Greece is one of the dream travel destinations for a lot of people and has always been top of the list for Nandita. I had promised her a grand 30th birthday and a trip to Greece was the first suggestion that came to my mind while looking for options. Greece is mostly famous for its numerous islands, party beaches, white cave houses, blue domes among other things and would probably take us a lifetime to cover all the islands. So, we decided to just visit Athens, Santorini (ofcourse!) and Mykonos.
On the morning of Nandita’s birthday – we woke up super early, did a small birthday celebration, caught a 7am flight from Dublin to Greece and reached Athens around 2pm. Living in Dublin, the most convenient way for us to get in and out of Greece was the flight to and from Athens.
Athens (pronounced as aa-thens) looked nothing like other European countries. If I may say – that rustic, dreamy charm of an European city was definitely missing, but Athens had a special feeling and warmth of its own. We were drawing similarities between Indian cities and Athens in terms of culture, architecture, feel and history – both being historic and ruled by many emperors for a long time.. Having traveled in mid-October, it was a welcome break for us in terms of weather, as Athens was still very warm and nice.
Where to Stay
We decided to stay very close to the Acropolis and the Plaka region, just to save up on the travel time to and from the place of action. For us, the Airbnbs close to the Sygrou Fix metro station turned out to be extremely convenient, cheap and handy. The room cost was around 25-30 euros per night, was 10 minutes walk from the Acropolis, the restaurants and other places of interest. There is a metro from the airport every 30 minutes that takes you to the city for 10 euros. We got down at Syntagma Square and took another train to Sygrou Fix, and then walked to our rooms. It was very convenient and easy.
On a side note, of all the times we traveled on metros in Athens, there was no one to check our tickets, no swipe in-swipe out thing and one could completely skip buying the tickets and not get caught. But, we prefer being extra cautious and bought the ticket very time we used the metro. Also, metro travel in Athens is pretty cheap. It costs 1.4 euros per person and you can use that ticket up to one and half hours to travel to any place except the airport.
Things to do
The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Athens is the big marble structure with multiple columns and sun shining through it. It’s called “The Parthenon” and it’s a part of the Acropolis area (an ancient citadel with historic buildings). The first glimpse of the magnificent 2500 year old historic monument was just breath taking. A complete marble structure, so well preserved (well, most of it), we were just mesmerized looking at these creations and were in complete awe! The columns of Parthenon were spectacular and the sun shining through the columns was pure bliss. We took loads of photos and videos and did not have the heart to leave the place. It was truly an amazing experience to visit these places and we were wondering how in the world people would have constructed these structures without modern tools. We were wishing if there was a way we could time travel thousands of years back, just to see how the Greeks lived, who ruled, what their culture was, what their rituals were, if their dressing style matched what we see in movies – all by being present right there in the center of action. Sadly, such technologies are not there yet and the best we could do was draw mental pictures.
There are two types of tickets to the Acropolis – one costs 20 euros and includes the Acropolis, and the North and South Slopes and the other one costs 30 euros and includes every site in the area. We chose the 20 euro ticket and we were happy with the time we spent exploring the ruins. Queues for the tickets can be long so try to book online if you can.
Spend a lot of time getting lost in the labyrinth of streets in Plaka. The streets are colorful, full of walls decked up with numerous graffiti, shops selling shiny trinkets, restaurants calling for you and a flee market you can not get enough of. On the weekends, the whole area becomes so lively at night, with street performers, bright colorful shops selling all the possible junk jewellery, key chains, and other stuff you can imagine. And while you are at it, do some souvenir shopping. Nandita went a little crazy here, going inside each and every shop ‘just to check’.
While you are in the Plaka region and after a nice dinner walk, towards the “Rovertou Galli 35”. You might meet the guy who plays soft jazz overlooking the acropolis at night. It was such a mesmerizing experience with the stars, open air and beautiful music tumbling across the pillars of the Acropolis which looked heavenly at night.
There are a bunch of museums which you can visit for reasonable entry fee but if you don’t dig museums, maybe visit the Acropolis museum near the Acropolis metro station just for the experience. We walked all the way to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and let me just say – we could have spent that time better. We were a bit bored going through such a huge museum.
What to Eat
Greek food is filed with lot of love – read oil, butter and cheese, enough to happily let you gain a few extra pounds. To top that, Greece is a food heaven even for vegetarians. Highly recommended items are Greek salad, Dakos salad, Gemista (Greek Stuffed Tomatoes and peppers with rice), baked aubergine moussaka and a lot more. Greek beers like Mythos, Fix Hellas, Red donkey etc… are pretty cheap and refreshing as well. Try to choose a restaurant where musicians play live Greek music and enjoy your food with your favorite drink. We thoroughly enjoyed our food in Athens and Nandita was super happy to eat Greek food in Greece on her special milestone birthday! Athens has many varieties of gelatos and it’s a must try for anyone visiting Athens. You would surely put on a few extra pounds by the end of the trip, but who cares! 🙂
Athens has mastered the game of outdoor seating. The restaurants look extremely inviting and beautifully decked up day and night. We used to take so much time to just to choose a nice place to eat.
Do not miss Beneth Bakery, just near the Omonoia Square metro station. We were walking around the area and just happen to go inside to explore and let me tell you, it’s absolutely crazy. They have a huge collection of traditional sweets, bakery items, coffee, quick food and what not. We bought so many variety of cookies, just to try!
Few Quick Points to Remember
- Athens is extremely safe and there is nothing to be really worried about. Just be careful of people who would try to sell you unnecessary stuff which you don’t want to buy. One guy caught us, trying to sell ‘Peace and Love’ in form of hand bands which we really didn’t want. It took us good 15 minutes to get out of the whole situation.
- Try to avoid going to a restaurant that almost begs you to come in. First of all it is extremely irritating. Secondly, they will almost always have horrible food and you don’t want to spoil your experience.
- We feel one to one and half days are more than enough for you to explore Athens. We were able to cover everything, expect the beach – which you can get an abundance of in the islands anyways.
After one and half days of amazing time spent exploring Athens, we took an early morning flight to Santorini – the island of dreams!