Welcome to Athens! Athens is a city of amazing history. Once the artistic and cultural Mecca of the ancient world. Home to the only philosophers most people can name and the birth place of everything we, as Americans, recognize as government and society. From a distance, it is easy to visualize Athens and the many surrounding sites and think “vacation,” but Athens is also the largest city in Greece and home to over 4 million people.
The best time to visit Athens is on the cusp of the high tourist season, April and October. If you must come during high tourist season (mid-may through the end of September) you can expect higher hotel and food prices as well as endless seas of people. It is always worth it though.
Touring Athens: Tips for Seeing Ruins
Here in Greece, each day begins a bit overcast and by 11 am you are considering gelato. By 3 pm you are certain you could fry an egg on the sidewalk if need be. One of my biggest tips for tourists is to HIKE THE ACROPOLIS EARLY IN THE MORNING. The Acropolis gates open at 8 am for this very reason so do your best to get there for the opening. My second tip is to use public transportation to get around the city. You can use apps like Oasa to figure out what time and which line of bus to use, but the metro system works very well and is typically quite clean. The metro offers 5 day passes, which are much more affordable than a 24 hour pass.
Each ruin site sells a 30 Euro ticket that gets you entrance into the main ruin attractions within the city (Acropolis, Zeus’ Temple, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library) This is a great value if you are interested in seeing all of these things as the Acropolis alone is a 20 euro entrance fee.
What to See: Athens and Ruins
This is where things get tricky, as there is so much to see that prioritizing is a must. Athens is not the place for the lazy leisure traveler. You will go go go constantly while here if you want to see even a small portion of your list. This is where you should start:
- The Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. If you did not major in classics then you will want a tour. Go early, accomplish the Acropolis first and then spend the hot afternoon going through the huge museum.
- While in central Athens you could also swing by the Ancient Agora and Zeus’ Temple. Both of the sites are incredibly beautiful, peaceful and full of cultural history.
- The National Museum of Archaeology is a must see. The collection of archaeological finds; gold, bronze, pottery, statues is absolutely incredible and reveals a great deal about the culture and history of the Greek people.
- Day tour to the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. If you are a bit more adventurous then I recommend renting a car and doing both Delphi and the battle site of Thermopylae in the same day.
- Thermopylae. If you are a history lover or a huge fan of Gerard Butler (300 reference) then Thermopylae is a must. It is just a really neat place. Bring your bathing suit to take a quick dip in the incredibly hot and putrid smelling hot springs. A must do if you enjoy off the beaten path sight seeing as you also get to see some Syrian refugee housing.
Southern Mainland and the Peloponnese
- Sounio Bay and the Temple of Poseidon. Personally, I believe the Temple of Poseidon to be one of the more impressive Greek ruins and a wonderful place to catch a Mediterranean sunset. The same day you could go to the beach of Marathon and its adjoining museum. You will learn about the battle and about the history of the 26.2 mile race as well as enjoy a not so famous, or crowded, attraction.
- If time allows, rent yourself a car and take a 2 or 3 day tour of the Peloponnese. Ad Mycenae, Nafplio, the Palace of Nestor, the Castle Methoni and Olympus to your agenda and drive. Once you are out of Athens, driving is very easy. Some of the greatest archaeological finds of the ancient world are just a half day’s drive away from Athens and essentially unpopulated compared to the Athens metropolis.
- On your last night in Athens you should treat yourself to dinner on the rooftop terrace of the Saint George hotel or the Dorian hotel. The Saint George terrace won ‘best terrace rooftop in Europe’ last year and for good reason. Be sure to make reservations in advance and be there for sunset of the city.
My Life in Ruins: Athens Greece
For those of you that have seen the sequel to ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ I am here to tell you that everything about Greece is exactly like the film ‘My Life in Ruins.’ The Greek culture is a bit difficult to adjust to as their sense of time is very fluid and unhurried, but the richness of the culture is present at all times as well. Take the time to walk through a street market. Get up early and go get coffee so you can see the ‘real locals’ of Athens. Say Yasus and Kalimera to everyone and you will never feel alone here. Eat the food, drink the coffee, talk to the taxi driver as he most definitely has family in Ameriki. Enjoy your stay and let the Greek lifestyle influence your time, diet and priorities.