Athens: Highlights and Top Sites
Athen is a city often overlooked and thought of as a stop over to get to the islands. On the contrary, Athens is a cosmopolitan destination, worthy of as many days as you can spare. I recently spent 7 days in Athens and would have gladly taken more. You will keep yourself busy with world class museums, shopping, ancient ruins to explore, roof top bars with that famous Acropolis view, beautiful city streets, clean beaches with sparkling waters, and nightlife that continues well into the next day.
Unless you see it for yourself, it’s hard to imagine the scale and shear beauty of this 5th century BC citadel. All the photographic opportunities will keep you busy finding the right viewpoint, waiting for light to be just… right. Also, the walk up to the Acropolis is filled with archeological finds, lookouts, olive trees, and informational signs detailing much of the historical importance.
Tips: Go early (best light/ lighter crowds), consider booking a guide, buy the “combo” ticket (online is best) so you can also see Ancient Agora (keep reading), and arrive by way of the western gate at the Propylaea. This western entrance is bound to make an impression on you as you enter the gate and climb the intimidating stairs. You will feel the presence of the gods, obedient and humbled as intended, I am sure.
Athens Gate Hotel
Consider booking a table for dinner at this roof top restaurant with a gorgeous view of the Acropolis. The food is great and the view is one of the very best in all of Athens. Come sunset the glow of these ancient ruins could be that moment to remember always. The summers breeze pairs well with white Greek wine, another must try in Greece, as well as the memorable baked cheese and mandarin appetizer.
Hotel Grande Bretangne
A fabulous roof top bar with high-end cocktails where the stage in literally set for you to take that instagramable shot. The bar staff were even nice enough to help us out when we struggled with our selfie. This is also likely Athens best hotel if your into 5 star hotels with luxury spas and a roof top pool.
The Museum of The Acropolis
The cafe at the top serves great frappe and lunch and seating is indoor or outdoor, both have a panoramic view to the Acropolis. Plus, this is a must see museum in Athens if you are remotely interested in these ancient ruins. Also a budget friendly pick, tickets to this museum are a bargain at around $5.
What to Buy
The street vendors and shops along the neighborhoods Monastiraki and Plaka sell great gifts to come home with. I liked the evil eye bracelets, Korres lotion & body products, honey from Crete, decorative purses, and wine if space permits. My favorite Athens high end jeweler is Ilias Lalaounis, a museum of her life’s work is also in central Athens if buying a piece is out of the question. http://www.iliaslalaounis.eu
Best Beach Spot
Just outside of Athens is Astir Beach, a beautiful, clear, unpolluted beach to swim at. Astir Beach Club is part of the Astir Palace Hotel and was the summer play ground for Sinatra, Jackie O’ and many more. For around $45 you will get a beach chair, umbrella, shower facility (with hair dryers) and access to their restaurants and bars. Is is worth the price? Yes, we made a whole day of it, we showered there and went out in the party town of Glifada after. The beach cove on the other side is free, and just as beautiful if you don’t need the shower facility.
The Ancient Agora ruins have many paths to explore, weaving around artifacts, foliage and include a museum of ancient antiquities. This beautiful site can easily take much of the day and can be bought as part of a combo ticket to the Acropolis ,which is valid for several days. Ancient Agora is a must see site.
The Benaki Museum
This former family mansion of the Benaki family houses art and artifacts of Ancient Greece. A beautiful collection of paintings, costumes, jewelry and pottery. After a goo look around head to the cafe on the top floor which has a beautiful view of the National Gardens and serves excellent cappuccino & frappe. https://www.benaki.gr
This neighborhood on the outskirts of Athens is a great place to cafe away the day and is nighttime hotspot. Beaches near by are also great for swimming, try Casablanca Bay or my favorite, Astir beach (mentioned above).
Dinner in Plaka
There are numerous tavernas to choose from and all serve delicious traditional Greek cuisine, you can’t go wrong.
Try: Horta, souvlaki, moussaka, fresh fish and the cedar/pine like aperitif Mastika, although Raki will surely find you first. Fresh fruit is somehow more delicious here in Greece and makes for a perfect desert. Food is paramount in Greece and is often what people remember from this beautiful county. Greece is food, Greece is family.
Changing of the Guard
Each Sunday at 11am this full ceremony draws huge crowds to see the changing of the guard in front of The Monument of The Unknown Solider. Arrive early. Alternatively, the guards do change out every day at noon and can be seen marching back and forth displaying their fancy foot work, stomps and all. Their military uniform are impressive especially high summer in 92 degrees of sweltering heat. Keeping yourself hydrated is key and easy to do with the best tap water in all of Europe, seriously. Athens is amazing. #amazingathens
Instagram for more photos and tips: @girl_welltraveled