Why Athens Deserves More of Your Time

“You want to extend your stay?” Considering our host lives in Athens and loves Athens, this seemed like an odd response to our request of adding a day on to our visit. I’m glad I didn’t ask for two additional days like I had intended. I was already worried about trying to explore all the parts of Athens on my list in a four, make that five, day visit. Seriously though, Athens has been inhabited for over 5000 years. It’s an understatement to say there are few things to see there, yet there are countless pins, posts, and articles explaining how to see “All of Athens” in one to two days. That’s like going all the way to Paris, seeing the Eiffel tower and then getting back on the plane to go home. You’re missing so many wonderful things!

My host Dimitri assumed me that he agreed, you could spend a whole lifetime getting to know Athens, but alas, all of his guests stay two to three days and then they are on their way island hopping.

Let me share with you should consider extending your time in Athens.

The Acropolis

Undoubtedly, this is what you came for. To see the Parthenon, take your selfie, find a gyro, and then head for an island. Not so fast, there’s so much more in store! I practically ran our first morning to the Acropolis I was so excited (and maybe a bit jet-lagged). Expecting the Parthenon I was pleasantly surprised to learn about and explore the numerous other ruins that make up the Acropolis in addition to the Parthenon. All-in-all the site is home to over 15 ruins including temples, theaters, altars, and sanctuaries.

I remember saying, “okay, we’ll get there and explore until lunch time and then do the museum and maybe some shopping afterward”. Five hours later we were still in awe of the history and views the Acropolis provides. We could have spent all day at just the Acropolis but our hunger persuaded us otherwise.

Tip: Morning to lunchtime is a great time to visit if you want to avoid the heat and crowds. Also, admission is 50% off during low season!

The Acropolis Museum

I wish we had visited the Acropolis Museum first. I didn’t hire a guide at the Acropolis proper and found ourselves with lots of questions. Questions we could have answered if we had visited the museum first. Also, I feel like we would have had a deeper appreciation and understanding of the site had I learned more about this rich history first. We spent half a day here, if I had left my other half by himself, he could have easily stayed longer.

Tip: Go here before you visit the Acropolis site. No photography allowed so plan to stop in the museum shop for a postcard or two! Also, it’s easy to want to save this for a rainy or cloudy day BUT the marble artworks were made to be viewed in the sunlight. It’s when they look their best and while the Acropolis Museum was designed to let in so much natural light! Go on a sunny day!

The Plethora of Other Ruins

In a several-thousand-year-old city, you can throw a rock (please don’t) and hit something of historical or cultural significance. While wandering around for breakfast one morning I stumbled into Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora. Too hungry to properly visit the sites, I vowed to double back later in the day. I never made it back to either site or the countless others spread throughout the city including the Temple of Zeus, Roman Stadium, Kerameikos Cemetery and the Arch of Hadrian to name a few.
Tip: If you’re here during the busy season take a look at the multi-ticket that encompasses the fees for most of the well known archaeological sites in the city. It’ll save you a few euro!

The Food

How will you know if O Thanasis or Savvas has the best gyros if you’re only in Athen for one day?! I know I enjoyed a variety of adventure in Athens but I feel like all I did a majority of the time was eat. And yet, I wish I ate more. Coffee, baklava, spinach pies, cheese pieces, souvlaki, loukoumades, gyros, salad, olives, ouzo, yogurt, feta, whatever those sesame covered peanuts are called, anything with tzatziki sauce…. Athens is a foodie paradise and if you’re only there one or two days you’re cutting your taste buds short.
Tip: Definitely just my opinion but it’s O Thanasis or bust.

The Nature

When I explore places, I love to pedal, paddle, and climb. While in Athens we hired Yorgo with travelncycle to take us on a guided mountain biking trip in nearby Parnitha National Park. A short drive from this city, this park was full of beautiful landscapes, interesting flora, and fauna and full of history. We spent the morning mountain biking some incredible multi-use trails and soaking in the rich diversity of the mountains and after a picnic lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring the Tatoi Royal Palace ruins. One full breathtaking day of our trip.

Tip: Ask for Yorgo if you consider TravelnCycle! He’s amazing, the photos he sent us of our mountain biking trip and the picnic lunch he packed were awesome!

The Shrug

Things in Greece have a different pace. Certainly Athens has the hustle and bustle of any metropolitan area but even so, expect a “shrug” or two in Athens. The museum is an hour late opening? Striking and stopping of the public transportation for the day? 34 people in line for train tickets and all but one kiosk is out of order? All met with the Greek *Shrug* which roughly translates to “So? It’s not such a big deal” or “Nothing I can do about it.”  With a slower and more laid back pace, especially when it comes to transportation, give yourself extra time to make sure you really get to see everything you want.
Tip: If you’re like me, breathe. Embrace the shrug. Nothing’s going to change whatever caused it.

The Stumbling

Having time to get lost or wander is never time wasted to me. Of course, I love planning and having a schedule but there is something so magical about wandering while traveling. It’s a feeling that has inspired countless blogs, books, and podcasts, so there must be something to it. Now, I’m not saying go off and wander the back alleys of a city in the middle of the night. But do take the long way to breakfast. Walk in the general direction of something of interest and see where the path takes you. Some of the best parts of Athens are just off the main sidewalk; markets, coffee, bakeries…easily missable if you don’t have extra time to get lost in your schedule. One of my favorite stumbles in Athens was Brettos, the second oldest distillery in Europe!

Tip: Try the Black Ouzo at Brettos! For a guided “wander” consider reaching out to This is My Athens. They’ll pair you up for free with a local based on your interests for a guided private tour.

What I missed

Even with five days I still didn’t get to cover everything I’d hoped for. I knew I wouldn’t! Any city takes a lifetime to get to know properly but I’ sure am glad I slowed down just a little while I was here.

  • However, here are the things few things I missed that I wish I hadn’t:
  • The drinking – Yes, even with 4 nights in a city that doesn’t go to bed until 6:00 AM I had a hard time enjoying the nightlife. I was so exhausted by 10 PM. It was all I could do to make it back to our apartment after a late dinner.
  • The shopping – Ermou Street has the big names you’re looking for in any city but I’ve heard such amazing things about the smaller artisan and local shops too!
  • Neighboring Marathon
  • Neighboring Temple of Poseidon

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