exhausted, we head to bed with our outstanding view of the Acropolis etched in our dreams.

Day 3: 
Our last day in Athens. 3 days is not enough. :)

Temple of Poseidon:
Today is a perfect day to get out of town, and after checking out  "Withlocals", we decide to head out to the Temple of Poseidon, with our knowledgeable "local," Fotis. It is a 4 hour excursion that includes time in Sunion at the temple, as well as a lunch break and some beach time. It was worth it, just from the standpoint of seeing areas outside of Athens, and to see one of the major historical landmarks of Greece. The temple dates back to 440 b.c., and is first referenced in Homer's Odyssey.













(Note: if we were to plan it again, I would choose to do the full day Meteora trip, which we had to cancel due to a train mixup with the original tour company. All things considered, this was a nice second choice.)

Day 3 Evening:
What better way to finish off our Athens visit, than a dinner with our friends, Peter and Paula and then some greek dancing and plate-smashing!?!

We have dinner at yet another highly recommended restaurant, Stamatopoulos, which did not disappoint. Wonderful greek music and again, the food was so good!       


But, we aren't done yet! still have some plates to smash!!! We head to Adriano's on Thespidos street, and have some dessert and we learn to line dance!


What a great ending to a lovely stay in Athens. We give Athens an A!!!!

Goodbye, Athens! 
We love you and we will see you again!!!!!



Extras!
Drivers and Guides: 
Leonides Stamatakis: 38 euro flat fee to and from airport. Mercedes cab, punctual and professional.
leonstamatakis@gmail.com

George, who took us all around Athens and to the top of Mt. Lycabattus:
+30 693 0814631

WithLocal guide: Fotis, nice genuine guy, knows his history, went to Temple of Poseidon with him.   nikolako78@gmail.com, +30 697 353 8516


Two great Air BnB's.... Wowie! cant do much better than these!
Our fab location right under the Acropolis: great for 2 people. 

Peter and Paula's incredible flat, also right under the Acropolis. good for more than 2 people

Recommended restaurants:

Kosmikon: Adrianou 119

The Old Tavern of Psaras, Erechtheos 16

Stamatopoulos, Lisiou 26

Restaurant Daphne,  Lisikratous 4

Café Diogenes, Lisikratous

Adrianos--plate smashing, on Thespidos street, near Kosmikon

Brettos Distillery, Kidathineon 41

A for Athens rooftop bar, Miaouli 2


Little Kook, Karaiskaki 17


Greek Stories, Makrigianni 19



Comments

  1. Another great post! Lovely photos too. Isn't Athens a wonderful city? Most excellent that we were there together! Alison

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too! so much fun in Athens! and so great to see you, my friend!

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