If you haven’t read my previous post (Greece Part 1) be sure to check it out for what to do when visiting Santorini!
To make it to Athens from Santorini you can fly, or you can attempt to save some money and travel by boat from the surrounding islands. I rather spend the money next time and fly. Our 4 hour boat ride ended up being a 7 hour milk run filled with lots of sick people. I’ll spare you the gross details but you could literally hear everyone around you get sick. With 1+ meter high waves, be sure you have a tough stomach, avoid alcohol, bring a neck pillow such as this one and have a light lunch.
Once you arrive on the mainland, your journey can begin! You’ll notice that Athens has a much different vibe compared to the Island with its ancient temple ruins, massive hills (I swear I constantly felt like I was walking uphill), streets lined with palm trees (or orange trees) and graffiti everywhere!
I’ll give you the same advice as I do for almost every European city…Start your trip with a PWYC walking tour. Ours was a bit disorganized this time around, yet it gave us an idea of where major landmarks were, with a local touch. As soon as you’re finished, go get your combination ticket for the Parthenon! I believe they offer many other deals, but the best one being the 30 euro ticket package. This gives you access into 7 outdoor locations and is valid for 5 days! Most of the locations are all in the same general area and can be done in one really long day, or broken up into two more manageable days. I would augment this deal with two other museums, such as the Acropolis Museum and The National Archeological Museum (but you will have many to choose from).
Much like any other city, the downtown core has streets filled with shopping and has some of the best prices to find souvenirs, antiques, sandals and gold olive wreaths. Continuing with the typical European vibe, the core also has more restaurants than you can count with a good variety of choices. We did not have any issues finding food that is vegetarian and gluten-free. My favourite spot being the rooftop patio at ‘A for Athens’. Once again, I suggest making resos, but we lucked out without and were seated at the same table as another couple – odd, but at least we got a balcony table with a great view. They also have a sommelier on staff to assist with your wine decisions to make sure it is pleasantly paired with your food.
Speaking of food, Greece knows how to keep you full! My favourite vegetarian options were the greek salad (obvi), dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), tzatziki, gigantes plaki (baked giant beans), stuffed tomatoes and peppers called yemista and of course baklava. I didn’t try the meat but I heard that the gyros, souvlaki and octopus were worth a sample. A note that here they charge you for water and bread and will attempt to not give you an option to say no. Such as opening the bottled water just as they arrive at your table and start pouring, or adding bread onto the receipt even after you rejected it. On the flip side, some places will provide a free aperitif with your bill, yum! The greek frappes (essentially an iced coffee) were good, as were the local wines, especially the latest trend…blue wine!
Though Athens is pretty touristy, if you go off-peak season (peak is mid Jun-Aug), the crowds were tolerable and it wasn’t like walking around in a furnace. We never encountered any long lines, and were able to get some great photos without loads of people in the background. Speaking of touristy, a must stop is to purchase a pair of sandals from The Poet Sandal Maker. Here they measure your feet and custom fit the straps (only for certain models). Oooor you could fake them and get knockoffs for half the price on Amazon, like these.
If you want to get out of the city there are lots of day trips available. We opted to check out the ancient ruins of The Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion. It was beautiful; great views of the harbour, yachts and the beach. For our particular tour (Athens Extreme Sports), it was not worth the price we paid (120 EUR), as we rented a 4 wheeler to drive on city roads for 5 hours with 2 short stops, instead of the 4 as advertised. Most importantly, we did not get any opportunity to go off roading, thus negating the entire purpose of renting an ATV. The guide did not offer any additional information along the way and we still had to purchase our ruins admission and lunch. So essentially, we rented a 4 wheeler for 120 EUR to see ruins for 30 minutes and had to pay to follow a “guide” to show us where to go, when a GPS would have worked just as fine. I cannot recommend this particular tour, however they have many other options. You would be much better off to rent a car and drive yourself, as you could take your time, enjoy the sites, and save a lot of money.
End your day with a trip up Mount Lycabettus. Word of caution, you will have to walk up most of the mountain before you can take a tram the rest of the way (7 Euros each way). At the top there are 3 restaurants, each with fantastic panoramic views of the city. Reflecting back, I found this to be the best spot to watch the Greek sunset.
Overall, Greece is a fantastic place to visit. It has a mix of old and new with its own unique charm that I haven’t seen anywhere yet in Europe. Want a tip for your Instagram photos in Greece? Purchase a toga and a gold wreath (they are everywhere) and snap away!
Did I miss anything? Anymore questions about your next trip to Greece? Let me know in the comments below!
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