Athens, one of the world’s most ancient cities. There’s so much to see and do in this pivotal city of the modern world, it can almost seem overwhelming! Here’s how I made the most of my time in Athens:
Prior to leaving… ✈️
I received an email from Gate1Travel during the holiday season about a flash sale they were having for Cyber Monday: There was a list of ten cities, all of which included round-trip flights and 4-night hotel accommodations for $589 per person, an absolute steal! After some consideration (and an Instagram poll my friends could vote in), my friend Amanda and I narrowed our decision to Athens.
First night – Food & walking tour 🍽
We landed at Athens International Airport around 2 p.m. on Thursday and called a cab to our hotel, the Stanley Hotel. A quick nap to beat the jet-lag and a much needed shower, we headed to Syntagma Square to meet up with Maria-Christina of Greekality for a food and walking tour of Athens.
After doing a food tour in Budapest, I made a pact to myself that anytime I went to a new country or city with a heavy cultural influence, I hadto do a food tour within the first day of being there. There’s no better way to be introduced to a city than to be fed the local cuisine!
I knew the Greeks were hospitable, but never imagined just how welcomed we felt. We had a group of seven of us and by the end of the night, we felt like a mini family. Maria-Christina brought us to a lot of Mom&Pop shops, which made for an even more authentic experience as we bonded over food and drink.
There were several stops along the way, but hands down the best stop was Street Souvlaki, which quickly became a favorite of ours throughout the trip. If you are going to book with Greekality, I recommend going hungry because there’s several stops along the way.
Day 1 – A change of plans… 😬
Originally planned, I booked us a day trip to Delphi on Friday. It was the one thing that Amanda and I both agreed on doing aside from Athens, since going to the islands in February didn’t seem too feasible in the off-season. The tour guide never showed up and I was left with a full day ahead of us with not a single thing to do… Cue me starting to panic.
Instead of freaking out, we rescheduled our day trip to delve into the area around the Acropolis. I quickly learned that Athens, though a large city by size, is very easy to navigate on foot. Our hotel was a little further from the city center than I would have liked, but that’s what you get when you pay $589 for flight & hotel!
I booked our tickets on GetYourGuide which included admission to the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. We walked through Monastiraki Square, headed towards Hadrian’s Library, stopping by for a quick photo and caught a glimpse of the Arch of Hadrian before picking up our tickets.
Since it was included with our tickets and on the way, we stopped at the Acropolis Museum. Dedicated to something that’s from BC, its ultra-modern design is a true epitome of the city of Athens, combining the ancient world with the new. The museum itself has all of the artifacts that were discovered when excavating the Acropolis and the surrounding slopes, and it’s quick to breeze through, though I’m sure you could spend a good chunk of the day there.
After working up an appetite, we stopped for a quick lunch at Plakiotissa Taverna Mezedopolio. Refueled with tzatziki and a greek salad in our bellies, we were ready to roll and made our ascend towards the Acropolis.
Prior to going, the way the Parthenon sits atop the Acropolis, it’s very daunting and intimidating, but I promise you it’s not as treacherous as it appears. We managed to walk up the slopes, hang out at the top of the Acropolis and descend all within two hours, max.
When we arrived in Athens, our cab driver from the airport had made a suggestion to try out a local restaurant that was a block away from our hotel, Mironi. Walking into the restaurant, the waiter was dancing to traditional Greek music and the place was absolutely electric! The staff quickly made us feel so welcomed and we certainly ate way too much, but I would 100% recommend if you’re in Athens and want authentic Mediterranean food.
Day 2 – Deep dive into Athens 🏛
The more I look back on this trip, the more I’m actually thankful that plans didn’t go according to plan. As mentioned before, Athens is a massive city and even dedicating two full days to exploring, I still feel like there’s so much that we missed.
We woke up, hopped on the bus and made our way to the National Archaeological Museum for when they opened right at 9 a.m. We spent roughly an hour and a half wondering through the exhibits. Admittedly, I’m someone who likes to breeze through museums and see only the highlights, like this statue of either Zeus or Poseidon, but you could dedicate half a day in here and it’s well worth the six euros.
From there, we cut down through Monastiraki Square and grabbed a frappe cappuccino before heading over to Hadrian’s Library to see the Roman Agora. Realistically, these are two venues that I wouldn’t pay the money to enter because you can see the ruins from the fence, but to each their own.
However, we did wander down to the Ancient Agora of Athens, and explored the compound, paying 10 euros. We spent a good chunk of the afternoon here, walking through the Stoa of Attalos, making friends with the cats along the grounds and finishing up at the Temple of Hephaestus.
By now, we were starving and needed to refuel so we went back to Street Souvlaki and finished lunch with honey and cinnamon loukoumades from Lukamades. We finished up our afternoon of sightseeing by heading towards the Arch of Hadrian and catching glimpses of the Temple of Zeus. Again, this is a venue that I wouldn’t necessarily pay the money to see, since all that remains are massive columns.
That night, we headed to dinner at Mironi since it was so good the first night before heading to a Papa Roach concert at Piraeus 117 Academy. **Funny Story: Prior to us boarding our flight at JFK, Amanda saw that Papa Roach (one of her favorite bands) was playing in Athens the same time we were there, with Ice Nine Kills (one of my favorites) and Hollywood Undead opening for them. It was a no-brainer to buy tickets, however a few Screwdrivers later, she bought tickets for the wrong date, for the show the night before in Thessaloniki! Somehow, the Greek were super understanding and let us into the Athens show, which was easily one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to, even though the Greeks don’t mosh like Americans 😉
Day 3 – Delphi, the Center of the Ancient World ⛰
After never being picked up for our tour, we were able to reschedule our day trip to Delphi to our last full day in Greece, which I’m so thankful we did. This was hands-down, the best day trip I have ever been a part of, due to some great company.
We made the two-hour trek to Delphi and entered the compound with our tour guide, Effie. On the ride there, she explained a lot of the lure and legends of the site. She was very informative and took the time to answer any questions we had about the oracle and the ancient center of the world.
Stepping foot on the land, you can feel an energy unlike anything I’ve ever felt. It’s hard to wrap your head around just how old everything is in Athens, let alone here! I had quite a few moments of clarity and feeling so inspired leaving there, just as the folks in the days of old must have felt after receiving words of wisdom from the priestess. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never been, but I think you can get a vague idea based on the photos.
Our group stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Arachova, a small resort town that generates its tourism from the ski resorts. We sat with a few members of the group, who quickly became like family by the end of the four-course meal, sharing plenty of laughs. After lunch, we were able to go down to the overlook which provided a vast view of the land, which made you feel so small and humbled. It was truly breathtaking!
After driving back to Athens, our new friends joined us for one last round of souvlaki for the road and we headed back to our hotel to pack for our unfortunate 6 a.m. flight. That’s the one thing about finding incredibly cheap deals, non-negotiable flights!
Final Thoughts… 🤔
Athens was an incredible city with such a unique vibe. Nearly every surface in Athens has been touched by graffiti, but never once did I feel unsafe or uneasy. The city has such a buzz to it that’s similar to Manhattan, but its rich history makes it unlike anything I’ve ever imagined.
It’s cheap and easy to navigate the metro system and there’s truly something here for everyone. I wish we had more time to walk around all the nooks and crannies, but that’s just another excuse to come back!