Three Days in Athens

by Lauren on December 29, 2014

Acropolis

Bad travel advice is rare. Travelers are open and adventurous types, with countless suggestions of off-the-beaten-path locales, such as museums not frequented even by locals. However, several folks have mentioned to me over the years that there’s little more to Athens than the Acropolis.

Those people should be slapped.

I was fortunate to connect with a good friend before my recent trip to Greece, who encouraged me to “pay attention to the light.”

“It’s just unique…” she added, “Raw and lovely.” This couldn’t have been more true. The setting sun enhanced Athens’ beautiful marble architecture. It brought to mind a softness that juxtaposed the fierce stories of the occasionally violent Athenians.

A travel blogging conference brought me to Athens, and kept me busy for days. Here are some highlights, and an idea of what a visitor might see in a three-day journey.

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Day One

When jetlagged and grumpy, I like to ease myself into a new city, without jumping into tours of the most visited monuments. Just wander through a neighborhood that is your style, that can serve as a “ramp up” for the days to come. One or two, or all of the following would give you a taste of the city:

In Syntagma Square, you can dive directly into the history and culture that is modern Athens. Named after the constitution granted by Greece’s first King, Syntagma is the commercial epicenter of the city, and the site of protests and uprisings. Parliament is located on the eastern edge of the square, and tourists flock to see the changing of the guards on Sunday.

Hang onto your kids when you visit, as the square is very busy, especially during a protest. I found it particularly vibrant at night, having been dropped off by the airport bus. Don’t forget to check out the remains of the Peisistratos aqueduct, uncovered during the excavation of the Syntagma metro station.

Exarchia is known as the area where anarchists spend their time, and is filled with unique street art at every turn. I read a number of posts on Exarchia before my visit, many of which pointed to its tumultous past and shaky relations with police. It is, after all, the location of riots that followed the shooting of a 15 year-old student named Alexander in December of 2008.

When I visited myself, I found a mostly quiet neighborhood, sometimes eerily so. Few buildings were not touched by graffiti, yet there were several cute cafes dotting the streets. It’s not for everyone, but is worth a visit for your inner-artist or inner-rebel. Museum lovers should stop by the National Archeological Museum, famous for its collection of Greek antiquities.

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In Kolonaki, shoppers will delight at the upscale stores and boutiques. Also in Kolonaki is the Benaki Museum, home to Greece’s finest private collection, of Antonis Benakis.

When in Kolonaki, visiting Dark Side of Chocolate at Solonos 49 is an absolute must. Their sage tea is divine, and all of their decadent chocolate is handmade.

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Finally, I recommend that travelers see the Acropolis Museum a day or so before touring the Acropolis. There is such a massive amount of historical information to take in, that I felt it helpful to give your mind a general outline, before your big Acropolis visit.

The Acropolis Museum was reopened in 2009 after significant upgrades, and was constructed over the remains of an ancient neighborhood. For spectacular views of the the Parthenon, go in the late afternoon as the sun is setting. Don’t miss the video detailing how the Acropolis was constructed.

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Day Two

Tour the Acropolis, which is best done first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. It will dazzle you, despite being in a permanent state of restoration, having been damaged by years of tourists’ footsteps, inept attempts at renovation, earthquakes, and pillaging. Set aside a day, or perhaps more, to see the Parthenon (the Acropolis’ crowning glory), and its surrounding temples and buildings.

Pericles was responsible for building this city of temples, and admission includes entry to the following: the Theatre of Dionysos, the oldest theatre in the world; Ancient Agora and Roman Agora — Agora meaning “assembly” or “meeting spot,” serving as a political and cultural center of ancient Athens; Hadrian’s Library; Keramikos; and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Remember your camera and sturdy walking shoes, as the worn paths around the grounds can get slippery. But most importantly, leave plenty of time to just wander.

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Day Three

Start off your morning with a stroll through Monastiraki Flea Market, located at Avissynias Square. It’s easily accessible by metro or on foot, and showcases stall after stall of jewelry and antiques. In Monastiraki Square, a bustling area day or night, you’ll see the lovely Tzistarakis mosque as well as Pantanassa Church, built in the 17th century.

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Grab lunch at one of the busy nearby restaurants, or walk northeast to Melilotos at 19 Kalamiotou Street for a more authentic experience.

Check out Plaka in the afternoon, for people watching in a charming and historic neighborhood. It’s a great spot for a coffee (there are no cars on the streets) but is very touristy, so no need for an extended visit.

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If you didn’t yet catch the Temple of Olympian Zeus, now would be the perfect time to go, given its proximity to Plaka. Your Acropolis admission ticket — good for four days — will include it. Dedicated to Zeus, King of the Gods, it dates back to 6th century BC.

The Temple, along with nearby Hadrian’s Arch, are beautiful to take in as the sun is setting. Hadrian’s Arch is magnificent, and there is discussion around whether it was built to divide new and old Athens.

After you scout out dinner in Plaka, I can’t think of a better way to cap of your travels than with a drink at Brettos. As the oldest distillery in all of Athens, Brettos is a gorgeous bar with limited seating. It was started in 1909 by Michael Brettos, who knew a thing or two about ouzo. The glittering wall of liqueurs will etch itself into your memory… even if you forget the rest of the night.

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Brettos

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