Last spring I visited Greece for the first time. I say first time because there’s something about the Hellenic Republic that makes you sure you will want to return.
And I’m not talking about its history (which is magnificent) or even its beaches (which are the definition of paradise). There’s just something about the people on the streets, the songs on the radio and the sun on your skin that makes you feel at home.
But as I was saying, this was also the first time I travelled solo so I wanted to make the best out of it. My time was short but I decided to see Athens and the island of Aegina (which I’ll tell you all about in a separate post) in three days.
Athens is a city easy to know by foot and that’s exactly what I did for my first day in town. Follow me and get to know the top 6 things to do in Athens in only one day.
1. Dive into history in the Acropolis
A visit to the Acropolis is a mandatory thing to do in Athens. And what better place to start exploring one of the world’s oldest cities than its crown jewel.
So I wake up early and, after a good breakfast, dive directly into ancient history.
Entering the Acropolis (or High City) site I first find the Theatre of Dionysos and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The later, built in AD 161 by wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Regilla, is especially impressive in its beauty and magnificent view over Athens. Or maybe I’m just an incurable romantic.
I continue my way up to the Propylaia, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis itself, and the Parthenon, rising over Athens as the symbol of the glory of Ancient Greece. Despite all the tourists competing for the best selfie, the perfection and grandiosity of this majestic temple of marble stone it’s impossible to miss.
Next to the Parthenon, the Erechtheion also catches my attention. According to my Lonely Planet guide of Athens, this sanctuary was built on the most sacred area of the Acropolis: the spot where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree.
Before saying my goodbyes to the High City, I take a moment to admire the most superb view over Athens, understanding now why this place was once so busy with Greek gods.
Exiting the Acropolis, I make one last stop at the Areopagus Hill, another spot reportedly frequented by divinities – according to the mythology, it was here that Ares was tried by the council of the gods for the murder of Halirrhothios, son of Poseidon. Climbing this rocky outcrop, I get a sight of the Ancient Agora, the heart of Ancient Athens, where Socrates developed his philosophy.
2. Explore the picturesque Plaka
Inspired by the Greek gods and philosophers, I start my way down to Plaka, the old historical and most picturesque neighborhood of Athens.
Located around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis, Plaka is also the most colorful district of the Greek capital, with its typical houses, trendy tavernas and kitsch souvenir stores.
And it’s definitely among the top things to do in Athens, even if you are visiting the greek capital just for a day.
Its main pedestrian streets – Adrianou and Kydathineon – are especially crowded with tourists looking for the best bargain to the sound of Greek music and foreign languages.
3. Stop for people watching in Syntagma
As I stroll from Plaka to Syntagma square I feel like a time traveler coming back to the future. Syntagma is the centre of modern Athens: political centre, transportation hub, meeting point and, not so long ago, the epicenter of several demonstrations whose images spread around the world.
It’s also a god spot for another great thing to do in Athens: people watching. So I buy myself a Greek frozen yogurt, seat on one of the wooden benches around the square and take a moment to relax and enjoy the lively scenario.
Before the clock strikes 12, I take a place in the forecourt of the Parliament for the Changing of the Guard, which occurs every hour before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For around 15 minutes the evzones, the presidential guards, perform a high-kicking ceremony especially notable if you consider the attire – short kilts and pom-pom shoes.
After this performance they assume their not less remarkable statuesque pose for one hour long. Talk about hard jobs!
4. Shop for bargains at Monastiraki
Contrary to the evzones, I keep moving. This time strolling along the Ermou, the pedestrian shopping street connecting Syntagma to Monastiraki.
After lunch in one of the many terrace restaurants scattered around Ermou and a quick visit to Athens Orthodox Cathedral, I finally end up in the Monastiraki Flea Market.
Bustling with shops, cafes and restaurants, these tiny car-free lanes are a feast for the senses. Here you can buy everything, from old books to Greek olive oil, as well as savor the aromas, tastes and sounds of Athens in all its chaos and splendor.
5. Discover the bohemian Exarchia
My last stop is the Exarchia district, famous for its leftist and anarchist reputation and its association with the student’s resistance against the military dictatorship.
Today Exarchia keeps an alternative culture and a resident population of students, artists and intellectuals that give the neighborhood a bohemian flavor.
It’s also home of a vibrant bar and live-music scene, attracting both Athenians and tourists.
All good reasons to include Exarchia in the list of most interesting things to do in Athens.
I wander the narrow streets of alternative stores, tavernas and political graffiti for a while, ending my visit to Exarchia with a drink and a pause in one of its many sidewalk cafes.
6. Contemplate the Academy of Athens
On the way back to Syntagma, I walk along the Eleftherios Venizelos Avenue, one of Athens major streets and address of institutions such as the Bank of Greece, the National Library, the University and the Academy of Athens, guarded by Plato and Socrates.
And while I stand here, contemplating the beauty of these sculptures and the knowledge they represent, I can’t help remembering Plato’s famous words in the Republic:
“This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are”.
Indeed. And may I add: invaluable.
Where to stay
During my visit to Greece, I stayed at the gorgeous Intercontinental Athenaeum Athens. This was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed!
The Intercontinental Athenaeum Athens is the perfect place to splurge yourself after a day exploring Athens. My classic room was enormous and super confortable, the staff always very warm and helpful, and the breakfast and dining options simply delicious.
The hotel is located outside the city centre, but it does offer a complimentary shuttle bus to Syntagma square and return, several times per day, so you only need to worry about having a great time in Athens.
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Have you been to Athens? What did you like the most about the city?
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