women figures at the Parthenon in Athens

How to make the best of your time in Athens Greece

I remember looking down from the airplane window and marvelling at how far Athens stretched between the hills. It shouldn’t have surprised me since it is one of the oldest cities in the world. I was about to set my foot in a city that is 7,000 years old! For us, the best way to spend time in Athens was to discover its past.

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Our time in Athens, the land of Zeus and other Greek gods

Visiting Greece has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I mean, it doesn’t get better for a history junkie like me to end up in a place like this. It was one of those “what took me so long to get here” moments.

ruins of ancient greek theatre
Athens Greece

We didn’t spend a significant amount of time in Athens before we moved on to see the two famous Greek islands. Like many other European cities, you can see Athens in two days and hit the major spots. It’s an excellent teaser for what to expect and make you want to come back. I can say with certainty that I will be coming back here as soon as I get a chance.

The heart of the ancient world

Despite being fascinated by everything in ancient Greece, it occurred to me that my knowledge about this country after antiquity was minimal. I didn’t know what to expect from Athens, other than the Parthenon. It seems silly now as I write this, but I had no real expectations, and it proved to be a great strategy.

Acropolis in Athens
remnants of ancient Greece

Athens’ glory is rooted in the ancient world. The temples and theatres dedicated to the gods date back to the mid 5th century BC. How wild is that? Kingdoms have come and fallen since those glory days. These structures still dominate the landscape, withstanding the centuries that have gone by. The builders of those days left a spectacular legacy that is unreal. I wonder if they expected them to last this long and play such an important role in human history. I like to think that they did and that they would be proud.

Athens after antiquity and contributions to the modern world

After the glory of ancient times, the city didn’t play a prominent role during Byzantine and Ottoman rule. That was something that I didn’t know about Greece. After the Romans defeated the Macedonians, the Byzantine and Turkish empires ruled Greece for centuries.  Even the Venetians got their hands on the Greek islands during that time. The Ottoman rule finally ended around the mid-1800s with the Greek rebellion for independence.

I was blown away by that.  The Ancient Greek civilization, marked by a golden age of culture, arts and political thinking, has influenced cultures and other civilizations for centuries. Maybe it’s that influence, so prominently intertwined in the fabric of history, that made Greece seem like an ever-present power.

bird's eye view of Athens
overlooking Athens from the Parthenon

Even though it’s been under the control of others, the ideas and systems created in ancient times have survived. Today, many of the things we take for granted came from Ancient Greece. Read this if you want to know more about these Greek influences and contributions.

  • Democracy
  • The Alphabet
  • The Library
  • The Olympics
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Architecture
  • Mythology
  • The Lighthouse
  • Standardized Medicine
  • Trial by Jury
  • The Theater

Athens today

Today’s Athens is a modern and vibrant city with many beautiful treasures to be discovered. I loved Neoclassical architecture from the 1800s, and it made Athens look much like other European cities. For some reason, that surprised me. I don’t know why, but I imagined Athens full of ancient ruins overlooked by the Parthenon and the Acropolis. Here we found the ruins, but also so much more.

The streets are walkable so you can spend a lot of time in Athens on foot. There are numerous shops, restaurants and bars. It was amazing to see so many people out on patios at all hours of the day. Athens tends to get hot during the summer. I loved the fact that all restaurants offered free water and had these cooling fans for the patrons. I don’t think I would have survived otherwise.

neoclassical building in Athens
Athens today

We found our time in Athens enjoyable. We felt safe, and nobody bothered us, but I’ve heard stories from others that weren’t as fortunate. It doesn’t make Athens a bad place, just one that is like any other large city. As such, you should always take precautions when walking around and be aware of your surroundings.

National Archaeological Museum

I am a museum junkie and get very excited when I can visit them no matter where I am in the world. The National Archaeological Museum was no different. Fun fact: the museum opened in 1889, and it became home to many antiquities that were previously stored in various places around the city up to that point.

If you like this post, you might enjoy Why do people visit museums!

The museum’s collection is quite impressive and well worth a visit. Here you will find a great collection of jewellery, pottery, bronzes and sculptures from cultures long gone and forgotten. It is quite a prominent place, and you can easily spend a day here. There is a lovely courtyard where you can enjoy a snack while you marvel at your surroundings.

collage of bronze and marble statues
National Archeological Museum

I watched a fantastic show called Museum Secrets, and I was thrilled when they showed the National Archaeological Museum in one of the episodes. I’m not sure if it’s accessible in all countries, but here is a quick preview of the episode to make you just a tad bit curious.

The marvels of the Acropolis

You can’t spend time in Athens without visiting its oldest and most famous sights. I’ve had the Parthenon and the Acropolis on my list of places to see for as long as I’ve known about them. I wanted to run there from the moment we got there. However, we had to put that visit off till another day due to the extreme heat (for me at least).

ancient temple in Athens
ancient temple in Athens

The area on top of a massive hill is called the Acropolis, and it is home to the Parthenon and several other historically and architecturally significant temples. The climb up is not the most difficult one I’ve ever done, but it felt like the most challenging journey of my life in the scorching heat. It was at 6 p.m. when the sun wasn’t the strongest, yet it still felt like hell.

Ancient gates and the Temple of Athena Nike

After you get your tickets, you will follow a winding path that brings you to the Beule Gate. This was the first entrance to the Acropolis and once you step through it, be ready to be amazed.

ancient temple in Athens

Before you are numerous steps that take you to the Propylaia, this entrance was built around 437-432 BC, so essentially you are literally walking in the footsteps of ancient Greeks, who walked these steps centuries ago. If that is not enough to impress you, the remnants of the Temple of Athena Nike will. The temple was added about a decade after the Propylaia and what remains of it is simply beautiful.

The Porch of the Caryatids

The Caryatids are the sculpted female columns that are holding up the structure. Their use was pretty common in ancient times, including here at the Acropolis. Initially, there were six statues until one Lord Elgin removed one and brought it to the British Museum. The remaining five are at the Acropolis Museum, where they sit on a unique platform that allows viewers to see them in more detail. There is one empty spot for the statue that was taken to London.

statues of women at the Acropolis
the Caryatids

You see plaster replicas at the Acropolis, and you wouldn’t know any different unless someone told you.

The Parthenon

For me, seeing the Parthenon was a very similar experience to what visiting the Colosseum and the Roman Forum felt like. Pure jaw-dropping awe. I’ve seen numerous pictures, documentaries and movies about the Parthenon, and I was still blown away by what is left of it. When you think about it, you are looking at a place that is well over 2,000 years old. Let that sink in. Amazing, right?

ruins of the Parthenon in Athens
The Parthenon

The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, patron of Athens. It was ornately decorated with sculptures and columns in the Doric and Ionic styles, making it the most spectacular Greek temple. In addition to the stunning architecture of the building, there was a massive statue of Athena inside. Apparently, it was 12 feet tall and made of ivory and gold, around a wooden core. I can’t even imagine what standing in front of it would have been like.

In my earlier blog on time travel, I talked about AR/AV technology and its possibilities for seeing places like this in their original glory. Meanwhile, if you want to get an idea of what the Parthenon was like, there is a replica of it in Nashville. The building and the statue of Athena inside are full-scale replicas of the Athenian originals. I guess I’ll be going to Nashville in the future.

Other noteworthy sights

The Acropolis is home to many other noteworthy spots. There is the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, which is spectacular. You can also check out the Shrine of Asklepios as well as the Theatre of Dionysos. There is also an excellent view-point behind the Parthenon that offers spectacular views of the city.

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Get your shopping on at Monastiraki and Plaka

Monastiraki Square is a great place to shop your heart out. Here you’ll find numerous shops and bazaar-style stalls where you can bargain for souvenirs and other goods. The name Monastiraki means “little monastery” in Greek, and as you can guess, this spot was once home to a large monastery.

The areas of Monastiraki and Plaka are some of Athens’ most charming and lively neighbourhoods. This is the place to sip on drinks and fill up on fantastic food while people watching. The patio culture is a massive part of the Athenian lifestyle, so why not enjoy it?

Looking for reasons to visit Greece? Here are seven of them!

Final thoughts on our time in Athens

While Greece is a popular tourist destination, most people come and go through Athens to go elsewhere. The Greek islands are definitely something to experience, but I think Athens, with its history, offers a more cultural experience. After all, you are in the birthplace of democracy, and that is something to explore.

I plan on spending more time in Athens if I get the chance to revisit Greece. Next time, I would like to avoid the scorching months of summer. Perhaps on an off-season voyage.   

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    16 Feb 2018

    Soooo pretty!!!

      16 Feb 2018

      Thank you! Glad you like it 😁

    16 Feb 2018

    Hi Kasia, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve never been to Athens and like you, would love to be able to digitally see how the city looked in ancient times. Susie

    16 Feb 2018

    Nice post Kasia 🙂

      16 Feb 2018

      Thank you 😊

    16 Feb 2018

    Great post!!! I so want to visit Greece one day 😊

      16 Feb 2018

      Thanks so much! I highly recommend it and can’t wait to go back!

    Mel & Suan
    16 Feb 2018

    Can spend so many days in the city!

      16 Feb 2018

      Right?!?! I really would like to go back 😍

    Dippy-Dotty Girl
    16 Feb 2018

    Okay, so I have always been curious about Athens and yet wondered why no one talks about it much. It does look pretty but is it vastly impressive? xx

      16 Feb 2018

      For me it was. What is left is a small fraction of what it used to be so I guess the appreciation of it might be subjective. Greece seems to be one of those places that doesn’t get talked about too much. I definitely think it’s worth to visit as it’s beautiful and has so much history!

        Dippy-Dotty Girl
        16 Feb 2018

        Thank you Kasia. The word subjective seems to embrace most everything but it helps to know your view of it. I have not seen Greece and it is on my mind. Incredible history and natural beauty together I suppose cannot let you down. xx

          16 Feb 2018

          Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with Greece. It has culture, history, great food and amazing beaches. What’s not to like? 🤷🏼‍♀️

            Dippy-Dotty Girl
            17 Feb 2018

            Hear hear 🙂

    16 Feb 2018

    I loved Athens, so much history and breathtaking views this city has on offer! Reading this brought back so many memories 🙂

      16 Feb 2018

      Happy to help with bringing back memories 😁 I loved Athens as well. I can’t wait to go back 💜

    16 Feb 2018

    Athens is on my bucket list, because there is magnificient street art:).

      16 Feb 2018

      Indeed! Lots to see and do there 😜

    17 Feb 2018

    Nice one Kasia. This is one of the places I so want to visit *__*

      17 Feb 2018

      Thank you! I hope you get to visit soon ☺️

    Life of Hoi
    27 Feb 2018

    Very well written and an excellent post! Would love to read once again when I am planning to visit there!

      27 Feb 2018

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🤗

    Urban Obsession
    10 Mar 2018

    Athens is definitely one of the places I want to visit. I’m quite fond of Greek mythology! You’re making me want to take a vacation tomorrow..

      10 Mar 2018

      Funny enough I’ve always wanted to go there and when I finally did I loved it! As I was writing this post it made me want to go back right away! I hope you get to go soon. It’s a great city.