Yes! It is December so soon and we still didn’t know where exactly we will be going during the Xmas break. Normally, we always go on a vacation at the end of the year. This time we shortlisted Greece or Dubai. It was difficult with the visa in such a short notice to Dubai, so we decided on Greece! We landed in Athens, and after resetting my watch (EET =CET+1) I was good to go!
We took an airport bus to Syntagma Square which is the center of the city. Our hotel was not very far from this place. We booked a budget hotel with breakfast on booking.com and it was fine. We normally don’t spend a lot on accommodation as we hardly spend time in the hotel. It has to be clean with all the basic facilities is the criteria and Delphi Art Hotel fit this. After arriving late in the night we just crashed on the bed as we knew we had a long and exciting day ahead! 🙂
We spent 4 nights in Athens, but around 2.5 days for Athens sightseeing. We went on a couple of day trips on the other 2 days. I recommend to spend at least 2 or 3 full days only in Athens.
Day 1 – Walking Tour, Acropolis, Monastiraki Square
After having a good breakfast, we set out on a free, guided walking tour. Since it was winter, there were not many tourists. Athens was really cold and the guide said it was unusually cold this winter. But atleast we had sunshine today! For the English walking tour, there was one more family, who happened to be Indians as well! The Guide was British, who had settled down in Greece. We started our tour in the Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Zeus (God of the Gods!) area and walked around and saw many different monuments, statues. We walked in the Parliament area and saw the change of guards (which is nothing spectacular or anything). After talking to the Guide, I realized that the Greeks are so proud of their history, which they should be, but I got the feeling that they are still trying to live off the ancient glory of their past. She was blaming the EU for everything and the conversation got very political but anyways let’s leave it at that!
If you love history or mythology, then you can spend days here learning about the Greek mythology, all the 12 great Greek Gods, and so many stories. Just some basics is that Athens is named after the Greek Goddess Athena (daughter of Zeus) who was the goddess of wisdom. There is a story about Poseidon (God of the Seas) and Athena fighting for Athens and Athena won because she offered the people an Olive sapling whereas Poseidon showed his might by striking his trident in the ground and gave the people water, but as the water turned out to be saline, Athena won and became a ruler of Athens. The people loved, adored and worshiped her. There are so many such stories, which is nothing new to me as Indian mythology is also very vast and there are some similar stories as well.
We also visited the Panathenaic stadium where the first modern Olympics (1896) were
held. After the walking tour, we decided to go to the famous Acropolis (Akropoli). The Acropolis which is the most famous and an obvious must visit in Athens is a hill where the people built a great temple, Parthenon, for their Goddess Athena. Other than the Parthenon, there are 2 other temples, one dedicated to the Goddess Athena Nikki (Goddess of Victory) and another is the Erechtheion which is dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Another interesting fact is that the famous brand Nike gets its name from The Goddess Nikki and the Nike Swoosh are the wings of the goddess. You cannot escape the Greek mythology and stories when you are here! 😀
The Acropolis area is beautiful and we took another guided tour around the area to get to know the history. The view of the city from here is amazing and you can see the blue Mediterranean sea from here. I also liked the theater of Dionysus which hosts many concerts and plays even to this day. It is very good to go during sunset time. You can easily spend 3-4 hours here. After this visit we were really hungry and ate in the Plaka area. The Plaka is a very famous area which is lined with restaurants and is lovely to just walk around.
It was time to do some street shopping! The Monastiraki square is another tourist hub and I really loved this area. It has so many restaurants, souvenir shops and a very nice flea market. I got a custom printed sweat shirt with Goddess Athena in the front and my name in Greek, printed on the back.
Day 2: Acropolis Museum, Stavros Niarchos
On Day 2, we collected our rental car from a company called Athens Car Rental (ACR) which had very good reviews on the website but we did not have a good experience. We got a Suzuki Splash, the condition of which was just okay. We had to waste a lot of time collecting it as they did not have a service in the city center. If you are renting a car in Athens, beware of the crazy traffic in the city center and the unruly drivers. We had to face this only once (Thank God!). Driving here reminded me of the roads and the chaos in India.
So after collecting the car, we decided to go to Stavros Niarchos which is a very new cultural center in Athens, which was recommended by the Guide. The building is new and very nice. The view from this place of the city and the port Piraeus is amazing. There was also a temp. art exhibition which we saw and had a good experience.
After getting back to the city, we decided to go to Acropolis museum which is a must visit. You can easily spend 4-5 hours in this place. It has so many exhibits and narrates the history of the Acropolis monuments very well.
What to eat and where to eat in Athens: I have to tell you that the Greeks have plenty of vegetarian options and we really enjoyed the cuisine.
- Veg Moussaka – This is a vegetarian casserole made up of tomatoes, egg plant and cheese! It is really delicious. This is a definite must try. You have to request the chef to prepare a vegetarian one.
- Smoked Eggplant – I love this salad or sauce which reminds me of a very similar dish which my granny makes. (Of course the indian version has plenty of chillies 😉
- Gemista – This is tomatoes and capsicum stuffed with rice. Tried it once and it’s good but not a big fan.
- Spanakopita – I loved the Greek pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese. Simply yum and couldn’t resist these.
- Lukumades! – This is a Greek sweet which I simply fell in love with! They are deep
fried wheat flour balls which are traditionally coated with honey and served with nuts.
- Baklava and other sweets– Of course you can’t come to the Mediterranean and not have this sweet. All Greek sweets are always dipped in honey which is so yum but makes it really heavy as well.
- Falafel, hummus and pita – The falafels are amazing and the pita bread is really fresh and soft in the good restaurants.
- Olives – When you are in Greece, of course you have to eat olives! They simply taste so delicious here. You must try the crushed olive spread which they serve with bread (Generally complimentary in restaurants).
Restaurants and Eat outs:
- Mamma Tierra – This is a vegetarian and Vegan restaurant which is run by an Indian origin man. This place has very interesting combinations of food and also very healthy. Really liked the ambiance as well. A must visit for a veggie lover.
- Savvas – This was my favourite restaurant with authentic Greek food and plenty of veg. options. I have tried the Falafel platter, the smoked eggplant and moussaka here and all taste good. The view of the Acropolis is good from the top floor. Oh don’t forget to try the potato or zucchini twisters here. They are yum.
- Strofi Tavern – Located close to the Acropolis museum, this is a bit fancy restaurant with a very good view of the acropolis. If you want to go on a nice date (like we did) , this is a good restaurant. The food was very good.
- Maiandros Restaurant – This is in the Plaka area and a nice Greek restaurant. I had a fried eggplant dish which was good. The veg. Moussaka was also good here.
- Lukumades – This is a must visit for all dessert lovers. This place is located near Monastiraki and serves yummy, hot Lukumades with so many different sauces. I always had choc. sauce with pistachio. I went to this place everyday! My mouth is watering!
- Not just falafel – The falafel wrap of this place is yum.
Another must visit place for history buffs is the Archaeological Museum of Athens which has amazing exhibits and again you can easily spend half a day , if not more. We went to the museum on the last day of our trip and had an amazing experience and I highly recommend to visit it.
Athens is also a nice hub to go on amazing day trips and take a cruise to the beautiful Greek islands. In the next blog post, I have written about a couple of day trips we took when we were in Athens.