I went to Greece for a a few days back when I was 19 but I like to say it didn’t count. My best friend and I went to Corfu while backpacking around Europe and the Pink Palace was a real life replica of what happened to Pinocchio’s friends who turned into donkeys. Anywho…. I have always LOVED mythology and western civilization history. 7th grade was my first real step into the ancient world. When you get older there are few things you truly remember and Greek day at Mahaffey Middle School in Ft. Campbell, KY was one of them. We brought in Greek food and wore togas. Later we got to visit the Parthenon in Nashville, TN and I stood in complete awe of the Athena replica. So when my son learned about mythology in 6th grade, I was so excited. When we were trying to decide on where to go for a vacation pre-COVID he said Greece. He loves snorkeling and he loves clear water. But it was so expensive to fly. So when Greece opened up and flights were cheap, we snapped up the opportunity to go. This time I wanted to see the real Greece and all its historical glory. Athens was a must. Finally, I was going to see the ancient Acropolis. And to boot, a pescatarians food dream come true. Of course, we couldn’t go to Greece without exploring some of the islands. Because of the pandemic I really wanted to steer clear of busy, touristy islands. I looked for more off the beaten path islands with limited time. I REALLY want to see the mountain north of Athens and Crete but we just couldn’t do it all. So we have an excuse to go back! Keeping reading to see what we saw and how we managed in 8 days (during a pandemic mind you)- Athens and 2 islands- Milos and Naxos. Efharisto!
- Day 1 Arrival and Athens
- Day 2 Athens all day
- Day 3 Athens morning and early evening flight out to Milos
- Day 4 Milos – Rock beaches and north of the island
- Day 5 Milos- Sandy beaches
- Day 6 Early morning ferry ride to Naxos and Naxos west coast beaches
- Day 7 Naxos all day- Mt Zas (Mt. Zeus) and beach
- Day 8 City center Naxos/Flight to Athens
- Day 9 Flew out.
Athens- DAY 1
We arrived around 10am and hit the town around 12:30pm. First we stopped for lunch at Glykys. We loved it there. It’s outside, its tucked away in a quiet spot. And they had a bunch of yummy food. Our first visit included briam. Amazing. Then we headed to Anafiotika. This is probably my favorite place in Athens. It’s tucked away, quiet, and an enclave of flowers, little doors, and open windows to homes. You feel like you’ve been transported to a small village in Greece. There are cats everywhere. And there is man who plays a traditional Bouzouki to the cats. From Anafiotika, we walked towards Hadrian’s Arc. The main road from the center to the Arc is extremely busy. Be very careful, even at the crosswalks. Cars and scooters run the lights. The lights are quick. Right beside the Arc is the Temple of Zeus. The entrance to the actual site is Leof Vasilissis Olgas. It was here that I bought the 3 day pass and I think it’s a good deal. Unfortunately, the majority of the temple is covered in scaffolding and it’s mostly wide open to the blaring sun. We enjoyed it but if I was limited on time, I might just walk by this one and not pay to go in. But it is included in the 3 day pass.
Next we walked the National Garden. Now gardens are my favorite so if you want a really nice place to relax and enjoy much needed shade, this is beautiful place to go. There is a little pond with turtles in it.
We ran out of time since we started mid day but if we had started earlier I would go ahead and visit the Panathenaic Stadium which is on the other side of the National Garden. But again, you have to cross a very busy road, Ardittou.
Athens- DAY 2
Below is our exact walk from place to place. Everything we saw was on the way to the next stop. The breakdown of each place is below it.
Syntagma Square & Monument of the Unknown Soldier-Cathedral Church of Athens-Church of the Virgin Mary Gorgoepekoos and Saint Eleutherius (12th c.)- Hadrian’s Library- Monastariki Flea Market-Ancient Agora of Athens (Temple of Hephaestus/Odeon of Agrippa/Stoa of Attalos)- the Roman Forum of Athens- Greek Orthodox Church Pammegiston Taxiarchon and Panagias Grigorousas.
Heading out our first stop was the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square. It is slow and continual so you can’t miss it. As I’ve said a lot in Athens, get out early as the sun beats down hard and there is no shade. From here we walked to Cathedral Church of Athens. It was beautiful but the real gem is right next door, the Church of the Virgin Mary, a Byzantine church, with a mix of pagan and Christian symbols. Please, cover your shoulders, I know it’s hot but it takes nothing to carry a light scarf or cardigan. I carried mine in a camera bag.
Hadrian’s Library– It was neat. No shade whatsoever. No seats. You could probably walk around the site if you didn’t want to pay. However, if you do pay, you can have a closer look at the Tetraconch Church, believed to be the oldest Christian Church in Athens.
At the entrance of the Monastariki Flea market are the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – Panagia Pantanassa and the Tzisdarakis Mosque. Both were closed or we didn’t see the entrance. We bought cherries in the market outside the metro station. I didn’t really see anything I wanted to buy. It was a little packed so we stayed outside of the shops.
Ancient Agora. Probably my second favorite stop in Athens. Believe it or not, I think I liked it more than the Acropolis. It is spread out with different points of interests, some shade, more intact structure and a great museum which is included in the price and has seating and bathrooms. The museum, or Stoa Attalos, was outside but covered. It had some of the best marble sculpture I have ever seen. A stoa is a covered walkway and in this example, once was a marketplace. From there we visited the The Church of the Holy Apostles (Άγιοι Απόστολοι Σολάκη), a 10th century Byzantine church. It was open. Masks required btw in all churches. It’s a beautiful church and the Arabic looking tiles outside are very beautiful. From here we walked to the Temple of Hephaestus. Much more intact and almost as majestic as the Parthenon. A stunner. You absolutely must check this out along with the Stoa Attalos when you visit Ancient Agora. There are lots of things to see here, including the Odeon of Agrippa, a 15BC open theatre donated to Athens by Marcus Agrippa.
The Roman Forum’s most cool relic is the Tower of the Winds, a meteorological tower, thought to have been built around 50BC. Similar to Hadrian’s Library in layout and lack of shade. But you can see inside the Tower. Let your imagination build the walls and columns as they would have been. It’s not every day you get a chance to stand in archaeological sites from 1st century AD.
Athens- DAY 3
We saved the best for last. I think. The Acropolis is amazing. We really enjoyed visiting inside it. But I also enjoyed walking beneath it. I enjoyed glancing at it while eating. I enjoyed it it in silence at night under the moon. It’s just majestic. Yes, a visit is a must. But make sure you savor it. Take time to take it in, despite the crowds.
The main things you can see inside the Acropolis and while ascending the steps include:
- the Theatre of Dionysus (on your way up). Ancient theatre.
- the Propylaea. The first big thing you actually enter in. The main gate to the Acropolis. It really sets the stage.
- the Temple of Athena Nike. This is the little temple on your right as you enter the Propylaea.
- the Erechtheion. This is my favorite structure on the Acropolis. It’s on your left and includes the beautiful women holding up the frieze called caryatids. There are actually two more structures here. Make sure you see the olive tree to the right of the it. The legend goes that Athena planted the olive tree as her gift to the city after winning a competition against Poseidon.
- the Parthenon (on your right). I swear there is one section of the frieze that looks like a rock was used to prop up a section of the gable or roof from falling (see pic below). Side note: It was very nice to see the frieze from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. I have seen another section inside the British Museum in London. Sometimes I wish I had Bill and Ted’s phone booth to jet back in time and get a glimpse of what it would have been like. This was one of those occasions. But I’m not a fan of sacrificing animals so in this case my imagination was fine.
- Odeon Herodes Atticus (on your way down). This is not as ancient and when we were there it was being set up for a performance so it’s still in use today. Imagine performing here! Goals for out budding performers!
When you can’t take anymore wind, sun and neck craning, there is a little spot where you can purchase some orange juice or frozen drinks and snacks at the bottom. If you aren’t completely tuckered out, there is a great rock/overlook of the city called Areopagus Hill. It is not flat but it does have stairs. But if I was back there, which hopefully I will be, I would hit this at sunset, right after dinner. From the picture below, this was taken during the Greek fires in outskirts of the city center.
Needing a cool off, we next headed to the Acropolis Museum. To avoid the lines, purchase your tickets on your phone. There is a sign beside the queue with a QR code that will take you to the website. You still need to get your tickets printed out once you are inside but the line is less long and there is air conditioning inside.
The museum itself had an excellent collection of ancient Greek antiquities. I loved being able to see below us ancient ruins. We were literally walking above an archaeological site. My favorites inside were the caryatids, again. No pictures inside. If you can, take a break and lunch at the Acropolis Museum restaurant. Small portions but very tasty and an excellent view. I really liked his place.
Where we stayed: Plaka- Nikis Street and Falirou Street (great, cheap food all around).
Some places we we ate: Glykys; The Greco’s Project, Acropolis Museum Restaurant; Svoura Cafe, Φουρνος Χριστίνα (bakery with homemade ice cream cones and so much more!
This is my biggest learning lesson in Greece. Get the Greek name of each place, site or street you are visiting. It is hard to identify the name of a street or road if you don’t speak or read Greek. A lot of travel books list the names of places in English. And some taxi drivers and most signs are not posted in English.
Get to know Hadrian. Roman Emperor, who had a love of Greek civilization, and had a lasting impression of Athens to this day.
The bus or metro are the cheapest and fairly easiest ways to travel into the city from the airport. Everyone was wearing a mask on the bus or metro. The bus on the way into the city was hot. The 2nd time it wasn’t. When you step out of the arrival doors turn right and the bus ticket booth is down on the right. You can tell the attendant where you want to go. There are plenty of buses heading to Syntagma (last stop). I think it was around 6Euro one way.
All of the main sites in Athens are pretty close so we didn’t use transportation around town.
Start early when it’s more cool and less tourists, but don’t be afraid to go out at night for a stroll around some of the sites. The outside of many sites and overlooks at dusk are beautiful.
When it says don’t put paper down the toilet, it means toilet paper. With this said, maybe carry a trash bag with you.
Marble, marble everywhere. So it is slick even with tennis shoes. And most streets and sidewalks are not flat. I slipped so many times. And I have really good balance. Just be careful. We were there in the heat wave and didn’t experience rain once. But I can only imagine how slick it is when it rains.
There is so much more to Athens so make time and make plans! Enjoy and coming soon Naxos and Milos!