With so much going on in Greece right now, I can’t help but have Athens on my mind. Athens is the first European city my husband and I ever visited together at the start of our incredible honeymoon trip. It will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s the reason my husband fell in love with Europe (lucky for me). Through the years I have heard some negative comments about Athens but I have to say that my hubby and I really love it there and I can’t wait to go back for a visit. A visit to Greece is magical, and perfect for a summer vacation. It’s warm, cheap(er), the people are friendly, the food is yummy (click here for my Greek food post), plenty of history and monuments for all tastes and the islands are stunning. Here are my top 5 things to see and experience when visiting this beautiful, historical city:
Stay at Plaka Hotel in Plaka (Kapnikareas 7, Athens)
If you’re familiar with some of my other travel posts, you will remember that I always like to choose hotels that and comfortable and very conveniently located. The Plaka Hotel is situated steps from Plaka, centrally located near Syntagma Square and a short walk from the Monastiraki metro station. However, if you’re looking for luxury, this is not the place for you. It’s a 3-star, no frills, clean and comfortable hotel…and quite affordable by European standards. If you’re only passing through Athens for a few days on your way to the islands, it’s perfect. There are plenty of nice hotels throughout the city, on our honeymoon we stayed at the Hilton, which was beautiful, but far from the city center. Everytime we’ve been back, we have stayed at the Plaka. Take a look at the panoramic views of the city from its top-floor rooms and rooftop terrace:
Rooftop view from Hotel Plaka
Outside of the Plaka Hotel
Our clean and cozy room…
Strolling through Plaka
Plaka, the oldest neighborhood (and in my opinion) the most charming and beautiful, in central Athens. I love to wander and get lost through its labyrinth of streets (mostly closed to traffic) and whitewashed Neoclassical architecture. We spent hours on each trip strolling along the narrow, cobbled streets visiting sidewalk cafes, souvenir shops and the random historical monument crammed in between, as is the case in many older European cities. And of course, enjoying the stunning views of the Acropolis perched high above the city, through every side street. You will find some very interesting shops selling beautiful 18 karat gold Byzantine designed jewelry as well as Greek designed pottery throughout Plaka. One shop I think is worth a visit is Golden Studio (142 Adrianou Street, http://www.jewelrygreek.com) selling some very nice jewelry. I also loved various pottery shops such as Fotini (41 Nikodimou Street), and if time permits, stop by Forget Me Not (100 Adrianou Street), where you will find some amazing items for sale, most made in Greece by local artists.
Typical shopping street in Plaka
One of the many shops selling Greek Byzantine Orthodox icons
Forget Me Not in Plaka
Store selling pottery with typical Greek designs
Monastiraki Flea Market
Shopping in Athens is a favorite pastime for tourists and Athenians and one of the best places to buy just about anything is the Monastiraki flea market. Literally meaning “little monastery” Monastiraki is named for the Pantánassa church monastery located in the center of the neighborhood’s square. I should clarify, it’s only a flea market on Sundays when some of the stores close and people sell old toys, antique furniture pieces, records, all types of items…reminding me very much of El Rastro flea market in Madrid, where one can find just about anything, if you’re willing to rummage through the stalls. Most of the shops are pretty similar to the souvenir ships you will find in the islands, with items made in Greece, as well as China.
Monastiraki, photo courtesy of Giulia Blocal
Also not to be missed in Monastiraki, is the beautiful Mitrópoli (Metropolitan Cathedral), an important Greek Orthodox cathedral and the largest church in Athens. The Mitrópoli is the seat of the Bishop of Athens and an important spiritual center of Greek Orthodoxy. It remains a major city landmark and the site of official ceremonies like coronations and important weddings and funerals. Look at this gorgeous church:
Mosaic of the Madonna and child at the south portico
For a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Athens, hike to the top of Lykavittos Hill behind the posh Kolanaki neighborhood. It’s a great spot for taking pictures, but can be a hot, sweaty climb during the day, so if you’re not up to the hike in the summer heat, the easiest way to reach the top of the Lykavittos is by funicular, which departs approximately every thirty minutes at Aristippou and Ploutarchou streets. The observation platform offers some of the most amazing views of Athens. The view reaches as far as Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf, provided the sky is clear. Some of the landmarks that are clearly visible from here include the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and the Parliament Building. There is aslo a café at the top, so you can enjoy the view while taking a break. The view is also quite spectacular at night, when the Acropolis and many other major sights in Athens are illuminated.
View of Athens from Lykavittos Hill
Visit the Acropolis
Athens is of course home to the epic World Heritage Site of the Acropolis and its monuments, the most important ancient site in the Western world and must-see in Athens. This magnificent temple is a great place to learn about the history of Athens, while also getting a magnificent view of the city and the nearby ruins. The Parthenon is a monumental beauty built in homage to Athena, the goddess of wisdom (whom the people of Athens consider their patron). During the summer, the place is swarming with tourists and sadly, the Parthenon is always under construction, but the views are breathtaking.
The Parthenon, source unknown.
View of Athens from the Acropolis…breathtaking!
The Erechtheion is a beautiful temple built on the most sacred part of the Acropolis, where Poseidon is said to have struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree, a gift to the city of Athens. The Erechtheion’s signature feature are the Caryatids, six maiden columns that support the weight of the south porch’s roof on their heads. I love this structure, it’s my favorite on the Acropolis.
My favorite structure.
Feel free to ask any Athenian for recommendations, Athenians love to help tourists and share their city. When we were much younger my husband and I wanted to experience a real Athenian club where the locals went (we had heard they were some of the best in Europe). We decided to ask a very friendly shopkeeper, whom we had just bought some jewelry from, and she told us exactly where to go. Needless to say, it was one of the best nights of our lives (and not a tourist in sight).
Here are a few more photos of beautiful Athens!
The Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is a Greek Orthodox church and one of the oldest churches in Athens
Monastiraki Flea Market. Photo Courtesy of Matt Barrett.
One of our favorite restaurants, Yopia
View of Athens
The famous Flea Market
Another magnificent view of Athens
Have you been to Athens? I’d love to know what you enjoyed most.