“Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
– John Milton-
PRINT & GO
Before your departure, do not forget to check/bring with you:
- Boarding pass and hotel reservation
- Athens city map
- Athens public transport website
- Greece Tourist Office website
AT THE AIRPORT
Athens’ main airport is the Elefterios Venizelos International Airport. This is a very big and modern airport and is located at around 30kms from the centre. From Athens’ airport, you can reach the main city spots in many ways:
- by bus: you can take bus x95 and it will take you directly to Syntagma Square. The bus is located outside the arrivals, between exit 4 and exit 5
- by metro: from the airport you can take line the metro line 3 (stop “Egaleo – Athens International Airport)
DAY 1 : VISIT ATHENS – ACROPOLIS AND SURROUNDINGS
The first day in Athens must be dedicated to the main spot of the city, the place that everybody is jealous of, the core of the Greek history: the Acropolis! Whatever words I can use to describe this place will not be enough to express the charm and the magic that you can feel when you are there. For me personally, this is the core of the entire history, not only the Greek one but the one of the entire world, nothing can be compared to the marvels that are in the Acropolis. This is the place who managed to make me cry for emotion and that still makes me a special effect while I’m writing about it. Every single stone seems like talking to you, every single corner of this place has a huge story behind and a unique beauty. Take your time to admire this place, even the entire day! Be careful also to the season you are traveling and the temperature, you may want to avoid to arrive on the top of the Acropolis during midday in summer, it might be too hot!
The Acropolis was built in the 5th century BC under Pericles as monument to the achievement of the inhabitants of the city. This was the upper part of the city (that’s why the name “Acropolis” which actually means upper city) and it was used also a refuge in difficult times. All the main buildings were built there.
- Take one of the entrances (south or west side – I’d suggest west) of the Acropolis, the structure is now surrounded by large pedestrian streets. If you enter from the west you will arrive immediately at the Propyla, the Acropolis majestic main entrance. After this entrance another world will be open to you, a wonderland of the architecture. The first fantastic building is the Temple of Nike Athena. To me, this temple has a special meaning since I had to present it and draw it when I was 18 at my high school test of Art and I remember having enjoyed so much exploring the perfection of this small temple and see every single part of it. So imagine my joy seeing it live! This tiny temple commemorates the victory of Athenians over the Persians and for many years it hosted a statue of Athena, till the moment the Turks dismantled it and used it for was purposes. The columns of the temple are Ionic style and the frieze stay quite intact. A small temple but with a huge charm.
- Keep on walking till the top of the hill and in front of you will be one of the most amazing buildings in the world: the Parthenon. I couldn’t stop crying when I saw it in front of me: this building is not a simple building, it’s THE history and THE architecture. It is simply perfect in every point of view, and since nowadays nobody managed to create something as wonderful as this building. The Parthenon was built in the 6th century BC in honor of Athena, the goddess protector of the city, but it became later on a church, then a mosque, then a storage of Turkish weapons and finally it was bombed by the Venetians. Nowadays it’ s still under reconstructions, but we can still admire it in its entire beauty. Admire its unique style, its Doric structure and its Ionic features, see how the columns creates a special harmony with the exterior and how it could look like they are doing a sensual dance. You will be captured by every single part of this building, especially the fantastic Ionic frieze running around the external part of the cell. A big part of the Parthenon’s frieze can be found in the Acropolis Museum (for this, refer to my other trip in Greece “6 Days in Northern and Central Greece”) and another part unfortunately is still stuck in the British Museum.
- Next to the Acropolis is the Erecthion, a wonderful building that is famous especially for its Caryatids, maidens who form the trunk of the columns. Their clothes forms elegant lines like a Doric column. The Caryatids exposed now are imitations, since the original ones are located in the Acropolis museum.
- Just below the Acropolis is the theater of Herodes Atticus, built by the Romans and used nowadays for classical concerts and ballets. Assisting to a play there is a unique experience!
- Next to this theater is the Theater of Dionysus, where the most important play-writers in the history have given their best performances and where Romans had their gladiator fights as well.
- Next to the Theater of Dionysus is the Odeon of Pericles. Although no longer standing, recent excavations have revealed the exact site of the Odeon. This is believed to have been the first roofed theater-building devoted to performance, as well as the first permanent theater built on the south slope.
- On the northwest side of the Acropolis is the Thission, one of the most intact temples nowadays. Thission took its name after the temple of Hephaestus and Athena Ergani, which was falsely called Thissio in the older days due to the representations of King’s Theseus tasks on its metope. In Ancient Athens, the large feasts and festivals for the celebration of the 12 Gods started from the temple of Thission towards the Parthenon.
- Once you get out of the Acropolis, you cannot miss the Acropolis museum. This is a brand new building, which by the way integrates perfectly with the historical buildings around. The museum is almost totally made of glass, in such a way that from the inside you can see the Acropolis almost everywhere. The Acropolis museum contains the treasures of the Acropolis, such as the frieze of the Parthenon and other important statues. For its structure and its treasure this museum is a pearl in the center of Athens. You can find more information on the section “6 Days in Northern and Central Greece”
- The tour of the Acropolis will take you a big part of the day and will probably make you feel tired, since you have to walk longtime under the sun, but it is worth so much! After this, you deserve a good dinner or coffee. And which better place than the Plaka? As I said before, the entire area around the Acropolis is pedestrian, so walk along these nice streets and you will be in the heart of the Plaka, the oldest Athens’ neighborhood. This is a special neighborhood, formed by narrow old streets with thousands of art crafts. These streets are a mixture of ancient and new and are always crowded with tourists. You can go there to buy some souvenirs or to have a good meal with the view on the Acropolis. These places benefit of the most beautiful view of the world! Stop there for a dinner or for the city nightlife, you will not regret it! Just in the Plaka area is Monastiraki, a very special square considered one of the main meeting points. A great flea market runs in Monastiraki every Sunday, do not miss it! All this neighborhood is vibrant day and night, it never sleeps! Bars, restaurants, music everywhere! Enjoy your nightlife over there!
DAY 2 – VISIT ATHENS – THE CENTRE AND ITS MUSEUMS
The second day is dedicated to the wonderful city center of Athens. This is probably one of the most suggestive city centers in the entire world, where you can immerse yourself into the fantastic history of this country.
- The tour of the center can start from Syntagma Square. This is the core of the city, the main meeting point for everybody. The word “syntagma” stands for Constitution. This square has indeed a very important history: it was the place where Greeks kicked the foreigners away and created their first Constitution in 30 days. Since that moment all the most important historical and social events in Greece took place here: the fight against the nazis, the first speech of Karamanlis to get the country back to democracy, the rallies of the main political parties as well as the main concerts and festivals. At the top of this square is the Parliament building, a neo-classical building that dominates on the view of the square. The tomb of the unknown solider over there is guarded by Evzones, the elite soldiers who guard the Palace and who are chosen for their height and strength. Do not miss the change of the guard, it is a special moment. On the right side of the square is the Hotel Grand Bretagne, probably the most elegant and historical hotel in the city, that previously was the headquarter of the Wermacht during the nazi occupation.
- If you have the Parliament in front of you, take the street on its right and after 5 minutes you will arrive at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This fantastic building in Corinthian style was built in the 6th century BC but was mostly finalized 600 years later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Nearby is the Arch of Hadrian, which was the gate between the ancient city and the Roman city.
- Next to the temple are the National Gardens, a nice spot of green between the crowded and polluted streets of the city.
- Now go back towards Syntagma Square and take the direction opposite the Parliament building, more exactly Ermou street, a nice street with a lot of shops, if you like shopping you can stop there and buy some nice clothes and shoes. If you think that you can have shopping in any other place and that you didn’t go to Athens to stay stuck inside stores just keep on walking and you will arrive at Kapnikarea, a splendid relic of Byzantine architecture. You can have a good lunch or coffee around there.
- After a lunch break, go back to Syntagma Square and now take the left side of the Parliament building, Venizelou boulevard, after a nice 30mins walk you will arrive at the Panepistimiou (university) area: this is where you will find the National Archaeological Museum. This is one of the best museums in the world and a big piece of the Greek history is there. For all those who have had Art classes in the scholar career, they will find in this museum most of the masterpieces that were in the art books. Walking in this museum and admiring the masterpieces humanity left is a pure emotion and a huge pleasure for your eyes and your soul. Years and years of history, art and creativity will pass in front of your sight, do not miss any single corner of this marvel.
- After this full immersion into the Greek art, go back to Syntagma Square and if you still have time have a nice walk behind the Parliament, in the Kolonaki neighborhood, known for its elegant streets and houses.
DAY 3: VISIT PELOPONNESE
After two great days in Athens, it is time to explore the marvels outside the city, more exactly in the Peloponnese region. This is the part of Greece linked to the continental one through the Isthmus of Corinth and it’s full of interesting natural and archaeological sites. In order to get there, the best options are: either rent a car either go by bus with one of the several tour operators that organize day trip over there. Using the trains is practically impossible (since many archaeological sites are outside the cities) and it might take too long. So choose the best option and go to explore this fantastic region. From a distance point of view, I would suggest the following itinerary:
- Corinth. The city is located at 80kms from Athens and in the history it was a cultural and commercial center, as well as a naval power. It enjoyed a commanding presence in the ancient world, owed largely to its strategic positioning. Something you cannot miss there is the Temple of Apollo, built on a hill overlooking the agora marketplace, and including 38 Doric columns. Next to the temple is the agora, the ancient marketplace. Surrounded by colonnades and covered walkways, the agora served as the hub of the city’s political and economic life. There were shops, museums, temples, and administrative buildings. Just outside the city is the famous Corinth canal, that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It is 6.4 kilometres in length and only 21.3 metres wide at its base, making it too narrow for most modern ships.
- Epidaurus. At 60kms from Corinth is Epidaurus. This place offers a fantastic archeological site with one of the best conserved theaters. The Epidaurus theater is one of the few that has kept its original circular “Orchestra” and it is a rear aesthetic sight. The view, aesthetics, and acoustics of the theater are breathtaking, try to go in the middle of it and sing something, you will experience the fantastic acoustic game (which is amazing especially if you think when the theater dates back and the baggage of skills people had at that time) . The theater is still in use today with frequent plays, concerts, and festivals.
Next to the theater are the ruins of the sanctuary of Asclepios (the god of medicine), an extended archaeological site with many interesting buildings and a newly excavated stadium. There is also an interesting museum where you can admire the sculptures and artworks of the ancient Epidaurus and surrounding area, together with a set of ancient tools used in the past for the medicine. A very interesting part to see the difference between medical tools in the past and medical tools nowadays!
- Nafplio. Drive 40kms from Epidaurus and you will arrive in Nafplio. Known as former capital of Greece, this charming city is formed by old and narrow streets plenty of tavernas and cafes, and a wonderful promenade on the seafront. Stop there to have lunch and to enjoy the landscape in front of you, this city is a very charming and relaxing place to be!
- Mycenae. Located at 30kms from Nafplio, Mycenae is a real pearl of Peloponnese. This site was the center of power in the Late Bronze age, and the excavated ruins that sculpt the top of the rocky hill protected the royal families inside the famous Cyclopean walls. The ruins of the Mycenaean Acropolis are simply amazing. The famous and unique Lion Gate takes you to the interior of the acropolis, and a path takes you to several ancient buildings and pathways, towards the palace where Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Klytemenestra and her lover after he returned victorious from the Trojan war. One of the most impressive features of the citadel is the Grave Circle A which contains six royal shaft graves and where many important artifacts, statues and masks were found (they are currently in the Athens Archeological Museum).
Next to the Acropolis of Mycenae is the Tomb of Agamemnon. It was built around 1250 BC, and it is an impressive monument worth visiting and with a very special trick: when you see it from the inside you have the impression that the tomb is like a cone, high and narrow…but actually it is an optical illusion, since the width of the tomb is exactly the same as the height.
After this long day, you can go back to Athens and rest a little bit..then get ready for the nightlife! The ideal would be to go to the coast side and go to one of the numerous bouzoukia, big concert halls with seats and tables, where you can listen to traditional Greek music while having a drink.
Alternatively, if you want to make another stop at your way back to Athens, you can stop in Loutraki, a very nice city on the coast located at 20kms from Corinth, which is famous for its thermals and casinos.
DAY 4: VISIT ATHENS – THE COAST
The last day in Athens can be dedicated to the seaside, one of the most suggestive ones in the Mediterranean landscape. If you are located in the city center, you can reach the coast by the coastal tram (departing from Syntagma Square) or by car. You can spend the entire day over there, laying down the beach, walking along the coast or simply having some drinks in one of the several fancy bars. Do not forget to stop in the main spots of the coast, such as Pyraeus (where the port is), Glyfada or Vouliagmeni, fancy neighborhood with classy hotels and clubs. Still driving along the coast, you will reach a pure marvel of the Greek architecture: Cape Sounion. This fantastic place hosts the Temple of Poseidon that faces the wonderful sea. The contrast between the deep blue of the sea and the white marble of the column and the green around the temple is simply amazing, especially at the sunset, where the red of the sun joins this fantastic orchestra of art and nature. You can find more details in the section ” 6 Days in Northern and Central Greece”.
If you still have a car or if you stay additional days and you want to explore other archeological sites, you can drive 250kms and get to Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games, or drive 180kms and get to Delphi, with its great archeological site and its famous oracle. You can also combine Delphi with Thebes (70kms from Athens).