I have always been in such awe of the resilience of Athens. Battling many adversities since the ancient times, it has stood strong, and to this day has proven it’s glory to the rest of the world.
As THE birthplace of Western civilization philosophy, drama, and art, Athens has blossomed into becoming a popular destination for historical enthusiasts, and contemporary folk alike.
Many cities’ ages can be counted by the hundreds in years old. Athens can be counted by the millennia! And yet it is still visited by millions of people. Maybe it’s the history, maybe it’s the food, or the people? Or maybe it’s just so darn fascinating that structures so old, from 5th century BC, that have been attempted to be obliterated by their enemies are STILL THERE to tell us the story of how strong and beautiful this tiny country used to, and continues to be.
This trip was a harsh realization that as much work and effort we are able to plan out itineraries to the tee while at home, or any other part of the world for that matter, that planning is COMPLETELY different from execution. We only had 36 hours, and with the sweltering heat, my planned itinerary seemed to be just a bit too ambitious...
So made do with what energy we had left, and saw what we could (with prioritization, of course) in the heat that we could stand.
So here are the MUST places to see in 36 hours under the Greek summer heat:
First thing's first: How to get around
In this capital city of Greece, made up of 664,000 inhabitants, is where the old and new world coexist. You’d be amazed how this city has preserved it’s history, and continues to allow it to part of their daily lives.
Take the metro, and you’ll know what I mean.
Walking through the metro, you will see ancient artifacts displayed in glass. It’s like walking through a museum! Pay great attention, and make sure to catch your ride on time!
But no worries, as paradoxical as it may seem, this ancient city has one of the most reliable/modern public transportation systems in the world. Athenian public transportation is cheap, and offers many routes that allow you to get you to your destination fast.
With 4.50 Euro, you can buy a 24-hour metro pass, that will take you wherever you’d like.
1.40 Euro will allow you 90-minutes of city bus, tram, metro, and trolley riding (excluding the airport)
Click HERE for metro tickets
I you decide that you don’t want to ride the public transportation, they do offer taxi services. In the US, we use Uber. In Athens, they use Beat. So make sure to download the Beat App. before heading to Athens.
*They do have Uber, but it isn't as reliable as Beat is.
Enjoy the mix of old and new
In this ancient capital is where old and new intertwine. Stroll around the city, and you will be rewarded by so much energy. Be around the ancient ruins, walk a few minutes, and you will see new and creative street art. Or sit in a restaurant outdoors, and you shall be serenaded by a Greek band. With it's many streets and districts that serve many surprises, boring is NEVER the word to describe this place!
Plaka is an ancient district (the oldest in Athens, actually)located under the acropolis. With such a charming atmosphere, it’s no wonder why both locals and tourists intermingle at the tavernas and cool courtyards. It’s a great place to shop for shopping for the trendiest fashions, souvenirs, knick knacks, and what not’s.
Watch the changing of the guards at Syndagma Square:
The tomb of the fallen solider, located near the Hellenic Parliament building at Sydagma square (get off at Syndagma, if you’re taking the metro) is a representation of every Greek soldier who has ever fallen during battle. And there are always two guards stand watch at this monument 24/7.
So to honor them, at the top of the hour, every hour a changing of the guards ceremony is done to relieve the other of his duty. This is an interesting ceremony to watch, to say the least!
Monastiraki is one of the busiest parts of the Athens that you will see. People will come and go like ants!! Whether they are commuting to work, hanging out, meeting up with others, selling things, strolling… there are PLENTY of them!
With a great backdrop of ancient Athens and mostly pedestrianized alleyways, this part of Athens will remind you of what ancient daily life and shopping was like.
With it’s many flea markets, it’s a great place to find things for cheap! I mean, you ask, they’ve got it. And if not, chances are, they know someone who does! So bring your haggling game on! :)
Temple of Zeus
Built in 6th century BC, these massive columns were built as a dedication to Olympian Zeus for his position as head of the Olympian Gods. Because of the lack of money, this was't finished until 700 years later. Sadly, it's majesty was shorter lived than its construction, having been destroyed in a sack of Athens in 267. Originally with 104 columns, it now only has 15. This is about 500m from the Acropolis.
Standing since mid-5th century BC, and STILL standing after having withstood
millennia of attempted invasions, it is THE one place you absolutely CANNOT LEAVE ATHENS without seeing. It is the true representation of resilience. It is just so hard not to be humbled.
Because of this, you can expect flocks of people with the same goal as you go to see this epic monument without the crowds.
Sadly impossible, as it is gated and have times of operation: 8am-8pm.
Also, if you can avoid it, don’t do what we did (going in the summer).
The only way really to avoid this is TIMING. Yes, you’ll have to wake up extra early! But you’ll get to have a great breakfast and go about your day, having checked that off your list ;)
Purchasing tickets online are highly suggested.
*travel hack to save $$: If you have AirPods: purchase ONE audio guided tour online, and share a headphone each with your travel mate. :)
Click here for numerous guides to choose from to customize your visit!
Here you can navigate through Greek history, and appreciate archaeological treasures that date back thousands of years! It is also perfectly structured, with massive glass windows at the top floor that allows great views of the acropolis.
Fun fact: the top floor is built to match the exact scale of the Acropolis.
You will also get to walk on glass floors that will give you sights of excavations done in the city. It’s amazing to see how old cities were built (especially the sewage system) omg, so glad we live in current times!!
Best time to go: in the afternoon, to cool of from the heat
What’s to eat:
To be completely honest with you, my favorite places to eat out of our entire Greek trip was in Athens. Food just felt less pretentious, was much cheaper, and just down right AUTHENTIC.
In many parts of Europe, servers do not work for tips. Hence, customer service isn't a priority. But Athens was different. I noticed that people were just much more pleasant and lively.
Now, Greek food, especially in Athens is mostly consisted of meat and veggies. For us pescatarians, it was a bit trickier to find good places to eat, as all the blogs talk about Souvlaki.
After a bit of research and walking around before I got there, James (who was on his own at the time) found a great Vegan place that serves all the Greek classics sans the meat! And let me tell you, they had gotten it ON POINT.
James and I usually will not eat twice at the same place when traveling. But, here we made an exception!
Authentic cuisine, especially when expected to be something so perfect and is passed on from generation to generation is pretty difficult to pull off, even with regular ingredients...and then having to use alternative (vegan) ingredients just makes it even more difficult! But this spot did it! AND with reasonable prices!
Kafeneio Oraia Ellas:
What I loved about Athens was that people were very respectful of other's diet restrictions. For example, a host was trying to bring us in to his restaurant (O'Thanasis)which is very famous for their souvlakis. We politely declined after looking at the menu, stating that we are pescatarian. The host was so kind to walk us over to another restaurant that would accommodate our dietary restrictions. And man did he just lead us to what is now my FAVORITE Greek restaurant!
Not only was the food good, but the staff was just great!
Oh, I still dream about that meal :)
Yard All Day Bar Restaurant:
After a hot day walking all around the Acropolis and the museum, we walked around what looked to be a strip of restaurants opposite the museum. Now, I usually avoid these types of establishments, as I know that they can be tourist traps, and meals tend to be subpar. But this place proved me wrong!
Yard All Day is a bar/restaurant right outside of the acropolis museum takes authentic Greek cuisine and has placed a hipper flare to it. With it's cool aesthetic, and amazing bar drinks, you will for sure make no mistake to spend your happy hour here :)
If you love to eat meat:
Head over O'Thanasis for the BEST souvlakis!
One place we wish we had time to go to was Bretto's.
Bretto's is the oldest distillery in Athens. Situated in Plaka, it is the perfect place for this cool bar with such a great vibe (from the looks of it, at least). We had passed by it once, but there were just way too many people inside. Unfortunately that was the last we saw of it, due to our schedule. I pretty much regret not going to this spot, wah!!
When to go:
With peak season being from April-October, I highly suggest avoiding the summer heat, unlike what we did!
It may be a little sad to say, but summer European sight-seeing has been ruined by Athens, for me. I will never again go to a metropolitan city in smack dab of the summer time!
I kid you not, it was in the 90sF by 9am! And what made it worse, was that it was obviously very busy, and waiting in line in this heat as crowds passed through was just not what I what I imagined it to be.
Why not to go to Athens in the summer:
A few weeks ago (late June and early July) was a heat wave that rampaged all across Europe. The heat made it so unbearable to walk outside and explore. Knowing myself, James, and most travelers, we do not like wasting daylight when in a new place. This made it a bit frustrating, as we did not have much time in the area, but we still had to think about our overall wellbeing.
With all that being said, Athens is a beautiful city that continues to show its resilience despite the numerous adversities it has faced throughout its existence. Its many historical layers and outer influences are apparent in their architecture, food, and art. But one thing is much more apparent--the liveliness of the Athenians and their striving efforts to prove themselves independent. And with the strong quake it has recently been hit, my hope is for it's citizens continue to build, and rebuild what has been there and continue on with life grit and grace, as always.
Something that many of us can learn from, yeah? :)
I hope my experiences were helpful, and serves as inspiration to you as you plan your trip to this beautiful city!
Please, if you have any questions or comments from your trip, leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!