I really enjoyed my trip to Greece. I’ll write a reflection entry on it in the near future, as being around the most ancient ruins that I’ve ever seen in person and in the home of some of the most revolutionary Western thinkers was inspiring. I have bonus tips at the end for Old Town in Chania, on the wonderful island of Crete. I only got to spend a day in Chania, so I couldn’t come up with a longer guide for it.
The best and dare I say, only, way to experience Athens is by foot. I went during the tail end of their winter season (in mid-March) and with the help of a fall coat, saw just about every street that I could. I’ve made a custom Google Map for Athens that you can open up and use to guide yourself around town. The map includes historical landmarks, hikes, walks, and neighborhoods that are interesting to see. (Sadly, the map is missing one of my favorite things about the city: a cozy, extremely well-stocked coffee and tea merchant’s shop and cafe that will give you complimentary WiFi and cookies to accompany the smooth cappuccino that you can buy there. The shop is called Queen’s Coffee and is on Ploutarchou Street by either Alopekis or Patriarchou Ioakim Street. Must, must, must go.)
- Take a look at the Greek Parliament building next to Syntagma Square. Of the few days that I was there, there were events taking place right outside, for two of them. One morning there was a ceremony with Greek soldiers dressed in traditional clothing, marching in honor of something unbeknownst to me.
- Stroll through the National Garden, walk through all of it and see the tiny pond, bridge, birdhouse, miniature zoo, and plethora of orange trees.
- Power through your stroll with an ultra thin Greek sesame pretzel sold roadside by several vendors in Syntagma Square. Pick up a cappuccino, too.
- At the end of the National Garden, there is Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus. While you are looking at the eroding columns of Zeus’s temple, you’ll catch sight of the Parthenon, teetering over the city and that’s when the age of this city will start to impress you.
- I recommend getting dinner in the Anafiotika neighborhood, not too far from the neighborhood of Plaka. It several hilly streets that house full-service cafes. Most of them are touristic for meals, but great for coffee. I went to a cheap place full of locals, called Scholarxio.
The Temple of Zeus
The Odeon of Herodes (now used as a performance venue) in the Acropolis, at night. You can’t go in or to the top of the Acropolis at night, but can peer through the locked gates. It’s really cool to see.
A view of Theatre of Dionysis from the top of the Acropolis
- The Greeks start their days rather late. If you’re an early riser like me, you will have to grab a cappuccino and spanakopita breakfast from one of the small cafes on the inroads of Plaka or Anafiatika.
- Start your day by climbing one of the two prominent hills in Athens. The Lofos hill is the highest point, further into Athens, and has a cable car that you can take up. Do not take the cable car as it just goes through a tunnel and does not give you a view, instead walk up and walk down. On a clear day lets you see all the way down to the sea. The walk down took about 15 minutes and I think the walk up would take about 20 – 25. On the walk down, walk along Ploutarchou street, which crosses with two restaurant heavy streets, and has a few restaurants on it as well. Visit Queen’s Coffee, the cafe I describe at the top of this entry, on your way down.
- The other hill has Socrates Prison at the base, and gives you a decent view of the Parthenon, but about a 15 – 20 minute walk up. But, beware as this hill is the HQ of the kingdom of centipedes. I was periodically terrorized.
- Walk through Syntagma Square to the Monastiraki flea market. Don’t bother going towards the Central District as it’s grungy and boring.
- At night, climb the large rock that is at the end of the Acropolis by the Anafiotika neighborhood to get a really lovely view of the Parthenon all lit up with glowing, yellow lighting.
The big kahuna: the Parthenon. Really impressive to see in person.
The Theatre of Dionysus from the inside
A view of Athens from Lofos hill
The acropolis at night as viewed from the big rock. Highly, highly recommend.
I would say to stay in Fira over Oia because Oia is more touristy, though Fira is as well (no getting away from tourists in Santorini). But both towns are beautiful. There is one main road in Fira, parallel to the cliff-side, with shops and restaurants, that you want to stay by.
- Do the boat tour that leaves from the Old Port over to a volcanic island and thermal hot springs. The walk down from cliff-side to the Old Port dock is also really nice, and takes about 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the cable car down, which we took back up from the Old Port to get in some views.
A view of from the volcanic island that the boat tour takes you to.
- Do the 3 – 4 hour “cliff” hike from Fira to Oia (or the other way around). The hike is just a long walk, it requires no to little stamina. Take your time for the views and any detours. Take the 30 – 45 minute detour to Skaros Rock, which is not far from the start of the trail from Fira. Late morning to afternoon is the best time for this walk as it can get windy and chilly, at least right before high season.
- Walk down to Amoudi Bay in Oia, takes about 20 minutes, and then walk back up. The walk back up will get your heart rate up – very worth it. Amoudi Bay itself is just a dock and uninteresting.
- There’s a bus that takes 20 minutes to get from Oia to Fira, and runs about once every hour during the Winter season. It’s about three euros for two people one way.
A view of the Santorini caldera and Fira in the distance, from the walk to Oia.
I have about 20 more pictures like these two, that I took on the hike from Fira to Oia, and I probably could have taken 20 more. You just can’t get bored from staring into a beautiful, deep blue sea that stretches out until it meets the horizon.
- Check out the archaeological site of Akroti in southern Crete. The ruins in the site are from 2500 B.C. and are well preserved because they were covered by the lava from a volcanic eruption that happened
- Walk to the Red beach nearby, it’s very pretty, a slow walk there, around the beach, and back can take up an hour.
Bonus: Old Town in Chania, Crete
I cannot wait to go back to Chania (pronounced ha-NYA) and explore the rest of the island of Crete. The way my flights worked out, I could only spend a day there. I made the most of my one day, and will be back for several more.
- Walk the path along the water to the lighthouse. If you go slow and stop to take in the views, it can last you 30 minutes to an hour.
- On a clear day, you will see the snow-capped mountains that are in Western Crete. A majestic backdrop that I was surprised to see. I didn’t think I would see snow in Crete! Apparently, even if you go in the summer, the mountain tops will appear white because they’re covered in limestone.
- Walk the perimeter of all of Old Town, from the lighthouse to the Central Market.
- There is a warehouse that’s been converted into a restaurant and bar that is BEAUTIFUL. It has a 30 to 40-foot ceiling and a glass and wood facade that opens onto the Old Town canal.
- Lastly, make sure you eat some seafood. The restaurant where I had dinner served such fresh seafood that my waiter had me pick out the specific fish that I would eat for dinner from a freezer!
The aforementioned fish; A delicious salad with avocado, lemon, olive oil, lettuce, and walnuts