I have always wanted to go to Greece. When I was growing up, I guess because I was the eldest, my Dad would drag me along to watch all the Greek legend movies – anything to do with Zeus, Hercules, Hera, Ares – etc etc. Of course I didn’t believe in all that but it was fun to watch – just like watching Dynasty – but with Greek Gods and Goddesses. Oh and of course with the mystical powers and all etc.
So on one of my business trips – which was a super hectic one, I managed to squeeze a weekend trip to Athens with a girlfriend. I was really ‘beat’ when I got there but it was so worthwhile. Dream came true for me.
Flight to Athens
I took Aegean Airlines from Amsterdam to Athens – and I have to say it is one of the best airlines I have taken in Europe!
Flights with Aegean is not the cheapest but the timing is better than others. And of course – it is one of the few airlines that offer direct flights from Amsterdam other than KLM and Transavia. The direct flight to Athens takes about 3 hours 10 minutes.
I took an early evening flight from Amsterdam after work on Friday. I guess I was a bit surprised that for such a short flight I got a proper dinner. And in fact, I was able to pre-order the food – I even ordered seafood (it was rice and spicy fish) and it tasted great. Reminded me of home. It was really, really surprising. The flight was pleasant, service was great- overall thumbs up Aegean Airlines!
Where to Stay
I booked us at Ava Hotel & Suites in Plaka. No regrets – beautiful room, great location and close to tour meeting points. The hotel is very clean, comfortable and cosy. If I stay in Plaka again the next time, I’d probably stay here again. Our suite has full kitchenette with dining table. Its a good size for 2 person.
I do recommend first timers to Athens to stay here in Plaka. Plaka is very central and quite safe. Its very close to Acropolis – you can practically walk the beautiful narrow, cobbled streets to Acropolis and most of the other attractions. Its very pedestrian friendly. There are many excellent restaurants, shops selling souvenirs and other unique Greek merchandise around the area – day or night, it’s just a great place to hang out. Plus if you are into Pandora – there is a Pandora store nearby.
Ava Hotel & Suites
Top Things To Do
Two days is a bit short to cover everything. So we had to be selective on what we wanted to see. Once we have decided what to cover – for Day 1, we booked ourselves with a small tour group to take us around the city so that we didn’t waste our time finding our way around. For Day 2, we wanted to cover more things outside Athens, so we booked ourselves a private cab tour. Our itinerary:-
- AM – Panathenaic Stadium, Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum
- PM – Travel out to Cape Sounion and visit Temple of Poseidon
Day 2 (whole day) –
- AM – Corinth Canal, Ancient Corinth, Mycenae
- PM (with early dinner) – Epidaurus, Archaia Epidavros, Nafplio
Alternatively for Day 2 – (it took me a while to finally decide) but you could also opt for a day trip to either Delphi or Meteora. Meteora is a bit far out, but not impossible to do. Delphi is the sanctuary of Apollo and the shrine of his oracle. I think I would have to go back and visit these two places one day…
Acropolis & Parthenon
I could spend hours and hours at the museum, but we didn’t have the luxury of time. We started with Acropolis early morning because there is usually a huge crowd there. After that off to the museum. A typical question is which should you do first and some people say that you should go for the museum first so that you can appreciate what you are seeing at Acropolis. But for me the crowd factor is a big deal – so happy that I went with Acropolis first. You could do a bit of research before you visit if you like, so that you are not totally lost just looking at the ruins. Do check out my post on our visit to Acropolis to get you started…
Anyway back to the museum. If you have limited time – and want to spend the daylight hours visiting other monuments/ruins around Athens – note that the Museum closes late on Fridays (up to 10pm) and 8pm on weekends in winter. In summer, except for Mondays, the Museum is open from 8am – 8pm – so you can be a bit more flexible when you plan your visit.
- The Parthenon Gallery, (top floor) has the same dimensions as the Parthenon – to allow the display the entire frieze of the temple, so that you get the same feel of how it’s like in ancient times. The frieze has a total length of 160 metres; the museum recasted the missing pieces starting with 50 metres of the original pieces. 80 meters of the frieze is being displayed in the British Museum, one block in the Louvre – other smaller pieces scattered in various European museums.
- Caryatids – On the first floor, you will find the five original Caryatids here (the maidens that once held up the roof of the southern porch of the Erechtheion). Read more about the Erechtheion from my Acropolis post here. These were removed to protect them from the elements. What you see at Erechtheion are replicas. Interestingly – the museum left a spot for the sixth Caryatid which is currently displayed at the British Museum in the hope that it will be returned to Greece one day.
I don’t normally visit stadiums on my holidays – the last one I went to was Wembley stadium in the UK. So what is so special about this one then? A couple of cool facts about the stadium:-
- It is the site of an ancient statidum built in 330-329 BC for the Panathenaic Games as part of the Panathinaea festivities in Athens. The festival is held in honor of Goddess Athena – it was not just pure a games event but also religious; during the festivities, there will be sacrificial offerings made for Athena – usually animals – sheep and pigs (but occasionally humans! Or so they say..)
- In the 2nd century AD, during the period of the Roman Empire the stadium was renovated and could seat 50,000 people. The seats were covered with Pentelic marble from Mt Penteli, the same used to build the Acropolis.
- Centuries later, the stadium was no longer in use and stripped off its precious marble. The stadium was only rebuilt later on to become the venue for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, using again marble from Mt Penteli and it remains today as the only stadium in the world built entirely out of marble.
- Hence, the stadium is also known to the locals as the Kallimármaro (Καλλιμάρμαρο, meaning the “beautifully marbled”)
- The stadium is still in use today. It is also the place where the Olympic flame is handed over to the host country for any upcoming Olympic games.
We didn’t have time to do a proper visit – we were there early morning and just took pictures from the outside. There is a small fee to go into the stadium – but people say its quite worth it – if you go up to the upper tier, you can get a gorgeous photo of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Filopappos Hill, the Temple of Olympian Zeus etc. But I think what I would have loved to do if I had more days in Athens is actually run around the track. The stadium opens early for anyone who wants to do morning runs! If you run in the Athens Marathon – you will finish here in this stadium.
Cape Sounion & Temple of Poseidon
This is an easy half day trip from Athens – there are many tours that can take you there – which I think is your best option – from small group to private tours. Of course you can always opt to DIY with public buses.
What is there? Beautiful views especially at sunset and of course the highlight is the Temple of Poseidon, a 5th Century temple.
Poseidon, was Zeus’s brother and was God of the Sea – which means he controlled the sea. You probably have ‘seen’ some version of Poseidon in the movies and books. Basically he was the God that goes around with a trident… (somehow a shirtless Jason Mamoa with a trident suddenly appeared in my mind)….Anyway in case you’re wondering – Triton, in Greek mythology, a merman (demigod) was Poseidon’s son. Disney’s Ariel Little Mermaid was Triton’s daughter if you recall… PS. Poseidon was not a one woman man – he was married to Amphitrite but he had affairs which resulted in a large extended family (just like Zeus – yeap – the original soap opera).
In the ancient days – the locals believed that storms were signs of Poseidon’s wrath. So seamen and the general population really, would come to the temple at Cape Sounion to offer animal sacrifices and other gifts to appease him. Cape Sounion is the ideal location for the temple – overlooking miles and miles of the Aegean sea.
Ancient Corinth and the Corinth Canal
Corinth was our first stop on our day trip from Athens on Day 2. I would have loved to spend a bit more time here. Specifically, I would have liked to take a boat ride in the canal. The Corinth Canal connects the Adriatic’s Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Saronic Gulf. The canal is 6.3 kilometres in length, has a depth of 26 feet and width that varies between 69 feet minimum (at the bottom) and 82 feet maximum at the water surface.
Look at the picture below! The canal is very narrow – now only tourist boats use this route. Somehow it reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings…
But we needed to cover so many things on this day trip, so a boat trip wasn’t possible. But it was still amazing to see.
In nearby Ancient Corinth site, you can find Temple of Apollo and some Roman ruins.
Mycenae is a Bronze age acropolis located on a small hill between two larger hills Profitis Ilias and Mount Sarat in Peloponnese, Greece.
This is one of the best archaeological sites to visit surrounded by myths and legends. The walls which were built with giant stones were said to be built by Cyclopes, the one-eyed giants! The rulers of Mycenae were quite legendary – there was Eurystheus who assigned Hercules with the Twelve Labours of Hercules – crazy (and varied) tasks from cleaning huge stables with thousands of cattle in one day, to killing a nine-headed serpent-like monster to securing the belt of Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons. There was also King Agamemnon who attacked Troy (remember Trojan War) with the Greek warrior Achilles by his side.
Sunken City - Ancient Epidaurus
The Sunken City is just off the Kalymnios beach, south of Archaia Epidavros, a village at the east coast of the Peloponnese. The city is about 50m off-shore, some areas of the city are in the more shallow water (2-3 metres depth). Best way to experience the site is to snorkel around it or go on a kayak tour. We took some pictures from the jetty – the landscape was pretty but that’s about it – you can’t really see the ruins from the shore.
I am sure it would have been a memorable experience if we were able to do even a bit of kayaking etc.
Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus & Sanctuary of Asclepius
You probably have heard of the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the theatre built in 330-20 BC, about 125 km away from Athens. The theatre, which excavations started in 1881, is in excellent condition and still in use today. It is definitely a site worth visiting! If you plan to be in Athens around summertime, probably you can even attend a performance there, held in conjunction with the Epidaurus festival which began in 1955. Kevin Spacey performed Richard III here in 2011!
Also in Epidaurus (same site) – you can find the Sanctuary of Asclepius, which is like a hospital in ancient times. Asclepius was the God of Medicine (he was the son of the god Apollo and a mortal mother, Koronis).
Nafplio was our last stop on Day 2 before going back to Athens. It is one of the most beautiful and romantic towns in Greece they say – a lot of marriage proposals are made here it seems! It was also the first capital of the newly born Greek state between 1823 and 1834.
This is a beautiful place to be based in if you want to do a one day stay in this region and have a longer time to visit the surrounding areas like Mycenae, Corinth etc., instead of doing a packed day trip from Athens like us.
In Nafplio itself, you can find three castles/fortress to visit – can’t really miss them. There is Palamidi which dominates the city background, Akronafplia which you can see from the famous Syntagma Square and Bourtzi, which a fortress in a small island in the harbour – which you can clearly see as you take a stroll along the harbour!
Food, Glorious Food!
We had lots and lots of seafood while in Athens and the surrounding areas. I love, love Greek dishes! My favourite meal (couldn’t seem to get enough) was grilled octopus… my mouth starts to water just thinking about it! There are so many great restaurants around town – it would be a shame if you just stick to basic food or fast food.
I am in Love....
I had the best of time here. It was also just too short. I was quite sad to leave but we covered a fair bit in the two days. Attraction-wise and even food-wise. Managed to even squeeze in some shopping time!
I know there are much more to see around Athens and the surrounding cities and islands. I guess that means I have to come back! Until we meet again….or as they say in Greek
‘…μέχρι να συναντηθούμε ξανά! (méchri na synantithoúme xaná!)…’
I managed to also get two beautiful Pandora charms before leaving. Check it out!
Recap – all my Greek adventure posts:-