Docking just outside of Athens, in Pireas, Roman and I left our cruise ship and walked towards the Green metro line. Our destination was for Athens, a short 20 minute metro ride from the docks of Pireas. Early morning on a Sunday there is hardly anybody out and the walk to the metro station is a little longer than I anticipated. But after about 20 minutes and some maps checks, we found the station with relative ease.
Because we only have a day in Athens, we decide to only hit the inner most parts. If you’ve never been to Athens, like us, it’s essential to see the Acropolis and the surrounding older neighborhood called Plaka down below. If you’re coming by a cruise, it’s probably the only part you’ll get to see since time is so limited. However they are truly the best parts of Athens.
We happened to come on a Sunday and Sundays in Europe usually mean a lot of things are closed. It was the same in Athens and on top of that the country was about to be kicked out of the EU, defaulting on its loans just a week before. We didn’t know if there would be riots, demonstrations or if everything would be shut down but none of that happened. In fact the city felt quite calm, almost like we were in some beach resort city.
However Greece is struggling and the only thing they really have going for themselves is tourism. So most touristy shops were still open but the average Greek could only draw 60 euros a day. On top of that, the store owners wanted to accept just cash instead of credit and they had no clue what was going to happen the next day or the day after that.
So early morning we got off at Thissio station, which sits right under the Acropolis. There are two ways to get into the Acropolis and all you need to do is choose which way to go. Even early in the morning the lines to get where actually quite long and the Acropolis was very crowded. But it is the number one site in Athens so I guess not too surprising.
The Acropolis is like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You only need to see it once and you’ll probably be comfortable never doing it again. Although I have been on the Eiffel Tower multiple times so who knows? First off there is a lot of history to know and some history that you may not know. Up until 1687 the Parthenon, which is a part of the Acropolis, was well intact.
However the Ottomans, who conquered the Greeks in the 1400s, used it as a gun powder storage and it was blown up by a successful Venetian attack. After that the site was pretty damaged and it wasn’t until the 1970’s when restoration started. Most of what we see today is a reconstruction of what it would have looked like back when it was first built.
The Acropolis is more than just the Parthenon though. It actually covers a huge part of Athens and there are many sites and ruins to check out. Make sure to keep your entrance ticket, as the ticket will get you into several other surrounding sites like the Archaeological Site of Olympieion, Temple of Hephaestus, and the Theater of Dionysus.
We walked around the Acropolis, snapping photos of some of the ruins and the city itself. From the Acropolis it’s possible to get a great view of all of Athens and the surrounding hills/mountains. There are audio guides to help you know what you’re looking at but I didn’t bother getting those. Roman was my guide; he knew a lot about Greek history and for backup they have free information on all the major structures.
Other Athens Sites
From the top of the Acropolis we headed down a different way towards the Theater of Dionysus. This is the entrance from Plaka and it’s possible to start your tour of the Acropolis from there. Near the Acropolis also lies the Archaeological Site of Olympieion. This is not an essential place to visit but there are still ruins of what was once a massive temple in the heart of Athens.
Next to that lies the Panathenaic Stadium, which is where the first modern Olympic Games were held back in 1896. Your ticket from the Acropolis won’t get you in but I actually didn’t see very many people trying to get in anyways. We had a great view from the outside already and there is nothing more to see besides the stadium itself.
From their we turned back towards the neighborhood of Plaka. Plaka today is the heart of Athens and is considered the old city. It’s touristy and can be a little more expensive than the surrounding parts of Athens. There isn’t much to do here per se but for us it was a great place to eat some gyros and enjoy lounging outside. At around 10 dollars per person, it was actually one of our more expensive meals but it was huge and very good. We didn’t research any restaurant a head of time but looked if a lot of people eating there or if they posted their reviews.
We took our time, probably around an hour and half just sitting, eating, drinking and talking. Like I said it was Sunday in Athens and although there are souvenir shops open, it’s mostly the same stuff we found in other ports. Plus we had gotten most of our souvenirs that we really wanted and anything extra was going to be something we truly loved.
We eventually got up, but we were so full so a little slower walking around now. We toured Plaka, took some pictures, and did a bit of shopping but nothing we catching out eye. We ended up walking right back in the same square where we had eaten lunch before. Tired from all the walking in the morning (there is a lot of up hill climbing), we decided to go to a café and enjoy some coffee. There were a lot of cafes actually, and a lot of people in them so apparently it’s the thing to do on a Sunday Afternoon and Greece.
Temple of Hephaestus
After lounging around in Plaka we decided to do one more site before heading back to the cruise ship. Near the Acropolis down below there is this very beautiful temple called the Temple of Hephaestus. It’s well preserved and because it stands alone, looks great in person. This is a more unknown site and not many people visit, giving you a better opportunity to snap some great photos and explore on your own. We found this site to be one of the highlights of our time in Athens. Make sure you keep your ticket from the Acropolis as it is included in the price.
Athens in Review
I was only here for a day but from I saw, you don’t need much time in Athens. Athens has many great sites to see and like most stops in Greece, lots of history. If I had stayed at night I’m sure their nightlife is also worth mentioning. Actually I had more fun eating outside under some shade with some Greek food with a nice tea or coffee. It was nice that we both didn’t feel the need to rush and see all sorts of museums, sites, etc. We focused on just a couple of things and kept the day slow-paced and relaxing.
images by: shawnvoyage