Written by Alex Johnson
Athens is a city of contradictions that repels some and intrigues others. Grunge mingles with grace and the ancient resides next to the modern in this 3,000 year old city. Its eclectic nature results from the influence of the diverse cultures that have invaded and inhabited Athens throughout its tumultuous history.
Today, however, you will struggle to find a city with more character or a brighter future. Since the Olympic Games returned here 2004, carrying with them the movement to bring Athens into the 21st century, the city has continued to advance in modernization
Athens awaits you with dusty streets, plenty of noise, and crowds of locals and tourists alike but the museums holding ancient treasures and the colourful street life provide endless entertainment for the traveller looking to experience rich history and vibrant culture.
The quick and efficient transportation services and closeness of attractions make 4 days just the right amount of time to fully experience the city.
There are lots of ancient ruins in Athens but the Temple of Olympian Zeus was the largest and most impressive of its time. Come here to pay homage to Greek mythology’s king of the gods, located just 700m away from Syntagma square. Also on the site is Hadrian’s Arch and the remains of the Doric temple dedicated to Zeus which dates back to 560 BC which are worth a look not only because of their age but because they will give you a glimpse into what daily life was like around the temple.
There is a lot going on in nearby Syntagma Square. Be sure to stop by the Parliament house which overlooks the square. Here, the Evzones (presidential guard) protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and change posts every hour on the hour. Though the guards take this tradition seriously, it is difficult to not laugh at their fancy footwork.
Directly opposite the Parliament house, you will find the beginning of Ermou Street. This popular shopping street and its side streets are lined with all kinds of shops and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to grab a bite to eat and spend the afternoon participating in one of Greece’s favorite pastimes, shopping.
The beautiful National Gardens are a really nice place to stroll in as the day winds down. The shaded paths of this formal royal park are a peaceful escape from the chaos of the city or the hot afternoon sun. If you want to spend more time here, there is also a Botanical Museum, a children’s playground, a duck pond and a café.
Check out the area of Psiri for some great nightlife.
To immerse yourself in Greek history in a museum setting go to The National Archaeological Museum. It is considered to be one of the greatest museums in the world and houses some of the more important Greek Artefacts from prehistory to late antiquity. One of the museum’s greatest treasures is the Mask of Agamemnon, a solid gold funeral mask with mysterious origins that are still being debated today. The museum can be reached easily by an underground train to Victoria.
In Monastiraki you will find the famous “kebab street” and some of the best traditional Greek food in the city. Monastiraki is one of the most colorful places in Athens and a great place to spend some time exploring. The Monastiraki flea market is worth visiting any day of the week but it has a bigger selection and more crowds on Sundays.
The Acropolis really does live up to all the hype. The ancient site itself and the surrounding view of the city are absolutely breathtaking. Sunset is the perfect time to go to avoid the heat and to see the Pentelic marble glow. On your way back down, make sure you walk through the Agora, the centre of ancient Athenian life, which is just below the Acropolis.
Hydra is the perfect way to get a taste of life on the Greek Islands without having to travel a long distance. This island is truly a gem in the Argo Saronic Gulf and it will be worth waking up early for.
To get here, take a taxi, bus or underground train to the Port of Piraeus where hydrofoils run to the island every hour or two. Tickets can be bought in advance online or through your travel agent. You can also buy tickets the day of from a ticket booth in the port. The journey takes about an hour and a half, and when you arrive you’ll be welcomed with a view of colorful boats docked in the harbor and brown and white houses sloping up the hills. You will notice right away how peaceful and quiet it is since there are no cars allowed on the island.
While in Hydra you can spend the day swimming off the rocks in the clear turquoise water, exploring the winding roads of the village on foot or on a donkey and wandering around the port where there are a lot of shops and restaurants. Buy a ticket for a later returning boat to catch the gorgeous sunset.
The chaotic but fun Athens Central Market will wake up your senses and give you a great last impression of Athens street life. It starts on Athinas Street where you will find a meat market, fish market, fruit and vegetable markets and a delicious breakfast.
Cape Sounion is famous for being the location of the ancient Greek Temple of Poseidon and stunning sunsets. A half day trip here would be a great way to end your time in Greece To go here, take a KTEL bus from Mavromataion Street near the Victoria stop which usually runs every hour between 6 am and 6 pm. Book a ticket with an organized tour group in order to be able to stay later and enjoy the beautiful sunset.