We’ve been to Athens, Greece before, but it was with an organized tour group. As a teacher of ancient history, I wanted to go back and spend more time doing the things that interested me. Joe and I also love good food. In an organized tour, you can’t always pick and choose your dining options.
For our latest trip to Athens, Joe and I planned each moment of our 3-day trip with as many “must do” activities that we could tackle in 72 hours. During our trip, we also spent 3 days in Mykonos and 3 days in Santorini. Here is a quick 2-minute summary of our adventure:
6 “Must Do” Activities in Athens, Greece
Lodging in Athens
First things first, where should you stay? I loved the location of our hotel in Athens, the Philippos Hotel. The rooms are fairly small and they don’t have a pool, but the location is fabulous. We were just one block from the Acropolis Museum and a short walk away from a metro and bus stop. Getting to the hotel from the airport was easy peasy! The morning breakfast had a good variety and the front desk was super friendly and helpful.
1. Go on a Walking Tour
The best way to see Athens is definitely by foot. The ancient city center is fairly small and even though the streets tend to meandering to and fro, it is not that difficult to navigate on your own. We took 2 different walking tours during our 3-day stay.
On our first afternoon in Athens, Joe and I went on our own self-guided walking tour. I always like to do this when I first arrive at a destination. It is a great way to get a feel of a city’s layout and culture. See our detailed itinerary and directions by reading What to See on an Athen’s Walking Tour.
The other tour was a “free” walking tour which means that the guides don’t collect anything up front. They rely solely on tips. Now this doesn’t sit well with the licensed tour guides, and one really lit into our “free” guide. All I can tell you is that athens-free-tour.com provided us with an excellent walking tour of Athens and is highly recommended by my history teacher friends and Trip Advisor. We were told a specific time to meet up at Hadrian’s Arch. Then we were broken into small groups of 10.
The tour was suppose to last around 3 hours. Our guide warned us up front that he tended to go over 3 hours and to feel free to break off of the group at any time. Our tour ended up being 4 1/2 hours. It was chalked full of history, Greek culture, and interesting trivia. Joe and I loved that the group was small, and it was easy to hear our guide and ask questions as we walked.
2. See Ancient Ruins
I know you’re probably thinking a big “Duh!” with this suggestion. However, there is more to Athenian ruins that just a hike up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. There are so many ruins in Athens that some sites that would be major attractions in other cities, are often overlooked in Athens.
A good place to start is at the Acropolis Museum. Here you will get details that will help you better appreciate the ruins and stories behind them. Some of the “must sees” include: the Acropolis (plan 2-3 hours), the Panathenaic Stadium, and the Ancient Agora of Athens. Admission to the Acropolis is 20 euros. For just 10 euros more, you can buy a combination ticket that will get you admission to 7 additional sites.
3. Get a Good View of the City
Athens is a city of many hills, and you’ll see hotels and restaurants boast “Best view of the Acropolis!” Don’t buy it! You can see the Acropolis from almost any place in the city. Even at the top of the Acropolis, you can get some get pictures of Athens. We went to the top of Lycabettus Hill which is the highest point in the city. You can walk up or take a cable car ride.
Other good views can be found on the famous Filopappos Hill, Strefi Hill, and Mt. Immitos. Plan a picnic supper for a wonderful sunset experience! Do wear sturdy shoes with good traction and bring water. Plan your visit to avoid mid-day heat if you can help it.
4. Eat a Variety of Greek Cuisine
There is more to Greek cuisine than just gyros and baklava. Because of Greece’s location on the Mediterranean Sea and occupation of the Romans and Turks, Greek food has been influenced by a variety of cultures. Joe and I love good food and before this trip I researched and asked Greek friends for food recommendations. I then made an extensive list of foods that we needed to try.
Greek food is heavy on vegetables and olive oil. Breakfast is light, but other meals are usually eaten late and can last several hours with many small dishes (mezedes) served. Starting a trip with a good list of foods to try makes you get out of your comfort zone and sample foods you would have never tried on your own. We didn’t try everything on my list, but we came pretty close (Read What to Eat & Drink in Greece)!
Another good way to learn about Greek cuisine is to take a cooking class. Joe and I have always loved taking cooking classes and the class we took in Athens was no exception. Not only did we learn to make a complete Greek meal, but we also made a new friend with the chef who was our teacher!
5. Shopping & People Watching
Central Athens is one big shopping area with a fun variety of stores. One of the main streets dedicated to shopping is Ermou Street. It’s a pedestrian street that runs from the Monastiraki Flea Market down to Syntagma Square. The Monastiraki Flea Market is about as eclectic as you can get! Open every day of the week, you can find antiques, furniture, and of course, souvenirs. Bartering is expected, especially in smaller shops.
The Plaka area is also full of shops and cafes with outdoor seating. There’s nothing more relaxing than doing a little shopping then sitting at a cafe watching all of the tourists walking by.
6. Take a Day Trip-
There are many great and inexpensive day trips you can take while visiting Athens. Two full days is enough time to see most of the major sites in Athens. If staying longer, consider traveling out of the city. You are close enough to the sea to take a boat cruise. Greece is also a mountainous country with loads of landscapes and additional ruins to see. We have done the following day trips and highly recommend them!
Delphi can be reached by car or bus. It usually takes 2 1/2 – 3 hours. As an ancient Greek city-state, Delphi was the site for the oracle who would give predictions about future events. Delphi was also the site for the worship of the Greek god Apollo.
Another great trip outside of Athens is a half day trip to Cape Sounion to watch the sun setting on the Temple of Poseidon. On our trip, we brought our swimsuits for a quick swim before heading on to the temple.
Have you been or want to go to Athens, Greece? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
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