July 14, 2019 / Leave a Comment
If you’re a history lover and haven’t had at least 2 days in Athens, Greece – you’re missing out. Greece’s ancient capital city is both a relic and a thriving metropolis, with wonderful, charming people, delicious food, a bustling nightlife, and more than you can possibly imagine to do.
Too often, however, Athens is somehow seen as a jumping-off point for cruises to one of the many Greek Islands that have become so popular in our era of social media-driven travel. Some are more interested in the Instagram-worthy Santorini (which really is ridiculously great), or the party location Mykonos. Perhaps that’s your itinerary plans, which is great. However, spending 2 days in Athens is something you truly owe yourself if you want an immersive, stunning travel experience.
Getting to Athens
Getting to Athens really depends on where you’re traveling from. For those of us in the United States, flying into Rome is a likely stop-over. Athens is a bit isolated geographically, which was part of the city’s strength in military prowess some 3,000 years ago. You’ll most likely fly in via Aegean Airlines.
There are easy options for getting into the city, but the easiest and most hassle-free is to take a cab. Drivers are numerous, and the driver we had was incredibly nice and very helpful. He gave us great tips about the city, the area we were staying in (Plaka), and the fare was only about $35 USD for two people.
Once you’re entering Athens, you’ll want to leap from your cab. Ruins stand seemingly on each street corner near the center of the city, and you’ll want to carve out your own legacy in a city that’s crafted so many.
Where to Stay in Athens: Plaka
The most obvious place to stay in Athens is the area known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” – Plaka. This district, a beautiful and quaint area with plenty to do, is located at the foot of the rocky cliff that trails beneath the Acropolis. From here, there are numerous shops, restaurants, and of course, the Acropolis, itself.
One of the best things about Plaka is that it’s one of the best places to eat in Athens. The food is simply incredible, no matter if you’re a foodie, a true connoisseur of fine dining, or a traveler looking for a great drink on a night out. One of our favorites is Liondi Traditional Greek Restaurant, which is located in Plaka, just outside the Acropolis museum.
Throughout the area are pop-ups and affordable restaurants that serve classic Greek favorites – including spanakopita, dolmades, gyros, and our favorite – falafel with tzatziki. These are all common meals in Athens, and it really doesn’t matter where you have it in Plaka – it’s going to be good!
Another thing we love about Plaka is that it’s affordable. Being only a few steps away from the Roman Agora, our favorite hotel is the Plaka Hotel, which is only about $50 USD per night. It’s a great place to center your stay, and it gives you an opportunity to access other great locations, such as Monastiraki and Syntagma Square.
Day 1: Get Lost in Athens
You’ll want to start your 2 day itinerary in Athens exploring the primary draw to the city – its history. The city is one of those rare gems, among perhaps only a few in the world, that has art, beautiful weather, great food, history, and great people on such a generous scale.
History at The Acropolis
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel that sits high in the center of Athens. Acropolis, which means “highest point” in Greek, is a word that describes this location beautifully as it’s visible virtually anywhere in the city center, and stands as the crowning beacon of Athens’ past with its statues, temples, ruins, and stunning architecture.
It was the Greek statesman Pericles who designed and conceived the Acropolis, whose ruins and structures are globally iconic. The names of the structures are ubiquitous – Erectheum, The Propylaea, The Partenon, Odeon of Pericles, Theatre of Dionysius, and the Temple of Athena. These structures represent the time in which the intellect of man seemed to explode from some primordial stage.
There are 21 primary historic remains on the hilltop at Acropolis, those of which are considered among the most significant historical and archaeological structures in the world. Ongoing restorative work continues on many of these structures, which seek to secure this hilltop brilliance for future generations.
Panathenaic Stadium, in its original construction, was built on the site of an ancient racecourse by Lykourgos around 330 BC. The original purpose for the build was for the Panathenaic Games, and was rebuilt in the marble structure it is today by 144 AD. Given the Olympic’s connection to polytheism and the rise of Christianity, the stadium was essentially forgotten before being excavated for the Zappas Olympics in 1870.
It’s an incredible thing to see in Athens, with such a long and storied history that directly connects to our modern world. The stadium hosted the opening ceremonies as well as closing ceremonies for the first modern Olympics, which were held in 1896. It was even the site of 4 of the original games’ competition.
The stadium is an absolute work of art, and was one of the primary structures thought to be a true inspiration for the Roman Coliseum, and in turn the rest of modern stadium building and construction.
Today the stadium looks as though it could’ve been built 10 years ago – instead of 2,000!
Visit the Acropolis Museum
This is one of most beautiful museums we’ve ever been in. The frieze replicas of the Parthenon are within fingertip distance, and rooms fill with natural light against the alabaster of great Greek art. We snuck a few photos, but one of the more impressive works is actually the ruin structure upon which the museum was built – a structure over 3,500 years old!
It’s an absolute must to visit the Acropolis Museum. Entrance is very affordable, and it’s actually located just down the hill from the walk-up to the Acropolis. Lines can be long, so it’s best to purchase your ticket ahead of time – or just get there early!
Celebrate Tradition at Syntagma Square
Though people think so often of Greece and Athens in terms of history from thousands of years ago, ancient wisdom by sages from some lost era, Athens has in fact had a number of important historical segments in history. Syntagma Square is a location that honors one of these epochs.
After more than 300 years of Turkish occupation, the building at Syntagma Square was erected in 1833 to symbolize the creation of a new, independent Greece. Syntagma, meaning constitution in Greek, stands as a symbol of Athenian strength.
Today, tourist and Athenians alike celebrate this important historical occurrence each day during their “changing of the guards” ceremony. Though not an ancient tradition, it’s equally important to the establishment of Athens in being an independent country today.
Day 2: Experience Athens’ Vibrant Modern Culture
Athens today is a bustling large city, with an amazing amount of things to do, fun things to see, delicious food, and deep culture around every corner of the city. You can get lost so easy in the city, even outside of Athens’ deep history. Athens is a city that’s only gotten better over time.
Stroll the Beautiful Hills of Plaka
Plaka is known as the neighborhood of the gods for a good reason, as the historic area in Athens’ city center rests at the bottom of the rocky mount that holds up the Acropolis.
In all of Athens, in fact, it’s been proven that the oldest street in the city – Adrianou Street – runs directly through Plaka. In fact, it’s still a high traffic area with the same layout it had dating back to antiquity. Shops, restaurants, bars, flea markets, fresh markets and more make Adrianou a great place to stroll in Plaka.
Tango in the Streets
Athens has a great history of dancing in the streets that goes back about 80 years, to when a couple brought down a portable stereo near Pireos Street and starting dancing.
As others followed and the crowd gathered, the tradition lasted and extended, resulting in today’s “Street Dancing Milonga” on Mondays. It’s an all-ages affair, that’s ideal for families, couples, dates – and practically anyone!
Watch Movies Under the Evening Sky
Another great thing to do that certainly has more of a modern feel is Athens’ Cine Thisio. First opening in 1935, this open-air cinema is one of the most romantic things you can do in the city, and really is something you should fit in on your 2 day Athens itinerary.
Not only do they offer the common treats, like popcorn and soft drinks, but you can also get some more traditional Greek fare such as wine, fish roe, and super spicy tsipouro.
Want to find a place that’s even older? Cine Paris, which opened in 1920, is another great outdoor cinema with a wonderful view of the Acropolis!
One of the places we love the most in all of Athens is Monastiraki, which is actually located on the edge of Plaka, in the Monastiraki district. It’s a great place with rows and rows of shops, stands, crafts, jewelry stores, and more. Also – yeah, you guessed it – the food is wonderful!
It’s a great place for shoppers, for couples, for artistic types, and foodies. Additionally, it’s really beautiful and quaint. You can stroll all day in the quarter!
Bar Crawl in Monastiraki
Monastiraki is a place that is known during the day as an awesome spot for art lovers and foodies, but as the sun sets it becomes a vibrant area that’s full of great bars, and awesome cocktails!
Monastiraki is simply full of bars, bistros, and awesome places to sit outdoors and have a drink. Our favorite place was Spollati, which was located right behind the Church St. Irene on Athenaidos. It’s a mixology bar, but the food is great, and it’s in a bustling part of town.
The relaxed, idyllic daytime atmosphere of Monastiraki gives way to a bustling, vibrant hum when the lights come on at night. It’s here when dozens of hip and stylish bistros, bars, and restaurants swing open their doors, making Monastiraki the best place to bar-hop in Athens. There are a ton of great places to drink, including ZAF Cafe, Poems n’ Crimes Art Bar, and numerous locations that play on the Athenian spirit of art, creativity and fun.
If you want to experience the brightness and brilliance of downtown Athens, feeling the amazing spirit of Monastiraki is something you absolutely have to do!