In January, my husband and I went on our first epic international trip to Athens, Greece. This was a very important trip for us because this would be the first time travelling to the Eastern Hemisphere. For me, it would be the first time getting a stamp in my passport and traveling to a country where English is not a native language. I was beyond ready to be taken out of my comfort zone and placed in a country with a different language, different culture, and different way of life. We had an amazing time and I wanted to share some of our experience and the photos I was able to capture. Here are my top five favorite thing we did while in Athens, Greece.
1) The Acropolis and The Acropolis Museum
This is a must while in Athens. It’s, literally, at the center of the city and is impossible to be missed. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel that still has the remains of several buildings that were built over 2000 years ago at the beginning of Greek civilization. It has great historical and archaeological significance. Basically, this was the setting for the beginning of western civilization, so no big deal.
Jake outside The Acopolis Museum
I highly recommend visiting The Acropolis Museum first. This was suggested to us by a Greek woman we met on out first night in Athens. You visit the Museum first so you can understand the significance of what you are about to see at the Acropolis site. For 5 euros you'll get to see the statues, wall carvings, pottery,
coins and other items that were abundant in this area so many millennia ago. Make sure to look down while you walk around or you will miss the ancient Athens neighborhood that remains underneath the museum. My favorite display was the Caryatids interpretations. These women were used instead of traditional columns to hold up the roof of the Erechtheion, a temple that was used for multiple purposes one being a dedication to Athena.
The actual Erechtheion
Underneath The Acropolis Museum
I’m going to go ahead and let you know that, with the exception of the top floor, camera use is highly prohibited. As I found out by accident when I was lectured immediately after taking this image of the inside.
After the museum you are now an expert on all things Ancient Greece and are ready for the hike up to the Acropolis. It's really not that bad of a walk but do wear the appropriate foot wear. It only cost us 10 euros for entry since we visited during the winter months. During the summer though it will run you 20. On your way up to the Parthenon, the most famous component of The Acropolis, you will pass other important monuments. The Theatre of Dionysus, the restored Odeon of Herodes Atticus, The Propylaea, just to name a few.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Once you reach the Parthenon you are at the center of, not only The Acropolis, but of Athens the city. Really take it. Imagine standing among the Greeks of that time, creating government, debating about philosophy. I’m a bit if a history nerd so I really enjoyed this part. I also enjoyed the cats far too much. Oh yea, there are cats everywhere that just roam these historic ruins freely. Here I am, standing in one of the oldest sites of human history, and I am photographing the cats.
One of the many Athens kitties
The Parthenon, under restoration
2) The Changing of the Guards
A Guard slowly walks to his position
One the hour of every hour, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Hellenic Parliament, takes place The Changing of the Guards. This may be one of the most memorable things we did while in Athens. It is so unique and soaked in Greek tradition this is a must see while in the capital city. Also, It’s free! What partakes is a carefully choreograph routine of synchronized foot stopping and slow motion marching. Every movement is so specific and purposeful, you can tell that this is a practice that has been done for generations. The Guards are also outfitted in quite the adorable ensemble from their red berets to the pom poms on their shoes. It really is a difficult thing to describe in words and can only be fully appreciated when seen in person. Did I mention it’s free?
3) The Monastiraki Flea Market
The Monastiraki Square
This Market is not for the timid or shy. It is a web of skinny alleyways lined with stores full of everything you could ever want to buy yourself or your loved ones back home. This is where we got the majority of our gifts for our friends and family. I also grabbed myself a pair of authentic leather Greek sandals. You may be approached by store owners who will try and persuade you to look into their store and see their merchandise.
The best way to detour this is to be firm but polite. We would say "No thank you" with a smile and that usually did the trick. Also, be ready to barter. A man selling bracelets aggressively tried to get my husband to buy one for 10 euros. My husband, who didn't want one, gave him 3 euros just so he would leave us alone. If you are going to doing any big item purchases be ready do a little negotiating. Lastly, hang on to your personal and expensive items closely. The flea market, and most of Athens, is where pick pocketers have a field day. We carried everything in money belts and our cameras were attached to use by a special harness. I know it seems that I may have just described a nightmare of a place, but it really is a fun and electric environment full of locals as well a tourists from all over the globe.
Inside the Monastiraki Flea Market
4) Walking Around Plaka
The Plaka neighborhood is the area of Athens directly beneath the Acropolis and it is one of my favorite areas. Due to the bright colors of the buildings and the traditional Greek architecture, I often felt like I was on the set of a Wes Anderson feature. There are also quite a few adorable churches sprinkled within this pocket of Athens. We woke up early one morning and explored Plaka before it got busy and I was able to capture some great pictures with no people in them. The ones I took on this day are some of my favorites from the trip overall. I mostly recommend this area because it is adorable and any fan of cute little building will love it just like I did. There are a lot of eateries here too just in case you end up working up an appetite.
Marble streets and colorful buildings. Perfectly Plaka.
Not sure what this is but I was drawn to the colors.
My husband is a runner so, naturally, he was drawn to this piece of street art
A wonderful juxtaposition of classic Greek architecture and modern street art
One of the many beautiful churches in this area.
Pretty Plaka Cat
5) Eat and Drink
The aftermath of a delicious Greek lunch
I left the most important for last. My favorite way to immerse myself in a culture is to eat and drink my way there. I started researching what and where we were going to eat before I even booked our Airbnb. I figured the easiest ways to learn about Greek food was to book a food tour. This is a guided tour lead by an Athen's local with stops are varies locations within the heart of the city. We booked our tour through Athens Walking Tour and for only 98 Euros ($116).
Our tour guide, Desani, was very knowledgeable and friendly. She took us to about 10 different locations, some in the very touristy area of Athens and some of in the backstreets where only locals venture, including the Central Market. The Cental Market is where a majority of the restaurants of Athens get their meat from. It is conveniently located next to the Athens Fruit and Vegetable market where they get their fresh produce. Desani had us try a multitude of foods including Koulouri Thessalonikis (Greek bread rings), Loukoumades (Greek donuts), and the traditional Gyro. During this tour I even got to try my first persimmon.
Inside the Central Market
Octopus available for purchase inside the Central Market
Athen's fruit and Vegetable Market
Oranges available at the Fruit and Vegetable Market
Lavender and dried lemons outside a spice shop. One of our stops.
Meat hung outside another one of our stops.
Desani offers some meat to Jake and a gentleman from Tel Aviv
After the tour, equipped with new knowledge of Greek cuisine, we created our eating strategy. Apart from the first place we ate at also being our last, we tried to never eat at the same restaurant twice. We never ate at a restaurant that came with a promoter. These were usually tourist traps and had higher prices, even though I’m sure the food was just fine. We aimed for smaller, off the beaten path spots. My goal was to order something different at every meal, however, after I was introduced to the feta bougiourdi it was really hard to want anything else.
Feta Bougiourdi: basically vegetable in melted cheese
We also drank at every meal with the exception of our morning cappuccinos. For the price of a standard pint in the States, we could order a 200 ml carafe of wine. This may be the thing I miss the most about Greece. We also developed an appetite for Rakomelo, a Greek mixed alcoholic drink used by the locals as a digestive spirit. They serve it warm and in the cutest little glass bottles. During the trip I developed a terrible cold and this was the only thing I wanted to drink that entire day. I am devastated that I can't seem to locate Rakomelo for sale anywhere within America.
Ouzo. Best served over ice. Also had our share of this licorice spirit.
Watching the sunset from The Hill of the Muses. We did this on our final night in Athens. It was a very easy hike up the hill to the top where the Philopappos Monument is located. From here you can see The Acropolis, the entire city of Athens and even out to the Saronic Gulf. I recommend doing this on at least one of the nights you are visiting Athens.
I hope my recomendations help you as you plan your trip to Greece.