An unusual trip for us was visiting Athens in February. Not huge fans of the height of the summer experiences where it is uncomfortably hot and crowded, we went to the other extreme and went in February! Not sure quite what to expect weather wise we arrived for our week arriving to a surprisingly comfortable 18 degrees!
We booked our accommodation near the Acropolis; the first issue however when we arrived was to figure out how to get there! Some Google research indicated a subway from the airport and a short walk would bring us to our apartment. We landed at Athens after a rather turbulent flight and waiting for an hour at passport control we managed to follow the signs out of the airport to the train station and found a helpful man who gave us a map pointed us in the right direction of the metro 3 and off we went!
We stayed at Athens Studios, booking a top floor room with a balcony and had a view of the Acropolis which at night was pretty spectacular! At £45 a night with breakfast we couldn’t have done much better for the view and facilities we had, especially in a capital city. It was also central to most attractions which were in short walking distance or just a subway ride away.
Ancient Sites around Athens
The most famous landmark of all in Athens, The Acropolis is definitely a must see. Now around 3,300 years old, The Acropolis is not one building but means something like ‘city built on a hill’ and the citadel contains the remains of several ancient buildings. In February the queues were quite long for the ticket office so we went online at etickets.tap.gr and bought a 5 site pass for €30. As it was €10 each to enter the Acropolis these seemed good value.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
This was the first site we saw when entering the Acropolis area but after the entrance you get better views looking down at this. The Odeon is an amphitheatre completed in AD 161 and renovated in 1950. It is now used as the main venue for the Athens Festival and has hosted many great artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Andrea Botticelli, Sting and Elton John.
The monumental gateway to the Acropolis was built in 437 – 433 BC. It was made wide enough for chariots to enter and was rebuilt after the Persians destroyed the original gateway. The architect for this project was Mnesikles. On the west slope this is where you will enter the Acropolis. Also, just to the right of the gate was the Temple of Athena Nike which we unfortunately didn’t catch on camera.
The most famous building of all of those within the Acropolis has to be the Parthenon; the most visible structure from around Athems. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena during the 5th century BC. The temple was built in thanksgiving of the defeat of the Persians and also served as the city’s treasury. In the final decade of 6th century AD it was converted to a Christian church and in the 15th century after the Ottoman conquest it became a mosque. A venetian bomb hit the Parthenon during the Morean war of 1684-1699 causing mass destruction. Restoration of the Parthenon has continued since 1975 to how we see it today.
The Erechtheum (Erechtheion), built in 421 and finished in 405 BC, is a temple built on the most sacred area of the Acropolis, where Athena’s sacred olive tree grew. On the South side is the Porch of the Maidens which is made up of 6 columns. You can walk round most of this structure and the porch itself is really quite impressive.
Whilst the Acropolis boasts some amazing historical buildings which are well worth the visit, it would be amiss of us not to mention the views across Athens which are spectacular. We didn’t have the best day as it was cloudy but the photos should give you an idea of what to expect. There is also a giant Greek flag to take your photo with.
So the visit in our mind was worth it but a few things to note; there are a lot of slopes and stairs and it’s hard work! There is a disabled lift apparently somewhere for wheelchairs but we never saw it. In February it wasn’t as busy as in peak season but still a little push push at the entrance so if like me you needs lots of stops and to take stairs slowly and carefully then you may struggle at busier times with lots of crowds. In addition bring water with you and don’t buy drinks at the kiosk outside; we were gasping and ended up paying €9 for two tiny diet colas that we weren’t allowed to take in 🙁
Hadrian’s Arch and the Olympieion
We strolled past Hadrian’s Arch early in our visit and took a picture as it was clearly a ‘thing’ but we saw more of it when we used our multi ticket which included the Olympieion. The Arch itself is a monumental gateway built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and dates back to around 132AD.
The arch is visible from the road and you can clearly walk round it and take pictures; however just a few hundred metres away is the entrance to the Olympieion which costs €10 to enter. The site holds the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. We had a walk round a big field and looked at a load of stones which had been excavated but unfortunately there was not an awful lot to see; there was scaffolding surrounding the main temple and we probably saw just as much from the road as we did through our walk round. If you are on a tight budget I would recommend just a view from the road or at a higher vantage point will give you a flavour of what is in here.
Although this is open during the day and you can enter the site, we would recommend a night visit. We had an evening stroll and wondered if we would actually be able to see it but it is possible to get up close from the road and it was pretty spectacular! The site of the first Modern Olympic Games in 1896 and built in the 6th Century BC, this is a unique site because it is made entirely of marble. It has the capacity of 80,000 spectators and is still used today for the finish of the Athens Marathon held in November.
We came across the library when we first arrived in Athens as we departed at the Monastiraki tube station but we came back for a further look as it was included in our pass. Although we arrived before the 3pm closure time we were not allowed access so we viewed it from the road around it. Created by Hadrian in 132 AD, the site contained the papyrus books, lecture halls and reading rooms. The library was seriously damaged in the Herulian invasion of 267 AD; however the three churches on the site appear to have been preserved.
Also included in the multi site pass was the Roman Agora which is thought to date back to around 27BC. Located on the north side of the Acropolis, the site hasn’t been fully excavated but was apparently used as a public square and central marketplace. It is not a huge site and it was very difficult to picture as it may have looked. If however, you are physically mature but not necessarily mentally, then it is a great place for a game of hide and seek!
This is one site we regretted not making it into; the opening times are very limited early in the season and we were not allowed entry unfortunately but from what we saw this was a place worth spending an hour or 2. The site is said to be the best preserved site of ancient Greece and boasts the impressive Stoa of Attalos, which now houses the museum. I would suggest this is a place to prioritise if you’re planning a visit to Athens and you can read more about it here. Our pictures are from the outside of the site.
Probably the most famous museum in Athens, the Acropolis Museum is located as expected very near the Acropolis site and metro station. The entrance fee is €10 and it houses the findings of excavations of the Acropolis and slopes. More than 4,250 objects are housed here and it is a big site spanning over 14,000 sqm. It is also situated above an active excavation which you can also see. Our visit unfortunately coincided with a lot of school trips so wasn’t the most peaceful but we did visit all the floors.
The museum is impressive; however was purely based on statues and marble items found within the Acropolis; it lacked individual artifacts and other objects found. It is worth a visit and also boasts really good views of the Acropolis from its restaurant and upper floors. It was recommended to have a meal in the restaurant on Friday nights when it has extended opening and amazing views of the Acropolis.
A little tip for this one was shared by a local driver is that the museum offers free entry on Thursday nights so we decided to head there and make the most of it. This museum has the artifacts that we expected to find in the Acropolis Museum and is the museum of Greek Culture. The span of artifacts on display here are from prehistoric times to the 20th Century and there are over 6000 exhibits. It was an interesting place and worth a visit.
Standing 277 metres above sea level Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens and one which is supposed to be a great spot at Sunset. We of course had to visit it and some research indicated there was a funicular and a tube station, Evangelismos, a short 10 minute walk away. I say a short walk, what we did discover is that those 600 metres to the funicular station were all up hill and up stairs and quite frankly was a little too much. A very slow stroll up the copious stairs with several breaks and we made it to the funicular which cost €10 for a round trip. At the top there is a church and a large restaurant and it is a popular spot for the magnificent views all round Athens.
Unfortunately for us, the sunset was not a happening thing, cloud cover had other ideas and it was really quite chilly but we had a picnic and watched some soldiers taking down and folding the Greek flag before heading back down. Our recommendation would be to get a taxi up; if we had realised that the ‘short walk’ from the tube was so steep then we would have reconsidered but it is definitely a must see location.
Outside of Athens
Poseidon Temple half day tour
We met Nikolas from My Greek Taxi! outside the Olympieion and he spoke with us about different tours available in and around the Athens area. One which particularly appealed was to Sounio, the Attica Peninsula at the Southern tip of mainland Greece. The cape is also home to the ancient ruins of the Temple of Poseidon and is supposed to be an amazing location for sunset. After some communication through whatsapp we arranged a tour starting at 2.30pm. Nikolas was on time and we began our tour along the coast. After a stop at a couple of souvenir shops we then made our way to the coastline where we stopped for a couple of pictures and for Nigel to stick his finger in the Aegean sea (way too cold for swimming!)
Next we headed to the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre, also home to the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera for a photo opportunity. The centre is multipurpose and used for events such as sports, arts, education and recreation. It was was built in 2016 and donated to the Greek state in 2017.
Lake Vouliagmeni, a thermal lake, was our next stop. The lake waters are a balmy 25 degrees all year round and has an underwater cave with several tunnels leading of it. To swim here it costs €15 and it also hosts the Garra Rufa fish, the ones used for nibbling the dead skin off your feet. We didn’t swim but it did look inviting and there were sun loungers available as well as a cafe.
Our lunch stop was at a lovely seafront restaurant called 4 Αδέρφια (The 4 Brothers) in Palaia Fokaia. There were a few restaurants along this stretch but we were reminded of our travels during the pandemic, because we had the whole place to ourselves and a magnificent sea view to boot. The food was really fresh, the service excellent, the wine good and we even had a little complementary ice cream cone to finish.
Our last stop and the highlight of the tour was arriving at Sounio and making our way to the Poseidon Temple for sunset. We cut it a little fine as the gates shut at 5pm however once we were in they didn’t try and kick us out! We got luckier than we expected with the weather and watched the amazing sunset taking in the surrounding views of the Cape. It was magical and we took so many pictures!
We headed back to Athens after dark but it had been a great tour; Nikolas was knowledgeable and a really nice guide for our trip. We would definitely recommend his services and he was available via whatsapp after our tour with any questions we may have had to help with our enjoyment of our time in Athens.
Corinth Canal -Isthmus
As the name of our blog suggests, we do like to explore on our travels. A journey of around 80 kilometres each way took up most of our final full day in Greece, with a trip to the Corinth Canal. This involved using the city’s subway trains, which we became experts in navigating during the week we were there, a walk of around a mile, and finally an hour long bus ride from the Kifisou bus station.
The canal has an interesting history with early ideas and attempts to build it dating back to the 7th Century BC, and to this date it is the world’s deepest canal, but ultimately the project will be deemed a failure because it is far too narrow for modern ships to navigate. It is commercially useless, with only the occasional small boat tour now using these waters.
Our day trip there didn’t exactly go to plan either, with missed buses and ticket confusion causing a lot of hanging around, and the site itself not really lending itself to a great tourist experience, with there being no obvious walking route alongside the canal. The edges being fenced off for safety reasons, with a history of landslides, and with a drop of up to 90 metres which could perhaps cause you a little damage if you slipped… We took some photos from one of the bridges that cross the canal, and the surrounding area, and we were there for around an hour, the site not really warranting any more time then that. Perhaps if you wish to visit consider an organised tour or have your own car.
Food and Drink
As we have previously stated we aren’t foodies by any stretch of the imagination but credit where credit is due we will say if we find places we really enjoy and think are worthy of a visit. Below are a few of our favourites:
Sweet Art Under The Acropolis
Here, not 200 metres from tourist central (The Acropolis) is an absolutely fantastic Ice Cream shop, Patisserie Artemis. Well it’s more than that; Sorbets, cakes, all kinds of sweet treats. I had a most tasty strawberry sorbet and it was excellent vfm at only €2. As it was so local it was quite often our daily treat after a day’s exploring. They turn cakes and chocolates into an art form!
Traditional Greek food with No frills
On the opposite side of the street from our accommodation and tucked away from the row of tourist restaurants was Opos Palia, probably our favourite place for both eating in and taking away food to eat on our balcony. We never really made it past the appetisers because of the size of the portions but we had the best saganaki we had ever tasted, amazing greek salad, mushrooms with blue cheese and vine leaves. The moussaka was also amazing! All of this with very reasonable prices compared to the main strip of restaurants round the corner. Highly recommended!
Kolokotroni Street was recently voted to be amongst the world’s coolest streets. We found a couple of bars just off the street worth a Friday night visit, Homy, with a music playlist from the 1920s, and another called “Drunk Sinatra” which despite its’ name, played far more contemporary music. We can vouch that both bars make excellent cocktails.
Athens is a place that offers something for everyone; history, museums, food, drink and a nightlife to suit your vibe. We had a week here and covered most of the main sights but there was still way more we could have done. Some people may think a week in the capital was too much but for us it was a nice pace of relaxation and exploration. Many places are accessible by foot if you are central or by the subway which is very reasonably priced.
Why we left it so long to visit I don’t know; our previous visits to Greece have involved the islands rather than the mainland but this was a fun enjoyable trip and we would recommend spending time in this lovely city if you get the chance.
Carol & Nigel xx