Don’t spend much time in Athens, they said. There’s not much to see there, they said.
But I loved Athens and wish we’d been able to stay longer! Then again, I studied history in university and taught history until last year so I’m a little bit biased. We were also in Athens in October when it was far emptier of people than it would be during high tourist season. The temperature was also quite cool, which was nice coming from Singapore.
Upon arriving from Santorini late in the afternoon, we headed straight for the Acropolis. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sun cast long shadows on the stone. We entered the Acropolis at 4:15pm and were escorted out when it closed at 6. That’s the one downside to traveling in the offseason – limited hours for many sites and museums. But nearly two hours was enough time, especially because of how empty it was! Many of our photos had no other people in them!
We were already excited on our way up . . .
and then we just stood at stared at Parthenon and ruins around it.
The Erechtheion is really interesting because the statues are copies (the originals are in the museum) in the condition of the excavated originals. so I didn’t actually know until visiting the museum later.
I was also excited to see the Temple of Athena Nike because I remembered studying it in art history in university.
The view from the highest point in Athens (the literal translation of Acropolis is “high city”) was incredible, too.
And we had to sit in the stadium before we left!
Then we visited the Acropolis Museum, home of most of the original statues and artifacts. The floor is glass so we could see the site excavation, which was really neat.
The coolest part of the museum was the top floor, lined with three walls of windows looking out to the Acropolis, housing the original sculptures and frieze from the Parthenon laid out in the dimensions of the actual building.
In terms of its vibe, Athens feels a bit gritty and rough around the edges, like its residents have something to say that only they can understand. And there are amazing views of the Acropolis all around the city.
There are cool hidden gems that I wish we’d had more time to explore and pretty awesome graffiti that seemed a bit more like vandalism than street art.
Athens has a number of neighborhoods full of restaurants and cafés, which is another reason to come back. We saw a few areas that looked really interesting from the windows of our bus ride to Delphi (more below) but spent our evenings in Plaka where we were staying. There was plenty of deliciousness there, including the best ice cream I’ve ever had, so next time I’ll have to see what’s elsewhere, too. And I haven’t had ice cream since.
We were staying basically across the street from Hadrian’s Arch . . .
. . . which is located right next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Unfortunately, we could only peek through the gates because closing time in the offseason is earlier than was we read online.
The morning of our only full day in Athens, we took a free walking tour with an incredibly knowledgeable guide who literally walked us through the history of Greece from ancient through modern times. (I even made an account on TripAdvisor to write Michael a review when he said that’s how the company determines who gets tours.) It was very cold that day so we looked for sunny spots to stand in at each place we stopped.
We visited Hadrian’s Library . . .
. . . Monastiraki Square and flea market . . .
. . . and the Roman Agora.
For lunch, Michael recommended Bairaktaris Taverna in Monastiraki. It was great and definitely the most local of our meals. And what an experience! The restaurant was large and crowded with tables covered in green-and-white checked cloths. There were large framed photos on the walls and beams leading up to the ceiling of people enjoying their food. At least two walls contained a wide variety of Christian art and the kitchen itself seemed to exist on one long counter at the back where we were sitting and another counter towards the front that may have also been operating a takeaway window. There were tables outside, as well. And to top it off, a three-man band was playing Greek folk songs and a very elderly man, possibly the owner, clapped along every so often. The place has been around since 1879 and it felt like we’d walked into a large family party.
I made the mistake of smiling twice at a line cook, once when I heard him singing and once when I saw him turn a mixing bowl into a drum, and after our gruff yet warm server brought us dessert and mastika on the house, he sent over a plate of lamb kebabs. Adorable, but I’m a vegetarian. (And I instantly had visions of having to break that to him on our third date.) What a country.
After our tour, we continued to follow Michael’s recommendations and went back to visit the Ancient Agora. We started in the museum, which had some interesting artifacts from the site and then walked around. It is really so cool to wander through something so old.
The reason we only spent one full day in Athens was because we wanted to visit Delphi, which was a wonderful day trip. Along the three-hour drive through Mount Parnassus and its environs, our tour guide, Effie, told us in English and French about the city of Athens, pointed out geographic areas of interest, and talked about the lifestyle in the small towns we passed.
When we arrived in Delphi, Effie provided a fascinating history of the oracle and Ancient Greek politics and explained architectural and archaeological features, as well as changes to the site over time.
Effie took us through the Delphi Archaeological Museum, as well. While I could have spent more time there it was good to learn from someone with deeper knowledge than what was written on wall placards.
We stopped for a late lunch at a taverna with beautiful views of the mountains . . .
. . . and then spent a few minutes in the ski town (yes, the only one in Greece) of Arachova.
Then next morning, before we were ready, it was time to go. And we agreed that we’d have to come back.