Last week I wrote about the updated guidelines from the CDC and some of the ways cruising is starting back from various foreign ports. With Greece’s announcement that they will open May 14 to those travelers (including Americans) with either a negative covid test or vaccinations, they are on the forefront of international destinations welcoming travelers, so this week’s article focuses on a suggested first stop before exploring the various islands…
Stepping Back in Time: Why Athens, Greece is a Must-Visit Destination
The Greek capital of Athens attracts travelers for all sorts of reasons. Its collection of historic landmarks is crowned by the mighty Acropolis, though there are many more sites to visit as well. You’ll also want to explore some of the city’s fascinating museums, charming public squares, and gorgeous restaurants. Greek food is nearly as legendary as the Minotaur, and there are also numerous food tours one could take in order to discover some of the country’s local delicacies for themselves. In this article, I’ll share why I think Athens is such a must-visit destination.
The only place to start – the Acropolis
Sitting atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the city, the Acropolis is the most famous landmark in Athens, and indeed, the whole of Greece. It has truly withstood the test of time at more than 2,500 years old and is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Parthenon is the most famous building in the Acropolis, a temple dedicated to the goddess of Athena, images of which have become synonymous with Athens. Visit the historic Roman theatre on the slope of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an amazing structure that was completed in the second century. Visitors will also want to wander along the ancient marble paths to admire the Temple of Athena Nike, and visit the Acropolis Museum, where many fascinating ancient artifacts are on display to the public.
While the Acropolis is certainly the most eye catching of Athens’ attractions, it is far from the only one. No visit to the city would be complete without escaping to the pretty National Gardens. And for history buffs, the National Archaeological Museum is filled with treasures. There are finds from the 1900 Atikythera wreck, the 16th century gold funerary mask of Agamemnon and all sorts of well-preserved artwork from across the centuries.
Plaka District and Syntagma Square
When you’ve tired of uncovering antiquities, the Plaka district makes for a wonderful afternoon stroll in the city. Sitting in the shadow of the Acropolis, this pretty neighborhood is crowded with small, independent shops selling a variety of trinkets and souvenirs. There are narrow, flower-filled roads and alleys, mouth-watering food shacks and charming residential areas, with relaxing locals enjoying an afternoon coffee on the roadside.
Finally, visitors to Athens must pay a visit to Syntagma Square, the focal point of the city. This is the city’s main square, housing Greece’s parliament and the impressive Old Royal Palace. Smart grey paving slabs contrast with the greenery of the square, and locals mill around amongst the tourists. It is the most important square in the city both historically and culturally, and also a wonderful place to explore in its own right. It’s a great place to grab a spot of lunch or a coffee in one of the numerous cafes dotting the perimeter.
The central location of the square also puts it within walking distance of some of the city’s main attractions. I have some selected hotels right around the square that I arrange for clients visiting Athens, giving them a perfect city-center home base – Plaka district, the Acropolis, the Theater of Dionysus and ancient Hadrian’s Library are just some of the attractions within minutes of Syntagma Square.
Not forgetting Greek food
Many European countries have a strong local cuisine, but other than perhaps Italy, none are as prominent as Greek food. Like most good food, Greek cuisine is actually quite simple. But it’s simple food done well. Moussaka (eggplant and lamb casserole), gyros (pork or lamb kebab) and dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with herbs and meat) are some of the classic dishes, while ingredients such as feta cheese, olives and salads are a common theme throughout Greek food. Anise flavored Ouzo is the country’s most popular alcoholic drink (be warned, it’s very strong), usually served in shots before or / and after a meal.
Like most capital cities, it is possible to embark on a food tour of Athens, and this is one of my favorite experiences to arrange for my clients. Food tours provide such insight into the history and culture of a country and can provide an understanding of regional ingredients and local favorites that you can then appreciate for your whole trip. The food tours usually involve visiting three or more restaurants, food stands, and bars. At each you will be treated to a variety of local delicacies, getting a great taste for the cuisine of the country. Accompanied with drinks and desserts, a local guide will show you from place to place, and we can arrange for a private tour or a small group of around ten guests. There is no better way to come to grips with Greek cuisine in Athens.
A visit to Athens is a must for any trip to Greece. Even if your ideal Greek vacation involves sunning yourself on the golden sands of Mykonos or climbing the steps of Santorini for that iconic Greek photo, then it is easy enough to add on a couple of days in the capital. Even if this is just so you can pay a visit to the Acropolis then I promise you won’t regret it. Athens is one of the most historic cities in Europe, with a vibrant culture and cuisine to match. It would be an utter shame not to make the most of this during your trip to Greece!