One wonderful day in Athens
Most of the people who visit Greece, usually fly to Athens. Be it at the height of summer, when Athens is swarming with visitors making their way to the islands or during winter, when mild weather and winter sun will help you recharge your batteries. However, it’s no secret that the best time to enjoy a crowd-free capital is in the autumn and spring. No matter which time of the year you choose to visit, the fact is you will be spending at least one day in Athens. For me, Athens is certainly worth visiting longer than just for a quick weekend break but it is so often the case that busy people have little time on their hands. So, how do you spend your day when you only have 24 hours in Athens? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Go up the hill, any hill
All points of interest are huddled around the old city centre of Athens. As soon as you exit Acropolis Metro station you will find yourself at the bottom of the grand promenade of Dionyssiou Areopagitou. As you walk up the pedestrianised street you will be getting glimpses of the Parthenon with every step. Visiting the Parthenon and the adjacent Acropolis museum should be top on your list. Neither needs an introduction! My only advice is to visit early in the morning so that you can have the place to yourself. To take full advantage of the ancient site, consider hiring a guide to walk you through the many layers of history behind the walls. If lunch time finds you there, have lunch at the excellent restaurant of the Acropolis museum. Not only will you discover Greek flavours but you will soak up the stunning views too.
Whilst Acropolis is the hill, it’s not the only one. Just next to the Parthenon, you can see the hill of Filopappou, the spot in Athens where we fly kites and walk our dogs. Further below you can see the hill of Pnika. Both the hills of Pnika and Filopappou make for care-free strolls and are completely free for everyone. On Pnika you will get to stand on the very cornerstone of democracy: the rock on which ancient citizens assembled, where Socrates debated and Saint Paul introduced Christianity to Greeks.
For a walk on Filopappou hill, comfortable shoes are highly recommended. As you exit the Acropolis site at the foot of the hill, cross and take the path opposite to the entrance. You should be walking towards the pine trees. As you walk past the small church of Loumbardiaris the paths will be a bit unkempt. Take a left turn just after the church and go to check out Philopappou hill or turn right and walk towards the edge for panoramic views of the port of Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf. Just behind you, you will see the old National Observatory and the road that leads to Thisseion.
There is also Lycabettus hill, just above Kolonaki. If you venture up the tiny chapel of St George Lycabettus, grab a map and start checking out the skyline of the city. You will be literally on top of it. The visit is best combined with a coffee afterwards at Kolonaki square or a ten minutes’ walk to the bohemian Exarheia if you fancy a bit of graffiti art!
Finally, don’t forget the brand new Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre. This is a man-made hill. The building itself has a north-facing slope, hosting a park behind that gives uninterrupted views of the city centre to the North. Once at the top, you get again panoramic views of Piraeus and the coastline of Attica to the South. The site will soon become the home of the new National Opera House and our National Library. As for the building itself, it’s a true architectural gem with many recreation areas and a beautiful canal. Walk around the park to enjoy the open sunny Mediterranean garden, ideal if you are visiting with kids.
Go to the seaside
On a clear day, as you stand on Filopappou, Acropolis or Lycabettus you will first see a sea of urban building stretching all the way to the real blue sea and the peaks of Aegina, the first island in sight. Athens is looking out to the sea, no matter how far north you are in the city. Get on the green metro line (Line 1) and head south to Piraeus. Or jump on the tram at Syntagma and hop off just before the end of the route at Glyfada, a seaside hub of coffee-shops, nightclubs , restaurants and shopping.
Piraeus, Greece’s largest port, gets a lot of bad press these days. The locals hate it for the traffic chaos and visitors can get easily lost in the maze of streets. Personally, I have a very soft spot for Piraeus, not so much the hectic port or the high-street, but the little shops hiding in side streets and the sea promenade, Peiraiki. The shoreline stretches all the way from Piraeus to Kastela, which you can easily walk if you love walking. I have one little tip if you don’t like walking: jump on bus 904 outside Piraeus Metro station (the final stop on Line 1 – the green line) and go all the way to Kastella or through to Peiraiki. Choices for coffee shops and restaurants are endless.
Grab a good meal
There are numerous places to eat in the old quarters of Athens. If you are a seasoned traveller, I bet you know how to avoid the tourist traps, which are numerous no matter where you go. Tip: avoid the restaurant with laminated menus and overexposed photos of dishes. It would be impossible to list the good restaurants in town but I will direct you to the neighbourhoods, where the locals go.
Koukaki, is snuggly nested behind the Acropolis hill, one of the oldest Athenian neighbourhoods. In Koukaki there are two pedestrianised streets, the first at Drakou street, just next to Siggrou Fix metro station and the 2nd, the main square at Georgaki Olimpiou street, roughly 5 blocks down. You can reach both on foot from Acropolis station too, it’s only a short walk away. You will not fail to notice that the streets are teeming with life. It’s a very popular hub for students and young professionals with great restaurants, bars and cafes. Believe me you are going to be spoiled for choice for places to eat.
Petralona. You can reach it on the green line, the hot-spot is Melina Merkouri square but the taverns and bars spread all across Troon street. Make the square your starting point. There are many place to eat, from good old fashioned taverns to mezze places and bars with a very trendy and modern vibe. Let your nose guide you.
Quench your thirst
If walking around and overindulging in food has not taken a toll on you, it’s time for a drink or two. Koukaki and Petralona offer countless choices and you can simply walk from restaurant to bar. If you want to soak in the views of the Parthenon, head to Monastiraki and Thisseion. There are plenty of places with a terrace and wonderful views. If you care for a really good drink though, don’t look up but down. Kolokotroni Street is where you want to be, behind the old parliament.
You can also take a taxi North to Chalandri, popular with younger crowds and very good choice for the ever trending cocktails. If you want to go clubbing, go to Metaxourgeio and dance yourself till the morning.
Do we still smash plates? I am sorry to disappoint you, but no we don’t anymore. Not for “health and safety reasons” but because it’s a little too 70’s. If, however, you feel like listening to the famous Zorba tune on a loop, head to popular Plaka and Psirri areas in the centre.
No matter what you do, have a fab time!
From Athens with love,