City Break: A long weekend in Athens
June 29, 2019
by Kay Whitehead
The home of many key elements that form civilisation as we still know it today, Greece is a spectacular destination to immerse yourself in awe-inspiring history and culture, serene scenery and excellent gastronomy. The capital, Athens, is the ideal city break for experiencing a cool contemporary scene in surroundings steeped in ancient history that were enjoyed by some of the greatest thinkers of our time.
I first came to Athens as a tourist and have now made it my home; from the major attractions to the deeper layers of this fascinating city, here are my top tips for making the most of your time in Athens.
Things To Do
Historical Site -The Parthenon
From many places in the city, your view of the skyline will include arguably the most important historical site in Greece, the Parthenon. Set on a rocky outcrop, the Parthenon is actually the crown of the wonder that is the Acropolis, a hillside dotted with historic buildings and archaeological sites dating back to 5th Century BC. It is a wonderful place to marvel at the advanced architecture of the time, as well as soak up the significance of these theatres and temples. To complete the experience, the artefacts and explanations in the Acropolis Museum enhance the story and certainly gave me an insight into Ancient Greece and the modern country that exists today.
Summer Drinks on a rooftop terrace
Its common in Greece to spend a few hours drinking coffee with friends, and with so many fabulous cafes in superb locations, you’ll be missing out if you don’t join the Athenians in one of their favourite pastimes. In the summer months opt for cold coffee such as freddo cappuccino or frappe. Take a stroll around the flea markets and pretty streets of Plaka and Monastiraki before choosing your spot, for an extra special experience find a table on a rooftop terrace. Although Athens is a bustling capital city, you can still find a tranquil green space in the National Gardens. Situated behind the parliament at Syntagma, the park offers a number of pathways leading to small lakes, statues and interesting flora and fauna.
There are two things that have helped me get to know Athens and see it for the magnificent city that it is: exploring the neighbourhoods and tasting the excellent local food. Visiting the big attractions will have given you a flavour of a few neighbourhoods, including the wide avenues containing political residences near the parliament, and the colourful and quaint streets of Monastiraki and Plaka. Experience the variety of Athens by exploring other areas; for food and drink I would recommend Kolonaki and Psyrri. The first offers chic and sophisticated hotspots and the second, a pleasing range of vibrant, modern bars and traditional tavernas. While a Greek salad will form a good starting point for your meals, don’t miss out on the fantastic flavours to be found in the fresh calamari and octopus dishes, Greek classics such as (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) and of course the cheap but very tasty souvlaki.
Head south for the calm and beauty of the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre, where you can cycle, stroll and enjoy photography and sculpture exhibitions. Visit nearby Nea Smyrni, a pretty neighbourhood where you can relax amidst the friendly, family vibe. In complete contrast, head north from the Acropolis and you will encounter the remarkable National Archaeological Museum, full of artefacts that give you an appreciation of the impressive history of Athens and Greece. On your journey to or from the museum you’ll experience the bohemian area of Exarcheia and some of the best street art in the city! The variety and rich culture of Athens means the more you see, the more you’ll understand and fall in love with your surroundings.
Planning Your Visit
When to Visit and Where to Stay
Athens is favoured with long and delightful summers, however temperatures at the peak of the season (late July and August) aren’t really practical for sightseeing. In fact, many Athenians leave the city for country homes or the islands and stay off the streets as much as possible during these days. Ideal months to visit for warm weather then, are May and June or September and October, and a long weekend should give you enough time to explore. Athens has a range of hotels and accommodations to suit every budget. Although transport is excellent, you will still want a central location as it can take some time to cross the city. Important things to look for are nearby metro stations and, depending on your requirements, check the buildings in the surrounding area on an online map. If you are looking to head back to your room and cool off in a quiet environment, look for somewhere that is set back a little from large streets or clubs and bars. You can achieve a great location without too much noise!
The easiest way to get from the airport to the centre of Athens is by metro. You can take the blue line directly to Syntagma or Monastiraki from the airport. Once you have bought your ticket keep hold of it as you can top it up with travel tickets lasting 90 minutes or 5-day tickets; take note you’ll need a special fare to go to and from the airport. Most ticket machines take cards as well as cash and have different language options. This ticket can also be used on the city buses and the tram, which are also very convenient but not always the fastest option. I would advise to wear comfortable shoes and clothing that will help you keep cool in the afternoon sun, especially as Athens is a pretty casual capital city. Athenians and Greeks in general are very friendly and welcoming, speaking English is an option to get what you need in most places; however, I would recommend picking up and using some phrases in Greek if you can. A simple efcharisto meaning thank you or ya sas the polite or group greeting that can be used for hello and goodbye will certainly add to a seamless experience!