When my best friend and I initially decided to visit Greece, Athens wasn’t in our travel plans. Instead we daydreamed about the blue and white Cycladic architecture of Santorini and Mykonos and the beautiful and dreamy azure waters of the Aegean Sea. But, how could I, a lover of all things historic and ancient, fly half-way across the world and not make Athens, the cradle of Western civilization, the birth-place of democracy, a major pit stop?
I just had to!
Even though I was pressed for time, I managed to finesse Athens onto my itinerary, opting to spend one day in the city after flying out of Mykonos. Let me let you in on two major secrets. Firstly, one day is ALL you need in Athens! Secondly, tours are a good way to see everything a city has to offer in a limited time frame. I would usually opt to do a tour (half-day) if I’m in a city for one day, but because I flew into Athens on a Sunday afternoon I was unable to catch a morning tour and the evening tour wasn’t available. So, I decided to explore Athens on my own in all of its heat and beauty!
In as little as four hours I was able to stop, stare and snap at most of Athens, if not the world’s most historical sights, eat the best gyro, purchase authentic Greek souvenirs and cool down on a delicious ice-cream cone.
Before I get into the thick of things, finding a good hotel is KEY! I stayed at The Royal Olympic Hotel, located in the midst of Athens. You can touch all of the sights and sounds of Athens as soon as you step outside of the hotel’s doors. Saved time in addition to money I would’ve otherwise spent on transportation. #Winning
So, here’s how I discovered and explored Athens in a day! (Watch VLOG here.)
- Acropolis – This must visit UNESCO World Heritage site is inarguably the most important sight you will visit in Athens. Built above the city of Athens, The Acropolis is an ancient citadel (city) on a hill, which contains some of the most ancient and recognizable architectural wonders in the world; including my all time favorite The Parthenon Propylaia, the Erqchtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. When purchasing tickets for the Acropolis, I suggest not getting a single Acropolis entrance ticket but getting the $30 ticket, which allows entrance into many of the sights around the city. Also, most importantly, wear appropriate footwear. There is a lot of marble around the Acropolis which you will inevitably slip on; I had on sneakers and had lots of mishaps. Additionally, be prepared to walk, and walk a lot. Be prepared to spend about an hour or two surveying the sights here.
- The Parthenon – Way back in high school, I was tasked with creating a piece of history for an end of term final project. For some reason I chose this Greek masterpiece. It was a task, as I am not the most artistic person in the world, I did manage to get an A. I have been enamored with it ever since and I have always vowed to visit it when I got the opportunity. Exploring the Parthenon up close and personal was an out of body experience. While it is imperfect and battered by time and war, it commands your attention. The Parthenon is considered (by some) to be an Ancient Wonder of The World, constructed between 447–432 B.C. This holy temple, perched atop the hill of the Athenian Acropolis, was dedicated to Athena, the city’s patron goddess, and is considered to be one of the greatest cultural monuments in the world.
- The Theatre of Dionysius Eleuthereus – Not only did democracy begin in Greece but also the theatre. Dating back to 6 B.C. this ancient theatre which sits at the base of the Acropolis was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. It was the site of Athen’s biggest spring festival, Great Dionysian. It is the first stone theatre to ever be built and some of the most famous playwrights competed here. It is said to be the birthplace of the Greek tragedies. This massive theatre however is a Roman reconstruction.
- Temple of Olympian Zeus – On my way to the Panathenaic Stadium, I made a stop to say what’s up to Zeus; of course he wasn’t there. My bundle ticket from the Acropolis was able to get me into the site and it was not crowded, it barely had anyone so it made for a quick trip in and out. Dedicated to the the god of all Olympians, this is the largest temple in Greece and said to be one of the largest to be built in the ancient world.
- The Panathenaic Stadium (Olympic Stadium) – Located in Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium is the home of the first modern Olympics which was held in 1986. Built entirely of marble, this one of a kind stadium is the oldest in the world. It was used in ancient times to host the Panathenaic Games in honour of the goddess Athena. While you can view the stadium from the outside, please do go in and run around the track, its so much fun.
- The Ancient Agora – Let me say this, after running around in the 90 degree Greek heat I was beat, but we were told we had to visit the Ancient Agora. Warning, this requires a lot of walking. If I didn’t go so far, I would’ve turned back around. But, I came this far so I might as well soak all of Athens up. The Agora is located a stone’s throw away from the Acropolis. Had I known that it was as close as it was, I wouldn’t have made it my last stop. The Ancient Agora basically was the city’s centre in ancient times. It was an important place in Athens for political, social, spiritual gatherings as well as other important traditions. While the Agora contains many things to see, I stopped at three keys points; Agii Apostoli (Holy Apostles) Church, an architectural beauty, the headless statue of Emperor Hadrian and the stunning and palatial Temple of Hephaestus.
At the end of my day of exploration in Athens I was extremely exhausted yet satisfied and culturally filled. Before I made it to Athens, friends and even Greeks I met along the way spoke about the many changes that took place because of Greece’s debt crisis. “It’s so dirty!” “There’s nothing to do there.” “Skip Athens!” One thing I learned from this is to always follow your gut! I loved everything about Athens. No it wasn’t perfect, but it was worth it!