I can’t believe that it’s time to share my last travel post from Greece already! My trip to Greece was a holiday that I have dreamt about for ages (and saved for ages too ;)) and you can read my Santorini post over here and my Mykonos post over here. I went a little backwards of how we actually traveled to Greece, but we started and ended at the same place- Athens. Athens was never high on my bucket list, but I figured since I was going all the way to Greece, I might as well see the capital of the country. I was actually blown away by how much I loved this ancient city and how much it had to offer!
How to get to Athens
We booked our tickets to Athens back in January, and using my Discovery Vitality discount, I got the return flight for R6500 (not bad right?). Unfortunately, there is no direct route to Athens from South Africa (since Olympic Airlines went bust out of South Africa years ago), so you will have to make a stop over somewhere. The easiest route is through Dubai or Doha, your first flight being 8-9 hours, and your second flight 4-5 hours. If you want, you can make a trip of it and do a long lay over in Europe where you can explore a city for the day, but I prefer just to get to my destination as soon as possible.
Where to stay in Athens
We did 3 nights in Athens- 2 when we came in, and 1 night when we were on our way out. On our first night we booked the Nine Luxury Apartment Suites, and it was fabulous! It also was not too pricey- it was 50 euros per person per night (R750), so for two nights we each paid around R1450. Of course, this was an apartment and not a hotel, so we did not have breakfast included, but there was someone to meet us when we arrived and show us around the facilities. In my opinion, a fancy hotel is not necessary in Athens because you will be spending most of your time out of the room exploring (unlike in Mykonos where you chill at your resort for days).
The Nine Luxury Apartments is located in the city center, and it is about a 20-minute walk to the Acropolis. The Apartments were beautiful, we got 2 rooms that joined together and we loved the whole vibe of this place. It has a mini kitchen in case you want to cater at home for yourself, and one of the rooms even had a romantic bathtub in the middle of it, overlooking the Acropolis.
We were so tired on our first night that we ended up getting pizzas delivered to the room (there is something similar to Uber eats in Greece and it is super quick!), and we crashed hard for the night. Who wouldn’t, I mean look at this delicious king sized bed?
The only downside was that there weren’t many shops and restaurants right around the apartments, so we had to walk about 7 minutes to find a little café (but there is a club close by called Fever, such good memories!)
On our last night in Athens, we stayed at the Coco Mat Boutique Hotel, which was another winner! Slightly pricier, this cost R1000 per person per night, but again it was worth it. Situated right in the heart of Athens, this eco-friendly hotel was a piece of little charming heaven! The staff were amazing and so helpful (they even let us have late check out because we were only flying late that evening), the rooms were very comfortable, and the breakfast was delicious. They even have a pillow menu, because Coco Mat is also a bedding shop! The amenities were also great- I love nice slippers and bath things every now and again!
You can also use their provided bikes to ride around Athens (if you’re confident enough to ride a bike in the city, I am definitely not). The best part for me was the location- there were so many nice restaurants, bars and shops around! We popped out for dinner one of the nights, and got some amazing traditional Greek food- I had the gyro, and it was the most delicious gyro I have ever had! Overall, I would definitely recommend either of the two places when staying in Athens, depending on what vibe you prefer- apartment or hotel.
What to do in Athens
Visit the Acropolis
You simply cannot go anywhere near Greece and not see the amazing sight that is The Acropolis. Honestly, this almost brought me to tears, and I felt actual goosebumps on my arms when I finally climbed the 500 stairs and saw the Acropolis in it’s fully glory. The term acropolis means “upper city” and most of the sacred buildings are usually on the acropolis. It is the safest, most secure place in town and while there are many more acropolis in Greece, it is this one in central Athens that gathers the most attention. In fact, it is routinely referred to simply as “The Acropolis” and it actually comprises itself of a few monuments including The Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion.
The Parthenon is breath taking. It once served as a treasury and at another point housed a Christian church. Now, the Parthenon is a must-see sight that dates back as far as the 400BC! You obviously cannot step inside it, but you can marvel at its beauty pretty close-up. It is gorgeous from every angle, but there is some restoration work going on there for the last 30 years. This wonder of the ancient world has been through a lot and it even withstood a Venetian bomb attack in 1697.
The Temple of Athena is also gorgeous, and it is dedicated to the goddess Athena Nike. Built to honor the goddess of victory, the site upon which the temple was constructed has ceremonial roots that date back to the Bronze Age. Rumor has it that Poseidon and Athena had their contest over who would be the Patron of the city. Poseidon thrust his trident into the rock and a spring burst forth, while Athena touched the ground with a spear and an olive tree grew. Athena was declared the victor and the great city of Athens was named for her. Hence, Athena is the goddess of victory, and there is another beautiful temple called the Erechtheion build on the site where they had their contest on.
Also up until visiting Greece, I did not actually know that “Nike” means “Victory” in Greek! It is all starting to make sense now 😉
Lastly, I also really enjoyed marveling upon the theater of Herod Atticus built by the Romans in 161 AD and still used today for classical concerts, ballet and performances.
Overall we spend a good 2 hours walking around (and climbing to!) the Acropolis. The best time to go is in the late afternoon- we originally got there at about 11 o’clock, but after seeing the queues and feeling the heat, we decided to come back later and we were right. Entrance to the Acropolis is 20 euros and it is worth every cent! It will take you about 20 minutes to climb to the top of the Acropolis so make sure to bring some water with you for hydration!
Stroll through the gorgeous Plaka
The only Plaka I have been to before visiting Athens was the one at Eastgate- a delicious restaurant by all means, but nothing like this ancient neighborhood of Athens. Just thinking about how much fun we had strolling around the Plaka, while eating gelato, laughing our butts off, makes me so nostalgic, and I want to go back! In the shadow of the Acropolis and its ancient temples, hillside Plaka has a village feel, with narrow cobblestone streets lined with tiny shops selling jewelry, clothes and local ceramics. Sidewalk cafes and family-run tavernas stay open until late, there are tons of cute souvenir shops and this place is buzzing with excitement!
We had some meze there on our way to the Acropolis (Plaka is just under the Acropolis, so you can see both in 1 day) and enjoyed some delicious tzatziki and olives, with a fresh Aperol Spritz. Obviously, eating across the Acropolis was not cheap (think we paid about 30 euros each for this brief meal) but it is worth it. We later had dinner at one of the restaurants deep in the Plaka, so it was not as expensive and was still very yummy.
Keep in mind through- Greece produces a lot of marble and tones of it line its streets! What that meant to me was one thing- slippery! There are marbles stairs and marble floors everywhere, so obviously to no surprise, early into our day I went bailing down the marble stairs, right into a Greek yaya. A Yaya is a Greek granny, and luckily, this yaya caught me falling on her and saved me from any further injuries!
I could suggest spending whole day wandering around Plaka and visiting the Acropolis- it is worth it! If you have even more time to kill, get off the beaten paths and walk through the back streets. Admire the architecture of buildings that have stood for hundreds of years and take in the beauty of this ancient city.
Visit Syntagma Square and then go shopping in Ermou Street
On our last day in Athens, we wanted to do one thing- shop! Even though we were all pretty broke by then (thanks to the gorgeous island of Mykonos), I always love doing a spot of shopping in a foreign country, just to treat myself a bit. If you want to shop international brands (anything from Zara to Gucci), your best start is Ermou Street because it has a bit of everything. However, while you there you might as well visit Syntagma Square, one of the most famous places in Greece.
The name Syntagma means Constitution and the square has seen a number of major events happen celebrated and mourned on it. At the top of Syntagma is the Parliament Building, formerly the King’s Palace, and you can watch the changing of the guards there daily at 11am. A beautiful square is worth visiting while you are in Athens.
Temple of Zeus
Another gorgeous piece of ancient architecture is the Temple of Zeus. The ruined Temple of Zeus that stands today in the archaeological site of Olympia was built to honor the chief of the gods. It constructed at around 470 B.C, when the ancient Olympic Games were at their peak. In fact, there is an interesting story behind the construction of this temple. In 470 B.C, there was a war between Elis and Pisa, two neighboring powers in the area of Olympia. Finally, Elean was defeated and as a penalty, the town gave the funds for building a magnificent temple right outside the stadium of Olympia.
It costs 6 euros to visit the Temple, and was not super busy when we went at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so we were free to take as many photos as we wanted. The Temple is quite close to the Plaka and the Acropolis, so make sure to visit it when you are in the area.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
Lastly, if you are looking for a quick way to see a city, I always recommend using the Hop On Hop Off bus, which is usually around 20 euros in every country. In Athens, we also got to see the National Library, the National Archaeological Museum and National Gardens, among other tourist hotspots. You also get to listen to the history of every place in your chosen language on the bus, so overall it is also a great way to see the city when you are strapped for time.
Besides all of these things to do in Athens you can also visit the Monastiraki Flea Market for some bargain shopping, visit Mount Lycabettus for some fab views, see the ancient Panathinaiko Olympic Stadium and chill at the port of Piraeus. Athens also has a great nightlife, so overall this city really impressed me with its blend of old history and modern vibe. The only thing I did not like about Athens was the overwhelming use of graffiti! It is everywhere and it is just too much! It ruins the history and the buildings of this place.
Last couple of photos from our trip! I hope that you have found my Greece Travel Diaries helpful and I have inspired you to visit this magical place!