A Quick Run Through Athens
Athens is a big cruise port and many people start or end their cruises in Athens. We too were there for a cruise. It would be a quick visit. But we did find 5 tips for visiting Athens to share!
The Greek islands offer a relaxing and scenic side of Greece. It could be the stunning panoramic views in Santorini or Mykonos. It might be the fishing ports in Corfu or the history found in Delos. When you hit Athens, you will find both history and a vibrant city life. If you plan your time wisely in Athens, it is easy to see a lot in a short time. After you have done the major sites, you can enjoy at a more leisurely place.
5 Tips For Visiting Athens
There are lot of things to keep in mind when visiting a big city. Athens is probably no better or worse than many we have visited. We were a little more cautious about pickpockets. With the Greek economy still less vibrant, we did make sure to have cash on hand rather than travelling all by credit card as we normally did. We were not there in the summer, so temperatures were nice during the day, so we didn’t suffer from summer heat issues.
A few tips that we wanted to share ….
1) Taxi Drivers Turned Tour Guides
Taxis in Athens deserve to be on a list of tips for visiting Athens!
When you are travelling by taxi in Athens, make sure that you know what the taxi fare should be. If you really only want to go from point A to point B, make sure that is the rate quoted for your ride. We found that many of the taxi drivers automatically start their fares at a rate that includes a guided tour. And some won’t budge from that rate!
We were not really looking for a tour on one taxi ride, but our taxi tour in Athens may be one of the best tours we ever took. Our cab driver Nikolas started at the tour rate but when we said we would pay only the flat fare to go to our destination, he quickly said “ok”. Once we were in the car, he started his soft sell and a very easy negotiation to a tour rate we felt was more than fair.
Nikolas took us to some local spots, including the Greek Orthodox Church where he worshipped. There was time to grab a coffee and just enjoy the sights. He made sure we arrived at exactly the right time at key spots. He spoke enough English to be able to engage in a conversation so we could learn about his country as he drove. We had a great private driver and saw so much!
When it came time to leave the hotel, we even called him back for our taxi ride.
2) Get Out Early
This one of the tips for visiting Athens is something we practice whenever we travel. We are generally morning people, so getting moving early is not uncommon for us. Some of the big tourist sites like the Acropolis can get very busy in the middle of the day.
We arrived at the Acropolis when the gates opened. Only as we were leaving did we run into major tour groups.
We could stroll around with the grounds mostly by ourselves. Often travelling in off-season, this early schedule may be why we have so many pictures of major tourist sites with not another soul to be seen. Our friends sometimes wonder what we do to scare off the tourists!
We wandered around looking at what was left of the Parthenon and reading notes on the reconstruction.
We have enjoyed seeing the massive ruins sites in Turkey, historic ancient sites in Italy and Greek ruins in other parts of Greece. It was interesting to be adding the “mother of all ruins” to our travels! While the Parthenon is a big draw, make sure to wander the site and see some of the other ruins at this site.
From this hight vantage point, you can get amazing views around Athens. We could see other major ruin sites in different parts of the city. Many of these we would see as we wandered about town.
3) See Athens From The Hill Tops
The Acropolis is the hilltop that is most famous in Athens. But you will soon realize that it is not the only high point in Athens. From the Acropolis you can see the other high points in town.
You can take the switchback roads to the top of other vantage points in Athens. Climbing to the summit of Filopappos Hill (or the Hill of the Muses) will get you to an elevation of 483’. This will give you a great view of the city with the Acropolis high over the city. You can look out at the port of Piraeus in the distance with the cruise ships in port.
You can go up Mount Lycabettus (910’ elevation) by funicular or cable for the view. Once up on top you can find an ancient amphitheatre that is still used for concerts.
For a different experience you can hike up the local mountain range at Mount Immitos (Hymettus). One or our key tips for visiting Athens is to make sure to see it from different vantage points!
4) Don’t Miss the Changing of the Guard
Seeing the changing of the guard in Ottawa back in Canada, is something magical to see. The marching bands and the large colour parties provide an entertainment spectacle.
We were lucky enough to arrive at the exact time to catch the full ceremony that is the changing of the guard in Athens. The guards were decked out in finery including cute little booties (weighing 3 kilos) with fluffy balls in the toes. The ceremony was done with precision and provided multiple photographic opportunities as the guards high kicked through the steps.
It was a great show and we were very glad not to have missed it. We felt we must put this on our tips for visiting Athens!
5) Stay Within Walking Distance
Most of the major tourist sites are located in the downtown area. If you get a hotel in the city centre, it is easy to walk to most places. From our hotel, it was less than a 10 minute walk to Zeus’s temple, Hadrian’s Gate and the Olympic stadium.
You can visit the Acropolis Museum after you visit the Acropolis for a more in-depth view. This is a fairly new museum built over top of ruins still being excavated and visible through the glass floors. This museum includes a large collection of small pieces, statues that had been moved and major parts of the Parthenon re-located for safe keeping.
After you have finished your tourist activities for the day, there are lots of local neighbourhoods to enjoy great food and entertainment. We enjoyed a traditional meal in the Placka neighbourhood and watched the crowd promenade by. With cats at our feet and leaves dropping to the table it was a lovely way to finish a busy run through Athens.
Many of the hotels will provide you with a great view of the Acropolis. We certainly enjoyed breakfast as the sun bathed the view in a glowing colour.
If you follow this one of our tips for visiting Athens, you will be close to everything and be able to squeeze more into a quick visit!
And Don’t Miss the Greek Food
While there is lots to see and do in Athens, you want to make sure to take some time to sit and enjoy the city. There are cafes to enjoy and lots of great food to be found. Throughout Greece we could always find fresh seafood. Octopus is a local specialty and great when served fresh off the grill. There was always a fresh supply of meat on skewers over Greek salad.
If you are a dessert fan, there is nothing sweeter than honey soaked baklava. Over the course of the trip through Greece we would try baklava at every stop. The consistency varied but it was always a great treat – in small quantities! David’s favourite was the halva. He was particularly impressed when he found it in chocolate!
If you are looking for more Greek specialties look for the Spanakopita (filo filled with spinach and feta), Moussaka (meat and eggplant), hummus and tzaziki.
We enjoyed our time in Athens. We hope our tips for visiting Athens might help when you contemplate putting Athens on your travel plans. If you are starting or ending your cruise in Athens, this should help you to maximize your short stay. If you are heading off the the Greek Islands, you will be able to enjoy your gateway visit through Athens.
What key tips for visiting Athens would you share? Is there something that you want to know about Athens?